Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Syrian National Coalition says it will take part in the second round of Geneva 2 talks. Russia says the Syrian government expressed "no doubts" that it will also attend, adding that it plans to send a shipment of chemical agents out of the country. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks with Syrian National Coalition (SNC) leader Ahmad Jarba on Tuesday. Following the talks - which took place in Moscow and focused on the temporarily halted peace conference in Switzerland - Jarba confirmed to Russian media that the SNC will come to Geneva on February 10. “We have agreed to take part in Geneva [peace] conference to fulfill the Geneva Communiqué…We have stated our intention to take part in the second round of talks on February 10,” Jarba said, as quoted by Interfax.
However, Moscow expects Damascus to continue with the talks. According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, the Syrian government has “expressed no doubt regarding its participation in the next round of talks.” Russia on Tuesday suggested that to move forward with the talks, the Syrian delegations should form specialized task groups on different issues, Gatilov stated. “For every issue some concrete efforts are needed; some are easier solved, the other ones are tougher – for instance, the creation of interim government. But this does not mean that one should focus on a single problem and ignore the others,” Gatilov told RIA Novosti. Such task groups should be Syrian-only, and while their work could be mediated by the UN, there can be no foreign meddling in the process, he said. It is important to “fully implement” the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012, which includes “fighting terrorism, effecting ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian access and POW exchange,” Lavrov told Jarba, according to statements issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. The SNC leader, however, said he believes that creating a transitional body is a top priority that will solve all other issues automatically. “Formation of an interim government will solve all other disputable problems, including ceasefire and releases of the war prisoners,” Jarba assured, stating that the opposition has already prepared a list of candidates and expressed readiness “to be flexible and open for dialogue while discussing nominees.” The Syrian parties have so far not reached an agreement on POW exchange. The opposition has failed to present a list of people they captured, though Damascus has already handed its list to the SNC, Gatilov said.
The Russian official also doubted that the Syrian opposition has any leverage to affect the actions of international terrorist groups fighting on the ground in Syria with the aim to create a Sharia law-based Islamic state. Meanwhile, Jarba said the opposition refuses to discuss the problem of terrorism in Syria “while Assad is in power.” However, he told Russian journalists that the SNC does not recognize the Islamic Front - a major merger of Syrian rebel fighters formed in November - as a terrorist organization, and considers them “revolutionaries.” Chemical delay to break ‘in February’ The start of the Geneva 2 peace talks coincided with another wave of Western pressure against the Syrian government, with the US accusing Syria of deliberately delaying the delivery of its chemical weapons out of the country, as well as reportedly authorizing the delivery of some weapons to the opposition during a closed Congress session. US Secretary of State John Kerry also asked Russia to press Damascus to speed up the completion of its international obligation, State Department spokesman Jennifer Psaki said on Tuesday. Gatilov replied to the US rhetoric by saying there was “no need to make a drama out of the situation with the disarmament.” “Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1,” RIA Novosti quoted Gatilov as saying. There are, however, some well-founded security related concerns, Gatilov added, saying that several provocations have already been attempted. Russia is confident that Syria’s chemical arsenal will be destroyed by the June 30 deadline, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Reuters on Monday.
http://www.mlive.com/news/President Barack Obama plans to sign the Farm Bill during his visit to East Lansing on Friday, the White House has confirmed. Obama is expected to give remarks at Michigan State University's Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center on Friday afternoon. He'll discuss the Farm Bill's importance to the economy. "The President will see firsthand the research that institutions like MSU are doing to create jobs and drive innovation that benefits farmers, ranchers, our rural communities, and our nation as a whole," according to a White House news release. The Senate on Tuesday passed the Farm Bill, a comprehensive funding package for agriculture and food assistance programs. Obama praised the passage of the bill, saying it would create new jobs and protect the most vulnerable Americans. "This bill provides certainty to America's farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of common sense reforms that my Administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most," Obama said in a statement. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chair of the Senate's agricultural committee, has spent much of the past three years leading the charge on passing a five-year farm bill - perhaps another reason Obama has chosen Michigan for the signing. Stabenow has said Michigan is on "every page of the bill," including insurance for the state's numerous tart cherry and apple growers. "I’m very proud to say he’s going to sign it at my alma mater, Michigan State University on Friday," Stabenow said during a call with reporters. "This is a very exciting day and I welcome that the president is committed to agriculture in America ... and the research that we certainly exemplify at Michigan State." Obama also may discuss the need for immigration reform. At least five farmers from throughout the state were invited to meet with Obama on Friday. The Michigan Farm Bureau was contacted by the White House to help find a small group of farmers who are strong advocates for immigration reform, said Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Delta Township-based trade group.
