Monday, December 9, 2013

9/11 Link To Saudi Arabia Is Topic Of 28 Redacted Pages In Government Report; Congressmen Push For Release

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims’ loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers – 15 of them Saudi nationals – and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue.
But earlier this year, Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack. "I was absolutely shocked by what I read," Jones told International Business Times. "What was so surprising was that those whom we thought we could trust really disappointed me. I cannot go into it any more than that. I had to sign an oath that what I read had to remain confidential. But the information I read disappointed me greatly."
The public may soon also get to see these secret documents. Last week, Jones and Lynch introduced a resolution that urges President Obama to declassify the 28 pages, which were originally classified by President George W. Bush. It has never been fully explained why the pages were blacked out, but President Bush stated in 2003 that releasing the pages would violate national security.
While neither Jones nor Lynch would say just what is in the document, some of the information has leaked out over the years. A multitude of sources tell IBTimes, and numerous press reports over the years in Newsweek, the New York Times, CBS News and other media confirm, that the 28 pages in fact clearly portray that the Saudi government had at the very least an indirect role in supporting the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attack. In addition, these classified pages clarify somewhat the links between the hijackers and at least one Saudi government worker living in San Diego.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who chaired the Joint Inquiry in 2002 and has been beating the drum for more disclosure about 9/11 since then, has never understood why the 28 pages were redacted. Graham told IBTimes that based on his involvement in the investigation and on the now-classified information in the document that his committee produced, he is convinced that “the Saudi government without question was supporting the hijackers who lived in San Diego…. You can't have 19 people living in the United States for, in some cases, almost two years, taking flight lessons and other preparations, without someone paying for it. But I think it goes much broader than that. The agencies from CIA and FBI have suppressed that information so American people don't have the facts."
Jones insists that releasing the 28 secret pages would not violate national security.
“It does not deal with national security per se; it is more about relationships,” he said. “The information is critical to our foreign policy moving forward and should thus be available to the American people. If the 9/11 hijackers had outside help – particularly from one or more foreign governments – the press and the public have a right to know what our government has or has not done to bring justice to the perpetrators."
It took Jones six weeks and several letters to the House Intelligence Committee before the classified pages from the 9/11 report were made available to him. Jones was so stunned by what he saw that he approached Rep. Lynch, asking him to look at the 28 pages as well. He knew that Lynch would be astonished by the contents of the documents and perhaps would join in a bipartisan effort to declassify the papers. "
He came back to me about a week ago and told me that he, too, was very shocked by what he read,” Jones said. “I told him we need to join together and put in a resolution and get more members on both sides of the aisle involved and demand that the White House release this information to the public. The American people have a right to know this information."
A decade ago, 46 senators, led by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded in a letter to President Bush that he declassify the 28 pages. The letter read, in part, "It has been widely reported in the press that the foreign sources referred to in this portion of the Joint Inquiry analysis reside primarily in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the decision to classify this information sends the wrong message to the American people about our nation's antiterror effort and makes it seem as if there will be no penalty for foreign abettors of the hijackers. Protecting the Saudi regime by eliminating any public penalty for the support given to terrorists from within its borders would be a mistake.... We respectfully urge you to declassify the 28-page section that deals with foreign sources of support for the 9/11 hijackers." All of the senators who signed that letter but one, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), were Democrats. Lynch, who won the Democratic primary for his congressional seat on that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001, told IBTimes that he and Jones are in the process of writing a “Dear Colleague” letter calling on all House members to read the 28 pages and join their effort. "Once a member reads the 28 pages, I think whether they are Democrat or Republican they will reach the same conclusion that Walter and I reached, which is that Americans have the right to know this information," Lynch said. “These documents speak for themselves. We have a situation where an extensive investigation was conducted, but then the Bush [administration] decided for whatever purposes to excise 28 pages from the report. I'm not passing judgment. That was a different time. Maybe there were legitimate reasons to keep this classified. But that time has long passed.” Most of the allegations of links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers revolve around two enigmatic Saudi men who lived in San Diego: Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, both of whom have long since left the United States. In early 2000, al-Bayoumi, who had previously worked for the Saudi government in civil aviation (a part of the Saudi defense department), invited two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to San Diego from Los Angeles. He told authorities he met the two men by chance when he sat next to them at a restaurant. Newsweek reported in 2002 that al-Bayoumi’s invitation was extended on the same day that he visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles for a private meeting. Al-Bayoumi arranged for the two future hijackers to live in an apartment and paid $1,500 to cover their first two months of rent. Al-Bayoumi was briefly interviewed in Britain but was never brought back to the United States for questioning. As for Basnan, Newsweek reported that he received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal. Although the checks were sent to pay for thyroid surgery for Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, Dweikat signed many of the checks over to al-Bayoumi’s wife, Manal Bajadr. This money allegedly made its way into the hands of hijackers, according to the 9/11 report. Despite all this, Basnan was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan. Sources and numerous press reports also suggest that the 28 pages include more information about Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI asset in San Diego who Newsweek reported was friends with al-Bayoumi and invited two of the San Diego-based hijackers to live in his house. Shaikh was not allowed by the FBI or the Bush administration to testify before the 9/11 Commission or the JICI. Graham notes that there was a significant 9/11 investigation in Sarasota, Fla., which also suggests a connection between the hijackers and the Saudi government that most Americans don’t know about. The investigation, which occurred in 2002, focused on Saudi millionaire Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, whose upscale home was owned by Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an adviser to Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the nephew of Saudi King Fahd. The al-Hijji family reportedly moved out of their Sarasota house and left the country abruptly in the weeks before 9/11, leaving behind three luxury cars and personal belongings including clothing, furniture and fresh food. They also left the swimming-pool water circulating.
Numerous news reports in Florida have said that the gated community’s visitor logs and photos of license tags showed that vehicles driven by several of the future 9/11 hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home.
Graham said that like the 28 pages in the 9/11 inquiry, the Sarasota case is being “covered up” by U.S. intelligence. Graham has been fighting to get the FBI to release the details of this investigation with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation. But so far the bureau has stalled and stonewalled, he said. Lynch said he didn’t know how the Obama administration would respond to the congressional resolution urging declassification, if it passes the House and Senate.
“But if we raise the issue, and get enough members to read it, we think we can get the current administration to revisit this issue. I am very optimistic,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my Democratic members already, and there has been receptivity there. They have agreed to look at it.”
Obama administration officials declined to comment on the congressional resolution or on the classification of these documents.
The 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism (JASTA), an activist group comprised of the attack victims, has been calling for the declassification of the 28 pages for more than a decade. The group plans to contact Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this week to urge her to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate.
Sharon Premoli, a 9/11 survivor who was on the North Tower's 80th floor when the plane hit and is a JASTA member, says Jones and Lynch “share our objectives of seeking the truth behind 9/11 and bringing to justice those who bankrolled the attacks.”
Premoli said it was a “miracle” that she survived 9/11. “I found myself buried under dust and on top of a dead body,” she said. “It makes me angry that I still don’t know what happened or who was supporting these hijackers. The veil of secrecy must be lifted for the families, the survivors and for the American people.

