Friday, January 24, 2014

Anger on Cairo streets against Muslim Brotherhood after deadly blasts

Egyptian government supporters blame the Muslim Brotherhood for deadly blasts in and around Cairo but it's violence from Islamist militants based in the Sinai that authorities have been struggling to contain.

Ukraine to hold special session of parliament as unrest continues

Israel warns of growing al-Qaeda-linked jihadi threat from Syria

Threat of spillover of Islamic fighters targeting Israel after Assad is prompting Jerusalem to re-evaluate its neutrality vis-à-vis the Syrian war, senior intelligence officer says
A sharp increase in the number of al-Qaeda linked fighters joining the fight against President Bashar Assad in Syria is threatening to spill over the borders and prompting the Jewish state to re-evaluate its policy of neutrality in the civil war next door, a senior Israeli intelligence official warned on Friday
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because military regulations prevent him from releasing the information, claimed more than 30,000 al-Qaeda linked fighters are active in Syria, a huge increase over previous Western estimates. He did not disclose how Israel reached the figure or specify which groups were included in the count, only defining the fighters as believers in “global jihad,” which he said meant a mix of those linked to al-Qaeda or inspired by the terror network.
The Israeli official estimated that just two years ago there were only about 2,000 jihadis in Syria but claimed the number has mushroomed to more than 30,000 as the conflict has dragged on, presenting the Middle East with a far more dangerous threat. He claimed that the Islamic rebel groups in Syria currently focused on toppling Assad intend to turn their sites on Israel after dispatching the Syrian government.
“After Assad and after establishing or strengthening their foothold in Syria they are going to move and deflect their effort and attack Israel,” he told The Associated Press.
Israeli officials cite at least two cases of recent rocket fire from Lebanon they attribute to the al-Qaeda-linked groups — although independent observers widely interpreted those as an attempt by extremist groups to prompt Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon, where the Assad-allied Lebanese Hezbollah militant group has a strong presence.
Aside from a few airstrikes against what were believed to be advanced weapons shipments from Syria into Lebanon, Israel has kept a low profile since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, hoping to avoid being dragged into the conflict. With the absence of any potential ally and any hope that a good resolution could come from the fighting, Israeli conventional wisdom has held that it was better off with it continuing and having the rival forces stay busy butchering each other rather than noticing Israel.
But that may not be the case anymore. “The longer the war in Syria continues, the more jihadists and radicals are coming to this territory,” the official said.
Israel, which borders southwestern Syria, has periodically called for Assad’s ouster, particularly after reports of his use of chemical weapons and other atrocities against civilians. But at the same time it has been wary of saying or doing anything more fearing that any group that supplants him would be a far more dangerous adversary.
“Formally it hasn’t changed,” the high-ranking officer said of Israel’s policy. But, he said, many discussions are taking place behind closed doors about the possibility of rethinking that strategy.
The jihadis currently control most of the Syrian territory that directly borders Israel, although they have not fired rockets or missiles at Israeli territory. Two al-Qaeda-linked groups are known to operate in Syria — Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as Nusra Front, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The groups, which have both been designated terrorist organizations by the United States, have been bolstered by the influx of thousands of foreign fighters from across the Muslim world as well as Europe and North America who have flocked to Syria to take up arms against Assad.
Other rebel groups that are generally included in Israel’s definition, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, follow an ultraconservative ideology and call for the creation of an Islamic state, but have a more nationalist bent than the al-Qaeda-affiliated factions and are not proponents of so-called “global jihad.”
Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment’s “Syria in Crisis” website, said the home-grown rebel groups such as Arhar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam are focused on fighting in Syria and toppling Assad, not staging global attacks. Lund was also wary of any figures for al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Syria, noting the difficulty in accurately determining such numbers amid the blurry lines of the country’s chaotic conflict.
“I don’t even know how you calculate that. Who’s a fighter? Is it anyone with a gun, or is it anyone fighting at the front lines? Is it anyone helping out doing media work and medical work and organization?” he said. “I’m very skeptical of the comparisons that the uprising is X percent this and X percent that.”
To Israel, Assad is a bitter enemy, an ally of Iran and a major backer of Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla attacks against it. But like his father whom he succeeded as president, he has faithfully observed U.S.-brokered accords that ended the 1973 war with Israel. The Golan Heights frontier has remained quiet for the past 40 years, with only recent instances of cross-border fire disturbing the peace. To this point Israel believes most of the fire against it has been accidental, spillover from internal battles.
The officer said 1,200 fighters belonging to five radical Islamic groups, including three with direct links to al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front, were already in the Gaza Strip and have fired rockets at Israel from the Palestinian territory. He said the infiltration has thus far been largely kept out of Israel and the West Bank, thanks to joint Israeli and Palestinian efforts. But dangers loom on that front too. Just this week, Israel said it had broken up an al-Qaeda plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and major convention center in Jerusalem — the first time Israel explicitly accused the group of being behind an attempted attack. Palestinian security forces recently arrested about 20 young men who allegedly tried to set up an organization of ultraconservative Salafis.
Last November, Israeli forces killed three members of that group in a shootout in the city of Hebron. Israeli security officials say there is some cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts in the West Bank to keep the Salafis under watch.
Read more: Israel warns of growing al-Qaeda-linked jihadi threat from Syria | The Times of Israel Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

