Saturday, September 7, 2013


Main Beti Hoon Zulfiqar Ki - Muhtarma Benazir Bhutto

Report: Syrians don't want American intervention

The entire world is counting the minutes until September 9th when the US Congress is expected to reconvene in order to decide the fate of Syria, either banning or approving a US strike against Syrian government targets, following an alleged chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people. Israel Today spoke to Yelena Gromova, a Russian journalist residing in Damascus, who presents another angle to the complicated Syrian saga.
US claims about an alleged chemical attack seem suspicious. At the same time, even the supporters of Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad (like Iran) acknowledge the fact. Who should people believe?
The attack did take place. But it wasn’t carried out by the party that the US and its allies are trying to accuse. On the first day of the attack, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksander Lukashevich, announced that according to the information possessed by the Russian authorities “in the early morning of August 21st a makeshift rocket was launched from the areas occupied by the militant [rebel] forces.” Anyone who doesn’t want to speculate on the subject knows that the chemical attack was carried out by the rebels. Other claims are no more than deceitful accusations aimed at discrediting the Syrian authorities. Those countries who are now blaming Syria have always actively supported those [Islamist] militants. This makes them partners in crime and therefore they should be held responsible for the blood of all those victims, including children.
It looks as if Russia is not going to interfere in the US-Syria conflict. This is despite the fact that Russia is one of Syria’s main allies. What’s going on? Did Russia get scared understanding that it's incapable of facing the US military?
Of course, it could have acted more vigorously like the Soviet Union did at the time of the Cuban missile crisis [of 1962]. But Russia provides Syria with serious diplomatic assistance. The mere fact that no American bombs have landed on Syrian soil so far is primarily Russia’s doing. Russian diplomats might be thinking that it’s better not to provoke Washington right now [in order not to trigger an escalation of tensions], but if the war does eventually erupt, I am convinced that Russia will be able to find the necessary leverage to stop it.
Knowing the psychology of the Syrian people, what do you think the West can expect from them in the event of an attack? Is Syrian going to turn into another Afghanistan?
The majority of the Syrian people are not scared. You can hear many Syrians saying: “We’ve been living in war conditions for the past two years, what else can scare us?”
Furthermore, if before there were some people who believed in the righteous cause of the so-called opposition, the situation has now changed. No longer do people believe in the good intentions of the US government or the "opposition," which calls for foreign attacks on its own country. Syrians don't want the same outcome for their country as what happened in Iraq, and they loathe those who support western aggression against the Syrian government.
Some experts claim that Russia and the US are attempting to split Syria into smaller states (Alawite, Christian, etc.). How realistic are these claims?
Syrians do not want the split. Even the Kurds, who generally supported the idea of separation, are now speaking against it. Of course, Western powers are interested in splitting Syria as they remain loyal to the old Roman tactics of "divide and conquer." But the Syrians say: “We have been living together for our entire lives. We are one people”. It’s worth mentioning that during Syria’s struggle against French colonialism, France offered to divide Syria into states based on sectarian differences, creating Alawite, Druze and Sunni federations, while giving Lebanon to the Christians. Yet, the leaders of anti-colonial struggle opposed the idea and called on the people to join forces to fight for a united and free Syria. The representative of Syria in the League of Nations – who was a Christian – rejected claims that the presence of French forces on Syrian territory would protect Christians and announced that Christians and Muslims were one people. Syrians are brought up on these values and they will do their best to prevent a split from happening.
How many people actually support President Assad and who are these rebels?
When I first came to Syria in 2011 I saw tremendous rallies in support of Assad and his government. In 2014, Syria is expected to hold presidential elections. If the opposition was so sure of the people's backing, it would have proposed its candidacy and would have used political methods to obtain power, especially given the fact that the new reforms allow that. But the point is that they are afraid of elections. Their only way to assume power is with the help of American military might. The rebels neglect basic ethical principles, and call on Obama to stage a war against the Syrian people. You can imagine what they will do if they assume power. Look at Libya, where everyone fights everyone. Syrians have to do anything it takes to prevent the Libyan scenario evolving in their country.

