Friday, September 13, 2013

New Israeli Music 2013-14

Democracy in the Arab world?

Shmuley Boteach
Even when the Arab world was in deep winter, I was an early supporter of its spring. Inspired by a Jewish friend who fifteen years ago launched an organization called, “free the 400 million,” I gave lectures at the Oxford Union and wrote columns around the world calling for the end of dictatorships in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab despotisms. “Where is the Arab George Washington?,” one of the columns asked. How could hundreds of millions of people live without a freedom movement to liberate them? Why would they voluntarily submit to a thugocracy?When the Arab spring eventually broke I was one of its most vocal champions. I even criticized the Israeli government for not coming out more forcefully for democratic reforms in Egypt and for implying that Hosni Mubarak was somehow a friend and ally when in reality he was a tyrant who ruled Egypt with an iron fist for three decades.Throughout all this advocacy I was well aware that democracy was not a panacea for guaranteeing a country’s morality, that Hitler was democratically elected, as was Hamas. But I stood squarely by the speech given by a young Benjamin Netanyahu that I had organized in Oxford twenty years ago where he said that the secret to Middle East peace was Arab democratization. And how do I feel now, when Muhammad Morsi in Egypt turned out to be a President who used his victory at the polls to curb democratic freedoms and press liberties? Or when democracy in Libya led to the murder of our Ambassador, or when the opposition in Syria certainly encompasses many radical Islamists who, if they defeat mass murderer Bashar al Assad, might institute sha’ariya law? Here is my answer. I believe in democracy with all my heart and believe that it can and will, eventually, prevail over a nation’s failures. But democracy can only work if it is accompanied by a constitution with a Bill of Rights guaranteeing minority civil liberties. Democracy alone, without rights enshrined in a constitution, can be a dangerous tool in the hands of fanatics who would use populism to dismantle individual freedoms. Hitler used his electoral victories to have himself voted Fuhrer, dictator for life. Hamas likewise used its electoral victory to dismantle democracy and Morsi was well on his way to doing the same. The people and its leaders can never be counted on to preserve and protect individual rights. That’s something that has to be ingrained within a nation’s constitution, as it is in ours. There must be a powerful judiciary that can overrule legislation and declare it unconstitutional, even if it is passed by a democracy. It is ultimately a constitution guaranteeing universal freedoms that can right an errant course set by a majority that seeks to trample on individual liberties. Even here in the United States we witnessed the passing of the Alien and Sedition Act, under John Adams, that made it a crime to criticize the executive. We likewise witnessed the mass internment of Japanese during the Second World War, not to mention the much more egregious sins of Jim Crow and segregation that foully denied individual liberties. These wrongs were only put right – and in the case of segregation it took nearly a century after the end of slavery – because of a constitution that guaranteed individual liberties and a judiciary that had the power to force the executive to implement those rights. True, the same constitution enshrined slavery, which is why even constitutions need to be modified, as was ours with the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, which abolished slavery, guaranteed due process and equal protections, and voting rights regardless of race or color. But imagine what our democracy would be like without our Bill of Rights. In many ways its too frightening to contemplate. I’m beginning to wonder whether or not the United States should not be promulgating a universal Bill of Rights that we demand be accepted by nations that seek our help, as in Syria, that must first be adopted by the leadership of revolutionary movements prior to our agreeing to provide military or economic aid. Otherwise, much as I absolutely insist that Syria must be punished for gassing its own people – and it must and immediately – does it really make sense to support one tyranny to replace another? I realize that in many ways this is impractical. Rebel leaders might adopt an American-imposed guarantee of democracy and a bill of rights, that they can later rescind. Also, they may not be the same leaders once the revolution is complete. But it makes a lot more sense that simply getting no guarantees as to future behavior. Likewise, the United States appears far too timid when it comes to imposing its will on countries that it has liberated with significant blood and treasure, as was the case when it did not insist that Iraq sign a peace treaty with Israel just as soon as its new government was established. While it is unethical to insist that countries liberated by the United States abide by a Pax Americana, as if were ancient Rome, there is nothing immoral about insisting that nations that we liberate live by a universal code of morality that demands, among others, rights for minorities, women, gays, freedom of the press, and freedom of worship. Oh, and a demand that a country like Iraq not indulge in Israel-bating and toxic anti-Semitism. The alternative is for the United States to continue to send its young men and women to die in places like Afghanistan only to see corrupt dictators like Hamid Karzai – who viciously attacks our troops as murderers on a regular basis – be the beneficiaries of so much American sacrifice. But one thing is for sure. I continue to believe that constitutional democracy is the only real hope for the earth’s inhabitants and that, difficult as it is to see, all humanity, deep in their hearts (and hopefully not too deep), yearn to be free.