The Senate gave final approval today to a new five-year Farm Bill, a massive spending measure of nearly $1 trillion that brings sweeping change to agriculture, dairy, conservation and food programs. The bill passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 68 to 32, bringing a smooth end to two years of intense fighting over farm and food programs that touch nearly every American. The debate deeply divided a long-standing coalition in Congress, the food and farm sectors, and underscored a reshaping political landscape where rural America holds far less sway in Washington. President Obama is poised to sign the bill into law as soon as it reaches his desk. The House approved the measure last week on a vote of 251 to 166.
“This is not your father’s Farm Bill,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee. “It’s a new direction for American agriculture policy.”
This bill eliminates billions of dollars in direct subsidy payments to farmers, which is a significant change in U.S. agriculture policy. The costs have climbed to about $5 billion a year and were paid to farmers whether or not they grew the crops. The subsidies were effectively replaced by a crop insurance program to give farmers a lifeline in the wake of floods and droughts. “This puts in place a safety net,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. “It truly is more of an insurance situation.” The legislation calls for a significant reduction in the food stamp program, which will be cut by about $8 billion over the next decade. Some lawmakers who said the cuts in food stamps were too severe opposed the measure.
Even though the reduction in the food stamp program was far less than the $40 billion in cuts initially proposed by the House, the Congressional Budget Office estimates benefits will be reduced for about 850,000 households across the county.
The legislation creates a new program that will allow the poor to double their food stamp benefits at farmers markets, which nutrition advocates say will help families eat healthier. The bill also adds $205 million to funding for food banks. “For two long years, our nation’s farm families and rural communities have waited for a Farm Bill,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R.-Mo. “While this may not be the best possible bill, it’s the best bill possible right now. Programs in this bill touch the lives of every American, in every community, in every state.” Supporters of the bill say it also cuts spending in farm subsidies and nutrition programs by more than $16 billion over the next 10 years. The legislation, which has stalled repeatedly in partisan fights over subsidies and spending, is a sprawling bill that stretches to nearly 1,000 pages. Several conservative groups and Tea Party followers said the bill spent too much money, but in the end only 23 Senate Republicans voted against it. The farm bill is already emerging as a political issue in at least one Senate battleground: Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat seeking re-election to a third term, supported the bill, while his Republican rival, Rep. Tom Cotton, opposed the measure because he said it spent too much money. He was the only member of the Arkansas delegation to oppose the bill. Republicans view Arkansas as one of their best opportunities to pick up a Democratic seat. When asked how the farm bill would resonate in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country, Boozman demurred and said Cotton, his fellow Republican, “has been pretty upfront about his concerns.” But Boozman said that he believed the bill needed to be passed and was essential to the rural economy. “I think it’s important for Arkansas,” Boozman said. “I think it’s important for the nation to maintain the cheapest, most secure food supply in the world.”