The boys of Malakand: Pakistan’s child jihadists

While Israel has long lead the world in knowledge of Islamist jihadist ideology and its many complexities, it is taking Muslims everywhere, far longer to come to terms with what is a lethal, consuming threat emerging from among us.
Though I watched 9/11 from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I was then a physician in the King Fahd National Hospital, I wouldn’t comprehend the true gravity of the Islamist threat until I witnessed them as they portrayed themselves, until I listened to them in their own words. Accepting the strangest of invitations, late one Sunday afternoon in New York City, I found myself at the offices of attorney and former IDF officer Richard Horowitz, viewing films he suggested I see. Concealing my fears, I said little. We watched in silence as the grainy videotapes revealed a small Muslim boy, no more than 10 or 11, clumsily wielding a kitchen knife and decapitating a Muslim man – to the rousing approval of his handlers in front of an audience of several thousands. The surroundings evoked the Af-Pak, or Afghanistan and Pakistan region. The language of Islam permeated the gruesome narrative. That afternoon, Richard had opened the door into a new world for me, one that as a Muslim woman, I found compelled to walk through. Three years later, I found myself in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Region, meeting child jihadists myself. Returning to the country of my parents’ heritage (where I have traveled for over forty years), I joined neuropsychologist Dr. Feriha Peracha for the long drive north to Malakand. With her devoted driver in an appropriately innocuous sedan, we left my family home in Lahore and raced the 320 miles north. Crossing the Punjab boundary into the North West Frontier Province, a security detail of Pakistani Army Rangers escorted us at high speed in convoy to Malakand Fort where we would stay during our visit. Dr. Peracha was taking me to see a school, “Sabaoon,” a joint civilianmilitary initiative to de-radicalize child jihadists. Sabaoon has enrolled 191 militants since its inception in 2009, though Dr. Peracha believes more than 5,000 boys remain at risk in the surrounding Swat valley. On a freezing March afternoon, I listened to one boy’s account of his transformation from schoolboy to jihadist. Dressed in a cricket shirt in Pakistan’s national colors, he reminded me of my own brothers at his age. At 18, his Urdu was equally halting, our common language rendered the story all the more terrifying in our shared intimacy. He was 15 when it began, the eldest of five, the son of a father who barely supported the family with his minor government job. The family lived in a mudwalled house. On his long walks to school far from his home, an older Pakistani boy beguiled him with tales of a purer, “more noble” Islam. There were no videos, no internet forums, no cellphones involved in his radicalization, only the compulsion of a dazzling narrative in which the school boy saw grander vistas, and the chance to see himself a heroic protagonist in new adventures. Within weeks, he relented to the seductive narrator, running away to join the Taliban. Theirs were dreams of divine mission, purpose and glory. Immediately he was relocated from concealed site to concealed site, sometimes spending nights in the open air in Pakistan’s harsh but beautiful Swat valley, which is icily cold after sundown. Hidden in grubby hostels and other “markaz“ (centers) as he referred to them, the boy never stayed more than one night in each locale. Disconnection was imperative in his induction. Because of the constant movement, not only was it impossible for his family – who continued to search for him for weeks – to find him, but it also guaranteed he was isolated from new friends who might dissuade him from the brotherhood of the Taliban. His first missions were minor. Later, they would be far more significant. Even so, he remained a boy at heart. It wasn’t until he missed his mother on Eid, the closing feast of Ramadan, and asked to see her on a short visit, that his handlers redirected the young boy with so much potential to become a disposable suicide operative. He was shackled immediately. This lethal decision averted his risk of breaking away and becoming an informer. That’s when he began telling me of his “tarbiyyat” (religious training). As he spoke, I imagined my own – painstakingly learning my Arabic letters and then, studying slowly and with difficulty, the Koran, verse by verse, always at the side of my parents, always in our home. Instead, his tarbiyyat was the mastery of a handgun, the proper unpinning of a hand-grenade and the correct detonation of a suicide jacket. He even had training in rocket launchers, AK-47s and LMGs (light machine guns) the acronyms tripping off his tongue despite his illiteracy in English. Recognizing my naiveté in combat operations, the boy helpfully explained. Miming gestures, I began to understand. Approaching his final target, expecting to be apprehended, the boy would shoot a police officer with his pistol, at which moment he knew to throw the grenade (kept in his “shalwar” [trouser] pocket) into a packed crowd. He would then run into the panicked masses fleeing from the explosion and, inserting himself within them, detonate his jacket. In these three easy steps, he would achieve both maximum carnage and, through it, jihadist nirvana. But fate held other plans for the boy. Arriving at the target for his suicide operation, his last act as a Taliban foot soldier, he entered a local Shi’ite mosque (all Shi’ite being “kaffir,” [infidels] as he had been indoctrinated). Studying the surroundings as he entered the mosque, he watched Muslim men at prayer with a growing sense of recognition. He suddenly saw with clarity these targets, like him, “were Muslim too.” Acutely fearing for his own salvation, he hesitated – enough time for the lone police officer nearby to apprehend him. It wasn’t until I was back in the United States that I opened his de-identified clinical file. Remembering the engaging, vulnerable boy who reminded me so much of my younger brother, I was stunned to read of his killing capabilities. Seduced by the Islamist narrative at the age of 15, he had first collaborated in an attack that killed five Pakistani Frontier corpsmen. Later, he had kidnapped eleven soldiers in a raid on a military camp, delivering the hostages into the hands of the Taliban. Prior to the Shi’ite mosque where he was apprehended, he had been part of a separate raid killing more than 100 people assembled at the local Jirga (tribal court). The boy had become as deadly and compelling as the narrative that seduced him. These boy jihadists, whether in the videos I first saw with Richard Horowitz at his office, or the ones I met in Malakand, Pakistan, compel my involvement to understand the war that wages within Islam, between us as Muslims. As the counter terrorism community gathers in Israel to attend the Institute of Counter Terrorism’s 13th International World Summit convening in Herzliya during the first week in September, these boys will be in my thoughts. In this globally recognized conference, leading minds will gather to formulate new approaches as the Islamist threat escalates in multiple directions. While Israel has long lead the world in knowledge of Islamist jihadist ideology and its many complexities, it is taking Muslims everywhere, far longer to come to terms with what is a lethal, consuming threat emerging from among us. But our first step to understanding them is understanding their narrative, as best told: in their own, deadly words. The writer is the author of In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom. She's also a Templeton Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion. Follow her on Twitter on @Miss- Diagnosis.

