Saturday, October 26, 2013
Protesters marched on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday to protest the U.S. government's online surveillance programs, whose vast scope was revealed this year by former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden. People carried signs reading: "Stop Mass Spying," "Thank you, Edward Snowden" and "Unplug Big Brother" as they gathered at the foot of the Capitol to demonstrate against the online surveillance by the National Security Agency. Estimates varied on the size of the march, with organizers saying more than 2,000 attended. U.S. Capitol Police said they do not typically provide estimates on the size of demonstrations.The march attracted protesters from both ends of the political spectrum as liberal privacy advocates walked alongside members of the conservative Tea Party movement in opposition to what they say is unlawful government spying on Americans. "I consider myself a conservative and no conservative wants their government collecting information on them and storing it and using it," said Michael Greene, one of the protesters. "Over the past several months, we have learned so much about the abuses (of privacy) that are going on and the complete lack of oversight and the mass surveillance into every detail of our lives. And we need to tell Congress that they have to act," said another protester, Jennifer Wynne. The event was organized by a coalition known as "Stop Watching Us" that consists of some 100 public advocacy groups and companies, including the American Civil Liberties Union, privacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation, Occupy Wall Street NYC and the Libertarian Party. The groups have been urging Congress to reform the legal framework supporting the NSA's secretive online data gathering since Snowden's disclosure of classified information about the programs that are designed to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats. The Obama administration and many lawmakers have defended the NSA programs as crucial in protecting U.S. national security and helping thwart past militant plots. They have also said the programs are carefully overseen by Congress and the courts. Snowden's disclosures have raised concerns that NSA surveillance may span not just foreign, but domestic online and phone communication. "We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA's and the FBI's data collection programs," Stop Watching Us said in a letter addressed to members of Congress posted online, calling for a reform of the law known as the Patriot Act. That law marked its 12th anniversary on Saturday. It was passed in 2001 to improve anti-terrorism efforts and is now under scrutiny by privacy advocates who say it allows "dragnet" data gathering. "Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong," Snowden said in a statement before Saturday's rally. Wanted in the United States on espionage charges, he is now in temporary asylum in Russia. His latest disclosures showed that the United States may have tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, adding to the growing outrage against U.S. data-gathering practices abroad and prompting a phone call between Merkel and President Barack Obama.
The Bahraini regime has defended the use of tear gas against anti-regime protesters despite criticism by human rights organizations. "Tear gas is non-lethal and it is used appropriately by the police, in compliance with the law and in full adherence with the internationally accepted standards contained in the Bahrain police code of conduct," a government spokesman's office said in a statement quoted by Reuters on Saturday. "Bahrain's police forces are using less force than is legally permitted," the statement added. On October 16, the Bahrain Watch group leaked documents showing that the Al Khalifa regime was planning to buy 1.6 million canisters of the material along with some stun grenades. Many activists and rights groups have censured the excessive use of tear gas by the Saudi-backed forces, which fire canisters directly at protesters or within confined spaces such as houses and cars. “CS gas as misused in Bahrain is most certainly lethal. And it is lethal because of the intensity of its use [and] the concentration within a confined room, and it is not supposed to be used in a confined space, “said Irish Orthopedic Surgeon Professor Damian McCormack , who is also a member of a Bahraini NGO, at a press conference in Switzerland in June. In March 2012, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said a number of Bahraini protesters and bystanders died due to the use of tear gas in the tiny Persian Gulf island. In August 2012, Physicians for Human Rights said that the regime uses tear gas indiscriminately, which has caused severe injuries to some civilians. Meanwhile, on Saturday, anti-regime protests were held in several regions including the northwestern village of Bani Jamra and the western village of Karzakan with the protesters calling for the downfall of regime. In Bani Jamra, people took to streets to protest against killing of a teenager by Bahrain’s forces. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini regime in its crackdown on peaceful protesters. According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.
