Saturday, November 9, 2013

Venezuelan is the new Miss Universe

A 25-year-old Venezuelan who appears on TV in her country and is an accomplished flamenco dancer is the new Miss Universe.Gabriela Isler was crowned Saturday night in the pageant at a sprawling exhibition hall on Moscow's outskirts. In the excitement just after the announcement, the tiara fell off Isler's head as she was being crowned by Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo of the United States. Isler caught the crown laughing. Patricia Rodrigues of Spain was the runner-up.
The panel of judges was led by American rock musician Steven Tyler.Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Isler on Twitter, calling her title a "triumph" for Venezuela, a country that has now won three of the last six Miss Universe pageants.In fact, Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, and beauty pageants rank alongside baseball as the country's most-followed diversion, one that transcends social class and normally insurmountable political divisions. A whole industry of grooming schools, plastic surgeons and beauty salons has emerged to prepare young women for the thousands of pageants that take place each year around the country in schools, army barracks and even prisons. Venezuela has managed to keep its beauty queen industry flourishing, despite economic problems have worsened in recent weeks as inflation touched a two-decade high of 54 percent and shortages of basic goods like toiled paper and milk have worsened. Driving the crisis has been a collapse in the currency, which has plunged to a tenth of its official value in illegal black market trading.
To arrest the fall, Maduro last week ordered the military to inspect prices and shut down businesses found to be charging abusive prices. A day after the government seized control of a nationwide chain of appliance stores, doors reopened Saturday to throngs of shoppers seeking to buy TVs, washing machines and refrigerators at a fraction of their listed price.

Veena Malik says Sheikh Rasheed cannot define patriotism to her

Famous actress Veena Malik has called on Pakistani politician Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad not to issue any statements against her or she reserves the rights to reply in equal measure.
During an interaction with Pakistani media in London, the actress, who shot to fame through Geo’s programme Hum Sub Umeed Say Hain, said she stood by her statement that the Rawalpindi politician, who heads Awami Muslim League, had called her and requested for a meeting over tea. “I was naïve at that time, I didn’t know who he was when admired me but I refused to entertain his request. He is furious because I rejected him. He told me that he had seen me on Hum Sub Umeed say Hain and liked my work. I was maybe unpleasant to him. He shouldn’t be but his fury is understandable because he had always been anti women, he was anti Benazair Bhutto and he is also anti Veena Malik. It will be only good for him if he stops and doesn’t define patriotism for others.” The actress, who has raised the temperature high with her controversial performances, said it was sad that the so-called patriots in Pakistan had taken upon themselves to define morality and patriotism. She rejected such elements and said that Pakistani was a multi-cultural and multi-dimensional society and it’s impossible to define the country in simple terms. “Pakistan has both the burka and jeans wearing sides and both are right to do whatever they want to do with their lives. My father was an army officer who loved Pakistan and served it. I love Pakistan and have the blood of a military officer in my veins. I carry Pakistani passport and will always be proud of it. I am hero to some people in Pakistan and villain to others and I accept that,” she said. On being asked why she is a controversial figure and whether she creates controversies to remain in the limelight, Veena Malik said, “I have always been media's darling, I love it for being the first choice of media. Magazines love to put me on glossy covers. Television wants me there. I have a strong relationship with media everywhere.” Veena Malik became thoughtful when asked about her return to Pakistan. She has not set foot in the country in a long time and faces threats from extremist group. “There is not a single moment when I don’t miss Pakistan. I love my country, its people and its culture and I do want to come back. I will soon be back but I cannot tell when.” She also announced that she would soon be going to Saudi Arabia to perform Umrah. “I have a deep spiritual side. People have only seen me as a showbiz personality but I observe my religion although I do believe that religion is a matter between the individual and Creator. I very much look forward to take this spiritual journey.” She said that heroes from every walk of life in Pakistan were leaving this world. “Pakistan needs a new breed of heroes, we have very few left. Instead of attacking them we need to create heroes. I want to be treated like a hero in Pakistan, like an artist with an aesthetic side.”

Iran Nuclear Talks Conclude Without A Deal

Talks to curb Iran's nuclear programme end without agreement, as France is believed to have taken a tough stance on conditions.
Talks in Geneva aimed at reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear programme have failed. Western diplomats had earlier warned a deal was looking increasingly unlikely between six world powers and Iran over concerns the country is enriching uranium for use in atomic weapons rather than in a civilian nuclear energy programme, as it claims. The talks are rumoured to have stalled over the French and possibly USA request that Iran reduce its stockpiles of 20% uranium by oxidising it, putting it further away from being weapons grade material but still usable in a fuel programme.Tehran has always insisted its programme is for energy and other civil purposes, not military. There was also a demand by at least one country that Iran will not fully open its plutonium plant at Arak next year. France was believed to have holded-out for tougher conditions to be placed on Iran in return for the possible lifting of some sanctions, At a press conference, Mr Fabius said: "From the start, France wanted an agreement to the important question of Iran's nuclear programme."The Geneva meeting allowed us to advance, but we were not able to conclude because there are still some questions to be addressed." European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: "We're not going into the details of our discussions but I pay tribute to all the ministers, including Laurent Fabius' attempt to try and help support this process." Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said the talks were "very good" describing them as something to build on. "It was natural that when we start dealing with the detail there will be differences," he said. "If we agreed then we would not need to be here. We are all on the same wavelength and that is important. We had a very good three days, a very productive three days, and it's something we can build on."Optimism about a potential breakthrough in the decade-long dispute were raised when senior politicians - including US secretary of state John Kerry and Foreign Secretary William Hague - joined the talks. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and a Chinese deputy foreign minister also flew in to take part. Fabius had earlier told France Inter radio that Paris could not accept a "fool's game". His pointed remarks hinted at a rift within the Western camp. A Western diplomat close to the negotiations said the French were trying to upstage the other powers."The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively together for months on this proposal, and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Sky's Foreign Affairs editor Tim Marshall said: "I really think they were close. The Iranians were slightly less disappointed but I think Laurent Fabius is going to take some heat from this. "The US and Britain have led the toughest line against the Iranians in the last five years but France has been as tough as anyone, if not tougher." Asked whether it was French objections which scuppered any deal, Baroness Ashton said the country's foreign minister Laurent Fabius "came determined to try to help this process". France had "played an important role as they do in every negotiation", she told reporters. Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said the atmosphere at the talks was "completely different" from a few months ago. "We must continue to apply ourselves in the coming weeks, building on the progress that has been made," he said. Baroness Ashton announced that senior political officials would meet again on November 20 to try to clinch a deal.

