Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pakistan: ‘TTP Peshawar chief’ owns up to Tuesday’s sectarian attack

A TTP militant claiming to be the Peshawar district chief of the banned group has accepted responsibility for Tuesday evening’s suicide attack on a hotel that left nine people dead. Although the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had denied its involvement in the explosion at Pak Hotel in Koocha Risaldar locality of the old city area, Mufti Hasaan Swati told reporters on Wednesday that the bombing had been carried out to avenge an attack on a seminary in Rawalpindi in November. “It was carried out to avenge the death of innocent students of Madressah Taleemul Quran.” He said the attack on the hotel, mostly used by visitors from Parachinar, was part of revenge attacks that included the killing of Tehreek Nifaz Fiqah-i-Jafria Pakistan leader Ali Asghar and a bank manager from a particular sect in different parts of Peshawar district. “The attacks were carried out to fulfil the wish of our central deputy emir Shaikh Khalid Haqqani to avenge the death of innocent students in Rawalpindi,” Hasaan said. Hasaan is a member of the TTP’s supreme shura but it is not clear when he was appointed the Peshawar chief of the group. The TTP’s central spokesman Shahidullah Shahid who had earlier stated that his group had nothing to do with the attack was not available for his reaction to the claim made by Hasaan. Security sources acknowledged that Hasaan’s name had figured in communication intercepts some time ago. How this development would impact the nascent peace process between the government and the militants was not clear but a member of the negotiating committee appointed by the Taliban said he would check with the TTP before making any comment. “As far as we know the TTP has denied its involvement in the bombing. We shall contact them and ask them about this new claim,” the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Prof Mohammad Ibrahim Khan, one of the three members of the committee, told Dawn. Irfan Siddiqui, coordinator of the government committee, said he would wait for a formal reaction from the TTP spokesman. Mr Siddiqui said efforts to reach out to the TTP committee to schedule a meeting had failed. “We are waiting to hear from them.” Hasaan said the attacks would not undermine peace talks with the government but as long as there was no ceasefire as a result of the talks, militants would continue their activities. With a TTP banner in the background, Hasaan was accompanied by Haroon Khan, alias Mast Gul, a leader of the Hezbul Mujahideen who had risen to fame following a gun battle with Indian security forces and his dramatic escape from Charrar-i-Sharif in India-held Kashmir in 1995. He hails from Sadda in Kurram tribal region. He was given a hero’s welcome by the Jamaat-i-Islami which showcased him at public meetings but later distanced itself from him after finding him to be violating the organisation’s discipline. The 47-year-old militant survived an ambush near Peshawar in August 2003 and little was known about his whereabouts since then. Hasaan said he had tasked Mast Gul, whom he described as a militant “commander” for Peshawar, to carry out the attacks.

Journalists urge freedom for Al Jazeera staff

US expresses ‘deep concern’ regarding restrictions on free speech in Egypt

US Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the “targeting of Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics simply for expressing their views” is of “deep concern to the [US] administration.” Carney stressed that the US government has been “making [such concerns] clear” to the interim authorities in Egypt, although he made no comment on how they have been received by Egyptian authorities. “Egypt’s transition can only move forward if all Egyptians are able to express themselves freely, without fear of intimidation or violence,” Carney said.
Carney also referenced the protections afforded to journalists, activists and academics in the newly ratified Egyptian constitution, passed with a 98.1% approval rate mid-January. “Egypt’s newly approved constitution upholds basic rights and freedoms, and Egypt’s interim government has a responsibility to ensure that they are protected,” he said. Article 39 of the Egyptian constitution, to which Carney was referring, states: “The freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed and every person has the right to express his/her thought and opinion verbally, in writing, photography or any other means of publication and expression.”
Carney added: “We have strongly urged the government to drop these charges and release those journalists and academics that have been detained.”
The three journalists for Qatari-based Al Jazeera, whom Carney mentioned in his remarks, are Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and producer Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian national. They were arrested from the Zamalek Marriott Hotel on 29 December.
Their charges include “broadcasting false news to support a terrorist group; harming the national interest of the country; disturbing public security; instilling fear among the people; causing damage to the public interest; and possession of communication, filming, broadcast, and video transmission equipment without a permit from the concerned authorities”. They will be tried alongside 17 other Al Jazeera journalists. If convicted, they face could face 15-25 years in prison with the possibility of a death penalty. Dubbed the “Marriott Cell” by Egyptian media, the arrests caused outrage throughout the international community, from journalists and news organisations to the European Union.
Tuesday, a march took place outside the Egyptian embassy in Nairobi, demanding the release of the imprisoned journalists. Signs read “Being a journalist is not a crime” and “We are all Peter Greste,” in reference to one of the men arrested from the Marriott Hotel.
A web campaign in support of the arrested journalists also gained momentum Tuesday. Journalists and activists used Twitter to share photographs of themselves, mouths taped shut, with signs that read “#FreeAJStaff”.
The campaign came on the heels of the broadcast of a video filmed by security forces as they entered the hotel room of three Al Jazeera journalists. The twenty-minute clip, shown on independent Al-Tahrir television channel, shows the equipment used by the journalists, gas masks, cameras, and editing equipment, before showing an initial interrogation by security forces. Al Jazeera condemned the airing of the footage of the arrest. A statement released by Al Jazeera described the “dramatisation” of the footage as an attempt to demonise its journalists, saying that “if this video was deliberately leaked, it violates basic standards of justice. If it came out by mistake, the professionalism of the prosecution process is called into question.” The United Nations also condemned the arrests and charges, demanding the “release all journalists imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities in exercise of their fundamental human rights.” Peter Greste, one of the imprisoned Al Jazeera correspondents, has been able to release two letters from prison, detailing his conditions in Cairo’s infamous Tora Prison.
- See more at:

Japan's history education tricks 'false and dangerous'

Japan's revision of teaching manuals was a false and dangerous move that not only risks generations of confrontation but also threatens regional development and will eventually harm Japan itself, experts said on Thursday.
Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura on Tuesday announced that the ministry has revised the country's teaching manuals for junior and senior high schools to claim areas disputed between Japan and China and between Japan and South Korea. The new manuals describe the disputed territories as "Japan's integral parts," including the Diaoyu Islands, which are inherent territories of China. Tokyo and Seoul are also at odds over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan. They are known as "Dokdo" in South Korea and "Takeshima" in Japan. Zhu Yan, a professor of political science and economics at Takushoku University in Tokyo, said that the revision of Japan's teaching manuals this time was to show current Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's right-leaning, tough attitude toward territorial issues.
"Japan now has many textbooks and schools may choose by themselves. But once the guidelines for writing textbooks are revised and Abe's provocative act becomes social consensus, it will be dangerous for the situation," said Zhu.
So far, there are still a number of scholars and politicians in Japan who believe that Japan should admit the existence of territorial disputes and reflect on past aggression. Murata Tadayoshi, honorary professor at Japan's Yokohama National University, has said that the disputed islands between Japan and China are not Japanese inherent territories.
Banri Kaieda, head of Japan's main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), also blasted Abe's foreign policies in a Diet session on Tuesday, saying the current government has taken provocative actions that have further escalated tensions between Japan and neighboring countries.
Wang Taiping, former Chinese ambassador to Japan and now researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, said the status quo is "serious." Wang rebuked Japan for teaching the next generation false claims to the island. Diaoyu Island and surrounding islands have been Chinese territory since ancient times, a fact that should be properly dealt with by Japan, according to Wang.
"What's more, beneath the Diaoyu Island textbook dispute is Abe's deeper-rooted dream of achieving his ultimate goal through rewriting history," he said.
Abe has been walking a path that aims to challenge post-war order, rewrite Japan's peaceful constitution, re-militarize Japan and regain the so-called "greatness" of the island nation, without the burden of history, Wang said. But those attempts to manipulate public opinion are doomed to fail, as "lies can't cover up the facts, and there will be no future for those who do not face up to history," said Wang.
Just three days ago, during the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the siege of Leningrad, German President Joachim Gauck wrote a letter to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to apologize for the suffering inflicted by German troops.
"Whereas Japan's behavior was just the contrary. It reflects the militarism of the country. A nation that cannot face up to history is hopeless," said Fu Qiang, a lawyer and president of a group providing legal support for those who were captured or enslaved by the Japanese during World War II in east China's Shandong Province. Business leaders also expressed concerns over Abe's move to revise the teaching manuals. Bao Shuping, CEO of Shanghai Hyron Software Co., Ltd., whose major shareholders are Japan's Omron Corporation and Shanghai Jiaotong University, said that the most desirable thing for enterprises is stability in Sino-Japanese trade and business exchanges.
"We disagree with Mr. Abe's wayward act in turning 'right,' which has added fuel to the already tense relations," Bao said. "Peaceful relations and sustainable non-governmental exchange should be cherished and sustained," said Bao.
Another Japan-related businessman in China who preferred not to disclose his name or company said strained political ties between the two countries will have varying effects on different industries.
"Japan's electronic devices and cars have certain advantages, but if their sales fall in China, their loss will be huge," he said.

Putin named No. 1 politician in World Ranking 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin has become number one politician in the "World Ranking 2013." As many as 175 news agencies and news media took part in the work on the ranking. Vladimir Putin received 133 votes out of 175. The top of the ranking also includes Pope Francis and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Among other 53 candidates, U.S. President Barack Obama, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and first black president of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who died in December last year, also received many voted, ITAR-TASS reports. According to the agency, the survey was conducted with the participation of members of all existing international and regional associations of news agencies, including the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA), the Organization of News Agencies in Asia and the Pacific (OANA), the Federation of Arab News Agencies (FANA) and the Association of National News Agencies of the Black Sea region (BSANNA).

Putin welcomes Russian team in Sochi

President Vladimir Putin has taken part in a ceremony of welcoming the Russian delegation at the Olympic Games in Sochi.
The president took photos with Russian athletes, mayor of the Olympic Village, Russian pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva and vice-mayor, world figure skating champion Irina Slutskaya. They gave regular gloves. Then the national was performed and the flag was run. The president welcomed the Russian team and said words of encouragement.
“All our fans, and there are hundred thousands, millions of them, will watch very attentively each our competition. All of us count very much on you and pin hopes on you. We have a young, promising team and I do not doubt that you will do your best to win,” Putin said at a welcome ceremony with the delegation of the Russian Olympic Committee in the Coastal Olympic Village in the city of Sochi on Wednesday.
“The most important is fair, open and courageous fight. You will attain best results in your sport career. I would like very much that you will receive pleasure from this difficult, heavy and responsible work and so that you will be happy,” he said. In the view of Putin, today’s high performance sport keeps surprising people. “What you do is on the edge of human capacities,” the president noted, adding that this makes all people who like sport excited.
“I wish you good luck, because luck is also very important alongside labor, courage and willpower. Let it be with you. I wish you successes and all the best,” he said in conclusion.

