Friday, August 9, 2013

Obama announces proposals to reform NSA surveillance

By Scott Wilson and Zachary A. Goldfarb
President Obama said Friday he would pursue reforms to open the legal proceedings surrounding government surveillance programs to greater scrutiny, the administration’s most concerted response yet to a series of disclosures about secret monitoring efforts. At his first full news conference in more than three months, Obama said he intends to work with Congress on proposals that would add an adversarial voice — such as a lawyer assigned to advocate privacy rights— to the secret proceedings before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Several Democratic senators have proposed such changes to the court, which approves government requests for warrants and other collection efforts. In addition, Obama said he intends to work on ways to tighten one provision of the Patriot Act — known as Section 215 — that has permitted the government to obtain the phone records of millions of Americans. He announced the creation of a panel of outsiders — former intelligence officials, civil liberties and privacy advocates, and others — to assess the programs and suggest changes by the end of the year. “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said in the White House East Room. “The American people need to have confidence in them as well.” Obama spoke on the eve of a week’s vacation, and he struck a defiant tone in speaking about a range of issues over the hour-long news conference. The Gallup tracking poll shows that his public approval rating of 44 percent is near a 12-month low. A mix of Republican opposition to his gun control legislation, public disclosure of the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance programs, and a turbulent Middle East have complicated the early months of what he intended to be an ambitious second term. Obama defended his signature health-care legislation against Republican threats of repeal, expressed confidence over the eventual passage of immigration legislation, and noted that his brusque Russian counterpart, Vladi­mir Putin, with whom he has a difficult relationship, has a “slouch” like “the bored kid in the back of the classroom.” Obama recently canceled a summit scheduled for next month in Moscow, citing a lack of progress on a range of security and diplomatic issues. A former constitutional law lecturer who campaigned on a pledge to ensure that national security policy remained consistent with American laws and values, Obama has faced a public outcry, including from many in his own party, since the scope of the NSA’s surveillance and data-collection effort was revealed earlier this summer by The Washington Post and the Guardian, a British newspaper. He has defended the programs as essential to protecting the United States from foreign attack and continued to do so vigorously Friday, portraying the controversy as one of public perception rather than practice. Civil liberties advocates have called the programs overly intrusive, as technological advances improve spying capabilities and raise new privacy concerns at home and abroad. In his introductory remarks, Obama announced the release of a Justice Department analysis of the legal rationale underpinning the government’s most controversial surveillance programs, brought to light in June by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who was recently granted temporary asylum in Russia. Obama rejected the characterization of Snowden as a “patriot,” even though his disclosures accelerated a debate over the NSA’s surveillance programs that the president called for in May. He acknowledged, “there’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid, and passionate, response than if I had simply appointed this review board.” “If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case,” Obama said. The NSA, among the most secretive institutions in government, also released Friday a summary of the programs it operates under several provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act. Intelligence agencies will also set up a Web site with the goal of better explaining their legal authorities and actions. “All these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values,” Obama said. “And to others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people.” Privacy and civil liberties advocates received Obama’s proposals coolly, calling them a modest start. “While the initial reforms outlined by the president are a necessary and welcome first step, they are not nearly sufficient,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement that also urged Obama to “release the relevant FISA Court opinions and agency memos that have created a body of secret law that is far removed from public oversight and adequate congressional review.” In recent weeks, a new threat emanating from Yemen revealed an enduring link between the leaders of al-Qaeda’s powerful franchise in that country and the group’s senior leadership in Pakistan, which Obama has said has been decimated through drone strikes and other operations. The United States closed nearly two dozen diplomatic posts, including the one in Yemen, as a result of the threat. Obama defended his record against al-Qaeda on Friday by saying that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemen-based franchise is known, is not able to execute large-scale attacks like those carried out by the original al-Qaeda leadership on Sept. 11, 2001. “They have the capacity, potentially, to go after our businesses, they have the capacity to be destabilizing and disruptive in countries where the security apparatus is weak,” Obama said. “And that’s exactly what we are seeing right now.” Obama touched upon a number of other issues, including the possibility of a government shutdown this fall, the prospects for immigration legislation, and his deliberations over whom he will select as the next chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He confirmed for the first time that his former senior economic adviser Lawrence Summers and Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Janet Yellen are two of the top candidates to replace departing Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. Calling the post among the most important nominations he makes, Obama said he has come to Summers’s defense because of the intensity of criticism being leveled against him. Obama, who is expected to make a formal nomination in the fall, made clear he had no favored candidate at this point. He said he wants a Fed chairman who gives equal weight to containing inflation and fostering economic growth. “If you look at the biggest challenges we have, the challenge is not inflation,” Obama said. “The challenge is, we’ve still got too many people out of work, too many long-term unemployed, too much slack in the economy.” Among the most important elements of Obama’s long-term legacy would be the successful implementation of his health-care law, a complicated process that begins a critical phase this fall. On Friday, Obama sharply criticized Republicans for trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, saying that "the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail.” “That’s hard to understand as an agenda that is going to strengthen our middle class,” he said. Obama declined to answer what he would do if congressional Republicans insist, as some are urging, that he sign a bill defunding or scaling back Obamacare in exchange for a budget resolution that continues to fund the government past a Sept. 30 deadline. “The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea,” he said.