China slams Abe’s Davos implication

China Thursday refuted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent appeal for more transparency in China's military budget, stating that it is Japan that should increase transparency and explain its own military buildup.
"China's defense policy is transparent and has been published in its white papers and on other occasions," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Thursday told a regular press briefing in response to Abe's speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a day earlier.
"We must ... restrain military expansion in Asia, which could otherwise go unchecked," Abe told the annual meeting of global business and political leaders, following his government's custom of not naming China in such references.
In response, Qin urged Japan to explain to Asia and the international community the real purpose of amending its pacifist constitution, which has been in existence since 1947. The Abe government has been trying to revise it so as to greenlight the expansion of Japan's military forces.
In December, Abe's cabinet approved a critical defense policy package comprising new defense program guidelines, a five-year defense buildup plan and the national security strategy. Japan vowed to seek more "proactive" roles for its military forces abroad and to set new guidelines on arms exports, signaling a major shift from its previous restrictive stance.
"Abe tends to depict China as a threat at whatever occasion he attends. His purpose is to worsen Sino-Japan relations and damage China's image in the international community, as well as tear apart economic development in the Asia-Pacific region," Lü Yaodong, a research fellow of Japanese politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. During the Davos speech, Abe also called for dispute resolution through "dialogue and the rule of law, and not through force and coercion."
Qin said that Japan cannot on one hand refuse to admit mistakes and continue to denigrate China, and on the other hand indulge in empty rhetoric to advocate dialogue, as it is the Japanese leader that is shutting the door to dialogue. Liu Jiangyong, a vice director of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, said it is inappropriate for Abe to cast blame for political issues at an economic forum. "Abe is trying to distract people's attention by claiming it is others' fault," Liu told the Global Times. Abe also defended his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, saying that the shrine honors the dead of World War I and the 1868 Meiji war, not just war criminals or others who died in World War II. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is currently attending the international conference on Syria in Montreux, Switzerland, described Abe's argument as futile, which only serves to expose Abe's erroneous perception of history. Even today, the Yasukuni Shrine still represents the notion that the aggression of Japan in World War II was "just," the Pacific War Japan launched was "self-defense" and the trial at the Far East International Military Tribunal was "illegitimate," as well as honoring 14 Class-A war criminals, Wang noted. South Korea Thursday also said that it is a complete contradiction to talk about forging friendly ties while continuing visits to the shrine. Liu said Abe is unlikely to change his stance even though he sensed the pressure and isolation from the international community. "His explanation reveals that he doesn't think he's wrong and he would do it again," Liu said. Tensions between China and Japan have been rising since Tokyo announced in September 2012 the "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. Chinese air force planes have been regularly patrolling the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which covers the Diaoyu Islands, air force spokesman Shen Jinke said Thursday. On a recent patrol, multiple Chinese aircraft were sent to "monitor, identify, track and warn" multiple foreign military planes that had entered the ADIZ, established two months ago, Shen added.

Syria "ready" to engage in dialogue with opposition at Geneva II: FM

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem said Friday that the Syrian government delegation to the Geneva II conference is "serious and ready" to start the dialogue process with the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC). Al-Moallem made the remarks during his meeting with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who is set to meet with the delegation of the SNC later, the official SANA news agency reported. "Al-Moallem told Brahimi that the Syrian delegation is serious and ready to start (the dialogue) but apparently the other delegation (opposition) was not ready," SANA quoted an unnamed source as saying. Al-Moallem also told Brahimi that if "serious working sessions" failed to be held on Saturday, the Syrian delegation would then pull out "due to the lack of seriousness and readiness by the opposition delegation," according to report. The first session of dialogue between the delegations of the Syrian government and the SNC, which was slated to begin on Friday, may be delayed due to the division in the ranks of the SNC's delegation. The Geneva II conference on Syria opened on Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland. The Syrian official delegation demanded that the Geneva II focus on combating terrorism, while the SNC wanted a transitional government without any role for President Bashar al-Assad.


