Friday, September 13, 2013
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.
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.
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.''
Ahmadiyya TimesPastor 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.
By DECLAN WALSH 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.
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.