Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pashto Song- Sameera Naz

Turkish Music- (Ebru Gündeş)

Turkey’s main opposition leader stresses importance of secularism

Religion should never be used as a tool to score points in politics, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has stressed, arguing that such approaches have led to grave consequences in Turkey the past.
“Following [the launching] of ‘Moderate Islam,’ we have seen some radical groups have emerged and collapsed the system. We have seen it in Pakistan, we have seen it in Afghanistan,” Kılıçdaroğlu was quoted as saying in an interview with the Turkish edition of The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 14.
“We know that using religion in politics does not lead to serenity in societies like ours. The secular system is the cement that keeps society together. [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has held rallies in a mosque yard,” he added.
The CHP leader’s remarks come at a time of considerable political tension in Turkey. A massive graft probe launched Dec. 17 has shaken Erdoğan and his government, while making the feud between the government and Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen increasingly visible in the eyes of the public. The tension has reached such a level that senior government officials have said they will launch a criminal investigation into an alleged “parallel state” backed by the U.S.-based Gülen. Erdoğan has accused Gülen’s followers, influential within the police and judiciary, of orchestrating the corruption scandal to unseat him in a “coup” attempt.
Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, ruled out suggestions that his party has gradually become closer to the Gülen movement. “We have never had warmth with the Gülen community. But there are those who want to create such a perception,” he said, saying that the term “parallel state” would be better applied to government figures involved in corruption. “There are businessmen, ministers, sons of ministers and Erdoğan. It is an exact parallel structure,” the CHP leader said.
Kılıçdaroğlu also touched on the issue of the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria, criticizing the government’s “support for jihadists.” “Radical groups have emerged. Support to jihadist groups in Syria was lent by the Erdoğan government, and a hefty bill for that [support] has been paid in Reyhanlı,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, referring to a deadly bombing in a town near the Syrian border which left 53 people dead in May 2013.
The attacks, the deadliest on Turkish soil since the start of the Syrian conflict almost three years ago, fuelled local resentment against the refugees living in camps along the volatile border.
Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, currently hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, as well as rebels and army defectors.

A Tempest of Fear in Turkey

Although the word turbulence doesn’t exist in Turkish, it is probably the best description of the state of politics in Turkey these days. But we have other words, many of them, that denote “tension,” “masculinity” and “polarization,” all of which afflict the Turkish state.
Turkey is a liquid country, a watercourse of conflicts and contradictions. The mood changes weekly, sometimes daily. Until recently the country was seen as a successful combination of Islam and Western democracy, a power broker in the Middle East. That view is rapidly fading, and the river that is Turkey is running faster than ever. With local, presidential and general elections coming, this is a year of loud polemics and quiet concerns. Citizens glance through websites dozens of times daily to see what else has happened. During a vote that gave the government greater control over the judiciary, members of Parliament exchanged blows; a bloody nose was a testament to our bruised democracy. Many in Turkey see the laws as a government effort to stem leaks in a corruption investigation.Amid Flow of Leaks, Turkey Moves to Crimp InternetFEB. 6, 2014 Nothing reflects the tempest better than the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly accused outsiders of being behind the protests in Gezi Park last summer, which left six people dead and 8,000 injured. Several government officials insinuated that dark forces were operating behind the scenes, including the Jewish diaspora, the C.I.A., the BBC, CNN and the interest-rate lobby, a term for a cabal of domestic and foreign banks that officials believe want to harm Turkey to further their own interests. A Turkish BBC reporter was openly accused of being a foreign spy. Protesters in Taksim Square were called terrorists. The German airline Lufthansa, it was suggested, was trying to scuttle an important new airport for Istanbul.
On social media there are endless rumors about “deep state within deep state.” Gradually, Turkey is turning into a nation in the grip of paranoia. Nobody takes anything at face value anymore. There is a growing public suspicion that the news is filtered, if not manipulated. Recently leaked tape recordings revealed that opinion polls published in a major newspaper might have been tampered with to please the government. Journalists have marched to protest curbs on press freedom. In a country where freedom of expression is curtailed and media diversity has shriveled, social media is the only alternative platform of communication, information and misinformation. A new Internet law passed by Parliament further threatens freedom of opinion, though President Abdullah Gul, who said he would approve it, has conceded that parts are problematic.
If the Gezi riots fueled conspiracy theories, the recent corruption investigation fanned the flames. Government officials talk constantly about foreign plots. Turkey has done too well, they say, and now hidden actors want to stop it from growing. These accusations resonate with some segments of society.
Why are we so in need of contriving conspiracy theories?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that Turkey is still not a mature democracy and its politics are masculinist, aggressive and polarized. Turkey’s polarization affects every layer of social, cultural and economic life. When checks and balances, separation of powers and media diversity are all at risk, those in power become too powerful.
And part of the answer lies in old fears that go back to our upbringing. One of the songs from my childhood went: “One, two, three ... long live the Turks ... four, five, six, Poland plummeted ... seven, eight, nine, Russians are traitors ... ” We children merrily sang this song on the streets, declaring that the Italians were cunning, the Germans pigs. We grew up believing that Turkey was surrounded on three sides by water and on four sides by enemies. The Greeks aspired to reconquer Istanbul and make it Constantinopolis. The Arabs were untrustworthy. The Russians plotted to seize the Bosporus. Everybody wanted a piece of Anatolia, our land, and a Turk’s only friend was another Turk.
In the past, one of the strengths of Mr. Erdogan’s party, Justice and Development, was a foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors.” That policy has not been sustained.
This government, which liberal intellectuals once supported in the hope that it would push Turkey to join the European Union, restrict the role of the military and enact democratic reforms, is nowadays reviving overused rhetoric.
When Mr. Erdogan speaks he addresses the nation’s subconscious. He speaks to our primordial fears and xenophobia. And without realizing, we, millions of us, become children again, waiting in the school courtyard for the headmaster, the baba, to tell us how ill-intentioned every foreigner is and how united we must stand against the world.
Yet, at the same time, this warped mentality no longer entices. Times have changed. The youth are far more open to the world than the previous generations, and the people are ahead of their politicians.
As much as we tend to buy into conspiracy theories, we Turks have also grown very, very tired of them.

