Thursday, October 3, 2013

Man who brought al Qaeda to Afghanistan now runs for president

The man said to be responsible for bringing al Qaeda to Afghanistan announced he was running for president on Thursday, a move likely to be greeted with apprehension by the international community. President Hamid Karzai is barred from running by the constitution, and the new government is seen as an opportunity to push the country away from years of damaging allegations of corruption and maladministration. “Today I nominate myself in order to serve my countrymen and my nation – I want to stand alongside the true servants of Afghanistan,” Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf told Reuters minutes before he registered at the offices of Kabul's Independent Election Commission. Next year, millions of Afghans will vote in what is being hailed as the most important election since the United States-led war against the Afghan Taliban began 12 years ago. Nato and the US are also pushing for a credible vote ahead of the exit of tens of thousands of foreign combat troops by the end of the next year. Western diplomats have previously told Reuters of their concerns regarding Sayyaf's nomination, given his deeply conservative views regarding women's rights and social freedoms, and his deep ties to militant Islam. The Philippine insurgent group Abu Sayyaf is named after him and he was mentioned in the 9/11 commission reports as “mentor” to Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the operational mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks. A conservative Islamic scholar, Sayyaf ran paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was there he meet al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In 1996, Sayyaf helped bin Laden return to Afghanistan after he was ejected from Sudan. Bin Laden stayed in the country under the protection of the Taliban until the American-led invasion of late 2001. Sayyaf's nominee for first vice president, Ismail Khan, will also worry the country's Western backers. Khan, from the country's west, is a warlord turned politician who has been accused of seeking to re-arm ahead of the Nato withdrawal. Sayyaf's nomination comes two days after the first of the serious contenders, former Northern Alliance leader Abdullah Abdullah, announced his candidacy. Other likely front runners, including foreign minister Zalmay Rassoul, Western-leaning liberal Ashraf Ghani and Karzai's brother, Qayum, are likely to register over the next few days, with nominations closing on Sunday.

Satellites reveal new views of Pakistan's 'Earthquake Island' Earth performed the ultimate magic trick last week, making an island appear out of nowhere. The new island is a remarkable side effect of a deadly Sept. 24 earthquake in Pakistan that killed more than 500 people.
Satellite images snapped a few days after the earthquake-triggered island emerged offshore, near the town of Gwadar, reveal that the strange structure is round and relatively flat, with cracks and fissures like a child's dried-up mud pie.

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The French Pleiades satellite mapped the muddy hill's dimensions, which measure 576.4 feet (175.7 meters) long by 524.9 feet (160 m) wide. Aerial photos from Pakistan's National Institute of Oceanography suggest the gray-colored mound is about 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) high. [Gallery: Amazing Images of Pakistan's Earthquake Island] Gwadar is about 230 miles (380 kilometers) from the earthquake's epicenter. The magnitude-7.7 earthquake was probably centered on the Chaman Fault, Shuhab Khan, a geoscientist at the University of Houston told LiveScience last week. Geologists think the new island, named Zalzala Koh, is made of erupted mud, spewed from the seafloor when either trapped gases escaped or subsurface water was violently expelled.The new island could be the result of a mud volcano. Mud volcanoes form when hot water underground mixes with sediments and gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. If the noxious slurry finds a release valve, such as a crack opened by earthquake shaking, a mud volcano erupts, according to James Hein, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, Calif. Geologists from the Pakistan Navy report that Zalzala Koh is releasing flammable gas. But seafloor sediments commonly hold methane-producing bacteria, so the possible methane coming from the island isn't a clincher to its identity. Shaking from the powerful Sept. 24 earthquake could have also loosened the seafloor sediments offshore of Pakistan, jiggling them like jelly. The great rivers coming down from the Himalayas dump tons of water-saturated sediment into the Arabian Sea every year. The new island could be a gigantic example of a liquefaction blow, when seismic shaking makes saturated sediments act like liquid, and trapped water suddenly escapes, Michael Manga, a geophysicist at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience. Similar islands have appeared offshore of Pakistan after strong earthquakes in the region in 2001 and 1945. If the earlier examples hold, the soft mud island won't last a year, disappearing under the erosive power of the pounding of waves from monsoon storms.