BY NADIA KABIR BARB
Afghanistan will demand an explanation from Pakistan on the whereabouts of a former Taliban second-in-command when the leaders of both countries meet next week to discuss how to end years of insurgency, an Afghan official said on Saturday. The whereabouts of Mullah Baradar has been the source of intense speculation since Pakistan announced his release on September 20. Pakistani sources say he is still kept in a safe house and is closely watched by his Pakistani handlers. Afghanistan believes Baradar, who was once a close friend of the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has enough clout to persuade the Taliban to make peace, but his prolonged stay in Pakistan may have marred his reputation among fighters. "Mullah Baradar is still under strict supervision," said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "We will be seeking an explanation from Pakistan on the whereabouts of Mullah Baradar and how Pakistan can facilitate direct talks between him and the High Peace Council." Karzai formed the High Peace Council in 2010 to seek a negotiated end to the insurgency the Taliban have waged since being forced from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion. Faizi said Karzai would raise the issue when he meets Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in London next week for a summit hosted by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron. "The High Peace Council is in touch with Mullah Baradar's family, not himself, unfortunately," Faizi said. "This is what we are seeking. All we know is that his family members were able to contact him, but the High Peace Council itself hasn't yet reached Mullah Baradar." Afghanistan is trying to inject life into attempts to negotiate peace as most U.S.-led NATO combat troops prepare to pull out by the end of 2014. Baradar, who was captured in Karachi in 2010, is seen as a pragmatic negotiator who reached out to Kabul with a peace initiative before his detention. The Afghan Taliban say Baradar effectively remains under arrest and that his health has deteriorated. Some analysts say that Pakistan sees Baradar as a tool who could help it have a say in any future peace deal and limit rival India's influence over Afghanistan after 2014.
Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid said today that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a very stern message to Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif when the two leaders met in New York last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Dr Singh had told Mr Sharif that he did not become the Indian PM 'to re-draw the boundaries,' according to Mr Khurshid. "I think that is the most fantastic answer I have ever heard from an Indian leader given to somebody in Pakistan," Mr Khurshid said. A series of ceasefire violations by the Pakistani troops along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has escalated the tension between the two countries. A jawan from the Border Security Force was killed earlier this week in one of the several attacks on Indian posts by the Pakistani troops. A few civilians from the Indian side of the border have also been injured. The Defence Ministry says there have been over 200 ceasefire violations this year, more than all such incidents in the last decade. Dr Singh, on his way back from his tour of Russia and China, said on Thursday evening that he was disappointed with the Pakistani PM and asked him to recognise that what was happening on the border is not good for the two nations. "Let me say I am disappointed because in the New York meeting (between Dr Singh and Nawaz Sharif last month) there was a general agreement on both the sides that peace and tranquility should be maintained on the border, the Line of Control as well as the International Border and it has not happened. It has come to me as a big disappointment," the Prime Minister said.
The son of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal, is to raise funds to save Mohenjodaro, the 5,000-year-old centre of the Indus CivilisationBilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young Pakistan Peoples Party leader and Bhutto dynasty scion, is to lead an international campaign to save Mohenjodaro, the crumbling ruins of the world's last surviving Bronze Age city. The son of Benazir Bhutto, the late Pakistan prime minister, and former president Asif Zardari inspected the site earlier this month after The Telegraph reported its 5,000-year-old brick walls could turn to dust within 20 years. Mohenjodaro was discovered by colonial officials from the Archelogical Survey of India in 1924 when they excavated a hill on the banks of the Indus River. They uncovered an intact, well-planned urban landscape of large houses on grid-system roads, with their own bathrooms and drainage and sewage systems which would still put many towns in India and Pakistan to shame today. They also recovered a ceremonial public bath, a civic centre, grain stores, a debating hall and artefacts which indicated a system of taxation, weights and measures as well as jewellery, toys and chess-like pieces which highlighted its regard for beauty and recreation. But the site's clay brick walls have now been long-neglected and conservation officials in charge of the site have been starved of the funds needed to preserve it. They need 350 labourers to constantly cover the walls with a protective layer of mud to stop salt crystals from rain and river water destroying the bricks. But on some days there are only 16. The damage is so extensive that officials are considering reburying part of the site until adequate resources are available.Mr Bhutto Zardari told The Telegraph of his "shock and disappointment" after visiting the site and said urgent action was needed to reverse the "neglect, inadequate funding, government and public indifference," responsible for its deterioration. "We must seize the opportunity to stop all this now," he said. The Bhutto family has strong links with Mohenjodaro – they are the largest landlords in the area. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister and president, staged an international conference at the site in 1973 to raise global support for its conservation, while Bilawal's mother, the late two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke of her pride at being raised in its shadow. Mr Bhutto Zardari called for a "preventive emergency intervention" and pledged to raise international awareness and funds to support it. "The Sindh government will be holding an international conference on Mohenjodaro in the coming months," he said. "I shall be working closely with the Sindh government, private sector as well as international experts to raise funds as well as perhaps restarting excavation of the site."