Thousands across Turkey call for Erdogan’s ouster

Protesters take to the streets in 11 cities after recordings surface, purportedly of Turkish PM discussing how to hide money
Protesters took to the streets across Turkey on Tuesday, after audio recordings purportedly of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordering his son to dispose of vast amounts of cash amid a graft probe surfaced and went viral on the Internet.
Thousands of people demonstrated in 11 cities, including Ankara and Istanbul, shouting anti-government and anti-Erdogan slogans, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
Police in the capital fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd that chanted, “The government resigns,” and “Thief Erdogan.”
In Istanbul, protests were reportedly held at 10 locations, with the biggest demonstration in the district of Kadikoy. Some 5,000 people marched to the district center, carring banners reading, “Where are the thieves?” “You will answer to the people,” and “Everywhere robbery, everywhere corruption.”
Protests were also held in the cities of Izmir, Antalya, Antakya, Samsun, Trabzon, Eskisehir, Kocaeli, Bursa and Canakkale, according to Xinhua. In Istanbul, Bursa and Eskisehir clashes were reported between riot police and the crowds. A chief prosecutor’s office on Tuesday initiated an investigation into the audio recordings in question, state-run media reported, as opposition parties demanded that the government resign. Erdogan met with Turkey’s intelligence chief shortly after voice recordings of two people — alleged to be Erdogan and his son — circulated on the Internet on Monday. The voices were heard discussing means of getting rid of large amounts of money from an undisclosed residence. A statement issued by Erdogan’s office later said the tapes were fabricated and that legal action would be taken against those responsible. It was not clear if the probe by Ankara’s chief prosecutor was to determine the recordings’ authenticity or whether they pointed to a possible criminal act by the prime minister. Earlier on Tuesday, Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Action Party, called the recordings “mind-blowing” and urged prosecutors and other judicial bodies to intervene. The Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s main opposition, claimed to have verified the authenticity of the recordings through “three or four channels” and called on Erdogan to either resign or “flee (Turkey) by helicopter.” On Tuesday, Erdogan lashed out at Turkish and foreign enemies he claimed were conspiring to bring his government down and again charged that the tapes were fabricated. “This is a treacherous act against the prime minister of Turkey,” he said. The audio recordings reportedly took place on December 17, when three cabinet ministers’ sons were detained in the police corruption and bribery probe. The government said the investigations were orchestrated by followers of a moderate Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies involvement. Erdogan says the group wants to discredit the government before local elections in March and a presidential election in August.
Read more: Thousands across Turkey call for Erdogan's ouster | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/thousands-across-turkey-call-for-erdogans-ouster/#ixzz2uOhhKqBs Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

Turkey: Is PM Erdoğan corrupt?

One of the major problems with regard to what’s going on nowadays in Turkey stems from the definition of corruption by the head of the powerful Turkish government, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “What I understand about corruption is this: Are the state’s coffers being robbed or not?” he said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Feb. 11. He gave this definition upon a question about the $4.5 million in cash found in shoeboxes in the house of the former general manager of the state-run Halkbank.
According to Erdoğan, the money found in the general manager’s house was not the bank’s money, so accusing the general manager of corruption or fraud was baseless.
Former Interior Minister Muammer Güler’s $10 million bribe (plus his son’s 1 trillion Turkish Liras, found in his house; the $1.5 million transferred to former EU Minister Egemen Bağış, and the $52 million Zafer Çağlayan bribed, are not considered corruption in the eyes of Erdoğan because that money was not robbed from the state. (All these amounts are documented in the summary of proceedings prepared for these ministers, although these proceedings have yet to be introduced to Parliament due to the government’s blockage.)
Opposition parties have long criticized Erdoğan for his inaction over corruption claims. They even argued that he was personally involved in corruption, by asking about the millions of dollars from businessmen who are making huge profits from lucrative tenders distributed by the government. The opposition suggests that Erdoğan created a well-functioning network for pro-government businessmen, who then found ways to show their gratefulness to the government. Transferring a few million dollars to designated foundations or directly to the houses of government members was just a part of this understanding, the opposition claimed.
A recent leaked voice recording between the prime minister and his son shows that Erdoğan should stick to his very original definition of corruption, as it could be the only way for him to explain the millions of euros or dollars allegedly in his family’s house. He denied the recordings and said they were fabricated, while an Ankara prosecutor has launched a probe into the leaked tape.
However, defining corruption as being solely made up of money stolen from state coffers is obviously a non-starter for ethical governance, which is something Turkey needs more than ever. Because today’s picture depicts a country where some very key notions that have vital importance for the protection of social order in a country - such as ethics, justice, conscience, and so on - are under threat. In the absence of ethical governance, it will be extremely difficult to keep economic, political and social stability. That’s why Erdoğan should immediately adopt a more universal definition of corruption and then do his best to fight against corruption and graft claims. He should start his job with his own ministers by allowing an effective investigation of corruption and graft claims, without discrimination.
This is the only way for Erdoğan to convince his country and the world that he is not corrupt and is fully clean. Otherwise, we have every right to be suspicious of him.

​Russia condemns rumored Saudi plans to arm Syrian rebels with anti-air missiles

The Russian foreign ministry has expressed “deep concern” at reports from anonymous sources that Saudi Arabia is planning to supply Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile launchers to “turn the tide” in the three-year conflict.
“There is a chance that if these powerful weapons get into the hands of the terrorists who have flooded the country, they are likely to turn up far beyond the borders of Syria itself,” said a statement from the ministry. The second report this month that these weapons will be given to rebels was published by AFP news agency over the weekend, and was indirectly confirmed up by several recent developments.
The Western-backed Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba promised that “powerful arms will be arriving soon” to rebel units during a visit last week to rebel fighters on the ground. Meanwhile, his principal backers hosted Pakistan's army Chief of Staff, General Raheel Sharif in Riyadh earlier this month. Pakistan makes versions of both types of weapons, and has been earmarked as the supplier by Saudi officials, according to the source.
Riyadh has long insisted that rebels should be armed with these fearsome portable launchers, which are key to fighting a Syrian army that has air superiority and far more armored vehicles. But US and other Western allies have repeatedly refused the rebels’ requests, reasonably fearing that even one or two such weapons could be used for a major terrorist attack against a civilian aircraft.
According to the report, Jordan will be providing facilities to store the weapons before the delivery to Syria. Jordan’s territory is also being used by “by specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency” to train Syrian fighters, according to the Syrian National Coalition’s representative in the US, Najib Al-Ghadban, cited by Asharq Al-Awsat. Jordanian officials however denied this report . These developments trigger concerns that the militants are preparing to open a new “southern” battlefield in the coming months, the Russian ministry warned.
A renewed hunger for a military resolution, following the virtual breakdown of the Geneva peace talks will test its resolve. “The Syrian conflict cannot be solved by force, and we ask all those considering the military option to reconsider, and allow the Syrians to reach a peaceful agreement within the parameters of Geneva, and without outside interference,” said the Russian statement.
The long-awaited talks in the Alpine city last month have produced localized peace treaties to alleviate humanitarian suffering, but gave no hint of a political reconciliation between the warring sides. However, on 22 February the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in Syria to ease civilian suffering. It strongly condemned the “widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups.”
The war-torn country has witnessed 140,000 people killed over the last three years while a major part of the population has fled their homes and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
The resolution calls on all parties in the Syrian conflict to allow “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners” to ensure that humanitarian assistance “reaches people in need through the most direct routes.”