Report: Internet Freedom Declining

Freedom House says Internet freedom has declined worldwide in the past year, sparked by broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and increasing arrests of social-media users. However, the U.S.-based watchdog group says activists are becoming more effective in raising awareness of threats. The findings were released on October 3 in the new edition of the "Freedom of the Net" report that covers developments in 60 countries between May 2012 and April 2013. The report says Iran, Cuba, and China remain among the most restrictive countries in terms of access to the Internet and censorship. Adrian Shahbaz, a researcher with Freedom House, told RFE/RL that the death in custody of a blogger in Iran was one of the main reasons why the Islamic republic ended up at the bottom of the list of countries that violate Internet freedom. "There was actually an instance of an online user being killed in Iran -- that was Sattar Beheshti -- and that was an instance of somebody being brought to jail for something that they had written online, allegedly criticizing the government, and then killed while in police custody," he said. "So that's something that really affected their score negatively." Post-Soviet Restrictions Belarus, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan are also among countries with the least Internet freedom, while Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia were found to be partially free. According to Laura Reed from Freedom House, a number of countries in the former U.S.S.R. have been involved in measures to restrict the Internet. "In the former Soviet Union over the past year, we've seen additional steps by the governments to block content through a range of legislative and extra-legal measures," she says. "We've also seen an increase in prosecutions of online users in about half the countries that we cover in the region. Russia, for example, really captures these trends in the past year. So, for example, the number of users that are currently prosecuted for online activities in Russia rose from 31 in 2011 to 103 in 2012." Russia is singled out in the report as an "important incubator of surveillance technologies and legal practices" that are emulated by other former Soviet republics. Three former Soviet countries -- Armenia, Georgia, and Ukraine -- have been ranked as free. The report evaluates each country based on obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. Of the 60 countries surveyed by Freedom House, 34 have experienced drops in their ratings. Freedom House says that, over the past year, the global number of censored websites has increased, while Internet users in various countries have been arrested, tortured, and killed over their online postings. The group says Internet freedom also suffered setbacks in several democratic countries, in some cases as governments sought to balance freedom of expression with security. As an example, Freedom House points to the United States. According to the report, freedom online significantly declined amid revelations of the National Security Agency's extensive surveillance programs. The report lists the most commonly used methods by governments to control the Internet, including blocking and filtering, cyberattacks against government critics, surveillance, arrests, physical attacks, and murder. Freedom House says this is the third year in a row that Internet freedom has been in decline globally. Despite the setbacks and negative trends, the report says a perceived increase in civic activism worldwide offers hope for future positive developments.

​After YouTube, Pak targets more sites

It's been a year since YouTube was banned in Pakistan last September. But that's not a stray case of online censorship in the strife-torn country. Activists say that several other websites such as those highlighting human rights violation in Balochistan have also been blocked in Pakistan . "We have what you can best describe as 'covert censorship' . A significant number of websites covering Balochistan human rights violations have been blocked. A website on the genocide of Shias was blocked," says Sana Saleem of activist group, Bolo Bhi. The YouTube block was prompted by an Islamophobic film, Innocence of Muslims, which had found its way to the videosharing website. Authorities justified the online jamming saying that the film could cause widespread violence. But activists point out that authorities have resorted to online censorship to stop people from watching politically inconvenient videos too. One of them is a threeyear-old video of former president Asif Ali Zardari pausing mid-speech at a public rally to say "Shut up!" to someone offcamera that prompted a You-Tube block back then. A 2012 Open Net Initiative report says that website blocking is carried out by a "Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites" , though there is no legal framework to order such jamming.

