Monday, January 6, 2014

Turkey must not get involved in this mess

It is not clear what the truth about the Syria-bound truck, stopped on a tip-off by police for allegedly being laden with weapons, is all about. All we know is that the authorities did not allow it to be searched and let it continue on its way.
The policemen who stopped the truck and the prosecutor who tried to have it searched have since received their marching orders, thus adding to the intrigue. Prime Minister Erdoğan even sees a link between the current corruption scandal, for which he is blaming anti-government elements in the police and judiciary, and this incident.
Newly appointed Minister for Interior Efkan Ala said after Hürriyet broke the news about the truck that it was carrying supplies for Syrian Turcoman, refusing to elaborate further. The government says it is a state secret and will not divulge any details. What we do know is that the Turkish intelligence service MIT is involved.
The release on Sunday of Bünyamin Aygün, the Turkish journalist kidnapped over a month ago in Northern Syria, has added to the intrigue and stoked more speculation. Aygün said, after being brought to Turkey by an MIT team, that he thought his abductors were Al-Qaeda affiliated.
Some claim now that the truck was carrying weapons for the MIT team that crossed into Syria to get Aygün, which hints at a Hollywood type rescue operation if true. Others claim the truck was carrying weapons to the group that kidnapped Aygün in exchange for his release.
Of course it is not clear if this truck had anything to do with Aygün at all. But this is Turkey where conspiracy theorizing comes second to soccer in popularity. Meanwhile, claims that Turkey is arming radical Islamist anti-Assad elements in Northern Syria refuse to go away. The Syrian government has even complained to the Security Council over this. The truck incident merely adds grist to Assad’s mill. No doubt it has also attracted the interest of every intelligence service operating in the region too.
News is coming in, against this backdrop, that Iran is vowing military support to the Iraqi government, which is fighting Al-Qaeda elements in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, the deputy chief-of-staff of the Iranian armed forces was quoted by Iranian media on Monday as saying that they can offer “military equipment and advisers” should Baghdad ask for it.
The city of Fallujah in Anbar province is said to be more or less under the control of radical Islamists aligned with Al-Qaeda. Fallujah became a rallying cry for Turkish Islamists, radical or otherwise, when U.S. forces attacked it in 2004, after the vengeance killing and mutilation of trigger-happy American mercenaries in Iraq. The U.S. operation was accepted by most Turks as bloody and indiscriminate “payback” rather than an organized security operation. It also provided material for the rabidly anti-American blockbuster film “The Valley of the Wolves.” The bottom line is that there is sympathy in Turkey for the Sunnis of Anbar province. This is clearly the case for Saudi Arabia and Qatar also. Many wonder now if Iran’s readiness to help the predominantly Shiite Maliki government in Anbar province will carry the proxy war in Syria to Iraq, and if so where Turkey will stand in all this. Turkey’s involvement in Syria has been a messy one with much undesired blowback that still continues to come. For all the support that there may be among Turkish Islamists for the radical elements in that country, it is clear that most Turks are wary of getting embroiled in the Syrian debacle any further. The same can be said for Iraq should matters get out of hand in Anbar province. This is a world of car bombs, kidnappings and beheadings, not to mention merciless massacres over arguments which go back 1400 years and which have nothing to do with the modern world.
This is why Turkey must not get involved any further in this mess, and only concern itself with the humanitarian dimension.

The need for a truly secular state

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other.
This new tension, like the old one, includes lots of mind-boggling details and jaw-dropping conspiracy theories. However, like the old one, it actually renders down to a simple question: the nature, and the masters, of the state. Since we have such an all-powerful and all-encompassing Leviathan, its control is a matter of life-and-death. Hence come all our bitter and zealous power struggles.
Another element in this new political tension is the Islamic credentials both sides have, according to their somewhat similar yet still distinct interpretations of religion. This religious element inspires a strong sense self-righteousness and causes the tension to get deeper and deeper.
But is there no way out? An interesting perspective came from an Islamic intellectual, Sibel Eraslan, who is a renowned novelist and a columnist for the conservative daily Star. She wrote:
“The [Gülen] Community-AKP conflict invites us to think more seriously on ‘secularism’… [because] the fight for political space and power among the pious forces us to look for a new referee.”
The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the Frenchlaïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.
What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power. If the latter is dominated by any particular worldview (let it be religious, ideological, philosophical), it becomes very oppressive on others. Therefore, the best political system is the one in which political power is kept as neutral as possible. It is, in other words, a liberal secular state -and not the illiberal one we used to have.
In my book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” I argue that there are ideas and philosophical movements in early Islam which can allow modern-day Muslims to accept such a liberal secular state. But such political projects become popular out of not only intellectual arguments but also practical necessities. If Turkey’s religious conservatives are wise enough, they can see this burning necessity today. Or, they will inevitably see it one day, after hurting each other, and the rest of society, in a long political war of attrition.

Beijing rejects Abe's call for official meeting

Beijing and Seoul responded coolly on Monday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again requested official meetings with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts.
"Abe has repeatedly claimed that he underscores improving relations with China, but what he said is hypocritical. It was he who closed the door on dialogue," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye also blamed Japan on Monday for strained ties.
After paying a customary New Year's visit to a shrine in the central Japanese city of Ise, Abe told a news conference he hopes for meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea to "explain the intent of my visits to the Yasukuni Shrine directly to them with full sincerity".
"Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region," he said.
Observers said Abe is playing with words in trying to justify his controversial pilgrimage to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. They said that while offering an olive branch, he has decided to introduce right-wing, revisionist policies, which will make it impossible to hold a leaders' summit. Abe has also called for public support for his Cabinet's plan to gradually lift constitutional restrictions to facilitate Japan's military buildup this year. He stoked regional tensions on Dec 26 by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 top war criminals from World War II. The shrine is widely viewed as a symbol of Japan's past militarism, and the visit triggered strong protests from China and South Korea and disappointment from the United States. Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Beijing has sent a clear message to Abe. "The message is clear and strong enough. Beijing has ruled out a leaders' summit meeting in the near future. Abe's hypocrisy has been unveiled, and Beijing is very serious in this regard," Qu said. Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japan Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Abe is trying to manipulate media in Japan and outside the country by "kicking the ball back to China and South Korea". On Monday, Abe stated his resolve to rally more public support for revising Japan's pacifist Constitution. He said it is necessary to initiate "a deep discussion among the whole Japanese people" about the constitutional revision. Japan's NHK television on Monday confirmed that the country's ruling coalition will propose a draft in late January for amending a law that defines the threshold for holding a national referendum on a constitutional revision. Feng Wei, a professor of Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said, "Although it is impossible for the Cabinet to complete all the legislative procedures for allowing a constitutional revision before the end of 2014, it is possible that the Japanese government will change its interpretation about exercising the right of collective self-defense." Sun Cheng, a professor of Japanese studies at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, said Japan has mixed feelings about China, and deep economic interdependence cannot override Tokyo's deterrence against China in security fields.
"Tokyo's changing security and foreign policies will bring more complexities and uncertainties to the relationships between China, Japan and the United States," Sun said.

Saudi Arabia prime sponsor of terror?