UN: Human Trafficking Increasing in Pakistan

A new U.N. study says human trafficking from and through Pakistan has increased during the past year. It adds that the majority of Pakistani and Afghan nationals trying to illegally migrate by sea to countries like Australia are religious or ethnic minorities, such as Hazara Shi'ites escaping persecution at home.
U.N. officials reveal that trafficking networks in the country are also helping Pakistanis engage in fighting in countries like Syria and Egypt.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says in its research published Thursday that human smuggling networks in Pakistan are “more organized and sophisticated,” encouraging not only locals but people from middle eastern nations to use the country as a transit destination for illegal migration.
The study says trafficking of male Pakistanis to Europe for forced labor is an emerging concern and an increasing number of these illegal migrants are detected using legitimate, but fraudulently obtained travel documents. UNODC country chief, Cesar Guedes, says most of the migrants are from either economically depressed or violence-hit parts of Pakistan where they do not see any hope.
"We see that trend in Baluchistan, especially some religious and ethnic minorities that do not feel that they can stay further into the country. So, they either migrate within the country or those who are more adventurous try to go beyond the borders,” he said.
Pakistan’s restive southwestern Baluchistan province has witnessed an increase in sectarian violence against the minority Hazara community, who are Shi'ite Muslims. The latest attack against the population took place on Tuesday when a suicide bomber struck a bus of Shiite pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran in which at least 28 people were killed. The violence has forced the Hazaras to leave Pakistan and most of them attempt to illegally migrate to Australia by undertaking an extremely dangerous sea journey. The U.N. study says that the high level of acceptance of refugee claims by Australia demonstrates that Pakistani and Afghan irregular maritime arrivals to the country have legitimate and compelling flight reasons. Guedes says the migrants travel to South East Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia using valid passports, before boarding small and inadequate boats to embark on the illegal sea journey to Australia.
“Many of those illegal ships, vessels just succumb to the very rough Indian Ocean waters between Indonesia and the Australian territories. So it is a very dramatic and sad story that has a human face," he said. "Those terrains and those waters are probably one of the biggest sea cemeteries of the world regarding this type of trafficked or smuggled people.”
He says the UNODC researchers also have come across information the human smuggling networks in Pakistan are engaged in exporting young Pakistani nationals to participate in conflicts abroad.
“There is definitely that element of people trying to recruit these young energetic people for the wrong reasons and eventually these young lads paying with their lives in other parts of the world in conflicts that do not belong to them,” he said.
He urged Pakistan to strengthen its laws and interdiction efforts to discourage human trafficking from the country.
The head of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency, Saud Mirza, says a crackdown has recently been launched to uproot these networks and a large number of people have also been detained. But he stopped short of admitting officers in his department have links to the human smuggling groups.
“We in FIA have also aggressively targeted our own venal immigration officers. Not only we have departmentally proceeded against them, but in many cases we have registered criminal cases against them,” he said.
The FIA chief also says border controls are being tightened, particularly with Iran, which is a major route for human smugglers. The UNODC study estimates the illegal economy associated with this form of crime in Pakistan is more than $109 million a year.

Pakistan suspends Shi'ite pilgrimage route to Iran

Pakistan has suspended buses carrying Shi'ite pilgrims from travelling through its volatile Baluchistan province to neighboring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 27 pilgrims this week, officials said on Friday. A 700 km (430 mile) highway connecting the Pakistani city of Quetta and Iran, home to many Shi'ite pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks claimed by radical Sunni Islamist groups. "We have temporarily suspended the movement of buses on the highway until the security situation improves," a senior official of the provincial government told Reuters. Sectarian attacks are on the rise in Pakistan, where minority Shi'ites make up about 20 percent of the 180 million people. Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shi'ites were killed in 2013, including members of the Shi'ite Hazara minority group. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber drove his car into a bus killing 27 Shi'ite pilgrims and prompting hundreds of Hazaras to take to the streets to protest against the violence. "No place is safe for us. There is no alternate road. We have to travel through this 'bloody highway' each time we go on a pilgrimage," said Mohammad Ismail Changazi, one protester. Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the latest attack. LeJ see Shi'ites as non-Muslims who should be killed.

U.S. Cuts Afghan Development Aid By Half

Following news that the U.S. would cut 50 percent of its planned development aid to Afghanistan this year, Chairman of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce & Industries (ACCI) Mohammad Qurban Haqjo on Thursday warned that the consequences for the Afghan economy could be "catastrophic".
The Afghan economy is still heavily reliant on foreign financial aid, and the U.S. remains one of the largest donors. However, when the White House requested 219 billion USD in development funds for Afghanistan in the annual budget, the U.S. Congress voted to approve only half of that amount.
"The aid reduction could be catastrophic to Afghanistan's economic growth, because the country isn't even able to meet its budget with domestic resources," ACCI Chairman Haqjo said. "So we need the U.S.' long term cooperation and the Afghan government should deal with the matter seriously."
The 50 percent aid reduction is expected to have a drastic effect on development and infrastructural programs.
Some, including Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, were quick to point the blame at the current government, and the policies of President Hamid Karzai for the U.S.' belt-tightening.
"The aid reduction will have negative impacts on Afghanistan's economic growth, on administrative affairs, security, and people's lives, unfortunately, these are the outcomes of the personal decisions and policies of the President," Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said.
Although the U.S. has seen budget trimming become a common theme in its fiscal policy over a number of years, the most recent cut in Afghan aid is hard to divorce entirely from the rocky relations Kabul and Washington have seen recently.
With President Karzai refusing to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which would provide the legal framework for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, U.S. officials have warned that America's support for Afghanistan is not unconditional. Washington has pushed Karzai to sign the deal, but he has refused citing new preconditions that U.S. officials have shown no interest in meeting.
Last week, tensions flared over a joint U.S.-Afghan forces operation in Ghorband District of Parwan province after a number of civilians were killed by an air raid called in to support ground troops pinned down by insurgents. U.S. officials and many Afghan leaders expressed remorse about the civilian deaths, but said the operation was an overall success, having lead to the deaths and capturing of a large group of militants.
Karzai, however, damned the operation, despite it being approved by his own security officials, and drove a larger wedge in relations with Washington.
Whether the U.S. Congress intended the slash in development aid to be a caution to Karzai and other Afghan leaders is up for debate, but either way it will certainly have a major impact on Kabul's plans for the coming year.

