Friday, June 28, 2013

Clashes, tear gas as massive protests grip Egypt amid 'growing security crisis'

Tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Morsi join protests across Egypt with violent clashes between the rival parties reported in Alexandria, where police used tear gas as at least two people were killed and nearly 90 injured. Security forces used tear gas to break up clashes between rival protesters in Alexandria, according to MENA news agency. According to Minister of Health Mohamed Mostafa Hamed, 88 people were injured there. One man died after being shot into the head. Egyptian officials have also confirmed that a US citizen was killed in the violence, reportedly having been stabbed in the chest. His identity remains unconfirmed. RT’s Bel Trew says that according to reports, the American was a teacher who may have gone to the clashes to film them as part of a project. "There were two deaths - an Egyptian, and an American who was wounded during the events. He was filming," said General Amin Ezzeddin, a senior Alexandria security official. Following the news the US State Department has warned Americans against all but essential travel to Egypt and said it would allow some nonessential staff and the families of personnel at the US Embassy in Cairo to leave the country. There have also been reports that a foreign woman has been beaten and dragged for several meters at Cairo's Tahrir Square as she was taking pictures and shooting videos of the demonstration there, according to Ahram Online. The scuffle occurred after the woman was asked to leave because she was a foreigner. The Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Alexandria were stormed by anti-Morsi demonstrators and set on fire, local media reported.Overall, some 139 people got injured across the country, minister of health said. Both President Morsi’s supporters and opponents held their rallies on Friday, while the wider opposition coalition is also expected to bring millions out on Sunday, calling for new elections."We are confident the Egyptian masses will go out in their millions in Egypt's squares and streets on June 30 to confirm their will to get the January 25 revolution back on track," the liberal opposition coalition said. RT’s correspondent in Egypt Bel Trew reported that “the country is worried that there will be further violence after several days of clashes between rival groups, demonstrating either in support of the president or against him.” In the capital, thousands of people marched towards Tahrir Square, chanting slogans against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Marches in Cairo originated from Mostafa Mahmoud Square, Sayeda Zeinab, Al-Azhar Mosque and Shubra, Ahram Online reports. In the light of the rallies, local residents have been withdrawing cash, queuing outside petrol stations and stocking up on food, according to AFP. Many companies said they would close on the first day of the working week in Egypt, Sunday, when the large-scale opposition rally is due to take place. The army, which helped protesters overthrow previous President Hosni Mubarak, has warned that it could step back in to impose order should violence spin out of control. “Protest comes amidst a growing security crisis across the country. We’ve already seen several people die, hundreds injured in the days leading up to the protests. We’re seeing an increase of civilians armed and bringing those weapons to protests which has led many to call for the army to step in and secure the nation,” Bel Trew added.Earlier this week one man was shot dead and four wounded in an attack on a provincial party office, Egypt's ruling Muslim Brotherhood said. The incident, which took place north of Cairo, raised the death toll to five in factional fighting that also left many injured over the past week, with fears of wider violence during the upcoming protests, two years after the Arab Spring revolution that ousted Mubarak. Egypt's leading religious authority warned of "civil war" and called for calm in response to the death of the member of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, Reuters reported. "Vigilance is required to ensure we do not slide into civil war," Al-Azhar clerical institution said in a statement reported by state media. The Arab world's most influential and one of the largest Islamic movements, the Muslim Brotherhood, has slammed activists campaigning to force the fifth president of Egypt, 61-year-old Morsi, to resign as he celebrates his first year in office. On Thursday, the opposition National Salvation Front coalition refused Morsi’s offer to cooperate on reforms to end a political deadlock that has driven the biggest Arab nation into economic crisis, and called instead for an early presidential election. Morsi’s critics primarily see him as a Muslim Brotherhood delegate, appointing Islamists in key positions, returning Egypt to authoritarianism.“I think it goes without saying, and Morsi himself has partially admitted it, that he has disappointed people. As far as those people who helped to bring Mubarak down or a sizable section of them he’s changed absolutely nothing since he came to power and these protests are to show that the democratic fig leaf is not enough. So what will happen on Sunday will be quite decisive,” author and journalist Tariq Ali told RT. Ali says Egypt is divided between those who seek an evolution towards democracy, and those who are still in the mind-set of the old regime. “It’s not the case that he [Morsi] is bereft of support, it’s just that the country is now very sharply divided between those who want some meaningful change and he government which is maintaining continuity with the previous regime and in some instances getting worse.”Morsi’s Islamist supporters emphasize that he derives his authority from the first free presidential election in Egypt’s history, and that the challenges he faces, namely corrupt and inefficient institutions, economic woes and religious strife have all been inherited. In a televised speech on Wednesday, Morsi warned that political polarization threatened to “paralyze” Egypt. He has also admitted making mistakes and pledged to correct them. “I have made many mistakes, there is no question. Mistakes can happen, but they need to be corrected,” he said. Morsi threatened legal action against several prominent figures, claiming some judges were obstructing him, and accused liberal media owners of bias. Shortly afterwards, he publicly accused the owner of CBC television of tax evasion, Mohamed Amin found he was barred from leaving the country. "This is dictatorship," his lawyer told Reuters. Officials also ordered the arrest of a talk show host on another channel and the station to be shut down for inciting mutiny in the army and for insulting the armed forces and the police. Last week, tens of thousands of Islamists got together, chanting for Morsi and Islamic law, calling the turnout proof that he enjoys mass support and accusing the opposition of being remnants of Mubarak’s regime. Under the thumb of the Mubarak regime the Muslim Brotherhood was essentially barred from assuming a leadership role in Egypt’s government. However, According to Taqadom Al Khatib of the National Association for Change, a member of the opposition, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood simply seem to lack any solutions for the country’s pressing economic and political situation now that they have managed to secure control. More so, the Brotherhood seems to be mimicking some of the autocratic behavior of the Mubarak regime. “We have an economic problem, and many political and social problems. The Muslim Brotherhood have no solutions for these problems. People in Egypt want social justice, freedom and democracy. The Muslim Brotherhood is building a new dictatorship. The government has sent official letters to TV channels, claiming that they have the power to close them down, without any court order,” says Al Khatib. Al Khatib’s group is one of several calling for early elections. According to Al Khatib, both the US and other Western powers are unlikely to offer any support for Morsi’s ouster, in part as they rely on his government to support policy against Iran in the region.