Indian, Chinese troops exchange beer, rasgullas after face-off

Indian and Chinese troops had a face-off in Sikkim earlier this week which, however, ended in a friendly exchange of beer and rasgullas. The face-off happened near the Tangkar La pass at the height of over 16,000 feet in eastern Sikkim after a Chinese patrol entered into territory claimed by India, sources told PTI in New Delhi. The Chinese patrol, which was travelling in two light vehicles, was monitored by the Indian team comprising a young lieutenant and nine jawans there, they said. The Indian patrol intercepted the Chinese patrol at the Tangkar La pass and after that, they showed banners to each other asking to leave the area and go back into their respective territories. At the time of parting, the Chinese troops presented cans of Budweiser beer to the Indian patrol while our troops gifted them a pack of rasgullas, they said. In the recent past, there have been a spate of incursions from the Chinese side into the Indian territory all along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two sides stretching from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir in north to Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast. On the transgressions by Chinese troops, defence minister AK Antony had recently said that "There is no commonly delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China. There are areas along the border where India and China have different perceptions of the LAC and both sides undertake patrols up to their respective positions there." "On account of differences in perception of LAC, certain transgression incidents do take place on ground. Government regularly takes up any transgression with the Chinese side through established mechanisms," he had said.

Moscow ‘rejects’ Saudi ‘offer’ to drop Assad for rich arms deal

Moscow has said “no” to Saudi Arabia’s alleged proposal of a rich arms deal and protection of Russia’s gas interests in the Middle East in exchange for abandoning Syrian President Bashar Assad, according to Arab and European diplomats. The proposal of $15 billion in weapons contracts was allegedly made during the July 31 meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and influential intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Reuters reported. Neither Moscow nor Riyadh has officially commented on the agenda of the talks, but a Thursday AFP report revealed new details of the negotiations. According to an undisclosed European diplomat, Prince Bandar proposed the deal and told Putin that "whatever regime comes after" Assad will be "completely" in Riyadh’s hands. The Prince reportedly stated that if the deal was accepted, Saudi Arabia would not sign any contracts damaging Russian interests by allowing Gulf countries to transport its gas across Syria to Europe. The terms included Moscow dropping its support of President Bashar Assad, as well as not opposing any future Security Council resolutions on Syria. "President Putin listened politely to his interlocutor and let him know that his country would not change its strategy," a separate Arab diplomat told AFP. Bandar bin Sultan then told Russian officials that the only option left in Syria is a military one – and that they should forget about the Geneva-2 international peace conference because the opposition would not attend, the source said. Efforts to bring about the conference – which has been put forth by the US and Moscow – have so far been fruitless, mainly because of the absence of unity within the opposition ranks. Russia and Saudi Arabia - which traditionally buys its military hardware from the US – have had a massive arms contract frozen since 2008. Back then, the sides agreed that Moscow would supply a huge assortment of equipment, including 150 T-90 tanks and more than 150 attack helicopters, to the Gulf state. According to sources within Russian arms exporters, the status of the deal has not changed following the talks. The insider added that Russia has not received any offers to purchase weapons from Saudi Arabia. "We know nothing about such intentions of the Saudi side," a senior source in military-technical cooperation told RIA Novosti news agency. Some Russian experts say Saudi Arabia acted as a US proxy in the alleged proposal, as it has been doing for the past two years of the Syrian conflict. “Any direct involvement in the region by either the US or any former European colonial powers is perceived as an affront. But with the given arrangement, any initiatives by the influential, authoritarian regional super power (and Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly that) are taken for granted,” political analyst Igor Khokhlov told RT. “The situation is nothing new,” he added. “Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s were being sponsored by the USA and Saudi Arabia in equal shares. But the Saudi role allowed the US to present the conflict as a war of liberation – not as a clash of two superpowers in the farthest reaches of the world.” Others believe the media reports of a Saudi offer is nothing more than a hoax aimed at highlighting Russia’s stance on Syria in a negative way, adding that such a method is no way to “conduct diplomacy.” “Clearly, this is stove-piping,” director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, Vitaly Naumkin, told Interfax news agency. “Its purpose is either to influence the position of the Syrian authorities or, more likely, to discredit Russia. To sow doubt on the fact that Moscow has a serious and reasoned position on Syria, and to create the impression that Russia may change its point of view in exchange for Saudi promises.” Naumkin reminded that similar attempts were made previously. There were reports in 2009 of that Barack Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that Washington would change its position on Iran if Moscow ended the halting of a US missile shield program in Eastern Europe. The meeting between Putin and Bandar came amid tension between the two states over the conflict in Syria, with Russia accusing the Saudis of "financing and arming terrorists and extremist groups" fighting against Assad.

