Monday, August 5, 2013

Saudi Wahhabi authorities arrested the Shiite human rights activist 'Abbas Al-Mazra'
On 29 July 2013, Saudi Wahhabi security forces surrounded the house of human rights activist, Abbas Ali Mohammed Al-Mazra, 28 years, from Al-Awamiya town who figured on a list of 23 Shiites wanted in the Shiite village of Al-Awamiya in Eastern Province. The citizen Al-Mazra was with his mother and brothers when the forces stormed into the house firing live-bullets. The forces searched another apartments belonged to Al-Mazra's brothers. Abbas Al-Mazra and six of his brothers, Salim, Mahdi, Mohammad, Faris, Salih and Mohsen, were being beaten by security forces as they lay handcuffed on the floor. Saudi security also arrested the citizen, Mohammad al-Thoweimer, Al-Mazra's neighbor, as he going to his work. The forces moved the prisoners to the police station with Al-Mazra's mother, his brothers' wives and children who were released later. A number of cars and houses have burnt during the operation. The Interior Ministry issued a statement, the spokesman claimed that the eight men were involved in criminal acts, including drug trafficking and the men have taken part in opening fire at members of the security forces. The committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula is seriously concerned that Abbas Al-Mazra and his six brothers will be subjected to violations of their human rights and may be suffering torture and maltreatment. CDHRAP also calls international human rights organizations to pressure Saudi regime to release detainees and to halt harassment against Shi'a citizens in Saudi Arabia and let them to enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly which is guaranteed in the article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which stipulates that: "The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others". The Committee calls the international organizations and local human rights to put pressure on the Saudi regime to release Abbas Al-Mazra and his six brothers and addresses to the Saudi authorities responsible to maintain their safety.

How the Ergenekon Verdicts May Deepen Turkey’s Political Divide

By Pelin Turgut
A heavily guarded Turkish court on Monday handed down verdicts against 275 defendants — whose ranks include former generals, parliamentarians and journalists — on charges of plotting to overthrow the Islamist-leaning government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The landmark trial took five years, led to indictments that ran for thousands of pages and was housed in a purpose-built courthouse in Silivri, a coastal resort town outside Istanbul. In the process, it also became a bitterly contested symbol of the deepening divide between the government and its supporters, on one hand, and secularists who accuse it of trying to muzzle dissent on the other. The defendants were charged with forming a clandestine ultra-nationalist “terrorist organization” dubbed Ergenekon, the name of a mythic valley in Central Asia where, in lore, the Turkic peoples originated. Their alleged plan was to feed social unrest by staging high-profile assassinations and bomb blasts, creating a pretext for the military to step in and take control — Turkey has a long, dark history of military involvement in civilian affairs, including three coups. On Monday, General Ilker Basbug, retired chief of staff of the Turkish military, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the Ergenekon conspiracy, along with 16 others. The court judges, announcing verdicts in the case individually, also sentenced three opposition MPs to between 12 and 35 years in prison, while 21 others were acquitted. Basbug maintains his innocence and claims the prosecutions were politically motivated. The government and its supporters say that if unexposed, Ergenekon would have instigated another coup. Erdogan once called himself “the prosecutor of Ergenekon.” To them, the trial marked a necessary coming-of-age for Turkish democracy and an end to the military’s domination of political life. For decades, Turkey’s generals saw themselves as self-appointed guardians of Turkish secularism, a tradition dating back to the country’s Westernizing founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was also a military commander. The top brass were deeply opposed to the democratically-elected Erdogan when he first took office in 2003 — but he steadily eroded their power, passing European Union-inspired laws that diminished their role. Ergenekon marked a key round in that battle, as dozens of ex-military men were detained over a period of five years. And last September, hundreds of military officers were sentenced for their part in a separate offshoot coup plot dubbed “Sledgehamer.” The Ergenekon investigation began in 2007 with the discovery of a stash of hand grenades in an Istanbul shantytown. But as the investigation proceeded, it became clouded by waves of mass arrests, further offshoot trials, allegations of doctored documents, dates that did not add up and witnesses who were not heard. Some defendants like Mustafa Balbay, a well-known journalist for the secularist daily Cumhuriyet, spent years in jail without a hearing. (Balbay was sentenced Monday to 34 years in jail on alleged terrorism charges.) At first, many Turks were supportive, seeing it as an opportunity to cleanse Turkey’s alleged “deep state,” the long-used term for a shadowy network of politically-connected operatives—security officials, politicians, even businessmen—colluding beyond the reach of law to do the supposed dirty work of the state. (In 1996, the “deep state” was illustrated by a scandal surrounding a car crash in western Turkey in which a senior politician, a wanted criminal and a police chief were found to have been traveling together.) “In its initial stages, it was a justified investigation,” says Sedat Ergin, a senior columnist at the mainstream daily Hurriyet. “But as time went on, it changed shape. It became a politically motivated trial. There were many violations of legal procedure and rights, so its credibility came into question.” The European Union, which Turkey hopes to join, said in its 2012 progress report that the case had been overshadowed by “real concerns about their wide scope and the shortcomings in judicial proceedings.” Erdogan, while a clear backer of the process, has maintained that the prosecutors have acted independently throughout. On Monday, all main access roads to the courthouse in the coastal town of Silivri, near Istanbul, were closed, as was airspace above it. Police fired rounds of tear gas on groups of protesters attempting to cross corn fields to approach the building. The defendants’ relatives were not allowed into the courtroom. “The people will have the last word,” said former general Basbug in a statement on his website. “And it shouldn’t be forgotten that there is also divine justice.” There is still a lengthy appeal process ahead. The defendants can appeal the verdict in higher Turkish courts and, if that fails, at the European Court of Human Rights. “The European Court of Human Rights process will take say another 4-5 years. In the meantime though, this verdict confirms the absence of rule of law here. I’m simply not convinced about some of these verdicts,” says Soli Ozel, international relations professor at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. At present, the Ergenekon sentences seem to have deepened the rift between Erdogan’s government and its critics. Turkey is still reeling from mass protests at the start of June which saw Taksim Square, the center of Istanbul, shut down and taken over by youthful demonstrators angered by the government’s increasing authoritarianism and its attempts to regulate issues such as alcohol and women’s reproductive health. Three people were killed and thousands wounded. Scuffles and tear gas attacks have since become a regular Saturday night occurrence. “Given the current political climate in Turkey, this verdict will no doubt sharpen that polarization,” says Ergin. Read more:

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The $7 trillion problem that could sink Asia

By: William Pesek
It's our currency, but it's your problem." This musing from Nixon-era treasury secretary John Connally is about to find new relevance as the White House battles Republicans over raising the US debt limit. Connally couldn't have foreseen how right he would be 42 years on as Asia sits on almost $7 trillion in currency reserves, much of it in dollars. Asia's central banks engaged in a kind of financial arms race after a 1997 crisis, stockpiling dollars as a defence against turmoil. That altered the financial landscape in two ways. One, Asia now has more weapons against market unrest than it knows what to do with. Two, Asia is essentially America's banker, with China and Japan having the most at stake.
Debt Knell
That might be less problematic if not for Capitol Hill's propensity to shoot itself in the foot. A pointless squabble over the debt ceiling prompted Standard & Poor's to yank the US's AAA credit rating in August 2011, sending panic through markets. Asia is now bracing for months of posturing when US Congress returns from its August recess. In a perfect world, Washington's bankers would threaten to call in their loans. Asian nations would sit White House and congressional leaders down and tell them to get their act together. But Connally's 1971 observation is infinitely truer today than at any time in Asia's history. We need to stop considering huge reserve holdings as a financial strength. They are a trap that is complicating economic policy making. It's time Asia devised an escape. China isn't without leverage. It's no coincidence that new Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew's first overseas visit in March was to his banker-in-chief, Xi Jinping, in Beijing. Nor did it go unnoticed that Lew was the new Chinese president's first foreign-official meeting. Lew may have been sending Xi a signal last week by calling on Congress to act "in a way that doesn't create a crisis" on fiscal matters. But that leverage is limited. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang are engaged in a risky rebalancing act, trying to wean the Chinese economy off exports without fanning social unrest. Another debt-limit tussle would fuel market volatility, strengthen the yuan as the dollar plunges, and result in the loss of tens of billions of dollars in China's portfolio of US Treasuries. "They don't like it," says Leland Miller, the New York-based president of China Beige Book International. "But while they're sure to make some loud noises about it, at the end of the day, they understand they have no option but to accept the hand they're given." In Tokyo, Shinzo Abe faces a similar dilemma. An important pillar of the prime minister's plan to end deflation and restore healthy growth is a weak yen. The currency's 17% drop since mid-November has helped even down-and-out Sony eke out some profits. Yet the yen would surge anew on another US downgrade: in 2011, a giant flight-to-quality trade drove huge amounts of capital Japan's way. The more Asia adds to its holdings of US debt, the harder they become to unload. If traders got even the slightest whiff that China was selling large blocks of its $1.3 trillion in dollar holdings, markets would quake. The same goes for Japan's $1.1 trillion stockpile. So central banks just keep adding to them.
Pyramid scheme, anyone?
Never before has the world seen a greater misallocation of vast resources. Loading up on dollars helps Asia's exporters by holding down local currencies, but it causes economic control problems. When central banks buy dollars, they need to sell local currency, increasing its availability and boosting the money supply and inflation. So they sell bonds to mop up excess money. It's an imprecise science made more complicated by the US Fed's quantitative-easing policies.
Dumping Dollars
At the very least, Asia should stop adding to its dollar holdings and consider ways to bring more of those funds home. They could be used for infrastructure, education, research and development on cleaner energy, or any other vital investments in the future. The question, of course, is how? There is a clear first-mover advantage for smaller economies. South Korea (with $53 billion in Treasuries), the Philippines ($40 billion) or Malaysia ($18 billion) could try to dump dollars on the sly. Bigger ones couldn't pull that off in this hyper-connected, 24x7-news-cycle world; news of sizable central-banker sell orders would inspire copycats. Washington can help, and not just by avoiding another suicidal debtlimit fight. The Treasury should engage with its Asian counterparts in a cooperative brainstorming process to draw down their reserves without devastating markets. It's in the US's best interest to keep more of its debt onshore, Japan-style, by attracting greater purchases from cash-rich US companies. That would make the US less vulnerable to capital flights in the future. If ever there were a time for a currency summit, it's now. Perhaps the IMF or the Group of 20 can host the debate. Such high-level discussions would help Asia set goals and consider the mechanics and timing of reclaiming more of its savings. Only then will all those dollars start being the solution to Asia's challenges, not the problem.