Don’t Talk With the Taliban

THE United States is still planning to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, despite the fact that the group attacked the presidential palace and a C.I.A. office in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week. As was the case in the 1990s, negotiating with the Taliban now would be a grievous mistake. Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The planned talks have been arranged through the good offices of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. At the urging of Pakistan’s military, the United States agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. Taliban officials immediately portrayed the American concession as a victory. They flew the Taliban flag, played the Taliban anthem and called their new workplace the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the name of the state they ran in the 1990s before being dislodged from power after 9/11. This was intentional. It reflected the Taliban’s view of the talks as the beginning of the restoration of their emirate. There is no reason to believe — and no evidence — that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome. Declassified State Department documents and secret cables made public by WikiLeaks show that in the 1990s, as now, Pakistan claimed it had contact with the Taliban but no control over them. As the Taliban advanced in eastern Afghanistan in 1996, they took over several terrorist training camps run by various Pakistan-supported mujahedeen factions and Arab groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs adviser at the time, Abdul Jalil, told American officials that the “Arab” occupants of the camps had fled, and that Osama bin Laden’s precise location was unknown. Taliban interlocutors assured the United States that the “Taliban did not support terrorism in any form and would not provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.” That was, of course, an outright lie. The C.I.A. concluded that the Taliban had closed down training camps run by their Afghan rivals but not the ones run by Bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups. In October 1996, Mr. Jalil delivered a friendly diplomatic message from the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to American representatives, letting them know that “the Taliban think highly of the U.S., appreciated U.S. help during the jihad against the Soviets, and want good relations with the U.S.” This, too, turned out to be nothing but dissimulation. At one point, Pakistani officials even suggested that America “buy” Bin Laden from the Taliban. Ironically, while American diplomats were interacting with Taliban officials, Western journalists traveling in Afghanistan often found evidence of large-scale terrorist training. An American Embassy cable in November 1996 spoke of an unnamed British journalist’s seeing “assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnians, Sudanese” as well as various Arabs training for global jihad in Afghan provinces adjacent to Pakistan. Mullah Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban representative, told American officials in 1997 that Bin Laden’s expulsion was not a solution and urged them to recognize the legitimacy of Taliban rule “if the U.S. did not want every Afghan to become a Bin Laden.” By then, the Taliban had changed their story on Bin Laden. They admitted that he was their “guest” but insisted that they had “instructed him not to commit, support or plan any terrorist acts from Afghan soil.” On Aug. 20, 1998, American missiles struck Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the embassies in Africa. Two days later, Mullah. Omar called the State Department and demanded President Bill Clinton’s resignation, asserting that the missile attack would spread Bin Laden’s anti-American message by uniting the fundamentalist Islamic world and would cause further terrorist attacks. Fifteen years later, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors have hardly changed their arguments or their tendency to fudge facts. Americans may believe that talks offer an opportunity to end an expensive war that is no longer popular among Americans, but they shouldn’t forget the Taliban’s history of deception. For the Taliban, direct dialogue with the United States is a source of international legitimacy and an opportunity to regroup. They are most likely playing for time while waiting for American troops to withdraw in 2014. Everything about the talks in Qatar hints at déjà vu. America must enter these talks with a healthy dose of skepticism, or not participate at all.