Ethnic Russian Rage Excites Secession Talk in Ukraine’s Crimea

“A Russian mayor for a Russian town,” chanted the lively and irate crowd clogging the center of Sevastopol, a warm water port on the Black Sea.
Except that Sevastopol is, in actual fact, in Ukraine.
Since the opposition, much of whose ranks are occupied by unabashed Ukrainian nationalists, seized power, calls for secession have been spreading across the sprawling nation’s mainly Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions. In Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, talk of greater autonomy turned to action Monday evening, when a throng numbering several thousand strong assembled outside the city hall.
Their first call was to demand that an extraordinary town council meeting recognize a local businessman with strong ties to Russia, Alexei Chaliy, as the city’s new mayor. As some hotheads in the rabble threatened to storm the building, other waved Russian flags and brushed aside objections that Chaliy’s Russian citizenship made him ineligible for the job.
Before long, the announcement filtered through that Chaliy had been voted head of a new coordination council, and within a few minutes, he appeared at a second floor window to the cries of supporters. In a move that smoothed the process, the former mayoral incumbent Vladimir Yatsuba had earlier tearfully announced his resignation, thereby paving the way for the Russian town to get its Russian leader. The day’s events marked the first stages in the establishment of an anti-Kiev administration amid tumultuous development that will cause headaches for the group of politicians that have replaced the administration of ousted fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych. Similar expressions of popular anger have taken place across southern and eastern Ukraine in recent days, but nowhere is dissatisfaction with the new regime greater than in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula of two million people, which is the country’s only region with a majority ethnic Russian population. Chaliy’s election, which has been widely covered by Kremlin-friendly media outlets in Russia, is unprecedented. Sevastopol has not elected a mayor by popular plebiscite since Kiev deprived it of that right in 1992. Following up on their successful collective decision to install Chaliy as city head, the gathering in Sevastopol demanded that local security forces declare their allegiance to him and set up roadblocks to seal off the city. Speculation, often feverish, has been rife that armed units are to be dispatched from western Ukraine to subjugate Crimea and bend them to Kiev’s will. City police chief Alexander Goncharov, who went to Monday’s meeting to answer questions, said four roadblocks manned by armed officers would be set up around the city. “If we receive criminal orders from Kiev, we will not carry them out,” he said, in what seemed like a qualified attempt at fence-sitting as the situation becomes clearer. One of the people in the crowd, Fyodor, 26, a sailor from Sevastopol who travels around the world on merchant ships, echoed a common hope that Moscow could get involved. “If there’s repression of Russians in Crimea then Russia will be forced to respond,” he said. Alexandra, who declined to give her surname, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to take direct action. “Putin and the Black Sea fleet should come,” she said. “We are not scared of bloodshed.” Crimea’s ties with Russia go back a long way. Until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 transferred the territory to what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Crimea was officially a part of Russia. During Yanukovych’s tenure, which began in early 2010, Ukraine renewed Russia’s lease on the naval base in Sevastopol until 2042, cementing what was already a strong economic link between Moscow and the region. Separatist sentiments surfaced following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and rumors have persisted ever since that the impulse is covertly encouraged by the Kremlin. On Sunday, there was a wave of large pro-Russian rallies in Crimea. Some estimates put the turnout in Sevastopol upward of 20,000, far larger than the impromptu throng of the following day. Speakers variously condemned the new government in Kiev as fascist and openly called for secession. “We will not submit to the regime in Kiev,” Dmitry Sinichkin, president of the local branch of motorcycle club the Night Wolves told the crowd in Sevastopol. The Night Wolves are closely linked to Russia’s political elite. Putin has visited the group in the city several times, on one occasion in 2010 riding a three-wheeled Harley Davidson alongside the bikers. After his speech, Sinichkin told RIA Novosti that fresh bloodshed in Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis was inevitable. Rally-goers waved the Russian red, white and blue tricolor and yelled the football fan-style chant of “Ros-si-ya, Ros-si-ya, Ros-si-ya,” as they endorsed calls to create self-defense squads with police cooperation and withhold taxes from Kiev.
“Sevastopol is a Russian town and will always be a Russian town … we will never surrender to those fascists in Kiev,” said Anatoly, who was wearing a sweater bearing the logo of the United Russia party that dominates the political landscape in Ukraine’s eastern neighbor. United Russia, he said, had signed a cooperation agreement with the Sevastopol Russian Community, a local society of which he was a member. Purported moves in Moscow in recent years to push for granting Russian passports to ethnic Russians abroad has drawn fierce criticism from Kiev and sparked allegations of an attempted backdoor land grab. While Putin had as of Tuesday refrained from making any public pronouncements on the unfolding situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry was more forthright in describing the acting government as gaining power through “dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods.” In remarks that hinted at possible future pressure from the Kremlin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed particular concern about Russians living in Ukraine. Indeed, fears are rising that southern separatists will use the current crisis to provoke Russians into lending their muscle and peel Crimea away from Ukraine. Some experts have raised the possibility of a scenario in which the peninsula becomes trapped in a frozen conflict and becomes wholly dependent on Russia, as has happened in other former Soviet nations such as Georgia, which lost control over the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in large part because of Moscow’s involvement. “It’s easy to imagine that the Crimea calls a referendum and gets special status within the Ukraine,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “The natural next step would be to secede … and that could turn Ukraine into an unrecognized state like Abkhazia.” Not all in Crimea back secession, however. The local ethnic Tartar community, a mainly Muslim population that numbers about 250,000 people, has been vocal in support of the incoming government in Kiev. That adds a potentially explosive strand to the region’s ethnic mix of Russians and Ukrainians. How the new regime in Kiev will act is also hard to predict. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov warned Tuesday that he recognized that separatism was a “serious threat” and said he would liaise with security forces on how to resolve the issue. In statements that can only have served to sow alarm, leaders from the nationalist Svoboda party, which played a central role in the opposition’s ascent to power, reportedly said Monday that Russia was dispatching extra naval forces to Crimea. In Sevastopol, Viktor Neganov, an advisor to acting Interior Minister, told RIA Novosti that the new government was for now trying to settle the situation without the use of force. But Neganov warned that what Chaliy is doing in the city amounts to a local coup. “If he stays, he will go to jail as a traitor to the state,” he said.