Afghanistan: Too many candidates and future of democracy

When the US decided to topple the Taliban in 2001 in punishment of sheltering America’s enemy number one, it was welcomed with open arms by the people of this ill-fated land. However, as the war has entered its 13th year, the emotional quotient is nowhere on ground. Democracy is considered to be the product of the US onslaught, but given the free spirit and nature of Afghans, it could be concluded that though democracy was not their polity but they have been world’s most democratic people for their personal freedom. However, after the passage of 13 years of the ouster of the Taliban, the democratic setup is still lagging far behind in demonstrating maturity which is quite visible from the too many presidential candidates. In matured democracies there are just a few presidential candidates so that voters are not polarized, albeit here too many candidates have jumped into the race. This unconventional multiplicity of candidates never transpires in other democratic giants like India, and people are offered a maximum of four candidates to vote for. This immaculate process avoids schism among multiple ethnicities and communities and consolidates their votes.
The Council of Understanding of Shura-e-Tafahum, aimed at reducing the number of presidential hopefuls through a consensus, on Wednesday acknowledged its failure to bring the contenders together for a discussion. The council had been busy for the past three months, but the hopefuls’ obduracy didn’t let its efforts succeed. The 14-member jirga, comprising of tribal and religious leaders from across Afghanistan, has been formed by ex-Afghan President Sibghatullah Mujaddedi. Until now, many of the people were confident that the council’s efforts will bear fruits, but its acknowledgment of its failure has left many dejected. Could the council succeed, it would have opened a new chapter in the democratic history of the country. Too many candidates will divide voters at such a critical time when the country needs national unity. The nation cannot tolerate any polarization in the name of ethnic identities and tribal affiliation as the country is passing through a critical phase where Kabul has already locked its horns with a power like the US over a crucial security deal. Moreover, in the wake of withdrawal of foreign forces by the end of this year, we will need national unity instead of polarization. Besides, a reduced number of presidential candidates means reduced elections costs as the vote wouldn’t go to a second round. Commentariats predict that polls may go to second round, because none of the contenders seem to attain the 50 percent plus one vote margin needed to cast off a runoff, but when they are persistent on their own obduracy, what will come of democracy.
We should all know that other than democracy there is no beneficial polity. But given that our political leaders demonstrate political maturity as democracy has the inborn quality to wield us all as a united nation and iron out our difference and grievances. But we must remember that democracy works when given time to develop, mature and deliver, but how our democracy will pick maturity when there is a mad race for presidential slot and there are too many hopefuls. Under democracy people must have access to information for informed debate, and government institutions should treat citizens fairly, and with dignity, while addressing their needs, without torturing their ego. However, given that our political leaders demonstrate political immaturity how they will form a mature democracy and infallible state institutions. Their immaturity shows there will be no place for intellectualism as anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by centuries-old notions of tribal mindset and ethnic tensions. The problem is that our collective thinking is usually short-lived and we ourselves are fickle. With poor memories and great gift of self-destruction, how we could form a lasting and promising democracy where our leaders are failing in showing maturity.