10,000 feared killed in Philippines by super typhoon Haiyan

An estimated 10,000 people might have been killed in the central Philippine province of Leyte alone, which was almost completely destroyed by the powerful typhoon Haiyan, local authorities said. The typhoon has devastated up to 80 percent of the Leyte province area as it ripped through the Philippines, Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria told Reuters.
“We had a meeting last night with the governor and other officials. The governor said based on their estimate, 10,000 died,” Soria said. Most of the dead drowned or were killed by collapsed buildings, authorities say. Tacloban city administrator Tecson Lim told AP that the death toll in Leyte province city alone "could go up to 10,000." Police have been deployed to patrol the ruins of Tacloban to prevent looting as desperate residents look for food and water, said Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, describing the situation as “horrific.” "The dead are on the streets, they are in their houses, they are under the debris, they are everywhere," said Lim, adding that only about 400 bodies have been recovered so far. The Red Cross said earlier that 1,200 people we confirmed dead in the Philippines. Roxas said earlier on Saturday that it was too soon to announce any final figures. "The rescue operation is ongoing. We expect a very high number of fatalities as well as injured," Roxas told AP. "All systems, all vestiges of modern living — communications, power, water — all are down. Media is down, so there is no way to communicate with the people in a mass sort of way."The storm weakened on Saturday after moving away from the Philippines toward Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities meanwhile evacuated over 500,000 people to safer areas in preparation for the tumult which is forecast to make a landfall on Sunday afternoon. 'International relief effort mission' On Saturday Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said the casualties “will be substantially more,” than initially feared but gave no official figure. The priority for the government he said was to restore communications and power in remote areas and to deliver relief and medical assistance to families. The Philippine Red Cross is preparing for a relief mission “because of the magnitude of the disaster,” says Richard Gordon, the agencies head. But logistically speaking getting aid to the devastated regions of Leyte, 350 miles from the capital could be difficult as the airport was destroyed. Russia’s emergencies ministry has offered to help by providing search and rescue personal and a mobile hospital. “If necessary, we will fly two planes to the Philippines with an operational group of 50 people,” Russian Emergencies Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius told Itar-Tass. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Washington “stands ready to help.” In the meantime the US navy is assessing the extent of the damage on the ground. The UN will also be involved in the relief effort, the UN Disaster Coordination Team (UNDAC) has arrived in the city of Tacloban. “The United Nations agencies in the Philippines, with their humanitarian partners, are supporting the Government and other responders in their efforts to assess the situation and respond rapidly with vital supplies, through the coordination system led by the local authorities,” said Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are also stepping in to help as "the Government estimates that some 4.3 million people are affected, across 36 provinces.” UNICEF estimates that up to 1.7 million children could be affected by the typhoon. “UNICEF's first priorities are focused on life-saving interventions – getting essential medicines, nutrition supplies, safe water and hygiene supplies to children and families,” said UNICEF's representative in the Philippines, Tomoo Hozumi. In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) has so far allocated $2 million for the response as it sent 40 metric tonnes of high-energy biscuits to the victims. A number of NGOs are also mobilizing their resources to help the families in the Philippines. Save the Children and World Vision have started an online campaign to raise funds for those effected by the natural disaster. Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based international relief agency is calling for donations to aid recovery efforts and funding for grant distribution to local agencies in the affected areas. Habitat for Humanity is trying to help rebuild houses “by sending in your donations that can help them rebuild their homes. Habitat for Humanity Philippines Shelter Repair Kits (SRK) costs Php 15,000 ($350) which is good for one family. This amount can help families repair even heavily damaged houses,” reads their online call to action.

Tere Bheege Badan ki -1974 Sharafat (Nadeem & Shabnam)

Jo Bacha Tha Wo - Madam Noor Jahan

Talks on Nuclear Deal to Restrain Iran Hit a Snag

Negotiations by the United States and five other major powers on an agreement to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program hit a snag on Saturday, as France questioned whether the deal being drafted would do enough to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But diplomats were struggling into the evening to see if they could overcome their differences. After several days of optimistic reports that the negotiations with Iran could produce an agreement — the first of its kind in a decade — the marathon talks on Saturday laid bare the challenge of crafting a deal that would satisfy both the Iranians and a group of major powers with their own interests and agendas. Signs of division among the foreign ministers meeting in Geneva first emerged when France questioned whether the proposed deal would do enough to curb the development of a nuclear reactor that would produce plutonium, or limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said a draft of a potential agreement was unacceptable to France and there was no certainty that this round of negotiations would lead to an agreement. “We are hoping for a deal, but for the moment there are still issues that have not been resolved,” he told France Inter radio. His comments came amid a whirl of diplomatic activity, with Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany and Russia engaged in round-robin meetings with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who is overseeing the talks. Hopes that a deal was at hand surged when Mr. Kerry cut short a trip to the Middle East to fly to Geneva on Friday. But he, too, sought to temper expectations, saying after he arrived that an agreement had not yet been reached and that gaps needed to be narrowed. On Saturday, Mr. Kerry made no further comment before a two-hour meeting with Mr. Zarif. While talks continued on Saturday afternoon, it increasingly appeared that the negotiators would be unable to overcome gaps in this round, and officials said they hoped to return in coming weeks to try again. American officials said they sensed an opportunity to wrap up an interim accord that would freeze Iran’s program for perhaps six months so there would be time for both sides to reach a more lasting agreement. But they also said the United States was ready to meet again in a couple of weeks should the remaining differences prove difficult to overcome. “It’s important that Iran knows we’ll walk away if our concerns aren’t met,” a senior administration official said, “but we do have substantive outlines set well enough that it’s worth trying to narrow gaps.” France has taken a harder line than the United States in recent years on curbing Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel that could be used in weapons. Diplomats said the French were particularly concerned about the heavy-water reactor being built near Arak, because it would produce plutonium, an alternative to uranium for fueling a weapon. Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, said the plant could be dealt with in a future phase of the talks because it would take a year for it to be completed and much more time for it produce plutonium that could be extracted for a bomb. But Mr. Kerry said during his recent visit to Israel that the United States was asking Iran, as part of an interim accord, to agree to a “complete freeze over where they are today,” implying that Iran’s plutonium production program would be affected in some way as well. Under a compromise favored by some American officials, Iran might agree to refrain from operating the facility for six months, while continuing to work on the installation. Once the reactor at Arak is operational, as early as next year, it might be very hard to disable it through a military strike without risking the dispersal of nuclear material. That risk might eliminate one of the West’s options for responding to Iran and reduce its leverage in the talks. The heavy-water reactor at Arak has been a contentious negotiating point because it would give Iran another pathway to a bomb, using plutonium, rather than enriched uranium. Moreover, the Iranian explanations for why it is building Arak have left most Western nations and nuclear experts skeptical. The country has no need for the fuel for civilian uses right now, and the reactor’s design renders it highly efficient for producing the makings of a nuclear weapon. Israel has been vocal about not letting the new reactor get to the point where the fuel is inserted, after which military action against the reactor could create an environmental disaster. Israel has destroyed two reactors from the air in the past three decades, in Iraq in 1981 and in Syria in 2007. Both attacks took place before fuel had been put in the reactors. French officials also noted a difference between the United States and Europe on the issue of sanctions relief, which Iran is seeking in return for a halt in nuclear activities. The most sweeping American sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking industries were passed by Congress, giving President Obama little flexibility to lift them. That has led the Obama administration to focus on a narrower set of proposals involving Iranian cash that is frozen in overseas banks. Freeing that cash in installments, in return for specific steps by Tehran, would not require the repeal of any congressional sanctions. France and other European Union countries, however, face fewer political restrictions on ending their core sanctions, which means any decision to lift them could be more far-reaching. In addition, officials said that the measures would be harder to reinstate should the talks unravel or Iran renege on its pledges. European officials appeared to be balancing their wariness of Iran with a hopeful sense that these negotiations were fundamentally different from the fruitless sessions during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “All of the ministers who are here are conscious of that fact that some momentum has built up in these negotiations,” Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, told reporters on Saturday. “There is now a real concentration on these negotiations, so we have to do everything we can to seize the moment and seize the opportunity to reach a deal.” But that momentum has spooked other American allies, notably Israel, which continued Saturday to inveigh against an interim deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that Iran shutter the Arak nuclear reactor and give up all enrichment of uranium, not just the 20 percent enrichment that is at issue in the current negotiations. On Saturday, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, Yuval Steinitz, alluded to Scripture to condemn the potential deal. “In return for a mess of pottage,” he said, “Iran has achieved gains on both the sanctions and the nuclear fronts.” Mr. Netanyahu earlier said the agreement could be a “deal of the century” for Iran. On Friday, Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu to brief him on the talks and to assure him that the United States was still committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Iranian FM: If no deal Saturday on nuclear program, talks with world powers to continue soon