President Obama must find his voice on Russia

THE POMP and circumstance of summits between world leaders usually signals the end of a process. Before the handshakes, toasts and signing ceremony, negotiators have often spent months or years hammering out agreements. But there aren’t any agreements worth celebrating right now with Russia. The relationship is clouded by disputes and conflict. So it makes sense that President Obama has decided against a summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Putin, who returned to office in May for a third term, has been carrying out a determined campaign to crush opposition at home, one dimension of which has been an ugly streak of anti-Americanism. He has harassed and attempted to destroy nongovernmental organizations that receive funding from abroad, many of them for worthy civil-society goals. He pushed through parliament a ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans in a fit of pique over a U.S. law that curtailed visas for Russians identified as human rights abusers. Mr. Putin also snubbed the United States by offering temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor sought by the United States for leaking secret documents. Mr. Putin’s policies seem driven most of all by a desire to show he is standing tall. His approach has thrown the relationship with Washington into a downward spiral. Mr. Obama had hoped for better. His goal of a “reset” with Russia enjoyed a brief flowering under President Dmitry Medvedev, leading to a new strategic arms treaty and cooperation in moving U.S. war materiel out of Afghanistan. But the “reset” looks to be dead. When Mr. Putin unleashed his assault on human rights and democracy, the administration’s reaction was all too timid, based on wishful thinking that the United States could do business with Russia despite the crackdown. Given the retreat on human rights and democracy, we think Mr. Obama is correct not to want to be standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Putin right now. And the relationship is strained by other disputes as well, including over Syria, missile defense and Mr. Snowden’s fate. Skipping the summit is a tactic. A long-term strategy with Russia has to include engagement, including at the highest level, no matter how prickly and unpleasant that may be. But the engagement has to be faithful to the United States’ highest values. The bloggers and activists punished arbitrarily by Mr. Putin, the young women from the persecuted rock band Pussy Riot, the orphans whose hopes were dashed, the young Russians in urban coffeehouses who have taken to the streets in protest — all would benefit from hearing loud and clear not only that the U.S. president is skipping a summit, but that he also stands with them, that the highest aspirations of freedom and human dignity do not belong to one country or bloc of countries, but are universal and apply to all.

U.S., Russia need to make progress on Syria despite conflicts: Kerry

The United States and Russia must find ways to work around their sharp differences and agree on approaches to Syria and other global trouble spots, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday as the two countries launched high-level talks. U.S.-Russia ties, deeply strained over Moscow's decision to grant asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, were "marked by both shared interests and, at times, colliding and conflicting interests," he said in Washington. "We will discuss these differences today, for certain, but this meeting remains important above and beyond the collisions and the moments of disagreement," said Kerry.
Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are hosting their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu for about five hours of so-called "2+2" strategic and security talks. Kerry said it is critical that the two countries be clear about differences but also seek progress on missile defense, Afghanistan, nuclear disputes with Iran and North Korea and the two-year-old civil war in Syria. While Washington and Moscow differ on key aspects of the Syria crisis, Kerry said, "both of us and our countries agree that to avoid institutional collapse and descent into chaos, the ultimate answer is a negotiated political solution." Lavrov's opening remarks did not mention all of the global hot spots but did echo Kerry in stressing the need to get Syria's government and opposition talking in Geneva. The talks at the State Department opened as the political mood between the two countries hit one of its lowest points since the end of the Cold War. President Barack Obama's cancellation this week of a summit in Moscow over President Vladimir Putin's decision to give Snowden asylum put to rest any notion that a much-vaunted "reset" of ties with Moscow sought by the United States in recent years is alive. U.S. officials expect no breakthroughs on Friday, but they say the very decision to go ahead with the talks despite the current frictions is significant in itself. Moscow and Washington disagree over a long list of issues, from Syria's civil war to human rights and Russia's ban on homosexual "propaganda," but there are some areas, critical to global security, where they have been able to work together. Lavrov, citing trade as an area of cooperation, said the Russians "want (the) economy to be way more prominent in our relations." "We have laid a very solid foundation for future work," he said through an interpreter.