Sindh High Court accepts Zardari’s request for security

The Sindh High Court has accepted former President Asif Ali Zardari’s request for security as he feared that his life was in danger. The former president’s lawyer, Senator Farooq Naek had submitted a petition in the SHC which made the Chief Secretary Sindh, Rangers and Federal Government respondents. The petition maintained that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto the late wife of Asif Ali Zardari was killed and he feared the same for himself. The petition stated that the former president faced threats from the Taliban. The SHC has allowed the former president to keep a bullet proof vehicle and private guards on his own expense. Speaking to the media, Naeak said the former president did not want to burden the national exchequer for his security.

Pakistan: Alarming picture: Capital flight... $25m were being ‘smuggled’ out of the country

THE governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, Yasin Anwar, is perhaps the first senior official to concede that capital is being moved out of the country in very large sums, and also to quantify it. In his testimony before senators on Tuesday, Mr Anwar said $25m were being ‘smuggled’ out of the country in briefcases every day from four major airports — Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Quetta. He did not say how the bank had worked out the size of the illegal capital outflows and since when this practice had been going on — and these gaps in information have left some economists puzzled. However, even if half this staggering amount is going out of the country each day, it would confirm how porous our custom checkpoints have become, not least because of corruption and weak controls. It would also show how the weak enforcement of anti-money laundering laws is playing havoc with the economy. Some analysts say the capital outflow could be the result of the recent decision to give tax collectors powers to access the bank accounts of the rich in order to apprehend tax cheaters. If so, the outflow could also be a major factor in the speculative pressure on the rupee and the currency’s rapid depreciation in recent days. But the capital flight is not altogether a new phenomenon. The wealthy have been moving their money out of Pakistan in order to avoid actual or expected taxes as well as unwanted government interventions. Earlier, capital flight took place through the informal channels of hundi and hawala. Now the people carry cash to circumvent the restrictions imposed by foreign states on these channels to curb funding for terrorism. In many cases internationally, flight of capital is related to money made from activities such as drug trafficking, gunrunning, tax evasion, theft, etc. In other cases, it reflects the loss of confidence in the economy and its ability to bounce back. In either case, the implications can be serious for economic stability, investment, growth and equality. While the rich can and do move their financial assets out of the country, the poor are left to shoulder the burden of the depleting value of the currency. Therefore, it is imperative to place strict checks to curb the illegal transfer of money through ports or informal channels. But before that the government will also have to remove lacunae in the anti-money laundering laws, abolish ‘legal’ money-whitening schemes, and increase controls over money changers who help people move their ill-gotten money out of the country.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf: the TTP’s Sinn Féin