Iran, From Enemy to Ally

THE recent nuclear deal with Iran has caused a predictable furor among Middle East hawks. But it offers an opportunity for a much bigger breakthrough: rapprochement and, eventually, even strategic cooperation with Iran. International alliances morph and shift; relationships freeze and unfreeze. For the last 30 years American-Iranian relations have been stuck in a cycle of suspicion and mistrust, to the detriment of both countries. America must now begin to think about a gradual realignment of its Middle East policy, one that aims to reintegrate Iran into the international fold and, over time, transform an enemy into an ally.
It won’t be easy. But, in the long term, it would be good for the United States, Israel and the Iranian people.
There are many benefits. Iran, which sits between the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf, can check Chinese access to critical energy sources, while acting as a buffer against an ever-truculent Russia. It also affects events in Lebanon, through its ties with Hezbollah, and in Israel and the Palestinian territories, through its ties with Hamas. And there won’t be a solution to Syria’s civil war without it.
Iran currently opposes the United States in all those conflicts — largely because of historical enmity with Washington rather than ideological hostility alone. It uses Hezbollah to further its regional interests and rails against Israel to garner popular Arab support, not from a genuine commitment to the cause. And while its support for President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is more sincere, Iran’s past behavior suggests it might be willing to compromise. In 2003, fearing American military action, Iran reached out, via the Swiss, to American officials. It offered to put everything — including its support for Hamas and Hezbollah — up for discussion. Controversy surrounds the offer, which Washington eventually turned down. But it showed Iran was willing to use its support for militants as a bargaining chip. And the United States and Iran have several overlapping interests. Bound by mutual antipathy toward the Taliban, the two countries cooperated in the 2001 war in Afghanistan. Today, both oppose Al Qaeda; Iran can help with intelligence and regional knowledge in that fight.
Iran would clearly benefit from warmer relations. From its 1980-88 war with Iraq to today’s sanctions, it has suffered. The country needs investment in its oil and financial sectors and foreign expertise to develop its economy, but those are impossible without fixing its relationship with the United States. It’s easy to forget that the two nations were once allies. In the 1970s Iran and Saudi Arabia formed Richard M. Nixon’s “twin pillar” strategy to counter Soviet influence in the region. Part of America’s unpopularity in Iran comes from its support of the hated shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, before he was overthrown in the 1979 revolution. But a realignment today, based on a new convergence of interests, would be a very different proposition.
Becoming a partner of sorts with a member of “the axis of evil” would be extraordinarily hard for America. For a start, the Saudis would be horrified. But Saudi Arabia’s opposition doesn’t really matter as much these days. The United States built its ties with the Saudis on a need for oil that no longer exists to the same degree; the relationship is artificial and anachronistic. New fracking technologies have made America the biggest producer of hydrocarbons and non-OPEC exports in the world, while Canadian, South America and African sources are becoming increasingly plentiful. The Saudis still influence oil markets but they can no longer shock the global economy as they did with the 1973 oil embargo. Unlike Iran, Saudi Arabia has little to offer besides oil; it doesn’t have a democratic tradition and its financing of Wahhabi Islam has seriously damaged American interests across the world.
Israel, like Saudi Arabia, fiercely objects to the nuclear deal. But that’s shortsighted. Détente between Iran and America could be good for Israel in the long run. Both the Jewish state and the Persian Shiite state are outsiders in a predominantly Sunni Arab Middle East. They were allies before 1979. And though Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas, its army has never taken part in the many Arab wars against Israel.
Even after the overthrow of the shah and the subsequent hostage crisis, Israel lobbied hard for the new Islamic Republic in Washington. Seeking to retain Iran’s friendship amid a sea of hostile Arab states, Israel even helped Iran in its war against Iraq. No matter how many peace treaties are signed with Arab leaders, only Iran has proved it can work with Israel. Moreover, Iran cannot be contained forever; it is far better for the two countries to come to terms based on shared interests.
Iran is still a human rights violator and a sponsor of terrorism. But 30 years of sanctions and silence haven’t tempered its behavior. Conversely, engagement strengthens Iran’s moderates. One of Hassan Rouhani’s first acts as president was to release political prisoners. He has hinted that more concessions could follow if relations improve.
The Iranian people are the West’s biggest asset. During the Cold War, communist governments remained hostile to the West but their citizens’ yearning for Western freedoms contributed to the downfall of those regimes. Iranians yearn, too. The country has a strong tradition of constitutionalism stretching back more than 100 years and its citizens are sympathetic to American-style democracy and know their lives would be vastly improved through détente with the West. That’s why they voted in large numbers for Mr. Rouhani earlier this year, and for the reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi, four years ago. Détente won’t happen overnight. Much of Iran’s clerical establishment is instinctively anti-American, and the American right remains hostile toward any rapprochement with Iran. But both Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani have proved they can go beyond their respective hard-liners to make a deal. The 21st-century Middle East is a new and dangerous place. To lead the region into a better future, Washington must adapt and leave old enmities behind.

Putin calls Mandela 'great humanist of the 21st century'

President Vladimir Putin said South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela was a "great humanist of the 21st century" and said his policy should become an example to follow.
Putin visited the South African Embassy in Moscow late on Monday, December 9, to sign the book of condolence.
"Courageous and wise, Nelson Mandela always fought consistently for his convictions but remained a great humanist and pacemaker. This approach is needed in today’s world: the search for compromises is the best basis for consensus and cooperation," the president wrote in the book and expressed condolences on behalf of the people of Russia and himself. Having signed the book, Putin bowed his head in front of Mandela’s portrait and offered condolences to South African Ambassador Mandisi Mpahlwa.
Putin stressed that Mandela "is undoubtedly one of the outstanding world figures in the 20th and 21st centuries, and his magnitude compares to that of Mahatma Gandhi and Alexander Solzhenitsyn." In his message of condolences earlier Putin said that Nelson Mandela’s name was inextricably linked with a whole era in Africa’s modern history that ended with the victory over apartheid and the establishment of a democratic Republic of South Africa. The president noted that Mandela traversed great hardships and trials, but remained true to the noble ideals of humanism and justice right to the end. Putin praised Mandela’s efforts to develop friendly relations between Russia and South Africa, which have now reached the strategic partnership level.
The president sent a message of condolences to President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, expressing his sympathy and support for Mandela’s family and friends, and South Africa’s government and entire people. Mandela "was a friend of our people," Putin told Mpahlwa.
The president noted that the Soviet Union "supported most actively African countries’ struggle against racial segregation and for justice and democracy.
Since then a special, very warm and trusting relationship has developed between our people." Mandela’s visit to Russia in 1999 gave a boost to this relationship.
Putin recalled that a declaration of strategic partnership between the two countries had been signed during his visit to South Africa in March 2013. "We will develop our relations with South Africa in this key. South Africa is one of the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa] countries and we are creating all conditions for cooperation," the president said. Mandela died at the age of 95 in his home outside Johannesburg on Thursday, December 5. "He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20h50 on the 5th of December 2013," South African President Jacob Zuma said. "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father."
Zuma paid tribute to Mandela’s "tireless struggle" for freedom that had earned him the respect of the world. "His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude," he said. "They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free."
The president said Mandela would be accorded a state funeral and ordered that all flags of the Republic of South Africa be lowered to half-mast from December 6 and to remain at half-mast until after the funeral. Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mandela was taken to hospital on June 8 with a lung infection, which could be an echo of the tuberculosis he had suffered from during his 27-year imprisonment. He left the hospital on September 1. Mandela made his last public appearance at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and a year later became South Africa’s first black president. He held office until 1999. The official memorial service for Mandela will take place at Johannesburg’s 94,000-seat stadium on December 10.
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​Iran warns nuclear deal falls apart if US approves new sanctions