Books on Pakistan : A History of Misunderstandings, Lies and Violence

Gen.Zia,the wily military dictator who ruled Pakistan for much of the 1980s, was famous for, among other things, his gleaming teeth, which he used to dazzle visitors with a smile that left them guessing about his true intentions.
So it was in July 1982 when Gen. Vernon Walters, an envoy sent by President Ronald Reagan, delivered a stern message to Zia. The United States had “incontrovertible proof,” Walters said, that Pakistan had accelerated its nuclear bomb program, despite assurances to the contrary.
Zia, Husain Haqqani writes in “Magnificent Delusions,” reacted with feigned shock. He had “no knowledge” of such a program, he assured Walters. “Pakistan might not be a large or important country,” he declared with a straight face, but it was “an honorable one.”
Walters left the meeting nonplused, but with a sense of grudging admiration. “Either he really does not know,” he wrote later, “or he is the most superb and patriotic liar I have ever met.”
Patriotism, lies and wrenching disappointment are the interweaving coils of “Magnificent Delusions,” a sweeping survey of the tumultuous relations between Washington and Islamabad since Pakistan’s founding in 1947. Since the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, the alliance between the two countries has been sickly, with a racing pulse but little heart. Mr. Haqqani’s scholarly history suggests that the condition is genetic, rooted in the very DNA of their relationship.
At its heart, he argues, is a set of fundamentally mismatched expectations. The United States enrolled Pakistan in its global wars against Communism, beginning in the 1950s, and against Al Qaeda after 2001. But the true interest of Pakistan’s generals lay elsewhere: in pursuing their old rivalry with India.
The result is a seesawing, frequently unhappy relationship. The Pakistanis alternate between supplication and indignation in their demands for American wheat, weapons and hard cash. And the Americans — estimated to have given the country $40 billion over the decades — grow frustrated, and fret about Pakistan’s nukes and jihadi-friendly policies.
Mr. Haqqani is eminently qualified to tell this story. He was Islamabad’s ambassador to Washington from 2008 to 2011, when he was forced to quit amid sulfurous accusations from the Pakistani military that he was kowtowing to American power. Facing potential treason charges, he cannot return to Pakistan, and is now a professor of international relations at Boston University.
Mr. Haqqani denies the military’s accusations, but his cold-eyed disdain for its corrosive policies over the decades permeates his tale. “We sought U.S. aid in return for promises we did not keep,” he concludes. “Pakistan wanted to be able to act like Hafez Assad’s Syria while demanding that the United States treat us like Israel.”
His history relies heavily on American cables and memoirs, which serves well to illuminate some episodes, like the Nixon administration’s disgraceful approach to Pakistani atrocities against civilians during the 1971 war in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). But at other times, the lack of Pakistani voices feels one-sided, underplaying American ingratitude and prejudices. And there is a disappointing lack of detail from the recent period when Mr. Haqqani himself was a central participant in the action. We learn little new about the crisis over Raymond A. Davis, the C.I.A. contractor who killed two people in Lahore in January 2011. Instead, Mr. Haqqani settles scores with rivals while giving a soft ride to his ally President Asif Ali Zardari.
It is a reminder that Mr. Haqqani is not just a scholar of the Pakistani stage, but a player on it, too — and one who wishes to return one day.
An ill-fated return from exile, also with an American connection, forms the backdrop to “Getting Away With Murder,” Heraldo Muñoz’s book on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Ms. Bhutto was killed in a bombing in December 2007, 10 weeks after she returned to Pakistan with the blessing of the George W. Bush administration. In 2009, the United Nations dispatched Mr. Muñoz, a Chilean diplomat, to illuminate this murky affair.
He quickly found himself wading through a morass of manipulation and intrigue: Spies lurk around every corner; his quarters are bugged, and his email is intercepted; a former Bhutto bodyguard is shot in strange circumstances. Hospital doctors say they have been warned against discussing Bhutto’s wounds. The crime scene has been sanitized, and police officers lie to his face.
Even the government of President Zardari — Bhutto’s widower — seems to be ambivalent about his efforts.
As a diplo-sleuth, Mr. Muñoz provides some revealing detail on this important story. But, alas, he is no Agatha Christie. A dutiful rehashing of Pakistani history is insightful but sprinkled with careless errors. And, ultimately, he fails to go much further into Bhutto’s death than his well-regarded United Nations report.
Instead, he posits this poetic idea, drawn from Spanish literature: that she was killed by “the village,” a dastardly confluence of the various forces arrayed against her. But that still leaves unanswered the central question: Who ordered the hit?
Fiction offers more supple tools for plumbing the mysteries of Pakistan, and a new novel, “The Prisoner” (thus far published only in South Asia), is a welcome addition. Written by a former cop, Omar Shahid Hamid, “The Prisoner” is a racy tale about the police in Karachi, the gloriously chaotic seaside city.
“The Prisoner” is modeled on thinly disguised real-life events and people, and the story is framed by the kidnapping of an American journalist similar to Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was killed in 2002. It suffers from clunky dialogue that is used to explain the city’s byzantine politics.
But otherwise, the novel is a gripping portrayal of a casually corrupt city filled with gunslinging cops, seedy politicians, hypocritical jihadis, ruthless spies and even a hooker with a heart of gold. Although it does not aspire to high literature, “The Prisoner” offers gritty insights into how Pakistan works at ground level, and how dangerous it is: This month, a hard-boiled Karachi cop named Chaudhry Aslam, who inspired a major character, was killed by the Taliban.
It’s a reminder that, as so often in Pakistani fiction, the real world is never far.
Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
By Husain Haqqani
415 pages. PublicAffairs. $28.99.
Benazir Bhutto’s Assassination and the Politics of Pakistan
By Heraldo Muñoz
Illustrated. 268 pages. W. W. Norton & Company. $26.95.

Pakistan's Musharraf trial delayed again

Treason trial was due to start December 24 but has been repeatedly delayed, mostly due to health and security scares.
The treason trial of the former Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, has has been delayed again after a court adjourned to consider his medical report. Lawyers representing Musharraf handed the report to the judges on Friday. Justice Faisal Arab, who is leading the three-man panel, said the court would retire until Wednesday to review the information. Musharraf, who is facing a series of criminal charges relating to his 1999-2008 rule, was taken to hospital on January 2 after suffering a heart problem on his way to a hearing.
A Pakistani newspaper, Express News, obtained a copy of the medical report. It said Musharraf was presented to the emergency department "with uneasiness in the chest, sweating and discomfort in left arm".
The document also said he had nine medical conditions including a blocked artery and "recurrent discomfort around the left shoulder joint and had suffered from frozen shoulder in the past". His legal team have asked that he be transferred to the Paris Regional Medical Centre in Paris, Texas.
Musharraf has repeatedly denounced the treason case as a "vendetta" against him.
He faces a number of charges since he returned to Pakistan in a thwarted bid to run in May's general election. These include murder charges over the assassination in late 2007 of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
The treason case was due to start on December 24 but had to be delayed after police found explosives and a detonator on Musharraf's route to court. There have been several security scares since then.