3 Chinese citizens killed, 2 missing in Afghanistan: Chinese embassy

Three Chinese citizens were killed and another two remained missing Thursday in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul, said Chinese Embassy Friday.
The fatal crime occurred in an apartment building in Kabul and was believed to target on Chinese citizens, the embassy said in a statement. The embassy had urged the Afghan government to take all practical methods necessary to investigate the crime and arrest the criminals, and ensure the safety and security of the Chinese citizens and institutions in Afghanistan.

Textbooks Aside, Most Russians Liked History Lessons – Poll

Amid a politicized battle over Kremlin-proposed “unified” textbooks on Russia’s turbulent history, a state-run pollster said Friday that almost three-quarters of Russians generally liked history lessons at school, according to a new poll. Seventy-four percent of Russians told the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) that they “mostly liked” their history teachers and the way they taught the subject. Russians aged 18-24 constituted 78 percent of that figure, the poll said – an age group that would have studied history in the post-Soviet era. Only 17 percent of those polled said they “mostly didn’t like” their history lessons in high school. The poll comes a few months after President Vladimir Putin ordered the creation of a unified series of school history textbooks. Last month, he said the number of history textbooks available in Russia – 65 – is “absolutely unacceptable” for teaching high school students, and said that a “canonical version" was needed. Some experts and critics fear that the unified approach may attempt to whitewash the country’s history, especially such thorny issues as the rule of Josef Stalin and Moscow’s military actions. In late June, the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, said it would consider a bill that would outlaw criticism of the Red Army’s actions during World War II with fines or a prison term of up to five years. The proposed bill is an apparent step to counter politicians and activists in former Soviet republics and Communist bloc nations who have criticized what they claim are war crimes by the Red Army, such as executions and mistreatment of prisoners of war and civilians, mass deportations and rapes in Eastern Europe, Finland and Germany. Asked whether there are specific events in Russia’s history that should be given more attention than others in textbooks, 58 percent of the new poll’s respondents said that all events “should be covered equally.” Only 10 percent said that the Great Patriotic War – as the Soviet Union’s participation in World War II from 1941-45 is known in Russia – is worth extra attention. The poll was conducted on July 20-21 using a nationwide sample of 1,600 adults across 130 residential areas in 42 Russian regions. The statistical margin of error did not exceed 3.4 percent.

"I lost the meaning of Security", Bahrain - In search of security

Pakistan: Suicide bomber shot dead in Islamabad’s Imam Bargah
Guards of an Imam Bargah near capital Islamabad Friday shot dead a suicide bomber who was trying to enter a mosque for terrorist attack, police said. The guards opened fire at the bomber on suspicion and killed him at the scene at Barakau, a small town in the outskirts of Islamabad, a police officer and witnesses said. The suicide jacket could not explode and caught fire. Experts of the bomb disposal squad were called to remove the jacket from the body of the bomber. The incident occurred at "Masjid and Imam Bargah Ali Ibne-e-Talib" at the time of Friday prayers and the timely action save lives of the people. Police arrived at the scene and later removed the body for identification.

