Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pakistan did right by Bangladesh many years ago by recognizing it, by inviting its leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Pakistan in 1974, and by finally making public the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission Report, which documented Pakistan’s blunders in 1971. So then what was Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, doing by nearly condemning Abdul Quader Molla’s execution?
Based on what we know about the war-crimes tribunal in Dhaka that convicted Jamaat-e-Islami leader Molla for crimes he allegedly committed during the 1971 civil war that saw East Pakistan become Bangladesh, several questions come to mind. Was the tribunal up to international standards and expectations of justice? Was hanging Molla the best way to heal wounds in a divided and bitterly polarized Bangladesh? Was due process sacrificed at the altar of Bangladeshi politics? These are valid questions that require honest answers. But such answers should come from Bangladesh itself—not from outsiders, least of all from Pakistanis.
Coming to terms with ugly historical events is never easy. Nations linger over these matters for years. There are two ways of dealing with such issues: through reconciliation or through retribution. Equally, where outside powers were involved—as in the case of the 1937 Nanking massacre of Chinese civilians by invading Japanese forces or the excesses of Japanese colonization against the Koreans—the process of reconciliation can take decades. These matters are often never settled with finality, and begin to fade away. However, politics has a way of resurrecting long-buried issues.
We should not expect something different between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even though the Pakistani state and its society have, at various levels, accepted the injustices inflicted on the people of East Pakistan through united Pakistan’s brief history, questions about 1971 keep cropping up. War crimes were committed by all sides, including the Pakistan Army. This is not in dispute; what is at issue is the magnitude of the atrocities. In Dead Reckoning, Sarmila Bose debunks some myths about Pakistani atrocities and includes crimes perpetrated by Bengali freedom fighters and the Indian Army. In Surrender at Dacca, former Indian general J. F. R. Jacob also documents the wrongs done by his country in 1971.
The findings and accounts of historian Bose and eyewitness Jacob are one thing, the Bangladesh shaming by Pakistani politician Khan quite another. “It was the demand of international relations, for solidarity of the Islamic Ummah, and of wisdom that events of the past [are] put behind, and a new era should be started,” lectured the interior minister in the National Assembly recently, according to state-run wire service Associated Press of Pakistan. Molla, said Khan, was punished for being loyal to Pakistan. That was precisely the problem, Dhaka can easily argue. Khan also made two other incredible statements. One: that every Pakistani was sad over Molla’s hanging; and two: that many people are calling his a “judicial murder.”
Khan should have left criticism of the war-crimes tribunal to the professionals. Human-rights groups around the world have questioned the trials. His first plea—that Bangladesh must forget the past of 1971, not seek vengeance, and simply move on—is astonishing for its lack of self-awareness. After all, it is Khan who is leading the treason charge against Pakistan’s former strongman, Pervez Musharraf, for imposing a short-lived state of emergency on Nov. 3, 2007. Musharraf, of course, stands accused of far less than Molla. Lest we forget, it was Musharraf who, as president in 2002, apologized to Bangladesh and left a handwritten note at the Savar war memorial: “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events in 1971 … The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regretted. Let us bury the past in the spirit of magnanimity. Let not the light of the future be dimmed.” Khan is the last person who should be tutoring others in forgiveness. What Mandela-like actions has Khan himself taken to presume to instruct Dhaka about the virtues of national reconciliation? How nations treat those they identify as criminals is their own internal matter, and Pakistan is the last country Bangladesh wants unsolicited advice from. How could Khan be so tactless? Did he say what he did because it would resonate with the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and in Bangladesh? Is this what he thought voters wanted to hear? When he said the Molla hanging was an “effort” to “revive old wounds of the past,” whose wounds was he referring to?
There is no place in the business of state for one’s apparently personal sadness over Molla’s hanging or the stormy rhetoric of political rallies. The complex business of state requires discipline, competence, and sobriety. People like Khan are influential because of the office they occupy. Their words and deeds affect millions—in Pakistan, and beyond. We look to these elected representatives to give coherence to the mess that surrounds us. Unfortunately, Khan proves that from whom better sense is expected, the biggest disappointments flow.