Mohammad Zarif meets for second round of trilateral talks with US counterpart Kerry, EU's Ashton; on third day of P5+1 negotiations in Geneva, lead Iran negotiator says process to continue in 1 week-10 days, if no result today. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that if no deal is reached with world powers on Saturday over Iran's nuclear program, talks could continue in a week to 10 days.
"There was a possibility, and perhaps it still exists, that if there are good intentions we can reach an agreed-upon text," Zarif told reporters in Geneva, where ministers from six major powers are negotiating with Iran."If we reach a result by the end of today, it's reached. If not, the process will continue in one week or 10 days." Barring a late breakthrough, Western diplomats said talks between Iran and six world powers on Tehran's nuclear program were likely to end on Saturday without an agreement, but were expected to resume in a few weeks. "Clearly, efforts are still going on," one diplomat said. Following a five-hour session on Friday, Zarif met for a second round of trilateral talks on Saturday afternoon with his US counterpart John Kerry and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to discuss the contents of a draft agreement on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Before going into talks with Kerry and Ashton, Zarif expressed reserve over the process. “There has been some progress, but there is still a gap,” Iran's Fars news agency quoted him as saying to reporters in Geneva on Saturday. Talks in Geneva hit a snag on their third day Saturday as France and Britain expressed doubt over the possibility of an agreement. France said there was no certainty the talks would succeed because of major stumbling blocks over an initial proposed text on a deal, and the importance of Israel's security concerns. "As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude" the talks, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on France Inter radio, noting that France could not accept a "sucker's deal". Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the talks have achieved "very good progress" but important issues remained unresolved and he did not know whether a deal could be clinched by the end of the day. The West suspects that Iran is enriching uranium to develop nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this.

Pakistan:Yazidiat in the shape of Deobandi madressahs and their networks of sympathizers
Editor’s note: We can’t confront Yazidiat if we are reluctant to openly condemn Yazid. We can’t overcome terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan unless we clearly mention Deobandis. Is there a single Pakistani columnist other than Ayaz Amir who explicitly mentions common Deobandi identity of TTP-ASWJ-LeJ terrorists? Ayaz Amir writes: “In shape of Deobandi madressahs and networks of sympathizers, Taliban can project power, carry out deadly actions across Pakistan.” ******************
by Ayaz Amir
By mid-2014 what many Pakistanis have been crying themselves hoarse about will have happened: most of the Americans in Afghanistan will have gone and we will be alone with our terrorist problem. If a residual American presence remains there may be some drones flying around. But we can be reasonably certain that the intensity of the present drone war will subside. Taliban leaders in North Waziristan will heave a sigh of relief. When the Soviets were in Afghanistan they were afraid of one thing above all: Stinger missiles which made their helicopters vulnerable. The tide of war in Afghanistan changed with the arrival of the Stingers. The one thing for which the Taliban have no answer is drone technology. They will be counting the days when that is gone, or most of it is. Pakistan was unprepared for post-Soviet Afghanistan. Is it any better prepared for post-American Afghanistan? Some of the nonsense emanating from the political class can be easily dismissed. Despite all the heat and noise peace talks is a non-starter, not least because no one has been able to define the basis of a peace settlement with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Some other illusions can also be put to rest. Once the Americans pack their bags and leave the Taliban will not descend from the mountains and lay down their arms before the Pakistani authorities. The sources of militancy will not dry up. Taliban ardour, far from diminishing, will be on the rise. Just imagine what the Taliban around their campfires will be saying: Islam and faith defeated one superpower; this combination has now defeated the superpower which remains. The soft state of Pakistan now beckons. The dynamics of the situation in Afghanistan may be different, either the country again descending into civil war or some attempt being made at power-sharing…if Afghanistan is lucky, that is. But over here, given what we know of the TTP, naked ambition will be on the march. The TTP has tasted power and no one gives up power voluntarily. We have to understand the social transformation that has been wrought: small-time mullahs, village maulvis, have come to wield power and authority, the lower orders of tribal society riding to the top, guns in their hands and fighters at their command, and revelling in the freedom of the mountains, and the previous tribal hierarchy gone, the old order of Maliks eliminated at the point of the bullet. People with nothing before, now having all this…would they want to give it up? It’s like – just try imagining this – your neighbourhood maulvi suddenly becoming a leader of society, dictating orders and laying down the law. Take this as a test: if anyone thinks that matters can be settled with the TTP, he should first try his hand at discussing something, anything, with his local preacher. If he succeeds then only let him visualise talking to the Taliban. This is not to run these people down but only to point out that we are dealing with a different set of people and a different worldview. Most of the Taliban figures, whether in Afghanistan or Pakistan, are either unlettered or products of madressah education. We have a whole population of madressah students in Pakistan, but the difference is that those who have joined the Taliban have a gun in their hands and are mostly battle-hardened. Primitivism is one thing but add a Kalashnikov or a rocket launcher to it and it becomes a deadly combination. Consider also another aspect of this situation. The Taliban have their mountain fastnesses. The army cannot reach them, or can reach them with considerable difficulty. But the Taliban are free to come down to Peshawar, to the plains of Punjab, and mingle with the population. A whole criminal industry has developed since the onset of our terrorism war, car-lifting, extortion and kidnappings being masterminded from the tribal belt – anarchy at the service of the Taliban. The Pakistani state can remain where it is, and the Taliban can remain where they are, but the kind of power the Taliban now enjoy they would not like taken away. If my MQM friends would forgive my saying so, the MQM has also wrought a social transformation in Karachi, a powerless stratum organising itself and rising to a position of power. If the MQM is not going to cede authority in Karachi – the smallest thing happens and gunmen are on the loose and the city is made to shut down – the Taliban are not going to cede authority where they exercise it. There’s a difference too: MQM power is confined largely to urban Sindh. In the shape of Deobandi madressahs and networks of sympathizers, the Taliban can project power and carry out deadly actions across the country. Mehran, Kamra and GHQ attest to this Taliban capability. The purpose of this explanation is simply to show that whether we like it or not, we have a fight on our hands. We can close our eyes to it, as we have been doing for a long time, we can bury our heads in the sand, an activity at which we also excel, but this problem is not going away. It’s no use saying that the American presence in Afghanistan has brought this militancy about or has exacerbated it. This is now a futile discussion, of academic interest perhaps but of no practical relevance. Even if we prove to ourselves or to others that it’s all America’s fault how does it help us? We have this problem. What do we do about it? Before we go on to what we should do, or what choices we have, there is another piece of nonsense that we can nail to the mast: the cliché much beloved of the Pakistani political class that war is no solution to anything. The world as presently constituted, the map-lines we see, all of it is a product of strife and conflict. Throughout history, through the rise and fall of empires, power and its application, blood and iron to use Bismarck’s phrase, have shaped the destiny of nations. If this is putting it crudely, you can sugar coat the words but the underlying reality would remain the same. A de Gaulle quote is apt: “The sword is the axis of the world and its power is absolute.” Power of course doesn’t mean its crude application. What did Horace say? “Brute force bereft of reason falls by its own weight. Power with counsel temper’d even the gods make greater…” That’s it: power with counsel tempered, power balanced by reason. But against the problem we are facing we are showing neither power nor reason…we are just mumbling stupidities, and sometimes shouting these same stupidities from the housetops. Nobody wants to be harsh on the political class, we are all great democrats and we are all for democracy, but the political class, as heaven is our witness, seems to have given up on thinking altogether. Do we see any analysis, rigorous or not, about the situation facing us not in the remote future but the next six months? Can anyone take the proceedings of parliament, both houses, seriously? The army is supposed to be great at analysis. At least that is the carefully cultivated myth. But has the army, after all its Afghan travails, discarded its notions of Taliban assets and seeking influence in Afghanistan? Or is it still stuck in the old grooves? We could have made good use of these six months and pressed the Taliban against their havens, drones in the sky and our forces on the ground. But this is not going to happen. From what we can judge, this opportunity, the only that remains before the Americans are gone and the shape of the horizon changes, will be frittered away. To no one’s surprise really given that both the political class and the military are torn betwixt platitude and irresolution. - See more at:

'Massive destruction' as typhoon kills at least 1,200 in Philippines

One of the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall devastated the central Philippines, killing more than 1,000 people in one city alone and 200 in another province, the Red Cross estimated on Saturday, as reports of high casualties began to emerge. A day after Typhoon Haiyan churned through the Philippine archipelago in a straight line from east to west, rescue teams struggled to reach far-flung regions, hampered by washed out roads, many choked with debris and fallen trees.
The death toll is expected to rise sharply from the fast-moving storm, whose circumference eclipsed the whole country and which late on Saturday was heading for Vietnam. Among the hardest hit was coastal Tacloban in central Leyte province, where preliminary estimates suggest more than 1,000 people were killed, said Gwendolyn Pang, secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross, as water surges rushed through the city. "An estimated more than 1,000 bodies were seen floating in Tacloban as reported by our Red Cross teams," she told Reuters. "In Samar, about 200 deaths. Validation is ongoing." She expected a more exact number to emerge after a more precise counting of bodies on the ground in those regions. Witnesses said bodies covered in plastic were lying on the streets. Television footage shows cars piled atop each other. "The last time I saw something of this scale was in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami," said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, head of the U.N. Disaster Assessment Coordination Team sent to Tacloban, referring to the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. "This is destruction on a massive scale. There are cars thrown like tumbleweed and the streets are strewn with debris." The category 5 "super typhoon" weakened to a category 4 on Saturday, though forecasters said it could strengthen again over the South China Sea en route to Vietnam. Authorities in 15 provinces in Vietnam have started to call back boats and prepare for possible landslides. Nearly 300,000 people were moved to safer areas in two provinces alone - Da Nang and Quang Nam - according to the government's website. The Philippines has yet to restore communications with officials in Tacloban, a city of about 220,000. A government official estimated at least 100 were killed and more than 100 wounded, but conceded the toll would likely rise sharply. The national disaster agency has yet to confirm the toll but broken power poles, trees, bent tin roofs and splintered houses littered the streets of the city about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila. "IT WAS LIKE A TSUNAMI" The airport was nearly destroyed as raging seawaters swept through the city, shattering the glass of the airport tower, leveling the terminal and overturning nearby vehicles. "Almost all houses were destroyed, many are totally damaged. Only a few are left standing," said Major Rey Balido, a spokesman for the national disaster agency. Local television network ABS-CBN showed images of looting in one of the city's biggest malls, with residents carting away everything from appliances to suitcases and grocery items. Airport manager Efren Nagrama, 47, said water levels rose up to four meters (13 ft) in the airport. "It was like a tsunami. We escaped through the windows and I held on to a pole for about an hour as rain, seawater and wind swept through the airport. Some of my staff survived by clinging to trees. I prayed hard all throughout until the water subsided." Across the country, about a million people took shelter in 37 provinces after President Benigno Aquino appealed to those in the typhoon's path to leave vulnerable areas. "For casualties, we think it will be substantially more," Aquino told reporters. Officials started evacuating residents from low-lying areas, coastlines and hilly villages as early as three days before the typhoon struck on Friday, officials said. But not all headed the call to evacuate. "I saw those big waves and immediately told my neighbors to flee," said Floremil Mazo, a villager in southeastern Davao Oriental province. Meteorologists said the impact may not be as strong as feared because the storm was moving so quickly, reducing the risk of flooding and landslides from torrential rain, the biggest causes of typhoon casualties in the Philippines. Ferry services and airports in the central Philippines remained closed, hampering aid deliveries to Tacloban, although the military said three C-130 transport planes managed to land at its airport on Saturday. At least two people were killed on the tourist destination island of Cebu, three in Iloilo province and another three in Coron town in southwestern Palawan province, radio reports said. "I never thought the winds would be that strong that they could destroy my house," LynLyn Golfan of Cebu said in a television interview while sifting through the debris. By Saturday afternoon, the typhoon was hovering 765 km west of San Jose in southwestern Occidental Mindoro province, packing winds of a maximum 185 kph, with gusts of up to 220 kph. The storm lashed the islands of Leyte and Samar with 275-kph wind gusts and 5-6 meter (15-19 ft) waves on Friday before scouring the northern tip of Cebu province. It weakened slightly as it moved west-northwest near the tourist island of Boracay, later hitting Mindoro island. Haiyan was the second category 5 typhoon to hit the Philippines this year after Typhoon Usagi in September. An average of 20 typhoons strike every year, and Haiyan was the 24th so far this year. Last year, Typhoon Bopha flattened three towns in southern Mindanao, killing 1,100 people and causing damage of more than $1 billion.

Message of former President Asif Ali Zardari on the 136th birthday of Allama Iqbal
On the eve of 136th birthday of Allama Iqbal today the former President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari has in a message has asked the people to resist those who are challenging the country by exploiting religion to foist their political agenda on the people. Following is the text of his message. “Allama Muhammad Iqbal will always be remembered not only as a sage, poet and philosopher but also for dreaming of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Sub Continent and for his contributions to understanding the true message of our religion. “The 136th birthday of our poet sage is an occasion to rejoice and celebrate his life and teachings. It is also an occasion to bear in mind that Pakistan has been challenged and the message of Islam is ruthlessly distorted by extremists and militants to foist their narrow political agendas on the people in the name of religion. “Iqbal’s day today is an occasion to reiterate our pledge that we will not permit the foisting of any ideology on the people in the name of religion. It is an occasion to reiterate that we will protect our homeland Pakistan from the challenge mounted by the extremists. Indeed this will be a befitting tribute to the memory of Allama Iqbal on his birthday. “When some misguided people take up arms for what they call holy war against anyone who disagrees with them they do a lasting disservice to the religion and its teachings. Let us on this day reaffirm our resolve that we will not allow them to tarnish the image of our religion. “Allama Iqbal also believed that religion was a living and dynamic force that needed to be continuously interpreted as modern thought advanced and that as knowledge advances other views are not only possible but may indeed be sounder. Let us imbibe the teachings of Allama Iqbal and not be afraid of critically re-examining our views in the light of alternate views. This indeed is the best tribute we can pay to Allama Iqbal today”.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Honoring America's Veterans

LHC verdict on LB polls justifies PPP stance, says Kaira
PAKISTAN People’s Party (PPP) Secretary Information Qamar Zaman Kaira said the decision of Lahore High Court for holding Punjab local bodies’ elections on party basis vindicated his party’s stand that challenged Punjab Local Government Act, 2013, as against article 140(A) of the constitution of Pakistan. In a statement on Friday, he said it may be recalled that PPP challenged Punjab Local Government Law 2013 in high court on the ground that its application would deny the exercise of political, financial and executive powers at local level by elected representatives with political identity. The PPP’s Secretary General Latif Khosa filed the petition and pleaded the case against the Local Government Law,2013, of the Punjab Government. He said Benazir Bhutto also challenged in 1988 the elections on non-party basis introduced by Ziaul Haq meant to perpetuate his rule but the Supreme Court rejected it by adjudicating that political parties were the essence of democratic process which was the spirit of constitution. He said reintroduction of non-party basis election by PML-N government tantamount to proving them as the ideologue of usurper. Kaira said the insistence of Punjab government to hold elections on non-party basis reflected their apprehensions of erosion of their political support base due to the unprecedented price hike and worsening law and order situation in the country. He regretted that incumbent rulers wanted to make local bodies institutions as subservient to bureaucracy through the Provincial Local Commission assigned with powers to sack chairmen of local authorities. He expressed surprise over PML-N leadership’s oblivion of Charter of Democracy signed in May 2006 that unequivocally stipulated that elections at all tiers would be held on party basis. He observed that their preference for non-party elections was fueled by PML-N leaders’ disposition of concentration of power without realising that absolute power corrupted absolutely. Kaira mentioned that retaining of four ministries by PM, and making nothing to move in Punjab without the nod of Shahbaz Sharif and Hamza Shahbaz, spoke volumes of their questionable commitment to democratic ethos and the dividends of collective wisdom, including participatory democracy.