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the recent nuclear ​deal struck between his nation and world powers would evaporate should the United States Congress impose new economic sanctions on Iran, even those that would take six months to emerge. Time Magazine reported Monday that Zarif said in an interview over the weekend that any new sanctions mean the Nov. 24 interim agreement - which calls for Iran to dial down its nuclear program in exchange for loosened trade barriers over the next six months - goes bust. “The entire deal is dead,” Zarif said in response to possible new sanctions, even those that take time to materialize. A group of US senators is preparing legislation to enact new economic constraints on Iran once the agreement’s six months are up and no new deal is reached. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R) are near a deal to target Iran’s remaining oil exports, foreign exchange reserves and strategic industries, congressional aides told Reuters. The White House opposes the senators’ plan, as it would limit President Barack Obama’s ability to waive sanctions on Iran. It would also revive certain sanctions if Tehran does not follow through with the agreement in Geneva with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - known as the P5+1 group of world powers. Zarif told Time Magazine Iran will hold firm. "We do not like to negotiate under duress," he said. "If Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States. "I know the domestic complications and various issues inside the United States, but for me that is no justification. I have a parliament. My parliament can also adopt various legislation that can go into effect if negotiations fail," he continued. "But if we start doing that, I don't think that we will be getting anywhere." US Secretary of State John Kerry will voice the Obama administration’s opposition to any new sanction agreement during congressional testimony Tuesday on Capitol Hill. "We do feel that putting new sanctions in place during the course of negotiations, even those that are delayed, would be counterproductive, and could unravel the unity of the P5+1," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Reuters "It could certainly put the negotiations that we have all worked so hard on, that we believe is the best chance we've had in a decade to achieve a peaceful outcome, at risk," she included. The deal struck in Geneva allows time for Iran and the P5+1 to come to a final agreement that the US says should limit Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful uses and that Tehran says should lead to a relief of all economic sanctions. The US estimates assets of nearly US$7 billion will be unfrozen over the next six months under the interim agreement, compared to the US$100 billion frozen worldwide. “The six-month agreement, which offers Iran about $7 billion in relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, leaves in place banking and financial measures that have hampered the OPEC member’s crude exports. Sanctions on sales of refined products also remain, while Iran gains access to $4.2 billion in oil revenue frozen in foreign banks,” the White House said after the deal was announced. Sanctions have cost Iran US$120 billion in lost revenue since 2010, when the western powers imposed high hurdles on Iran and countries that engaged in trade with the Gulf state, according to the US Treasury.

"I am Malala" inspires with girl's well-known story
Kerry Pettis
"I am Malala" by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
The story of this remarkable Pakistani teenager has been publicized throughout the world — how she vocally promoted education (especially for girls), how she was shot in the head by a Taliban fighter, received emergency surgeries in England, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and spoke at the United Nations on her 16th birthday. Because all this is so well-known, I will focus on some facts from her story that were surprising or unknown to me.
Malala was born in the beautiful
Swat valley in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border. Throughout the telling of her story the reader learns a lot about her country's history. It is relatively new, founded in 1947, when the British divided the Indian subcontinent. Its history and governance have always been troubled — wars, assassinations (Benazir Bhutto among others), militancy, Islamic fundamentalism, the rise of the Taliban and so on.
Treatment of females has always been oppressive there, so the fact that Malala's father was an advocate for educating girls was unusual. He founded the school she attended. Her mother cannot read or write. Malala has two younger brothers and their teasing, scolding and sibling rivalry humanize her story.
Though current accounts make it seem that Malala rose to prominence after she was shot, both she and her father were actually well-known and sought after as speakers long before. At age 11 she began keeping an audio diary for a BBC affiliate in Peshawar, and her family was filmed for a television feature on the day her father's school was closed. She told the documentary makers: "They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it's at home, school or somewhere else."
After the Taliban closed the Swat valley schools, the family was forced to leave and became IDPs (internally displaced persons). Malala had to abandon her backpack full of treasured books, so she recited verses from the Quran over them for protection. When they returned after three months, their home (and the book bag) were untouched, though the school had been used as a base by the Taliban fighters and was a mess. Malala won several peace prizes, both nationally and internationally. At age 14 she and her father began receiving death threats. They took them lightly, since they didn't believe the Taliban would attack a child. Then an insurgent fighter boarded her school bus and shot Malala point blank, changing the family's life forever. By all accounts it was miraculous that Malala recovered so well. Today she is fully functioning and continues her fight for the education of all young people worldwide.
"I realized that what the Taliban had done was make my campaign global." By attempting to silence her they had given her an even more powerful voice. "I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not."