Malala Yousafzai: Teen idol
In a world where girls are gazed at more than heard, this newsmaker is no less than a revolutionary
Malala Yousafzai’s mettle is legend. In 2009, at age 11, she blogged about life in her native Pakistan under Taliban rule. She then publicly campaigned for the education of girls despite death threats. In 2012, she survived a would-be assassin’s bullet to the head. Last July, during a half-hour conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House, she confronted him about U.S. drone-strike casualties in her homeland. That was after Yousafzai, who aspires to be a politician, spoke at the UN on her 16th birthday.
Yet somehow what it took to really command attention was the teenage activist’s ability to reduce Jon Stewart to burbling mush during her appearance on the The Daily Show in October. A much-circulated YouTube video showed the usually unflappable host clasping his hand to his mouth in amazement when Yousafzai explained why she didn’t hate the Taliban or her gunman, who is still at large. Stewart was equally gobsmacked by Yousafzai’s eloquent plea for the importance of educating women and girls. “Can I adopt you?” he finally asked.
Yousafzai smiled serenely. But someone unfazed by the Taliban isn’t about to be bothered by a patronizing joke from a liberal talk-show host. Her agenda was larger: publicizing her memoir I Am Malala and promoting the Malala Fund dedicated to raising funds for the 60 million girls in the developing world who have little access to education.
Yousafzai has come to occupy a singular position in the West, a culture used to gazing at 16-year-old girls, not listening to them. Her voice was first heard in a BBC Urdu blog diary in January 2009; the Grade 7 student wrote under a pseudonym about the Taliban ban on educating girls. Within the year, she was advocating publicly, despite death threats. But she didn’t have name recognition in North America until she was the victim of horrific violence returning from school in October 2012. The world watched in wonder as she recovered in England, where the family now lives.
Her attack garnered protests and international condemnation. It spurred a UN petition, under the slogan “I am Malala,” demanding children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015; as a result, Pakistan passed its first Right to Education Bill. Pakistan officially condemned Yousafzai’s attack but she remains a controversial figure. Her book has been banned in most schools. Extremists claim her shooting was staged by the CIA to justify drone attacks, even though she has spoken against them: “A war can never be ended by a war,” she told CBS this year. She has also been derided as a spy and a mouthpiece for Western agendas.

Blast in Quetta leaves one dead, 15 wounded

At least one person was killed and another 22 were injured in a powerful blast in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province on Thursday, police said. Five of the injured are said to be in critical condition. Police said miscreants had planted a bomb near an ice cream shop in Mitha Chowk area of Pashtoonabad, located in the outskirt of Quetta. The bomb went off at a time when there was crowd of people. Police said eight children were among the injured. The strength of blast smashed the windows of nearby homes and shops causing panic in the area. Most of the inhabitants of the area were confined to their homes for fear of another blast. Police, frontier corps and rescue workers were quick at the scene to shift the injured to civil hospital Quetta for medical treatment. "More than 15 injured are brought to civil hospital Quetta for treatment," Dr. Rasheed Jamali, a doctor on duty told Emergency was imposed in civil hospital to ensure timely treatment for the injured. All doctors and paramedics were called to treat the injured in the blast. Security in and around Quetta civil hospital was tightened to avert another untoward incident. An official of the bomb disposal squad told that more than two kilogram of explosive materials were used in the blast.

World Powers should not force small countries to 'choose sides'

No country in the world can hope to survive in an environment of tense military confrontation. Once the foreign strategies of major powers force small and medium-sized countries to choose which side to take, it is bound to create problems.
Protests began on November 21 in Ukraine, with peaceful demonstrators demanding change, but these soon snowballed into massive demonstrations, one after the other, against the government. The demonstrators are trying to force European integration on the country. Others hope that the President will apply pragmatism in taking action on the economy, rather than choosing to take sides between the European Union (EU) and Russia.
Western public opinion is very clear on the current Ukraine crisis. Some scholars have criticized the United States and the EU for not showing enough support to the country, even complaining that "Ukraine has been abandoned by the U.S.".
Although more than two decades have passed since the end of the Cold War, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, in the heart of many western people there still remains a strong "sense of family". They take it for granted that in a tug-of-war between the Western powers and Russia, Ukraine should become a "family member " of the western bloc. In the eyes of such Westerners, Russia is not part of their clan; likewise, Russia always maintains a vigilant attitude to the West. The end of the Cold War did not bring about the end of such confrontations.
Geopolitical competition between traditional power blocs still exists in the current globalized world. Washington and Moscow are still rivals in the competition to strengthen their influence on Russian’s neighboring countries, according to Charles A. Kupchan, professor of international relations at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S.
A month ago, NATO held a week-long military exercise, code-named "Steadfast Jazz 2013", in Poland and Latvia. It was the biggest NATO drill in 10 years.
Since the 2008 international financial crisis, power relations have undergone a shift. Many experts predict that in the face of a relative decline in their influence, the Western powers will redirect their attention to achieving a new balance by means of adjusting the global management mechanism. However, the massive demonstrations staged in Ukraine remind us that although the process of economic recovery is very difficult, and internal national politics and wider society are in a period of adjustment, the focus of the western powers' strategy has not moved fundamentally – dominance remains the driving force.
Today, the game between powers still dominates international trends. We can see its shadow behind major world events such as the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear issue. Traditional logic in the relations among major powers will be further showcased in the international arena in the immediate future; it will remain the most prominent political phenomenon during a period when the old model of power relations will transit to a new one. Powers will strive to carve a more favorable position for themselves in the future world system. But small and medium-sized countries in vital geopolitical locations, like Ukraine, will face difficult times in the games of major powers. It appears that such countries would benefit from the competition between the two big powers by means of "equidistance diplomacy" on condition that the two powers are of equal strengths.
Ukraine’s current problem is that it is being forced into choosing between becoming the "bridge" or "link" either to the EU of to Russia.
Despite the challenges facing Ukraine, no experts believe that it will make a full commitment to one side or the other in the near future. Voices advocating that foreign policy should address itself first and foremost to the national interest are already making themselves heard in Ukraine, showings a growing awareness of the importance of taking an independent stand for small and medium-sized countries.
No country in the world can hope to survive in an environment of tense military confrontation. Once the foreign strategies of major powers force small and medium-sized countries to choose which side to take, it is bound to create problems. At the same time, the rising power of emerging small countries will constitute an important factor shaping the future relations of big powers.