Turkey : Istanbul's Gezi Park sealed off for second day in a row

Police sealed off Istanbul's Gezi Park for a second day in a row on Sept. 7, after calls for protests in support of students at Ankara's Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ). The ODTÜ students are opposing a road project on campus that will lead to the destruction of nearly 3,000 trees. Water cannon trucks (TOMAs) were dispatched to the Gezi Park's Taksim Square entrance, Doğan News Agency reported. Police chased a group of protesters that had gathered in front of Galatasaray High School on İstiklal Avenue amid reports that many were detained. The park was also closed by police on Sept. 6 to prevent a similar demonstration from taking place. Small groups of protesters had gathered on İstiklal Avenue, with police reportedly firing water cannons to disperse the crowd. The demonstrations on the ODTÜ campus had lasted until beyond midnight, with police resorting once again to tear gas and water cannons against a group protesting against the destruction of part of the university's forested area.

Hard facts underline cruel realities of India]s persistent social failures

India is the largest democracy in the world. During the more than a century of British rule, India learned how parliamentary democracy works and built their own system after independence. They are proud of this political achievement and of the recent economic boom. But while India's social development has made steps forward since 1947, it still lags far behind other developing countries and fellow BRICS members. How can a country whose economic advances have been so striking, especially of late, have done such a poor job in living standards, public facilities, and education? An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, written by Belgian economist and activist Jean Drèze and Nobel-prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen, raises concerns over India's overly unbalanced development model. A few statistics might help people understand the extent of Indian underdevelopment. No less than 43 percent of Indian children under five are underweight, compared with only 4 percent in China and 2 percent in Brazil. In 2011, 50 percent of Indian households still lacked lavatories, and practiced "open defecation," compared with just 1 percent of Chinese. According to the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings for 2012, none of the country's universities is in the world's top 200. Half of India's schools had no education activity at all seven years ago. Spending on education is a quarter of the subsidies provided for fuel and fertilizer. The authors write bitterly that "the history of world development offers few other examples, if any, of an economy growing so fast for so long with such limited results in terms of reducing human deprivations." Unfortunately, the nationalist right in India has no guts to face its shortcomings. The book has stirred disapproval and censure. Chandan Mitra, a Bharatiya Janata Party MP and proprietor-editor-in-chief of The Pioneer newspaper, demanded that Sen be stripped of his Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian reward. Attempts to rebut the book from the right have been limited to hysterical nationalism and crude attacks. Drèze and Sen based this book on elaborate statistical analysis. It is incisive, straightforward, and organized in an intelligent and passionate way. They are trying to find out what is holding India back, and are eager to find ways forward for a country they both love. Development, the authors conclude, is not limited to GDP or greater industrialization. For them "the progress of human freedom and capability to lead the kind of lives that people have reason to value" is what really matters. This thought-provoking book will show you the other side of India, one too often neglected by the Indian elite themselves.