India-Pakistan Relations are Back on the Rocks

With the rain coming down in steamy sheets, the aptly named ‘Monsoon Session’ of parliament convened for its fourth day this morning in the Indian capital New Delhi. And in the eye of the darkening storm was Defense Minister AK Antony, defending his response to the shooting on August 6 of five Indian soldiers near the border with Pakistan. Indian media and politicians have been in an uproar over the government’s response to the killings, the latest in a series of deadly skirmishes at the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the Kashmir region between Pakistani and Indian controlled halves. Though both countries agreed to a ceasefire in 2003, there have been regular outbreaks of shooting at the LoC over the past decade. In January, several clashes at the border brought neighborly relations to an unusually edgy low, and diplomats on both sides have been trying to undo the damage ever since. Their efforts may well go to waste. On Tuesday, the Indian military announced that its troops were killed by the Pakistan military on the Indian side of the LoC, but shortly after Antony seemed to let Islamabad off the hook by suggesting that the ambush was carried out by well armed militants wearing Pakistani uniforms. The fallout over the differing version of events has been fast and furious. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition party, cited the contradictory accounts as another example of the Congress-led government’s toothless foreign policy. Antony tried to defend his statement, explaining it was made using the intelligence he had at the time. But rather than accept that the Defense Minister was reluctant to lob accusations at a nuclear-armed neighbor, the media and opposition have framed his choice of words as an attempt to withhold the facts. And so this morning Antony made an about-face. “It is now clear that specialist troops of Pakistan Army were involved in the attack when a group from the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir side crossed the LoC and killed our brave jawans [privates],” he said in a new statement before parliament. “Naturally this incident will have consequences on our behavior on the Line of Control and our relations with Pakistan.” It is certain that Pakistan will be affronted by Antony’s new position. Islamabad quickly denied any involvement in the attack and reaffirmed its commitment to the ceasefire, even though fighting on the troubled border has continued in the wake of Tuesday’s killings. On Wednesday, both sides accused the other of unprovoked attacks, while protests erupted across India. After demonstrators clashed with police outside Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi, Islamabad asked the Indian government to step up security for its diplomatic staff. The extremists bent on staging these acts of violence — whether they are state or non-state actors or a combination of both — seem to be prevailing once again, sabotaging the fragile conversation that has been building between the long-time rivals. Earlier in the week, both sides were working the back channels to keep things from spiraling, with Pakistani and Indian military officials reportedly in contact via a “hotline” to prevent the incident from escalating further. What happens next, however, is unclear. On Thursday, a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said the government had “been in touch with Pakistan until recently through diplomatic channels to work dates out for possible secretary level talks. However, since the recent incident there have not been any discussions on the subject.” Opposition leaders have demanded a proposed meeting next month between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Nawaz Sharif be called off. If things keep moving in the current direction, they may very well get their way.
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Pakistan: prisoner of a flawed narrative

By Dr Mohammad Taqi
The blame may end with the government of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa this time but the terror won’t stop at its border with Punjab After last week’s Dera Ismail Khan (DIK) jailbreak, the Pakistani media remained preoccupied with the election for the ceremonial office of the president, which might have gone almost unnoticed had the opposition not boycotted it. After the polls the media has found yet another distractive non-issue, thanks to the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC). The SC, which has claimed to be a ‘people’s court’, took umbrage on its erstwhile supporter Mr Imran Khan’s prickly comments about the judiciary’s role in the general elections earlier this year. Apparently the people’s court is readily offended by what people have to say. Many in the media and the 2007-2009 judges’ restoration movement, including Mr Khan, had elevated the restored judges to the pedestal of infallibility based not on their judgments but what was a highly political — and justified — struggle. The restored judiciary became the new ‘messiah’ that was praised unquestioningly without examining its judgments — replete with ideology, religion and poetry — against the touchstone of the constitution and law. But populism cuts both ways: it can bestow as well as undermine legitimacy. Politicians can be darlings of the people one day and pariahs the next. Judges, however, cannot afford to expose themselves to public