Reports that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been holding secret peace talks with Taliban officials led to high-level meetings in Washington Tuesday. U.S. officials are again calling on the Afghan leader to sign an agreement to allow U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year. President Barack Obama met with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military commanders at the White House Tuesday. They were expected to discuss a report, in The New York Times, that Karzai met with Taliban officials in Dubai three weeks ago, without consulting the United States. The Pentagon is not confirming the reports, according to Defense Department spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Steve Warren. “We've long said that the path to peace here is political and diplomatic and not military and I believe that we've long said that Afghans speaking to Afghans are what's going to bring about peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he said. The Senate Armed Services Committee also met Tuesday, behind closed doors, to discuss the issue. Republican Senator John McCain said the Obama administration's announcement that it would conclude the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of this year was likely a factor in Karzai's reported decision to negotiate with the Taliban. McCain said he had been told that the White House was considering withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2017, when Obama leaves office. "President Karzai is paranoid and irrational; but, like most people with paranoia, there is a basis for that," he said. "And when he reads that the United States is planning on having everybody out by 2017, then he makes accommodations, such as trying to negotiate with the Taliban. That is completely understandable." White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama has not decided on the post-2014 U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. He said that decision cannot be made until the Afghan leader signs a bilateral security agreement. He said, "I can tell you that as each day passes and we move further into this calendar year, it becomes more imperative that the Afghan government sign the agreement that was negotiated in good faith, so that NATO and the United States can make plans for a post-2014 troop presence. Absent a signed BSA, there will be no and can be no U.S. troops beyond 2014." The U.S. has been calling on Karzai to sign the agreement soon, to give NATO time to prepare for a post-combat role for its troops in Afghanistan. U.S.-Afghan relations have been strained in recent months, and Karzai announced in November that he would not sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. until after Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, said he is more interested in whether Afghanistan's next president will sign the agreement. "My advice on this one is to simply not count on Karzai signing a bilateral security agreement, because it's obvious that he's either not or unlikely," he said. "But you don't need him to, because it's the next president, who will be more reliable than Karzai, in any event." The Afghan leader has also released some Taliban militants from prison and accused the U.S. of war crimes.
The Australian government has confiscated passports in an effort to prevent attacks by returning fighters.
With estimates of up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria, Western powers are increasingly worried about the potential national security threat posed by returning fighters. But in a country more than 14,000 kilometres from the frontline, Syria's civil war is also playing out in Australia's suburbs, with numerous beatings, assaults, shootings and property damage being reported along sectarian lines. At the heart of the violence, which has predominantly been in Australia's two most populous cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are those for and against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. More than 15 incidents of violence involving members of the Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian communities have been reported. However, Andrew Zammit, from the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Monash University, who has kept a tally of these cases, told Al Jazeera that Syria-related violence in Australia had actually decreased in 2013, compared with the previous year.
Despite this, local violence, along with a number of citizens who have joined the insurgency, has the Australian government concerned about its own national security. Last year the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) acknowledged the tensions in its annual report: "The situation in Syria, with the potential for violence spilling into other parts of the Middle East, increases the possibility of associated communal violence in Australia and remains a concern for ASIO."Australian fighters While there is no exact figure on the number of Australians who have gone to Syria, rough estimates suggest about 200 have fought in the nearly three-year war that has seen more than 130,000 people killed. About 100 Australian fighters are still active there, according to David Malet, associate director of the Melbourne School of Government. "Only a half dozen have been reported killed, so if these numbers are accurate many have already returned, or else they have gone on to be foreign fighters in Iraq or elsewhere," Malet, who recently published a book about recruits of overseas insurgencies, told Al Jazeera. Observers say Australia's large Lebanese community with ties to the region, which enabled volunteers' movements in and around Syria, was a likely explanation