Lyuba Lulko
Saudi Arabia has allocated three billion dollars to the Lebanese army, more than double the country's military budget. King Abdullah recommended "increasing the safety of Lebanon" with this money in light of the recent terrorist attacks, but with one condition - the weapons must be purchased in France. Francois Hollande should not be too hopeful that the destabilization in the region would not affect his country.
Last Sunday Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that Saudi Arabia would allocate three billion dollars in aid to the Lebanese army. The Western media described it as a noble gesture to aid Lebanon stability impaired as a result of the recent terrorist attacks. On December 27, at least eight people were killed and over 70 injured after a car exploded near government buildings. The explosion killed former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah who, according to the local media, criticized the dominance of the Shiite party Hezbollah in the Lebanese army and security agencies. Members of the Lebanese political elite who are adherents of Sunni Islam have attributed these attacks to the armed wing of Hezbollah. In turn, members of parliament from the Hezbollah believe that this attack was by members of a Salafi extremist group. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The responsibility for a double attack near the Iranian Embassy in Beirut on November 19 that killed at least 23 people, including the cultural attaché of the Iranian embassy, was assumed by the Brigade of Abdullah Azzam, Al-Qaeda, supported by the Saudis. The announcement of assistance followed a visit to Riyadh of French President Francois Hollande who met with Saudi King Abdullah, the former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, as well as the leader of the Syrian National Coalition opposition and revolutionary forces Ahmad Jarboe. If we consider that recently Lebanon areas bordering with Syria turned into a haven for terrorists fleeing the Syrian government army, and France was the most active supporter of intervention in Syria, the alliance France - Saudi Arabia - Lebanon does not look random.
Political scientist and expert on international affairs, the author of Global Research Finian Cunningham believes that one of the protagonists of terrorism, Saudi Arabia, made ​​a "gift" to Lebanon to secure its influence on the Lebanese army and direct it against its main opponent - Hezbollah. The expert wrote in an article for the portal Iranian Press TV that the insidious interference of Saudi Arabia in the internal affairs of Lebanon could trigger further growth of religious tension between Sunnis and Shiites in the country still recovering from 15 years of civil war. He cited State French channel France 24 that believed that military assistance would help the Lebanese army to fight groups like Hezbollah that have caused a wave of violence in the country. Cunningham believes it to be deliberate distortion of the facts, because the cycle of violence in Lebanon was provoked by terrorist groups linked to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Western intelligence. The main victims of the attack are Shia communities in the south of Beirut, Baalbek, in the east of the country.
The author said that Saudi bloody money sponsoring terrorism did demonic work in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan, and probably even at the periphery of the south-east of Iran. According to him, they are also involved in the terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus and in Volgograd.
British newspaper The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the purpose of sponsorship was to reduce the political and military power of Iran that supported the Lebanese Shiite militant organization Hezbollah, a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad and Iran. It is this military force, not the army, that is the most powerful military force in the country, the newspaper concludes. A daily Lebanese newspaper Al-Akbar was much more categorical, stating that France and Saudi Arabia decided to explode the situation in Lebanon and destroy the remainder of its institutions and the constitution. The paper clarified that the Lebanese army in Lebanon was considered the basis of the national unity, and its support by Iran or Saudi Arabia could cause unrest among the population. Combat units of Hezbollah in Lebanon exist as a guard designed to repel Israel and guerrilla warfare and its management prefers not to interfere with the management of the Lebanese army, and vice versa. But even if the Lebanese army should be reformed with foreign aid, it should not be allowed to physically order Hezbollah to disarm. According to Arab analysts, such actions could trigger a civil war, especially in Sunni areas in Tripoli and Sidon, where Islamist rhetoric is on the rise, and attacks on military are becoming commonplace. For the first time Al-Qaeda is gaining support among Lebanese Sunnis in these cities, warned Al-Akbar.
This is why the words of the king of Saudi Arabia that his assistance was aimed at improving Lebanon's security sound like a mockery. Cunningham wrote that this model of inciting sectarian violence between Sunnis, Shiites and Christians was one of the main methods of Saudi Arabia, Israel and Western intelligence agencies to destabilize Syria and Iraq in the past three years. Hypocrisy of the Saudis has no limits. Last August the main sponsor of terrorism donated $100 million to anti-terrorist centers of the United Nations.
Cunningham added that the bloodshed that flooded Syria and Iraq will happen in Lebanon, Yemen and Russia increasingly more often.
France plays its customary hawk role in the Middle East. Hollande has likely secured the condition of Lebanon buying weapons from France for the real international support of the Wahhabi state. Perhaps, he hoped that France would not be affected by explosions and murder. But international terrorism is a boomerang that will certainly come back to the one who threw it. Former head of the General Directorate of External Security of France told the Voice of Russia that approximately five million Muslims resided in France, and some of them were radicals. It is important to ensure that Islamic propagandists who act in France funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia do not have influence on these young people. However, based on the statements of the French Minister of Internal Affairs, they do have such influence, and the fifth column, judging by the unrests in Paris suburbs in 2005, 2007 and 2013. is ready for action.

Music: English Arabic Remix

Pakistan: PPP Senator calls for oversight of security of establishment
Taking part in the discussion Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the security situation in the country would get worsened as a result of the withdrawal of NATO forces, the empowerment of Taliban in Afghanistan and both Pakistan and Afghanistan believing that their worst enemies have sanctuaries in the other country.
The TTP almost spontaneously rejected the renewed talks offer made by cabinet committee on national security last month. To dramatize its rejection the TTP also launched within hours a brazen suicide attack on soldiers in North Waziristan and on imambargah in Gracey lines in Rawalpindi thereby leaving no doubt about its true intentions.
A complex security situation is thus in the making, he warned.
He said that after the appointment of Fazlullah as TTP chief both Pakistan and Afghanistan can claim for the first time that their worst enemies have sanctuaries in each other’s country.
The moment of truth has arrived and we must contend with the cross border movement of militants with impunity.
He said that cross border militancy related to the security establishment and there was need for institutional mechanisms for oversight of the security establishments.
As a first measure to make the security establishment accountable the Parliament should adopt a law that while giving the security agencies the powers to arrest and detain militants engaged in anti state activities also made them subject to some form of parliamentary oversight.
He said that it was time to enact a law to address the issue of missing persons in the country as recommended by the Commission on Enforced Disappearances, the Senate and also observed by superior courts during the course of hearings in missing persons cases. He said that the interior minister had on June 17 last year during discussion in the senate on security situation had admitted of a serious disconnect between the civilian set up and the security establishment and promised to address it. Unless this disconnect is addressed and the security establishment is subjected to some measure of political and parliamentary oversight the security situation in Pakistan during the days ahead will deteriorate further, he said.

Saudi Arabia root of terrorism in Mideast

An Iranian lawmaker says Saudi Arabia is the root cause of terrorism in the Middle East, calling on the UN to take action and prevent the spread of violence.
“Saudi Arabia is the supporter of terrorism in the region and by creating tension and chaos in countries such as Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, it seeks to save the Al Saud family from the Islamic Awakening and regional developments,” said Member of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Evaz Heidarpour in a Monday interview.
“Therefore, this country (Saudi Arabia) will continue its terrorist actions by inciting sectarian and religious strife in Muslim states,” he added.
The lawmaker pointed to Riyadh’s role in creating insecurity in Syria by supporting al-Qaeda and added, “The international community and UN should definitely take effective measures as soon as possible to prevent the escalation of violence and the activities of Takfiris.”
The remarks come after the suspicious death of the detained Saudi mastermind of the November bomb attack against Iran’s Embassy in Beirut and commander of the al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades Majed Al-Majed.
Many political observers believe that Saudi Arabia murdered Majed over fears that his interrogation would shed light on the recent assassinations and terrorist attacks in the Middle East.
While Lebanon and Syria have also been the scenes of deadly string of bomb attacks by al-Qaeda-linked terrorist networks, the Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi in Anbar province have also been witnessing deadly clashes between security forces and Takfiri militants over the past days.