Putin: I envy Obama, because he can 'spy' and get away with it

I envy Obama because he can spy on his allies without any consequences, said Putin when asked about how his relations had changed with the US following Snowden’s espionage revelations.
During an annual question-and-answer session with journalists, Putin praised Edward Snowden’s actions, saying that he was working for a “noble cause.” At the same time he accepted the importance of espionage programs in the fight against global terrorism, but said the NSA needed guidelines to limit its powers.
“There is nothing to be upset about and nothing to be proud of, spying has always been and is one of the oldest professions,” said Putin.
Referring to the vast amounts of metadata gathered on citizens by the NSA, Putin said it is impossible to sift through all of that information. It is “useless” to look at the analysis of spy agencies because it is the opinion of analysts and not facts and as such can be misleading.
“You need to know the people who analyze them, I know, I did it,” said Putin, harking back to his career as a KGB agent. The Russian president described Snowden as a “curious character” and said it was not clear why the former CIA contractor had decided to blow the whistle on the NSA’s international espionage program at such a young age.
Russia is not working with Snowden and has not received classified documents from him, Putin said. The whistleblower has been allowed to reside in Russia but only on the condition he does not “engage in anti-American propaganda.” Snowden fled to Russia from Hong Kong back in June after leaking a trove of classified information on Washington’s espionage activities. He disseminated the documents to international media outlets who published them in articles blowing the whistle on the NSA’s espionage activities.
The spy revelations triggered massive diplomatic backlash and have had an adverse effect on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. Europe in particular reacted angrily after it was found that the NSA had been monitoring high-ranking political figures, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs met Wednesday to discuss what action the EU should take in the wake of the spy revelations. Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist renowned for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaks, testified at the meeting. Greenwald claimed that the NSA’s activities had nothing to do with the fight against terrorism and are instead aimed at the elimination of privacy worldwide.
“What a lot of this spying is about has nothing to do with terrorism and national security. That is the pretext. It is about diplomatic manipulation and economic advantage,” said Greenwald.
In the wake of the spy scandal Washington has defended the NSA, saying their work has foiled over 50 terror plots in the US and EU.

Putin says Russia helps Ukraine as brotherly nation

Russia decided to provide Ukraine with loans and cut price for gas supplies because Moscow sees Kiev as a brotherly nation in difficult situation, President Vladimir Putin said at his annual press conference on Thursday. "We should behave as close relatives and support Ukrainian people," Putin said.
No one attempted to "suffocate" Ukrainians but if they wanted to be independent, they had to pay for that, he said.
The Russian president noted that his country was not going to support Ukrainian economy at its own expense. If Ukraine signed up for the European Union's (EU) technical standards, it would lose Russian market completely. For Ukraine, it would take much time and hundreds of billions of dollars to switch for EU standards, he said.
Putin reiterated that Moscow did not oppose Kiev's association with the EU but Russia had to protect its market in case Ukraine opened its borders for European goods.
"In these circumstances we've made a decision in the interests of Ukrainian people as well as for pragmatic reasons. We expect we'll find long-term decisions to cooperate at a deeper level," Putin said.
It was Putin's ninth such press conference as president and the second since his returned to the Kremlin last May. More than 1,300 reporters gathered for the event. Last year, the marathon conference lasted for 4.5 hours.

President Obama: 'I've Got 3 Opinionated, Strong, Tall Women'

Sitting down for their annual interview with PEOPLE Managing Editor Larry Hackett and Washington, D.C., correspondent Sandra Sobieraj Westfall, President and Mrs. Obama reflect on the year's difficulties, both in the political arena and the smaller challenges he encounters at home.
"I've got three opinionated, strong, tall women," says President Barack Obama. "If they get together, they can have fun about my ears or being too loud, or how I dress."
If only that genial ribbing was the worst of his year. The President, joined by Michelle Obama in the White House's Blue Room, also answered questions about the glitchy launch of – yes, he tried to log on, and initially found it "frustrating" when he couldn't – and his awkward call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel after it was revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency was listening in on her conversations.
"Because technology is changing so fast and the information is out there, we have to make sure that just because we can do something, doesn't mean we do do something."
If you eavesdropped on a typical day at the White House, it might sound a lot like any home with young teens. The Obamas reveal that daughters Sasha, 12, and Malia, 15, weigh in on Mom's fashion choices and have tutored Dad in using Instagram and Vine. And, like any kids, they are occasionally embarrassed by their parents.
"Malia had friends over, and there was a question about whether she was going to even introduce them [to her dad], because sometimes he gets a little formal, asking them about school and interests," the First Lady tells PEOPLE. "She says, 'I don’t know if my friends can handle that.'" Then she turns to her husband and says, "But she said that you actually did quite well."
"I acquitted myself well," notes the President. "I did not embarrass her."