Clashes erupt after Turkey trial verdicts

Protesters have clashed with police forces as a Turkish court handed down judgements in a conspiracy case that has exposed deep divisions in the country.
After the verdicts were announced on Monday, fierce clashes erupted between police and about 10,000 protesters near the courthouse in Silivri, a town in the outskirts of Istanbul Demonstrators threw stones at riot police who responded with water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protest that was blocking traffic. Hundreds of people also took to streets in the capital, Ankara, to protest against the court ruling, chanting: "We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk," a reference to the founder of modern Turkey.Former armed forces chief Ilker Basbug was sentenced to life imprisonment by the court in the case involving allegations of conspiracy to overthrow the government. Judges also sentenced three serving parliamentarians from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) to between 12 and 35 years in prison. The court acquitted 21 defendants in the controversial case. All have been accused of being members of a little known underground group called Ergenekon.

Turkey: Ergenekon trial rulings ‘illegitimate,’ says main opposition leader

Turkish main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has slammed the severe sentences announced in the Ergenekon trial verdict Aug. 5, calling the court’s rulings “illegitimate.” “The rulings of the specially authorized courts are not legitimate from a legal, political or moral point of view. The rulings handed down by these courts are illegitimate,” the Republican People’s Party (CHP) head said in his first remarks after the verdict denouncing the special authority of the Courts for Serious Crimes, which deal with terrorism-related cases. The special courts were abolished last year, but the ongoing Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) coup plot cases were not affected by Parliament’s decision. “In democracies, individuals are not tried in special courts linked to the political authority but in normal, independent courts which believe in the rule of law,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “These courts don’t distribute justice. Because they are courts under the instruction of the political authority and intend to fulfill their orders. The notion of rule of law is not valid for these courts,” he added. Two CHP deputies, journalist Mustafa Balbay and former Ankara Chamber of Commerce chairman Sinan Aygün received 34 years and eight months and 13 years and six months of prison respectively. Another CHP deputy Mehmet Haberal, who was first sentenced to 12 years and six months in prison, was subsequently released for time served during the trial. Earlier, Aygün said Kılıçdaroğlu “did not expect so many life sentences.” Kılıçdaroğlu was surprised for high number of life imprisonments, Aygün told reporters after the meeting. MHP express cautious criticism Nationalist Movement party (MHP) deputy Oktay Vural told members of the press that one should take a look at the verdict before making statements, however, he added that the ongoing process had been used by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) as “a marketing tool and a way of oppressing the opposition,” according to Anadolu Agency.

Christie, Clinton top 'hot politician' list
Chris Christie and Hillary Rodham Clinton are the "hottest politicians" in the nation, according to one new poll. The coldest: Congressional leaders from both parties. Christie, the New Jersey governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, rates 53.1 degrees on what Quinnipiac University calls its "thermometer of voters attitudes towards the nation's major political figures." Clinton, the former secretary of State, senator, first lady and potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, is second at 52.1 degrees. A surprising third place: First-year Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., at 49.2 degrees. President Obama is in fourth at 47.6 degrees, tied with Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y. "Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's score is not surprising given her lengthy political career and especially strong support among Democrats and women," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He added: "But Gov. Christopher Christie's rating is impressive given that his experience -- less than four years as governor -- pales compared to Mrs. Clinton' s résumé. What is interesting is that only two of the 22 figures rate better than the absolute middle of the scale, not exactly a ringing endorsement of the nation's political establishment." The four lowest rated politicians in this survey are all congressional leaders: Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (38.4); Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (37.5); Republican House Speaker John Boehner (36.7); and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (33.8).