Kerry urges hard compromises in Mideast

Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Sunday that five months of intensive U.S.- brokered peace talks have made progress toward resolving the hardest issues dividing Israel and the Palestinians but that a deal could slip through his hands. “The path is becoming clearer. The puzzle is becoming more defined. And it is becoming much more apparent to everybody what the remaining tough choices are,” Kerry said after three days of shuttle diplomacy in Israel and the West Bank.
Later Sunday, Kerry met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Riyadh. The two are key Arab players whose support would be crucial to making a deal stick.
In Riyadh, Kerry praised the Saudi monarch’s long support for a regional peace accord that could end Israel’s many conflicts with Arab neighbors. Abdullah proposed a comprehensive Arab peace accord in 2002 that Kerry said is “part of the framework we have been piecing together.”
The 2002 initiative calls for Israel to give up land taken in the 1967 war, and Israel has never accepted that as the basis for negotiations. In an important amendment last year, the proposals’ backers buttressed Kerry’s peace effort by saying that the region’s 1967 lines could be adjusted by mutual agreement.
The United States is seeking agreement on an outline for a final peace deal that Kerry said he wants to forge by the end of April. He has made 10 trips to the region to push both sides to compromise on borders and other divisive issues that have calcified over decades of conflict.
“I cannot tell you when, particularly, the last pieces may decide to fall into place or may fall on the floor and leave the puzzle unfinished,” Kerry said in Jerusalem.
His idea for a framework agreement on which to build the final peace deal is a tough request for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides have balked at Kerry’s terms, according to Israeli and Palestinian news reports. ­Netanyahu and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat each used appearances with Kerry over the past few days to accuse the other side of being the potential spoiler in the bid for a deal.
Direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed in July after a three-year hiatus. The last substantive talks had broken down two years earlier. Kerry has devoted much of his first year as secretary of state to resuming talks and keeping them going. His main claim of progress is that discussions have not ceased.
“This has been a productive couple of days with very, very intensive talks,” Kerry told reporters Sunday. He called the latest talks positive but acknowledged that the effort is at a difficult juncture. “These are complicated issues that involve the survival and the future of peoples. And this is a conflict that has gone on for too long, so positions are hardened. Mistrust obviously exists at a very high level, so you have to work through that and around that,” Kerry said.
Netanyahu and Abbas have yet to meet face to face, and U.S. officials have said the men are unlikely to do so until their negotiators agree on a framework plan.
“Now is not the time to get trapped in the sort of up and down of the day-to-day challenges,” Kerry said. “This does not lend itself to a daily tick-tock. We don’t have the luxury of dwelling on the obstacles that we all know could distract us from our goal. What we need to do is lift our sights and look ahead and keep in mind the vision of what can come, and if we can move forward.”
Kerry’s call to avoid public criticism and the daily trading of barbs and threats was immediately ignored by Israeli politicians. On Sunday morning, Yuval Stein­itz, Israel’s intelligence minister and a close ally of Netanyahu, told Israel Radio that Israel would not accept any peace deal based on the pre-1967 lines — a reference to the Green Line, a demarcation established after Israel’s independence that marks the boundary between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Using the pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed-upon land swaps between Israelis and Palestinians has been a core proposal for peace from the Obama administration.
Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Knesset from the Jewish Home party who is part of Netanyahu’s coalition government, said Sunday, “An Israeli government that would agree to revert the national border to those of 1967 would be performing national suicide.” Possible borders for a future Palestinian state was not the only issue drawing fire within a few hours of Kerry’s departure. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told an annual gathering of Israeli diplomats that a future Palestinian state will have to absorb “hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees from Syria and Lebanon because these states will simply expel all of these refugees.”
He also said, “I will not support any peace deal that will allow the return of even one Palestinian refugee to Israel.” His remarks were distributed by his office.
Lieberman repeated one of his past proposals to give to any future Palestinian state a triangle of land in northern Israel that is populated mostly by Arab-Israelis, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s citizens. In the triangle, he said, the Arab population would not be evicted — but the border would be redrawn and they would end up in Palestine. Lieberman called the ideas contained in Kerry’s framework agreement “clear and decisive” and said they are probably the most favorable terms Israel will see. Every alternative offered by the international community for a future peace deal will be tougher for Israel, Lieberman said.

5 things on President Obama, Congress' agendas
Last year ended with Congress reaching a deal on funding the government without all the end-of-the-year drama that we've come to expect. Democrats and Republicans defied the recent all-or-nothing gamesmanship and brokered a budget deal before its deadline, prompting speculation that maybe, just maybe, dogs and cats can live together. Here are five things on both President Barack Obama's and Congress' agendas that will show pretty quickly whether breaking the partisan logjam in the capital is possible or just a fantasy.
1. Unemployment insurance
The bipartisan biodome already seems to be showing cracks in its fragile foundation on the question of whether to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed. With the Senate set to take up the measure when it returns from holiday recess Monday, Sen. Harry Reid backed his Republican colleagues into a corner with a flurry of verbal jabs. Reid told CNN the GOP demand for offsets -- corresponding cuts that would cover the $26 billion cost of a temporary extension in unemployment benefits -- is "foolishness." Though some Republicans, including Nevada conservative Sen. Dean Heller, have said they're willing to cross the aisle on the issue, House leaders drew a line: A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner insisted the top Republican in the House won't agree to extend long-term unemployment benefits unless Democrats come up with a way to pay for them. The White House isn't giving any ground on the matter, either. After the President scolded Republicans for being "cruel" to the Americans most in need of help, the Obama administration's top economic adviser, Gene Sperling, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday that should the GOP fail to cooperate, they would hurt the country and hurt themselves at the polls in 2014. Still, despite the growing chorus of discord and doubters, Reid remained confident he could find the 60 votes necessary to clear the first procedural hurdle in the deeply divided body on Monday.
2. Funding the government: Devil's in the details Before lawmakers toast bipartisanship, they might want to think about re-corking the champagne. Yes, congressional negotiators did agree to a deal that would fund the government through 2015. And, yes, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who brokered the deal, proclaimed an end to the budget bickering that's gridlocked the capital in recent years. But there have been a lot of bold podium proclamations that ultimately ended up as footnotes. While the deal would set federal spending on domestic and defense programs at little more than $1 trillion for both this fiscal year and next, the budget package does little in terms of providing long-term savings and offers no sequester relief beyond 2016. More importantly, the Ryan-Murray accord amounts to a framework, leaving Appropriations Committee staffers in a bind to flesh out the details before January 15. The omnibus behemoth also takes what's normally a steady march to the finish -- appropriators normally dole out funds in 12 separate bills -- and compresses it into a full-on sprint. Plus, this isn't exactly mathematical mad-libs. Appropriators need to agree on just how much to parcel out to federal agencies, including those charged with implementing the much-maligned Affordable Care Act. Most are hoping a coffee-fueled cram can prevent the collapse of a major milestone and let Congress focus on more important things -- like doing away with the NFL television blackout and making sure the Treasury can't mint trillion-dollar platinum coins.
3. The coming storm: Debt ceiling Everyone knows the stakes on this one.
The full faith and credit of the United States.
The ability of the federal government to pay its bills.
The stability of the world economy.
Just be thankful the looming consequences don't also include zombies.
Even after the brinkmanship that preceded an October compromise that gave the government fiscal breathing room until February 7, Congress and the White House seem poised to take the battle over the debt limit into the early morning hours of February 8. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he couldn't "imagine it being done clean," and Ryan slung aside his bipartisan ball cap to tell Fox News that Republicans "don't want nothing out of this debt limit." Obama, for his part, has now uttered the line that his administration is "not going to negotiate for Congress to pay its bills" enough times to create a sizeable YouTube mashup. Though the Treasury Department will still be able to use "extraordinary measures" to temporarily delay the onset of financial ruin, the Congressional Budget Office projects those measures would probably be exhausted in March.
4. Obamacare
The Republican-controlled House seems set on spending 2014 like it spent most of 2013: shining a white-hot spotlight on the uneven rollout of Obamacare and trying to repeal or roll back the President's signature health care law.
House Majority Leader
Eric Cantor announced Thursday the House's first order of business when it returns from its holiday break would be a vote on legislation to address potential security risks for personal information collected on the Obamacare website, Americans for Prosperity, which spent $16 million on anti-Obamacare television ads in the fall, will spend $2.5 million on fresh commercials that target three Democratic senators up for re-election for their support of Obamacare: Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. While provides a steady stream of fodder for conservatives, websites can be fixed and glitches remedied. But Republicans are banking on the idea that the "it's more than just a botched website" narrative, especially the President's broken promise on keeping your health care plan, can carry them to electoral success in the midterm elections this fall. The latest CNN/ORC poll on Obamacare law showed opposition to it now sits at 62% and that the administration is fighting a losing battle to sell one of the Democrats' key electoral blocs -- women -- on the law's merits. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed believe the new law will increase the amount of money they personally pay for medical care, a finding that runs counter to the White House's argument that the law is working and its favorite statistical refrain: Health care costs in the United States have grown at the slowest rate on record over since the act was signed into law.
5. The long way around: immigration reform
Speaking to supporters in San Francisco on November 25, Obama said, "It's long past time to fix our broken immigration system." It was a major item on the President's first-term agenda and arguably the top task on his 2013 to-do list. Republicans know they must address the issue or lose the vital Latino voting bloc for generations to come. But 12 pages on the congressional calendar have been ripped off and flung in the rubbish bin, and still Congress appears no closer to finally moving on immigration reform. Whether the House chooses to bring up immigration legislation this year largely depends on whether the GOP powers-that-be think it's a winning issue. A pair of November surveys indicated a majority of Americans favored a pathway to citizenship but said moving now on reform isn't necessarily a priority. That data could give an already-reluctant caucus even more pause in taking up the issue and may increase the velocity of the "headwinds" Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said the effort will need to overcome.
Read more:

Record Cold Expected to Freeze Much of US

VOA News
People in much of the United States are dealing with the coldest weather in the last 20 years. The National Weather Service is calling the air mass sweeping across the country "dangerously cold," and has posted wind chill warnings for Monday that stretch from North Dakota to New York in the north and as far south as Alabama. Carl Erickson, a forecaster with AccuWeather, told VOA that wind chills in major East Coast cities could reach 20 to 30 degrees Celsius below zero. In places like Montana and North Dakota, temperatures including wind chill could hit negative 50 degrees Celsius. "The good news is, although this is a very intense cold air mass system that we haven't seen in decades, it will not be long-lived. Even as we go into Wednesday the winds will begin to lessen, the cold air eases, and although no big warm-ups it will definitely feel a little bit better Wednesday compared to the next couple of days. Going into Thursday and Friday, looks like temperatures actually rebounding to near average levels, probably in that 5-to-10 degree above zero range in the big cities by Thursday and Friday," said Erickson. The cold, fresh snow, more than 30 centimeters of it in some places in the Midwest, has created dangerous travel conditions, forcing schools to close and airlines to cancel thousands of flights. Forecasters say the widespread chill is the result of a relatively infrequent alignment of weather conditions, allowing a so-called polar vortex to travel unusually far to the south from its normal place in northern Canada. A polar vortex is a counterclockwise rotating pool of cold, dense air. It is expected to knock temperatures in half the nation down to minus 17 degrees by Wednesday.

Khyber Agency: 9 killed in Tirah blast

At least nine people were killed and several others injured in powerful explosion in a house in Tirah valley of Khyber Agency on Monday, a government official said. According to political tehsildar Bara Khyber Agency Arshad Khan, people were assembled in a hujra (guest house) at Dar Jumat Akakhel - a remote border area between Orakzai and Khyber Agency - when a huge blast occurred. As a result of blast, nine people were killed and several others got injured. The tehsildar further said it seemed that a mortar shell was blasted with a huge bang when one of the victims started to play with it. He said identity of the victims could not be immediately ascertained. The Khasadar Force rushed to the spot and shifted the bodies to their native villages for burial while injured to hospital for treatment.

په پښتونخوا کې د غني خان سل کلن جشن لمانځل کيږي

د پېښور په ګډون د خېبر پښتونخوا په بیلا بیلو ښارونو او کوټه ښار کې د فلسفي شاعر خان عبدالغني خان د زیږون سل کلنې دستورې لمانځل کيږي.

Drug trade could splinter Afghanistan into fragmented criminal state – UN

UN expert warns west of danger of not stepping up efforts to tackle opium production in Afghanistan after record $1bn harvest
Afghanistan's booming narcotics trade risks splintering the country into a "fragmented, criminal state" if the government and its western allies do not step up efforts to tackle opium production and the illicit economy it supports, a senior UN official warned.
Opium farming in Afghanistan, the world's main producer of the drug, hit a record high last year, with farmers harvesting a crop worth nearly $1bn (£610m) to them, and far more to the traffickers who take about four-fifths of the profit.
There are no miracle cures. A transformation of the corrupt economy could take up to two decades, and opium production is likely to climb beyond 2013's worrying levels before it falls again, said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, outgoing head of the UN office on drugs and crime in Afghanistan.
But he still sees cause for hope in the transformation of the narcotics police into a disciplined and relatively well respected force, an increase in treatment for Afghan addicts, and the government's recent crackdown on powerful officials linked to the drugs trade including the arrest of a top police officer.
"If no appropriate action is taken, then Afghanistan runs the risk of becoming a fragmented criminal state, ruled by an illicit economy," Lemahieu told the Guardian after five years grappling with Afghanistan's narcotics problem, as well as interlinked issues from government corruption to other criminal enterprises like illegal logging. "It is not too late, but we need to act decisively."
Feverish concerns about the future are helping keep prices high despite a glut. Negotiations over a deal to keep US forces here after 2014 have been stalled by tensions between Kabul and Washington, and no one knows who will be running the country after a presidential poll set for April, which the incumbent President Hamid Karzai is barred from contesting.
"At this moment there is more opium being produced in Afghanistan than is required for the outside market," Lemahieu said. "It is domestic speculation coping with uncertain times and compensating for declining international money flows within the country."
The cash is vital for all the officials and their supporters counting on the drugs for unorthodox campaign finance during presidential elections this year and parliamentary ones in 2015. When those are over, and there is more certainty about what Afghanistan might look like after foreign troops have left and Karzai has been replaced, prices may finally start to come down to levels justified by demand, he said. But the trade will not end even with prices at half current levels, until the international community reverses years of neglect and marginalisation and treats counter-narcotics as a problem that runs across all development efforts.
"The security agenda and short-term ideas of success didn't go well with the ideas of counter-narcotics work," Lemaheiu said, pointing out that in some areas the military event blocked counter-narcotics efforts, worried that they could alienate local power brokers or drive farmers into the arms of insurgents. "For the international military, counter-narcotics went against their aim of winning hearts and minds," he added.
The drugs trade ties together the Taliban and many of the corrupt officials inside Afghanistan, whose bank accounts were swollen by the tide of western dollars poured into efforts to pacify and rebuild the country. As foreign cash dries up on the back of the troop withdrawal, businessmen and the officials they paid off are looking for other sources of cash. The government recently arrested the police chief of western Nimroz province on suspicion of ties to the drug trade; a long and porous border with Iran makes the sparsely populated desert province one of the main smuggling routes out of the country. The Taliban are also more reliant on poppies for financing than ever before, as conflict in the Middle East sucks away some of the donations from rich sympathisers that once poured into their coffers.
"Not all in the Taliban are happy about the drug business, but undeniably too many of them are involved. Not all connected to the government applaud the corruption and the drug business, but no doubt too many have their hands in the pot," Lemahieu said. "And the ones who are involved on both sides know each others' phone numbers, they find each other."
Despite opium's duel role fuelling the insurgency and a large portion of much-resented government corruption, poppy eradication still does not feature on a list of national priorities drawn up by Kabul. Major donors show little more interest; counter-narcotics is barely mentioned in a pact detailing aid priorities for the government and its backers over the next decade that was drawn up in Tokyo two years ago.
"We have to understand that doing nothing on the illicit economy will defeat the security and development agendas," Lemahieu said. "If the governance system would work properly, then external threats might be easier to cope with."
Change must involve slow work with communities that grow opium, offering them improvements in quality of life to compensate for the drop-off in income that is an inevitable result of ending drug production, said Lemahieu, who helped coordinate a successful reduction in opium cultivation in Burma before moving to Afghanistan. No other crop can match the financial returns from poppies, but in a possible sign that development and curbing the trade are linked, far more children are in school in areas where there is no poppy than in farming communities that cultivate the drug.
"If you can work on other factors you can prepare a community to have less income but still a similar or better quality of life: access to agricultural services and markets, food security, other income within the extended family, clinics, schools, irrigation," Lemaheiu said.
However any change will be slow, not least because of the impact of ending opium cultivation on rural jobs. The crop employs five times as many people as wheat farming, in a country with hundreds of thousands of young people flooding out of school to look for jobs each year.
"We need to be persistent. Political courage is required and supporting those who want to make a change … understanding that real solutions are feasible," Lemahieu said.
"Yet if one moves too fast, in the belief that fast-track immediate solutions are within reach, one may end up doing more harm than good. One cannot pull the rug from under an employment market that already has to absorb up to half a million new entrants each year."