Rahim Shah New Mix Pashto and Urdu Stage Song

U.S: The Poor Are Squeezed as Rental Housing Demand Soars

WASHINGTON — Violeta Torres cannot afford her apartment.
Ms. Torres, a 54-year-old nanny, pays $828 a month for a rundown one-bedroom that she keeps spotlessly clean, making the rent by letting an acquaintance sleep on a mattress in the living room for about $400 a month. But her one-bedroom happens to be in the booming neighborhood of Columbia Heights, where such an apartment, once renovated, would easily command twice the price. As a result, her landlords have been trying to drive the tenants out of the building, she explained in Spanish. The broken fire alarms go off in the middle of the night. The common areas are filthy, and the apartments have been infested by rats, bedbugs and cockroaches.
And in March, she said, the landlords raised the rent. She has simply ignored the additional $261 a month they have demanded, she said, as have her neighbors, most of them also immigrants from El Salvador.
“I don’t have the money,” Ms. Torres said.
She struggles to stay and cannot afford to leave. She makes about $1,000 a month caring for two toddlers. She sends $250 to her mother, who recently emerged from a diabetic coma and needs insulin. And $100 goes to her mother’s caretaker. After rent, that leaves just $200 or $250 for her.
Today, hundreds of thousands of households are caught in a similar trap, with the collapse of the housing boom helping stoke a severe shortage of affordable rental apartments. Demand for rental units has surged, with credit standards tight and many families unable to scrape together enough for a down payment for buying a home. At the same time, supply has declined, with homebuilders and landlords often targeting the upper end of the market.
“We are in the midst of the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has known,” Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, said at a conference on Monday. And the less income a household has, the harder the sting. “These are the people with the fewest financial resources,” said Sheila Crowley, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a research and advocacy group based in Washington. “These are the people in danger of becoming homeless.”
The problem is national, and particularly acute among the working poor. The number of renters with very low incomes – less than 30 percent of the local median income, or about $19,000 nationally – surged by 3 million to 11.8 million between 2001 and 2011, according to a report released Monday by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard. But the number of affordable rentals available to those households held steady at about 7 million. And by 2011, about 2.6 million of those rentals were occupied by higher-income households.
That has left millions of families living in substandard housing, or housing they cannot afford. The share of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing jumped to 50 percent in 2010 from 38 percent in 2000. For renters with incomes of less than $15,000 a year, 83 percent pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. Many of the worst shortages are in major cities with healthy local economies, like Seattle, San Francisco, New York and Washington. “We’ve seen a huge loss of affordable housing stock,” said Jenny Reed, the policy director at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “We have lost 50 percent of our low-cost units over the past 10 years, and at the same time, the number of high-cost apartments, the ones going for more than $1,500 a month, more than tripled.” The squeeze comes both from supply and demand. Even as the housing market has started to turn around, the number of renting households has continued to climb -- by a million in 2011 alone, the biggest annual increase in three decades. Many Americans have lost their mortgaged homes and chosen to rent. Others were unable to obtain financing for a purchase, because of a loss of income or tighter credit standards. In many markets, investors have rushed to meet the new demand by building new multifamily housing units or by buying up foreclosed homes and renting them out. But that has not translated into a surge of new units available to low-income renters. “Builders always are aiming at that higher end,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist at Trulia. “And eventually, as those new units age, they trickle down to lower-income borrowers.” But not now. With demand surging, inventories are shrinking, vacancy rates are falling and rents are rising at the low end. The long-term federal budget cuts known as sequestration are only adding to the problem, hitting housing programs especially hard. Many local housing authorities, which rely on federal funds, have stopped rolling over vouchers, leaving even more families on waiting lists, to fend for themselves in rental markets where prices keep rising.
“I can’t emphasize enough how draconian these cuts have been on the backs of the poorest folks in the country,” said Sunia Zaterman of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities.
In some cases, the shortage of affordable rentals for the poor has meant an increased number of homeless people and families. That often means churning through housing options, spending a few days with friends, a few weeks with relatives, a few months in short-term rentals. More often, housing advocates said, it means workers living in aging and often substandard housing, like Ms. Torres’ crowded apartment. The Latino Economic Development Center, which is helping Ms. Torres and her neighbors fight the rent increase, said it had heard increased complaints about mold, flooding, delayed maintenance repairs and other issues from low-income rentals. It also means hundreds of thousands of poor Americans are paying far more for housing than they can really afford, squeezing out spending on other priorities. The Harvard study found that many low-income renters cut back most on food and transportation. “If you’re putting 60, 70, 80 percent of a small income into housing, then obviously you have less to spend on everything else you need,” said Ms. Crowley of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “There’s a squeeze on basic necessities. You end up making very hard choices. Am I going to fill a prescription, or do my kids get a birthday cake? Do I give up my car?” To help with her housing costs, Ms. Torres has considered taking on a third roommate, and is eagerly searching for a second job. Washington, like many other cities, has tried to tackle the problems with local government funds and regulations intended to protect low-income renters against eviction or undue rental increases. Recently, Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced a new $100 million campaign to increase affordable housing in the city. Even more ambitiously, Bill de Blasio, the incoming mayor of New York, has put forward a plan to build or preserve about 200,000 affordable units. But housing advocates described such campaigns as too little, too late, given the powerful economic forces at work and the cutbacks at the federal level.
“Are these cities going to be places that poor people can live?” asked Elizabeth Falcon, the campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, a local housing advocacy group.
“I think government investment is the only way that significant numbers of people are going to able to stay,” she said. “And right now we are not seeing government at any level commit enough to help a significant number of people.”

Christmas Forecast 2013: Storm Batters East Coast, Who Will Have a White Xmas?

The East Coast has once again been pummeled with snow, sleet, and freezing rain, leading some meteorologists to speculate that a White Christmas could be in the forecast this year. The Washington Post is reporting that the same storm that pummeled the Midwest last week has made its way to the East Coast, and yesterday, Philadelphia got the brunt of the snowy action. Of course, the rest of the East Coast got into its share of winter not-so-wonderland trouble, and some spots got up to a foot of snow. Other reported issues included power outages, delayed or stopped highways, closing schools, and even a delay in the start times of the Federal government, who allowed their workers to come in up to two hours later than normal. In addition, the storm created its fair share of travel-related delays: more than 2,800 flights were canceled on Sunday, and thousands more were delayed. Sunday's snow fell so heavily in Philadelphia that yard markers at Lincoln Financial Field - where the Eagles beat the Detroit Lions - were completely obscured. It was almost as bad in Pittsburgh, where the snow intensified after the opening kickoff. CNN is also reporting that it's not just the East Coast that's getting its fair share of snowy weather: the high temperature at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport Saturday was 26 degrees -- the coldest high temperature ever recorded there on December 7 and the coldest December day in Dallas/Fort Worth in 23 years. Parts of Texas, the Upper South and the Midwest socked by the winter storm warmed up just a little bit on Sunday. The Weather Service said the temps rose into the high 30s and 40s, but dropped below freezing again Sunday night.

Turkey’s Erdogan on shaky ground as elections loom
Increasingly autocratic leader losing key supporters ahead of municipal vote, damaging his chances of becoming president After dominating Turkish politics for a decade, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is entering election season on uncertain footing — without the support of key groups that had powered his previous electoral wins and facing divisions within his own party.
Erdogan, whom critics accuse of cutting an increasingly autocratic figure, faces municipal elections in March that are largely seen as a vote of confidence in his Islamic-based government. A poor result could weaken Erdogan just as he seeks to shift into the presidency in an August vote while still maintaining enough influence in his party to choose his successor as prime minister in parliamentary elections expected next year.
A big setback could end his long pre-eminence over Turkish politics.
Turkey, a largely Muslim nation that straddles Europe and Asia, is a key US and NATO ally with a flourishing economy and stable democracy. Under Erdogan’s leadership, the country has increasingly been looking East, cultivating new relations in the Middle East and Asia and casting doubts on its long-standing aim of joining the European Union.
Erdogan’s Justice or Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, has dominated parliament for the past decade and retains the support of a core religious and conservative base. It could see its majority shrink in elections as unhappy liberals and former allies look elsewhere, although none of the three opposition parties in parliament is likely to overturn that majority. Erdogan has fallen out with a moderate Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is believed to have millions of followers in Turkey and had backed Erdogan’s party since it was formed in 2001.
The prime minister, who came to power in 2003, has also lost the support of many liberals, who once saw him as a reformist leader edging Turkey closer to EU membership. His international image also suffered a blow following a violent police crackdown on protests in May and June over government plans to build in a central Istanbul park.
Adding to Erdogan’s woes, divisions have even emerged inside the usually tight-knit AKP. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who founded AKP with Erdogan, grumbled on state-run television this month about his treatment by Erdogan and announced he was not running again. Another legislator resigned from the party rather than face ouster for insubordination after he criticized Erdogan on Twitter. “Erdogan had lost the support of a majority of the liberal circles a long while ago, and now we are seeing political Islam breaking away too,” said Cengiz Aktar, a professor of political science with the Istanbul Policy Center. “The local elections will deliver a clear message to the government.” A simmering rift with Gulen’s movement came to a head recently after Erdogan’s government announced plans to close the private “cram schools” that prepare high school students for Turkey’s highly competitive university entrance exam. Erdogan insists the measure is part of the government’s educational reforms. But since about a quarter of the schools are run by the Gulen movement, many see the decision as a way to strip the group of a major source of income and influence. The AKP-Gulen alliance began to crumble after the movement criticized the government’s foreign policy over the past few years, including its deteriorating relations with Israel, as well as Erdogan’s uncompromising stance toward the domestic protests. Analysts say Erdogan has grown weary of the influence of the Gulen movement, whose followers are believed to have a strong foothold within Turkey’s judiciary and police. Gulen supporters are thought to have instigated a series of trials against the country’s military leaders that helped end the generals’ hold on power.
Gulen’s movement is a spiritual one and it is not expected to run its own candidates in the elections. However, many of its followers are likely to shift away from the AKP.
“The movement does not tell (followers) who to vote for,” said Mustafa Yesil, who heads the Gulen-funded Writers and Journalists’ Association. “But we could witness an emotional break (away from the AKP).” Istanbul will be a major test for the ruling AKP in the March local election. The pro-secular, main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, appears to have a strong mayoral candidate for Turkey’s largest city. If AKP were to lose Istanbul, it could erode Erdogan’s political standing as he faces the presidential election. Internal party rules bar him from a fourth term as prime minister.