U.S. Prosecutor Defends Charges Against Indian Diplomat

The federal prosecutor whose decision to charge an Indian diplomat in New York City last week touched off a furor in India has made an unusual and robust public defense of that decision, saying “there can be no plausible claim that this case was somehow unexpected or an injustice.”
The prosecutor, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Wednesday night that the diplomat’s conduct showed that “she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.”
The diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, 39, the deputy consul general in New York, has been accused of submitting false documents to obtain a work visa for a housekeeper. Indian officials have been quoted as saying that she was arrested and handcuffed as she was leaving her daughter at school, and there had been accounts that she was strip-searched and then held with drug addicts before being released on $250,000 bail.
The Indian government has complained bitterly about Ms. Khobragade’s treatment. In New Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the arrest deplorable, newspaper editorials have expressed outrage and the police have removed barriers meant to protect the United States Embassy.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid of India said that the charges against Ms. Khobragade should be dropped immediately.
“We are not convinced there is a legitimate legal ground for pursuing this case,” he said. “The worst that can be said about her is that she did not comply with the amounts that was supposed to be paid under your law. I don’t think that justifies treating her like a common criminal.”
Mr. Khurshid said he was dismayed that Washington had provided visas to the family of the maid who made the complaint against Ms. Khobragade. “I don’t think they are so valuable to our relationship as a diplomatic officer of the government of India.”
Ms. Khobragade is the third Indian diplomat stationed in New York City in recent years to be accused of exploiting a domestic servant. In 2011, a maid accused Prabhu Daval of forcing her to work like a slave and sleep in a storage cupboard, and of confiscating her passport. In 2010, a judge ordered Neena Malhotra and her husband, Jogesh, to pay nearly $1.5 million for forcing an Indian girl to work without pay and meting out “barbaric treatment.”
Domestic servants in India routinely work dawn to dusk and six or seven days a week for minuscule wages. Their presence is ubiquitous in Indian middle-class and upper-class households, and many Indians of a certain class seemingly find it hard to imagine life without them — particularly families with children.
Asked why Indian diplomats seem to run afoul of U.S. wage-and-hour laws, Mr. Khurshid said that India might not pay its diplomats as much as ones working for the United States government.
“We try to ensure that they have enough to serve with dignity,” Mr. Khurshid said. “If there is a problem with your law and our settled wage scales, that’s something we need to talk about with your government.”
Mr. Bharara, in his statement, said that there had been “much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting” about the case, and the inaccuracies were “misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis.” “Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims,” Mr. Bharara asked, “or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?” “And one wonders,” Mr. Bharara added, “why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?” Although his office did not take Ms. Khobragade into custody, Mr. Bharara said that she had been “accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded.” He said that State Department agents had arrested her “in the most discreet way possible,” and that unlike most defendants, she “was not then handcuffed or restrained.” The arresting authorities had not seized her telephone as they normally would have, Mr. Bharara said, and allowed her to make calls for about two hours, including to arrange for child care. Because it was cold outside, Mr. Bharara added, the agents “let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food.” It was true, Mr. Bharara added, that Ms. Khobragade was “fully searched” in a private setting by a female deputy marshal when she was taken into the custody of the United States Marshals Service, which handled her detention. But, he said, “this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself.” The tone of Mr. Bharara’s statement, issued in the evening in New York, seemed in marked contrast to an expression of “regret” made earlier in the day by Secretary of State John Kerry in a call to a senior Indian official, as Mr. Kerry sought to ease tensions with India over the episode. Mr. Kerry’s call to the official, Shivshankar Menon, India’s national security adviser, was disclosed by the State Department in a statement.
“As a father of two daughters about the same age as Devyani Khobragade, the secretary empathizes with the sensitivities we are hearing from India about the events that unfolded after Ms. Khobragade’s arrest,” the State Department said in its statement.
“He expressed his regret, as well as his concern, that we not allow this unfortunate public issue to hurt our close and vital relationship with India,” it added.
Washington warned the Indian government of the investigation against Ms. Khobragade in a letter in September. Asked why the Indian government did not withdraw Ms. Khobragade then, Mr. Khurshid responded that he “didn’t expect this could happen.”
“Don’t hold it against us that we have trust and faith in the U.S. government and its liberal credentials,” he said.
Ms. Khobragade’s lawyer, Daniel N. Arshack, said Wednesday that his client would be pleading not guilty, that the allegations against her were “false and baseless” and that her diplomatic status protected her from prosecution.