Radical Reform: Dutch iPad Schools Seek to Transform Education

Plenty of schools use iPads. But what if the entire education experience were offered via tablet computer? That is what several new schools in the Netherlands plan to do. There will be no blackboards or schedules. Is this the end of the classroom?Think different. It was more than an advertising slogan. It was a manifesto, and with it, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs upended the computer industry, the music industry and the world of mobile phones. The digital visionary's next plan was to bring radical change to schools and textbook publishers, but he died of cancer before he could do it.Some of the ideas that may have occurred to Jobs are now on display in the Netherlands. Eleven "Steve Jobs schools" will open in August, with Amsterdam among the cities that will be hosting such a facility. Some 1,000 children aged four to 12 will attend the schools, without notebooks, books or backpacks. Each of them, however, will have his or her own iPad. There will be no blackboards, chalk or classrooms, homeroom teachers, formal classes, lesson plans, seating charts, pens, teachers teaching from the front of the room, schedules, parent-teacher meetings, grades, recess bells, fixed school days and school vacations. If a child would rather play on his or her iPad instead of learning, it'll be okay. And the children will choose what they wish to learn based on what they happen to be curious about. Preparations are already underway in Breda, a town near Rotterdam where one of the schools is to be located. Gertjan Kleinpaste, the 53-year-old principal of the facility, is aware that his iPad school on Schorsmolenstraat could soon become a destination for envious -- but also outraged -- reformist educators from all over the world. And there is still plenty of work to do on the pleasant, light-filled building, a former daycare center. The yard is littered with knee-deep piles of leaves. Walls urgently need a fresh coat of paint. Even the lease hasn't been completely settled yet. But everything will be finished by Aug. 13, Kleinpaste says optimistically, although he looks as though the stress is getting to him.
'Pretty Normal in 2020'
Last year, he was still the principal of a school that had precisely three computers, which he found frustrating. "It was no longer in keeping with the times," he says. Soon, however, Kleinpaste will be a member of the digital avant-garde. He is convinced that "what we are doing will seem pretty normal in 2020." The Steve Jobs school will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 on every workday. The children will come and go as they please, as long as they are present during the core period between 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. The building will only be closed for Christmas and New Year's. The children's families will be able to go on vacation when they please, and no child will have to be worried about missing class as a result, since classes in the traditional sense will be nonexistent. Only in exceptional cases will a teacher direct classes in groups. Normally, the children will learn by calling up a learning app on their iPad -- which will be turned into a sort of interactive, multimedia schoolbook -- whenever they want. The program is more patient than any person ever could be and turns learning into a game-like experience, partly with the help of amusing noises and animations. In each exercise, the children are corrected the way players are in a computer game. They don't have to work through entire chapters, as they did in the past. The goal is to enable them to reach the next level in the learning program at their own pace. The teacher's role is to help them, not as conveyors of knowledge but as learning coaches. "The interaction between the child and the teacher remains the foundation of the lesson," as Kleinpaste puts it. As such, the school day never really ends. Pupils are welcome to keep working on their iPads at home, on weekends or on vacation. But as much as the program offers freedom and continuity, it also comes with a substantial monitoring component. The iPad keeps teachers and parents constantly informed about what children are doing, what they have learned and how they are progressing. If a math app is neither enjoyable nor successful, the teacher simply orders another one. The supply of educational programs never runs dry in Apple's online app store.
Not Truly Relevant
Arithmetic, reading skills and text comprehension are the core subjects in the elementary school. Good handwriting has been downgraded to a secondary skill, nice for industrious pupils but not truly relevant. Every six weeks, teachers, children and parents decide together what is to be achieved in the next learning period. To do so, they meet at school or virtually via Skype. The era of the 10-minute parent-teacher meeting once a year is a thing of the past in the Steve Jobs schools. And when they are not working on iPads, the future principal insists, students at Steve Jobs schools will lead the lives of perfectly normal children. Drawing, building things, playing and physical activity are all part of daily life at the schools. "It isn't as if the children will just be sitting in front of a screen here," Kleinpaste promises. Debbie Hengeveld, 41, found the concept so convincing that she promptly enrolled both of her children, her seven-year-old daughter Freeke and her 10-year-old son Joep. "Children innately want to learn things," says Hengeveld. "Here they can remain who they are. They aren't shaped by teachers and lesson plans." The initiator of the iPad schools is the well-known Amsterdam public opinion researcher Maurice de Hond, 65, a man with an affinity for digital life. He is proud of the fact that he has known how to program computers since 1965. His daughter Daphne, born in 2009, pointed the way for him.
'Revolution of Little Children'
Before she was even three years old, Daphne was learning how to draw letters with the help of an iPad app. De Hond is constantly astonished by the things she can now do with the device, effortlessly and of her own volition. "We are experiencing a revolution of little children," he says. This generation, he explains, experiences real and virtual life as one big entity. But analog schools threaten to suppress half of that equation, he says. "At home, Daphne learns naturally, according to her own pace, interactively and using multimedia tools," says de Hond. Why should she feel "like she's in a museum" when she's in school, he asks? The classic chalk-and-blackboard teachers, he adds angrily, "are preparing children for a world that no longer exists." Steve Jobs died in California in October 2011 -- at about the same time that de Hond decided to instigate an uprising in the Netherlands. Within weeks, frustrated teachers, well-known education professors and dozens of parents had joined his cause. Together they wrote a manifesto for iPad schools. Meanwhile, independent groups in many places began establishing iPad schools, a process that is relatively easy in the Netherlands.
According to a current poll by the daily newspaper De Volkskrant, all parties in parliament support the basic idea, with one exception: The PVV of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is opposed. It wants to see "more structure" in the classroom. "The movement has become unstoppable," says school reformer de Hond. "I would be very disappointed if we didn't have at least 40 Steve Jobs schools by August of next year." Each of the schools will be publicly funded and open to all children. Parents unable to afford an iPad will receive a subsidy from a solidarity fund. Whether the schools will actually be allowed to call themselves "Steve Jobs schools" is questionable. The organizers fully expect to hear from Apple's attorneys in Cupertino. "We would like to honor this man in this way," says de Hond. He admits, however, that he hasn't told Apple or Jobs' widow about the honor yet.

SYRIA: Fascist Takfiri islamist militants behead 2 Christians including priest in Homs

A shocking video has emerged on the Internet showing US-backed Takfiri militants in Syria brutally beheading two Christians including a priest in the western city of Homs. In the gruesome footage recently posted online, the militants who are said to be members of the terrorist al-Nusra Front, cut off the heads of two handcuffed men, including Father Francois Murad, with a small knife in front of a crowd of people. This is not the first time that the US-backed terrorists who are fighting against the Syrian government commit such grisly crimes against innocent civilians in the war-torn country. In March, a Muslim cleric was beheaded in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo by militants, who decapitated Sheikh Hassan Saif al-Deen before dragging his lifeless body on the streets. Local media blamed the beheading on the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra. Foreign-sponsored militancy in Syria, which erupted in March 2011, has claimed the lives of many people, including large numbers of Syrian soldiers and security personnel. The al-Nusra Front has been behind many of the deadly bombings targeting both civilians and government institutions across Syria since the beginning of the violence. In an interview broadcast on Turkish television in April, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said if the militants take power in Syria, they could destabilize the entire Middle East region for decades.