Four US Presidents to Attend Mandela Memorial

South Africa is preparing to host scores of world leaders who are planning to attend Tuesday's memorial service for Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who died last week at the age of 95.
U.S. President Barack Obama, along with former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are making the trek to Johannesburg where the service will be held in the Soccer City stadium, the site of the 2010 World Cup. George H.W. Bush is the only living former U.S. president who will not attend the event. His spokesman said the 89-year-old Mr. Bush is no longer able to travel long distances.
South Africa's foreign minister says there has been "unprecedented interest" from world leaders who want to attend the event, which will be held under heavy security. British Prime Minister David Cameron, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Cuban President Raul Castro and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are among others also expected to attend the service for Mr. Mandela, who emerged from 27 years in prison to become South Africa's first black president.
American talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Irish singer-activist Bono, as well as British billionaire Richard Branson are also expected to attend.
The global leaders and celebrities will join tens of thousands of mourners at the stadium. Mr. Mandela's remains will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria - the official seat of the South African government - on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The memorials and events will culminate in Mr. Mandela's burial on December 15 in his boyhood home of Qunu.

Pakistan: Unfair remarks: PM’s grouse

THE prime minister is upset that the media has not treated his government fairly or justly in its coverage of the government’s performance so far and he specifically complained over the weekend that the great vegetable price inflation was highlighted far more than the recent downward trend in prices. Governments complaining about the role of the media in undermining them and treating them unfairly and unjustly is as old a complaint as the media itself. In reality, it is often the media that has been treated unjustly, unfairly and worse by governments throughout history, and that history certainly includes PML-N governments. To be sure, there are sections of the media here that often project themselves as participants in, instead of observers of, the political and governance process, but even that is not something a vibrant and thriving democracy cannot absorb.
The problem with the PML-N government, which has led to growing, though far from historically fierce, criticism of its performance, is twofold: it does not appear to have a coherent plan nor does it appear to know how to communicate well the plans it does have. Have a look at the economic front. The management of the economy is nearing shambolic and yet the chief stewards of the economy appear unwilling to factor in reality in their public assessments, as detailed further down in these columns today. On other fronts, even when the prime minister does act and makes some reasonable choices in appointing officials, controversy follows. For example, if a foreign secretary was chosen and his name all but officially announced, why embarrass all concerned, including the prime minister, by a last-minute change? These instances are only a tiny sample of the political paralysis and indecision that seems to have afflicted the PML-N government.
What is troubling about the prime minister’s comments is that he has chosen to criticise the media at precisely the moment the country is looking to him to get on with the business of governance and policy now that a new army chief has been installed and a new chief justice of the Supreme Court will be sworn in this week. Is the prime minister once again simply looking for scapegoats?
It surely cannot bode well for the prospects of an improvement on the governance front.

Pakistan: Sectarian war spreading

Since Friday, the air has hung heavy with the stench of sectarian ire in Lahore and across the country. The provincial president of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Maulana Shamsur Rehman Muaviya, was gunned down by unidentified gunmen in what can only be called a targeted killing, the latest in a horrifying series of sectarian attacks since the incident that occurred in Rawalpindi on the 10th of Muharram. Just last Tuesday, prominent Shia community leader Allama Deedar Ali Jalbani was assassinated in Karachi, leading to a 1,200 strong Shia protest in the city. Now we have the murder of the ASWJ Punjab president, and who is to say what will come next?
Since the tragedy that occurred in Rawalpindi, we are seeing a pattern emerge of tit-for-tat killings, with Shias and Sunnis both being targeted in equal measure. We are now seeing Shias take up arms and resort to violence, which, while in no way condonable, is sadly understandable — decades of being abandoned by the state and its law enforcement agencies has seen this community pushed against the wall with no other choice but to fight back. Anti-Shia extremist organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have been conducting a slow genocide against the Shias in this country for years now, thinking and preaching that the Shia minority in the country resides outside the fold of Islam and, as such, should be extinguished. It should be noted that the ASWJ is the new face of the SSP. The SSP is a banned organisation and so has reinvented itself as the ASWJ to continue with its dastardly mission under a different guise. And herein lies the problem. Sectarian bloodshed is alive and well in this country, with only the slightest provocation required to stir it in violent ways. The fact that only lip service has been paid by the authorities to actually do something about the situation is at the root of the situation: if these ‘banned’ organisations still continue to fester and propagate their hateful ideologies with tragic consequences, what was the point of banning them in the first place? Why has the government failed to follow up and crack down on these bodies, no matter what the name they operate under? Each and every sectarian killing that is taking place — not just in an individual province because the fire has spread throughout the country — must be sorted out by the provincial and federal governments together. There is no question of working in isolation as the sectarian war looks ready to write another bloodied chapter in our history.

PTI IN KP province: ''Brain drain from KP''

Recently, some prominent doctors were kidnapped from Peshawar and the only action from the provincial government was the provincial health minister's advice that the doctors hire guards or themselves carry weapons for protection against abductors. Before that it was the industrialists and businessmen's turn to be kidnapped most of whom have now left the province along with their factories and trade facilities.
It is not hard to judge why doctors are now the target of kidnappers: in the absence the rich industrialists and businessmen, successful professionals are the only ones left who can pay huge ransoms. The PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) instead of working hard to make the province safe and bring the few investors, we had, back to KP and stop the brain drain as doctors are also threatening to leave the province, is busy in halting the Nato supplies in its effort to stop drone attacks and save the terrorists from getting killed. After the doctors leave, it could be the turn of lawyers and engineers.
The PTI and its coalition partners should accept that they have only the mandate to govern KP and not the whole country. There could have been some political justification for the PTI's provincial government to stop Nato supplies and meddle in the central government's jurisdiction if it had solved all the problems of the KP province. Many might not have objected were the situation in the province peaceful: terrorism eliminated; murders, robberies and other crimes brought under control; system of education had been revamped and reforms promised by PTI were implemented successfully; patients in government hospitals were getting free medicines and not buying these from chemist shops; the vice of corruption had been wiped out; price hike arrested and development work were in full swing everywhere in the province.
The very opposite, however, is true: The PTI government cannot control crimes even in the provincial capital Peshawar yet it wants to deal with foreign policy issues.
Chief Minister Pervez Khattak should ask himself the questions: What is he doing to woo back the scared investors and industrialists. Is it not his duty to provide new jobs to the people which can only happen if new industries and businesses are established in the province!
Home Minister Siraj ul Haq should ask himself the question: What is he doing to curb lawlessness in the province! As the home minister, it is not his job to arrange and direct JI party workers to the PTI-led sit-ins; rather, it is for him to direct the provincial forces against crime and terrorism.
The Frontier Post appeals to PTI and the JI who are major partners in the KP coalition government to stop raising emotional issues to garner mass support against the central government; instead, they should accept their mandate which is to work for the welfare of the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

PPP Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto felicitates people on Sindh Culture Day
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has congratulated the people of Sindh on the festivities being observed across the province to celebrate the rich Sindhi culture, inherited from the Indus valley civilisation. The PPP leader, in a statement on Sunday, emphasised that it was about time to protect Sindh's heritage and urged the government to take measures to protect Sindh's historical sites. - See more at:

Imran Khan and illusion of a Messiah

by M Ali
Up till now I always thought very harshly of Imran Khan, my opinion of him was that of a simpleton who lacked any political acumen. His public appearances are usually crass and full of vulgarities in which he often threatens his opponents with a metaphorical cricket bat; one would expect that an Oxford Graduate would be more measured and civil in his rhetoric but alas. This Juvenile behavior is part of the reason why many remaining sane Pakistanis detest him.
Interestingly “Mard-e-Momin” Imran Khan started out as a favorite of lifestyle liberals but never enjoyed electoral success. With repeated failures at the polls, Imran Khan finally decided to spurn his lifestyle liberal fan base and hitched his fledgling political wagon to the issue of North Waziristan and Drones. For past 9 years he has steadfastly stuck to the talking point of having dialogue with the Deobandi Taliban. Many sober analysts saw this as murmurings of a crazed man desperate for electoral success, whose political career never took off. However the time has come that Imran Khan’s political calculation is looked at from a different perspective.
Imran Khan’s views become ever more clear when you piece together the past 10 years in which Pakistani minorities have suffered brutally at the hands of Deobandi Taliban and their myriad allies. The first 7 years of Imran Khan’s political career were forgettable to say the least, notwithstanding an alleged offer by Musharraf to be his PM, Imran Khan’s floundering political career seemed headed to the dustbin of history. And with this one issue he has managed to propel himself to political relevancy.
Imran Khan started gaining traction 3 years after the Afghan invasion by Allied forces when he first started decrying Pakistan Army’s involvement in North Waziristan. His supporters still harken back to his famous sit-down with Hamid Mir and point to his political wisdom in denouncing the so called military operation in North Waziristan. His shrewd political strategy paid off and with the auspices of former ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Imran Khan’s political star started to shine brighter than ever.
Imran Khan was the right man for the establishment who with Musharraf’s departure and election of establishment’s hated PPP, wanted an alternate other than usual DPC clowns. With every TV channel running to Imran Khan for a “exclusive” suddenly the youth and non-resident Pakistanis started coalescing around this great leader who was supposedly standing up to the tyrannical, anti Muslim USA. Forget the fact that Imran Khan has his own kids growing up in a western country with their mother, who I doubt practices one iota of the very religion all the PTI faithful’s swear by.
What is ironic is that the very issue with which Imran Khan has gained notoriety is based on a false notion. Fact that Pakistan Military has its soldiers positioned in FATA does not mean that they are actively operating in the region. The Army only begrudgingly entered into North Waziristan because of immense pressure from US. It’s a known fact that Pakistan’s Military establishment is deeply wedded to the infamous “Strategic Depth” policy and the sad truth is that it’s willing to use its own soldiers and minorities as fodder to keep the strategy going.
Coming back to Imran Khan who has steadfastly stuck to his guns, its time that his critics realize that its not a senile 60 year old talking nonsense but a savvy politician with a carefully crafted message for a Deobandized populace. Its not a coincidence that PTI’s political machine is run by western educated professionals who have carefully calibrated his message for the urban masses. To be specific the urban middle class is by many measures more Deobandi than Barelvi and is in absolute lockstep with Imran Khan’s radical agenda.
The sad part is that Imran Khan similarly to Pakistan’s Military Establishment has decided that minorities especially Shias are dispensable. With each atrocity committed by Deobandi Mafia comes a boilerplate condemnatory statement by PTI but no one ever asks Imran Khan about his plan to counter radicalization caused by Deobandi mafia.
It is increasingly evident that Imran Khan considers Deobandi Taliban as his allies. And this is exactly why he never answers the question; what exactly can state of Pakistan offer to the Deobandi Taliban in exchange for peace? The only logical explanation one can extrapolate from the wishy-washy stance Imran Khan has taken, that he is willing to completely surrender FATA to his Deobandi Taliban allies.
Imran Khan in all his statements has never shown willingness to normalize the status of FATA. Its increasingly looking like Shias and Barelvis will be the losers along with other minorities in Imran Khan’s “Naya Pakistan”.
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Peshawar Church Blasts: Mercy Mission To Pakistan

An extensive aid plan named the Mercy Mission to Pakistan: dispensing funds among the sufferers of the suicide blasts. The expedition was to distribute funds to families caught up in the bombing outside All Saints Church, Peshawar, which saw more than 100 people killed and many more injured, in September. The money had been collected from Churches crosswise the dioceses of Wakefield and Carlisle. The fund raising was boosted by Yaqub Masih’s personal fund-raising proposal through friends and colleagues in the West Yorkshire area.
Yaqub Masih, of Wakefield Cathedral at Salendine Nook, was able to raise funds around 12,000 pounds and arrived in Pakistan: aiding 130 affected families troubled by the attack. Yaqub Masih handed 15,000 rupees each. During his Mercy Mission he also took part in a Church service in All Saints while he was there. While expounding about his mission, Yaqub said: “A lot of things saddened me there – many families are suffering and all we can do is our little bit to help them. This is just a small token of love to show that we care for them and we love them and they are not alone.” In past times Yaqub Masih has been instrumental in providing aid to the people in Pakistan since 2001, unidentified gunmen opened fire in a Church in eastern Pakistan claiming 17 lives including children who were at prayer.
The doleful congregation was hit by twin suicide bombings as they filed out of Church on a Sunday morning on September 22, right into the blast zone of one of two suicide bombers. The attack was the worst against Christians in Pakistan as the country’s history records.
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Pakistan: No to Shia bookstall, yes to terrorists bookstalls at International Book Fair
Biased administrator of Expo Centre Karachi has not allowed even a single Shia bookstall at International Book Fair while many bookstalls of outlawed terrorist groups are allowed to preach their ideology of hate and violence.
Shiite News Correspondent reported that outlawed Taliban/Sipah-e-Sahaba and allied self-claimed jihadi groups are selling their hate-materials and ideology of violence.
It is learnt that a Shia bookstall was removed on the pretext that outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba (presently Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat) lodged complaint with the police against the Shia books. Therefore, they were not allowed at the Book Fair being held at Expo Centre.
Khalid Aziz, administrator of Expo Centre, is son in law of Jamaat-e-Islami leader and former city nazim of Karachi Naimatullah Khan. Jamaat claims to be a non-sectarian Islamic party but some of its officials or their close relatives always follow pro-Yazidi and pro-takfiri line against Shiites.
Shia parties and leaders have condemned the biased administrator for toeing the line of outlawed terrorist groups against Shia Muslims. They demanded of the federal government to take notice of anti-Shia decision of the administrator. They demanded of Sindh Government to rein in the biased police who follow the instructions of outlawed terrorist group.