Afghanistan’s Worsening, and Baffling, Hunger Crisis

In the Bost Hospital here, a teenage mother named Bibi Sherina sits on a bed in the severe acute malnutrition ward with her two children. Ahmed, at just 3 months old, looks bigger than his emaciated brother Mohammad, who is a year and a half and weighs 10 pounds.
In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying. Half of the other children in the ward are crying as well, a cacophony that rarely pauses.
Afghan hospitals like Bost, in the capital of war-torn Helmand Province, have been registering significant increases in severe malnutrition among children. Countrywide, such cases have increased by 50 percent or more compared with 2012, according to United Nations figures. Doctors report similar situations in Kandahar, Farah, Kunar, Paktia and Paktika Provinces — all places where warfare has disrupted people’s lives and pushed many vulnerable poor over the nutritional edge.
Even the capital has seen an increase. “In 2001, it was even worse, but this is the worst I’ve seen since then,” said Dr. Saifullah Abasin, head of the malnutrition ward at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul.
Reasons for the increase remain uncertain, or in dispute. Most doctors and aid workers agree that continuing war and refugee displacement are contributing. Some believe that the growing number of child patients may be at least partly a good sign, as more poor Afghans are hearing about treatment available to them.
What is clear is that, despite years of Western involvement and billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, children’s health is not only still a problem, but also worsening, and the doctors bearing the brunt of the crisis are worried.
Nearly every potential lifeline is strained or broken here. Efforts to educate people about nutrition and health care are often stymied by conservative traditions that cloister women away from anyone outside the family. Agriculture and traditional local sources of social support have been disrupted by war and the widespread flight of refugees to the cities. And therapeutic feeding programs, complex operations even in countries with strong health care systems, have been compromised as the flow of aid and transportation have been derailed by political tensions or violence.
Perhaps nowhere is the situation so obviously serious as in the malnutrition ward at Bost Hospital, which is admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than it did in January 2012, according to officials with Doctors Without Borders, known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, which supports the Afghan-run hospital with financing and supplementary staff.
One patient, a 2-year-old named Ahmed Wali, is suffering from the protein deficiency condition kwashiorkor, with orange hair, a distended belly and swollen feet. An 8-month-old boy named Samiullah is suffering from marasmus, another form of advanced malnutrition in which the child’s face looks like that of a wrinkled old man because the skin hangs so loosely.
Médecins Sans Frontières helped Bost Hospital nearly double the number of beds in the pediatric wing at the end of last year, and there are still not enough — 40 to 50 children are usually being treated each day, mostly two to a bed because they are so small. Nearly 300 other children, less severely malnourished, are in an outpatient therapeutic feeding program.
Now, M.S.F. is planning to open five satellite clinics with intensive feeding programs in Lashkar Gah to take the pressure off the overcrowded hospital.
Despite the increase in the malnutrition caseload, doctors and health officials are not sure there has actually been a sharp rise in child malnutrition that can be attributed to any single factor. “It’s quite an unusual situation, and it’s difficult to understand what’s going on,” said Wiet Vandormael, an M.S.F. official who has helped coordinate with Bost Hospital. In part, expansion of the hospital’s facilities has acted as a magnet, drawing more cases, Mr. Vandormael said. Unlike at other public hospitals in Afghanistan, patients and their caregivers do not have to pay for their own medicine and food at Bost. And M.S.F. has been able to ensure that it gets regular deliveries of Unicef-provided therapeutic foods used to treat malnutrition.
“Our treatment is better, so we get more patients as they hear about it,” said Dr. Yar Mohammad Nizar Khan, head of pediatrics at Bost Hospital.
Nonetheless, the numbers are still worrisome. Dr. Mohammad Dawood, a pediatrician at Bost Hospital, said there were seven or eight deaths a month there because of acute malnutrition from June through August, and five in September. Doctors around the country have reported similar rates. Officials at Unicef and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health have declined to characterize child malnutrition here as an emergency, however. As defined internationally, that would mean severe acute malnutrition in more than 10 percent of children younger than 5; health officials in Afghanistan estimate the rate is more like 7 percent. “Science-wise, the increase in number of children reporting to the hospitals is not an absolute evidence the situation is getting worse,” said Moazzem Hossain, head of nutrition for Unicef here. “It’s a good sign, the program is expanding, more are being screened, more are being found and treated.” Another problem is unreliable statistics. In January 2012, for instance, Unicef and the Afghan government’s Central Statistics Organization released a survey of more than 13,000 households showing that some provinces had reached or exceeded emergency levels, with more than 10 percent acute severe child malnutrition. The survey caused an uproar, but Unicef and the Health Ministry repudiated it, saying it was based on faulty research. Unicef then financed a more thorough child nutrition survey, which was completed in November, but the government has yet to release the data, said Dr. Bashir Ahmed Hamid, head of nutrition for the Health Ministry. “Unfortunately, we faced some challenges with data analysis.” Dr. Hamid said he expected the new data to show very high levels, probably more than 50 percent, of long-term or chronic malnutrition, which shows up as stunted growth in children. While acute malnutrition can be fatal, chronic malnutrition can cause multiple health and developmental problems. Unlike malnutrition crises elsewhere in the world, this one has not been connected to specific food shortages or crop failures. In addition, parents are not showing up malnourished, even when their children are. Doctors involved in treating the victims offer many explanations for what is happening. “There are mines in their fields, and they can’t get to their crops,” said Dr. Dawood in Helmand Province. “And they can’t get to help at local clinics, so they’re coming in very late stage in very critical condition.” His colleague Dr. Khan blamed another problem. “The main cause of malnutrition in Afghanistan is lack of breast feeding,” he said. “They see beautiful pictures of milk cartons, and they think it’s better.” In a country where access to clean water is difficult, and most milk is powdered, that is often a recipe for diarrhea and other conditions that can worsen malnutrition. In addition, where women commonly have many children, often with less than a year between them, it is difficult for mothers to provide enough nourishment, by breast or bottle. Ahmed Wali, the 2-year-old Bost Hospital patient with kwashiorkor, is the ninth of 10 children of his mother, Baka Bebi, who is in her mid-30s. She weaned him onto powdered milk mixed with stream water as soon as she could.
Poverty is another factor. In Afghanistan, the poverty line is defined as a total income sufficient to provide 2,100 calories a day to each family member. Some 36 percent of Afghans are below that threshold, according to the Health Ministry. In 2013, Unicef raised its target for providing therapeutic foods to severe acutely malnourished Afghan children, to 52,144 from 35,181. Therapeutic foods are specially made for the severely malnourished, who have difficulty digesting normal food.
But Dr. Hossain of Unicef acknowledged that those programs had experienced supply-chain problems, and Unicef is working with the Health Ministry to develop better monitoring and management systems. Shipments of therapeutic foods, mostly made by two companies in France and Norway, have been reduced because of differences between NATO and Pakistan, and sanctions on Iran, the two countries with ports closest to landlocked Afghanistan, he said.
“Managing a feeding system is difficult; there is a long way for Afghanistan to go,” he added. “But even countries like Sri Lanka, with an outstanding health system, are still struggling to manage therapeutic feeding supplies.”
Cases of acute severe malnutrition are running at more than 100 a month, including five to 10 deaths, at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul, and such cases have doubled since 2012, said Dr. Aqa Mohammad Shirzad, who is in charge of pediatric malnutrition programs there. Each of the hospital’s 17 beds for severely malnourished patients has at least two patients, and some have three. The malnutrition intensive care ward there has an incubator that does not work, one suction pump and oxygen bottles, for respiratory masks, propped up without stands or proper connections.
A 5-year-old boy who weighs less than 20 pounds was being treated recently on a bench because the infusion line would not stretch to a bed. Two window panes nearby were missing glass.
This is the country’s premier pediatric hospital, the one to which Fatima’s father was told to bring her from Bost Hospital to have heart surgery. She never arrived.

Bangladesh: A predicted and hollow victory

AL has won a predictable and hollow victory which gives it neither a mandate nor an ethical standing to govern effectively. Elections to the 147 nominally contested seats of the Jatiya Sangsad are now over. With candidates to 153 seats earlier declared elected unopposed, the tenth parliament is now technically in place. Despite violence in some areas, voting of sorts and evidenced by low turnout took place in other areas in relative calm. A jarring note came, though, from those centres where not a single vote was cast.
As was expected, the turn-out of voters, even in Bangladeshi terms, was pretty low average-wise. According to early information no more than 20 per cent of voters went to the polling stations to make their electoral preferences known, which were of course limited owing to a boycott of the election by the largest opposition party and which, in effect, ended with only one option-- namely the ruling party. Moreover, the turn-out was impacted by violence or the fear of it from the opposition.
We cannot but register our sorrow at the deaths of sixteen people in police firing on the day, a measure ostensibly taken to foil any attempt to disrupt the voting through extremist terrorism. We certainly condemn the violence let loose, as anticipated, by the Jamaat-Shibir (our second editorial today deals with the particular issue in detail).
We also note the fact that prior to the voting, the heavy weight of the state machinery was brought to bear on some parties as a way of herding them to the polls. The Jatiya Party remains a glaring instance.
What does this election mean for the ruling party? The plain and simple truth is that the results have not given a mandate to the prime minister and her party but have only served up a tenuous victory of sorts. One then needs to ask the question: was it a reflection of the popular will, given the circumstances in which the election took place? To be sure, the rituals of an election, in the legal sense, have been fulfilled. The moral victory is missing.
We repeat: it is a victory of sorts. Let the powers that be now go for a process that will give them a definitive mandate for governance.