Blasphemy case: Briton in Pakistan sentenced to death

A court in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi has sentenced a 65-year-old British man to death after convicting him of blasphemy.
Mohammad Asghar was arrested in 2010 after writing letters to various people claiming to be a prophet, reports say.
His lawyers argued for leniency saying he has a history of mental illness, but this was rejected by a medical panel.
Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam.
Several recent cases have prompted international concern about the application of these laws.
Mr Asghar, who is believed to have family in Scotland, was accused of writing letters to police officers claiming to be a prophet. He is thought to have lived in Pakistan for several years.
His lawyer told the BBC's Saba Eitizaz that she was forcibly removed from the case by the judge and that proceedings were carried out behind closed doors.
She says she will launch an appeal against the verdict, which was delivered late on Thursday.
Correspondents say Mr Asghar is unlikely to be executed as Pakistan has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2008.
Critics argue that Pakistan's blasphemy laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores and that members of minority groups are also unfairly targeted. In 2012 the arrest of a young Christian girl, Rimsha, on blasphemy charges provoked international outrage. After being detained in a high security prison for several weeks she was eventually released and her family subsequently fled to Canada.
Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, where 97% of the population are Muslim. Muslims constitute a majority of those prosecuted, followed by the minority Ahmadi community.

Is Pakistan finally going after the Taliban?

Islamabad has launched an offensive against militant Islamists in its northwestern region. In response, Islamists, too, have intensified their attacks.
For years, the United States has been demanding that Islamabad launch a military action against the extremist Haqqani Network in its semi-governed region of North Waziristan. The US believes the area is being used by al Qaeda and Taliban operatives as a base to launch attacks on international troops in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan, however, had always refused to comply, telling Washington that the time was not right to start a full-scale offensive against the militants. But it seems Islamabad has finally decided to go after the Islamists. Pakistani jets started to bomb the militant hideouts on Monday, January 20. According to the Pakistani military officials, 40 insurgents, mostly foreign nationals, were killed in these airstrikes. They claim three German citizens with links to al Qaeda were also among the dead. Wali Muhammad, a Pakistani Taliban commander, was also reportedly killed in these strikes.
Pakistani officials say that some of those killed were involved in a January 19 attack on the country's paramilitary troops in the northwestern city of Bannu, and a double suicide bombing on a Peshawar church in September last year, which killed more than 80 people. Security experts believe the strikes are likely to hamper the Pakistani government's efforts to start a dialogue with the militants.
Militants react
The Taliban and their partner Sunni extremist groups had already rejected Islamabad's talks offer. Now, after the airstrikes in North Waziristan, they seem all the more determined to create unrest in the country. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, warned that his group would be compelled to take revenge.
In the past few days, the level of violence has certainly gone up. On Tuesday, January 21, the militants bombed a passenger bus carrying 51 Shiite pilgrims from Iran to Pakistan's western Balochistan province. Authorities confirmed 24 deaths in the attack, which took place in the Mastung district near the Pakistani-Iranian Taftan border. The following day, the Taliban targeted a polio vaccination team in the northwest of the country, killing six policemen guarding the vaccinators and a boy. It was the second such attack in as many days targeting heath workers. A day earlier, four gunmen opened fire on a medical team in the southern city of Karachi, killing three health workers including two women. The killings come just days after Pakistani authorities began a nationwide drive to eradicate polio, which remains endemic in the country. The Islamists oppose polio inoculations as "anti-Islam."
Future of 'peace talks'
After returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made clear his government would not follow the previous government's anti-terrorism policy and would instead make peace with militants, including the Taliban. Critics of the government, however, are against talks with the Taliban. They believe that concessions to the extremists will only embolden them. They say the talks are bound to fail because the Taliban neither believe in the parliamentary system of governance nor the constitution of Pakistan. They also point out that there are multiple factions of the Taliban, and that nobody knows who the real representatives of the Islamists are.
Nizamuddin Nizamani, a political analyst and researcher in Karachi, believes the future of the proposed "peace talks" with the Taliban is more uncertain than ever after recent events. But he also adds there is no need to negotiate with "terrorists," and that they should be "eliminated." "The government might be interested in negotiating with the militants, but the Taliban and their allies have shown no interest in proposed talks so far. On the contrary, they have intensified their attacks," said Nizamani. Shiite cleric Allama Ameen Shaheedi agrees: "Those who are dreaming to make peace with the Taliban live in a fool's paradise," Shaheedi told DW. "The Taliban have not ceased their violent attacks even for a day. The military operation is the only way to deal with them. The state must assert its power and save the country from these terrorists," he said.
No clear strategy
Depite the recent airstrikes against the extremists, security experts doubt the Pakistani government intends to curb terrorism.
Nizamani says the current military operation in North Waziristan "should not be viewed as a proper military offensive and hence not be mistaken for a change in policy." The analyst believes Pakistani leaders are still not clear about how to counter terrorism. "This is not a military operation," Nizamani told DW. "The government says the airstrikes are actually in retaliation to the Taliban attacks on Pakistani soldiers. It is nothing more than that. The government doesn't have a strategy to fight the militants. Don't mistake these strikes for a resolution to eliminate terrorists," he added.