Bahrain Tightens Grip on Opposition Leaders and Freedom of Expression

Last Sunday Sheikh Ali Salman, the leader of Bahrain’s main opposition group, the Al Wefaq Society, was charged with insulting authorities. The move signals deepening repression from the regime, which has generally tolerated Al Wefaq over other opposition groups. The regime is supposed to be engaged in talks with Al Wefaq, which advocates non-violent methods as it seeks a constitutional monarchy with a government chosen by a democratically elected parliament. If Salman is put on trial, it could open up new rifts in the country. According to his lawyer, Salman received a summons for questioning from the public prosecutor’s office on November 3 and was interrogated for six hours regarding Al-Wefaq’s launch of an art exhibition last week. In his speech, Salman said “in this modest exhibition I think that those who come and visit will leave understanding what the Bahraini people have experienced as has been recreated artistically and simplistically.” The exhibit depicts torture and protesters gunned down by security forces, and includes samples of riot-control munitions and tear gas canisters. Riot police raided the museum-style hall two days after the opening and said the displays incited “hatred” even though most of the abuses depicted have been reported in international media or in the government-commissioned Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry report on the unrest. The public prosecutor ordered confiscation of the artwork. Bahraini government spokeswoman Samira Rajab said that Sheikh Salman was investigated on charges of insulting a statutory body, namely the Ministry of Interior, as the artwork “alleging policemen’s systematic use of inhuman practices and human rights violations” were an affront to the police. She continued that at the opening ceremony Sheikh Salman, along with other members of the society “delivered instigative speeches packed with lies and allegations.” The summons comes just over a week after Al-Wefaq’s deputy leader, Khalil Marzooq, was released from jail at the opening of his trial for inciting terrorism, now postponed until November 18. Al Marzooq’s arrest prompted Al Wefaq to suspend its participation in talks with the government. In another signal that the Bahraini government is tightening its already firm grip on freedom of expression and association, the Justice Ministry recently announced that all contacts between political societies and diplomatic missions, consulates or foreign organizations or representatives of foreign governments must be done in coordination with the foreign ministry. Under the decision, all meetings should be held in the presence of a representative from the Bahraini government, the foreign ministry or any other party the ministry selects. The United States remains a supporter of Bahrain’s leadership, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. But the tough measures against protesters and widespread arrests have raised concern in Washington. In his annual U.N. address in late September, President Obama lamented Bahrain’s intensifying sectarianism. The U.S. government should apply pressure on the Bahrain government to engage with peaceful political leaders both in and out of jail and to meet with opposition figures openly.

Shia Muslims shot dead in Pakistan
Unidentified gunmen on Saturday attacked Shia Muslims at two different mosques in eastern Pakistan and killed a prayer leader and two other worshippers, police and witnesses said. The attacks occurred at a time when Shia Muslims have started holding religious gatherings across Pakistan during the holy month of Muharram, Xinhua reported. Police said gunmen entered Shia mosques at two different places and sprayed bullets at the worshippers during morning prayers in Gujranwala, a city nearly 60 km east of Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab. The attackers, riding motorcycles, fled after the incidents. A police officer said that the gunmen forced their way into a Shia mosque and fired at the prayer leader, killing him on the spot. The gunmen also attacked another mosque in the city, sprayed bullets at the Shia Muslims during morning prayers and killed two of them. Shia mourners and residents protested against the terrorist attacks and demanded that authorities ensure security at their gatherings in the coming days. Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, authorities blame banned sectarian groups.