Kerry to quit politics: ‘This is my last stop’ Read more: Kerry to quit politics

US secretary of state tells CNN that he won’t seek the presidency in 2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry dropped a bombshell Wednesday saying that he has “no plans whatsoever” to run for the presidency in 2016.
In an interview with CNN, Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, said he intends to retire from politics following his term as America’s top diplomat.
“I’m out of politics. I have no plans whatsoever. This is my last stop,” Kerry told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Kerry has placed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict front and center on the State Department’s agenda, making 11 trips to the region since taking the reigns from his predecessor, Hillary Clinton. The secretary has come under heavy criticism recently in Israel for warning that Israel faces the serious threat of a widespread boycott and delegitimization campaign if current talks with the Palestinians don’t yield results. Those talks began in July and are scheduled to end in April, with no concrete results in sight thus far.
Some in Israel cynically posited that Kerry was hoping to use success with the peace process as a springboard to launching another presidential bid, or at the very least, that he would be happy to come away with a Nobel peace prize.
The secretary put those suggestions to rest, for now. ”I’m going to serve the country in the extraordinarily privileged position the president has given me, the great challenges that I have, and move on,” he said.
Read more: Kerry to quit politics: 'This is my last stop' | The Times of Israel Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

US warns France over its trade mission to sanctioned Iran

By Henry Samuel
John Kerry has warned France that sending a business delegation to Tehran could undermine sanctions, strengthening Iran's hand on nuclear issue
America warned France on Wednesday that allowing over 100 business leaders to visit Iran on a trade mission risked undermining sanctions by giving the impression that Tehran was “open for business”. The 116-strong French delegation - with representatives from companies including Peugeot, Renault, Total and Airbus - was the largest of its kind from Europe since Iran signed an interim agreement limiting its nuclear programme last November. In return, America eased sanctions in what the Obama administration insisted was a “limited and reversible” way. But Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, predicted that any relaxation of sanctions would cause the entire embargo on Iran to crumble. By sending a trade delegation to Iran so quickly, the US fears that France might be vindicating Mr Netanyahu’s criticism. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, told Laurent Fabius, his French counterpart, that the timing of the business mission was “not helpful”. Wendy Sherman, the US under secretary for political affairs, told the Senate foreign relations committee on Tuesday that “Tehran is not open for business” because “our sanctions relief is quite temporary, quite limited and quite targeted”.
In response to Mr Kerry, the French foreign ministry insisted that Medef, France’s business organisation, had organised the visit to Iran on its own initiative “in an exploratory capacity and in compliance with France’s international engagements”.
Pierre Gattaz, the head of Medef, said the delegation had not violated the limited sanctions relief offered by the nuclear agreement signed in Geneva. “We faultlessly respected the Geneva Convention of last November - we’re familiar with this framework,” he said. “There are other European country delegations who were in Iran.” But French business leaders were “summoned” to the US embassy in Paris before leaving for Tehran to receive a warning about the partial nature of the relaxation of sanctions. According to Le Canard Enchainé, the investigative weekly, Peter Harrell, a US deputy assistant secretary, warned that Iranian banks were still embargoed. But one anonymous Medef leader was quoted as saying that America had its own commercial ambitions in Iran and Washington’s real aim was to disadvantage the competition. “The Americans only started rigorously applying sanctions against future competitors when they intended to come back to Iran,” he said.
The spectacle of European business delegations visiting Tehran barely two months after the Geneva agreement supports Israel’s view that any easing of sanctions will end up reducing the pressure on Iran’s economy by more than America wants. This could reduce America’s bargaining power over Iran, making a final settlement of the nuclear issue harder to achieve.
In theory, a final agreement should succeed the Geneva accord by July 20. In reality, experts believe that any such settlement would be exceptionally difficult to achieve, even if the pressure on Iran’s economy is sustained.
”I think it’s doubtful that the parties will be able to achieve a comprehensive deal given the deep differences between them,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In order to ensure that Iran would need at least six months to “breakout” and build a nuclear weapon, the number of functioning centrifuges inside its enrichment plants would need to be reduced to “about 4,000,” added Mr Fitzpatrick. At present, Iran’s scientists are operating over 10,000 centrifuges with another 9,500 standing idle. Ensuring that Iran dismantles most of these machines, which have been installed at huge cost, would be a stretching task for diplomacy at the best of times. If sanctions now crumble, critics fear that Iran would be even less likely to make this concession.

President Obama secures $750M in pledges to get kids online

Pashto Ghazal By Sardar ali takker

Malala Yousafzai nominated for 'Children's Nobel'

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot in the head by the Taliban, was nominated for the World Children's Prize in Sweden on Wednesday for championing education rights for girls.
"She is a child herself and she stands up for girls' rights to education in Pakistan, but also in the world as a whole," Liv Kjellberg, 15, a member of the international prize jury told AFP. Malala was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize and won the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize for her crusade for the right of all children to an education.
The 16-year-old, who now lives in Britain following extensive medical treatment, was shot by a Taliban gunman in 2012 over her outspoken views on education in her home region in northwest Pakistan. The World Children's Prize -- also known as the "Children's Nobel Prize" -- was founded in 2000 and aims to raise awareness of children's rights in 60,000 schools in 110 countries through educational programs which include studying champions of human rights and voting for the prize winners.
The two other nominees for this year's award are John Wood, founder of the US-based education charity Room to Read, and Indira Ramanagar, a Nepali activist who helps prisoners' children.
All three nominees will receive a share of the USD 100,000 (74,000-euro) prize money -- intended to go towards further activism -- at an award ceremony outside Stockholm in October 2014.