Pakistan:Govt must decide on fighting terrorism: Khurshid Shah

Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah Friday said the entire nation was united to fight terrorism and the time had come to arrive at a final decision to wipe out the elements taking lives of innocent people.
Speaking to media representatives here at the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Shah said: “We are thinking why our security personnel and civilians are being targeted. We must sit together and the government will have to take a final decision against terrorists.”
Shah was visiting the hospital to inquire after the health of security personnel injured in the recent bombings in Bannu and Rawalpindi.
Former federal ministers Qamar Zaman Kaira and Nazar Muhammad Gondal also accompanied him.
Shah said leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had categorically stated that it would extend all-out support to the government in its decision to tackle the elements carrying out subversive activities in various parts of the country.
The opposition leader said the PPP would not leave the government alone under any circumstances for the cause of national sovereignty and democracy, adding that the PPP and the entire nation stood by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Answering a question, he said the PPP in its tenure had purged Swat and Malakand divisions of terrorists after taking the parliament into confidence, but added that now was not the time for scoring political points. He said the writ of the state must be maintained at all costs as any weakness on that front would encourage the enemies of the country.

Pakistan: The terrorist onslaught

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has embarked upon a concerted campaign of actions to weaken the state. Apart from attacks on the army, security forces and citizens, it has particularly focused on the anti-polio drive. One day after three anti-polio workers were killed in Karachi, the terrorists switched their attention to the security detail on its way to be deployed on protection of the polio vaccinators in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The toll of the bomb attack on their police van was six policemen and a child killed, 11 others injured. In Bhakkar district, Punjab, a polio vaccination team was attacked by militants. Fortunately no one was killed, although a lady health supervisor and her driver were injured. To understand why the anti-polio drive is attracting the unwanted attention of the terrorists of late, it is not enough to refer to the earlier explanations of the terrorists regarding the vaccination campaign as a cover for spying (the Dr Shakil Afridi affair should be kept in mind) or a western conspiracy to make Muslims infertile. As a tactical manoeuvre, it make sense to the terrorists to target the polio campaign since it helps highlight Pakistan’s dubious status as one of only three countries still polio-endemic (along with Nigeria and Afghanistan). The World Health Organisation has come out with a devastating report that describes Peshawar as the world’s largest reservoir of the poliovirus. The perception globally that militancy and terrorism are causing the Pakistani polio campaign to falter, if not fail, encourages the terrorists to redouble their efforts so that Pakistan is cast into a pariah status, implying travel bans and perhaps worse. The bad press Pakistan is accumulating on this score could vitally damage Pakistan’s image and bring on sanctions on health grounds that could have a crippling effect on Pakistan’s ability to function internationally. While Karachi bleeds and burns because of its plethora of terrorist, political and criminal militias engaged in targeted killings, the police raid in Qayumabad area of Karachi seeking the killers of the polio workers killed the other day evoked an outcry from residents since the sweep netted over a hundred people, most probably on suspicion rather than evidence. The police justify the action by arguing that the killers may have come from the area or definitely had local help in targeting the polio workers. However, the indiscriminate and wide scope of the dragnet suggests the police are shooting in the dark. Despite the announcement by the polio workers after the deaths of their colleagues that they would not work unless provided adequate security, the Sindh government has reiterated its commitment to continuing the anti-polio drive. Commendable as the statement is, the government must soberly examine the risks to polio workers and make proper arrangements to keep them safe. After all, the polio ‘front’ is now part of the anti-terrorist struggle.
While knowledgeable observers have been arguing since this government took office that the terrorists must be taken on without hesitation or delay while keeping the door for negotiations open, the opposite has been in evidence. The government still seems to be hoping against hope that its talks strategy will bear dividends, despite the lack of a partner to talk to or any sign of one emerging. Maulana Samiul Haq, charged with persuading the Taliban to come to the negotiation table, has used the excuse of the bombing in North Waziristan the other day that killed 40 terrorists including foreign fighters to announce his withdrawal from a mediatory role. The Maulana’s heart clearly bleeds for the terrorists killed in the bombing, but not for the victims of the terrorists. So much for such ‘mediators’. Even Imran Khan seems to have been compelled by developments and the criticism mounting against his party and KP government for its almost exclusive focus on talks as the only panacea to declare that the PTI will be with the army when the time comes to mount a military operation. Someone needs to inform Imran that that time has not just arrived, it is past due. In the same breath, Imran has scored points against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for not taking his party on board whether the talks strategy has failed and a military operation is impending. Again, someone needs to inform the PTI chief that the talks strategy never got off the ground and if a military operation is being contemplated, it needs to be kept secret, particularly from a party that has made no bones about its sympathies for the Taliban. Slowly, gradually, inexorably, circumstances are forcing all the ‘talkers’ to a recognititon that the terrorists only understand the language of force. Without employing it, the state will continue to appear supine and at the mercy of the butchers.