Eight Pakistani soldiers killed in an ambush by Baloch fighters
Eight Pakistani security personnel have been reportedly killed in an ambush by Baloch freedom fighters in Katrenz area of Mand, Balochistan on Sunday. According to details the social media sources and local sources reported that Baloch freedom fighter, also known as the Sarmachars, have ambushed a convoy of Pakistani security forces when it was when passing through Katrenz mountainous area of Mand town. At least two vehicles have been completely destroyed in the attack and more than 8 personnel have reportedly died and several others have been wounded. Meanwhile the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) claimed in a statement to media that it has carried out the attacks on occupying forces. The BLF spokesperson Gwahram Baloch vowed to continue such attack against Pakistani forces until their complete withdraws from Balochistan. The spokesperson of Pakistan army confirmed the rocket attacks on a convoy of security forces in a statement to Pakistani media but denied any casualties. Separately, local sources reported a barrage of rocket attacks on Mashkel town by Iranian Army on the arbitrary border between Pakistan and Iran. No fatalities have been reported until the filing of this report. However, People living on the border areas are highly apprehensive of the tense situation and lamented that both Pakistan and Iran have closed the border entrance points for local traders. Last month an armed resistance organization Jash al Adal (Army of Justice) carried out a fatal attack on Iranian forces killing at least 16 personnel of Iranian revolutionary guards and abducting 4 others. In response to the attack the Iranian guards hanged 16 Baloch political prisoners in ‘revenge execution’ in central prison of Zahedan. The Jash al Adal on 4 December carried out another attack in ‘Kuhag Askan’ region of Saravan Iranian occupied Balochistan and claimed to have killed 30 Iranian soldiers. Three members of the Jash namely Ziayee, Abdul Malik Mollazada and Neyamatullah Tohidi also died in the gun battle between Iranian forces and Sunni Baloch rebels. The Jash claimed the attack was on response to the killing of ‘innocent Baloch prisoners’ by Iran in Zahedan. Since then Iranian forces have carried out several attacks on towns and villages situated along the arbitrary borders between Iran and Pakistan occupied Balochistan, a social media activist Banuk Noori Baloch told this scribe. She said that people living on the bordering areas are suffering from economic hardship as theirs only source of income is the import and export of good from both sides of the border. Given the tense situation and insecurity, she said the unemployment is on rise.

Balochistan: Why The Balochs Have Stopped Voting

The Baloch Hal
Chief Minister Balochistan Dr. Malik Baloch has asked the Baloch separatists and everyone else to “enjoy” the 21st century by giving up arms and joining the “democratic process”. He was speaking in the backdrop of the recent local government elections in which the National Party, of which Dr. Baloch is the president, has done relatively well. Balochistan was the first among the four provinces to hold local government elections. As compared to the general elections of May 2013, the local bodies elections witnessed less violence and confrontation. Pakistani newspaper Dawn instantly jumped into a conclusion to appreciate the provincial government because the “polls went ahead and citizens participated.”
When 2,776 polling stations are declared “highly sensitive” and another 1,581 “sensitive” out of 5,718 polling stations in Balochistan, that simply means we, contrary to the Chief Minister’s recommendation, do not live in perfect times to “enjoy” the 21st century. When we have 50,000 policemen, F.C. personnel and 5,325 army soldiers guard us on an election day, that means we are not strengthening democracy but voting on gunpoint. When nine districts, including the provincial capital, are declared “sensitive”, we should safely assume that our problems are not “local”. There is the entire province that has descended into chaos where the public trust in Pakistani democracy has significantly declined. People no longer feel enthusiastic about voting because they see no benefits from Pakistan’s failed democratic system where military remains superior to civilian institutions.
Baloch separatists have virtually become so powerful in the province that each appeal they make to the public to boycott Pakistani initiatives, such as the elections, the masses respond positively to those calls. (The reason for positive public response is both because of their support for the armed Baloch groups as well as because of their widespread fear).
Discontent among the people has increased to such an alarming extent that not a single candidate contested elections in the entire district of Awaran. This is the same place where the Frontier Corps (F.C.) has been conducting military operations after operations. When a catastrophic earthquake hit the district in October, the Pakistani government did not even allow international relief workers to help the Baloch victims. In an op-ed published in Dawn, Chris Lockyear, the Pakistan operations manager for Médecins sans Frontières or Doctors Without Borders, publicly complained about Islamabad’s denial of access to the earthquake-hit area. Ultimately, the people of Awaran gave their verdict in the form of complete boycott of the local government polls last week.
Public participation in the polls was so lackluster that 3000 candidates were elected unopposed on different seats because there were not enough people willing to participate in the elections.
Islamabad is too desperate to convince the world that things are hunky-dory in Balochistan. The state-controlled and private news channels, for example, magnify and project isolated events on the eve of Pakistan’s Independence Day to tell everyone how Balochistan also celebrated the nation’s independence. The State routinely finances and stages fake events in which people are paid to say how much they love Pakistan. Citizens do not have to be paid or tortured to say they love their country. You can’t purchase or impose patriotism on people. Balochistan is in fact not the ideal land to exercise such bizarre ideas. Hence, it is understandable while newspapers like Dawn get so excited about even minor things such as the arrangement of elections in Balochistan. That shows that we have kept the bar too low to assess progress in Balochistan. Even after the elections, we are left with the same question: are these polls a panacea to Balochistan’s ills.
There is always a dark side of such state-sponsored political dramas like these elections. The Baloch society is utterly polarized where nationalists like Dr. Malik Baloch, the chief minister, symbolize Islamabad’s policy of divide and rule. It is good that elections remained largely peaceful but the writ of the State has shrunk to such a level that we are uncertain if the new local governments will ever be able to function smoothly. Local government elections should not have been organized until the state of affairs improved in the province. Now, this is what is likely to happen: Once the security contingent departs, the elected local government officials and separatists end up in a new battle against each other.
For example, the Baloch Liberation Front (B.L.F.) was blamed by Dr. Baloch’s National Party for killing the former Nazim (mayor) of Kech district, Maula Baksh Dashti. Although the B.L.F. denied the charges, it did not condemn the killing. So, the question now is how much can the State protect all those school teachers who performed duty on the election day and the candidates who risked their lives and participated in the elections. After all, they were already warned by the armed groups not to be a part of the election process.Arranging elections should not be the benchmark to decide how smoothly Balochistan is heading toward normalization. The actual question is whether or not the local governments enjoy the confidence of the Baloch people. It is also pertinent to know whether or not the local governments will enjoy sufficient administrative and financial authority to perform well to win the trust of the common man. Consider: If a district mayor fails to protect a citizen from being unlawfully arrested by the Frontier Corps, such a head of the local government should prepare for public backlash. It is good to elect people to democratic institutions but it is too dangerous to send them to institutions whose stability and performance is starkly shaky and uncertain.

Pakistan: Peace by capitulation

Strategy to deal with extremists by giving them political space will backfire
Conflicts of every sort are simmering in Pakistan’s underbelly, and it won’t take much for them to bubble to the surface. The latest examples of unrest were the sectarian clashes that erupted in Rawalpindi on the eve of Ashura. At least nine people were killed and 80 were wounded when armed clashes broke out between Sunni and Shiite groups. Each side has accused the other of provocation, and now there are fears of a violent blow-back.
In subsequent analyses, the use of loudspeakers has come under particular scrutiny, and many have called on the government to ban their use. This approach is somewhat reminiscent of the calls made by some Muslims in the Subcontinent during British rule, who decried the use of bicycles, deeming them an invention of the devil. Of course, it is true that loudspeakers are used to propagate and spew sectarian and religious hatred, but this is merely a symptom of a much more serious disease gnawing at the foundations of Pakistani society. The real issue is the people behind the loudspeakers. Clerics, especially those who belong to or are sympathetic to extremist organisations, need to be reigned in. Similarly, the sale of propagandist materials across the country needs to be addressed, but this is easier said than done. The state is under pressure from all sides, the economy is a shambles and all the while terrorism remains unabated. Above all, the political will to tackle the most contentious and combustible issues is missing. Against such a grim backdrop, any task would seem daunting – but the government must stop dithering. There is, however, an unfortunate trend in Pakistan, where each successive government has capitulated to extremists. In order to placate them, each government has acceded more ground to those with guns. Instead of a bare-knuckle fight, governments have time and again chosen to fight with the gloves on. This time around, the situation is no different. The government’s knee-jerk reaction was primarily to divert public attention by initiating a treason case against former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. While this may seem like the right thing to do in principle, the timing of the move reeked of political expediency. Behind the scenes, the government negotiated with extremist Sunni groups, who have predictably used the threat of violent reprisals to their advantage. The price of ensuring peace has been paid by capitulation and bowing before militant pressure. Leaders of banned outfits have clawed their way back into the limelight, appearing on TV to claim credit for keeping a lid on potential violence. The payback has been taken in the form of more political space and undeserved concessions. For the good of the country, such a Faustian bargain may prove to be its death knell.