Rare, polio-like disease found in California children

A rare, polio-like syndrome that has no known cure has emerged in a small number of children in California, US researchers said. Five cases of sudden onset paralysis were described by Stanford University experts at the American Academy of Neurology annual meeting in Philadelphia. "Although poliovirus has been eradicated from most of the globe, other viruses can also injure the spine, leading to a polio-like syndrome," said Stanford neurologist and lead author of the case reports, Keith Van Haren. "In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia," he said in a statement. "These five new cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California." Polio has been largely wiped out across the globe, thanks to the introduction of an effective vaccine in the mid 1950s. However, outbreaks of the highly contagious disease continue in parts of the world, including Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. The California children tested negative for polio, and all had been vaccinated. The patients showed similar symptoms, such as sudden loss of movement in one or more of their limbs, resulting in paralysis usually within two days. Three of the five youths had respiratory illness before their symptoms began. Two have tested positive for enterovirus-68, a rare virus that has been previously associated with polio-like symptoms. The other three did not test positive, and doctors are still searching for the cause of their paralysis. "We would like to stress that this syndrome appears to be very, very rare," said Van Haren. However, doctors believe there are likely more cases out there and are urging parents to contact a doctor right away if their child shows signs of paralysis.

Obama tells Pentagon to prepare for possibility of leaving no troops in Afghanistan

President Barack Obama has told the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility that the United States will not leave behind any troops in Afghanistan after its troop drawdown at the end of this year, the White House said on Tuesday.
Obama conveyed the message in a phone call to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who has been balking at signing a bilateral security agreement that the United States insists it must have before agreeing to leave a contingent of troops behind for counter-terrorism operations and training. "Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014," the White House said. The statement came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel flew to Brussels for a NATO defense ministers meeting at which Afghanistan is to be discussed.

Afghanistan, peace and China’s regional role

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on his first ever trip to Kabul vowed that his country will remain committed to cooperate with Kabul in areas of military training, agriculture and peace talks. This is the first ever visit of a Chinese Foreign Minister during the past 12 years, but it is too crucial as the visit has taken place at such a time when Kabul has been unnerved with the unpredictable politics of the United States as Washington has been threatening the Karzai-led administration over a highly crucial security deal—the BSA.
The US threatens if Kabul doesn’t sign the BSA it will opt for “zero option.” It means the US will pull out all of its troops and will suspend aid to Afghanistan. In such a time, the visit of the Chinese FM is extraordinarily important. If China shows readiness on cooperation in military training and peace talks, then we may conclude that peace will come in the region as China is not only a regional power but a global power as well. It can play even a more important role in Afghanistan than any other country, even Russia. Talking on the importance of the upcoming elections, he rightly said that the upcoming polls and military transition are the two biggest changes. He made the day of Afghans when he said China’s aid and cooperation will not be affected by any foreign factors, even the BSA will have no bearings on Kabul-Beijing ties. The fate of the region will take a positive turnabout when China-India relations turn good, when India-Pakistan relations turn friendly and their longest rivalry come to an end and when Afghanistan-Pakistan ties take a friendly turn. In theory these things look very fascinating and promising, but there are too many challenges to overcome and to be at such a world where borders are mere lines, where people are free and where people have no fear while roaming in bazaars, working in offices, schools and universities or offering their prayers in worship centers.
Though, after decades of tension and animosity, China and India are edging closer and resolving some of their rivalries and enmities. It is a positive paradigm shift that could change the strategic realities of Asia. Besides that India and Pakistan have started revamping their ties as they are making efforts, but until there is a fundamental change in Pakistan’s policy, South Asia will remain always under duress and chaos. The fundamental change is when Pakistan sincerely dumps its support to terrorists, who have been a cause of mayhem and destruction in Afghanistan and a factor of chaos in Kashmir. The critical factor in drawing China and India together has been their growing economies, but here is a question that what will bring Afghanistan and Pakistan closer? And when will their longest enmity come to an end? And when will the blood of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and on the other side of the Durand Line cease to spill? For the good of India and China their economies are growing and the risks of military conflicts are declining where bilateral economic competition and geopolitics could be a new source of possible friction in the relationship and Afghanistan can effectively utilize it for its own economic and security objectives. China’s interests in Afghanistan are vast and Beijing will like to further its interests and objectives in this country. However, it is also concerned with the presence of major powers in the region. Since China has a greater influence in Pakistan, Islamabad will have no spleen to downgrade its say when it comes to peace talks in the region. Moreover, Pakistan-based terrorists are also becoming a threat to China’s galloping development and the greater role on international level as it is poising itself to be the world’s power, therefore, it will definitely ask Islamabad to withhold its support to militancy in the region. Should this happen and this regional will take a sigh of relief of the monstrous challenge.

Pakistan role in Afghan peace vital: Rasmussen

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday said Pakistan had an important role to play in the Afghanistan peace process, a part that should not be undermined. Rasmussen told a group of Afghan journalists in the Belgian capital: “I think the peace effort in Afghanistan needs continued political engagement and Pakistan can play an active role in this regard.” He promised: “We will continue to support the Afghan forces.” The strength of Afghan forces had significantly surged during the last two years, he noted. He acknowledged much had been achieved due to the sacrifices rendered by them. The post-2014 NATO mission would focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces, he said. “We will not leave the Afghans alone; we will continue to stand behind them.” NATO and the international community would continue assisting the Afghans, who must decide their future themselves, he continued. Stressing the early inking of the Afghan-US security deal, the secretary general regretted the delay. In the absence of the Afghan-US accord, NATO would not ink the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Kabul. Subsequently, foreign troops would have to leave Afghanistan after 2014, he maintained. Pointing to the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections, he said the process being led by Afghans. The ballot would be held in a free, fair and inclusive manner and its outcome would be acceptable to all Afghans, he hoped. In response to a question, Rasmussen said 28 NATO member countries had so far decided to participate in the new Afghan mission. Ten other countries have pledged cooperation but are yet to take a final decision.