Bangladesh ruling party wins after boycotted vote

Bangladesh’s ruling party on Monday won one of the most violent elections in the country’s history, marred by street fighting, low turnout and a boycott by the opposition that made the results a foregone conclusion.
Although a win by the ruling Awami League was never in doubt, the chaos surrounding Sunday’s election plunges Bangladesh deeper into turmoil and economic stagnation, and could lead to more violence in a deeply impoverished country of 160 million. On Monday, clashes stemming from the election killed three people in Dohar, outside the capital, according to police. At least 18 people were killed Sunday as police fired at protesters and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations.
“We are passing our days in fear and anxiety,” said Abdur Rahman, an accountant and resident of the capital, Dhaka, where soldiers patrolled the streets Monday. “These two major parties don’t care about anything. Only Allah knows what is in store now for us.”
The Awami League won 232 of the 300 elected seats, the Election Commission said Monday, far more than 151 required to form a government. Because of the opposition boycott, about half the seats were uncontested, allowing the Awami League to rack up many victories.
The political feuding in this South Asian nation can be traced back decades, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader, vie for power. The country has been ruled by either of these women — both from powerful political families — for nearly 22 years.
The squabbling between the two — known as the “Battling Begums” — is at the heart of much of the political drama. “Begum” is an honorific for Muslim women of rank. The opposition has demanded that Prime Minister Hasina’s government resign so a neutral administration can oversee the polls. They say Hasina might rig the election if she stays in office, a claim she denies.
A group of opposition parties, including the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotted the election after Hasina refused to heed their demands. Political violence has convulsed the country in recent months as opposition activists staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades to press their demands. Nearly 300 people have been killed in political violence since last February.
The European Union, the U.S. and the British Commonwealth refused to send observers for Sunday’s election because they weren’t inclusive.
Now, the vote raises pressure on the Bangladesh government to hold talks with the opposition. The turmoil also could lead to radicalization in a strategic pocket of South Asia, analysts say.
Turnout was only 22 percent, according to election officials who asked that their names not be used because the election is so politically sensitive. In the last election, in 2008, turnout was 87 percent. Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper described the polls as the deadliest in the country’s history, and said in an editorial that the Awami League won “a predictable and hollow victory, which gives it neither a mandate nor an ethical standing to govern effectively.” But the editorial also was critical of the opposition’s role in fueling violence.
“Political parties have the right to boycott elections. They also have the right to motivate people to side with their position. But what is unacceptable is using violence and intimidation to thwart an election,” the newspaper said.
Bangladesh’s parliament has 350 seats, with 300 directly elected and another 50 reserved for women who get elected by other chamber members.
As the political situation unravels, Bangladesh also is trying to emerge from suffocating poverty and reinvigorate its $20 billion garment industry. The industry has been rocked by a series of disasters, including a factory collapse in April that killed more than 1,100 workers. The deaths laid bare the harsh working conditions in an industry that employs 4 million Bangladeshis and provides clothing to major Western retailers.

Participation in Asia Cup not guaranteed: Pakistan
The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) may have decided to hold the Asia Cup in the strife torn Bangladesh but Pakistan is refusing to commit itself to participation in the continental tournament. The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) says its participation is subject to many a condition, effectively stating that there is no guarantee that it will take part. Primarily, the PCB wants to assess the situation before giving the goahead.
"Pakistan will have to assess the developing situation carefully before confirming its participation if the matches are held in Bangladesh," a high level PCB official close to Pakistan board interim president Najam Sethi, told Mirror. He termed the situation in Bangladesh as adverse to the Pakistan cricket team.
On Saturday, the ACC decided to go ahead with the tournament in Bangladesh despite reports of nation-wide protest in the country. Reports also said the situation in Bangladesh is volatile and Sunday's election was marred by violence and protests.
The PCB said that anti-Pakistani sentiments are prevailing in Bangladesh and it cannot ignore the threat perception to its team in Dhaka. The Pakistan board has also revealed that the country's foreign office is as much concerned. "PCB and Pakistan foreign office cannot ignore the particular nature of the security threat to the Pakistan team if it is asked to play in the sort of civil strife circumstances that prevail in Bangladesh today," the official said.
The official also strove to give a political colour to the issue linking the Asia Cup to the case of Quader Molla, a religious leader, who was recently executed by the Bangladesh government. "Unlike other teams, there are anti-Pakistan protests relating to the case of Quader Molla," the official stated.
The ACC,led by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), however, is confident Pakistan will participate in the tournament, that has now been upgraded to a five-nation event. Previously, only four teams - India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh besides Pakistan - used to participate. The ACC has invited Afghanistan for the tournament.
"The PCB was a party to the decision of the ACC and the Pakistan board has not objected to the decision," ACC chief executive Ashraful Huq said on Saturday. "That is our understanding. We're hopeful that Pakistan will take part," a BCCI official added. The Asia Cup is slated to be held from February 25 to March 7 in Dhaka.

Nine, including three children, killed in Khyber Agency blast

At least nine people were killed, including three children, and several others were injured Monday in an explosion that occurred in Khyber Agency, DawnNews reported. The explosion took place in the house of Hakeem Khan Akakhel situated in the Akakhel Dars area of Tirah Valley, according to official and local sources. Subsequently, nine people, including three children and three militants, were killed whereas several others sustained severe injuries.

Zulfi Bhutto : A man who was born to live forever in the people’s hearts.

by Zeeba
History is proud of such people who did not bow down to pressure even when they were hanged. This bright light of Pakistan, who helped his nation in trying times, was born 5th January, 1928 . If Pakistan has had any leader after Quaid-e-Azam, who enjoyed reverence and popularity, he is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He made the poor and downtrodden people politically aware. He wanted them to be treated and respected like any human being should be.
Since his youth, Quaid-e-Awam was politically enthusiastic and was an adherent of Quaid-e-Azam. On April 26, 1945, he wrote a letter to his Quaid-e-Azam. He wrote:
“You have inspired us and we are proud of you. Being still in school, I am unable to help the establishment of our sacred land. But the time will come when I will even sacrifice my life for Pakistan.”
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a charismatic image, which cast a spell on the masses right from Peshawar to Karachi.He worked unabated for the cause of the masses for giving them a better Pakistan, a progressive Pakistan.
On 30th November he founded Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with a manifesto Islam is our religion, democracy our politics, socialism our economy and people are the source of power Under this manifesto he chartered a programme for providing roti, kapra aur makan. He brought politics out of the drawing rooms of palaces to the threshold of the dwellers of mud houses and declared the political paradise is under the feet of the masses. He brought the helpless peasants on a par with the feudal lords. Many people still remember those days when people of low social status like factory workers, blacksmiths, carpenters and cobblers were made office- bearers of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party.
After the tragedy of East Pakistan, in a historic speech in the year 1971, Shaheed Bhutto summed up his vision about the future of Pakistan by saying: “My dear countrymen, my dear friends, my dear students, labourers, peasants, those who fought for Pakistan. We are facing the worst crisis in our country’s life, a deadly crisis. We have to pick up the pieces, very small pieces, but we will make a new Pakistan, a prosperous and progressive Pakistan, a Pakistan free of exploitation, a Pakistan envisaged by the Quaid-i-Azam.”. He introduced a wide range of reforms in political, economic, social, industrial, educational and administrative arenas, aiming to change the fate of common man in Pakistan.
April 4, 1979 would always be remembered as a black day as it was the day when the judicial murder of our great leader was committed on the behest of a dictator. His judicial murder was for sure a conspiracy to get rid of a rising muslim leader who could have ultimately given diginity and honour to the muslim nations by uniting them together. “I am innocent” were the last words of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who defied death and embraced martyrdom. He showed the world how a leader of the people lives and dies.
Toota hai kahan uska jadu,
Ek nara bana hai uska lahu,
sabit hua hai darkhan darkhan per jo shaks hukumat karta ta,
Larta ta woh apne jaiso se aur hum se mohabat karta ta
A legacy never dies……… Zinda hai Bhutto Zinda hai! Jeay Jeay Jeay Bhutto!
- See more at:

Pakistani TV reporter murdered

Pakistani TV reporter Shan Daher (aka Dayer or Odhor) was shot on his way home from his work at the Abb Takk news channel in the Larkana district of Sindh province. Though the shooting occurred late on 31 December Daher was pronounced dead in hospital the following day. Therefore, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), he was the first journalist killed in 2014. The murder of 40-year-old Daher sparked protests by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in Karachi calling for the government to increase efforts to protect journalists. IFJ president Jim Boumelha said: "We believe that the lack of accountability for acts of violence against journalists in Pakistan reinforces the culture of impunity. The authorities in Pakistan must take the action required to ensure that the perpetrators of such extreme acts of violence against journalists answer for their crimes." Yesterday (5 January), the PFUJ staged a rally in Larkana demanding the arrest of those responsible for the murder of Daher, referring to him as a "martyr."