Russia is holding a lot of the cards in the Syria crisis. We should face that

By Deborah Orr
The obvious thing to do in this crisis is to capitalise on the situation's many diplomatic opportunities, rather than loudly demand Putin accede to western demands
Our leaders are sure of one thing. Syria isn't somewhere else. It isn't Iraq, for example. Neither is it Afghanistan. Yet, no one claims that Syria is either of these places. Many of us simply observe that there are some highly relevant similarities. Syria is like Iraq in that it's a state brought into being by the judgments of colonial powers, containing various ethnic and religious groups who are unwilling to share power. Syria is like Iraq in that it has proved vulnerable to the leadership of "strong-man" dictators, who dominate the population through intimidation and fear. Afghanistan's national identity has developed much more organically, over a much longer period. It, too, contains some similar divisions. But, currently, what Afghanistan most pertinently has in common with Syria is that it has hosted a proxy battle between the US and Russia. So, one thing that all three countries share is a history of self-interested military and diplomatic intervention from foreign powers. Europe and the US may claim that such self-interest is in the past, and that contemporary interventions are prompted by humanitarian imperatives, as in Iraq, or in the interests of self-defence, as in Afghanistan. Increasingly, however, western leaders find that it is easier to kid themselves that they are now neutral, moral agents, without self-interest, than it is to kid their own democratic populations. A cheap shot, often deployed, is that there is generally a great deal more enthusiasm for humanitarian intervention in oil-rich regions. But if there is truth in that, no one in power is ever likely to acknowledge it. What those in power do, however, acknowledge is that failure to act in the face of monumental human rights abuses threatens their own standing, their own pre-eminent place in the "world order". There's self-interest, right there. Just as this crisis was breaking, Barack Obama cancelled a meeting with the man he needs to talk to above all others, Vladimir Putin, Assad's great Russian ally. He cancelled because Russia gave political asylum to Edward Snowden, who fled the US in order to reveal that it told its population routine and bare-faced lies about their personal privacy. Obviously, lying to your entire population is not remotely similar to subjecting it to a vicious reign of violent fear. Neither is insisting on taking it into a war that it doesn't want, as Blair did with Iraq. Yet such actions do have something in common with the attitudes of dictators. Dictators tend to convince themselves that the people they rule are like children, whose opinions are naive and unsophisticated, and whose decisions have to be made for them by people who know better. It's this kind of arrogance that democracy is supposed to guard against. The fact that no strike has yet been mounted against Syria is testament to the fact that this time, that arrogance is being held in check. After Obama's shock decision to take his proposed action against Syria to Congress, a couple of headlines quickly emphasised the embarrassing apology for "diplomacy" that was the alternative. "Syria crisis: Vladimir Putin under growing pressure", the Guardian announced on Tuesday. On the same day the Telegraph reported: "Syria crisis: Israel sparks alert in Mediterranean after unannounced missile test." Surely the intelligent thing to do is to face the truth – that Russia is holding a lot of the cards – rather then loudly proclaim that Putin must be seen to be acceding to western demands? Again, it is self-interest that dictates that a renewed cold war is preferable to making any concession to Russia. Yet, the obvious thing to do in this crisis is to capitalise on the situation's many diplomatic opportunities more disinterestedly. Chief of these is the fact that – whether or not you believe in their sincerity – both Putin and Assad are insisting that the use of chemical weapons is wrong. There's no reason to doubt Russia. Obama is fond of saying that 98% of the world's population is signed up to the convention forbidding the use of chemical weapons in war. Russia is party to that agreement. But Syria isn't. A peace conference, of the kind posited in the run-up to the G20 conference this week, would offer an excellent opportunity to ask Assad to sign on the line. And why stop there? Why not invite Russia to head up an international effort to remove chemical weapons from Syria? Then neither Assad nor the rebels could use them. Why not, indeed, ask Putin to agree that if Assad refuses to clear his country of chemical weapons, and they are then used again, by anyone, then Russia would fully support immediate strikes in retaliation? This would be a splendid time to try to get Egypt to sign the convention as well. And Israel, as yet, has not ratified. One can hardly blame Israel for this when two hostile countries on its borders haven't even signed. However, one can blame Israel – and also the US – for going ahead with missile testing when the region is in crisis. The excuse given was that the exercise had been long planned. Oh, dear. Could there be a more powerful declaration of the long-standing partisan interest the west has in the Middle East? In the Middle East, people insist that all their troubles come back to Israel. It's certainly true that some of them do. Israel, of course, is another country brought into being in the region largely by outsiders. Also, it was done without the agreement of either the majority of those living on the land at that time, or the neighbours, who have predictably proved to be so determinedly hostile. The creation of Israel has not been what anyone could call an unmitigated success, least of all the refugees whose descendants live until this day in camps, the product of a stalemate that has remained since 1948. Israel has a right to exist, because it exists and because millions of people need it to continue to exist. But Israel's creation was in part a response to another refugee crisis, after another terrible war. Just like all other religious groups, Judaism tends not fully to understand that its own sacred beliefs are true only to itself. I believe that the Jews are God's chosen people no more than I believe that Christ was the son of God, or that Mohammed was God's final prophet. How can I, when I don't believe in God? I do believe, however, that the Middle East is the cradle of all three monotheistic religions. That's a fact. The idea that Israel is the product of some sort of ancient first-dibs right to a slice of the Middle East? That's something that Jewish people – and anyone else – have every right to believe. But, in all religious groups there needs to be an understanding that even if a belief forms a crucial part of their own identity or faith, it isn't a fact to be accepted by others who don't share that identity or faith. A workable Israeli/Palestinian peace settlement grounded in 21st-century geopolitical fact, and stripped of ancient religious belief, is a necessary part of any wider settlement in the region. Israeli Jews are no different to other religious, ethnic or nationalist groups in the Middle East in a basic respect: they want a land to call their own, in which they are safe. That's only human. It's time for the Middle East and the world to start trying to build on the things that humans have in common with each other, even if progress is difficult and slow. The things that make us different are the things we tend to insist are more important. These, unfortunately, offer no basis for agreement at all – only for continued conflict.

G20--- '' President Putin's SPEECH''

Military strategies for the U.S. in Syria

Bahrain opp. parties refuse to accept ban

Bahraini opposition parties have refused to accept the recent bans on meetings with foreign diplomats without Al Khalifa regime’s permission. The coalition of National Democratic Opposition Parties has announced that the move contradicts the constitution and international law. The parties noted that the move will only add to political tensions in the Persian Gulf Arab country. The restrictions, issued by Bahrain's justice minister, require political groups to get prior permit for their meetings and once a permit is granted, a representative of the Al Khalifah regime will attend the discussions. The order also bans contact with international organizations without authorization. The move is aimed at limiting the activities of opposition groups which have played a leading role in the anti-regime movement that has gripped the country for over two years. The Manama regime’s human rights record has come under scrutiny over its handling of anti-regime protests that erupted across the Arab country in early 2011. Bahrainis demanded political reform and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests. However, the Manama regime launched a brutal crackdown on the peaceful protests and called in Saudi-led Arab forces from neighboring states. Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others arrested in the clampdown.