'Deepening' medical crisis in Afghanistan

Despite years of aid, medical care in Afghanistan remains severely limited as casualty rates from violence climb, humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) warns in a report.
Gaping holes in the war-torn country's healthcare system are being obscured by misleading narratives of success, it says. Reliable data is hard to come by, but MSF says patient testimonies paint a troubling picture. Many struggle to access basic care. The research - conducted over six months in 2013 with more than 800 patients in the hospitals where MSF works in Helmand, Kabul, Khost and Kunduz provinces - reveals the serious and often deadly risks people take to seek medical help. Most said they had had to bypass their closest public health facility during a recent illness, pushing them to travel greater distances for aid. Some had to travel 80km (50 miles) or more and cross military roadblocks and security checkpoints. People spoke of clinics lacking medicines, qualified staff and electricity, and of facing mounting debt to pay for treatment. Others told about being having to watch over their sick or injured relatives throughout the night, hoping they would survive until morning when it might be safe enough to make it to a hospital. Many wait until their condition has deteriorated to the point of endangering their health or lives before risking the journey to reach treatment. Christopher Stokes, MSF's general director, said: "One in every five of the patients we interviewed had a family member or close friend who had died within the last year due to a lack of access to medical care. "For those who reached our hospitals, 40% of them told us they faced fighting, landmines, checkpoints or harassment on their journey." MSF says international donors, aid providers and Afghan authorities must urgently address serious shortcomings in healthcare provision, and put aside any consideration other than people's needs. Mr Stokes said: "As international interest in Afghanistan wanes, MSF sees a conflict that still rages in many parts of the country alongside a failure to meet rising medical humanitarian needs. "While the international community seeks refuge in rhetoric, the Afghan people have to deal with the harsh reality."

Grief and Anger Over Killing of 21 Afghan Soldiers

A public outpouring of grief mixed with patriotic anger whipped through Afghanistan on Monday in the aftermath of the killings of 21 Afghan soldiers by Taliban insurgents in Kunar Province. Flown into Kabul by helicopter, the victims’ bodies were laid in repose at the military hospital here, in coffins draped with the Afghan flag and topped with bouquets of plastic flowers, as an honor guard stood at attention and a military band played a dirge. “The uniforms your brothers and sons wore were actually their burial shrouds,” Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi told family members at the service, a day after the attack. “We will follow their path and defend their blood.” Much of the public anger was directed at President Hamid Karzai, who did not attend the memorial but canceled a planned trip to Sri Lanka in response to the attack, which he condemned “in the strongest possible terms.” Continue reading the main story RELATED COVERAGE Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar Province where a Taliban attack on Sunday killed 21 soldiers in their bunks. President Hamid Karzai ordered an inquiry.Taliban Raid Afghan Army Base, Killing Soldiers in Their SleepFEB. 23, 2014 But complaints about Mr. Karzai have been piling up on social media, with a theme being that the president had been partial toward the Taliban, calling their fighters “brothers” and their dead “martyrs,” while doing little for Afghan government soldiers. Adela Raz, a deputy spokeswoman for Mr. Karzai, said that he had consistently referred to the Afghan soldiers as “martyrs” as well, and had ordered their families treated with respect. As a passive protest, numerous Afghan Facebook users changed their profile photographs to pictures of Afghan soldiers. Many who did not found themselves inundated with accusations of unpatriotic behavior. A video posted on the Facebook page of a member of Parliament, Baktash Siawash, showed the mother of a dead soldier weeping as she spurned the government’s payment of a death benefit, and Mr. Siawash weeping in return. It had attracted more than 137,000 “likes” by Monday, a huge number in a country with very low Internet coverage. Mr. Siawash has been staging a weeklong sit-in, pitching a tent in front of the parliamentary office building and vowing to stay until Mr. Karzai meets with families of soldiers killed in action, which he maintains the president has rarely done. “The president is not kind with our forces,” he said, “but very kind with our enemies.” Ms. Raz disputed that and said the president had met with the families of soldiers who were killed in the past, although in general the Defense Ministry deals with families of its fallen. In Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, one civic activist, Abdullah Nizami, said wedding parties had voluntarily stopped playing music at their festivities out of respect for the dead soldiers. A tribal elder in the nearby Ghaziabad district said a backlash against the insurgents had begun. “People in Ghaziabad now say whoever’s family member is in the Taliban’s ranks, they must let the people know about it,” said the elder, Hajji Mir Kalam. On the national level, many people began raising money for the victims’ families to supplement the meager death benefit of 100,000 afghanis (about $1,800) that they normally receive. Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief, announced that he had raised $10,000 in small contributions in less than a day, which he promised to match out of his pocket. And one of the leading presidential candidates, Zalmay Rassoul, said he had suspended his campaign for a day and would donate the money saved to the soldiers’ families. The anger toward Mr. Karzai seemed prompted by two events: his government’s release of 65 men from Bagram Prison on Feb. 14 over the strenuous objections of the American military, and the president’s reaction to the Feb. 17 killing of a former Taliban official, Mullah Abdul Raqeeb. Continue reading the main story Mr. Raqeeb was the former Taliban minister for refugees, and he participated in efforts to start talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a few weeks ago. He was killed in Peshawar, Pakistan, after returning from Dubai. Mr. Karzai hailed him as a “martyr for peace” and arranged for a military helicopter to fly his body to his native Takhar Province, where government officials presided over his funeral and the president called Mr. Raqeeb’s father to express condolences. Mr. Karzai has gone to great lengths to try to encourage the Taliban to engage in talks with his government, and many of his statements seem aimed at convincing them of his sincerity. He has also broken off talks with the Americans on a long-term security pact that would allow foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. The pact is widely popular among many of Mr. Karzai’s supporters, and there is widespread nervousness about Afghan forces’ being left to fight the Taliban on their own. “I think President Karzai should stop his apologetic policy toward the Taliban and stop calling them his brothers,” said Jawed Kohistani, an Afghan military analyst in Kabul. People seemed particularly outraged by the manner of the soldiers’ deaths. All were reportedly shot in their sleep after Taliban insurgents overran their base in the Ghaziabad district on Sunday morning. The governor of Kunar Province, Shuja al-Mulk Jalala, said the guards on duty were apparently Taliban sympathizers and let them enter the base. It was the deadliest attack against the Afghan National Army since 2010. At a news conference on Monday, Gen. Zaher Azimi, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry, lashed out at Mr. Jalala, saying that he should focus on civilian matters, and that accounts of Taliban infiltration at the base were false. General Azimi said the Taliban had attacked with hundreds of fighters, many of them Arabs and Pakistanis, and overran the base. “There was no enemy infiltrator involved,” he said. “The soldiers fought until the last bullet.” While it is widely believed that Afghan Army casualties have been rising sharply over the past year, General Azimi declined to comment on that or to give any statistics. “We have decided we will not share the number of casualties with the media,” he said. He also threatened legal action against any officials who discuss military issues without permission.