US Gun Manufacturer Refuses Sale to Pakistan

VOA News
A U.S. gun manufacturer has turned down a multi-million dollar opportunity to sell arms to Pakistan, citing concerns the weapons would be used against American soldiers. Nick Young, founder of Desert Tech, said on his company's Facebook page that it had been approached to "legally supply" sniper systems to Pakistan. Young said the Utah-based company's "greatest fear" was that the equipment might be used against U.S. troops. He said he started the company "to protect Americans, not endanger them." He also said that his company employs several military veterans. The contract was reported to be worth as much as $15 million. Sales manager Mike Davis told local media that with the unrest in Pakistan, the company "just ended up not feeling right," about selling to the South Asian nation. He told the Deseret News that "at the end of the day, we felt our ethics are worth more than the bottom line." The rifles Desert Tech would have sold to Pakistan have the ability to change caliber within minutes and the capacity to shoot as far as 2,700 meters. Weapon sales to allies such as Pakistan are nothing new, but they can be complicated, especially in a country with an al-Qaida presence. The U.S. often targets al-Qaida, Taliban members and their Pakistani supporters in Pakistan's tribal regions. Desert Tech said on its website that the company was created "to protect the freedom of the United States of America, our allies and people by providing the most compact, accurate and reliable precision weapons systems in the world."

Pakistani Victims Of Taliban Attacks Reject Talks; Demand Operation Cleanup
The participants of the convention including Sunni, Shias, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus have rejected the government initiated talks with Taliban terrorists and they demanded a huge operation cleanup, resolution was passed by the participants and leading parties.
They said according to Pakistani constitution, one cannot hold talks with terrorists. If one tyring to negitiate with terrorists he breaches the law.
Allama Raja Nasir Abbas of MWM, Sahib Zada Hamid Raza of SIC and Faisal Raza Abidi of Voice of Shuda were leading the convention while all minorities have been invited to attend the convention in order to condemn the terrorist activities by Taliban and Pro-Taliban banned terrorist organization.
Allama Raja Nasir of MWM said, “Time has come to clean the country from terrorists, let’s take oath to save Pakistan.” He further said, “There is no space for trrorists in Pakistan, these terrorists have rejected Pakistani law and they are against Islamic education.”
Faisal Raja Abidi of VoS said, “What I learned from Shaheed Arif Al Hussaini, Shaheed Fazal Kareem and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is my moto.” He added, “Today, all martyrs families are with us and they have reject government policies towards trrorists.”
Addressing to the convention Sahibzada Hamid Raza said that governmnet is supporting those trrorists who are demanding ban on Procession of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H). Pakistani Government has failed to provide the security to its citizens and have taken no measure to tackle the situation and have not formed any strategy against Taliban. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have given assignment to Maulana Samiul Haq to initiate talks with the Taliban.
Self claimed Father of Taliban, Maulana Sami has also demanded govt to stop operation in NWA against Taliban terrorist. He also demanded of the government to urgently announce withdrawal from war on terror and stop intelligence-sharing over drone attacks. “This fire can only be extinguished through dialogue process,” sources quoted Maulana.
Yesterday, SIC Chairman Sahibzada Hamid Raza, MWM Secretary for Political Affairs Syed Nasir Abbas Sherazi and Voice of Shuhada-e-Pakistan spokesperson Senator Faisal Raza Abidi expressed their opposition to the talks with Taliban while addressing a joint press conference at the MWM office.
Chairman, Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Sahibzada Hamid Raza alleged that the PML-N led government has full support of Afghan Taliban and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Sahibzada Hamid Raza alleged that banned organizations are freely conducting meetings and conventions in the country; however, patriotic organizations are not allowed to do so.
“Time has come that the government should establish its writ against terrorists,” they added. It is pertinent to mention here that Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen (MWM) and Voice of Shuhda have hosted a joint convention in Islamabad in a bid to promote interfaith harmony in the country.

Shia student Aitzaz Hussain intercepted bomber and the bomber had to blow him up before he could hit more children.
A Shia student embraced martyrdom foiling the suicidal attack in his school by a terrorist in Hangu, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province on Monday morning.
Shiite News Correspondent reported that the gory incident occurred in Shia majority Ibrahim Zai area where a terrorist was heading to hit the school children of a government school.
Shia student namely Aitzaz Hussain intercepted him and the bomber had to blow him up before he could hit more children.
Two students were injured. Bodies of the martyr, takfiri nasbi Yazidi terrorist, and the injured victims were shifted to hospital.
Shia parties and leaders have appreciated the boldness and intrepidity of Shia minor student saying that had the government and security forces demonstrated similar spirit, terrorism would have been eliminated.

Bilawal: No number 1 or number 2, only ‘Mother Sindh’

Reacting to MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s Sunday speech, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said there should be no “number 1 or number 2” but only “mother Sindh”. “No50/50, No number 1 or number 2, only Mother Sindh.All men are created equal.All Pakistanis should b treated equally in the eyes of the Law,” Bilwal tweeted after Altaf proposed formation of “Sindh 1” for the populace considered as Sindhi by the PPP and “Sindh 2” for rest of the province. Bilawal also said that the MQM was consulted over delimitation of constituencies in the province. He said that he had got minutes of the meetings, deliberated over delimitation of the constituencies. He tweeted, “Uncle Altaf, your ppl are lying to u. MQM was consulted 4 delimitation. I have the minutes of the meeting. Shall send you thm.” Separately, Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon also said that the PPP had never made any distinction between urban and rural population of Sindh. Talking to a private TV channel, the provincial minister said he was amazed at the statements of Altaf Hussain. He said there should be discussions on real issues and bringing up non-issues is aimed at diverting attention from the matters of importance.