BALOCHISTAN: The Pakistani dumping technology has been discovered—mass graves

As the mass grave issue in Balochistan is doing rounds in media, and the case of Baloch separatist movement is gaining momentum, Pakistan’s security establishment is unnerved how to tackle the situation. As the movement is picking up steam, and the cause of Baloch separatists is becoming an international case, Pakistan’s security agencies have been becoming brutal and brutal.
Our acclaimed Punjabi novelist Mohammed Hanif would be very delighted to know that the Pakistani dumping technology has now been discovered and that he can be expected to use this information in his next novel.
I have read his novel named “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” wherein he depicts a scene. He is being handcuffed in a C-130 and imagines whether he will be thrown out of the plane and recalls reading in Readers’ Digest that a communist nation was doing that, throwing handcuffed peeps into sea and tries to find out how does the Pakistani intelligence agencies dump its rebel peoples.
Here is the solution Mr. Hanif. This week mass graves were found in 3 places in Balochistan and as many as 171 bodies were exhumed. Among the dead bodies, one was that of Qadir Baksh Baloch who was missing last year and was one of those documented in Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) list. His body was found from a Khuzdar based grave. For the information of Mohammed Hanif, because as an Air Force officer he “might not” know the technologies used by the ISI (Pakistan’s premier spy agency), but he can write a fully critical novel about it. For his information I would like to say that the great Pakistani army, the largest professional Muslim army on this planet, has taken the duty to abduct and dump the Baloch freedom fighters as if it was delivered in hotline to the first A from the second and third A’s. Yes, as if the army of Pakistan were ordered to do so directly by Allah and America. Such a proficiency to kill the enemies has been never displayed by the army in any war it fought. Against India, there biggest enemy ever, against whom they claim to have launched a war since its very birth they have lost all wars massively and against the Taliban they don’t have the spirit and conscience to fight since they are just the step-brothers of the army, without uniform. So this frustration is decomposed on the peaceful and unarmed campaigners of Baloch Freedom Movement, from Sangat Sana Shahwani Baloch to Qadir Baksh Baloch. The Baloch revolutionaries are abducted when the agencies like ISI, IB and MI feel the need to eliminate them. They are tortured in the interrogation chambers located in various places in Balochistan under the custody of state actors and political agents of Pakistan. For example the interrogation center at Sui, Dera Bugti is under the responsibility of the Baloch home minister Sarfraz Bugti. The abductees inside the chambers are attempted to defect into the ideology of Pakistan and in most of the cases they fail. The failure frustration makes the Pakistani agencies brutalize the Baloch activists. The level of brutality and signs of torture and mutilation performed on the bodies of the helpless abductees reflect the true portrait of the Pakistan’s ideology.
After brutalizing these Baloch activists the Pakistani agencies dump them guised in the darkness. Mass graves are used to dump the bodies. So far in the last week only three mass graves were found but the Baloch experts know it well that if all the mass graves can be discovered, it would number up to a few hundreds. A documentary was filmed on this dumping technology. The documentary named “In the Line of Freedom” portrays the timeline of a Baloch activist who was dumped by the Pakistan’s security establishment due to a mistaken assumption of his death as a result of unbearable atrocity on him but he was alive and reaches his people. This true story was filmed by a western filmmaker and it was praised in the West and is used as a tool for the digital propagation of the Baloch movement. The VBMP is carried out a Long March from Quetta to Islamabad as a protest against the mass abduction and dumping and the VBMP Long March was supported by the Sindhudeshi freedom organizations like JSMM, JSQM, JSM (political) and armed organizations like Sindhudesh Liberation Army (SLA) and Sindhudesh Republican Army (SRA). The VBMP leader Mama Qadeer had documented 14,000 internally missing persons and sources said that by the next statistics, it would reach 20,000. Various Baloch experts view the number as 18,000+ till the date. Such a huge number of abductees is hard to maintain and so it is clear that they will correspond to similar number of mass graves and the people of Balochistan can only wait for the discovery of further mass graves, that is the fate of the people of Balochistan.
So can we expect our Zia-critic novelist Mohammed Hanif to stop imagining and documenting the dumping technology of Pakistan? If you think the answer is “yes”, then wait a moment. The timeline of the story in his novel is 1988 and when he published that book was 2009, far after 1971 when 30 lakh Bangladeshi people were dumped into death not by any single unique way, but various innovative ways were implemented for this purpose. From mass graves to massive wells used to dump and burn the Hindus, to mass dumping in the river banks and ponds, dumping in jungles to feeding the wild animals, all knowledge of permutations and combinations was implemented by the Pakistani military strategists. And guess what, the entire world except Pakistanis don’t know it including intellectuals like Mohammed Hanif. So it can be expected that likewise the Bangladeshi genocide and dumping, the Baloch counterpart will also be similarly negated.