Turkish security forces fire on protest in southeast, one dead

Turkish security forces killed one person and wounded six on Friday when they fired on a group protesting against the construction of a new gendarmerie outpost in Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey, officials said.
The incident appeared to be the most violent in the region since a ceasefire declaration by Kurdish militant chief Abdullah Ocalan in March that led to a virtual standstill in the conflict between his Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish state. Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party called earlier in the day for marches in three major cities this weekend to launch a summer of protests aimed at raising pressure on Ankara to carry out reforms under a peace process with the PKK. The shooting, which occurred in the village of Kayacik in the Lice district of Diyarbakir province, was likely to stoke tension among the weekend marchers, although leaders stressed the rallies would be peaceful. Diyarbakir Governor Cahit Kirac said around 200 protesters marched on Friday onto the construction site where the outpost was being built to replace an existing one, with some throwing petrol bombs and setting fire to workers' tents. "At this point, the soldiers fired warning shots and a riot broke out. There were then reports of one person being killed and six people being wounded, two of them seriously. These reports are not confirmed, we are investigating," Kirac said. Turkish security sources earlier told Reuters they had a confirmed report of one person killed and seven wounded, but later revised the number of wounded to six. WEEKEND MARCHES PKK militants began withdrawing from Turkish territory to bases in northern Iraq last month as part of a deal between the state and Ocalan, imprisoned on an island south of Istanbul since 1999, to end a conflict that has killed 40,000 people. There has been little evidence of progress this month with public attention focused instead on weeks of unrelated, broader and often violent anti-government demonstrations in cities across Turkey. But the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) said the withdrawal was continuing successfully and the process had entered a second stage during which Ankara needed to boost the rights of Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the 76 million population. "The government must urgently take the necessary democratic steps, listen to the demands of the people and fulfill the requirements of the second stage," the BDP said in a statement declaring a summer of protest action. It said it would start with marches on Sunday in Diyarbakir, Mersin and Adana, which were likely to attract thousands of demonstrators. Diyarbakir is the main city in the mainly Kurdish southeast. Mersin and Adana, in the eastern Mediterranean region, have large populations of Kurdish migrants. Turkish authorities have already had to deal with three weeks of street unrest in cities including Ankara and Istanbul this month in which riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators night after night. The BDP campaign will call for a halt to the construction of military outposts in southeast Turkey, the release of political prisoners, education in Kurdish, lowering of the threshold of 10 percent electoral support required to enter parliament, and the release of Ocalan. The BDP said it has presented to the government a 25-article proposal on which action needed to be taken urgently. Turkish media said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told a commission of "wise people" advising on the peace process this week that the peace process had still not entered the second stage as only 15 percent of PKK fighters had so far left Turkey. BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas responded by saying that at least 80 percent of the militants had either left Turkey or were en route to their bases in northern Iraq. The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, took up arms against the state in 1984 with the aim of carving out a Kurdish state, but subsequently moderated its goal to autonomy.

Man shot dead during pro, anti-Morsi clashes in Egypt's Alexandria

A man has been shot and killed in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria during clashes between supporters and opponents of President Mohamed Morsi.

Thousands rally against Morsy across Egypt, scores injured in clashes
Thousands of protesters demonstrated in Alexandria after Friday prayers, part of a nationwide wave of rallies calling for President Mohamed Morsy's resignation which has seen opponents and supporters of the beleaguered Islamist regime clash, injuring scores. Demonstrators launched a march in front of Alexandria's Qa’ed Ibrahim Mosque, before heading to the city's Sidi Gaber area, where hundreds of supporters were gathering in front of the administrative office of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters were heard chanting slogans against the regime and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. They also raised red cards and blowed whistles, while drivers on the corniche sounded their horns. The march will join others setting off from al-Wardian, Jihan hospital and al-Labban in Sidi Gaber to rally against Morsy's administration. Clashes meanwhile broke out between a number of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and protesters in Sidi Gaber, while opposition protesters set the Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP) offices in the city. Birdshot was reportedly fired, with eyewitnesses confirming that no less than 10 people were injured. The wounded were transferred to nearby hospitals. Protesters arrested a pro-Morsy protester who allegedly used birdshot and beat him up before handing him over to security forces in the Northern Military District. Clashes are reported to be ongoing. Nineteen people were also reported injured on Friday afternoon following clashes in Aga City, Daqahlia governorate. Security sources told Al-Masry Al-Youm that some of the victims sustained birdshots and were transferred to hospitals for treatment. Protesters against Morsy started a march that roamed the city before heading to the local FJP headquarters which they torched, eyewitnesses said. The protesters clashed with party members responsible for securing the office. Also in Alexandria, protesters set ablaze the office of the FJP in Sidi Gaber area. Clashes are reportedly ongoing between both sides. Opponents to President Mohamed Morsy have taken to the streets in governorates across Egypt. Several cities and villages in Gharbiya staged protests after Friday prayers to demand Morsy's departure. Protesters said Morsy had to leave after he failed to adequately run the country or the economy. Marchers complained of shortage in goods and services such as fuel, electricity and water. Tens of thousands participated in protests and marches, chanting against the Muslim Brotherhood as well as expressing anger at Morsy's divisive speech on Wednesday. In Tanta, around 30,000 protesters staged marches and gathered on al-Shohadaa Square demanding Morsy's departure. In Kafr al-Zayyat, approximately 20,000 protesters gathered on al-Sa'a Square with banners calling for Morsy to leave. "Down with the rule of the supreme guide," one read, referring to the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie. In Basyoun, around 10,000 protesters staged marches in 23 of July Street and gathered at al-Mahatta Square. Scores of demonstrators attempted to break into the headquarters of the FJP in Basyoun, but Brotherhood supporters stationed inside the building prevented them. Protesters had marched from Basyoun to the local Islamist party building, later joined by another from al-Qadaba village. Demonstrators threw stones at the Islamists inside for more than half an hour. Thousands took part in a march in Zagazig, Sharqiya, raising red cards to demand President Mohamed Morsy's departure and bringing an end to the Muslim Brotherhood rule. Hundreds joined the march on its way to the sit-in of revolutionary forces against Morsy in al-Mohafza Street. They chanted: "I am not an infidel. Down with the rule of the supreme guide." Dozens of drivers encouraged protesters with beeps, especially near gas stations. They held red cards while waiting in traffic. Protesters held 2 symbolic coffins, one for Morsy and the other for Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie. They held images mocking US Ambassador Anne Patterson.