Obama loosens demands on U.N. resolution on Syria

By Christi Parsons and Paul Richter
In a sign of its weak hand in the Syria crisis, the Obama administration has abandoned for now its hope of winning U.N. authorization for the use of force against President Bashar Assad's government if it fails to surrender its chemical weapons. Facing steadfast Russian resistance, officials said Friday that they would accept a United Nations resolution that imposed weaker penalties such as economic sanctions and allowed for the Security Council to reconsider the use of force if Assad did not live up to his promises. The shift, described by administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity, appeared to be an acknowledgment of the likelihood that Security Council members Russia and China would veto the use of force, and of the overall lack of international support for military strikes to punish Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons. But President Obama's effort to retain the option to launch military action in response to the Aug. 21 attack, which the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people, may have received a boost in comments from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban said an upcoming report by U.N. experts would show strong evidence of the use of chemical weapons. A U.N.-based diplomat said the report would build a circumstantial case that the Syrian military was responsible. Whether the international community retains the option to use force has become the focus of diplomacy. Syria and its allies in Russia surprisingly announced this week that Assad's government would give up its chemical weapons and sign an international treaty that prohibits them. France announced it was crafting a U.N. resolution that would authorize the use of force if Assad reneged on the pledge, which the Russians immediately rejected. On Thursday, Assad said he wouldn't hand over his chemical weapons unless the U.S. stopped arming rebels seeking to overthrow his government. Negotiations are likely to drag on now for some time. Administration officials say they expect a conclusion in weeks, not months. The report by the U.N. experts may be released as early as Monday. Appearing at a U.N. meeting he thought was private, Ban said into an open microphone that he believed the inspectors would deliver "an overwhelming, overwhelming report that chemical weapons [were] used, even though I cannot publicly say [so] at this time, before I receive the report." Because of the faulty intelligence the George W. Bush administration relied on in justifying the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. officials have faced tough questions from other governments, in Congress and from the U.S. public about its accusations that Assad used chemical weapons. But if the evidence of Syrian responsibility is strong, and if Syria fails to live up to its promises, Obama could gain more international backing for his arguments that force is needed. The U.N. investigation, conducted by a team headed by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, was not designed to assign blame for the attack. But a diplomat based at the United Nations said the evidence the inspectors gathered would make a circumstantial case strong enough to convince many that the Syrian military was responsible. The evidence includes ammunition and the results of tests on soil, blood and urine. The investigators conducted dozens of interviews with medical personnel, relief workers and victims. U.S. officials have argued that the physical evidence shows for example, that the attacks were conducted with weaponry used by the Syrian military and that it was fired from areas held by Syrian troops. The findings "make it hard to believe that others did it," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not yet been released. Even so, the diplomat acknowledged that Russia and Syria may still seize on some points to insist the case is not definitive. Also Friday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for a second day in Geneva to work out a process for eliminating Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. They said they also discussed how to move back into long-stalled negotiations on how to end Syria's civil war. The two officials met with the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. Their comments were the first suggestions that the discussion over chemical weapons could be broadened to encompass an effort to end the war. They said they would resume the discussions Sept. 28 in New York, after the opening of the new U.N. General Assembly session, and hoped to finally be able to set a date for negotiations. Kerry said Obama remained "deeply committed" to a negotiated solution to the war, and wants to explore whether the Syrian government and rebels can broker formation of a new government. But Kerry added that progress depended on whether the U.S. and Russian negotiating team in Geneva, where the sides are deeply divided on many aspects of the issue, can make progress. Whether the broader discussions can get underway "will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here," Kerry said. Lavrov signaled Russian support for a broader approach, saying his country had supported the efforts of Kofi Annan, who was the first U.N. special envoy who tried to wind down the war. Even so, diplomats and analysts said enormous obstacles remained. It may now be more difficult to persuade rebel leaders to take part because they are likely to interpret Obama's decision to hold off on military strikes as a lack of support for them. And Assad, who has apparently averted a U.S. attack, may feel he has the upper hand, and may be more resistant to joining negotiations that the United States hopes will sweep him out of office. Frederic C. Hof, who was the U.S. envoy to Syria earlier in the Obama administration, predicted it would be impossible to draw in rebel leaders to negotiate in Geneva while the Syrians continue to conduct an intense war against them. "The foundation for that kind of negotiations doesn't exist at all," said Hof, now with the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center.

Putin's powerful American PR firm

General Petraeus didn't deserve the 'war criminal' heckling from students

By Lev Sviridov
General David Petraeus didn't have the best start to the school year. Since the City University of New York (CUNY) announced Petraeus would teach a seminar in the honors college, there's been criticism and uproar, some of which led to his salary being dropped to $1. But it went to another level on Tuesday as students followed him down the street chanting slogans such as "There's blood all over you, I can smell it". As a graduate and now an employee of the CUNY system, I am no stranger to political activism and the presence of diverse and divergent opinions on our many campuses throughout the city of New York. At one point the university was led by a Civil War general, and the community takes great pride in alumnus General Colin Powell. While expecting some political push back resisting the invitation of General Petreaus to teach at CUNY, I never anticipated that a system acclimated to diversity, tolerance, and constructive dialogue would be identified with misguided attacks on an individual who has committed his life to the service of his fellow citizen and country. I arrived at the central offices of the Macaulay Honors College for a meeting on Tuesday morning and found a collection of protestors outside the main building. I didn't know that General Petreaus' seminar was scheduled that day, but I soon figured it out. The chanting was both inappropriate and inaccurate, but perhaps it is too much to expect accuracy and appropriateness from an angry gathering of about 20. Rising over the placards calling the general a mass murderer and bearer of death and destruction were chants opposing the reintroduction of ROTC, the Reserve Officers' Training Corps that can be found on many US college campuses, at CUNY. "R-O-T-C; Down with the bourgeoisie!" What followed, now playing on Youtube, was verbal abuse from people who represent a minority view. What they exhibited was not "dissent" in any sense equal to a great university. This was "free speech" at its ugliest – a display of barbarism and ignorance. General Petreaus' record speaks for itself. His COIN manual (pdf) reduced civilian casualties and expedited the withdrawal of American and coalition troops for Iraq. In doing so, he met the military objectives set by our civilian government. The anger and harassment he experienced this week was reminiscent of a Vietnam-era America when returning veterans were subjected to public humiliation and attack. Today, we recognize and honor their sacrifice and commitment, as we should honor all of our armed personnel, especially those who work to bring our troops home alive and well, not to mention those who work to save civilian lives in zones of combat. David Petreaus deserves our praise and gratitude. Perhaps all the more so in the week we remember 11 September 2001 in New York City. CUNY has a broad mission to educate "the children of the whole people" and has kept true to the mission. ROTC has historically been a gateway of opportunity, and a key component in the fabric of service, excellence, and success. Some joined the ROTC to get "an extra pair of pants," but most wanted to give back to a country that had given them an opportunity to learn and succeed. CUNY and its students did not and do not have a culture of privilege and entitlement, rather a culture of service prevails to this day. I am proud that my university invited a contemporary leader into our classrooms. David Petreaus brings with him real life experiences that will serve our students well in their quest for knowledge and first hand accounts of contemporary history.