for the presence. "Lebanese Australians have also previously been foreign fighters in Lebanon and Somalia, and involved in domestic terror plots in Sydney, so there are no doubt active connections to some of the armed groups in Syria," said Malet. However, he noted there was no evidence that other countries with large Lebanese communities were sending large numbers of foreign fighters, like Australia was reportedly doing. "The explanation probably lies with the effectiveness of the recruitment networks within Australia and their contacts in Turkey and Lebanon who help facilitate entry," he said. "Foreign fighters volunteer when effective recruiters tell them that they are part of a global group that is under extreme threat, and that they have a duty to intervene because no government is doing the right thing." Zaky Mallah, who was the first person to be charged and acquitted under Australia's anti-terrorism laws, and who has deep ties to Syria, said dual Australian-Lebanese citizens were drawn to the conflict because of their disenchantment with life in Australia. "The majority of Australians heading to Syria are from Lebanese backgrounds. The Lebanese youth here feel disadvantaged, isolated and discriminated against. Many [are] unemployed and have turned to religion as a result," Mallah said. "Many Lebanese youth have turned to Salafi ideology because it is strong and helpful to counter the struggles of life here in Australia. Many Australian Lebanese youth will find themselves ideologically 'connected' with these groups." Government concerns In light of the recent death of a couple from western Sydney in Syria - and in a bid to deter more Australians from going to the war-torn nation - the government has stepped up its rhetoric. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signalled that those who fight in Syria could be at risk of losing their citizenship, while the Australian Federal Police have said anyone returning from fighting there would be treated as a national security threat. The government has also stepped up prosecutions and ASIO has continued to confiscate the passports of anyone suspected of travelling to engage in "politically motivated violence". It confiscated 18 passports from mid-2012 to mid-2013, the largest number in any given year-long period. Joseph Wakim, former Victoria Multicultural Affairs Commissioner and founder of the Australian Arabic Council, said the new government was taking a harder line than the previous one. "The new coalition government has been critical of both sides and sympathetic to the Christian minorities who have been targeted by the anti-Assad forces," he told Al Jazeera. "With Australia's suite of anti-terror laws, and concerted efforts by our intelligence agencies to share resources and establish strategic community contacts, Australia's buffer against terrorist acts has been bolstered. Local community elders and clerics have also been more vigilant and public in encouraging good citizenship and close cooperation with authorities, including denouncing potential terrorists." Real threat? Despite this, the government continues to voice its concerns that the experience, new skills, ideologies and connections formed on Syria's battlefield could see the fighters posing a threat to Australia when they return. But are its concerns warranted? Last February, Norwegian terrorism expert Thomas Hegghammer released a report showing that one in nine Westerners who fight in foreign jihadist insurgencies ends up becoming involved in terrorist plots back home. Malet said research on foreign fighters was still a new field, adding different studies produced differing conclusions about the likelihood of "blowback" from returning foreign fighters. "Other studies show that most foreign fighters simply resume their previous lives so long as they are provided amnesty," he said. "However in 2009, four Australian citizens returning from Somalia were arrested plotting to attack the Holsworthy Army barracks, so there is precedent for the Australian government to be concerned." Wakim said Australians fighting in Syria were driven by their perceived moral duty to aid their Muslim brothers to "rid Syria of an infidel secular authoritarian regime and replace it with one that upholds their brand version of pure Islam". "While there is no evidence of such individuals planning attacks in Australia, their recruitment activities tap into a population of Australian-born and disengaged youth searching for a worthy cause - and at times martyrdom," he added. "Given their susceptibility and obedience, I suspect that local networks are already in place for the waging of local attacks against anyone who represents their infidel enemy." Zammit echoed his concerns. "[An attack] is a real possibility, based on our past history and on the experience of other Western countries." But despite government attempts to deter people from going to Syria, some say that nothing will stop them. "If a Muslim's ideology is strong, then imprisonment means nothing - no deterrent. He or she would rather stay in Syria until martyrdom," Mallah told Al Jazeera. "[It is] not worth coming back to jail."
Bahrain has announced tougher sentences for “offending” King Hamad, ahead of the third anniversary of the country’s 2011 popular revolt against the Al Khalifa regime. An amendment to Bahrain’s 1976 penal code says that "publicly offending the king of Bahrain, its national flag or emblem" will carry a sentence of minimum one year and maximum seven years, as well as a fine of up to USD 26,000. The sentence can exceed to seven years if the "offense was committed in the presence of the king," Bahrain’s state news agency BNA reported, without providing details.