Pakistan extends refugee status for Afghans

The United Nations says Pakistan has extended refugee status for over a million Afghans living in the country. It was set to expire June 30. The U.N.'s refugee agency said Friday Pakistan agreed to extend their status while it comes up with a new policy. Pakistan has been hosting Afghan refugees dating back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan three decades ago. There are 1.6 million in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis have become frustrated with the length of time the Afghans have stayed and want them to leave. Pakistan has said it will not forcibly evict Afghans. However, revoking their refugee status would encourage people to return to Afghanistan. Refugee status allows Afghans to get a government ID card that they use for everyday activities like banking or registering for school.

Obama, en route to South Africa, praises Mandela for leadership
US President Barack Obama praised anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela as he flew to South Africa on Friday but played down expectations of a meeting with the ailing black leader."I don't need a photo op," Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One after leaving Senegal, the first stop on his three-country Africa trip. "The last thing I want to do is to be in any way obtrusive at a time when the family is concerned with Nelson Mandela's condition." The 94-year-old former South African president was hospitalized in critical condition in the capital, Pretoria. Obama, the first black American president, sees Mandela as a hero. Mandela fought racial barriers in a decades-long struggle against apartheid before becoming his country's first black president. Both men received the Nobel Peace Prize. The U.S. president said he did not think Mandela's condition would change the message of his Africa trip. "I think the main message we'll want to deliver is not directly to him, but to his family - is simply profound gratitude for his leadership all these years, and that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with him, his family and his country," Obama said. White House officials hope Obama's tour of Africa will compensate for what some view as years of neglect. It is his first substantial visit to the continent since taking office in 2009.

Obama sees 'moral imperative' to help feed Africa

President Barack Obama, wrapping up the first leg of an African tour, said on Friday Washington had a "moral imperative" to help the world's poorest continent feed itself and he then left for South Africa hoping to see ailing Nelson Mandela. White House officials hope Obama's three-nation tour of Africa - his first substantial visit to the continent since taking office in 2009 - will compensate for what some view as years of neglect by America's first black president. Before departing Senegal after a two-day stay, Obama met farmers and local entrepreneurs to discuss new technologies helping to raise agricultural output in West Africa, one of the world's most under-developed and drought-prone regions. Standing in front of the agricultural displays at an event hosted by "Feed the Future", the U.S. government's global hunger initiative, Obama said his administration was making food security a top priority of its development agenda. "This is a moral imperative. I believe that Africa is rising and wants to partner with us: not be dependent but be self sufficient," he told reporters. "Far too many Africans endure the daily injustice of poverty and chronic hunger. "When people ask what's happening to their taxpayer dollars in foreign aid, I want people to know this money's not being wasted. It's helping feed families."
But the health of Mandela, the 94-year-old former South African president and anti-apartheid hero clinging to life in a Pretoria hospital, dominated Obama's day even before he arrived in Johannesburg. Asked on Thursday whether Obama would be able to pay Mandela a visit, the White House said that was up to the family. "We are going to completely defer to the wishes of the Mandela family and work with the South African government as relates to our visit," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Senegal.
South African President Jacob Zuma said Mandela's condition improved over Wednesday night but he remains in a critical state. Some 200 trade unionists, student activists and Communist Party members protesting against American foreign policy gathered on Friday a few blocks from the hospital where Mandela is being treated for a lung infection. MANDELA A "PERSONAL HERO" Obama sees Mandela, also known as Madiba, as a hero. Whether they are able to meet or not, officials said his trip would serve largely as a tribute to the anti-apartheid leader. "I've had the privilege of meeting Madiba and speaking to him. And he's a personal hero, but I don't think I'm unique in that regard," Obama said on Thursday. "If and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we'll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages." Like Mandela, Obama has received the Nobel Peace Prize and both men were the first black presidents of their nations. Air Force One departed Senegal's coastal capital Dakar just before 1100 GMT (0700 AM ET) and was due to arrive in South Africa around eight hours later. On Friday evening, Obama has no public events scheduled and could go to the hospital then. He is scheduled to visit Robben Island, where Mandela spent years in prison under South Africa's former white minority regime, later during his trip. Obama's last stop on his tour will be Tanzania in East Africa. Obama only previous visit to the continent was a one-day stopover in Ghana at the beginning of his first term. Food security, along with anti-corruption measures and trade opportunities for U.S. companies, are topics the White House wants to highlight on Obama's eight-day tour. While acknowledging that Obama has not spent as much time in Africa as people hoped, the administration is eager to highlight what it has done, in part to end unflattering comparisons to accomplishments of predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Food security and public aid are two of the issues the Obama team believes are success stories. USAID head Raj Shah told reporters that Africa had seen a steady increase in resources under Obama's administration despite a tough budget environment.