Obama to visit Asia next month to discuss economy, security

President Barack Obama will discuss economic and security issues with Asian leaders during a trip to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines October 6 - 12, the White House said on Friday. The trip comes as countries in the region try to work through friction over disputed territories in the oil and gas-rich South China Sea. Obama's foreign policy has focused on Asia, and his officials have been closely monitoring the maritime dispute. Obama will discuss economic and security issues with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, which has filed an arbitration cases before the U.N. International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea. The White House said Obama will start his trip in Indonesia to meet with leaders of countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which could be finalized by the end of the year. Obama will attend an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economic meeting in Indonesia, the country where he spent part of his childhood, and will meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Maritime security will be on the agenda for Obama's meetings in Brunei with the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit. Leaders will also discuss energy, investment, and trade issues, the White House said. In Malaysia. Obama will meet with Prime Minister Najib Razak and will give a keynote speech to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a program the Obama administration started in 2009 to create jobs by helping young entrepreneurs share their ideas.

Syrian Rebels Say Saudi Arabia Is Stepping Up Weapons Deliveries

Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria, the rebels say. But the shipments have not been large enough to assuage rebel frustration that they are being abandoned, as the United States shifts its focus to a possible Russian-initiated deal to quarantine the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, or to ease anxieties among the Persian Gulf leaders who have been the rebels’ primary backers. Publicly, the Saudis expressed patience, with pro-monarchy newspapers saying that the negotiations over Syrian chemical weapons would probably founder and that American military strikes would follow sooner or later. But behind the scenes, analysts say, leaders in Saudi Arabia and allies like Qatar chafed as rebel leaders fumed that their larger need — a way to shift the balance in the two-year-old civil war and end the army’s bombardment of towns and neighborhoods — was being ignored. The greatest fear of gulf leaders, said Hassan Hassan, who analyzes the gulf role in the Syria conflict at The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, is that talks over Syria’s chemical weapons will shift the American focus to “talking with the Iranians and the regime and Russia rather than with the gulf.” The gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have positioned themselves as crucial players in Syria, working closely with the United States. “Now all of a sudden the limelight has been taken away from them,” Mr. Hassan said. “They are afraid the situation can take another course.” Since the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that American officials blame on the Syrian government, rebels and analysts say the Saudis have stepped up deliveries of light weapons and antitank guided missiles. The aim was initially to bolster the rebels’ ability to take advantage of any American strikes by storming damaged or undefended bases, analysts and rebels say — though the Saudis refrained from sending the antiaircraft missiles that the rebels covet most. The Syrian government has denied responsibility for the chemical attack. Rebels in southern Syria who nominally answer to the loose-knit, Western-backed Free Syrian Army said Thursday that they had received new infusions of arms from Saudi Arabia, delivered through Jordan, and that the weapons had helped them gain ground near the border. At the same time, Gen. Salim Idris, the nominal commander of the Free Syrian Army, declared on Thursday his “absolute rejection” of the chemical weapons deal offered by the Syrian and Russian governments. He said rebel fighters felt they were being “left alone,” without “direct military support” from the United States. The developments point to the delicate balance that the United States is trying to maintain. On the one hand, it is exploring a proposed deal that could create common ground with President Bashar al-Assad’s main supporters, Russia and Iran, and might eventually lead to a political settlement of the Syrian civil war. On the other hand, it is keeping up military pressure on Mr. Assad and trying to avoid alienating Saudi Arabia and other gulf allies that the United States has relied on to work with the rebels. “My sense,” Mr. Hassan said, “is that the Americans are reassuring them behind the scenes.” The situation points to the many competing interests the United States is trying to balance in the Syria crisis. The Americans’ stated goal in Syria is a political settlement, but that outcome is all but impossible to achieve without talking to Syria’s allies. And the close association among Saudi Arabia, Qatar and rebel groups has been a source of mistrust for government supporters inside Syria and others outside the country who fear the Islamic militants who have risen to prominence on the battlefield on the strength of financing from private donors in the gulf. While Saudi Arabia has a strong interest in capitalizing on the Syrian crisis to weaken Iran and sever its alliance with Syria, the Saudis also fear the growing power of the many jihadists among the Syrian rebels. So far, analysts and rebels say, it has heeded American requests not to deliver antiaircraft missiles that could fall into the hands of Islamic militants who might use the missiles against other governments, not just Mr. Assad’s. For months, Saudi Arabia has been quietly funneling arms, including antitank missiles, to Free Syrian Army groups through Jordan, working covertly with American and British intelligence and Arab governments that do not want their support publicly known, according to rebel groups operating in southern Syria. Ahmed Abu Rishan, a spokesman for a special forces group that belongs to General Idris’s general command in southern Syria, said Thursday that those deliveries had increased in recent days. The weapons helped rebel groups take over a tank battalion and destroy four tanks in the village of Sheikh Saad near the southern border, he said, providing a video of the attack that appeared to demonstrate the use of antitank guided missiles. But Mr. Rishan said the groups desperately need antiaircraft weapons to bring down Mr. Assad’s government. “We feel frustrated because Bashar al-Assad is a liar,” he said. “We do not just want to destroy the chemicals, but also want to stop the bloodshed in Syria.” General Idris told NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Thursday, “We can’t understand why the Russians and the Iranians are supporting the regime so clearly, and our friends are delaying and hesitating.” He said he told fighters: “Let us wait. We respect the decision of the president, and we know how decisions are taken in the democratic countries. Let us wait, and we hope our friends, at the end of the day, will be with us and will help us.”