Pakistan: Rabbani hits out at Abbasi’s remarks

The author of the landmark 18th Amendment, Senator Raza Rabbani on Sunday criticised the recent statement of federal Minister for Petroleum Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in which he had hinted at the ‘rollback’ of the amendment and proposed to bring change in article 158 of the constitution. “We strongly condemn the minister’s statement to rollback the 18th amendment and proposal to amend the constitution’s article 158, which pertains to distribution of gas among the provinces,” Mr Rabbani said at a press conference at the Qasr-i-Naz. “It appears that after having elected a `one-unit’ president, the PML-N is now talking of rolling back the 18th amendment, which granted autonomy to the provinces,” he said. He said the petroleum minister was unaware of the fact that article 158 had not been amended by the 18th amendment and in fact, it was in its original form since 1973. “Therefore, when he talks about amending the 18th amendment and article 158, he is talking of undoing the natural consensus first built in 1973 and then in 2010 when the 18th amendment was passed,” he said. Mr Rabbani said the minister ‘must realise’ that the national consensus ‘cannot be undone’ by a party, which had almost no representation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh. “This demand of amending article 158 is not for the working class of Punjab but to promote crony capitalism, i.e. of those who supported the PML-N during the election as is evident from the pay-off given to their supporters in the circular debt.”He said the government’s order to the Sui Southern to give 110 million cubic feet (mcf) of gas to Sui Northern instead of 90mcf was unconstitutional according to article 158, and called for its withdrawal. Similarly, he pointed out, the creation of the planning commission into a ministry was also unconstitutional as it had assumed the role of the National Economic Council under article 156 of the constitution. “This is a violation and the planning commission be restored to its original position.” Senator Rabbani said the article 172 of the constitution continued to be violated as 50 per cent ownership of oil and gas companies had been shifted to the provinces but the same had not been implemented. Mr Rabbani, who is additional secretary general of PPP and its parliamentary leader in the Senate, said the ministries of education and health in the federal government were in violation of the constitution after the abolition of the Concurrent List. “The rules of business of the federal government be amended immediately,” he said. The senator described as unconstitutional the task force established by the federal government on curriculum, so was the federal government’s letter written to the provinces on action planned on education. He said all task forces established in the health department at the federal level should be disbanded. “The PPP wanted to give this government a honeymoon period of 100 days and not make such demands (before that), but this attack on provincial autonomy has forced us to do so,” he said. He said that immediately after Eid, his party would contact all the political parties on the question of provincial autonomy. Besides, the party would get in touch with those ‘elements’ in the PML-N who were architects of the 18th amendment ‘like Ishaq Dar and Mehtab Abbasi’. He said the PPP would contact all the chief ministers to apprise them of the situation and consult the opposition parties in the Senate to requisition a session after Eid on the question of provincial autonomy. “We hope that after Eid when the provincial assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will meet, they will register their protest on this issue,” Mr Rabbani said.

Afghan market blast 'kills four' in Kandahar

At least four people have been killed and more than 20 wounded in an explosion in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghan officials say. At the time of the blast, the market was packed with shoppers ahead of the Eid holiday, an official told the BBC. The bomb was hidden in a cart, said a spokesman for the governor of the province. Violence in Afghanistan has increased ahead of the planned withdrawal of international forces next year. Officials confirmed that all four killed in Kandahar City were civilians. map It was not clear what the bomb was targeting. No group has said it carried out the attack. Insurgents have been trying to take advantage of the transfer of security responsibility from foreign to Afghan forces as the international coalition withdraws from Afghanistan. Last week, the UN reported that civilian casualties had risen dramatically in the first six months of the year.