Hagel visits Pakistan today to push for Afghan peace

With Afghanistan's stalled peace process high on the agenda, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has been in Kabul since Saturday, will visit Pakistan on Monday, officials said.

Hagel: US withdrawal from Afghanistan ‘a very real possibility’

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday said the pullout of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan due to the lack of a security agreement was a “real possibility.” “It’s a very real possibility because if we don’t have a bilateral security agreement, which I’ve noted, that means we can’t protect our forces that would be here after 2014,” Hagel said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”“No international partners will come. Afghanistan essentially will be alone, but we have no other options,” he added. “We can’t plan for it, the president can’t commit American forces or the United States of America. No other country can, unless we are protected with an agreement.” “You can use any term you want,” Hagel said. “’Retreat’ or ‘not renewing our efforts here, post 2014,’ you can say it any way you want but what I'm saying is unless we have the security of an agreement to protect our forces. Then we'll have no choice. We will not be able to stay.” Hagel said the administration was “surprised” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign the security agreement after it was approved by a council of elders. “The Loya Jirga, which represented thousands of citizens and leaders in Afghanistan, met a couple weeks ago as you know. Overwhelmingly, over 90 percent of those people strongly supported a U.S. partnership past 2014, along with our partners,” Hagel said. “Yes, it was surprising. But we are dealing with the realities that we have before us,” he added. Hagel held out hope that Karzai would sign the agreement before presidential elections in the spring. “I think the more he involves himself … and listens to his people, which leaders must do, I hope he'll come to the right decision on this,” Hagel said. “Is it worth it or not worth it? It needs to be asked, especially in a representative government, a democracy,” Hagel added. “Those questions must be asked. So it is now up to President Karzai to make a decision.” Hagel will travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan on Monday, making the first visit by a United States Secretary of Defense in nearly four years. Defense Department spokesman Carl Woog said Hagel “looks forward to discussing with Prime Minister Sharif and other senior Pakistani officials the United States and Pakistan's common interest in a stable Afghanistan."

U.N.: Afghanistan slow to enforce law protecting women

The United Nations complained Sunday that Afghan authorities have been slow in enforcing a law protecting women against forced marriages, domestic violence and rape.
A report issued by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan found that although Afghan authorities registered more reports of violence against women under the 4-year-old law, prosecutions and convictions remained low. In a statement, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, described the law as a “landmark” and said it “was a huge achievement for all Afghans.”
“But implementation has been slow and uneven, with police still reluctant to enforce the legal prohibition against violence and harmful practices, and prosecutors and courts slow to enforce the legal protections in the law,” she said. Afghanistan enacted its Elimination of Violence Against Women law in August 2009. It criminalizes child marriage, selling and buying women to settle disputes, assault, and more than a dozen other acts of violence and abuse against women. Women have won back many of the rights they lost during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, when the Islamic movement was ousted by an American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States. Under the Taliban, girls were barred from attending school and women were forced to stay indoors and cover their heads and faces with burqas. There are fears that many of those freedoms may shrink as foreign forces depart by the end of next year and much of the international aid and assistance they brought to Afghanistan goes with them. “The law, when applied, has provided protection to Afghan women facing violence,” said Georgette Gagnon, the mission’s director of human rights. But she added that “most of the women victims remain largely unprotected due to a lack of investigation into most incidents and continued underreporting of pervasive violence against women and girls resulting from discrimination, existing social norms and cultural practices, and fear of reprisals and threat to life.” The 49-page report found that incidents of violence against women remain largely underreported because of cultural restraints, social norms and religious beliefs. The United Nations collected information from 18 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces during a 12-month period ending in September to find out how well the law was being implemented.
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Pakistan Beat Afghanistan in Twenty20
Pakistan overcame stiff resistance by Afghanistan to win the first-ever Twenty20 international between the two countries by six wickets at Sharjah on Sunday. Afghanistan put up a brave fight in posting a challenging 137-8 in their 20 overs which Pakistan managed to overhaul for the loss of four wickets off the penultimate ball of the match. Pakistan skipper Mohammad Hafeez kept his nerve to finish with 42 not out as Pakistan needed six off the last over. Umar Akmal made a six 22-ball 28 with two sixes. For Afghanistan, Najibullah Zadran (38) and Mirwais Ashraf (28 not out) led their team's batting to guide them to 137-8 in 20 overs. Junaid Khan (3-24) and Sohail Tanvir (2-11) shared the bowling spoils for Pakistan.

Afghanistan agrees to pact with Iran, while resisting US accord

Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed on a cooperation pact with Iran, despite continuing to resist signing a security agreement with the U.S., Reuters reported.
Karzai made the deal with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran Sunday.
"Afghanistan agreed on a long-term friendship and cooperation pact with Iran," Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said, according to Reuters. "The pact will be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation, regional peace and security."
Afghanistan signed a cooperation pact with Iran in August covering mainly security issues, but Faizi said the proposed new agreement would have a broader scope. Rouhani said Sunday his country opposes the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan and the region, saying their presence generates tension, the official IRNA news agency reported.
IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling Karzai: "We believe that all foreign forces should leave the region and that the security of Afghanistan should be handed over to people of the country."
"We are concerned about tensions caused by foreign forces' presence in the region," Rouhani was quoted as saying. He also called for more cooperation between Tehran and Kabul. Iran has long opposed a planned agreement to allow U.S. forces to remain stationed on its doorstep in neighboring Afghanistan. The two countries have about 580 miles of common borders. Rouhani also said Iran opposes any foreign forces in the region, the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, where the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet has a base in the tiny kingdom of Bahrain.
On Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out steps to beef up defense cooperation between states within the Gulf region, while at the same time insisting that America's military commitment to the Middle East will continue.
In a speech Saturday to Gulf leaders he also made it clear that the emerging global agreement that would limit Iran's nuclear program doesn't mean the security threat from the Islamic republic is over. Iran's Defense Minister Gen. Hosein Dehghan called the remarks by his American counterpart "threatening" on Sunday, adding that they pave the ground for mistrust toward the U.S. while revealing the influence of Israel -- Iran's arch enemy -- on Washington.
Iran believes that countries of the Gulf are capable of managing security through regional security pacts.
Iran signed an interim agreement over its nuclear plan with world powers last month. Rouhani has been trying to convince skeptics and hard-liners at home that the move was not compromising on key issues of national sovereignty. Israel has repeatedly criticized the deal and called it a "historic mistake," saying economic sanctions must be toughened, not eased.