Pentagon budget confronts sequestration, end of Afghanistan war

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced budget cuts Monday that will shrink the army to its smallest since before World War II and are aimed at reflecting the realities of continued government austerity a military without an ongoing ground conflict.
The impending end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan presents a clear opportunity for the Pentagon to shift its priorities away from a permanent war footing, Hagel said. But he cautioned that reducing Army troop levels would increase the risk involved in protracted or simultaneous ground operations, as the U.S. saw during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“As a consequence of large budget cuts, our future force will assume additional risks in certain areas,” Hagel said in his remarks at a press briefing Monday.
Hagel also raised the specter of disaster if Congress does not reverse sequestration cuts to the military that would set in at deeper levels two years from now.
“Sequestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough,” Hagel said. “In the short-term, the only way to implement sequestration is to sharply reduce spending on readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force - one that isn’t ready or capable of fulfilling assigned missions.”
“In the longer term, Hagel went on, “after trimming the military enough to restore readiness and modernization, the resulting force would be too small to fully execute the president’s defense strategy.”
In Hagel’s proposal, the Air Force will slow down – but not stop - the growth of its drone fleet, which, “while effective against insurgents and terrorists,” Hagel said, “cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses.” Unmanned aircraft have played an increasing role in U.S. military and counterterrorism efforts. Separate from their cost, human rights groups have questions about the legality of drone strikes, particularly in regions where the U.S. has not officially declared war.
Some elements of the Defense Department’s budget will escape relatively unscathed. Hagel announced that the Pentagon will add 3,700 personnel to its special operations forces for “counterrorism and crisis response.” In addition, funding will not be cut for the Air Force’s F-35 plan. The F-35’s exorbitant cost and repeated delays have made it a source of controversy. Even after the cuts, the U.S. military’s budget will still far outstrip every other nation in the world, and the Pentagon continues to spend money to maintain bases from a time when Russia remained America’s main adversary. The Pentagon will conduct a review this spring with an eye toward reducing spending through cuts and closures at bases overseas, Hagel said. This to go after “Republican members of Congress started attacking the budget immediately”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decried the cuts, saying in a statement, “Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in 70 years does not accurately reflect the current security environment, in which the administration’s own officials have noted the threats facing our country are more diffuse than ever.” Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, was more measured, saying only that he has concerns about the plan’s “potential to harm America’s military readiness.”
While Congress voted to undo cuts to military retiree benefits on February 12, some cuts will still be made to compensation. Hagel emphasized that his recommendations do not cut pay. Instead, the new plan would change housing allowances, increase health-care costs for retirees and some active-duty family members, and reduce subsidies to military commissaries. Hagel called on everyone involved in determining military compensation to work together to make changes all at once in order to reduce economic uncertainty for members of the armed forces and their families.
Hagel acknowledged that his proposed compensation cuts would be controversial, and they have already drawn criticism from some veterans. In a statement, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said, “We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit servicemembers, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet. Last week we learned that members of the military redeemed nearly $104 million in food stamps at commissaries in the previous year. Now the Defense Department wants to cut subsidies that servicemembers use to pay for diapers for their kids and to put bread on the table. IAVA will fight any effort to take away the benefits that American servicemen and women have earned and are promised.”
“Cuts to benefits make it more difficult for the military to attract and retain qualified personnel,” Rieckhoff said. “Maintaining the strongest all volunteer force requires a commitment to its people, and this proposed budget combined with Congress’s recent willingness to cut retiree benefits, puts the system at risk.”
Republican members of Congress started attacking the budget immediately.
Rep. Buck McKeon of California, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, called the proposal an attempt to “solve our financial problems on the backs of our military — and that can’t be done.” Fellow Armed Services Committee member Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV - before Hagel spoke - that the cuts would leave the US too vulnerable, and that he would push to increase the budget.
“The world is not getting to be a safer place. This is not the time for us to begin to retreat, and certainly not the time to cut our military,” Turner said.

Pakistan: Sindh cabinet backs action against militants

The Sindh cabinet has fully supported and appreciated the action taken by the security forces against militants in the northern areas.The cabinet meeting presided over by Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, here Monday directed the police to seal the Sindh border and deploy the security force on its entry and exit points to ensure checking of each individual passing from there.The Chief Minister Sindh said that heavy influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is expected in Sindh after action by security forces against terrorists.He directed the police to plug all the entry and exit points and put these sites under strict vigilance. He said that each district police officer and SHOs would be responsible to verify and register aliens if any in their area. The cabinet was briefed by Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah and Acting IG Sindh Police Iqbal Mehmood about the law and order in Karachi. The cabinet expressed satisfaction over the performance of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) engaged in the targeted operation.The cabinet decided to continue the targeted operation till the elimination of last criminal in the city. The cabinet also expressed satisfaction over the pace of development works and ongoing utilisation of development funds under which out of total development outlay of Rs 165 billion more than Rs 80 billion were released against development schemes and Rs 50 billion utilised so far. The cabinet also expressed satisfaction over the briefing of the officers that 844 different development schemes will be completed by the end of this financial year. After the briefing, the Sindh cabinet urged the Federal Government to fully activate and equip the National Alien Registration Authority (NARA) and evolve an effective strategy to block illegal SIMs, the main source of crime in the city. The cabinet also recommended to the Federal Government for providing latest and well-equipped vehicles, latest explosive detecting equipment and other logistic support to the Sindh Police to strengthen and increase their capacity. The cabinet meeting was informed that the recruitment of 10,000 police personnel and 2,000 retired army commandos was in progress, while the procurement of 100 APV and other bullet-proof vehicles, helmets, waists and other equipment was also in process. It was informed that the development outlay of Rs 185 billion was earmarked in the financial year 2013-14 out of which Rs 165 billion was reserved for the development schemes pertaining to the provincial government, while Rs 20 billion was earmarked for district schemes. The meeting was attended by Senior Provincial Minister Nisar Ahmed Khuhro and Provincial Ministers Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, Manzoor Hussain Wassan, Dr Sikandar Mendro, Mehtab Dahar, Sharjeel Enam Memon, Ali Nawaz Khan Mahar, Dost M Rahmoon, Giyan Chand Asrani, Mukesh Kumar Chawola, Robnia Saddat Kaimkhani, Jam Khan Shoro, Javed Nagori, Syed Ali Mardan Shah, Advisor to CM Syed Murad Ali Shah, Advisor to Sharmila Farooqi, Chief Secretary Sindh Sajjad Saleem Hotiyana and others.