Women’s rights in Afghanistan: Uneven and fragile gains

Events that feature male and female college students debating with and against each other are a common part of university life in many countries, but not in Afghanistan. There, mixed-gender contact among nonfamily members continues to be viewed with disapproval and, just last year, no less than the president endorsed a code of conduct by clerics prescribing gender segregation in schools and offices. I have helped academic institutions and nongovernmental organizations organize debate and public-speaking events in more than 20 countries, but the English-language debating tournament run by the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Kabul in June 2013 has proven to be my most challenging and fulfilling assignment. I learned from Adam LeClair, IFES-Afghanistan’s civil society officer, that progress has been slow but steady for female participants in this annual debating competition. Only 12 percent of the participants in the first year were female. This year, in its fourth edition, females comprised a third of the tournament, which had more than 60 teams from 20 universities across eight different provinces. Activities of this nature and scale are rare for young people in Afghanistan, especially for females, who were forbidden from attending nonreligious schools under the Taliban. Girls are now legally free to access education, but barriers such as early marriage, the lack of female teachers and support from families and long distances to school, lead to dismal gender gaps, especially at the university level. The Taliban had stepped up attacks in Kabul this year. In the two weeks leading up to the tournament, suicide bombers attacked the periphery of the Kabul International Airport and also killed 17 people near the Supreme Court. There was another attack on the presidential palace just two days after the tournament. And yet, for two days, the gymnasium at the American University of Afghanistan was packed with around 300 participants, coaches and judges. As expected, security was tight and many female debaters had reservations about being photographed or filmed while speaking. In hushed voices, they described the concerns raised by their families about their participation, which included the long and potentially risky travels across provinces and close contact with male teammates, and an impression of debating as aggressive, confrontational and inappropriate for young women in a society where male elders dominate public discourse. All this melted away during the actual debates, where they delivered passionate and compelling speeches on controversial issues such as whether Afghan university graduates should be required to work in their country for two years upon graduation, whether the willingness to participate in electoral debates should be a pre-requisite for politicians contesting national elections, and whether most international development aid contracts should be awarded to Afghan organizations. Many of them openly stated that if their male counterparts could succeed in this activity, they should be able to as well; even if for some, it meant adhering to a strict dress code to deflect opposition to their participation. Others explained that building confidence and critical-thinking skills was an important part of their own long-term plans to “make Afghanistan a beautiful country again.” Even the grand final rounds reflect this rising tide of female involvement: there were no women in the final during the first year, two in the second year, four in the third year but in all-women teams, and finally, three this year, but all on mixed-gender teams. This was the first year with a female in the winning team. A month prior to my arrival, women’s rights were being dealt crushing blows: the Afghan parliament refused to ratify a presidential decree on the elimination of violence against women and the lower house struck down the legal provision for 25 percent reserved seats for women in provincial councils. The upper house has since reinstated the provision, but reduced it to only 20 percent reserved seats. For one of the rounds, we facilitated a student debate over whether or not it was a good idea for female Afghan Member of Parliament Fawzia Koofi to seek parliamentary backing for the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women, which was passed by presidential decree in 2009. The law criminalizes various abuses including marital rape, child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, the sale of women and girls, and “baad,” the giving of girls to resolve family disputes. I learned that Koofi’s strategy drew mixed reactions: some students believed parliamentary approval was necessary to ensure that the law isn’t subject to the whims of the sitting president, who could be vulnerable to demands from the Taliban; others feared that subjecting the law to parliamentary debate allowed traditionalist MPs to weaken provisions in the law or repeal it all together. In reality, the parliamentary discussion ended in shambles when MPs challenged the provision on marital rape, calling it un-Islamic to prosecute men for rape within marriage. Through this lens, it became clear to me that for all the dramatic progress that has been achieved in terms of gender-focused Millennium Development Goals in Afghanistan, such as reduced maternal mortality and increased female literacy, many of these gains are fragile, and will be threatened by the departure of NATO forces in 2014. Many to whom I spoke feared that in the absence of pressure from international donors, women’s rights will turn into a bargaining chip among local political groups. While the upcoming April 2014 presidential elections is a major test for democracy in Afghanistan, it is also a test of how far Afghan society has come toward gender equality. Females have run for the presidency before, but none have ranked close to the top five. Koofi, a high-profile female MP, has publicly declared her intention to contest the 2014 elections, despite threats to her life. The level of prominence accorded to women’s rights in the campaign period and the female voter turnout during the elections will be telling. USAID has recently announced plans to commit $200 million and to persuade other donors to contribute the same amount for a five-year program focusing on the education and training of women aged 18-30 in Afghanistan. Called “Promote,” the program seeks to bolster women’s roles in government, business and civil society. This U.S.-backed effort is a helpful start in safeguarding the gains made in women’s rights.