Saudi Arabia put into effect a sweeping new law Sunday that human rights activists say allows the kingdom to prosecute as a terrorist anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent. The law states that any act that “undermines” the state or society, including calls for regime change in Saudi Arabia, can be tried as an act of terrorism. It also grants security services broad powers to raid homes and track phone calls and Internet activity. Human rights activists were alarmed by the law and said it is clearly aimed at keeping the kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family firmly in control amid the demands for democratic reform that have grown louder since the Arab Spring protests that shook the region in 2011 and toppled longtime autocrats. Saudi activist Abdulaziz al-Shubaily described the law as a “catastrophe.” And Human Rights Watch researcher Adam Coogle warned: “The new law is draconian in spirit and letter, and there is every reason to fear that the authorities will easily and eagerly use it against peaceful dissidents.” The measure was approved by the Cabinet on Dec. 16 and ratified by King Abdullah. It was published in its entirety for the first time on Friday in the government’s official gazette Um Al-Qura. In defense of the law, the Saudi minister of culture and information, Abdel Aziz Khoja, was quoted in December as saying that the legislation strikes a balance between prevention of crimes and protection of human rights according to Islamic law. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies. All decisions are centered in the hands of 89-year-old King Abdullah. There is no parliament. There is little written law, and judges — implementing the country’s strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam — have broad leeway to impose verdicts and sentences. An attempt to pass a similar counterterrorism law in 2011 was shelved after rights groups in Saudi Arabia and abroad leaked a copy online. Since then, dozens of activists have been detained, a prominent rights organization was shut down, and authorities more aggressively monitor social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, where jokes about the aging monarchy are rife and anger over corruption, poverty and unemployment is palpable. The new law defines terrorism as any criminal act that “destabilizes the society’s security or the state’s stability or exposes its national unity to harm.” It also states that terrorist acts include disabling the ruling system or “offending the nation’s reputation or its position.” Activists said that simply exposing corruption could be seen as a violation of the law. Some also warned that Saudi women who get behind the wheel of a car in violation of the ban on female drivers could be tried under the new anti-terror law. The law also gives the interior minister the power to end sentences and drop charges. It says only the interior minister can order the release of a person on trial. Judges would have no say. Other worrying aspects, activists said, include an article that says police can raid homes and offices on suspicion of anti-government activity without prior approval from a judge or even a superior. Suspects can also be held incommunicado for 90 days, and lawyers are not required to be present during the initial interrogation. Al-Shubaily is among 12 activists in the country who founded the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights, known in Arabic by its acronym HASEM. The group was shut down, eight of its founding members were imprisoned, and he is facing trial. “If I call for the release of someone from jail for being held longer than their sentence, I can be tried for ‘asking the state to take action,’” al-Shubaily said. “When I call for a constitutional monarchy, I can now be charged with terrorism.” “They characterize you as a terrorist because you ask the kingdom to do something it does not want to do” he added
Nine people were killed and more than 50 others injured when a powerful bomb blast ripped through a local hotel frequented mostly by Shias in the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Tuesday night, DawnNews reported. The incident took place at Pak Hotel near Imambargah Alamdar in Kucha Risaldar, a Shia dominated neighbourhood of Peshawar. Police officer Rizwan Khan said that the hotel is frequented mostly by Shias who visit Imambargah Alamdar next door. Most of the dead and wounded were Shias, he added. The blast came as talks between government negotiators and representatives from the Pakistani Taliban designed to end years of fighting in the northwest were delayed. Confirming the death toll, Superintendent Police (SP) City Muhammad Faisal Mukhtar said it was a suicide attack. Provincial Health Minister Shaukat Yousufzai earlier told media representatives that eight people were killed and 42 others injured in the suicide bombing. "Six of the dead have been identified," he said. Shafqat Malik, an officer of Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) said that about six kilos of explosives were used in the blast. He said hands and legs of the suicide bomber have been recovered from the site which were sent for laboratory and DNA tests. He said other forensic evidences have also been collected. Eyewitness Musadiq Ali told Dawn.com, “I was on the first floor when a huge blast occurred and I fell on the ground.” He said that he rushed to the spot and witnessed scores of people in the “pool of blood.” Musharraf Hussain from Parachinar, who was on the spot as well, said the blast destroyed three shops and the eating kiosks in front of the Pak Hotel and Imambargah Alamdar inside Qissakhwani Bazaar. We shifted the injured and dead to the hospital on our own as no rescue worker reached the spot soon after the blast. Injured in reportedly critical condition were taken to Lady Reading Hospital where an emergency was imposed. Jamil Shah, media coordinator at LRH confirmed that nine dead bodies and 50 injured have been brought in the hospital. Women and children were among the injured, he said. Earlier today, Haji Sardar Ali, a prominent Shia leader was shot dead in the city, sparking a protest outside the LRH where his body was taken.