Gilgit Baltistan: You have taken away our livelihood

by Dr. Zaeem Zia
10 foreigners, who were in Nanga Parbat to witness first hand the country’s beauty, were murdered in cold blood, allegedly to avenge a death caused by drone strikes. How these innocent travelers are related to drone strikes is beyond me. You know what is even sadder? Reportedly, local tour guides have started to receive emails from tourists who were to visit the area in July and August. They do not wish to visit Pakistan anymore; they have requested for the cancellation of their reservations.
If you thought this lone incident would bear no affect on the country, think again. Essar Karim, who works as a local tour guide stated that he received the following email from a European traveller: Oh my God! Such friendly people; such a peaceful place. How did it happen? Exactly my sentiment. How did the Government of Pakistan let this happen?
My attachment to Gilgit:
Among the tallest mountains in the world lies one of the most beautiful lands one can ever behold: Gilgit-Baltistan. It is famous for its influx of foreign tourists during the spring and summer seasons. Unfortunately, however, this influx has steadily declined over the past decade, terrorism in Pakistan being the main reason. After spending two years in the US to complete my Master’s degrees, it was a wonder and a relief to be back home. I was welcomed with the views of beautiful valleys, sparkling fountains, massive mountains, and beautiful scenery. What made me rejoice even more was the fact that G-B not only had these many gifts of nature, the region was enjoying peace after a long time. People were hopeful about tourism prospects this summer and its potential to generate sustainable wealth for the region. I landed in Islamabad and bought a ticket to go home; to my surprise, I could not get my ticket confirmed due to the high flow of tourists to the region! Despite the setback, I was happy to learn that G-B has restored its tourist flow again. Many tour guides were also happy about the inflow, as a significant number of these people earn their livelihood through tourism in the region. While I was in Gilgit, I saw many foreigners shopping and adding life, and varied richness to the city – even the G-B tourism ministry report declared a higher flow of tourists to the region. However, tourism has been severely hindered because of the way our government treats tourists.
My observations of how tourism has been hindered:
An activity I observed that struck me as very unusual was that security personnel were interrogating the tourists in the city, even though it does not fall under their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, tourists were even barred from entering most of the glaciers in the Baltistan region as well; this region is famous for its hospitality and pacifism. The fall in tourism in GB has many reasons and one of the main problems is the No Objection Certificate (NOC) policy of the federal government; as tourists have trouble acquiring an NOC to visit G-B, the flow is artificially decreased from the federation directly. The extremely tragic incident at Nanga Parbat is one of the worst blows to impact tourism in the Diamer District (which borders KPK and Kohistan). It is certain that G-B will be thrown ten steps back and will have to work doubly hard to regain the trust of tourists. This one incident has taken away the hopes of the tourist friendly people of the rest of G-B. I was talking to a local and his words struck me because they depict the depth of sorrow that people feel after the murder of the tourists,
“Mar mar ke humaray pass tourists aye aur aaj is incident ke baad humaray bachon ka mustaqbal bhi tareekh ho gia hai.”
(We have had tourists in our area after such a long time and today, after this incident, our children’s future has become dark.)
A year ago, many Shiites were slaughtered, butchered and stoned to death in same region. The murderers were dressed in military outfits and were highly trained. Unfortunately, the killers got away with the heinous crime; had they been hung publicly, no one would have ever dared to commit such a heinous crime again. The lack of appropriate punishment has ruined the social fabric of Pakistan. Likewise, it is engulfing the peace of G-B, particularly in the Diamer district.
My solution:
We, the residents of G-B, demand stringent action against terrorists carrying out such atrocious crimes; these are not reflective of the people we are. If this incident is ignored like the incidents in the past (e.g; Lulusar, Kohistan and Chilas), then the locals have every reason to doubt the sincerity of the security agencies within the region. It is nearly impossible for the miscreants to get away easily due to the tough terrain of the area. The mountains of the district should be searched thoroughly and operations should be carried out to take them head on. Furthermore, to tighten the security of this district, it should be handed over to the Gilgit-Baltistan scouts for search operations and particularly for the security of the foreigners, as they know the area better than anyone else. To ensure the security of tourists, the provincial government should be empowered, and they should be given the authority to brief and debrief those in Gilgit-Baltistan and those who visit as well. A tourism rescue system should be established and intelligence agencies should make it their priority to do their job, ensuring security, rather than poking their nose into the minute internal matters of the region. G-B is already under-served. If tourism is affected – as it indeed will be because of the Fairy Meadows incident – then it will descend into absolute desertion such as that of beautiful Balochistan.
My plea:
I reiterate that the people of G-B are tourist-friendly and hospitable; we are peace loving and culturally rich. We have numerous tourist spots that are safe havens for foreign tourists: Baltistan, Hunza Nagar, Astore, Ghanche, Ghizer, and Gilgit. This incident of terrorism has greatly grieved everyone in G-B; we are stunned as we mourn for the victims and their families. Needless to say, this is a serious blow to an already under-resourced economy. It is the high time the government prioritises education in the district of Diamer and take serious action against institutions that give birth to this mindset which ruins the appeal of regions like Diamer. If the government is unable to meet the perfectly reasonable demands of security for the people of G-B, then it won’t be too long before they seek help from those who will! We have waited long enough.