Pakistan Militants Prepare for War in Afghanistan

Militants in Pakistan's most populous province are said to be training for what they expect will be an ethnic-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw in 16 months, according to analysts and a senior militant. In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled and is now in the thousands, says analyst Mansur Mehsud. He runs the FATA Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank studying the mix of militant groups that operate in Pakistan's tribal belt running along much of the 2,600-kilometer (1,600-mile) Afghan-Pakistan border. Mehsud, himself from South Waziristan where militants also hide out, says more than 150 militant groups operate in the tribal regions, mostly in mountainous, heavily forested North Waziristan. Dotted with hideouts, it is there that Al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri is thought by the U.S. to be hiding, and where Afghanistan says many of its enemies have found sanctuary. While militants from Punjab province have long sought refuge and training in the tribal regions, they were fewer in number and confined their hostility to Pakistan's neighbor and foe, India. All that is changing, say analysts. "Before, they were keeping a low profile. But just in the last two or three years hundreds have been coming from Punjab," said Mehsud. "Everyone knows that when NATO and the American troops leave Afghanistan there will be fighting between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns." And the Punjabi militants will side with the Afghan Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group and the majority ethnic group in Pakistan's northwest region that borders Afghanistan. Like many in the Taliban, the Punjabi militants share a radical and regressive interpretation of Islam. "We will go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban as we have done in the past," said a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), a militant Sunni Muslim group, who goes by a nom de guerre, Ahmed Zia Siddiqui. In an interview with The Associated Press in Pakistan, he said the Taliban haven't yet requested help, but when asked whether Punjab-based militants were preparing for war in Afghanistan after the foreign withdrawal, he replied: "Absolutely." Despite being outlawed in Pakistan, Siddiqui's group is among the most active and violent, providing a cadre of suicide bombers for attacks both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. It has taken responsibility for dozens of attacks that have killed hundreds of minority Shiites in Pakistan. It has also been implicated in some of the most spectacular attacks in Pakistan, including the 2008 bombing of a five-star hotel in the capital and an assassination attempt on former dictator and U.S. ally Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Zahid Hussain, whose books plot the rise of militancy in Pakistan, said at least two dozen militant groups are headquartered in Punjab province, while in Waziristan their numbers are growing as mainstream religious parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami recruit young men to the militant cause. "Even if a settlement occurs in Afghanistan there are still a lot who will continue to fight and those who are most likely to resist a settlement are Pakistani militants," Hussain said. He said that during a recent trip he made to North Waziristan, local tribesmen spoke of the influx of Punjab-based militants into their area. Foreign journalists are not allowed in the tribal regions. Pakistan's new elected civilian government has promised a strategy to tackle the militants whose actions, says Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are a scourge that has killed upward of 40,000 Pakistanis in recent years. In a televised speech last month, he lamented Pakistan's inability "to restrict the culprits or even identify them, to spot their hideouts and take them to task." "Pakistan cannot tolerate this anymore," he said. While Sharif suggested that "incompetence or insensitiveness" were to blame, analysts accuse the government of lacking the political will to go after the militants. They say Sharif's conservative Pakistan Muslim League rules Punjab province, where militant headquarters are easy to spot and are left undisturbed. In the south Punjab city of Bahawalpur, the al-Qaida linked Jaish-e-Mohammed is expanding its headquarters and building bigger religious schools for its adherents, said Ayesha Saddiqa, a defense analyst from Bahawalpur. The militant group has radicalized locals, and its leader, Azhar Masood, freed from an Indian jail in 1999 in exchange for a hijacked Indian Airlines plane, moves about freely, she said. Punjab "is infested with numerous jihadi outfits that support the Taliban based in the tribal areas from time to time," said Saddiqa. "The Punjabi jihadis are critical of the war in Afghanistan and Western presence in the region. This is not just an objection to foreign presence in a Muslim country but is part of a larger war they hope to fight in establishing supremacy of Islam according to their interpretation and imagination." Omar Hamid Khan, the Interior Ministry spokesman, says violence has escalated since the Sharif government took office in June, with 68 attacks in 60 days. In a recent interview he acknowledged the difficulties the new government faces in meeting its stated goals of creating a counter-terrorism authority and competent police force, and finding experts to translate its national security blueprint into action. Dr. Simbal Khan, a regional security expert with the Islamabad Policy Research Institute in Islamabad, said Pakistan doesn't want to see Afghanistan return to the 1990s, when civil war destroyed the country and gave rise to the repressive Taliban regime which in turn strengthened Pakistan's militants. Yet Pakistan's options are few, and according to Dr. Khan exclude an all-out assault on militant hideouts in Punjab that would turn the full force of militancy against Pakistan. "We know where they are. We could bomb the whole area, flatten it. That would solve Afghanistan's problem but what would that leave for us?" she asked. "We might solve the Afghan problem but our problem would be far worse. We would suffer for the next 40 years."