Shia leader of Tahreek e Nifaz Fiqay Jafria (TNJF), Sardar Ali Asghar has been shot martyred in Peshawar today on February 04, 2014, The Shia Post reported The terrorists of Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) known as Sipah-e-Sahaba attacked on Ali Asghar near Qissa Khuwani Bazar at Muhammad Ali Jouhar road. Martyr was member of Imamia Rabita Council, Peshawar. Pro-Taliban terrorists have killed thousands of Shiite Muslims across the country but government, judiciary and law enforcement agencies have failed to protect the citizens across the country. His funeral prayer will be offered at Imambargah Haji Malik Rehman Muhalla Marvi area at 5.00pm (local time). All Shia parties have condemned the terrorist attack on martyr Sardar Ali Asghar.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been holding secret talks with Taliban officials in the hope of persuading them to make peace with his government, his spokesman told Reuters on Tuesday, confirming a New York Times report. "I can confirm that ... Taliban are willing more than ever to join the peace process," Aimal Faizi said. "Contacts have been made and we are also in touch with them." A member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council also confirmed that talks had taken place, but was measured in his assessment of their success. "Talks took place in Dubai three weeks ago between government officials and Taliban who flew from Doha, but we are still waiting to see the result," he told Reuters. Western and Afghan officials speaking to the Times also said the talks had borne little fruit so far, although they may help explain Karzai's mounting public hostility to Washington. The relationship has come under increasing pressure since November, when he announced his intention to avoid signing a bilateral security deal with the United States until after a presidential election on April 5. His decision to drop a deal that had taken about a year to hammer out shocked Western diplomats. The uncertainty about Afghanistan's fate after U.S. troops pull out has also weighed on the economy. Faizi did not directly link Karzai's surprise move to the start of talks with the Taliban, but said relations had improved since then. Relations with the United States have been on a downward spiral, however, and Karzai's refusal to sign is sapping already scant support for the war in Washington, which has halved aid for civilian assistance in the fiscal year 2014. President Barack Obama, frustrated by Karzai's refusal to sign the accord, was due to meet top commanders at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the future of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Washington has signaled it could pull all troops out after 2014 unless a deal is signed soon. This would leave Afghanistan's fledgling security forces to fight the Taliban insurgency alone, without U.S. financial and military support. The Taliban have vowed to derail the election, and have stepped up attacks in Kabul despite the peace talks. January's tally of attacks was the highest since 2008, according to security officials, and the trend has continued into February, with two bombs going off in Kabul on Monday.
Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Hussain Haqqani has said that Washington has not been able to change Islamabad’s policies despite 40 billion dollars in aid. He said that US would have to change its policies for Pakistan. Commenting on Pak-US relations, Haqqani said that Washington’s wrong presumptions have led to three results: Pakistan’s dependence on US witnessed gradual increase, process of reforms stagnated, and Indo-Pak rivalry grew deeper over time. When asked about Pakistan’s involvement in hiding Osama bins Laden in Abbottabad, Haqqani said that he didn’t see involvement of any high level official. He, however, added that in case any low ranked officials were involved, Pakistan should expose their names.
THE WASHINGTON POSTA Pakistani official says a bomb blast in the northwestern city of Peshawar has killed nine people near a mosque belonging to the Shiite Muslim minority sect. Police official Rizwan Khan the explosion, also near a hotel, wounded 30 people.The hotel is frequented by Shiites who visit the mosque next door. Khan said most of the dead and wounded were Shiites. The blast came as talks between government negotiators and representatives from the Pakistani Taliban designed to end years of fighting in the northwest were delayed.