New Afghanistan law to silence victims of violence against women

Small change to criminal code has huge consequences in country where 'honour' killings and forced marriage are rife
A new Afghan law will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honour" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.
The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.
"It is a travesty this is happening," said Manizha Naderi, director of the charity and campaign group Women for Afghan Women. "It will make it impossible to prosecute cases of violence against women … The most vulnerable people won't get justice now."
Under the new law, prosecutors could never come to court with cases like that of Sahar Gul, a child bride whose in-laws chained her in a basement and starved, burned and whipped her when she refused to work as a prostitute for them. Women like 31-year-old Sitara, whose nose and lips were sliced off by her husband at the end of last year, could never take the stand against their attackers.
"Honour" killings by fathers and brothers who disapprove of a woman's behaviour would be almost impossible to punish. Forced marriage and the sale or trading of daughters to end feuds or settle debt would also be largely beyond the control of the law in a country where the prosecution of abuse is already rare.
It is common in western legal systems to excuse people from testimony that might incriminate their spouse. But it is a very narrow exception, with little resemblance to the blanket ban planned in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch said it would "let batterers of women and girls off the hook". The change is in a section of the criminal code titled "Prohibition of Questioning an Individual as a Witness". Others covered by the ban are children, doctors and defence lawyers for the accused. Senators originally wanted a milder version of the law that would prevent relatives from being legally obliged to take the stand in a case in which they did not want to testify. But both houses of parliament eventually passed a draft banning all testimony. As most Afghans live in walled compounds, shared only with their extended families, this covers most witnesses to violence in the home.
The bill has been sent to Karzai, who must decide whether to sign it into force. After failing to block the change in parliament, campaigners plan to throw their weight behind shaming the president into suspending the new law.
"We will ask the president not to sign until the article is changed, we will put a lot of pressure on him," said Selay Ghaffar, director of the shelter and advocacy group Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan. She said activists hoped to repeat the success of a campaign in 2009 that forced Karzai to soften a family law enshrining marital rape as a husband's right.
But that was five years ago, and since then Karzai has presided over a strengthening of conservative forces. In the last year alone parliament has blocked a law to curb violence against women and cut the quota for women on provincial councils, while the justice ministry floated a proposal to bring back stoning as a punishment for adultery. "In the beginning they were a little scared with the new government and media," Ghaffar said, referring to the period soon after the Taliban's fall when women's rights were a focus of international attention. "Now they do whatever they want as they have seen the government is not very democratic or strongly in favour of women's rights."
Foreign troops are heading home in large numbers and will all be gone by the end of the year. A long-term deal to keep US forces on in small numbers to train Afghan soldiers and chase international militants along the Pakistani border is failing as a result of opposition from Karzai.
Ties with Washington, which have been bad for years, have worsened amid tensions over the deal, the release of dozens of prisoners who the US says are dangerous Taliban members, and feuding over insurgent attacks and civilian casualties. Countries that spent billions trying to improve justice and human rights are now focused largely on security, and are retreating from Afghan politics.
Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher with Human Rights Watch, said: "Opponents of women's rights have been emboldened in the last year. They can see an opportunity right now to begin reversing women's rights – no need to wait for 2015. The lack of response from donors has energised them further. Everyone has known since May that this law could be passed but we didn't hear any donors speaking out about it publicly."

Old Tensions Resurface in Debate Over U.S. Role in Post-2014 Afghanistan

President Obama brought his top Afghanistan commanders to the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss the way forward in a war he is determined to end by the end of the year, even as he finds himself stymied by an unreliable partner and an uncertain future. Increasingly vexed by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, Mr. Obama is trying to figure out what form a residual force might take after the bulk of American troops leave by December and what would happen if no Americans stayed behind at all. The debate has rekindled some of the tensions within the administration that divided it in its early days. With Mr. Karzai reinforcing Washington’s view of him as an erratic ally, skeptics of the administration’s Afghan strategy are increasingly open to withdrawing entirely at the end of 2014. Some in Mr. Obama’s civilian circle suspect that his generals may be trying to manipulate him with an all-or-nothing approach to a residual force. Military officials say they are trying to leave options open and are themselves more ambivalent than ever about staying.
The internal dynamics involved in the review, described by a variety of current and former White House, administration and military officials, are complicating what could be one of the most important decisions Mr. Obama makes this year. The president wants to avoid a repeat of what has happened in Iraq, which is again under siege, and yet he considers extricating the United States from Afghanistan a signature achievement for his legacy.