praise or pressure like that. Constitutional courts serve the nation better when they confine themselves to within the four corners of the law and steer clear of demagogy. The nation on its part should look no further than the army to know that such self-appointed holy cows are not infallible and allowing them a monopoly over the national interest narrative can have disastrous consequences. The country’s armed forces have a long history of unchallenged control over the national security policy and practice even when civilians have ruled nominally. The list of misadventures in the name of a national security doctrine anchored in ideology is equally long. The Dear Ismail Khan (DIK) jailbreak is yet another such debacle. The abject dysfunction of the state machinery, especially the security apparatus, stands exposed once again. The Pakistani state’s response to the spectacular attack of the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) on the prison, in which they freed about 250 of their cohorts, including potential suicide bombers, was at best abysmal. The Khyber Pukhtunkhwa government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and the Pakistan army have blamed one another. But there is enough blame to go all around. While the brazen attack was still underway, the PTI’s provincial information minister Mr Shaukat Yousufzai was claiming that all was well and no prisoners had escaped. The PTI chief Mr Imran Khan then blamed the previous Awami National Party government for the security lapses, while his chief minister Mr Pervez Khattak was initially not heard from. Just as the intelligence agencies’ ability to detect and intercept the TTP plan was being questioned, reports in the media started appearing about the intelligence agencies tipping off the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa government a few days before the assault. While there was no official press release from the armed forces, the wording in some op-eds and that of some television anchors defending the armed forces’ position was remarkably similar. The humiliating jailbreak was being thrown in the PTI’s lap. DIK, like many other cities, has a sprawling cantonment with a massive army presence. Also, the routes between DIK and the frontier regions and the tribal areas have several checkpoints, which the terrorists apparently had no difficulty in crossing. While the three-hour long encounter was being reported around the world, the DIK-based army units either did not get a whiff of it, were not equipped to respond, or just did not bother to move. The miserable response of the security forces to the specific jailbreak threat and after-the-fact hyperactivity with red alerts after picking up nonspecific chatter earlier this week does not inspire much confidence. Mr Khattak has now revealed to the media that he indeed had contacted the military authorities ahead of the attack and the army and elite police both had been deployed at the prison. Mr Khattak has alleged that the military and law enforcement agencies did not resist but colluded with the TTP attackers. If true, Mr Khattak’s charges lend credence to the concerns that jihadists within the ranks of the armed forces — a consequence of decades of consorting — have facilitated jailbreaks and other attacks in the past. The jailbreak will boost both the morale and ranks of the TTP and affiliated jihadist groups and essentially wipe out the gains made perhaps over several years. The 250 hardened criminals sprung from the prison are now on the loose and will replenish the terrorist leadership and cadres. As the DIK episode came on the heels of similar audacious jailbreaks by al Qaeda (AQ) in Iraq and Africa, a link is being sought between AQ and TTP. We have argued here before that the TTP, assorted Punjabi Taliban and the Haqqani network are the AQ conglomerate in Pakistan. The AQ ‘business’ model has been to enable franchises as a force multiplier, not run them directly. The spectre of ‘core’ AQ in Pakistan is almost a red herring at this point. Similarity in timing and tactics of the attacks comes from the shared training history and ideological allegiance to the core AQ. The TTP might very well have responded to or was inspired by Ayman al-Zwahiri’s ‘destroying the walls’ jailbreak call, which was launched last year, but their gains and its fallout will be local first and foremost. The PTI should realise that blaming past governments might be a good excuse but is bad leadership. Also, the PTI cannot expect a police force to fight the terrorists while its leaders keep insisting that the Taliban are not their enemy and it is not their war. If the PTI is still gung ho about talks it must come up with a concrete plan for that, whether it entails Mr Khan’s audience with the military brass or the Prime Minister Mr Nawaz Sharif. The federal government on its part has been Missing In Action through the whole episode letting the PTI take all the flak. But going for optional pilgrimages when the going gets tough at home is a policy Mr Sharif may have to reconsider. The blame may end with the government of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa this time but the terror won’t stop at its border with Punjab. How soon the provincial and federal governments and the security agencies get their act together remains to be seen. In the interim Pakistan will remain prisoner of a flawed narrative while the TTP finds more jails to break.