Russia, US and UN: Geneva peace talks only way to stop Syria violence

Russia, the US and the UN have agreed that the only solution to the ongoing Syrian crisis lies within the framework of the “Geneva-2” peace talks, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
After their meeting in Geneva on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US State Secretary John Kerry and UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi “reaffirmed their commitment to an early launch of Syrian dialogue in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and main opposition groups," Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. The meeting between Lavrov, Kerry and Brahimi in Switzerland was focused on “practical issues” to prepare the way for an international peace conference over Syria. The three diplomats agreed that “a political settlement is the only possible way to an early end to violence in Syria and to overcome acute humanitarian consequences of the Syrian conflict,” the Russian Foreign ministry said. This settlement should be “based on the implementation of all provisions of the Geneva communiqué of June 30, 2012,” the statement said. The representatives of Russia, US and UN decided to meet for trilateral talks at the next regular session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 17. Kerry said another meeting is needed to set the date for organizing the “Geneva-2” peace conference. Commenting earlier on Friday’s Geneva negotiations, called to establish international control over Syrian chemical weapons, Kerry said the dialogue “was constructive, it continues." "We are working hard to develop a common position," he said. Earlier Friday, the head of the UN chemical weapons inspection team, Ake Sellstrom, said that the UN report on the alleged use of chemical weapons on August 21 in Syria was complete and would be delivered to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the weekend, AP reported. The US is confident that the results of the report will “reaffirm that chemical weapons were used in Syria” without assigning blame on any of the conflicting sides in the Syrian civil war, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday. President Barack Obama also reiterated that any agreement on Syria's chemical weapons needs to be verifiable and enforceable. The talks between Russia and the US kicked off in Geneva late Thursday, with Lavrov saying a military strike was unnecessary once Damascus agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control. However, Kerry said that “words are not enough,” doubting that Assad’s government was serious in its intentions give up its chemical weapons. The negotiations will continue on Friday night, said the spokeswoman for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "We are staying, probably they will finalise it through the night," she told reporters in Geneva. "I am not sure about tomorrow (Saturday), but they will go through the night." "It is a sign that we are going on, that we proceed with talking and negotiating. Now it is like a real negotiating process, they are working on some real substance," she added. Lavrov and Kerry plan to continue their talks in Geneva on Saturday, RIA Novosti cited a source in the Russian delegation as saying.
UN: Syria's chemical convention application 'incomplete'
Syria “legally” became a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty on Thursday, after President Bashar Assad signed a legislative decree that "declared the Syrian Arab Republic approval to accede to the convention" and that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem had written to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari. However the UN has said that Syria's application is not yet complete, declining to answer what information was missing. OPCW is due to consider Syria’s inquiry in the following week. Syria was one of only a few countries not to have joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms control agreement which outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. The alleged chemical weapons attack after which the diplomatic scramble to avert military intervention in Syria began, occurred on August 21 in Ghouta, an eastern suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus. The reported casualty figures ranged from dozens to almost 1,400 deaths. Following the incident several videos showing alleged victims of the attack emerged online. The incident occurred a few kilometers from the temporary quarters of the UN team of investigators which was in the country at Syria's invitation to look into several previous alleged uses of chemical weapons. Both sides of the ongoing Syrian conflict – the Assad government and various opposition groups – have denied their participation in the alleged chemical weapons’ attack, blaming each other.

Obama says Syria deal must be 'verifiable and enforceable'

In an Oval Office photo-op with Kuwait's emir, President Barack Obama says any plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapon must be ''verifiable and enforceable.''

Americans want diplomacy on Syria, are unmoved by Obama speech: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Three-quarters of Americans support efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria through an international agreement to control chemical weapons, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll that shows steady opposition to U.S. military action. The poll of 776 Americans, conducted over three days this week, indicates that just 25 percent of Americans oppose diplomacy to deal with the crisis that was ignited by the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 adults and children. The survey reflects the anti-war sentiment that has shadowed President Barack Obama's request for congressional authorization for a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in light of the chemical attack. The United States has blamed Assad's government for the attack, while Russia and Assad say it was the work of rebel forces. An offer by Russia, an ally of Syria, to help put Syria's stock of chemical weapons under international control has raised the possibility of an agreement that could help Obama avoid an embarrassing rejection from a skeptical Congress, or an unpopular military action. The U.S. Senate, led by Obama's Democrats, has postponed a vote on a military authorization measure while the administration pursues a diplomatic course on Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have been meeting in Geneva. More talks involving the United States, France and Britain are scheduled next week in Paris. The poll found that Obama's speech to the nation on Tuesday had virtually no effect on Americans' reluctance to engage in Syria's civil war after a decade of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In polling of 1,386 Americans conducted Monday through Friday, about 62 percent said the United States should not intervene in Syria, virtually the same percentage as a week earlier. Reuters/Ipsos pollsters also found that most Americans were not swayed by Obama's argument that the United States had a compelling interest to get involved in Syria to stop the spread of chemical weapons and protect U.S. national security. About 65 percent of Americans said Syria's problems were "none of our business," the same percentage that said so two weeks earlier. Only 33 percent of the 776 people surveyed in the three-day poll said that responding to the use of chemical weapons in Syria was "in the national interests of the United States." About 47 percent said it was not. When it comes to intervention in Syria, public support is "pretty well stabilized right under 1 in 5" Americans, Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said.
Obama has been criticized by people in both parties for what some have called a muddled policy on Syria. This week's polling suggested the president's approval ratings had taken a hit during the crisis. Only about 35 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with how Obama and the U.S. government had handled the situation, while 65 percent were dissatisfied. Two weeks ago, 41 percent had been satisfied and 59 percent had been dissatisfied. Obama's overall approval rating has dipped during the past month as well. Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found last Sunday that nearly 57 percent of Americans disapproved of the job Obama had done as president, up from nearly 53 percent on August 18, just before the chemical attack in Syria. Some analysts say the talks over Syria's chemical weapons are unlikely to succeed, likely leaving Obama - who ran for president as an anti-war candidate - with an increasingly difficult decision on whether to launch a military operation in the face of a reluctant Congress and a disapproving nation. "This initiative is not going to get very far," said William McCants, director of the Brookings Institution's Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World. "It's going to be very difficult to pull off in a way that will satisfy the Obama administration's desire to ensure that the Assad regime never uses chemical weapons again," McCants added. The Reuters/Ipsos poll's questions about a possible diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis and on national security interests had a credibility interval, which is similar to a margin of error, of 4.1 percentage points. The questions about U.S. intervention, whether Syria's problems are the United States' business, and satisfaction with Obama's handling of the situation each had a credibility interval of 3 points. The poll on Obama's overall approval rating also had a credibility interval of 3 points.