Afghanistan: White House: Can no longer wait for BSA signing

Any delay in the signing of the bilateral security agreement (BSA) would jeopardise the presence of US troops in Afghanistan post 2014, the White House warned on Wednesday, saying it could not wait any longer for further developments in Afghanistan. "There is not time here. We cannot, as has been suggested, wait for further developments in Afghanistan. This was negotiated in good faith; the negotiation is over. There are no changes that are going to be made to that agreement,” the White House press secretary said.
Jay Carney told reporters at his daily news conference: "It can either be signed or not signed, and we believe the message is clear, emanating from Washington and from our representatives in Kabul, that it's time to sign this agreement."
The assessments that NATO had to make in early 2014 were going to happen and there was no time for waiting for this to be further considered, he said, adding the deal had been endorsed overwhelmingly by the Loya Jirga and it had been negotiated in good faith for quite a long time.
Carney said President Obama had made clear the remaining troop presence would be focused solely on counterterrorism and on the training and support of Afghan forces. The president was committed to winding down the war and America's direct engagement, he added.
"The president, when he reviewed our policy towards Afghanistan, it was noted that when you went to Afghanistan and talked to our representatives there, both military and civilian, and asked them what our policy was, you got different answers from everybody. And that was what we inherited," he said. But Obama instituted a policy that the US was there to fight Al-Qaeda and help Kabul maintain stability so that Afghanistan did not become again a harbour for al terrorists who had the objective of attacking American citizens, he continued. Carney said the US had made clear that the bilateral security agreement ought to be signed right away, as soon as possible. "We welcome the Loya Jirga’s overwhelming endorsement of the BSA and continued partnership with the United States, and we are prepared to sign the agreement..."

Local Turf-Sharing Accord With the Taliban Raises Alarm in Afghanistan

An Afghan Army commander stationed in the deadliest corner of Helmand Province brokered a cease-fire and turf-sharing deal with local Taliban insurgents there, according to government and police officials, in an example of the sort of ground-level bargaining that some see as increasingly likely once international troops withdraw next year. Details of the accord, which took place in the district of Sangin, remain murky. But the issue was fraught enough that the army scrambled to send a delegation there to investigate on Tuesday, officials said. And local residents say that commanders were promising that the deal would halt immediately and never happen again. The alarm was in part because of what Sangin has come to symbolize. It is one of just a few areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban have never been dislodged, and it was one of the deadliest battlegrounds in the country for American Marines and British troops who waged several offensives there over the years. It was handed over to Afghan security control early this year, and any appearance that the Afghans would be willing to essentially give back hard-won gains to the Taliban would be politically problematic, at best. According to several people familiar with the details, including the deputy district governor and the local police commander for Sangin, the deal involved a company commander’s ceding at least two checkpoints to the Taliban. It was unclear whether more senior officers in the area condoned the move. As part of the arrangement, which local officials said excluded the police force and other militias, the commander even drove the insurgents into the district bazaar to introduce them to the people, according to officials and witnesses. The Afghan Army has vehemently denied the existence of any deal with the insurgents, as have the Taliban themselves. Coalition officials referred all questions about the alleged incident to the Afghans. At least one official said that the top army commanders in the region reported knowing nothing about the plan and vowed to keep fighting. “I talked to the brigade commander, and he has promised to recapture the abandoned checkpoints from the Taliban,” said Mohammed Rasol Khan, the deputy governor of Sangin. “There has not been a truce at the battalion or brigade level between the A.N.A. and the Taliban.” What is said to have happened in Sangin is not a widespread phenomenon, as Afghan forces basically held their own in securing the country this year. But the Afghan forces struggled from the start in Sangin, and a visit by journalists this past summer found them facing an extremely high death toll and very low morale. Soldiers were basically confined to bases as the Taliban enjoyed nearly total freedom of movement. Still, whispers of such accords have floated in other parts of the country this year. In areas like the Pech Valley, long a trouble spot for American forces, an informal agreement is said to have emerged. The military will not attack the Korengal Valley if the insurgents will leave the main road in and out of the region alone, officials said. Despite the political sensitivity over such deals, some Afghan commanders and leaders say they may actually be a desirable step toward peace after Western forces withdraw, particularly in highly contested areas like Sangin. Those officials describe the bargaining, in essence, as local successes amid a national effort to disarm and reach political reconciliation with the Taliban that has stalled completely this year after potential peace talks broke down in Qatar. Local leaders, in particular, say it is time to start talking, as they are fed up with a war that has caught civilians in the middle. “This sort of cease-fire is essential for both sides, as they are tired of fighting and bombing each other and look to relieve the civilians who are the victims,” said Hajji Shamsullah Sahrai, a tribal elder in Sangin. The reaction from the international community has been mixed. While many international officials here say some local dealing in the most hostile areas of Afghanistan might be an improvement, the calculus quickly changes if it threatens security in provincial capitals or other population centers. It is not the first time that a pact has emerged in Sangin, though. In 2011, members of the Alokozai tribe, long allied with the Taliban, agreed to halt attacks against the Afghan government in exchange for a prisoner, as well as aid and the potential to establish their own enduring security forces. At the time, commanders believed the deal held great potential to change the blistering dynamic in Sangin. But hope gave way to more fighting, and the district remained among the five deadliest in the country this year, officials said. “The truce has been made in part because Taliban are extremely powerful in Sangin,” said a member of the district council in Sangin, who declined to comment publicly because of the negotiations. “These Taliban commanders had not been able to visit the bazaar in the last seven years. Afterward, the Afghan Army traveled to places where they had never been over the last six years.” Local residents and officials described a bizarre scene in the Sangin bazaar, a robust market of groceries, fabrics, electronics and other sundries, a day after the deal was struck. Around midday, the Afghan Army arrived in an armored convoy, bearing Taliban commanders known to the locals. The men walked through the stalls, introducing the men and sharing laughs, witnesses said. “The A.N.A. commanders told people: ‘Look these are Taliban and they have come over by their own free will. We did not force them to come,’ ” said Mohammed Khan, a shopkeeper in Sangin who saw the scene. Suliman Khan, the commander for the Afghan Local Police militia in Sangin, expressed worry about exclusive deals. “We were not informed,” he said, “and we have not been asked about this secret deal.” But even as army officials sought this week to assure locals and the police that such deals would not happen again, many elders said they wished they would. “We are not against a peace deal or an agreement with Taliban,” said Hajji Mira Jan Aka, a member of the district council and the head of the high committee. “We are against an agreement which is only with army.”