For most Afghans, childhood a distant dream

By Sohaila Weda Khamosh
Child labour is rampant in Afghanistan. Many children are forced by circumstances to do hard labour for a trifling wage. They risk long-term health problems, even death. For most children, a normal childhood and school are distant dreams, according to an Independent Media Consortium (IMC) investigation*.
Based on information provided by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD), there are 1.9 million working children in the country. Decades of war and poverty have forced them into the ranks of workers. Children have to contribute to family incomes and shoulder the responsibility of looking after siblings and disabled relatives. As a result of chronic conflict there are many orphan children. Children can be found working in precarious conditions in mines; in brick kilns and agriculture; tending livestock and on the streets. Findings by the IMC reveal their earnings are at best paltry. It could be as little as 1,000 Afs a month (17 USD). Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994. Labour laws lay down a minimum age – 15 years – and number of hours of work – not longer than 35 hours a week. But IMC found children working for 20 to 24 hours a day in mines.
Coal mine
A mine called Gawmargi in Dahan-e-Tour in Dare-i-Souf Bala in Samangan province is one of those that are mined by local people. When IMC visited the mine there were children between 8 and 18 years busy at work, cutting the coal seams and transporting the coal on donkeys to the bazaar in Dahan-e-Tour, 5 kms from the mine. The mineworkers are hard to miss. Everyone, including the children, is covered in soot; their clothes and faces dirty from the coal. Pir Mohammad, a worker in Gawmargi, says there are at least a hundred children in the mine, including two of his own. He says children are paid 10,000 Afs (170 USD) on the average every month. He is a contract worker, and is paid 50,000 Afs per month (870 USD). Khal Mohammad, 13, has been working for the last two years in Gawmargi. He says he works from 1 in the morning to 7 or 8 pm. He herds the donkeys carrying coal to the bazaar at least 15 times daily. It takes him more than an hour to just load and unload the coal. Khal Mohammad has a sibling in the mine – his eight-year-old brother. They are the family’s sole breadwinners since their father’s death many years ago. The two brothers live along with other mineworkers in a tent. Once a year they visit their family in Moshak Village in the same district, spending two or three days with them. IMC fixed an appointment with engineer Ewaz Ali, head of mines in Dare-i-Souf, for an interview but he did not turn up.
Salt mine
Children as young as 10 are employed in the salt mine of Taqcha Khana in Namak Ab district, Takhar province. It is one of the mines in the High Mountain area. Local people have been illegally mining here. They pay no tax to the government. Abdul Kabir, head of Taqcha Khana Community Developmental Council (CDC - under the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development) says there are more than 1,000 children. “Their rights have been entirely ignored. The mine should be recognised by the government. Then it will have legal status, and workers will be able to decide salaries. When it is illegal, workers are exploited. Benefits go into the pockets of government officials for looking the other way,” says Kabir. He puts the conundrum facing workers in a colourful way. “People only toil; they don’t even get to fill their stomachs with food.” Here too like in the Gawmargi coal mine children transport salt to Taqcha Khana bazaar on donkeys, a 1.5 km journey by foot. Ezatullah is 15 years old. He says he has worked in Taqcha Khana since he was 10. He spends nearly 12 hours transporting the salt to the market; the rest of the time he has to work in the saltpans. Ezatullah’s father and brother are also working in the mine. The three of them together earn roughly 300-400 Afs a day (300 Afs is 5 USD). The work is hard but they have no choice. “If we don’t work we won’t have food to eat,” says the father, Abdul Razaq. While Razaq and his older son extract the salt – almost 350 kg a day – Ezatullah takes it to the bazaar where he sells a ser of salt (7 kg) for 4 Afs (57 Afs is 1 USD). Feda Mohammad Tashi, head of mines in Takhar, admits children are working in the mine. But the practice is soon coming to an end, he claims, with the mining being contracted to a company that will not hire children. IMC could not find out more details about the unnamed company. Ministry of Mines (MoM) spokesperson Mohammad Rafi Rafiq Sediqi, said children are banned in mines licensed by the government. He claimed that once before a company had leased the salt mine, but its contract was cancelled when it broke the law against child labour. On the question of child labour in the salt mines, he said they were not working in the mine but transporting the salt by donkeys. “Children are guides for the donkeys,” he insisted. The government has been trying to create other job opportunities in the area to increase means of livelihood, he claimed. Nasrullah, commander of a police unit in Namak Ab, told IMC that attempts to stop child labour have failed because families want children to work and contribute to the household budget.
Gold mine
Most children in Malik Haye Khatayan, besides Taloqan (capital of Takhar province) spend the day sieving sand from the banks of the river for gold. Sharp eyes and nimble hands are essential for this tiring process of gold washing which is done after adult gold diggers have finished their work. Imam Mohammad is the foreman of the gold washers. He says there are some 7,000 mine workers in Khatayan, and at least a third are children. They earn 150-200 Afs (up to 3 USD) daily from selling the tiny pieces of gold they find. Noor Ahmad is a 14 year old from Farkhar in Takhar province. He was carrying a basket of sand along with a 13-year-old boy when IMC stopped to talk to him. Ahmad said he was staying in his sister’s house. He worked day and night, and earned 200 Afs on most days. Gold washing was his autumn and winter job, he explained, when the water levels were lower in the river. During the summer he was a farm worker. Most workers in the mine said they started work at 8 in the morning, and ended at 5pm.
Brick kilns
According to figures from the National Labor Union of Afghanistan, there are 50,000 children in brick kilns Deh Sabz and Qarabagh districts, Kabul. There are 900 kilns in the two districts, and they are the biggest source of jobs here. An adult brick worker could earn between 400 and 450 Afs (a maximum of 7 USD) for producing 1,000 bricks. IMC findings reveal boys and girls as young as six years are working in brick kilns along with their families. The children are not paid separate wages since they are only seen as helping the adults. In this even families are complicit. Khilaigul is an elderly worker in a brick kiln in Deh Sabz. “We give only 10-20 Afs to our children, just to make them happy,” he says indulgently. Nari is a 6-year-old girl. She has been assigned to turn the half-dried bricks. There is red dust on her face, eyelashes and lips. “I am working in the brick kiln along with my father,” she lisps in a dialect. “I earn 10 Afs daily and buy myself something to eat,” she tells IMC. About her daily routine, she says: “When we have breakfast we go to work and in the evening we go home.” In some places, the wage rate for child labour in brick kilns is specified. Arshad is an eight-year-old resident of Deh Sabz. While putting the mud into the brick moulds he told me, “There is poverty … The contractor gives my father the money, and he gives me 100 Afs a day (1.7 USD).” Hajji Arsala, the owner of a brick kiln, says the production work is contracted out to a family. It is the responsibility of the family elder to assign work. They are responsible for hiring child labour, he adds. “We don’t hire the children (in brick kilns). When the elders give them work we cannot interfere,” the brick owner very cleverly passes on the buck. He claims that if owners were to prevent children from working, the families would abandon their work.
In Kabul
The UN’s children’s agency UNICEF has calculated that 37,000 children are working on the streets of Kabul. They may be washing vehicles, in workshops, selling plastic bags, transporting goods in wheelbarrows, and many other jobs. They could be as young as seven years, and working 17-hour days. Seven-year-old Husain is selling plastic bags outside Cinema Pamir in Kabul. He says he is in grade two. He talks easily about himself. “I earn 30 Afs or more daily. We are five people in the family. We don’t have money, so I have to work. We live in a rented house.” Hamidullah is 17. He unloads trucks bringing in fruit and other things into Kabul during the day. At night he is an apprentice cook at the Hotel Hamsafar. He finishes work at 1 am. Hamidullah says he earns between 100-150 Afs at the fruit market, and at the hotel he is paid 3,000 Afs per month. He gets to eat what guests leave. There is no tradition of carrying away food if you have over ordered. Sometimes when work at the truck stop is slow, Hamidullah says he sells bananas. He has to work because his father is old and ill, he adds. His 20-year-old elder brother works in the fruit market. Together they support a family of 17 members.
Child workers are exposed to all kinds of risks whether they are working in the mines or on the streets of Kabul. Ewaz Ali, foreman in Gawmargi coalmine, says there are no safety mechanisms in the mines. There can be roof collapses. Workers suffer from chronic chest-related problems because of the dust. Qahraman is a mine contractor in Gawmargi. He admits workers are not protected. “The roof (of the mine) could collapse anytime. There are cases when lives have been lost, even of children. My brother was seriously injured 17 years ago. He is at home, paralysed, unable to move. Many people, old men, children, young, have suffered injuries.” On September 14 this year a coal mine in Samangan collapsed. Twenty-seven workers were killed, and 30 were injured in the accident in the Abkhorak area of Royi Du Ab district. Ahmad is 48 years old. He says he worked in the salt mines for eight years, and now he has hired labour to work for him. “The work in mines is very dangerous. Two children were caught by the salt (sucked into a pit) and died. Children (in the area) do not go to school; they carry loads. They are at risk every moment because accidents could take place any minute,” he says. Ahmad could not say when the accident involving the two children happened. Their bodies were never retrieved, he added. The government should give compensation, and improve safety standards particularly for children working in mines, he pleads. Ministry of Mines spokesperson Mohammad Sediqi admitted the laws on safety in mining were inadequate. The ministry has drafted a new mining law, which was approved by the ministers' council on May 26, 2013, and sent to the National Assembly. According to Sediqi, chapter 13 of the new law includes issues such as workers’ safety. Workers must be provided helmets, and other safety gear, for instance. Dr Reza Nazari of the Mazar-e-Sharif Regional Hospital says she knows of a child worker who fell into a salt well when he was trying to come out after he had finished work. The child was brought to the hospital but unfortunately did not survive. Dr Sayed Asadullah Sadat, the head of Polyclinic, Kabul Child Health Hospital, says it is hard to estimate the numbers but children are brought to the hospital with injuries that could only be as a result of dangerous work like mining. Akram Bek, 16, who works in the salt mine of Taqcha Khana, has asthma. “I am ill. My lungs hurt, I have asthma. The clinic here is not well equipped, and I can’t go to the city for treatment.” Dr Sadat says child workers in the mines are worst affected. “It is dangerous work for children,” he is categorical.
Many of the children IMC spoke to have never been to school because they are too poor. According to letter number 405 dated June 1, 2013 from the education department, Namak Ab, Takhar province, to the security commandant 105 students have not been attending the Kabir Shaheed middle school. The education department has urged the security commandant to take action. Nasrullah, commander of the police unit, who investigated found that 80 of the children are working in Taqcha Khana salt mine. He says, “We summoned 80 of them along with their fathers to security commandment. The fathers said that if our children don’t work and go to school, what would we eat? Their work is the only source of income for us.” The commander said the children were forcibly sent to school. “But it did not last. They again started working in the mine. We could do no more.” Nasim is a 15-year-old worker in the coalmine of Gawmargi. “I have to work. We are five people in the family, my father has died,” he is clearly desperate. Sajad Agha, 13, an apprentice in a motor workshop in the Parwan-e-Se of Kabul, says he dropped out of school last year because of financial problems at home. He is lucky: his “master” pays him a stipend of 300 Afs daily even as he teaches him the work.
Double burden
Matiaullah, 13, is in grade six at Guzragah school. He works as an apprentice metal worker all morning and goes to school after lunch. Fariba Haidari, a teacher at his school, says there are at least 60 children, in class 4 to 7, who work, selling plastic bags or washing cars. A majority of the children are orphans, who have no support at home, and are unable to cope with schoolwork. “When you ask them questions, they cry, and say they are working after school in the bazaar,” she laments.