Afghanistan: In Kabul, trading women like cattle

Afghanistan has become a key source for victims of sex-trafficking. It remains a hidden crime, flourishing despite laws meant to protect women. A vicious cycle of poverty and cultural practices keep women trapped. Pimps and customers call her Diljan. "I serve the rich and the executive class," said the round-faced blonde with green eyes. "If the guys have money, they can have me for a night." Depending on the nature of the service, her rates range from 20,000 to 90,000 Indian rupees (230 to 1,030 euros) for a night. Though women of other nationalities, including Russians and Ukrainians, still dominate the flourishing sex trade in India, Diljan said Afghans like her have pushed many of them out of business. After the war in 2001, she and her family fled from Kandahar to Kabul. Her nightmare began when a man raped her, she said, while returning home from the market. He threatened to kill her if she told anyone about it. She would be raped again that month by another man, who made the same threat. In 2011, a woman approached her with a waitress's job in a posh Delhi hotel. She jumped at the chance. The woman got her a passport and visa, and put her on a plane. In Delhi, she was told that the job had fallen through. She ended up being an escort. "There were six other Afghan women already at work," recalled Diljan. Afghanistan has become a source, transit point and destination for victims of sex-trafficking. Nobody knows exactly how many Afghan women have been sold into sexual slavery. Like the drug trade, trafficking takes place in a shadowy world. Some girls like Diljan are cheated by pimps and sold to traffickers. Others are abducted, raped and psychologically pummelled into submission. The rampant trafficking has put Afghanistan on the United States "Tier 2 watch list" of countries that are failing to fight human trafficking.
Conditions ripe
Human trafficking in Afghanistan grew as the many decades of war caused displacement of millions. Chronic poverty and growing crime increased the vulnerability of women. Geography is another crucial factor; Afghanistan has six direct neighbours including Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan. Many of these borders are nearly impossible to guard, thanks to inaccessible terrain and tribal fiefdoms. Palwasha Saboori, director of the Afghan Women Training and Development Organization, said hundreds of women are trafficked every year. Still, it remains a hidden crime, one that the government is not combating, said Saboori. In the last two years alone, her organization has rescued 319 women and girls. "Almost all of them were sexually abused," said Saboori. Last year, an survey by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on trafficking confirmed that majority of trafficked women had lost their parents in the war and had no family support and protection. Others became caught in the vicious cycle because of extreme poverty and early, forced marriages. "Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are hardly any jobs for the young. Then there is a growing uncertainty about the future," said Sima Samar, a chairperson for the AIHRC. "All these conditions make Afghanistan ideal for human trafficking."At present, 727 victims of rape and trafficking are being rehabilitated at eight shelters run by the Afghan government and often managed by local and international NGOs. Victims who cannot find a place in the shelters often end up in prison. Zakia Baryalti, who is director of the Afghan ministry of women's affairs, said: "We have an army of victims in Afghanistan. But we do not have enough shelters to rehabilitate them."
Unspeakable abuse
Marzah, a young girl from Logar province, is staying at a shelter in Kabul. After months of therapy, she was able to speak about her ordeal. She said she was raped when she was nine, and then sold into sexual slavery. All she wants now is oblivion. "I do not want to return to my village. My family will kill me. I have brought such shame to them," said Marzah. In another Kabul shelter, Perveen Jan told the story of how she had survived bombs, only to be trapped in a brothel. The US bombing of 2001 had destroyed countless villages like hers. Amidst the raging war she fled to the nearest town, Jalalabad, where the situation was a little better. Then, her mother called her and told her about a prospective groom. But instead of getting married, she realized a few weeks later that she had been sold to a pimp for 20,000 Afghani (265 euros). She would be traded to 10 men over the next three years. In 2011, a pimp drove her across the Turkhan border checkpoint into Pakistan. Here, she had to dance semi-naked, entertain rich men, and have sex with customers who paid her owner a few thousand Pakistani rupees. Last year, when her Pakistani owner was away, she escaped and fled to Jalalabad. Now, she is traumatized and unable to speak. "She has been destroyed," said Zaibesh, 21, her friend at the shelter and a victim herself. "When I met her and heard her story, I forgot all my pain and misery." Zaibesh's parents were killed by her brother-in-law for trying to protect her from sexual abuse. The killer has threatened to kill her too for running away. As she spoke about how she was repeatedly raped and abused, she suddenly paused and cried out loud, "People have done such bad things to me. I just hate myself for what I have gone through." In her brimming green eyes you can read the tragedy of a land drained by war. Gap between law and reality The Afghan constitution, written after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, enshrines equal rights for men and women. And a new landmark law, passed in 2009, has for the first time criminalized forced marriages. Yet women remain victims. In contrast to the overwhelming presence of foreign troops on Afghanistan's streets, there is the overwhelming absence of women in public. Every day, from different parts of the country, complaints pour in to the office of the AIHRC. "Trafficking of women is going largely unreported due to tribal and societal acceptance of the practice," said AIHRC chairperson Samar. Traffickers exploit vulnerabilities and lack of opportunities. They make promises of marriage, employment, education, or a better life.
Not merely a women's issue
"This is not merely a women's issue," said Shukria Barakzai, a parliamentarian and leading Afghan politician. "It is an economic problem, a societal problem, a migration problem - and most of all, a question of the future of this country." As music blared from the loudspeakers in the dimly-lit cafe in South Delhi, Diljan's cell phone rang. Her response was brief: "Yes, yes, I'm coming." She hurriedly finished her cigarette and got up to meet the car waiting downstairs. Her response to the question of if she wanted to leave her profession, wrapped in loud laughter: "It is my business. It was the will of God." Names of victims have been changed to protect their identity.
This report is a shortened version of Syed Nazakat's entry for the German Development Media Awards. Nazakat's story on trafficking of women in the region was one of four finalists for the Asia category. Nazakat is a special correspondent at India's leading news magazine, "The Week."

India: It’s no country for children

If a society is judged by the way it treats its children, we would come off very poorly. Not a day goes by without horrific stories about the abuse and murder of children on front pages of newspapers and on prime time on television channels. Orphans are sexually assaulted and murdered at government homes, a group of children playing outside their homes in Hisar in Haryana vanishes only to turn up dead, the body of a child is found stuffed in a desert cooler. We still have not forgotten the grisly Nithari case in which cannibalism was said to have been involved. These are the ones that are reported, the ones where the police have managed to uncover what exactly happened. It turns out more than half of those children who are reported as missing are never heard of again. An examination of the data available from 24 states, excluding West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, which have a high rate of children who have vanished shows that 15,130 children have gone missing this year. Only 6,269 of those children have been found so far. What about the rest? Few of the children who go missing are as lucky as Saroo Brierley who, 25 years after mistakenly getting on a train out of Khandwa, found his mother and natal family again with the help of Google maps. In 2012, 65,038 children were reported missing; 41.35% of them have not been traced so far. It’s quite likely too that the actual number of missing children in India is under-reported. Many parents are too poor or socially disempowered to even muster up the courage to approach the police to report a missing child. What happens to all those children who are never found? The ones who aren’t recovered by a stroke of luck, the ones whose bodies aren’t found, the ones who vanish without a trace? Clearly, many find themselves coerced — like the 14-year-old child who accidentally caused the death of Baby Falak — into the sex trade. Others are in all likelihood trafficked into working at roadside eateries and the begging mafia. Then there is the flourishing market for domestic labour. Indeed, it isn’t unusual to see well-to-do families in urban India employing very young children — probably procured from unscrupulous agents — to look after their own toddlers and do household chores. Needless to add, cases of these children being physically, mentally and sexually abused are par for the course. It might be naïve to imagine a world where children are absolutely safe, away from lurking predators; the figures who like Aqualung sit on a park bench eyeing little girls (and boys) with evil intent. But it isn’t unrealistic to expect the government to set up a centralised national database of habitual offenders and as well as missing children. This would go at least some way towards helping distraught families who are searching for their children.