Afghanistan: Football win: Seizing the moon by the teeth
This is how sport ignites national feelings, sentiments and patriotism. As Afghanistan won the South Asian Football Federation Championship in Kathmandu late on Wednesday, tens of thousands of jubilant Afghans swelled into the streets, whistling, biking and raising Afghan national flags in the Kabul city. Joyous Afghans danced in Kandahar—which is generally considered to be the hotbed of the Taliban. This is something that was completely missing in the Afghanistan of the Taliban. They had suppressed anything that could have brought joyousness and jubilation among the troubled citizens of this country. This is ironical that when the Taliban were in power they were against any modern activities including sporting but when Afghanistan was fighting
against Pakistan in a cricket match, Zabihullah Mujahid—the Taliban spokesman called local media that he’d be happy if the Afghan side wins. It means they also watch Afghan sportsmen and realize the power of sports in current day world that how they bring together the different ethnic groups of the country into one single bonded relation—Afghanism. In the history of Afghanistan, Wednesday’s soccer match will be remembered for long as how they brought people out of dejection, despondency and gave them a message of spirit, unity and change. Thousands of fans welcomed their national football heroes. The win was so spectacular and promising that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai had to go to the Kabul Airport to receive these national champions. He embraced the players upon their arrival at the airport from Nepal. They beat India 2-0 to grab the country’s first ever international
championship trophy in the soccer history. They were feted at home and abroad. At home the president received them and abroad he sent some of the lawmakers to Nepal to provide the sportsmen with a morale support. Those living in Kabul, and elsewhere in the country remember well that it was something which couldn’t be imagined a few years back. What they remember is bloodshed, fear and ethnic rifts. But now they are giving way and things are taking an impressive turnabout. Motorists, bikers and pedestrians took out to the streets and roads while cheering,
blowing horns and waving Afghan flags throughout the night. They danced in the streets of Kabul and they danced in the markets of Kandahar throughout Thursday. It was a historic win for two reasons. One reason is that they won it from India—the 2-time winner of this trophy. The second reason is that it was the first ever win that broke the silence created by terror and militancy and brought people out to the streets in thousands. It was indeed a momentous win and achievement. Our sportsmen started off their journey with meager resources and spread over the horizon of South Asia by winning this trophy. For a team like ours, facing too many challenges, lack of playgrounds, and other facilities, it was like seizing the moon by the teeth. But they did it and did it heroically. Whatever is given to them in moral and financial support is less than what they gave to this nation, indeed.

Pakistan: Holding of local bodies’ election on non party basis challenged in LHC

PPP Punjab has challenged the Punjab government’s decision to hold local bodies’ elections in the province on non party basis, in the Lahore High Court.
The petition has been filed by counsel for PPP Punjab, Sardar Latif Khosa. The petitioner has taken plea in the petition that holding of local bodies polls on non party basis is against the real spirit of constitution as a parliamentary democratic system is in place in the country. He contended that the national and provincial assemblies and the sitting government came into being through polls held on party basis. Therefore, holding local bodies’ elections on non party basis amounts to a breach of the constitution. Such elections will fuel corruption in the society, he pleaded. Certain fundamental clauses of the local government act also run contrary to the constitution. He pleaded to the court to nullify the decision for holding local bodies’ election on non party basis in the province. - See more at:

Pakistan: Christians flee their village after pastor accused of blasphemy

Ahmadiyya Times
Pastor pleads innocence, but dozens flee for fear of repercussions
Dozens of Christian families have fled from their homes in a village near Lahore after a pastor was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.
In a discussion with a Muslim man on August 24, Pastor Sattar Masih, 37, was accused of saying that Muhammad was a brutal man who killed innocent people. Masih denies the accusations, saying he said nothing derogatory about Islam or the Prophet. The pastor was beckoned before Islamic clerics to plead his case. “The clerics will decide if he blasphemed against our Prophet and in case he refused to appear before the clerics then we will kill him,” said his accuser, 18-year-old Ali Hassan. Fearing he would not be given a fair trial, Masih fled to Lahore with 21-year-old Christian Wasim Raza, who had introduced Hassan to the pastor, after a group of Muslims had undertaken a house-to-house search for them. Masih told World Watch Monitor that one cleric had asked him if he had said Muhammad was a cruel man. “I clearly refuted the claim and told him that I had only defended that the Bible is still in its original form,” he said. On September 2, more than 250 Muslims gathered to discuss the case against Masih. Seven Christians from the families of Masih and Raza defended him, saying that no insulting language about Islam or its prophet had been used. The next day, teachers from the village school asked Christian students about the religious teachings Masih had been giving them. More than 100 of them were sent home, which raised alarms among their families, causing many of them to flee from the village. A local police spokesman said police had intervened and that there was no danger of an attack against Christians. However, Christians are still reluctant to return, particularly Masih and Raza, who fear that they will be killed. There is a history of violence in Pakistan against those accused of blasphemy. In 2012, a Hindu teenager was brutally killed and burned. Last year, a Muslim man was taken out of the police station where he had been questioned and burned to death. In July 2010, two Christian brothers, Sajid Emmanuel and Rashid Emmanuel, were shot death at the courthouse where they had been declared innocent. Pakistan is No. 14 on the 2013 World Watch List, an annual ranking of the 50 countries where life as a Christian is most difficult. It is published by Open Doors International, a ministry to Christians living under pressure for their faith. Pakistan’s “Christians are caught between Islamic militant organisations, an Islamising culture and a weak government with a military complicit in fuelling Islamic militants,” according to the list.