Dr Mohammad Taqi
The original proposal to talk directly to the TTP yet again — despite its past history of signing and flouting scores of talks and agreements — is getting nowhere due to the continued jihadist terrorism Peshawar — one of the oldest living cities on earth — is the heart of the Pashtun lands from Kandahar to Khyber and the Qissa Khwani bazar is the heart of this city. My hapless city was stabbed through its very heart when the jihadist terror struck again this past weekend, leaving at least 40 dead — 17 from one family — and scores maimed. Site of this bombing, apparently carried out through a remote-controlled device, is barely a mile from the All Saints Church where 100 Christians were martyred just days ago. It is but a few furlongs from where the lion of Peshawar, Bashir Ahmed Bilour, was slain in another bombing. The upright police officers Malik Sa’ad and Khan Raziq were martyred in a bombing not too far from this spot. Well, yet another sorrowful chapter has been added to the endless tale of blood and tears that the Qissa Khwani — the storytellers’ — bazar has been telling for years now. But as the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa bleeds and grieves, its ruling party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has a different story to tell and a heinous theory to sell. The PTI spokespersons claim that the recent string of terrorist atrocities has not been committed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). They blame unknown foreign elements for unleashing this dance of death on the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province to undermine the so-called peace talks that the PTI champions. They assert that there are ‘fake’ Taliban within the TTP who have been put up to this by the Afghan-US-Indo-Zionist combine. They even discard the vicious Mullah ‘FM Radio’ Fazlullah’s own admission that he ordered the hit against the martyred General Sanaullah Khan Niazi, claiming that Fazlullah is not ‘TTP proper’. PTI’s Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has blamed even the media for somehow triggering the bombings! Another absolutely rubbish idea peddled by the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa’s Information Minister Shah Farman is that the present mayhem in that province is somehow related to the bombings that took place there in the 1970s-80s and were blamed on the nationalist and communist governments of Afghanistan then. Never mind the political context then and now and that just the recent church bombing killed more people than all explosions of the 1970-80s put together. Not to be outdone by his lieutenants, the PTI chief Imran Khan demanded the TTP be allowed to open its office in mainland Pakistan to conduct talks. Implied in this demand is some form of immunity for at least those TTP members who would run this shop. While some in the PTI disowned Mr Khan’s outrageous demand and comparison to the Afghan Taliban’s office in Qatar — note that it was not in Kabul or Kandahar — most of his party stood by him. The PTI’s vigorous defence of the brutal and criminal TTP, absolving it of any fault, makes the PTI look like the political face of the jihadist outfit and Mr Khan its opening batsman. The original proposal to talk directly to the TTP yet again — despite its past history of signing and flouting scores of talks and agreements — is getting nowhere due to the continued jihadist terrorism. The recent All Parties Conference (APC) declaration, which had disastrously elevated the TTP to the ‘stake holder’ level, is virtually dead now. It may be time for the Pakistani state to negotiate with the PTI not the TTP. The PTI is particularly fond of citing the British handling of the IRA insurgency as a template for talks with the TTP. The fact is that British did not directly negotiate with the IRA but with its political wing Sinn Féin. While there is nothing common between the savages of TTP and a modern nationalist IRA, in Mr Khan and the PTI, Hakeemullah Mehsud may still have found his Sinn Féin. Let the PTI make clear the nuts and bolts of what it is demanding on behalf of the TTP. The PTI leaders are already putting up a grotesque defence of the TTP’s brutalities daily; let them now serve officially as the banned outfit’s emissaries and guarantors. It would also obviate the need for a TTP office. The fact is that the PTI is providing the TTP prized ideological and political space as well as a tremendous amount of time to hone their machetes. Mr Khan and his confidants are actually mainstreaming a savage group that rejects the Pakistani state and its constitution and anything that is modern. Mark my words, the TTP is no Provisional IRA; it will eventually go after even Mr Khan when they have no use left for him. For now he is serving them well by muddying the waters enough to delay any operation against them. The TTP has no intention to enter a meaningful dialogue, not now, not ever. If the TTP were to accept Mr Nawaz Sharif’s naively stated conditions of dropping their guns and upholding the constitution before the talks, there would be no need for talks at all — as the TTP spokesman has already pointed out. But Mr Sharif seems quite content so long as the terrorist pyres burn down the Pashtun homes while the Punjab — his home province — is safe. Using the Pashtun lands as a buffer is neither new nor a foolproof policy and Mr Sharif will discover that soon — most likely in his present term. Both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and PTI invoke their recent electoral mandate to deliver peace as the carte blanche to give the TTP whatever they wish. They cannot be more wrong. These parties won an election not a referendum to pawn away the Pashtun lands to whomever they wish. The APC declaration is at best a political statement, not a constitutional one. It is not worth the paper it is written on, no matter what Mr Khan says. The APC declaration’s only significance now is that Mr Khan is using it to delay or thwart any military action against the TTP. The TTP may have the guns but it is their political face — the PTI — that is holding the Pakistani state hostage. This paralysis of the state, however, is untenable and must be upended with a robust action against the terrorist TTP and its affiliates. The Pakistan army has said that it can inflict a befitting response on the terrorists. It is time perhaps to take the army up on its word. The venue to chalk out course of such action must be the parliament, where the TTP’s Sinn Féin is represented too, not another APC.