Why the United States won’t need troops in Afghanistan after 2014

By Jeong Lee
General Joseph Dunford, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, has recently told the New York Times that America’s “presence post-2014 is necessary for the gains we have made to date to be sustainable.” His reasoning was that although the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are bearing the brunt of fighting, “at the end of 2014, [they] won’t be completely independent” operationally and logistically. Since the Obama Administration is already considering either a “zero option”—whereby there will be no American troops after 2014—or an earlier withdrawal, General Dunford’s plea for America’s continued involvement in Afghanistan will not likely be taken seriously. For one, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 67 percent of Americans surveyed believe that the Afghan War is not worth fighting. Moreover, the recent video conference between President Obama and President Karzai proved that their relationship has deteriorated considerably due to lack of trust and miscommunication. Yet, the issue of what the United States should do in Afghanistan is still intensely debated among foreign policy mavens. Dov S. Zakheim, a former Department of Defense official, argues that the “nature of commitment in absence of a troop presence” may deal a blow to ISAF’s nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, and may even take away “incentives” from the Taliban “to pursue talks with the Afghan government.” Ryan Evans, Assistant Director of the Center for the National Interest, also sees the strained relationship between the Obama and Karzai administrations as “a consequence of larger problems in the U.S.-Afghan relationship…[which] stem[med] from President Obama’s misprioritization of U.S. aims in Afghanistan.” While Evans does not rule out a settlement with the Taliban, he believes that it must be done in such a way that does not “obfuscate” America’s continued presence in Afghanistan past 2014 to contain terrorist networks and to provide stability in Af-Pak. To these arguments must also be added another possible “game-changer.” In the wake of Hassan Rowhani’s landslide victory as Iran’s new president, some foreign policy mavens now envision a positive shift in favor of America’s primacy in the Greater Middle East, and to a lesser extent, its prosecution of war against terror. Whatever the case may be, two things are clear. First, in the face of grim fiscal realities, the United States must fight smarter to contain terrorist networks. Second, the United States should allow the Afghan people to figure out for themselves how they want to live. With respect to the first, the United States can successfully contain terrorist networks without massive troop presence in Af-Pak. In the face of drastic sequestration cuts in the upcoming fiscal years, it makes sense to work with whosoever will rule Afghanistan while adopting selective targeting of America’s adversaries. Thus, in addition to unilaterally employing SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to track and kill terrorists, the United States can, assuming that the Taliban returns to power, establish a good rapport with the Taliban regime by “limiting Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.” As regards the second, according to Afghan journalist Ahmad Shafi, Afghan people have, thanks in no small measure to the American occupation, become integrated into the global community and have, therefore, become more sophisticated and cognizant of global affairs. In fact, Shafi wrote in June that while the Western media likes to “embellish” the threat of an impending civil war, most Afghans “‘beg to differ en masse’ on the magnitude of threat posed…by a bunch of violent extremists, whose grim visions are so far away from the realities of today’s Afghanistan.” One reason for this “discrepancy” between Western media perceptions and those of Afghan citizens, according to Shafi, is due to “radically different” political dynamics at play whereby the warlords and the Taliban find it “increasingly difficult” to connect with the new generation of Afghan citizens most of whom are under the age of 25. Simply stated, it is too early to draw premature conclusions about the supposedly ominous fate awaiting our Ngo Dinh Diem in Kabul or ordinary Afghan citizens. Despite the gloomy assessment by General Dunford that the United States needs to extend its troop commitment past the 2014 deadline, there is little reason to worry. True, as Zachary Keck argues, “there are no ideal conclusions to the Afghan conflict available” at present. Nevertheless, the much-feared Taliban takeover may or may not take place. And even if the Taliban successfully returns to power, one way or the other, the United States can work with the fundamentalist regime to contain the international terrorist network. As to the now-common comparisons between a possible Taliban takeover and those of the North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge victories in April 1975, only time can tell how the events will unfold. In the end, no matter the outcome, the Afghan citizens, as with Vietnamese and Cambodians before them, will sort out their own fate.

Pakistan: Two killed, 21 injured as blast hits Shalimar Express

At least two people have been killed and 21 others injured as a powerful explosion hit Shalimar Express near Chatiana railway station in Toba Tekh Singh, a main district in the country s eastern Punjab province, Dunya News reported on Monday. The explosion took place at about 1:00 p.m. (local time) in the washroom of coach number 7-D of the Lahore-Karachi bound passenger train. Following the blast, the train was brought to a halt and rescue teams shifted the injured to hospitals in Faisalabad and Toba Tek Singh where emergency was imposed as soon as news of the explosion came. Police and Pakistan Railways personnel arrived at the scene to inspect the area and investigate the incident. The bomb weighing 8 to 10 kilograms was hidden inside a black plastic bag, sources told. According to sources, owners of Shalimar Express received threats to pay extortion by unknown micreants via telephone call from an Afghanistan s phone number. However, security measures were not increased by the higher authorities to prevent any mishap as only five police constables were deployed in the train. Railway sources confirmed the commencement of investigation over extortion deman from suspected number and Intelligence Bureau (IB) has also traced the number belonging to the neighbouring country Afghanistan.