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the bomb blast in Qissa Khuwani area of Peshawar today which resulted into the loss of precious human lives and injured several others. In a statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that the militants wanted to create instability in the country by violence, bloodshed and terrorism. Their subversive activities were highly condemnable. PPP Patron expressed sympathies to the grieving family members and prayed for the people who lost their lives as well as for the speedy recovery of the injured.
http://www.samaa.tv/Five people, including a girl, were killed when a passenger train derailed following a blast here on Tuesday. Out of 14, 10 coaches of Shalimar Express turned over near Qadir Nager between Karachi and Thatta Nine economy coaches, 3 AC and one luggage coach derailed after the explosion. Following the explosion, authorities stopped Sukkur Express and Khyber Mail.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani on Tuesday demanded that a deadline should be decided upon for results in relation to talks between negotiators representing the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), adding that the government should also explain the terms and conditions involved in these negotiations. Speaking at a session of the Senate, Rabbani severely criticised the government’s decision to approach the talks’ route with the militants. Senator Rabbani said the government should not bring the state down to a level “where it may become helpless before terrorists”. He further said that by not deciding on the issue during the past seven months, the government had given the Taliban opportunity to organise and strengthen themselves. The PPP senator moreover said that an in camera session of the Parliament be called on the dialogue. Rabbani was also critical of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) and called it a “black law in violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution”. He questioned why the ordinance had been brought in when a functioning Parliament was in place.
Special licences given to high-rolling dignitaries to kill houbara bustard, which is considered to be at risk of extinctionPakistan is witnessing a mounting backlash against Arab sheikhs who spend part of their winters hunting a rare bird that conservationists warn is at risk of extinction. Activists in the country say they are determined to end the annual killing of houbara bustards, an elusive bird that migrates each winter from central Asia to Pakistan's warmer climes. Although the birds are officially protected, VIP visitors from the Gulf enjoy their traditional hunts with falcons and believe the houbara's meat has aphrodisiac properties. "Is there any more ridiculous reason to kill an animal?" said Naeem Sadiq, a Karachi-based activist who petitioned the Lahore high court to ban the practice. "If it's illegal for Pakistanis to kill these birds why should the Arab sheikhs be allowed to do it?" On Friday, the court slapped an interim ban on hunting in Punjab province, where the government has issued special hunting permits to royalty from across the Arab world. Numbers of houbara, which are considered to be at risk of extinction by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, have fallen dramatically in recent decades. They have been almost wiped out on the Arabian peninsula and various countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, have set up breeding programmes to try to revive numbers. While houbara hunting has been banned in India for decades, Pakistan continues to give special licences to Arab rulers and senior officials. This year Pakistan issued 33 permits allowing dignitaries to kill up to 100 birds each. The list of licence holders is a who's who of Gulf potentates, including the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and the president of the UAE. The Arab kingdoms are home to huge numbers of Pakistani expatriate workers and the government is loth to jeopardise its relationship with such important regional allies. "Arab dignitaries have been coming for hunting for decades and decades – it's a longstanding tradition," said Tasneem Aslam, from Pakistan's ministry of foreign affairs. "Ten years ago there wasn't so much public awareness about the issue but now we see more voices raising their concern." It's not just environmental activists and the country's boisterous media that increasingly focuses on the comings and goings of Arab dignitaries but also politicians determined to stop the sport. Sindh, one of Pakistan's four provinces where a large number of licences were issued for the hunting season, is attempting to challenge the foreign affairs ministry's right to issue permits. "We believe the constitution gives the right to give licences to the provinces," said Sikandar Ali Mandhro, a Sindh provincial government minister leading the fight. "If we succeed we will immediately introduce a five- or 10-year ban because the bird numbers have become so low." Few outsiders have witnessed one of the bustard-hunting expeditions, but stories about the high-rolling Arab falconers are legendary in Pakistan. Tons of equipment is flown in by private transport planes, including the falcons used to hunt the rare quarry. Luxuriously appointed camps are set up for the sheikh and his guests, who often stay for weeks. Local communities value the money spent by their annual visitors, who have paid for improvements to roads and airstrips, as well as paying for the means to build mosques and schools. An official from the Houbara Foundation Pakistan, which rescues birds captured for illegal shipment to the Gulf, said there was a desperate need for a proper national survey of houbara numbers in order to decide whether limited hunting should be allowed to continue. "The real problem arises once a hunting camp is set up and other people come and take advantage," said the official, who did not wish to be named. "We have informal information about locals shooting the birds."