Afghanistan: Defend Women’s Rights

The Afghan government should adopt strong measures to protect women’s rights in advance of the deadline at the end of 2014 for withdrawal of international combat forces, Human Rights Watch said today. On July 10, 2013, Afghanistan will for the first time appear before the United Nations committee that will review its compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In recent weeks, several incidents have increased concerns about the government’s commitment to women’s rights. In May, President Hamid Karzai told women’s rights activists that he is unable to support further efforts to protect Afghanistan’s law against violence against women. Also in May, an effort to gain parliamentary approval for a key law on violence against women ended in shambles, and the lower house of parliament voted to abolish a set-aside for women on provincial councils. “President Karzai needs to understand just how high the stakes are for Afghanistan in the debate over women’s rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Donors should be clear that if Afghanistan doesn’t defend women’s rights, the money will no longer flow for the army or the police.” Several women’s rights activists told Human Rights Watch that Karzai told them at a May meeting that he “had done all he could for them and could not do any more” to protect the 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (the EVAW Law). They said he advised them specifically to stop advocating for stronger enforcement of the EVAW Law. Several members of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, have expressed increasing hostility toward women’s rights and appear to be making a concerted effort to roll rights protections back. A Wolesi Jirga debate over Afghanistan’s groundbreaking EVAW Law in May was halted after only 15 minutes when several parliamentarians called for changes to the law, including abolishing the minimum age for marriage for girls. In ensuing days, several protests were held in major cities calling for repeal of the EVAW Law. In mid-May, the Wolesi Jirga passed a revision of Afghanistan’s Electoral Law. While the prior version of the Electoral Law guaranteed that at least 25 percent of seats in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial councils would be reserved for female candidates, the amended law removed this provision and provides no set-aside provincial council seats for women. The law was sent to the upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga, for review, and it reinserted the language providing a set-aside for women on provincial councils. As required by the Afghan constitution, in circumstances in which the two houses of parliament produce different versions of the law, a joint commission of the two houses will now be formed to try to reconcile the differences and reach agreement on a final version of the law for adoption by both houses. “The parliamentarians attacking laws affecting women’s rights are the same ones who, a month ago, said that 9-year-old girls are old enough to marry,” Adams said. “President Karzai and both houses of parliament should not allow those extremely hostile to women’s rights to destroy 12 years of progress for women and their future hopes.” The EVAW Law, which was passed by presidential decree in 2009, remains valid law. The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubiš, has called on the Afghan government to focus greater effort on enforcing the law, in the wake of the troubled parliamentary debate. Afghanistan’s provincial councils play a key role in overseeing and guiding provincial government. Membership in a provincial council is also the main route to appointment to the Meshrano Jirga, the upper house, as at present two-thirds of Meshrano Jirga members are selected from provincial councils. Afghanistan’s constitution provides set-aside seats for women in both the upper and lower houses of the Afghan parliament. The constitution does not mandate a set-aside for women in the provincial councils. The last major development conference on Afghanistan, held in Tokyo in July 2012, resulted in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, which sets out commitments by both the Afghan government and its international partners for the years ahead. The framework states that, “Strengthened governance and institutions with a particular focus on the rights of women are prerequisites for strong and sustainable economic growth, employment generation, and prosperity for the Afghan people.” It also states that, “Progress from the past decade in areas that underpin sustained economic growth and development, especially for women and girls, such as education, health, and other basic services, as well as strengthened respect for human rights, must continue.” “Weakening Afghanistan’s tenuous respect for women’s rights is incompatible with the clear language and the intentions of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework,” Adams said. “This is a crucial time for donors to make it clear to the Afghan government that they will not continue to write checks to a country that is failing to defend women’s rights.”

The Most Dangerous Threat to the World Is ... Collective Psychosis in Pakistan?
It may not be the most dangerous place in the world, but, with its mix of political instability and nuclear capability, it's plausibly the most dangerous place for the world. Yet according to Husain Haqqani, Americans have a chronically hard time understanding why. "I do believe that Pakistan is a dangerous place," Haqqani said, speaking with The Washington Post's David Ignatius and retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal at the Aspen Ideas Festival today, "but ... not for the reasons the Americans think it is. The Americans don't get Pakistan." Haqqani, who served as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington from 2008-2011, thinks that U.S. diplomats and military leaders have, after decades of on-again, off-again engagement with Pakistani officials, internalized a distorted sense of possibility in the United States' involvement in Pakistan as a whole.Haqqani believes that Islamabad's generals in particular have played a big role over time in flattering Americans' sense of efficacy in Pakistan -- and seems to believe that U.S. generals have been particularly susceptible to being misled, tending to see Pakistan's military leaders as their apolitical counterparts, rather than "politicians in uniform." It's not that American officials' thinking about Pakistan is insufficiently complex, according to Haqqani (McChrystal, after all, had just emphasized the importance of not looking for simple fixes in Pakistan); it's that American officials' thinking about Pakistan serially overestimates the United States' ability to promote stability and development in the country at all. U.S. foreign policy naturally looks for levers to pull. But what if, despite all the complexity among all the issues where the U.S. has been looking for levers, there is, after all, a central, defining issue with no lever connected to it? "It's not America's problem to solve Pakistan's problem," Haqqani said. "It's Pakistan's problem to solve Pakistan's problem." So what's the problem? Haqqani's account here is rather meta: The problem is a dominant and determining sense of collective insecurity that prevents Pakistan from understanding its situation in the world. It was a country that was created with very little prior discussion and analysis. People forget: There's been an Egypt for 5,000 years; there's been an Iran for centuries -- for millennia. There's been an India for millennia. Pakistan is only 66 years old. So therefore it has, essentially, a lot of psychoses, more than it has actual threats and challenges. India, for example -- I understand that Pakistanis have a lot of concerns about India. But, as a Pakistani, I look at history. ... Yes, India has never philosophically accepted the idea of Pakistan. But it has never been responsible for initiating any of the wars with Pakistan. Let's be real about that. Afghanistan is too weak and too poor to attack Pakistan. So most of the problems that Pakistan sees itself in are psychological rather than real. Which isn't to say Pakistan doesn't have real problems. This is, after all, a country now with a population of 210 million and the highest population-growth rate in the region. Half the country's population is below the age of 21. One-third of them have never been to a school of any kind. One-third of the population overall is below the poverty line, with another one-third just above it. And this country has nuclear weapons. "The nuclear weapons should have been enough to make us finally secure about India," Haqqani said. "We have mutually-assured destruction, so they will never invade us. Well guess what? We are now like the guy who keeps buying guns to try and protect himself, and then says, 'Oh, gosh, I can't sleep because I'm afraid that somebody will steal my guns." So Pakistan's threat to itself and the world, Haqqani believes, is essentially a failure to come to terms with itself as a nation. Which is, here as anywhere, not just a broad, collective failure but a failure of political leadership -- and one that Pakistan has previously shown promise of overcoming: "Benazir Bhutto, before she was assassinated, had a new vision for Pakistan," Haqqani said. "And her vision was: We will focus inward. We will put the kids in schools. We will keep the nukes, but we will eventually sign up for some kind of international agreement that will make sure that we are not looked upon as a pariah. We will join globalization." Haqqani isn't overly optimistic about the prospect of Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, now bringing the kind of leadership that can meaningfully change his country and move it beyond its "psychoses." But Haqqani doesn't take a pessimistic stand, either, seeing Pakistan as the scene of both instability and potential. So is there any role at all for the United States in helping realize that potential? Haqqani thinks that there can be, but only if Pakistan assumes the national self-possession to define that role in the right way. "... if America is available to us, we will use it like Korea did or Taiwan did," Haqqani said -- in the notably optimistic future tense. "We are not going to live as an insecure nation, because that insecurity then makes people think, 'Al Qaeda? Well, how can we use them against our enemy, India?' -- instead of considering them the enemy."