Afghan woman MP released after three weeks in Taliban captivity

A female Afghan parliamentarian held captive by Taliban for three weeks has been released in a prisoner exchange, Taliban and government officials said on Saturday. Fariba Ahmadi Kakar, a member of the Afghan lower house, was kidnapped on August 13 when travelling by car through the restive eastern province of Ghazni. She was the second female parliamentarian to be attacked in Ghazni in less than a week, and her abduction highlighted concerns about a recent spate of often deadly assaults on women working in state institutions. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said Kakar had been exchanged for four female and two child relatives of Taliban officials held by the government. "Today, the Islamic Emirate handed (Kakar) back over to her relatives via a prisoner exchange," Mujahid said, referring to the name the Taliban used during their 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan. A Kakar family member, who declined to be named, also confirmed that the MP had been released. Restoring women's right has been a cornerstone of the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, but the recent spate of attacks is fuelling concern that such rights are eroding as international forces prepare to withdraw next year.

Obama's Weekly Address: Calling for Limited Military Action in Syria

Malala vows to step up fight for children’s education

Pakistani teen Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head last year by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, vowed Friday to intensify her struggle for “a world where everyone can go to school.”
Speaking at a ceremony in The Hague, where she was awarded the 2013 International Children's Peace Prize, Malala said last October's attack on her had made her more determined than ever to continue her campaign. “I was just one target for their violence,” Malala said in her acceptance speech, referring to her near-fatal shooting when a Taliban gunman's bullet grazed her brain. “There are many others for whom we must continue... so that children all over the world can have a right to go to school,” she said to thunderous applause. Malala, 16, received her prize from the 2011 Nobel Peace laureate, Yemeni journalist and activist Tawakkol Karman, who told a humbled Malala “you are my hero.” “You cried: 'No one can stop me or any girl from learning',” Karman told Malala, speaking in Arabic in an address praising the Pakistani teen's achievement. “The bullet aimed at your head at that moment was a milestone in the history of your country,” Karman said at the ceremony at the historic Knight's Hall near the Dutch parliament. After she was shot, Malala was given life-saving treatment in Britain where she now lives. Her brave fight for survival and her speech at the United Nations in July have made her a leading contender for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. But the response to her in Pakistan has been mixed, with many hailing her as a national heroine while others have criticised her for promoting a “Western” agenda. The International Children's Peace Prize, an initiative of the Dutch-based KidsRights Foundation, was launched in 2005 and set off by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he chaired the Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Rome. It carries a cash value of 100,000 euros ($133,000) that is invested in projects relating to the winner's cause. Last year's winner was 13-year-old Cris “Kesz” Valdez for his work with Filipino street children while he himself was destitute.

President Zardari : A president’s legacy

After five years as president, Mr Asif Ali Zardari is bidding adieu to the Presidency and is leaving rather large shoes to fill for all the right and some wrong reasons. A controversial persona since before and after he was sworn in as the 11th President of Pakistan, the PPP leader has been in the news on and off, has frequently surprised critics with his keen sense for political manoeuvring, and has given enough fodder for naysayers to continue with their glib remarks. However, he has left a legacy that deserves reflection, praise, scepticism, and a fair amount of credit. Most recently, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, one of Zardari’s most ardent opponents in the political arena, hosted a reception for the outgoing president as a gesture of good faith and appreciation. In return, Mr Zardari promised that the PPP would not indulge in any politicking during the PML-N’s five-year term and would extend all support to Mr Sharif’s government. Such statements and sentiments go a long way in a country that has known mostly dictatorships and political squabbling since its inception. That both politicians played a ‘civil’ game goes to the credit and maturity of the political process in the last five years. President Zardari’s time in office was marked by pros and cons. After the assassination of PPP leader Benazir Bhutto, it seemed as though Sindh would go up in flames and take the country with it. Sindhis took to the streets chanting “Pakistan na khappay” (Pakistan will not survive) but Zardari stepped in and turned the slogan round to “Pakistan khappay”, which may have helped to dampen the anger reverberating in PPP’s Sindh stronghold. Zardari held the federation together at that critical juncture. He is the first president in the history of Pakistan’s power grabbing political culture who actually gave back to parliament, through the 18th Amendment, the powers amassed to the Presidency during Musharraf’s tenure. He followed his late wife’s philosophy to the core by adhering to the politics of reconciliation, allowing critics and the opposition to have their say no matter what the occasion or however bitter the tone, without retaliating. The five years of the PPP’s tenure yielded not even one political prisoner. Needless to say, this were firsts in our history as well. Because Zardari followed the idea of reconciliation, Nawaz Sharif in the opposition also practiced restraint despite war cries from his own party’s hardliners. However, Zardari was also dogged by controversy from beginning to end. First came the petitions against him for holding dual office as co-chairperson of the largest party and president. The Supreme Court (SC) opened a nasty can of worms when it struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance, thereby resuscitating the Swiss cases against the president, dismissing one PPP prime minister (Gilani) and threatening to do the same to his successor (Ashraf). When the PPP went ahead and finally wrote the infamous letter to the Swiss judicial authorities, the SC’s insistence proved infructuous as the Swiss replied that it was a time-barred case that could only be reopened if new substantive evidence were available. The Swiss also pointed out that under Pakistani and international law, the president enjoyed immunity while in office. It remains to be seen if the Swiss cases continue to haunt Mr Zardari after leaving office. Alleged corruption, cronyism and incompetence marred the PPP’s rule. Zardari stands accused of appointing his favourites at the cost of the country’s governance. The Rental Power Projects, a short-term solution, were struck down by the SC for alleged shady deals (unproved so far). Due to this, the whole short, medium and long term plan for meeting the electricity deficit was thrown out the window. This turned many potential foreign (and even domestic) investors against Pakistan as a destination, further digging a hole in our economy. Above all else, nothing explains the electoral debacle of the PPP in 2013 (especially in Punjab) better than the fact that the jiyalas (committed workers) who are the mainstay of the PPP, were marginalised over the last five years. The leadership was inaccessible and the PPP party workers became incrementally demoralised. Zardari is now talking of the PPP consolidating itself once again in Punjab, but unless the party overcomes cronyism, it may find it hard to revive itself in the foreseeable future or even survive in the long run. The PPP was unable to deal with the calamity of the floods we have been witnessing for three years now, with affectees piling up every year. These are not small misgivings and have all worked to turn the tide against the PPP. While the smooth transition of one democratically elected government that completed its tenure to another marks a high point in Zardari’s leadership, his party has now plenty of work to do.