Controversial ID Cards Expose Ethnic Divisions In Afghanistan
Violent street protests, walkouts in parliament, and scuffles among politicians -- an effort to introduce new national ID cards is causing an identity crisis in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government wants to issue biometric cards to citizens in time for the country's presidential election in April to help curtail voter fraud and promote national unity. But the omission of citizens' ethnicity has instead highlighted Afghanistan's historical ethnic divisions, largely because critics believe putting everyone under the "Afghan" umbrella is politically advantageous to the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns.
The resulting uproar has derailed the government’s plan to distribute the cards.
Ethnic rifts run deep in Afghanistan, and ethnicity is closely tied to citizens' broader sense of political and social identity.
Some argue that, with precise population estimates unavailable because Afghanistan has never conducted a nationwide census, documenting citizens' ethnicity on the national ID card could help the government accurately determine the size of the country's various ethnic groups.
This is an issue because ethnic minorities in Afghanistan argue that population estimates used to determine political representation greatly overstate the percentage of Pashtuns, which results in the group taking a greater share of power than it deserves.
Promoting Unity?
Advocates of the effort to forge a common Afghan identity, however, say singling out citizens' ethnicity could be divisive. Excluding mention of ethnicity on the ID cards, they argue, could promote unity in the volatile multiethnic country. Under the proposed format of the new biometric documents, known as "taskera," holders' ethnicity would in fact be contained on the cards' smart chips. Their ethnicity, however, would not be printed on the face of the card itself.
In addition to the words "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan" identifying the card as an official state document, the cards would also feature the word "Afghani" to describe the individual cardholder.
This is not suitable to citizens such as Haydar, a Kabul resident who argues that the country needs to ensure fair political representation. "The new ID cards should mention Afghan nationality but also whether a citizen is an ethnic Tajik, a Hazara, or an ethnic Uzbek," he says. In lieu of a national census, the government has relied on figures compiled from sample censuses dating back to the 1970s to determine the country's ethnic makeup. The fact that Afghan governments have been dominated by Pashtuns has helped fuel sentiments among ethnic minorities that they are being politically marginalized, and even that the Pashtuns have a stake in preventing a national census from being conducted. Even the word "Afghan" itself, which is historically synonymous with Pashtuns, is a source of contention among members of minority groups. Halim, a student at Kabul University, says the country needs to abandon such lines of thinking.
"If Afghan nationality is not printed on the cards, then how are we to identify ourselves?" he asks. "Nationality must be included. If nationality is omitted then the name of the country itself will come under threat and will be changed too. Soon after that people will question the name of our currency [afghani] and also blame that on Pashtuns."
The proposed national ID card project is expected to cost $100 million, and will be paid for by the Finance Ministry. Inflamed Tensions The government has said the new system would cut down on electoral fraud and help it develop better social and economic policies, among other things. So far, as evidenced by a very public row playing out in the Afghan media and parliament, the issue has only inflamed ethnic tensions. Abdul Wahid Taqat, a retired Afghan general turned political analyst, was arrested on December 12 after making a series of inflammatory remarks on a talk show on Zhwandoon TV, a Pashto-language television station based in Kabul. Taqat reportedly said ethnic minorities, including ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, should go back to their countries and that Afghanistan was the land of the Pashtuns. His arrest came after the Attorney General's Office on December 8 launched an official investigation into the discriminatory remarks made by Taqat. He and several Zhwandoon TV employees were summoned for questioning. Hundreds of Kabul residents staged a demonstration on December 7 to protest against Taqat and Zhwandoon TV. The protest was only one of dozens that have sprung up across the country in reaction to the proposed card system.
The controversy over Zhwandoon TV came after a bust-up during a Senate session on December 2. While the Senate was debating the merits of the new cards, several lawmakers flung water bottles at each other, prompting a brief scuffle.
The Afghan parliament has itself further muddied the waters.
The Wolsei Jirga, the lower house of parliament, approved a law to print ethnicity on the cards earlier this year. But the text of the law sent to and approved by the Meshrano Jirga, the Senate, excluded ethnicity from the cards. A special commission is currently trying to settle the dispute. At the center of the investigation is Mohammad Saleh Saldzhuki, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, who sent the letter to the Senate. He has been accused of changing the original text. Saldzhuki is currently being questioned and has not spoken to the media.
Abdullah, a shopkeeper in Kabul, says ethnocentric views are very dangerous. He cites the country’s devastating civil war in the early 1990s, which was fought mainly along ethnic lines.
Abdullah accuses opportunistic politicians of using the issue to garner support ahead of presidential and provincial elections slated for April.
"We are all living in Afghanistan and we are all Afghans even though our ethnicity is either Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, or Pashtun," he says. "This issue is being used by some figures as a political tool."