By Tim Craig A former Pakistani prime minister strongly denied Thursday that he had quietly authorized U.S. drone strikes inside his country, but he didn’t rule out secret deals made without his knowledge. A day earlier, a Washington Post report detailed how the United States and Pakistan communicated about, and in some cases coordinated, dozens of drone strikes in Pakistan from late 2007 to late 2011. But Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was the country’s prime minister from 2008 to 2012, said it was “totally absurd” to suggest that his government had condoned the attacks. “During my government, there was no such support given to drone strikes whatsoever,” Gilani said in an interview, adding that he had discussed with President Obama in 2010 “how this strategy with drones was counterproductive and undermining our anti-terror efforts.” He said he could not rule out that the two nations had communicated about planned drone strikes during his tenure. But if they did, he said, the parties involved would have been the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter- Services Intelligence agency, under conditions set by Pervez Musharraf, the former military ruler. “The permission must have been given earlier,” said Gilani, who was also cited in a 2010 WikiLeaks report as being privately supportive of some strikes. “After 9/11, the U.S. rang up Musharraf and said, ‘You are either with us or you are not with us,’ and he said, ‘We are with you.’ ” In an interview with CNN last year, Musharraf admitted to authorizing “a few” U.S. drone strikes before he stepped down in 2008. Pakistan’s Express Tribune newspaper reported Thursday that a former top-ranking military commander who had served under Musharraf, retired Lt. Gen. Shahid Aziz, is calling for Musharraf to be charged with extrajudicial murder for his role in the drone campaign. Musharraf is under house arrest in Islamabad on several charges stemming from his autocratic tenure. But The Post’s report details coordination as recently as 2011, causing some analysts to suspect that Musharraf’s successors also were aware of some U.S. strike targets. “This puts cold water on the hype,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and a military analyst, referring to the public anger in Pakistan over U.S. attacks. “I think people knew it already, but this makes it much more obvious, and the [Pakistani] media and others will have to cool off.” Pakistan’s current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who took office in June, has made stopping the drone campaign a top priority. He raised the issue during a meeting with Obama at the White House on Wednesday. Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that the government remains united in seeking an end to the strikes. “Whatever understandings there may or may not have been in the past, the present government has been very clear regarding its policy on the issue,” Chaudhry said. “We regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.” Saeed Ghani, a Pakistani lawmaker, said he suspects that some U.S. drone strikes did have the tacit approval of government or military leaders here. But he said Sharif and other politicians are under tremendous pressure from the public to stop them. “There probably was some understanding,” Ghani said. “But it’s now very difficult for political governments to carry on those understandings.”
By MARK LANDLER The meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the White House on Wednesday is the most recent attempt by American and Pakistani leaders to reset a fraught relationship. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington, has documented that legacy of mistrust in a new book, “Magnificent Delusions” (Public Affairs, Nov. 5). Mr. Haqqani, a former adviser to Mr. Sharif who now teaches at Boston University, was a victim of those toxic ties, forced out in 2011 amid allegations, which he denies, that he sought American help to rein in the Pakistani military. We caught up with him here recently, and what follows is an edited transcript of the conversation. Q. You trace the star-crossed relationship between Pakistan and the United States back to the founding of the Pakistani state in 1947. In what way do the mutual suspicions go back that far? The mutual misunderstandings start in 1947; the suspicions come later. The misunderstanding was Pakistan’s expectation that the United States would help build it up in its quest for containing Communism. And when the United States built it up, that Pakistan would be able to seek parity with India, which was its primary rival. The Americans had no such intention. The suspicions, in my opinion, are very much contrived as a means of generating public opposition to the United States in Pakistan, and thereby giving the Pakistanis leverage in the relationship. Q. What is the biggest misconception Pakistanis have about the United States? The suspicion in Pakistan is that the United States wants to defang Pakistan’s nuclear program, that the United States cannot accept a Muslim country having a strong military, and that America wants Pakistan to be subservient to India, just as it wants the Arabs to be subservient to Israel. It is ironic that a lot of this is based on conspiracy theories that are rampant in Pakistan. Recently, the vice chancellor of Pakistan’s largest university came out with a book that says that the British and American governments are controlled by a high cabal, which manipulates each one of us by putting microchips in our brains. Q. What is the biggest misconception Americans have about Pakistan? The biggest misconception the Americans have had is that they can somehow bend Pakistan to their will simply with the leverage of aid. Aid has never given the Americans the leverage they thought they would have. As far as the American public is concerned, it has never really seriously engaged with Pakistan, and the understanding of most Americans about Pakistan is through single-issue prisms: nuclear program one day, terrorism the other. There has never been an effort to understand 180 million people and their aspirations. Q. Critics of the United States say that Pakistanis feel the United States cultivates Pakistan when it needs it, and abandons it when it no longer needs it. Is that valid? It is partially valid. Each time, Pakistan also has failed to fulfill promises it made to the United States. However, Pakistanis complain louder than Americans, so therefore, the sequence of who abandoned who is not always fully understood. One of the things I speak of in my book is how Pakistan’s elites almost always misled their people about what they had promised the Americans in private. Q. The late [special envoy] Richard Holbrooke was among those who tried to broaden the U.S.