US Ambassador calls on President Zardari
The US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard G. Olson Saturday called on President Asif Ali Zardari at Aiwan-e-Sadr. The President also hosted lunch for the ambassador.

Zardari Goes With Grace

Asif Ali Zardai retires as President of Pakistan on September 08, 2013 after completing his five-year tenure- the first-ever civilian president to have this honour in the history of Pakistan. No political figure has faced the quantum of negative propaganda as he did during these five years.
Right from the day he assumed the leadership of PPP after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, hate cannons were directed at him as a favourite target. He was portrayed in a very negative light, almost as a villain of piece. All kinds of conspiracy theories were fabricated and unleashed against him, some visibly hitting below the belt. Every word he uttered or step he took was instantaneously dubbed as part of his evil stratagem. Even his most well-intentioned statements were misconstrued by media and so-called ‘social’ media. Zardari was made the protagonist of every dubious story, sometimes even defying the norms of normal human perception. It seemed as if he was a kind of a superman who cold stage-manage anything under the sun. Eyebrows were raised when he became the co-Chairperson of PPP and renamed his son after the assassination of the party leader. Propaganda against him took a new momentum after he was elected as the President of Pakistan. The Presidency was dubbed as a hub of conspiracies. Covert and overt moves were made to single out President as the sole source of all troubles. Zardari’s rise to prominence was interpreted as accidental, and it was prophesized that his political career would be a short-lived phenomenon. Some cynics even did not hesitate to point out that he was a ‘beneficiary’ of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. With the passage of time, Zardari-bashing became a fashion among the intelligentsia. Media persons and his political opponents missed no opportunity to malign him. Some leaders even said PPP was acceptable sans Zardari. Roadmap of his collapse was announced by the analysts, and deadlines of his departure were delivered every next month. “Investigative” journalists raised dounts about his mental health. The fact remains that Asif Ali Zardari did not lose his composure at a time when PPP was going through worst crisis in its history, since the assassination of Z A Bhutto. He, with his coolheaded courage and pragmatic approach, negated all estimates about his political acumen. He disproved the doubts that PPP government would not be able to survive in the absence of high-profile party leadership. He introduced and pursued the policy of reconciliation with all political forces and offered Olive Branch even to his worse opponents. Zardari had no personal legacy or charisma to his credit but he performed well within his limitations. He made earnest efforts to bring parties having diverse ideological bents on one platform. Zaradri started from a very fragile foundation but consolidated his position gradually with his down-to-earth approach. Asif Ali Zardari never enjoyed the status of a top national leader, and he never claimed to be one. He made his mark with his political wisdom, personal humility and an inexhaustible tolerance. Had there been a World Tolerance Award, Zardari must have been among the potential candidates. His five years as President of Pakistan were by no means an easygoing affair as he faced many daunting challenges, and to media every such challenge was worth his resignation. Defying all estimates about his character and proving predictions about his political career as false, Zardari completes his tenure on Sep 08, 2013. He is leaving the Presidency with grace. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif showed real class as a person and statesman by bidding farewell to Asif Ali Zardari in a very honourable style. The speech made by Nawaz Sharif on the occasion reflected his magnanimity and generosity of spirit, and it was deservedly admired by everyone. The mood and sentiment at the farewell luncheon was very heartening for the political future of the country.

President Zardari says he doesn’t wish to be prime minister

President Asif Ali Zardari says he doesn’t intend to become prime minister of Pakistan because he thinks presidential slot should be an optimum position for any politician. In an interview with veteran journalist and Geo News anchor Sohail Waraich, Mr Zardari said that strengthening the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was the most important task than anything else. When asked whether he learnt some lessons during his imprisonment, the outgoing President said; “I learnt patience during my 11-year solitary confinement as jail starts to test your nerves after two initial years in detention, Answering a question, Asif Ali Zardari said that he used to watch foreign TV channels during his imprisonment to keep him up to date as well as writing his thoughts. He said that the letters and poetry he had written to his wife Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed were now in possession of his children.