Ten killed in Quetta during Eidul Fitr prayers

At least 10 people were killed and many others injured on Friday in an attack that targetted a mosque the Eidul Fitr prayers near Quetta's eastern bypass, media reported. The shooting came a day after a suicide bomber targeted a police funeral and killed 38 people, mostly police officers, in the same city. "Four gunmen opened fire when people were coming out of the mosque after saying Eid prayers," senior local police official Bashir Ahmad Brohi told AFP. Brohi said a former Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) provincial minister, Ali Madad Jattak, was also in the mosque and could have been the target. "But we are not sure at the moment and are investigating," he said, adding that Jattak escaped unhurt although bullets hit his car. Another local police official, Sultan Ahmad, confirmed the incident and casualties outside the mosque, which is also a preaching and research centre. Nobody has so far claimed responsibility for the shooting. Most recent attacks in Quetta, the capital of oil- and gas-rich Balochistan province bordering Afghanistan and Iran, have been linked to a Baloch separatist insurgency or sectarian violence. On Tuesday Baloch separatists shot dead 14 people including three security officials, 70 kilometres southeast of Quetta.

Pakistan: A sickening crime

Daily Times
A stolen motorcycle packed with 5-6 kgs of explosives and heavy ball bearings was exploded by remote control towards the end of a football match in Lyari, Karachi on Wednesday. Eleven people were killed, most of them teenagers, and over two dozen injured. The police are not sure who the target was, provincial minister Javed Nagori or ‘known characters’ of the People’s Amn (Peace) Committee (PAC). Bomb disposal experts revealed that the device was what is called a uni-directional one, meaning the ball bearings, etc, were flung in one direction, aiming at a specific target. To his good fortune, Mr Nagori had just left the venue when the bomb exploded. Despite their theories, the police remain clueless as to the identity of the perpetrators. The cast of usual suspects is headed by terrorists (the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi occupying pride of place since it is said the PAC had been helping the law enforcement agencies against the banned sectarian outfit), gang wars (criminal turf in Lyari’s drug and human trafficking trades is contested fiercely and violently), or, as the police is suggesting, rivals of the PAC. This last possibility may be strengthened by the fact that one activist of the PAC, Yasir Pathan, was amongst the dead. There is so far no claim of responsibility. Pakistan has become a daily tragedy. Almost every day, death and destruction rain down on citizens from unexpected quarters. Many die simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the case of the Lyari blast, the tragedy is compounded by the fact that most of the dead were young football-crazy boys of Lyari, seeking relief from the tedium of daily life in Karachi threatened with violence from all (and unexpected) directions. Lyari is well known as the nursery for many football players who have gone on to represent the country with distinction. For many of them, and for the aspirants who look up to and seek to emulate them, football offers an escape from the daily survival grind and the hope of a better future. How much more sickening is it therefore that the merchants of blood and mayhem chose these young people to kill, whether directly or as collateral damage for a strike at some specific target hardly matters in the final analysis. The bombers would have been well aware that their deadly cargo would take with it many of the young players and spectators enjoying the match. The temptation to hold one’s head, cry and fall into black despair is not the answer, compelling as the circumstances have become. It is disappointing that the PML-N government has not exactly lit a fire under itself to tackle the terrorism issue. The much-vaunted national counter-terrorism policy, reportedly being cogitated amongst government circles, has yet to see the light of day, even two months after the government took office. It was obvious to everyone but the purblind or the totally indifferent that the new government would not be able to avail of the traditional honeymoon period of 100 days for incoming governments. Pakistan’s crisis is far beyond such luxuries of more normal times. Any number of terrorist organizations, criminal and vested interest groups, political interests and others are vying for turf and influence over the increasing toll of the dead bodies of citizens the state is enjoined to protect. The problem of course is of long standing. Over four decades, the state has nurtured and unleashed extremist forces that have by now slipped off the leash of their erstwhile mentors in the military establishment and their intelligence arms. If proof were needed of the impact on what by now appears to be the crumbling writ and capacity of the state to meet the challenge, the Bannu and D I Khan jailbreaks provide salutary examples. It is almost as though each component of the state, civilian and military, political and bureaucratic, federal and provincial, is more interested in protecting its own turf exclusively. This is a recipe for disaster. The terrorists, elusive, dispersed, well organized and armed, are able to exploit the dysfunctionality of the state as a result of these divides and worm their way through the cracks in the edifice to ply their deadly trade. Is there anyone amongst the rulers who can see the writing on the wall and take the tough institutional, organizational and practical measures necessary to salvage the country from the slippery slope it is on?