Pakistan : Staggering indolence

As at least 14 people lay dead in terrorist assaults in Karachi on Saturday, an advisor of Balochistan chief minister was left gored along with several others in Quetta in a bomb blast the same day. And the very next day, the beleaguered port city saw another four people being killed in terrorist attacks, holding hostage the wretched metropolis since times even hard to remember now. And even as the city keeps reeling from blood-soaked violence incessantly, in spite of the much-touted Ranger-led security operation now running into months, not the rest of the land is any free from the blight either.
Unrelentingly, the monstrosity remains on the prowl all over the country, hitting whatever and whenever it wants. Not a day goes by without its lethality and thuggery being unleashed in some part of the land. It slays civilians and security personnel alike in bomb blasts, terrorist strikes, target shootings, improvised explosive device explosions and suicide hits. Not it kills men and soldiers alone. It slaughters children, women and elderly persons indiscriminately as well. All are its quarries in equal measure. And it is bloodying streets, roads and public places as much as is it soaking the places of worship with streams of blood.
So much of bloodletting would shake out even the most insensate rulers from inertia and throw them headlong into action to relieve their harried citizens from the horrific bloodbath. Even outsiders look at us with both dread and pity, wishing sympathetically for our quick riddance from the lethal monstrosity. But not the incumbents, now ruling the roost in Islamabad, palpably. No strategy or action plan have they hammered out as yet to fight it out methodically and systematically, even as they have been warming the ministerial chairs now for more than seven months.
One can count not how many times has their internal security csar Nisar Ali Khan said that a national security policy is on the anvil. But that elixir still stays there, immobile and veiled. And one knows not what would it be, when from Nisar's outpourings it is more than abundantly clear that the Islamabad caboodle has not even the foggiest idea about the affliction bloodying the nation so horrendously. Their public pronouncements make it unmistakably evident that they have put all their eggs in the dialogue basket to wrestle with the stalking monstrosity. And the elements to be talked with are the tribal areas' militants, and now their Afghanistan-based chieftaincy.
But the murder brigands playing such a dreadful dance of death and destruction on this land are not just the pack of militants the dialogue-savvy honchos of Islamabad have in mind. It is a congeries of heterogeneous vile elements who love to kill and play with human lives. All manner of confessional fanatics, sectarian extremists, professional murderers, hired guns, kidnappers for ransom and foreign proxies masquerading as insurgents have ganged up to spout this evil syndicate that has forged no-lesser-worrisome nexus with the underworld. This lethal mix of terrorism and criminality has worn on murderous clutches with countrywide reach.
This clearly postulates if terrorism has to be battled with, a counter strategy has to be as multidimensional as is the prowling monstrosity. And it has to have a countrywide application as has the monstrosity the countrywide reach. That essentially means two things. First, the strategy has to be extensively broad-based. Dialogue could only be a part of its wide-range that spans over political, security, educational, development and diplomatic fronts. Secondly, it inescapably has to involve intimately both the federal and provincial hierarchies in the fight. Islamabad cannot fight alone. The provinces have to be taken aboard proactively, as unarguably the main battle they have to fight inevitably. But neither do the lethal blight's complexities and intricacies seem to have come any compellingly to Nisar. Nor does he appear any alive to indispensable cooperation and collaboration among the federal and provincial administrations to make for an effective fight. He seems intent on a solo flight. Of course, provincial governments too do not seem to have imbibed the realisation that none can face up to the terrorist thuggery all alone but all will imperatively need full cooperation from one another as well as the centre. Not only strong linkages in intelligence have to be forged between them all but also in security operations. But, by every reckoning, the hub of this multifarious national campaign has to be the federal government. Yet Nisar has evidently not even associated the provincial governments in the formulation of his so-far-elusive security policy. At least the current Islamabad incumbents' predecessors were more realistic on this score. A comprehensive, multifaceted national counter-terrorism strategy had they involved at a top-level meeting chaired by the prime minister. It was attended, apart from federal ministers concerned as well as top bosses of intelligence agencies, by provincial chief ministers along with their intelligence and security chiefs.
In addition to KP governor, even Azad Kashmir prime minister and Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister along with their top intelligence and security chiefs participated. It is saddening that the predecessors showed no zest in working that strategy. But the incumbents have by every indication not even thought of such a moot to evolve a really workable strategy. This indolence is really bewildering and disturbing.


The first time I saw Salmaan Taseer was at Government College, Lahore, in 1961. He walked into the classroom with Tariq Ali, and was clearly part of Pakistan’s “gilded youth,” preordained to do something out of the ordinary. Years later, I ran into him at a hotel in Nathiagali and saw him training his toddler sons to be tough and fearless.
As consulting editor of Salmaan’s newspaper Daily Times, I met him twice in 2009, at his home and at Governor House. I had to seek him out since I had never seen him at the office; and he had never tried to impose his views on the paper. I let Salmaan know that I entirely accepted his worldview and his perception of what was happening to Pakistan. I also pointed out that his son Shehryar was the most polite newspaper executive I had known, and reminded him of the “shaping” he was trying to give him at Nathiagali. He conceded that these were different times and his sons had to make their way in life more flexibly.
Based on conviction, Salmaan’s views didn’t change under pressure. As governor of the Punjab, he made Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif squirm. (One of Salmaan’s sons, ironically, carries his rival’s name; and one of Sharif’s sons is named Salman.) A governor is supposed to be a mute observer representing the president as the federal icon; but in this case the president was Asif Ali Zardari and he let Salmaan buck the chief minister, refusing to sign on when others would have kowtowed. In one case, Salmaan blocked the judicial appointments made by Lahore’s chief justice because they were based blatantly on nepotism. The top judge had written a hilariously self-damaging autobiography mostly describing his feats of gluttony and fondness for the Sharif family. Equating justice with revenge, which is what most Pakistani judges do, this judge later joined the panel of lawyers defending Salmaan’s condemned killer.
Salmaan knew what was going on. As governor, he received reports about how extremism was mushrooming out of the nonstate actors the state had employed to fight its covert cross-border wars. I have an intelligence report received by him about what was going on in South Punjab, a clear premonition of the scenario developing today as the government bends its knee to the killers it can no longer fight.
This February 2009 report on the activities of Madrassah Usman-o-Ali run by Jaish-e-Muhammad in Bahawalpur is an eye-opener. Its top cleric, Maulana Masood Azhar, is a state-supported protégé of Osama bin Laden who Islamabad tells the world it knows nothing about. The madrassah was the seat of machinations against the state, and also a mustering point for Taliban and their Arab patrons from the Waziristan agencies taking pulse of how the training of suicide-bombers was proceeding in the Punjab.
Instead of making Salmaan the emblem of our righteous objection to a bad law, we allowed the murder to go by default.
According to the report, South Punjab was under the thumb of Jaish-e-Muhammad, who had regular contacts in the tribal areas to receive instructions from the Taliban. Asmatullah Muawiya, his telltale name betraying his Sipah-e-Sahaba backdrop, trained suicide-bomber boys in Khanewal and was often found in the Waziristan region. He was, in time, made the mouthpiece of the Punjabi Taliban, now routinely issuing threats to Nawaz Sharif’s government.
More alarmingly, the report stated: “In the backdrop of the prevalent fragile security environment and fresh wave of terrorism in Punjab, comprehensive security arrangements must be made for the protection/security of the Chinese engineers carrying out drilling at Rodho Top, Tribal Area, D.G. Khan (managed by Dewan Petroleum Pvt. Ltd.) and Dhodak Oil Fields (managed by the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited).” Security of the Chinese engineers was reported as almost nonexistent at a site where Pakistan extracts its uranium. And in the “tribal area” of Dera Ghazi Khan mentioned in the report, the Taliban were also training their Punjabi cohorts. Governments have neglected these developments in their Punjabi backyard and are responsible for the way nonstate actors are assaulting the legal foundations of the state.
Salmaan knew where it was going, and decided to push back—only to find that the state and his party in power were too scared to walk in step with him.
The blasphemy law has become central to the legitimacy of the increasingly “fundamentalist” state. It is also a measure of the transfer of public loyalty from the state and the elected government to the outlaws the state has nurtured. Pakistan will have to hang “secular” Pervez Musharraf, but it can’t hang Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of Salmaan sentenced to death by the court while scores of clerics congregate in Karachi to demand that he be released and treated as a hero.
Writing in the London Review of Books in 2011, Tariq Ali, who was Salmaan’s and my classmate at Government College, observed that Salmaan did not embark on the defense of Aasia Noreen on his own; he had cleared the campaign with Zardari “much to the annoyance of the law minister, Babar Awan, a televangelist and former militant of the Jamaat-e-Islami.” Ali writes: “The 45-year-old Punjabi Christian peasant was falsely charged with blasphemy after an argument with two women who accused her of polluting their water by drinking out of the same receptacle, which provoked an angry response from religious groups. Many in his own party felt that Taseer’s initiative was mistimed, but in Pakistan the time is never right for such campaigns. [Noreen] had already spent 18 months in jail.”
Salmaan did not insult Islam’s Prophet; he committed no blasphemy. He simply protested a flawed manmade legislation that causes the victimization of disadvantaged communities in Pakistan. The role played by the rightwing media and lawyers scared off sane elements in society and the political party in power. Instead of making Salmaan the emblem of our righteous objection to a bad law, we allowed the murder to go by default. Prominent citizens, expected to uphold his cause, absented themselves from his funeral; and clerics ran away from their duty of leading the funeral. Later, as if to confirm the moral backsliding of the nation, Salmaan’s son Shahbaz was kidnapped from Lahore and is still being held for ransom.
Salmaan’s death signaled a new low point in our collective conscience. And we are reaping the tragic harvest of this depravity in the further killings of undefended non-Muslim and Muslim communities. He stood up for a poor Christian woman targeted by fanatic elements resorting to a bad law. Today, a number of helpless women of the Hindu community in Sindh are being sexually victimized without much reaction from the Muslim majority.
The Muslims themselves are punished with internecine violence for this dulling of the sense of social justice. The state releases the dogs of sectarian war from jail only to have them kill the Shia community. Salmaan wanted us to have a livable Pakistan. He was killed. Today, as we protest massacres in Quetta and Karachi with words that sound like gibberish, we are reminded of his sacrifice—which we allowed to go waste.