Pakistan: More Punjab University students linked to terrorists

The Punjab University management has told the Punjab government many more students have links with terrorists and if the management had been taken into confidence they would have been arrested when one al-Qaeda operative was nabbed recently. After the arrest of al-Qaeda operative from Punjab University hostel, startling facts have come forth. The university administration has written to the Punjab government that had the police taken the university management into confidence before raiding the hostel, many other students of Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) could have been pinpointed against whom there was information of having links with the terrorists. The documents recovered from the custody of al-Qaeda operative also include list of all the key members of IJT who have been linked with the Punjab University. University that documents recovered from the al-Qaeda operative arrested from Room No. 237 of Hostel-1 clearly show the deep links of ‘the wanted person’ with IJT. The university spokesman while talking to The News said that during the past four years, at least seventy-five FIRs had been lodged against the IJT members by the University management including car theft, illegal weapons, firing, fighting and disturbance. The Room No. 237 of Hostel-1 was allotted to one Ahmad Sajjad Rathore of Okara who was a student of Statistics Department and presented himself as Nazim IJT of the department. But, the documents reveal, upon inspection it was found that one clerk Basharat (under suspension) allotted the room to Ahmad Sajjad on fake documents. The IJT terms all such allegations as a conspiracy against it. “Had the concerned officer taken us into confidence we could have pointed out other individuals who are most likely involved in such activities. It may also be added that a study of documents/literature etc., recovered from Room No.237 clearly shows the deep links of the wanted person with IJT”, the Registrar Punjab University has written to the Higher Education Department while explaining the varsity’s stance on arrest of al-Qaeda operative from its premises. While explaining the details of the room from where the al-Qaeda operative was arrested, the PU Registrar writes: “The suspected person had been residing in Hostel No, Room No. 237, as a guest of Ahmad Sajjad a student of the College of Statistical & Actuarial Sciences. It was further revealed that Ahmad Sajjad used to claim himself as a genuine allottee of that Room (No.237), since April, 2013. Basharat, Clerk (under suspension) of Hostel No.1 was found guilty of unlawful handing over of keys of Room No. 237 to Ahmad Sajjad when the said room was vacated by Aftab, a student of School of Biological Sciences, University of the Punjab, Lahore. It is pertinent to note that Basharat was suspended from his duties in May 2013 due to some gross misconduct. Clerk, Basharat, (under suspension) was immediately called upon after the above said incidence of September 03, 2013 and he was directed by the Warden of Boys Hostel No.1 (Prof. Dr. Saeed Farooq) to produce the allotment form of Ahmed Sajjad; original resident of Room No. 237, but he (Basharat) came up with a fake allotment form not duly signed by either the Superintendent nor by the Hostel Warden. Despite knowing the fake nature of the testimonial Basharat insisted that the said form was original. The other three clerks who happened to be the successors of Basharat (under suspension) in a row were also interrogated thoroughly and were asked to locate/ produce genuine allotment form of Ahmad Sajjad but they failed to do so.” The spokesman of Punjab University, Khurram Shahzad, while talking to The News said that the varsity administration has information about a few IJT members who have links with the terrorist. He maintained that the al-Qaeda operative was arrested from the room of one Ahmad Sajjad against whom the university had lodged two FIRs in the recent past. The News is in possession of those FIRs. Moreover, the PU spokesman said, one Nazim of IJT Yasir Abbasi was involved in a case of car theft, which was later recovered from his custody and he has been nominated in the FIR. Khurram said that the university administration has been stopping the IJT from holding controversial functions in the university but the police helped them in conducting so. In other terms, the spokesman said, the police has been strengthening them.