Bangladesh: We are outraged- ''We protest Pak assembly resolution''

WE are surprised, shocked and outraged at Pakistan legislature’s having passed a resolution denouncing execution of Jamaat leader Quader Mollah following a death verdict handed by High Court for his crimes against humanity in 1971. Since the trial and the punishment of Mollah were carried out according to the law of the land, we consider Pakistan government’s reaction to it as an unabashed attempt at interference in our internal affairs. We have no words strong enough to condemn it.
What is the Pakistani authority trying to convey with its present stance on Mollah having been brought to justice? It looks like the present Pakistan government endorses the heinous crimes against humanity that he committed during our Liberation War in 1971. And are they oblivious of the fact that it is the then-Pakistani military junta that dictated the criminals of Quader Mollah’s ilk to decimate freedom loving Bengali people in thousands without any qualm? By this act, Pakistani authorities have again proved that they are not only not sorry for the genocide their predecessors committed 42 years ago, but are still active in sympathising with the likes of Quader Mollah and not with their victims.
At the same time, what we find reprehensible is their casting aspersions on the judicial proceedings of a sovereign country. It again proves beyond doubt that they have no understanding of our history, neither have they any regard for it. In fact, we demand that Pakistan government apologise to Bangladesh for the genocide that its predecessors perpetrated against Bengali people in 1971 which has been long overdue.

Bangladesh: Police foil march on Pak High Commission

Police on Thursday prevented the 'Ganajagaran Mancha' procession from entering the diplomatic enclave, their second march towards the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka is as many days.The Mancha is protesting a resolution that Pakistan National Assembly adopted on Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Molla’s hanging for his crimes against humanity in 1971 that include murder.Correspondents from the spot said they had seen at least two of the marchers taken into the police van after a mêlée.The Mancha came into existence after Molla got a life sentence in the war crimes trial, which many in Bangladesh felt was too lenient.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court later revised it to death penalty.

Pakistan Protests May Make US Fly War Cargo Out

U.S. officials, frustrated that hundreds of military shipments heading out of Afghanistan have been stopped on the land route through Pakistan because of anti-American protests, face the possibility of flying out equipment at an additional cost of $1 billion.
More than a week after Pakistani officials promised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that they would take "immediate action" to resolve the problem, dozens of protesters are still gathering on the busy overland route, posing a security threat to convoys carrying U.S. military equipment out of the war zone before combat ends a year from now.
U.S. officials said Wednesday they have seen no effort by the Pakistanis to stop the protests, which prompted the U.S. three weeks ago to halt NATO cargo shipments going through the Torkham border crossing and toward the port city of Karachi.
A Pakistani official says the government is looking for a peaceful settlement but notes that citizens have the right to protest as long as they are not violent. The U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the planning, said flying the military equipment out of Afghanistan to a port will cost five to seven times as much as it does to truck it through Pakistan. About a hundred trucks are stacked up at the border, and hundreds more are loaded and stalled in compounds, waiting to leave Afghanistan.
The shipments consist largely of military equipment that is no longer needed now that the Afghan war is ending. Sending the cargo out through the normal Pakistan routes will cost about $5 billion through the end of next year, said a defense official. Flying the heavy equipment, including armored vehicles, out of Afghanistan to ports in the Middle East, where it would be loaded onto ships, would cost about $6 billion if it continued through next year, said the official.
A northern supply route, which runs through Uzbekistan and up to Russia, was used for about seven months last year when Pakistan shut down the southern passages after U.S. airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two border posts. That northern route, however, was used primarily to bring shipments into Afghanistan, and is much longer, more costly and often requires cargo to be transferred from trucks to rail. The deadlock, if not resolved, could also be costly for Pakistan. In private meetings in Islamabad early last week, Hagel warned Pakistani leaders that unless the military shipments resumed, political support could erode in Washington for an aid program that sends them billions of dollars. Hagel received assurances from Pakistan leaders during the meetings that they would resolve the problem but no progress has been made. Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby said Hagel is concerned about the issue and has talked with his top commanders in the region about it. "He knows they (the commanders) are working the issue very hard," Kirby said. But Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was in Pakistan on Monday for a meeting with Pakistan's new Army chief, and it wasn't clear if he broached the issue with him. The protesters are demonstrating against the CIA's drone program, which has targeted and killed many terrorists but has also caused civilian casualties. The group gathers daily at a toll booth on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Peshawar, in Pakistan's northern Khyber Paktunkhwa province. All traffic going into the tribal areas and on to the Torkham crossing must pass through the toll booth. Earlier this week, a group of about 40 protesters were at the toll booth, including about 10 who were waving flags as vehicles and trucks drove past. A makeshift enclosure was set up on the side of the road, complete with chairs arranged under a tent encircled by barbed wire to keep the protest from spilling into traffic. A few police officers stood nearby, with orders to allow the protests to go on but ensure that no one got unruly or attacked the drivers.
"We will continue this sit-in until there is a good decision on the drones," said Fayaz Ahmed Khalid, a political organizer with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. "It's for ourselves, for our country."
He said the group has been stopping container trucks going into Afghanistan and looking at their papers to determine whether they are carrying cargo bound for NATO troops. If so, the protesters force the trucks to turn around. Khalid said the group got instructions not to stop trucks coming out of Afghanistan into Pakistan, and added that they've also noticed there has been little traffic coming from Karachi and heading into Afghanistan. Companies know, he said, that they will be turned back at the checkpoint. He said it has been about a week since the protesters encountered a truck carrying NATO goods. The protesters, however, appear to be in this for the long haul. Khalid had a schedule listing who would be manning the sit-in each day through mid-January. Officials from PTI said they had received no pressure from the federal government to stop the protests. Shah Farman, a PTI member who serves as the provincial information minister, said the national government, controlled by the Pakistan Muslim League-N, hasn't moved to aggressively reopen the route because they don't want to be seen as supporting the drone campaign.
"Why is the federal government silent? Because they can't go against the public pulse," said Farman.
Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said a July 2012 agreement between Pakistan and the U.S. allows NATO to take supplies out of Afghanistan through Pakistan. But she said the issue is a sensitive one due to the widespread opposition to the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
"Obviously the government would be looking for a peaceful way out to move the protesters from there, to convince them to move," she said. "Our constitution gives people this right, if they're not violent. They have the right to protest. So I don't know if they can be forcibly removed from that place."
Cargo usually goes through the Torkham crossing in northern Pakistan or the Chaman crossing in southern Pakistan's Baluchistan province. As the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan continues, the goal has been to move about 30 shipments per day out of Afghanistan to Karachi. Shipments through Torkham stopped in late November. U.S. officials say that just a small percentage is taken out through the Chaman route because it is more dangerous and crosses through the insurgency-plagued Baluchistan province.