“The question is: The lessons of Iraq, are they transferable to Afghanistan?” asked Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama. “Will the same risks emerge? That’s got to be a daunting, overhanging question for the administration.”
While Mr. Obama promised in his State of the Union address last week that “we will complete our mission” in Afghanistan this year and that “America’s longest war will finally be over,” any hopes for a relatively clean exit have grown dimmer by the day. Dysfunction reigns in Kabul. American aid dollars have disappeared. Terrorism suspects may be released from Afghan prisons. And Mr. Karzai has refused to sign an agreement for a residual force beyond December, and instead has been fruitlessly contacting the Taliban about peace talks that have yet to materialize.
While Washington has long been frustrated by Mr. Karzai, what little patience remains has ebbed in recent weeks as he blamed American forces for terrorist attacks on civilians, threatened to release prisoners deemed dangerous by the international coalition and likened the United States to a “colonial power.”
As James B. Cunningham, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, said in Kabul last week, what makes the United States’ stance toward Mr. Karzai different now “is that he is coming to the end of his presidency, and we have some very important milestones for the international community and for Afghanistan coming up in the next couple months.” Indeed, Mr. Karzai has missed several deadlines set by the Obama administration to sign a bilateral security agreement permitting a small post-2014 force to train Afghan troops and conduct counterterrorism operations.
Facing a NATO meeting of defense ministers later this month where it had hoped to secure allied commitments beyond 2014, the White House is trying to figure out its plan. But officials in Washington are increasingly resigned to having to wait until after the Afghan presidential election in April to deal with Mr. Karzai’s successor instead.
The exasperation with Mr. Karzai has grown so strong that even Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, one of the most ardent supporters of the American partnership with Afghanistan, warned last week that he might push Congress to cut off all development aid. “Here’s what he needs to understand: I’ve been going to Afghanistan for years; I believe in the partnership,” Mr. Graham said. “This idea of trying to squeeze more out of us has got to stop. There is no more to be squeezed. I don’t think he understands how easy it would be for a politician in America to sever this relationship.” Mr. Graham was especially incensed by a plan to release 37 suspected Taliban detainees over the strenuous objections of American military commanders who say they have American and Afghan blood on their hands. Mr. Graham said in an interview that he would have “an easy time” cutting off aid if those prisoners were released. Congress already cut development aid to Afghanistan in half, in what officials called a partial rebuke of Mr. Karzai. Eliminating the remaining $1.12 billion in aid would devastate the Afghan government, which can pay only about 20 percent of its expenses from tax revenue and customs duties. Mr. Graham’s frustrations are widely shared within the White House. “The partnership is clearly strained,” said an administration official involved in the Afghan review. “The longer that goes on and drags out, the more I think you’ll start to see an erosion of international and U.S. support.” As part of his review, Mr. Obama met Tuesday with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the general’s vice chairman, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the United States Central Command; and Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the United States Special Operations Command. About 36,500 American troops and 19,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. NATO has planned for a residual force of 8,000 to 12,000, with two-thirds of them American. But American military officials lately have suggested keeping a force of 10,000 Americans, presumably with another 5,000 foreign troops, or leaving Afghanistan altogether. The idea of all-or-nothing has generated suspicion of military motives. “I think what we’re seeing is the military doing what it always does, which is to squeeze the president rather than finding a way out,” said a former administration official.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been pressing officials with skeptical questions of what a residual force would accomplish, and aides to Mr. Obama have suggested alternatives that would result in a lower troop presence than the military would prefer. The administration has explored so many possibilities that one military officer called the White House a “random options generator,” according to Anthony H. Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“President Obama’s discussion of Afghanistan in the State of the Union address was political rubbish,” Mr. Cordesman wrote in a report released Tuesday. “It is time for real leadership, real transparency, real honesty and hard decisions.”
At the Pentagon, officials said they had been trying to restructure the force to allow Mr. Obama more time to make a decision. And rather than trying to pressure the president into keeping troops there, military officials said they had increasingly mixed feelings about staying.
“The feeling among the generals is that, ‘Hey, if Karzai doesn’t sign this thing, we are fine with pulling back to zero,’ ” a senior defense official said. “This is not a case of the military insisting that we stay.” Some of that ambivalence may be for show, as the United States has its own interests in retaining a presence in Afghanistan. But as Mr. Karzai drags out the issue, defense officials said moving to zero troops no longer seems unthinkable, especially with alternatives like drones available.
“People are tired,” another defense official said.