Pakistan Land Of Pure: PCC demands probe in selling organs of dead Christian of Peshawar Church bombing
Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC have expressed grave concern on news published in international media that organs of dead Christians Christians in double suicide bombing in All Saints Church Peshawar were illegally taken out by medical staff of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar with collaboration of KPK administration to sold in black market during postmortem without permission of their relatives. Officially 84 deaths of Christian’s worshipers were declared while 146 injured in suicide bombing in All Saint’s Church in Kohati Gate Peshawar on September 22, 2013. All dead bodies of 86 Christians of bomb blast were buried in same evening of September 22, 2013, in local Christian graveyards of Peshawar under pressure of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa KPK provincial’s government when denied by administration that there is no enough space in mortuary of Lady Reading Hospital and Hayat Hospital of Peshawar to keep dead bodies. The 86 dead bodies of Christian victims were handed over to relatives in wooden boxes in Lady Reading Hospital by KPK administration and pressurized to bury them same evening. Dr. Nazir Bhatti said “More than 45,000 Muslim died in attacks of Talaban attacks or their suicide bombing after Pakistan government joined international community in war against terrorism but news of heinous crime of human organ trafficking od dead Muslim bodies were never reported but selling of organs of dead Christian means that there is no value of Christian blood and dead bodies in Pakistan” Nazir Bhatti added “Where is Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan? Where is Imran Khan, Chairman of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf PTI whose party is governing KPK? Why Pervez Khattak, Chief Minister of KPK has not resigned? Why Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Nawaz Sharif has not ordered any enquiry in organ trafficking of dead bodies of Christians of Peshawar Church bombing?” Nazir Bhatti said that Pakistan Christian Congress PCC demands Judicial Enquiry of heinous crime of organ trafficking of Christian dead bodies by Lady Reading Hospital staff, Peshawar Police and provincial administration of KPK and severe punishment to culprits. The news of organ trafficking of dead bodies of Christian victims of suicide bombing in Peshawar Church appeared in bulletin of Fides News agency Rome on September 29, 2013, and published on website of AHRC September 30, 2013.

Peshawar All Saints' update, death toll from the bombing on Sept. 22 stands at 127
In a conversation from Peshawar today, Bishop Humphrey Sarfaraz Peters of the Diocese of Peshawar said that the confirmed death toll from the bombing at All Saints’ Church on Sept. 22 in the old section of the city stands at 127, with 170 injured. “It has been just devastating,” he said. “Quite a few children are paralyzed, and others are orphaned. This is a terrible time for the Christian community.” Financial assistance is urgently needed to support the families of the dead and injured, he said. Government officials, including the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkwa, the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and federal ministers, have visited in order to express concern and condolence. The Bishop has met with them either at All Saints’, where he has been based over the week, or at his home on the grounds of St John’s Cathedral. Yesterday’s car bomb in Qissa Khawani bazaar was detonated nearby while the All Saints’ congregation was again at worship on the first week’s anniversary of the Sept. 22 bomb. “People were in a panic, and there was such a rush,” Bp Humphrey said, “but after about 25 minutes we were able to get them settled and resume the service.” The bomb killed 40 people and was reported to have exploded about 300 yards from All Saints’, near a mosque and a police station. On Friday, 19 people died when a bomb planted on a bus carrying government employees exploded in the outskirts of Peshawar. Today’s confirmed count of 127 dead and 170 wounded from the Sept 22 bomb is lower than the initial reports of 150 dead and 200 wounded, but it is considerably higher than the figure of 85 dead that is being circulated by global news media. Peshawar’s overall death toll from bomb blasts for the week is 176. “The world reached out wonderfully when Malala Yousafzai was shot,” Bp Humphrey said, referring to the 15-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head last October by the Taliban for advocating for girls’ education. “There are many Malalas now after the bombing,” he said in appealing for assistance. Episcopal Relief and Development sent a $15,000 grant, the Bishop said. Other initiatives are being developed in the Episcopal Church and may be announced soon. Meanwhile, the Edwardes College Compassion Appeal has already begun receiving donations for victims and their families from concerned people in the USA as well as in Pakistan