An Iran Nuclear Agreement Could Help Afghanistan and South Asia

Barbara Slavin
More is riding on negotiations in Geneva than just the world’s desire to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons. An agreement between Iran, the United States and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany could substantially improve the atmosphere for Iranian cooperation on regional issues, especially the upcoming major U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to experts who spoke Friday at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. Iran has played a key role in the affairs of its eastern neighbor for centuries, going back to the days when western Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire. A decade ago, Iran worked with the United States to overturn the Taliban, but more recently it has assisted some anti-American Taliban commanders to hedge against the possibility of a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran over its nuclear program. Defusing the nuclear crisis would diminish Iran’s incentives to continue such hedging behavior, says Barnett Rubin, an Afghan specialist who directs the Center on International Cooperation of New York University and recently left a position as senior adviser to the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. State Department. “If there is significant progress on the nuclear file, it will create space for talks on Afghanistan,” Rubin said Friday. The U.S. and Iran have “many common interests” in Afghanistan but the Iranians want to be sure that any residual U.S. military presence after 2014 is not a threat to them, he added. The Obama administration could also improve the outlook for Afghan stability by working with Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to resolve regional sources of instability, including scarce and poorly managed water resources, energy shortages, ethnic insurgencies and drug trafficking. According a new report released Friday by the Atlantic Council written by Fatemeh Aman and this reporter, one of the key issues dividing Iran and Afghanistan is disagreement over the Helmand River. A 1973 agreement to share the water – which irrigates Afghanistan’s Kandahar, Helmand, and Nimruz provinces and Iran’s province of Sistan-Baluchistan – was never ratified or fully implemented. The Afghan government has at times cut off Iranian access to the water by closing the sluices to the Kajaki dam, while climate change has exacerbated prolonged droughts that threatens the residents of Sistan-Baluchistan and the Hamoun basin, a major haven for wildlife on the Iran-Afghanistan border. Iranians charge that Afghanistan uses water that should flow to them to irrigate poppy crops while Afghan authorities accuse Iranians of digging illegal wells near the Iran-Afghan border. Two U.S. researchers, Laura Jean Palmer-Moloney and Kea U. Duckenfield, recommend setting up a commission to manage water issues to include Iran and Afghanistan plus representatives of U.S., European, and U.N. development agencies. The commission would help Afghanistan better measure annual water flows from the Helmand and use its portion of the water more sustainably. They write in a new paper also cited by the Atlantic Council that “competent handling of water concerns in the Sistan Basin could encourage closer cooperation with Iran on stability and development in Afghanistan and potentially create a framework for U.S. cooperation with Iran.” The United States could contribute to regional stability by changing its views on two other issues: the use of Iran’s Chabahar port and the fate of the so-called “peace pipeline” meant to provide Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan and eventually to India as well. U.S. sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program have inhibited wider use of Chabahar as a conduit for trade to and from Afghanistan, Central Asia and India. Meanwhile, Pakistan has cited U.S. sanctions as a reason not to complete its portion of the peace pipeline. Instead, the U.S. has backed the so-called TAPI pipeline to send Turkmen gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. That project is even farther from completion. Aman, a specialist on Iran and South Asia, said that the pipeline still makes sense for Iran and Pakistan despite recent threats by leaders in both countries to cancel the project. “The Pakistanis are waiting to see how it goes with the nuclear negotiations,” she said. Should the nuclear talks go well, the Obama administration could give Pakistan a green light to construct its section of the pipeline and even provide financial assistance. Such a change in U.S. policy would benefit Iran and improve U.S. relations with Pakistan, recently strained again by a drone attack that killed the head of the Pakistani Taliban. The U.S., Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan also have a mutual interest in curbing the drug trade, which supports organized crime and extremist groups including ethnic insurgents who menace all three countries. Here the water issue comes in again as, Aman noted, better management of the Helmand River would make it easier for Afghan farmers to diversify away from poppy, which grows well even in drought conditions. According to Rubin, the historic U.S. animus toward Iran and vice-versa has skewed policy toward Afghanistan and South Asia to the detriment of the region. Because of its close ties with numerous Afghan political actors, Iran will be heavily involved in next year’s Afghan elections and the formation of a new post-Hamid Karzai government, Rubin said. “If the U.S. and Iran are not speaking, it will be harder,” he said. If relations improve, Iran “can play a positive role” in shoring up stability in a country in which the United States has poured immense blood and treasure over the past 12 years.

New Pentagon report paints mixed picture of Afghanistan security

By David S. Cloud
As the United States withdraws combat forces from Afghanistan, Afghan police and army units are suffering a sharply higher casualty rate and in some cases, have negotiated local non-aggression pacts with insurgents to avoid coming under attack, according to a new Pentagon report. Afghan Army and police casualties have soared by 79% this year, while casualties from the international coalition have fallen by 59%, according to the congressionally mandated report, which covers developments in Afghanistan from April to September. The casualty shift has emerged as Afghan troops have taken the lead in combat operations. U.S. forces, other than special operations units, in most cases no longer join combat missions as the clock ticks down toward a full pullout by the end of next year. About 39,000 U.S. troops are now in the country. The Pentagon report paints a mixed picture of Afghan security after 12 years of war. It warns that the Afghan police and armed forces could be overwhelmed by Islamist insurgents unless Washington and its allies provide financial support and training after their troops leave. Afghan forces “will be at high risk” without foreign aid and military assistance, including advisers, the report concludes. With such assistance, it adds, they “will remain on a path toward an enduring ability to overmatch the Taliban.” The White House has been trying since last year to negotiate an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for some U.S. troops to remain after 2014. The top commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, has privately pushed the Obama administration to keep as many as 12,000 troops there after 2014 and has drafted plans to bring the numbers down gradually in later years, officials familiar with his thinking say. But White House officials are divided on how many troops should remain. Some advisers have argued that none should stay, while others have advocated for keeping 6,000 to 9,000, which the Pentagon says is the minimum force necessary for training, force protection and limited special operations raids. In what appeared to be an argument to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the report warns that Al Qaeda “maintains a limited presence” in mountains near the Pakistani border. The Pentagon long has downplayed the terrorist network’s presence in Afghanistan. Although only a few dozen Al Qaeda operatives are believed involved, “their presence continues to demonstrate their intent to maintain the region as an alternate safe haven to their sanctuaries in Pakistan,” the report says. In a sign that security has worsened since the pullout began, the report says some Afghan military units are negotiating deals with local insurgent commanders not to attack one another. The deals are “localized, often personality-driven, and largely influenced by tribal dynamics,” the report says. Most have occurred in southern Afghanistan, particularly in northern Helmand Province, a longtime Taliban stronghold that U.S. Marines turned over to Afghan troops in the last year. In some areas, the report adds, the arrangements stem from fears by Afghan forces “of being isolated and overwhelmed by what they perceive as a superior insurgent force.” The insurgency remains potent outside major cities, but the report concludes the Taliban has failed so far to capitalize militarily on the U.S. pullback. The Taliban continues to battle for control in some sparsely populated areas, particularly in the south and east. But Afghan troops “have proven to be a resilient and capable force, and have largely been able to defend against direct insurgent attacks,” the report said.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office, acting as ISI media cell, hides the common identity of Deobandi terrorists
Pakistan’s Foreign Office (FO) in Islamabad and its envoys in the UK, EU, United States, Australia and Canada are deliberately obfuscating the extremism debate with regards to Pakistan.
Pakistan Foreign Office acts as nothing more than the apparatchiks of Pakistan’s spy agency, ISI. Their entire function is to muddy and confuse the common identity of Deobandi terrorists operating as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat Deobandi (ASWJ-D), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jundullah and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). It may be noted that all of these groups are 100 per cent Deobandi militant outfits; not a single Sunni Barelvi (Sufi), Shia or Ahmadi is a part of these groups. Since 1980s, these Deobandi terrorist groups have killed thousands of Sunni Barelvis (Sufis), Shias and hundreds of Ahmadis, Christians and Hindus due to their faith and sect. Dr. Murtaza Haider provides a statistical breakdown of terrorist activities in Pakistan confirming that Deobandis are a key source of terrorism in Pakistan: Unfortunately, since the days of Afghan Jihad (1970s-80s), Pakistan army has been using these Deobandi militants to promote its strategic interests in Afghanistan and India (including in Indian-administered Kashmir). Therefore, Pakistani State has silently ignored the incessant acts of violence by their strategic assets, ie, Deobandi terrorists against non-Deobandi communities of Pakistan. It is a fact that almost all Deobandi clerics of Pakistan including Taqi Usmani, Rafi Usmani, Ahmed Ludhyanvi, Fazl-ur-Rehman, Sami-ul-Haq and Munawar Hasan have been vocal supporter of Taliban (TTP) and have never explicity condemned ASWJ-LeJ and TTP terrorists. In contrast, scores of Sunni Barelvi, Ahmadi and Shia clerics have explicitly spoken against Deobandi terrorists of ASWJ-LeJ and TTP. Until the world community does not identify the specific groups -TTP, ASWJ, JeM, Jundullah – and their common shared ideology – (Deobandi fascism) – we are no where near a solution. It is a fact that Deobandi mosques and madrassahs in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, UK, USA and Australia are heavily funded by the Saudi Wahhabi Kingdom, and act as useful proxies and mercenaries of the global Wahhabi Salafi agenda.
It is now becoming clear that the ruling establishments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are doing their best to divert attention away from their patronage and sponsorship of Takfiri Deobandi terror groups in Pakistan. Common tactics are to misrepresent the Deobandi terrorism against Shias as “Sunni-Shia” sectarian violence or “Saudi-Iran” proxy war. Such misrepresentation hides the fact that Deobandi terrorists of ASWJ-LeJ-TTP have killed thousands of Sunni Sufi Barelvis and Ahmadis in addition to 21,000 Shia Muslims. Another tactic is to use vague, misleading and general terms like “Islamists”, “extremists”, “Sunni radicals”. Yet another tactic is to define the ongoing Shia Genocide in ethnic terms (confining it to Hazara Shias only, and obscure the faith identity and reason for the ongoing Shia Genocide. Here are some written and video examples of the explicit genocidal intentions against Shias:

Terrorist: Baitullah targeted on Pakistan’s request: Husain Haqqani

Although publicly Pakistan condemns drone strikes, privately it has often asked the United States to use the weapons to eliminate Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders, says Islamabad’s former ambassador in the US capital, Husain Haqqani. Baitullah Mehsud, former TTP chief who was killed in a drone strike in 2009, was among those targeted following such requests, he says. In his latest book “Magnificent Delusions,” Mr Haqqani also claims that in 2009 US President Barack Obama secretly offered to nudge India towards negotiations on Kashmir if Pakistan stopped supporting Lashkar-i-Taiba and the Afghan Taliban. Mr Haqqani describes General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as “personally always agreeable to civilians” but claims that the Pakistan army “still remained a long way from accepting the right of civilians to debate, let alone define, national interest.” The 350-page book provides an informed definition of Pakistan’s relations with the United States since the very beginning but fails to give much information about events that happened during Mr Haqqani’s tenure as ambassador, such as the US raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Raymond Davis affair and the so-called Memogate scandal. While talking about America’s drone policy, Mr Haqqani recalls that in the summer of 2008, then chairman US Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, travelled to Pakistan to demand action against several specific groups, including the Haqqani network. In one of the meetings, “the Pakistan army put in its own request for US drones to target Baitullah Mehsud, whose Pakistan Taliban group threatened the Pakistani military directly.” Following the request, “US officials added Pakistani Taliban to their list of targets … and a hellfire missile fired from an American Predator subsequently killed Mehsud.” The memogate affair In a brief description of the so-called Memogate scandal, Mr Haqqani does not name Mansoor Ejaz who wrote an op-ed article in The Financial Times on October 10, 2011 that led to the controversy. Mr Ejaz wrote that Ambassador Haqqani had asked him to deliver a memo to Admiral Mullen, seeking US help in thwarting a military coup against then president Asif Ali Zardari. Mr Haqqani writes that to prove his “fidelity to Pakistan,” he returned to Islamabad and resigned from his position as ambassador. Several months after he was allowed to leave Pakistan, a commission of inquiry set up to probe the affair alleged that “I had acted against Pakistan’s interests and had authorised the memo. Pakistani hard-liners claimed I was an American agent of influence, with access in Washington’s power corridors,” Mr Haqqani writes. Refuting allegations that he had insider contacts in the US, Mr Haqqani adds, “Were that true, there would have been no reason for me to seek help — certainly not from a disreputable businessman — to deliver a message to the US government.” The former ambassador fears that the commission’s report “could lead to charges of treason, a conviction that carries the death penalty.” Obama’s Kashmir offer Mr Haqqani says that since the 1950s Pakistan had wanted an American role in South Asia but was not prepared for it when Mr Obama offered to play a role in resolving the Kashmir dispute. “At least now the American president was saying that he would nudge the Indians toward those negotiations," says the former Pakistani ambassador while writing about a secret letter President Obama sent to then president Zardari, hand delivered by his then National Security Advisor Gen (retd) James Jones. Mr Haqqani writes that in November 2009, Mr Jones travelled to Islamabad to hand deliver a letter written by Obama to Zardari. In this November 11, 2009 letter, Mr Obama offered Pakistan to become America's "long-term strategic" partner. The letter "even hinted at addressing Pakistan's oft-stated desire for a settlement of the Kashmir dispute", he writes. "President Obama wrote that the United States would tell countries of the region that 'the old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable'. He acknowledged that some countries — a reference to India — had used 'unresolved disputes to leave open bilateral wounds for years or decades. They must find ways to come together'," Mr Haqqani writes. "But in an allusion to Pakistan, he (Mr Obama) said, 'Some countries have turned to proxy groups to do their fighting instead of choosing a path of peace and security. The tolerance or support of such proxies cannot continue'”. Mr Obama wrote that he was “committed to working with your government to ensure the security of the Pakistani state and to address threats to your security in a constructive way”. Mr Obama also “asked for cooperation in defeating Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban and the assorted other militant groups that threaten security”. The American president then wrote of his 'vision for South Asia', which involved 'new patterns of cooperation between and among India, Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter those who seek to create permanent tension and conflict on the subcontinent'," Mr Haqqani says.

Deadly attacks on two Imam barghas in Gujranwala spark protest

The Express Tribune News
Protests broke out in Gujranwala after the death of three people in separate incidents of firing at Imam barghas in Gujranwala, Express News reported on Saturday. In one of the incidents the Imam of the Imam bargha in Shahrukh Colony was killed. Two worshippers were killed in a separate firing incident the same morning at an Imam bargha in the Mominpur area. Unidentified men entered the Imam Barghas on motorcycles and started firing, resulting in the casualties. Enraged relatives of the victims protested by placing the dead bodies on the streets. These incidents occurred on the fourth of Muharram, a few days after the Punjab government had imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Penal Code (CrPC) for one month, starting from the first of Muharram. Security Measures The Punjab government on November 5 had imposed Section 144 CrPC. According to the home department, the home secretary had imposed section 144 CrPC to maintain law and order during Muharram throughout the province. The government banned brandishing of firearms, distribution of hate material, wall chalking and propagated speeches during the month of Muharram. Any violator of the restriction will be booked under relevant laws. The law enforcing agencies were also directed to observe strict imposition of Section 144. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, while chairing a high level meeting on November 5, had directed authorities to take all necessary measures for ensuring religious harmony during Muharram.

Pakistan NA: Opposition boycotts session over PM's absence

Opposition members in the National Assembly (NA) staged a walk out from the House in protest against the absence of the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during the session on Friday - ARY News reports. According to details, the session of the Assembly was presided by Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, during which the opposition members walked out from the House after Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, failed to appear in the Assembly meeting and against the attitude of the Federal Government.Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah, leader of Opposition in National Assembly, stated that the PM has appeared in the assembly only twice during the period of four months at which Javed Abbasi, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, replied that the PM will take part in the NA session on Monday. Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Member of National Assembly, claimed that the Federal Government has no interest in the proceedings of the House and the peace talks with Taliban were just a story for it. Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, on the occasion stated that Opposition is not playing its due role in the Parliament. He added that the nation is suffering from inflation but no one is worried about this. Opposition parties in NA claimed that the walk out will continue until the PM takes the Opposition into confidence on the issues. Later, the session of the assembly was postponed till 4pm on Monday.