Gunmen Attack NATO Oil Tankers In Pakistan
Gunmen have attacked NATO oil tankers in southwest Pakistan. The attackers fired bullets and rockets at a convoy of 15 oil tankers traveling from Pakistan's main seaport of Karachi to Afghanistan overnight. Local officials said a driver was killed and eight vehicles were set on fire. The attack happened around 300 kilometers from Quetta, the capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan and Iran. There has been no claim of responsibility. The Taliban has in the past carried out such attacks to disrupt supplies for U.S.-led NATO troops fighting in Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United States have signed a deal allowing NATO supply convoys to travel into Afghanistan until the end of 2015.

Malala, Khodorkovsky, Snowden Among Nominees For Sakharov Prize

Malala Yousafzai, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Edward Snowden, and the Belarusian political prisoners Ales Byalyatski, Eduard Lobau, and Mykalay Statkevich are among the nominees for this year's Sakharov Prize.
The prize, which is worth 50,000 euros ($65,000), is awarded every year by the European Parliament to honor defenders of human rights and freedom of expression. The favorite to win is the Pakistani education activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai, who is backed by several prominent European Parliament members (MEPs) from the liberal group ALDE, as well as the two center-right groups -- the EPP and ECR.
Malala, a schoolgirl and former BBC blogger, wrote about life under Taliban pressure and her views about promoting education for girls. Last year she was shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen while riding a school bus, but survived the attack.
Russia & Belarus
The three Belarusian nominees, all political prisoners, are also enjoying large cross-party support in the European Parliament and are backed by a large number of MEPs from neighboring Poland. Byalyatski is the head of the human rights center Vyasna, Eduard Lobau is from the Young Front youth movement, and Mikalay Statkevich is a former opposition presidential candidate. The three men are nominated on behalf of all Belarusian political prisoners. The German Green MEP Werner Schulz, together with 40 other MEPs, nominated the imprisoned former head of the oil giant Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in 2003 and later convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to prison. Yukos was hit with a series of tax claims from the Russian government that totaled some $27 billion. The company was later dismantled. In 2010, Khodorkovsky was convicted in a second case of stealing oil from his own company. He is due for release in October 2014.
Controversial Choice
The Green group and the leftist GUE/NGL party group have nominated U.S. leaker Edward Snowden, who in May revealed information about several top-secret surveillance programs run by the U.S. and British governments. Snowden is charged by U.S. federal prosecutors with espionage and theft of government property. He has received temporary asylum in Russia. Nominations must obtain the support of at least 40 members of the European Parliament or one political group in the chamber. The nominees will officially be presented in the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on September 16. Three nominees will be short-listed on September 30. The conference of presidents, which consists of the leaders of the seven party groups in the parliament, will decide the final winner on October 10. The award ceremony is due to take place on November 19 or 20, during the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg. Last year's winners from Iran, the filmmaker Jafar Panahi and the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, could not collect the prize. The Sakharov Prize, named in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, was first handed out in 1988, with Nelson Mandela the first winner. Other notable recipients include Belarusian opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Russian civil rights group Memorial, and the first president of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova.

Pakistan: The swap meet... Taliban prisoners in exchange for two Frontier Corps men

The alleged release of six TTP prisoners in exchange for two Frontier Corps men being held by militants will be sure to cause controversy in the days ahead. The military has already denied the prisoner exchange but, while there is no independent confirmation of the swap, we have examples of such deals being cut with the TTP in the past. In 2008, just as the military was getting ready to pull out of South Waziristan and hold talks with the then TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud, 37 of his militants were released in return for 12 soldiers. At the time, that swap and the others which followed seemed necessary since the TTP was holding more than 200 Pakistani soldiers and officials, including our ambassador to Afghanistan. This time round, if indeed a prisoner exchange has taken place, the rationale for it is far less clear. Perhaps it was meant as a gesture to the TTP in advance of the peace talks agreed upon at the All-Parties Conference. If that is indeed the case, we should look back to the 2008 negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud, which produced a short-lasting agreement, the terms of which the TTP flouted at will and used only as an opportunity to regroup. There is a danger that the TTP will again see the prisoner exchange, lopsided as it is in their favour, as a sign of weakness ahead of the talks. As a general rule, governments avoid prisoner exchanges with those holding hostages because it only encourages them to kidnap more people. The last thing the state should want is to start giving in to every TTP demand since that bodes ill for the upcoming peace talks. Everyone knows that the side which is likely to emerge victorious in negotiations is the one that comes to the bargaining table in a position of strength. The military successes in the tribal areas should have made the state the stronger party. Unilateral concessions such as this prisoner swap may end up undermining its position and convincing the TTP that it can be pushed around. If an exchange had to have taken place, the authorities should have demanded either an equal swap or that their men should be released first. Guarantees should also have been received that the released militants do not pick up weapons again. Without such steps, the state may end up shooting itself in the foot once talks begin with the TTP. One should not end up being a victim of one’s own fear. - See more at:

Peshawar Islamia College marks 100 years of service

Islamia College Peshawar is celebrating 100 years of its glorious services in the field of education, this year 2013. Established in 1913, this institution has got tremendous recognition for its academic excellence across the globe, reported a private news channel. The concept was idealized by Nawab Sir Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum and Sir George Roos Keppel, when the new province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was formed in 1901 after its separation from the Punjab. There was only one college known as Edwards College, in the province. This lack of educational opportunities in the region motivated the aforementioned leaders to establish an institution that would not only cater the academic needs of the region but also produce leaders from the region, which it did quite impressively or rather doing it for the last 100 years. Completing 100 years of its intellectual brilliance, Islamia College Peshawar has come up with new dynamics in the recent past. It is hoped that the interaction between students and media will help highlighting the historic academic as well as architectural role of the institution widely. The presence of many distinguished old islamians will help the institution determining new ways and goals for achieving more laurels in the days to come.

Altaf Hussain: Pakistani’s Iron Grip, Wielded in Opulent Exile, Begins to Slip

For two decades, Altaf Hussain has run his brutal Pakistani political empire by remote control, shrouded in luxurious exile in London and long beyond the reach of the law.
He follows events through satellite televisions in his walled-off home, manages millions of dollars in assets and issues decrees in ranting teleconferences that last for hours — all to command a network of influence and intimidation that stretches from North America to South Africa. This global system serves a very localized goal: perpetuating Mr. Hussain’s reign as the political king of Karachi, the brooding port city of 20 million people at the heart of Pakistan’s economy. “Distance does not matter,” reads the inscription on a monument near Mr. Hussain’s deserted former house in Karachi, where his name evokes both fear and favor. Now, though, his painstakingly constructed web is fraying. A British murder investigation has been closing in on Mr. Hussain, 59, and his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. His London home and offices have been raided, and the police have opened new investigations into accusations of money laundering and inciting violence in Pakistan. The scrutiny has visibly rattled Mr. Hussain, who recently warned supporters that his arrest may be imminent. And in Karachi, it has raised a previously unthinkable question: Is the end near for the untouchable political machine that has been the city’s linchpin for three decades? “This is a major crisis,” said Irfan Husain, the author of “Fatal Faultlines,” a book about Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. “The party has been weakened, and Altaf Hussain is being criticized like never before.” Mr. Hussain’s rise offers a striking illustration of the political melee in Pakistan. His support stems from the Mohajirs, Urdu-speaking Muslims whose families moved to Pakistan after the partition from India in 1947, and who make up about half of Karachi’s population. Since the 1980s, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has fiercely defended Mohajir interests, and in turn it has been carried to victory in almost every election and to an enduring place in national coalition governments as well. Mr. Hussain fled to London in 1992, when the movement was engaged in a vicious street battle with the central government for supremacy in Karachi. The British government granted him political asylum and, 10 years later, a British passport. London has long been the antechamber of Pakistani politics, where self-exiled leaders take refuge until they can return. The former military ruler Pervez Musharraf lived here until recently, and the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, lived here until 2007. Mr. Hussain, however, shows no sign of going back. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has an office in Edgware, in northwest London. But these days Mr. Hussain is mostly at home, in a redbrick suburban house protected by raised walls, security cameras and a contingent of former British soldiers he has hired as bodyguards. From there, he holds court, addressing his faraway followers in a vigorous, sometimes maniacal style, punctuated by jabbing gestures and hectoring outbursts. Occasionally he bursts into song, or tears. Yet, on the other end of the line, it is not unusual to find tens of thousands of people crowded into a Karachi street, listening raptly before an empty stage containing Mr. Hussain’s portrait, as his disembodied voice booms from speakers. “The cult of personality surrounding Altaf Hussain is quite extraordinary,” said Farzana Shaikh, an academic and the author of “Making Sense of Pakistan.” “He is immensely charismatic, in the way one thinks of the great fascist leaders of the 20th century.” In Karachi, his overwhelmingly middle-class party is fronted by sharply dressed, well-spoken men — and a good number of women — and it has won a reputation for efficient city administration. But beneath the surface, its mandate is backed by armed gangs involved in racketeering, abduction and the targeted killings of ethnic and political rivals, the police and diplomats say. Other major Pakistani parties indulge in similar behavior, but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement frequently brings the most muscle to the fight. An American diplomatic cable from 2008 titled “Gangs of Karachi,” which was published by WikiLeaks, cited estimates that the party had an active militia of 10,000 gunmen, with an additional 25,000 in reserve — a larger force, the dispatch notes, than the city police. Many journalists who have criticized the party have been beaten, or worse, driving most of the news media in Karachi to tread lightly. In June, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a lobbying group based in New York, accused the party of organizing the killing of Wali Khan Babar, a television reporter. In the West, the party has avoided critical attention partly because it has cast itself as an enemy of Islamist militancy. In 2001, Mr. Hussain wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, offering to help Britain set up a spy network against the Taliban. Critics of the party have frequently questioned the role of British officials in facilitating its unusual system of governance. Pakistani exiles from Baluchistan, also accused of fomenting violence, have faced criminal prosecution. But Britain is not the only node of Mr. Hussain’s international support network. Through the Pakistani diaspora, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has active branches as far afield as the United States, Canada and even South Africa, which has become an important financial hub and a haven for the group’s enforcers, Pakistani investigators say. Two police interrogation reports obtained by The New York Times cite militants from the movement who say they traveled to South Africa in between carrying out political assassinations in Karachi. One of those men, Teddy Qamar, confessed to 58 killings between 2006 and 2012, the police say. In an interview, Anis Hasan, the party’s joint organizer for South Africa, denied any link to organized violence. But if Mr. Hussain seemed immune to scrutiny at his London stronghold, his luck started to turn in September 2010 after Imran Farooq, a once-influential leader in the movement who had split from the party, was stabbed to death near his house in Edgware. Soon after, Mr. Hussain appeared on television, mourning Mr. Farooq with a flood of tears. But over the past year, the police investigation has turned sharply in his direction. In December, officers from Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command searched the movement’s London office. Then in June they went to Mr. Hussain’s home and arrested Ishtiaq Hussain, his cousin and personal assistant, who is now out on bail. The police impounded $600,000 in cash and some jewelry under laws that target the proceeds of crime. Mr. Hussain was not available for an interview, his party said. But a senior party official, Nadeem Nusrat, speaking at the movement’s London office, denied any link to Mr. Farooq’s killing. “Our conscience is clear,” Mr. Nusrat said. “We have nothing to do with it.” Mr. Nusrat said the impounded money had come from political donations. And he rejected accusations, also the subject of a police inquiry, that Mr. Hussain has directly threatened political rivals, in some instances by warning that he would arrange for their “body bags.” “It’s all taken out of context,” Mr. Nusrat said. Mr. Hussain has receded from public view during the recent furor. There have been rumors about mounting health problems, which Mr. Hussain’s aides deny. But he cannot return to Pakistan, they say, because the Taliban could kill him. “In Pakistan,” said Muhammad Anwar, a longtime aide, “nobody can guarantee your life.” Then there are the legal threats: over the years, dozens of murder charges have been lodged against Mr. Hussain in Pakistan, although some have been quashed in court. A more pressing question, perhaps, concerns the impact on the streets of Karachi if Mr. Hussain is forced to step down. Some fear that without his guiding hand, tensions within the movement could split it into hostile factions — a frightening prospect in a city where political violence already claims hundreds of lives a year. “However viciously the party conducts itself, there is an order within the apparent disorder,” said Ms. Shaikh, the academic. Even if the British government wished to crack down on Mr. Hussain, she added, it might find itself subject to appeals from the Pakistani authorities. “The fear of Karachi going up in flames is so great,” Ms. Shaikh said, “that no government can take that risk, as long as Altaf Hussain is alive.”