Pakistan: At least 23 suspected militants killed in N Waziristan

At least 23 suspected militants were killed late on Wednesday during a clash with security forces in the country's troubled northwest, officials said. According to a security official who requested anonymity, the suspected militants tried to ambush a convoy of security forces which was returning back from Khajuri checkpost area in Mirali Tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region. The convoy had gone in the area to rescue soldiers who were injured in a suicide bomb attack yesterday. Security forces retaliated with gunfire and encircled the suspects inflicting heavy casualties. The gun-battle continued for several hours during which the 23 suspected militants were killed. Moreover, three security personnel were also injured in the clash. A search operation was underway in the area. The clash follows a suicide attack on a military checkpoint which killed at least five soldiers and wounded 34 others. The attack had taken place while the security men were offering prayer in a mosque at the post. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson, talking to, claimed that the militant group was behind the suicide attack and that it was carried out to avenge ex-TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud's death. North Waziristan, one of the seven tribal districts along the Afghan border, is a hotbed for Al Qaeda and TTP militants. The TTP has led a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state in recent years, carrying out hundreds of attacks on security forces and government targets, mainly in the country's northwest.

Three Pakistani pilgrims among 11 martyred on way to Karbala for Chehlum of Imam Hussain (AS)
At least three Pakistani pilgrims were among those 11 Shiites who embraced martyrdom while they were on way to Karbala to commemorate the anniversary of Chehlum of Imam Hussain (AS) there. Shiite News Correspondent reported that Iraqi officials said that attacks on pilgrims were made across the country in which 11 were martyred. Three among them were Pakistani pilgrims. Police officials said outside the city of Samarra, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Pakistani pilgrims, killing three Pakistanis and wounding 12, along with two Iraqis — the group’s driver and the translator. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted attacks of Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists who have defamed Islam and Muslims and caused irreparable losses to the Ummah by their ferocious terrorism and ideology of hatred for whole humanity, let alone fellow Muslims.

Taliban warn Imran against supporting polio campaign
Pakistani Taliban on Wednesday said they will turn their guns on Imran Khan for pledging his support to polio campaign. Imran Khan had earlier on Wednesday appealed to the Pakistani Taliban and others not to attack polio workers and pledged to spearhead the vaccination campaign in the restive northwest that continues to be in the grip of the crippling disease. He said attacks on polio workers must end. "Those who are attacking polio workers are doing injustice to our province, our country and the whole of humanity," Khan told reporters. "If we run a full-fledged campaign against polio in the coming three months we can eradicate polio from the country and I will personally lead this campaign," Imran said.

Long march for the missing persons reaches Thatta

Participants of the long march that began from Quetta for the recovery of missing persons has reached Thatta. The long march is led by Voice of Missing Person’s chief Mama Qadeer while the participants included relatives of the missing persons. The long march was accorded warm welcome in Thatta. Mama Qadeer claimed that he has been receiving threats for the last three days, however, he said that he is not afraid of threats. He further said that if any thing bad happened to the march, the Sindh and Federal government would be responsible for it. The participants said that they would submit memorandum in the United Nations office in Islamabad.