-Pakistan relationship beyond counterterrorism and military aid. Yet those efforts did not outlive him. Is that a valid model for putting the relationship on a firmer footing? Richard Holbrooke envisaged a “grand bargain,” in which Pakistan’s insecurities about India were addressed, Pakistan’s ambitions in Afghanistan were dealt with, and Pakistan was assured that America will be there for the long haul. But a “grand bargain” is only possible under very strong leadership in Pakistan and very strong leadership in the United States. Ambassador Holbrooke was not able to convince President Obama to put the full weight of his presidency behind his initiative. On the other hand, President [Asif Ali] Zardari in Pakistan was also handicapped by complex domestic politics. Q. How did the Obama administration’s expansion of the drone program affect the relationship? The [Gen. Pervez] Musharraf government had accepted the drone program primarily because they intended to keep it secret. An occasional strike was easy to keep secret. The Obama administration’s escalation of the drones as a means of dealing with terrorist safe havens in Northwest Pakistan complicated the ability of the Pakistani military and intelligence services to keep the program secret. This was a program whose escalation made secrecy impossible, and Pakistan’s leaders were unwilling to have a program that was a little more open. The viable option would have been a joint program, and that was not acceptable to the American side because of their persistent suspicions about Pakistan’s intelligence services being deeply penetrated by terrorist sympathizers. Q. In your last book, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military,” you wrote about the ties between Islamist movements and Pakistan’s U.S.-backed military and intelligence. To what extent is religious extremism in Pakistan an American creation? The Americans inadvertently expanded religious extremism in Pakistan. But if you go back in history, Pakistan was already involved in supporting religious extremism in Afghanistan when the Americans launched their massive aid program for Afghan mujahedeen after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Religious extremist groups have been in Pakistan since 1947. And some of them have been embraced by the state as a means of nation-building. The United States did not understand those social forces, and on many occasions, ended up inadvertently helping groups that eventually helped the extremists. Q. You describe a memo on Pakistan’s strategic threats, written by General Kayani [Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s army chief of staff], which reads remarkably like a document written in 1959 by President [Mohammad] Ayub Khan. Is Pakistan’s view of its interests really that outdated? It is. Pakistan has become a uni-focal state. The only focus is, “how do we wrest Kashmir from India?” Even the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, when he came to Pakistan, said to the Pakistanis, “You should contemplate the model we have for Taiwan,” which is that China claims Taiwan but does not do anything physically to try and take it back. Instead, it is focusing in its economic development and its modernization. Q. You’ve had your ups and downs in Pakistan, most recently with the accusation that you asked the Obama administration to help thwart a military coup after the killing of Osama bin Laden. What do your own ordeals illustrate about the hazards of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship? My ordeals reveal that when people believe somebody is an enemy, that anybody who is trying to serve as a bridge with them will be seen as the enemy as well. There was no coup attempt in 2011 after the Osama bin Laden raid, and therefore, there was no need to thwart it. As ambassador, I had access to almost everybody in Washington, D.C. Why would I need a businessman of dubious credentials to deliver a memo for me? But the fact that such a fantasy-based story found so much traction in Pakistan – that I was forced not only to resign, but that my life was put in jeopardy – shows the pathology of the relationship.
The Express Tribune NewsA car bomb hit a Frontier Corps (FC) van escorting a bus of Shia pilgrims in Dringarh, Mastung on Saturday, killing two soldiers, officials said. The incident took place on the main Quetta-Taftan Highway in Mastung district, some 50 kilometres southwest of Quetta. “The bomb exploded after an FC vehicle stopped to check a parked car,” Sayed Mehrab Shah, a senior government official in Mastung told AFP. All the pilgrims on the bus, who were on their way to Iran, were safe but several security personnel were wounded by the remotely triggered bomb, Shah said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast but most attacks in the province bordering Afghanistan and Iran have been linked to militant insurgency or sectarian violence. Spokesperson for FC Abdul Wasay confirmed the attack and told AFP that rescue teams had been despatched to the area. Previous attacks On December 30, 2012, a car bomb attack on buses carrying Shia pilgrims to Iran had killed 19 people and injured 25 in Mastung officials had said. The remotely-triggered bomb hit a convoy of three buses in Mastung district and set one of them ablaze, Tufail Baluch a senior government official in the district had said. “The bomb was planted in a car. The condition of some of the injured is critical,” Baluch had said. On September 18, 2012, three people were killed when a blast took place near a bus carrying pilgrims in the Mastung district. Nine people, including three Levies personnel who were escorting the pilgrims, were injured in the incident.