August 8th,2013-A Dark Day For Balochistan Police

The Baloch Hal
In one of the worst terrorist attacks ever on the Balochistan Police, the Tehreek-e-Taliban killed at least 30 policemen in a suicide bombing in Quetta on Thursday. As top officers gathered at Police Lane, the local headquarters of the police department, to attend the funeral of Mohibullah Dawai, a sub-house officer (S.H.O.), who had been killed in Quetta just a few hours earlier, a suicide bomber struck. The massive blast killed Deputy Inspector General (D.I.G.-Operations), Fayaz Ahmed Sumbal, three deputy superintendents of police (D.S.P.s) and several other police officers who had gathered to pay tributes to one of their slain colleagues. The fact that this incident took place just a day before the Muslim festival of Eid makes it deeply tragic. Policing has become a very thankless job in Pakistan in general and in Balochistan in particular. Throughout the year, the policemen face constant threats to their lives. The Baloch nationalists, the Sunni militants (headed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi) and the Taliban regularly target them. August is generally considered to be a month when policemen have to prepare for attacks from Baloch nationalists. During this month, the nationalists mark Balochistan’s “Independence Day” on August 11th amid extremely tight security which is soon followed by a black day on August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day. On August 14th, the government increases the police deployment across the province in order to thwart any attacks from the nationalists on Independence Day celebrations. In the recent times, it has become almost impossible for August 14 events in Balochistan to take place peacefully. The third dangerous occasion during this month for the police is August 26th, the death anniversary of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the veteran Baloch leader who was killed in 2006. In addition, the police in Balochistan have to take extraordinary caution during the month of Muharram when Sunni extremist groups carry out deadly attacks on Shia Muslims. These are some of the times when the police can prepare for any assaults but there are numerous occasions when it is impossible for the police to predict an assault, and Thursday was one such day. The funeral bombing on Thursday merits special attention because it was carried out by the local umbrella of the Pakistani Taliban. While most suicide attacks in the past had been carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi against Shia, Hazaras, this attack targeted predominantly Sunni police officers. In other words, it was not a sectarian attack. According to Dawn, Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of “another big attack in the next coming days.” “We are at war with police and other security agencies. They are attacking us and we are targeting them…anywhere and whenever we get the chance, we will target security forces, government officials and police,” he warned. Since their ouster from power in Afghanistan in 2001, the Taliban, headed by Mullah Omar, have reportedly found safe sanctuary in Quetta. The Pakistani authorities have done nothing to check the Taliban presence in the provincial capital. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban provide active support to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that has been carrying out endless attacks on Shia, Hazaras in Quetta. The Taliban, on their part, have kept a low profile all these years. They have carried out only a few attacks but they continued to assert their presence from time to time. For instance, in 2007, the Taliban carried out several attacks in various parts of Balochistan. On February 17, 2007, they killed 13 people, including a senior judge in a courtroom suicide bombing in Quetta. In 2009, Engineer Asad, a self-proclaimed spokesman of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Balochistan, emerged in the local media and confirmed the existence of a Balochistan chapter of the Taliban although he insisted that his organization was not related to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan of Baitullah Mehsud nor did it approve of suicide bombings. The government should take Taliban’s warning of “another big attack” very seriously. Unfortunately, the police in Balochistan remains deeply demoralized. Since the days of Nawab Raisani as the chief minister, the police have been traded with the Frontier Corps (F.C.). Instead of building their capacity, the government has adopted the F.C. as a solution to the law and order problems. The policemen are not motivated to work because they enjoy little support from the political government. For example, when a Superintendent of Police (S.P.) recently prevented the armed private guards of the Pakistan Muslim League provincial chief Sardar Sanaullah Zehri from entering the surroundings of the Balochistan Assembly, the entire provincial government ganged up against the poor officer. Much to our disappointment, Chief Minister Dr. Malik Baloch suspended the police officer for his honesty and professionalism. While every citizen desires peace in Quetta and elsewhere in Balochistan, it is important for the government and the community to cooperate with the police. The brave men who lost their lives on Thursday deserve our utmost respect. The government should not only recognize their sacrifices but also provide immediate financial compensation to assist their families in the wake of the unimaginable losses.

U.S. pulls diplomats from Lahore, Pakistan, amid terror threat

The State Department has evacuated most of its diplomats from Lahore, Pakistan in response to a terrorist threat against the U.S. consulate, senior State Department and other senior U.S. officials told CNN. "We have picked up what we regard as a threat worthy of taking this action," one senior U.S. official told CNN. The State Department issued an "orderged departure" for all of its diplomats in Lahore Thursday, except for a handful of emergency personnel. The diplomats were moved to Islamabad, the nation's capital, officials said. A travel warning issued by the State Department said the department "ordered this drawdown due to specific threats concerning the U.S. Consulate in Lahore" and warned U.S. citizens against travel to Pakistan."The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan," the travel warning said. It was unclear whether the latest threat to the consulate was related to a current threat against U.S. facilities and personnel that prompted the United States to close diplomatic posts throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa.While one U.S. official said it was not related, a second U.S. official said the connection wasn't clear. "We are still digging and trying to trace whether it is related," the senior U.S. official said about the possible link between the heightened threat against the U.S. in the region and the threat against the consulate in Lahore. "I'm not willing to say it's related, but can't say it is unrelated. We just don't have that level of granularity yet." No U.S. diplomatic posts in Pakistan were closed as a result of the earlier warning. Most of al Qaeda's core leadership is believed to reside in Pakistan, and the city of Lahore is home to other extremists sympathetic to the group. Lahore is well-known as a base for Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. This week, the local government in the province of Punjab, where Lahore is located, tightened security measures, including police checkpoints at the city's entrance and exit points. Minister for Environment Protection Shuja Khanzada said the measures were taken after the government received intelligence reports of possible terror threats around the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Over the last decade, the United States has waged a persistent campaign against the terror threat in Pakistan, using drones and working with the Pakistani military and intelligence. While the country remains a hotbed of terrorism, President Barack Obama has touted the U.S. gains in fighting al Qaeda, which has been based there. During an address to Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, Wednesday, Obama said that al Qaeda has been "decimated," making a distinction between the terror network's leadership and affiliates that are spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa. "Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more," Obama said. "Because of you, al Qaeda's top ranks have been hammered. The core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan are on the way to defeat."