Pakistan air strikes against militants in tribal areas

Pakistan's military have launched air strikes against suspected militant hideouts in the north-west, killing at least 30 people, officials say. Fighter jets bombed targets in the North Waziristan tribal area on Tuesday, officials said. Fighting was also reported in South Waziristan. Talks between Pakistani government and Taliban militant negotiators broke down last week, after a Taliban-linked group said they killed 23 soldiers. "The militants had captured a stretch between South Waziristan and North Waziristan and had established training centres where they were also preparing suicide bombers," a military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The latest attacks primarily took place in the Shawal valley and Datta Khel areas of North Waziristan, Reuters news agency added. There has been no independent confirmation of the number of casualties. The air strikes came a day after senior Pakistani Taliban commander Asmatullah Shaheen was reportedly shot dead in North Waziristan. Shaheen was briefly the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) interim leader after its chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed last year during a US drone strike. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for Shaheen's death. Last week, government negotiators suspended a planned meeting with Taliban negotiators after militants based in the Mohmand tribal area said they had killed 23 soldiers who had been abducted and held since 2010. Those killings, and other violence in the past weeks, also triggered air strikes on suspected militant hideouts last Thursday in which the government said 38 militants were killed. Pakistani jets also carried out strikes on suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan last month, following a wave of attacks against security forces.

72-year-old Mama Qadeer Baloch breaks record of Gandhi after 84 years

Abdul Qadeer Baloch, aged 72, and 11-year old Ali Haider Baloch are not aware that they have made history. This old man and young boy have travelled more than 2,000 kilometers on foot along with a group of Baloch women and men on their way from Quetta to Islamabad. The purpose of their non-violent long march was to raise voice against enforced disappearances in Balochistan. They broke the 84-year-old record of Mahatma Gandhi who traveled for 390 kilometers on foot from Ahmadabad to Dandi as part of his famous salt march. When Mahatma Gandhi started his march to protest against the salt laws of British Government in the colonial India he was 61 years old in 1930. The youngest among the first 80 marchers with Gandhi was 18 years old. Gandhi opposed unjustified taxes on the production of salt and started disobedience by making salt himself. Chinese leader Mao Zedong also started a long march in 1934 but this long march was actually a military retreat undertaken by the red army of Communist Party. There was no single long march but a series of marches because various parts of the red army in the south China escaped to the north and the west. The red army of 41 years old Mao Zedong regrouped and then attacked Kuomintang. This long march was part of a military strategy. It was not a political long march. The word long march was used and abused by many politicians after Mahatma Gandhi and Mao Zedong but nobody traveled on foot. Most of the politicians used vehicles in their long marches.

Nisar's cricket invite: PPP submits adjourned motion to NA Secretariat

Parliamentarians’ of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) submitted an adjournment notion in the National Assembly Secretariat over Interior Minister’s Chaudhry Nisar inviting the Taliban to play a cricket match. The motion was submitted by PPP MPAs Imran Legahri, Shazia Marri, Ijaz Jhakrani, Kamal Khan and Abdul Sattar Bachani. The motion states that the interior minister invited the Taliban to play cricket during a sensitive time. It adds that Nisar’s statement is tantamount to insulting the people and security forces of Pakistan. On Monday Interior Minister told a group of reporters that a cricket match against the Taliban could offer hope. "I have information that the Taliban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them which can have a better result," the minister said after an exhibition match in Islamabad. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shaidullah Shahid rejected the interior ministers invite and said cricket was responsible for turning the youth away from Jihad.

Senator asks Army and Frontier Corps to emulate Pakistan Navy in winning hearts and minds of people

Senator Farhatullah Babar asked the Army, the Frontier Corps and Coastal Guards in Balochistan to take a leaf from Pakistan Navy in learning how to win the hearts and minds of the people instead of behaving like an occupation force as is the general sentiments about them in the province. Taking part in the discussion on visit of the Senate defence committee to Makran coast he said that the launching of public welfare projects of schools, hospitals and water supply schemes by the Pakistan Navy from within its own meager resources was spirit lifting and an eye opener. It demonstrated that where there is will the security forces could win the hearts and minds of people. He said that in the present situation of insurgency it was vital that security forces refrained from acting like occupation forces and measured their success in terms of number of people they befriended and the hearts and minds they won instead of the land conquered and reclaimed. Farhatullah Babar also called upon the government to set up an endowment fund for the continued running of Bahria Cadet College in Ormara which was serving as an institution not only of quality education but also as an institution for national integration. He said that if it was not done the Cadet College which had been started with meager resources would clsoe down dealing a severe blow to the efforts of national integration mounted by the Pakistan Navy in the province.