Ban Ki-moon condemns terrorist attacks in Pakistan

United Nations Secretary-General (SG) Ban Ki-moon has strongly condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan and expressed his deep concern over sectarian violence and attacks on polio workers.
In a statement, Ban ki-moon specifically mentioned incidents of bombing at a market in Rawalpindi on 20th January that left at least 13 dead, as well as attack in Balochistan on a bus carrying Shia pilgrims returning from Iran, which reportedly killed more than 20 people and injured many more, including women and children.
UN SG was also deeply concerned about the recent attacks on polio workers, which have resulted in several deaths.
“These unacceptable attacks are hampering efforts to eradicate the disease in Pakistan, one of the last three countries where polio remains endemic. The number of polio cases in Pakistan increased by 57 per cent last year, from 58 cases in 2012 to 91 in 2013,” the statement quoted him as saying.
The SG expressed his heartfelt condolences to the Government and the people of Pakistan. He stressed that the UNs’ commitment to supporting the government in its efforts to combat terrorism and violent extremism.

Pakistan: A lifetime of pain for Swat's polio-stricken children

Akbar Khan, a resident of Swat, cries as he sees his four year-old son Hamza on the bed. Polio struck, Hamza cannot walk without help.
“For four years my son was fine, he could walk, run and play,” Khan recalls. “All of a sudden he fell ill and was bed-ridden.”

Akbar Khan by BlackBoxSounds “I took him to the doctor who did some tests and diagnosed him with polio. Some people advised temporary treatment, others advised herbal treatment. I know he is not getting better because there is no cure, only god can help him now.” Khan lamented how his son contracted polio during an 18-month break in the immunisation drive due to the security situation in the valley. Owing to the security situation and a host of misconceptions, polio eradication drives have suffered in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which was this week termed as a reservoir of polio in Pakistan by the World Health Organisation. Khan says he would sell all his belongings, if the money could buy his son an hour of uninterrupted normal walk.
Swat polio vaccination team supervisor Khurshid Ahmed says that opponents of the drive and their supporters aside, there are misconceptions that vaccines are un-Islamic. Though Sheikhul-Hadees Mufti Sarfaraz Faizi explains that “in Islam it is permitted to provided treatment before or after diagnosis.” The religious aspect is not the only factor that is keeping people away from vaccination. Swat resident Manzoor Ahmed says that he heard that the polio drops contain forbidden ingredients such as fat of pig and (George W) Bush’s urine. Khurshid Ahmed said that in a bid to change the public’s attitude towards vaccination, his team resorted to immunising their own children to demonstrate that the polio drops were just harmless medicine.

Lahore: Protesters give PTI team a hard time

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders on Thursday faced embarrassment when the participants of the sit-in outside the Governor’s House did not allow them to join the protest for having “soft corner” for the Taliban. A large number of people, including women and children, had camped outside the Governor’s House since 5pm on Wednesday under the umbrella of the Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM) and Imamia Students Organisation to protest against the killing of Shia pilgrims in Balochistan’s Mastung district. The participants were determined to continue with the protest till stern action against militants involved in the attacks is not initiated. The charged participants seemed to have drawn a line between those having soft corner for the extremists and the ones who are against them. As no one from the PML-N or the Punjab government bothered to express solidarity with the participants of the sit-in, the PTI leaders – Ejaz Chaudhry and Andleep Abbas – visited them. However, the protesters asked the PTI leaders that they should better leave as “we don’t need sympathy from those who support the Taliban.” A group of the participants tried to convince others to let the PTI leaders sit with them but to no avail. The same situation did not arise when the PPP leaders – Jehangir Badr and Manzoor Wattoo – reached there. “Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had given a message for you! We will not surrender before terrorists,” Wattoo told the participants. “We demand that the PML-N government bring all assailants to justice,” he said. On the other hand, the MWM leaders said they would not end the protest in Lahore till the relatives of those killed in Quetta ended the sit-in there. The MWM leaders - Allama Ahmad Iqbal Rizvi, Allama Imtiaz Kazmi, Allama Syed Jaffer Mousavi, Allama Syed Mubarak Ali Mousavi, Allama Syed Husain Najfi, Allama Husnain Arif and Syed Asad Abbas Naqvi – also addressed the protesters. They demanded that the government launch a “targeted military operation” in Quetta to hunt down the terrorists. The motorists in the provincial capital faced great inconvenience because of more than 30-hour sit-in on The Mall. The participants, especially elderly women and children, showed no sign of withdrawal despite cold weather. “Soon after coming from school I had a lunch and then my father brought me here. He told me that we have come here to register protest against the killing of innocent people in Quetta,” Komail Raza, a grade-III student, told Dawn at the sit-in. “I would attend my school tomorrow though I will go to bed late. I think my presence may force the rulers to arrest the killers of the innocent people,” Komail said.

Three including 2 FC troops injured in Khyber Agency blast
Three persons including two Frontier Corps (FC) personnel and a local journalist were injured when a roadside remote-controlled bomb went off with a blast in Khyber Agency on Friday, Local TV reported. According to the FC sources, militants had planted an improvised explosive device along the road that exploded near a college in Landi Kotal area, injuring two FC troops and a local journalist. The injured were shifted to Landi Kotal Hospital for treatment. The FC sources further told that the unidentified miscreants had planted the explosives at the roadside. The security forces initiated a search operation after the explosion and cordoned off the area.