White House denies formal deal with Pakistan on drones

The Obama administration is facing criticism over a report that the United States has decided to sharply cut back on drone attacks in Pakistan. U.S. officials tell the Washington Post that the reduction in drone strikes comes at the request of Pakistan's government. The story has two parts, according to chief White House correspondent Major Garrett. "One is the United States has dramatically curtailed drone attacks in Pakistan," he explained on "CBS This Morning." "These strikes from unmanned aerial vehicles are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and routinely incite protests. The Obama administration has not launched a drone attack inside Pakistan since December. (A strike in November) killed top Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud." The second part of the story is Pakistan's efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Taliban fighters occupying the most remote areas of the northern frontier and also near the Afghanistan border. The peace talks, begun under the new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, were about to begin in November, but they were halted after that U.S. drone strike took out the Pakistan Taliban commander Mehsud. "The White House denies it has cut any specific formalized deal with Pakistan to curtail these drone strikes while the peace talks continue," Garrett said. "But the United States and these White House officials don’t deny there's been this sharp decline in drone strikes, but they won't even call that a coincidence, saying the United States remains willing and able to identify and disrupt terror attacks throughout the Afghan war theater, which, of course, includes those Pakistani badlands."

Balochistan: A Burnt Homeland

The Baloch Hal
By Maheen Baloch
The news of a large mass graves with more than 100 dead bodies last week outraged the whole Balochistan, splintering the hearts of millions of Balochs. On the other hand, the blackout of this story in the national media was an additional shock for the province although it too was expected.
Over the past few decades, Balochistan had not been less than a combat zone. The abduct, kill and dump had been a common set-up of the province while strikes, protests and demonstrations have now become usual too. Economic crisis had been dominant where as the richest province’s people suffer poverty, illiteracy, unemployment as well as health and other major issues.
People in most regions of the province are still compelled to live a life which truly pictures Stone Age. People living in other provinces benefit from the natural gas of Sui however not only other parts of Balochistan, but the people living within Sui are still deprived of the natural resource of their own homeland. Owning the world’s fifth largest gold mine in Chaghi, Balochistan also possesses the longest coast line through out Pakistan. Country’s third deep sea port in Gwadar is not only generating massive revenue for the country but is also a substantial venture for the nation. It truly astonishes the whole world along with the Baloch nation that how could such a resourceful region be so underdeveloped. It of course can, if it is handed to unjust hands.
Balochistan is the land which has never got any attention from any government so far. If, something got attention that had only been the Baloch Land but not its people. Gwadar Port’s construction can benefit the whole country along with having significant trade links with several countries, but it again gives no benefits to Baloch nation because its revenue is not used to renovate schools, construct colleges or hospitals to develop the region. Makran coastal high way’s construction in 2004 was also only to bridge links between Gwadar to Karachi but not between Makran’s people and the country because this particular high way is the major route for the loaded large containers of port that reach Karachi and then to different parts of Pakistan.
Perhaps one of the most unforgotten incidents is the Chaghi Nuclear test on 28th May 1998 during the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s previous government. Country’s all plains were left behind but for devastation only Balochistan’s district Chaghi was chosen. It was the day when a massive area of the district was destroyed. This experiment increased another bullet in the list of misuse of Baloch land. The day is considered as the Balck Day in the whole Balochistan till today. After numerous unjust brutalities to the Balochs, if a Baloch talked or talks about the rights of the nation, that individual was or is considered as disloyal to Pakistan. How can a person be disloyal if he demands for fair rights from a state that claims to be an Islamic democratic country? There might be no constitution in this world that defines a person demanding fair rights, disloyal. Firstly, the federal government only uses the resources of the land but presents no attention towards the people living there and when those people demand for rights, they are considered disloyal. What an unjust democracy this particular country represents.
Hence, Balochs had been struggling for their rights from the day Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan on 28th March 1948 according to the nationalists. The political resistant as well as uneasiness through out the province had deteriorated the whole province. Thus, the greatest political up rise began when the dictator government of Musharaf assassinated one of the greatest Baloch leaders Nawab Akbar Bughti in August 2006. Since then thousands of Baloch leaders, teacher and intellectuals had been abducted, killed and dumped in different parts of Balochistan. In the mean while, the absence of the national media in most cases is another unacceptable indication.
However Balochs continued to struggle for fair rights and for the safe release of the abducted Balochs. VBMP (Voice for Baloch Missing Persons) which includes the people whose loved ones had been abducted held hunger camps in front of Supreme Court in Islamabad with High Courts in Quetta and Karachi but these courts failed to provide justice. Hanger campers stated that if a person is accused of a crime, he or she should be presented in the court but the scenario is totally contradictable here when people are abducted and kept in secret torture cells where they cruelly killed and then dumped!
After several hunger camps, VBMP finally initiated a historic long march. One of the longest Marches of the world, by the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons from Quetta to Karachi and now from Karachi to Islamabad is a continuous attempt for the safe release of the abducted Balochs. It had been several days now to this particular March today however still none of the abducted Balochs had been released safe yet. Instead a miserable reward of more than a hundred young Balochs had been discovered in the mass graves in Kuzdar last week.
Decades ago, some similar miserable incidents occurred in East Pakistan which is today’s Bangaldesh. But these mass graves were truly provoking not only for Balochs but for the whole world. It is reprehensible for the Chief Minister to give statements of blaming India for the mass graves. After this irresponsible statement, the current Chief Minister might be paving toward the vestiges of the previous CM of Balochistan. On the other hand the Prime Minister mentioned to initiate new projects for Balochistan, the roads and solar energy project but what will the people do with the roads when they don’t get social security in the state. Prime Minister considered it important to remember the Mastung incident but lips dried to even say a word about Balochs’ mass graves.
Today Balochistan is not less than a battle field and a combat zone, where brutality and bloodshed had dominated the panorama. However the situations are deteriorating each day and situations might worsen more if the government carries its brutality of slaughtering the Balochs.

In Pakistan: A community under threat from fanatics
Is it an offence to read the Holy Quran? You would have thought not, but it is – in Pakistan. That is if you are a member of my community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Because in Pakistan, increasingly in the grip of extremist and fundamentalist thinking, there is little room for enlightened thinking or free debate. Instead, there is oppression – of women, of minorities like Shias, Christians, Hindus, Khojas and indeed of anyone who challenges the status quo. It is in this climate that a 72-year-old British national has been thrown into prison – for reciting the Holy Quran. Mr Masood Ahmad is a member of the Ahmadi Muslim Community, that is declared non-Muslim under Pakistan's constitution and subject to widespread discrimination, violence and abuse. Mr Ahmad was arrested in Lahore, Punjab province, on December 15 last year after two people from a Muslim extremist group secretly filmed him reading a translation of a verse from the Holy Quran. The accusers posed as patients at a clinic run by Mr Ahmad and after receiving medication stayed to ask religious questions. They questioned him about his faith and used mobile phones to secretly record him reading a verse from the Quran. Mr Ahmad was arrested when a mob, including local clerics, gathered outside a police station demanding he be arrested. His family members fear the country's discriminatory laws are being used to persecute the widower and strip him of his pharmacy. The Muslim extremists are exerting pressure on the provincial government and judges to convict him. The lawyers have filed three different bail applications and it is unacceptable that on the one bail application the extremists occupied the court premises and shouted slogans and threatened the doctor's lawyers and the judge. On the hearing of two bail applications the lawyers of the victim were absent. Mr Ahmad is in the prison and there is a chance he will be killed in custody as the extremist groups are inciting the prisoners to force Mr Ahmad to recant his faith or be killed. Religious hardliners are preaching openly that anyone who murders an Ahmadi Muslim will be assured a place in paradise. His clinic has been illegally occupied by a Muslim leader who incited the community to punish Mr Ahmad so as to obtain possession of his property. The Pakistan government must take action to release Mr Ahmad and ensure that his property is returned to him.
Read more:

U.S. Treasury Department Targets Haqqani Network Leaders

The U.S. Treasury Department has announced that it is targeting the financial and support network of three leaders of the Haqqani terrorist network. In a press release issued on February 5, the Treasury Department said "all property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction in which Saidullah Jan, Yahya Haqqani, or Muhammad Omar Zadran have an interest are blocked." The release identifies Jan as a commander for the Northern Zone of Afghanistan and logistics coordinator, Yahya Haqqani as a senior member of the network involved in military, finance, and propaganda. Zadran has been identified as a "shadow district governor" of Khost Province. The Haqqani network is a Pakistani-based, Taliban-linked group which the United States holds responsible for attacks against foreign forces operating in Afghanistan.