Adjournment motion planned against Imran’s participation in govt meetings

The Express Tribune
Deeming it “unethical”, the Awami National Party (ANP) will submit an adjournment motion against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan for participating in provincial government meetings. “On Monday (today) I will submit the adjournment motion at the Assembly Secretariat. We want to know in what capacity Imran Khan presides and participates in the provincial cabinet’s official meetings and meets with the department secretaries,” said ANP parliamentary leader Sardar Hussain Babak. Opposition parties, including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), will also support the adjournment motion. They too believe it is unethical for a party’s president to preside in government meetings, added Babak. “We do respect him (Imran Khan) as a political party leader but there were political parties in the past who governed the province – their central leaders did not interfere in administrative affairs. They (PTI) have made a mockery of the system.” Babak claimed the PTI leadership refrains from openly condemning terrorists and talking against terrorism, the main issue which Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa faces. The party has diverted the people’s attention to less important issues, maintained the ANP parliamentary leader. “They (PTI) are confused. They don’t even know how to govern a province. Now they are inducting PTI members who lost the elections into working groups across government departments.” The ANP will soon issue a white paper which will highlight the PTI’s performance and bad governance, added Babak. Commenting on the ANP’s campaign for the by-polls – NA-1 Peshawar and NA-5 Nowshera in particular – Babak claimed the party has the people’s mandate and will defeat PTI candidates in these constituencies. He accused the PTI of using the government machinery to influence the electoral results in their favor in Nowshera, Swabi and Mardan. “Chief Minister Pervez Khattak is influencing by-polls in Nowshera where his son-in-law Imran Khattak is contesting, while K-P Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser is announcing developmental projects in Swabi where his younger brother Aqibullah is contesting.”

Pakistan: Some lessons: Different approaches to militancy

CONSIDER the difference in responses: the US obtains intelligence on a possible attack against its embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa and it issues a global alert and shuts 21 missions on Sunday; Pakistani law-enforcement agencies and government officials receive specific intelligence on an impending jail raid in D.I. Khan and end up taking defensive measures that collapsed at first contact with the enemy. In the tale of those two episodes lie many lessons. For one, the threat of global jihad, especially from Al Qaeda, has far from disappeared. With so much emphasis on Al Qaeda and the Pak-Afghan region, it is all too easy to forget that global jihadists come in many stripes and are quite easily able to hop from one country to another. So even if Al Qaeda’s active presence has been diminished in Pakistan, there is zero room for any kind of complacency: other jihadists, global and local, continue to own swathes of Fata, while the US drawdown in Afghanistan could attract fresh attention of militants looking to establish Islamist fiefdoms in various parts of the world. The broader lesson remains, though, one that Pakistani authorities, civilian and military, appear unwilling or unable to absorb: coordination, capacity and will — without those elements, Pakistan’s war against militancy will never be won. What is equally overlooked, however, is that even a modicum of increase in competence and will on the state’s part could have dramatic effects on the fight. Consider the propaganda video of the Bannu jail break that has recently been released by the TTP. What was believed to be a highly sophisticated and superbly organised raid in fact looks fairly amateurish and rudimentary on camera. In one sense, that is an even greater indictment of the security forces tasked with defending the Bannu jail and ensuring its inmates remain under lock and key. But in another sense, it indicates that even a small increase in preparedness by the state can thwart significant disasters. Perhaps the greatest lesson that needs to be learned here is clarity about who the enemy is. The US, for all its confused, contradictory policies in Afghanistan, has since 9/11 focused relentlessly on Al Qaeda, a group that explicitly targets the American state. Here in Pakistan, even groups that explicitly target state and society somehow attract sympathy and even understanding. In that environment, it’s little surprise the militants can wreak so much damage with so little intellectual and organisational firepower.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and India

As an explosive-laden car carrying three militants went into the barricade outside the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad, the seven dead out of nine civilians were children in the nearby mosque, thus marking the terror-riddled city in the blood of more innocent citizens of war-torn Afghanistan. Albeit the target was clearly the Indian mission, the blast razed houses, shops and a mosque in the vicinity. The Taliban denied responsibility for the attack. The human loss is tragic, as the lives of seven children were lost whose only fault was being born in a violent region ravaged by decades-long conflict. As India expresses its outrage at yet another attack on one of its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, where its efforts to project soft power are visible, the Pakistan government has condemned the incident too. For India, that may be too little. India’s infrastructural rehabilitation of Afghanistan at a cost of almost $ 2 billion since the Taliban regime’s fall in 2001 has helped revive India and Afghanistan’s traditional friendship since 1947, which went through some tepid periods during the Afghan wars of the last four decades. The repeated attacks on its consulates/embassy are seen as a facet of the ‘proxy war’ between Pakistan and India on Afghan soil. The 2008 car-bomb attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul, resulting in the loss of 60 lives, the suicide attack again in 2009, the attack on two guest houses in Kabul inhabited by Indians, and the latest blast shows a pattern that is not just highly destructive in terms of human and infrastructural loss but also has a long-term fallout for the region. The Saturday attack comes as the government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif plans to re-engage India in talks to work out a friendly relationship between the two countries and work on issues of mutual interest (trade, energy), to which the Indian government seems responsive. The attack evokes finger pointing at a nexus of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan in Pakistan, ‘remote-controlled’ by the Pakistan military establishment whose ‘strategic depth’ and ‘strategic assets’ have done nothing but wreak havoc on different Pakistani governments’ efforts to have normal relations with its immediate neighbours: India and Afghanistan. The proxy war to wrest ‘control’ over Afghanistan has only given bloodstained dividends to our establishment, from which no lessons seem to have been learnt. The traditional rivalry of Pakistan and India playing out in Afghanistan will do nothing but delineate the hostility in more blood. It is about time the Pakistan establishment took a long and hard look at its deeply flawed policies to seek hegemony in the region, where only one country seems to be the real loser: Pakistan.