Pakistan: Hard to escape terrorism

The murderous bomb attack on Justice Maqbool Baqar's security escort in Karachi on Wednesday, is indeed very distressing; but it's not the first of its kind nor, fearfully, the last one. Going by the phenomenal rise in the incidence of terrorism and the ever-expanding variety of its targets the state appears to be no more calling the shots. The terrorists choose the targets and go after them at the time of their choosing, invariably succeeding in their designs. One would hate to say that state has forfeited its responsibility to protect the life and property of the citizens, but on the ground there is not much to suppress that perception. Paradoxically though, the authorities are never short of making claims of netting serial target-killers, cracking up criminal mafias and laying hands on terrorist squads' ringleaders. And occasionally raids are conducted on criminal hideouts and 'huge stocks of lethal arms' are recovered. Juxtapose these two scenarios, and inescapable conclusion would be that while we know who the terrorist is who is on his back but we can't do anything. Consider the number of terrorist suspects that occasionally fall in the hands of the investigating agencies. Not that our investigators are too weak-hearted to effectively squeeze information out of their subjects; in fact our investigation cells are notorious for their hard questioning. Wonder, how is it that the terrorists' highroad reach to our life is still unchecked, and they play with our lives with such abandon. Is it then that our agencies tasked to tackle the menace of rampant terrorism in the country are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds? That Justice Baqar was the target of extremists and therefore was given rather heavy security is not enough of a battle that the government is expected to fight against the enemy who is not only well-informed, adequately armed, highly motivated and no more hidden. Was it humanly possible to screen and scan the entire route the judge's convoy was to take or to close it for general public. As we see everyday, only the provision of security cover during travel wasn't enough to secure Justice Maqbool Baqar. Pakistan today is confronted with a multifaceted threat of terrorism which has to be fought back with many more tools of which the most critical is intelligence. As we write these lines the Gilgit-Baltistan government is busy claiming arrests of about a score of suspects who killed foreign mountain climbers on this past Sunday night. If it was so easy to spot the suspects and arrest them, the question is why such a band of perverted mind couldn't be kept away from the Nanga Parbat base camp where no less than two scores of foreign climbers were camping. The sad coda is that despite the colossal suffering, the people of Pakistan have at the hands of terrorists - who are of many genres, but now the most active are the religious extremists - the country doesn't have a workable counter-terrorism strategy. All that we have all these years is fire-fighting, followed by plethora of condolences and loudly-expressed commitments to chase these terrorists to the gates of hell. And nothing happens after that. Is there any ambiguity as to who and where the leaderships of Taliban or Lashkar-i-Jhangvi are? It's good to learn that the Nawaz Sharif government would try interdicting the extremist entities from getting foreign funds, but is there a doubt that Pakistan is the battlefield of others' proxy war and we know who these 'others' are. Then, there is alarming inadequacy of law to secure punishment of the culprits. There has to be special laws to deal with this extraordinary situation; if the liberty of a suspect is sacrosanct so is the life of peaceful citizenry. We need to raise an anti-terrorist taskforce with mandate to operate independent of local control. In fact as to what should be done at the legal and administrative levels to stitch up a framework for effective counter-terrorism, there is no dearth of guidance available with the government. What is lacking is will and determination on the part of the government to move forward - a costly failing of which the enemy is making the best use. If the Karachi police advice for the persons whose life is under threat to 'change three things: the route, timing and the vehicle' then we had it.

Balochistan: A report on atrocities

Daily Times
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has compiled a report based upon its recent fact finding mission to the restive province of Balochistan. The revelations contained in the report are nothing new. It speaks of how human rights abuses continue unabated in the province, how the people have hope in the newly elected democratic government but still hold the intelligence agencies of the country and the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) responsible for the kill and dump policy that has reaped so many Baloch victims in the province. It details how various sectarian organisations have and continue to kill and maim minority members of the Baloch community and how the insurgency is drastically increasing. Anyone who reads these pages on a daily basis knows these facts and realises that all is not well with Balochistan, but what is being done about these cold, hard facts? Whilst the documentation of the HRCP mission must be welcomed — as should any report that details the grievances and travails of the Baloch — because of the exposure of widespread atrocities, there needs to be greater focus on the problem. The burning down of the Ziarat Residency, where Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah spent his final days, received nationwide attention and condemnation, with some people demanding that steps be taken to bring the culprits to justice and to rebuild the Residency. What about bringing to book those who have tortured, killed and dumped Baloch citizens and have made many more simply vanish? What about rebuilding the entire province of Balochistan by ensuring that such crimes against humanity do not occur? The Baloch believe, in all sincerity, that the FC is behind the many deaths and disappearances and so do the insurgents. It is the responsibility of the newly elected government of Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch to ensure that the FC is reined in so that a chink in the door is opened for dialogue with the nationalist insurgents. Only when the Baloch see that positive action is being taken against those they suspect of being behind the rash of killings all over the province will there ever be hope for a political resolution. In the absence of such moves, all else seems futile and the bloodshed in Balochistan seems set to continue indefinitely. The first casualty of such a course will be the credibility of the new government in Quetta, thereby washing away any hope that it can turn the corner towards peace in the province.