Terrorist attack on Peshawar cinema

Terrorists struck again on Sunday, lobbing two grenades into a Peshawar cinema house as people watched a Pushto movie. Four persons were killed and at least 31 others injured for enjoying a normal, legitimate entertainment. Published pictures of the incident presented a scene of utter devastation with blood splattered all over the floor and shoes left behind by panic-stricken survivors as they rushed out to save their lives. The usual suspect, the TTP, said it had nothing to do with the carnage. It may not have ordered this particular attack, but one of its affiliate groups certainly is responsible for it. The KPK government offered an unpalatable explanation as the provincial Information Minister Shah Farman said, "whenever there are prospects of peace talks either drone attacks take place or such acts of terrorism are engineered by elements averse to negotiations." In other words, a 'foreign hand' was involved.
The Taliban in the past have been attacking and burning CD shops. A few years ago, they had bombed a cinema in the city, leaving nine people dead. Considering the behaviour pattern there should be no doubt in anyone's mind as to who is responsible for the latest bloodletting. Notably, the police are reported to have claimed that they had already warned cinema owners of possible attacks, telling them to improve security arrangements. And that they made the same information available to the government. In pointing the finger at foreign hand the provincial authorities seem to be trying to cover up their own laxity in dealing with the threat. It is not right to shift the entire blame for lack of proper security to cinema owners and responsibility to "elements averse to negotiations." Cinema managements are at fault for not putting in place proper security measures. It seems that there was no metal detector door or physical checking of people's personal belongings at the entrance. These are standard measures in most other big cities. The government also needed to ensure compliance. Such checks could have prevented the terrorist (according to the police, the grenades were hurled by a single person from the theatre's rear rows) from bringing in the grenades and cause so much harm.
As for the other issue, when the police say they had advance information about the threat, it is reasonable to expect they had information about the perpetrators' identity too. The present investigations may take a while to be completed. Once the job is done, the identity of those behind this act of terrorism must be made public. The people need to know who the perpetrators are, and how they want to reorder this society according to their narrow bigoted worldview. That is all the more important considering that despite so much bloodshed at the hands of violent religious extremists, there still are Taliban apologists in the mainstream of our national life who argue that Muslims cannot shed Muslim blood.

Peshawar Blast and target killing: welcome to criminal negotiation of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif

by Taj
A blast killing nine Shias and injuring many as well as the target killing of Haji Sardar Ali in Peshawar today has raised serious questions about the peace initiatives so fervently underway. This serves as a timely reminder that Shia killings are not one of the bargaining chips for either the Government or the Taliban and are set to go on unabated.
In a yet another suicide attack a powerful bomb blast ripped through Pak Hotel near Imambargah Alamdar in Kucha Risaldar, a Shia dominated neighbourhood of Peshawar. Even if the TTP’s denial of its involvement in the attack is believed it still throws up the pitfalls of suing for partial peace with the terrorists in the country. There is no point in wooing one band of terrorists while others remain free to sow grief, panic, and chaos and trigger religious mayhem. The terrorism in the country can only be stalled through a wholesale approach and not through piecemeal efforts.
It is time for the Shias of the country to ask the government that while it sues for peace with the TTP, why the TTP’s sectarian franchises remain totally free to inflict death on the country’s hapless Shias.
Any answers?
Making a spirited attempt to appraise the social and political conditions Pakistani Shias in the country find themselves enmeshed in today, the extreme threats to the security of lives and property and the attendant constant fear in which Shias and and many others in the country live almost by compulsion, it is easy to conclude that in this enormously endowed country, now struggling to contain its security challenges, sanity has staged a coup. Sanity has staged a coup against Pakistanis and has flown through the window to the winds.
Such madness!
PESHAWAR: Nine people were killed and 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, said officials. 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. PESHAWAR: A prominent Shia leader was shot dead in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar on Tuesday, officials said, sparking a protest outside a hospital where his body was taken. The killing comes just weeks after a Shia scholar was gunned down in the same city. “Haji Sardar Ali was shot dead in the morning in Kissa Khwani bazaar,” senior police official Faisal Mukhtar told AFP. Ali headed the local branch of the Tehrik Nafaz-i-Fiqah-i-Jafaria, a Shia rights movement proscribed by the government for its alleged involvement in sectarian violence. Zaheerul Islam, the deputy commissioner of Peshawar, confirmed the incident. “Haji Sardar Ali owned a general store in (the) bazaar. He was going to his shop when unknown gunmen shot him dead,” he said.
- See more at:

Banned outfit spreading tentacles in Peshawar villages

A banned militant group in the nearby Khyber Agency has increased its activities in the towns adjacent to the tribal area and triggered fears among the local people, a source said. The source said the men of the group were freely operating in the villages in the limits of Bhanamari, Badaber, Matani, Pishtakhara and Sarband police stations. The militants, the source said, had seized and killed people to cause terror among the villagers. A number of incidents were reported from the jurisdiction of these police stations during the last couple of weeks, the source said. Last week, three members of a family were killed after seven of them were taken away from their house by armed men wearing the uniform of the security forces. Another three persons were picked up from the Ring Road in the limits of the Bhanamari Police Station while another was seized from the Dora Road. The group is carrying out activities in the villages close to Khyber Agency and has forced a number of families to migrate to safer places. The villagers have been warned against siding with the government or the pro-government Amn Lashkars raised by the people to work for peace and defend their villages. Search operations by the police are being carried out often in the villages close to the Khyber Agency. However, the villagers rural Peshawar are concerned as to how these armed men make way into the suburban parts of Peshawar and kidnap people without being unchallenged by the police. Many have questioned the role of the political authorities of the Khyber Agency as well as the security forces in the tribal areas for failing to stop the armed groups from operating in the settled areas. A similar situation was witnessed in these villages a few years back, but the situation improved after action was taken against the armed groups operating in and around Peshawar.