Rouhani, Zardari reaffirm rapid construction of IP gas pipeline

Daily Times
Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari reiterated their countries’ determination to continue implementation of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project.
“The joint project of building the gas pipeline can have a significant influence on increasing cooperation and economic relations between the two countries,” Rouhani said on Saturday. The Iranian president expressed the hope that the project would be completed as soon as possible. Zardari, for his part, said Islamabad respected all the agreements signed between Iran and Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan officially inaugurated the construction phase of the gas pipeline project in March. The project started in a ceremony attended by the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at the two countries’ shared border region in Iran’s southeastern city of Chabahar. The 2,700-kilometre long pipeline was to supply gas for Pakistan and India, which are suffering from a lack of energy sources, but India evaded the talks. In 2011, Iran and Pakistan declared they would finalise the agreement bilaterally if India continued to be absent in the meeting. Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometres of the pipeline on its soil. According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100km through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Balochistan and Sindh but officials now say the route may be changed if China becomes party to the project.

Pakistan on alert for possible attack

Pakistan's capital city of Islamabad is on red alert after officials received information in the form of an intelligence intercept of a likely attack on a high-value target, two senior Pakistani officials told CNN on Sunday. Helicopters could be heard in the skies above Islamabad as Air Force and Navy commandos searched for suspected militants in the Margalla Hills that surround the city, the officials said. Key military installations were under tight security.Among the buildings being guarded are the headquarters for Pakistan's air force and navy, the officials said. The officials, from the security and intelligence establishments, did not want to be named given the sensitivity of the information.

Syria crisis can only be solved by 'striking terror with iron fist': Assad
Syria's crisis will only be solved by stamping out "terror", President Bashar al-Assad said on Sunday, in reference to rebels fighting his regime. In a rare speech on Syrian state television, Assad also dismissed the political opposition to his regime as a "failure" that could play no role in solving the country's brutal war. "No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist," said Assad. "I don't think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics," he added. "There may be a role for politics in dealing with terrorism pre-emptively," said Assad, adding that as soon as "terrorism" has arisen, it can only be struck out. In March 2011, a widespread protest movement calling for political change in Syria broke out. In response, the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent, while systematically labelling dissidents and rebels as "terrorists" and refusing to recognise the existence of a popular revolt. The movement later morphed into an increasingly radical insurgency and more than 100,000 people have since been killed, the UN says. The war has also forced millions to flee their homes, while plunging Syria into an unprecedented economic crisis. In his latest speech, Assad also said Syria's economic woes "are linked to the security situation, and they can only be solved by striking terror". Assad's speech comes a week after the army, backed by pro-regime paramilitary troops and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement, reclaimed a strategic district of the central city of Homs, after a suffocating siege on rebels that lasted more than a year. "In this kind of fight, we as Syrians either win together or lose together," he said. Assad also said that the army, untrained for guerrilla warfare, "has achieved the impossible". "There is only one kind of war that is bigger than guerrilla warfare, and that is a people's war, one that is fought by the army alongside the citizens," he said, adding that "the hand of God is with those who stand together". He meanwhile stressed the need to fight on against the rebellion. "It is true that there is a battle being fought in the media and on (the Internet), but the crisis will only be solved on the battlefield," said Assad in his 45-minute address. He also said that any efforts towards a political solution should be combined with continued military operations. "There cannot be any political efforts or political progress if terror is striking everywhere. Therefore terror must be struck in order to get the political process moving on the right track," Assad said. "That does not mean that there cannot be parallel tracks. There is no reason why we shouldn't strike terror while at the same time working politically," he added. Assad's comments come amid faltering efforts to push forward a US-Russian proposal for peace talks dubbed Geneva 2, which would see regime representatives and the opposition gathering for negotiations. In his speech, Assad lashed out against the main opposition National Coalition, describing it as a "failure". "This opposition is not reliable ... and it has no role in solving the crisis," Assad said. He accused the Coalition of "being on the payroll of more than one Gulf country", and of "blaming the (Syrian) state for terrorism rather than blaming the armed men", or rebels. In an Army Day message carried by state media on August 1, Assad said he was "sure of victory" in the bloody conflict. "If we in Syria were not sure of victory, we would not have had the will to resist nor been able to persevere in the face of more than two years of aggression," Assad said at the time.