Karachi’s operation blowback

Karachi was silenced on Wednesday as businesses, schools, transportation and other related activities of life came to a grinding halt after a former lawmaker of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Nadeem Hashmi was arrested from his North Nazimabad home on a charge of the murder of two police officers. As soon as the news of Hashmi’s arrest was flashed on Tuesday night, an eerie lull spread across the province, while the people waited for another day of strikes and mayhem. Some unidentified miscreants rampaged through the city of Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas on Wednesday resorting to firing and setting five vehicles on fire. The arrest of Hashmi, who was also in-charge of MQM’s North Nazimabad unit, was based on the allegation that he ran away after killing two policemen in the vicinity of his area. Initially he was put in North Nazimabad police station. Later due to security concerns he was shifted to Pirabad police station. The arrest has drawn scathing remarks from the MQM leadership, accusing the PPP government of initiating another operation against the MQM. Calling it the usual course of PPP’s conduct whenever it comes to power, MQM alleged that this time it was their turn to bear PPP’s wrath. The clean-up operation underway in Karachi, which was started with the consensus of all parties, is being labelled a targeted operation against MQM bringing back memories of the 1992 operation. MQM chief Altaf Hussain has asked his followers to brace for the state oppression underway in the garb of operation cleanup. He said the mood of the government is visible in the way they have chosen to target the strongholds of MQM. Calling the entire exercise malign in nature and intent, MQM considers the operation untenable in the long run, unless it cuts across party lines and elements involved in creating a law and order situation in the city. Not that we were not expecting all this to happen as soon as Karachi’s operation would touch MQM’s raw nerve. Any operation in Karachi could not escape touching the MQM base. It was inevitable that political parties would be netted, since Karachi’s problem lies in the power its political system lent to criminal elements. In fact the criminal and militant wings of the political parties are more sophisticated in conducting crime than the ordinary criminals, the reason being their ability to tamper with the law and use it to their advantage as and when needed. The turf war that Karachi has been subjected to for the last so many years is precisely the reason behind the killings that has made the city almost a morgue for its people. Indeed the operation underway should be impartial and must not distinguish between parties. However, it should not be halted either for fear of blowback by any party. There will be much more uproar and protests by the MQM if Nadeem Hashmi’s case is further processed, which should not be allowed to keep the law from taking its course. The credibility of this operation lies as much in its impartiality as to its ability to continue until it achieves its target: cleansing Karachi of criminal elements and returning peace to it so that it starts serving its people through economic benefits. That precisely has been the definition of this port city, the backbone of the country’s economy. A single day’s strike in Karachi causes a loss of Rs 10 billion. Already mired by other infrastructural flaws such as power, water and gas shortages, industry cannot afford the jolts strikes give them. The entire country looks at Karachi for prosperity. Therefore unless the political leadership is serious about bringing Karachi back on its feet, any other service to the country will remain an attempt to paper over the situation. Now is the time to take a holistic view of things. If MQM has reservations about the operation, it can be handled as the federal government is doing already. However, while putting some facts straight on the 1992 operation, one is reminded of its aftermath that eventually saw almost all the frontline police officers killed one by one who dared touch the raw nerves of MQM in the city. Therefore crying wolf over the 1992 operation would further lend credence to the argument that this operation must continue. No matter how relentless it has to be, this is a nettle that has to be grasped firmly.