Pakistan: Village gives girls pioneering sex education class

In neat rows, the girls in white headscarves listened carefully as the teacher described the changes in their bodies. When the teacher asked what they should do if a stranger touched them, the class erupted.
“Scream!” one called out. “Bite!” another suggested. “Scratch really hard with your nails!” a third said. Sex education is common in Western schools but these ground-breaking lessons are taking place in Pakistan. Publicly talking about sex in Pakistan is taboo and can even be a death sentence. Almost nowhere in Pakistan offers any kind of organised sex education. In some places it has been banned. But teachers operating in the village of Johi in poverty-stricken Sindh province say most families there support their sex education project. Around 700 girls are enrolled in eight local schools run by the Village Shadabad Organisation. Their sex education lessons — starting at age eight — cover changes in their bodies, what their rights are and how to protect themselves. “We cannot close our eyes,” said Akbar Lashari, head of the organisation. “It's a topic people don't want to talk about but it's fact of our life.”
Facts of life
Lashari said most of the girls in the villages used to hit puberty without realising they will begin to menstruate or they got married without understanding the mechanics of sex. The lessons even teach the girls about marital rape — a revolutionary idea in Pakistan, where forcing a spouse to have sex is not a crime. “We tell them their husband can't have sex with them if they are not willing,” Lashari said. The lessons are an addition to regular classes and parents are told before they enroll their daughters. None has objected and the school has faced no opposition, Lashari said. The eight schools received sponsorship from BHP Billiton, an Australian company that operates a nearby gas plant, but Lashari says sex education was the villagers' own idea. Teacher Sarah Baloch, whose yellow shalwar kameez brightens up the dusty school yard, said she hoped to help girls understand what growing up meant.
“When girls start menstruating they think it is shameful and don't tell their parents and think they have fallen sick,” she said.
Baloch teaches at a tiny school of three brick classrooms. A fourth class is held outside because there are so many girls. Three girls cram into each seat made for two, listening attentively to Baloch. One flashcard shows a girl stopping an old man from touching her leg. Other cards encourage girls to tell their parents or friends if someone is stalking them. The girls are shy but the lessons have sunk in. “My body is only mine and only I have the rights on it. If someone touches my private parts I'll bite or slap him in the face,” said 10-year-old Uzma Panhwar defiantly as she blushed. The lessons also cover marriage. “Our teacher has told us everything that we'll have to do when we get married. Now we've learned what we should do and what not,” said Sajida Baloch, 16, staring at the ground.
Ahead of its time?
Some of Pakistan's most prominent schools, including the prestigious Beaconhouse School System, have been considering the type of sex education practised in Johi. “Girls feel shy to talk to their parents about sex,” said Roohi Haq, director of studies at Beaconhouse. There is definitely demand. Lahore-based Arshad Javed has written three books on sex education and said he sells about 7,000 per year. None are sold to schools. But not everyone agrees with the lessons, partly because young people were not supposed to have sex before adulthood. Recently the government forced a private school to remove all sex education from its curriculum. “It is against our constitution and religion,” said Mirza Kashif Ali, president of the All Pakistan Private Schools Federation, which says it represents more than 152,000 institutions across the country. “What's the point of knowing about a thing you're not supposed to do? It should not be allowed at school level.” In neighbouring India, many government schools formally offer sex education but Pakistani government schools have no such plans. Nisar Ahmed Khuhro, the education minister for Sindh province, was shocked to hear of the lessons. “Sex education for girls? How can they do that? That is not part of our curriculum, whether public or private,” he said. But Tahir Ashrafi, who heads an alliance of moderate clerics called the Pakistan Ulema Council, said such lessons were permissible under Islamic law as long as they were segregated and confined to theory. “If the teachers are female, they can give such information to girls in the limits of Sharia,” he said.

Pakistanis say no to the Taliban

Hundreds of thousands of people in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi have participated in the country's biggest anti-Taliban rally, demanding the government take serious action against the Islamists.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the militant Islamist groups, particularly the Taliban, are tightening their grip on Pakistan's financial capital, Karachi, and extending control over a number of areas in the city, which has become the Taliban's biggest base outside the country's northwestern tribal areas. The recent WSJ article shows that the Pakistani Taliban - also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - dominate nearly one-third of the multi-ethnic city, which has a population of over 18 million people. The New York-based newspaper claims that Karachi is providing "a vital financial lifeline" to extremists, and the money raised from "extortion, land-grabbing and robberies is sent to the Taliban's leadership in the tribal areas along the Afghan border." To demonstrate against this growing influence of the Islamists, hundreds of thousands of Karachi residents participated in a rally on Sunday, February 23, and demanded that the central government launch a decisive military action to uproot the Islamists from their city. The so-called "solidarity rally" was organized by the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party which has dominated the city's politics and administration for three decades but now finds its power diminishing due to the changing demography of the city and the rise of a number of religious groups. The MQM supporters are primarily descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants from India, who are in majority in Karachi and some urban centers of the southern Sindh province.
"It was a praise-worthy effort to organize people against the Taliban. It was a much-needed initiative," Abdul Hai, a veteran human rights activist in Karachi, told DW. "The Taliban threat should be taken seriously. I agree with the findings of the Wall Street Journal report on Karachi. We see the Taliban and their allies everywhere in city. Their influence is certainly growing, and it means that a huge disaster is in the making."
'Now or never'
Saman Jafri, one of the rally organizers and the MQM's member of parliament, told DW that her party chief, Altaf Hussain, had been warning about the "radicalization" of Karachi for more than five years, but no one had taken him seriously. "We have been saying that the members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are coming down to Karachi from the northwestern areas. It started during the 2009 military operations in the north when thousands of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) left their homes in search of secure livelihoods. But they were not the only ones, as a number of militants, who posed themselves as the IDPs, moved to Karachi and other big cities of the country." Jafri says that Pakistan's progressive parties must unite against the religious fanatics if they want their country to survive. "We are pro-Pakistan and anti-Taliban, and we stand behind the security forces who are fighting the militants and sacrificing their lives. It is now or never, and the people have said no to extremism."
Power politics
Syed Mahmood, a student at the University of Karachi, believes that the state could easily tame the Islamists if it wanted: "The Taliban are not as powerful as the MQM or the government claim. It is good to be united against fundamentalism but the MQM, too, has a history of violent politics in Karachi. The problem is that now it feels insecure and is using the Taliban threat to get the city back under its control. It is not a fight between liberals and Islamists; it is about who controls the city and its economy." Others like Jahanzeb Siddiqui, an MQM supporter and a shop-owner in Karachi, disagree. "If we don't stand up against the Taliban now, soon they will turn Karachi into Kabul, flog women and ban music. The Sunday anti-Taliban rally is just a beginning; the whole country should stand up against extremists," he told DW.
Talk or fight?
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's center-right government, however, is not as resolute about how to deal with the TTP and other Islamist groups as the MQM is. He is currently engaged in "peace negotiations" with the Taliban and the members of his administration have already held a round of talks with the militants. However, the talks are not going smooth. Despite agreeing to a ceasefire last month, the TTP continued to attack civilians and security forces. In response, Pakistani fighter jets targeted the Islamists in the country's restive tribal areas. On Sunday, February 23, the Pakistani air force bombed the militants' hideouts in the northwestern Tirah Valley, killing at least 38 terrorists. Experts say that Pakistan has a complex relationship with the Taliban, which it officially supported prior to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US. Hence, to expect Islamabad to start an all-out war against the TTP is wishing too much, they say. "The TTP could have been routed out militarily or through police actions," Snehal Shingavi, a South Asia expert at the University of Texas, USA, told DW. "Everything indicates that they are not that sophisticated or large. But the Pakistani Army has used them as part of their strategic game in Afghanistan, and will probably continue to do so."

Pakistan: Nation will not accept Sharia enforcement at gunpoint

Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon has said that the nation would not allow the enforcement of Sharia at gunpoint. Talking to media before attending the Sindh Assembly session, Memon said that talks with Taliban have proved to be illogical. The whole nation has given its categorical decision over the issue of Taliban’s militancy that it supports Pakistan army, he said. Replying to a question, Memon said that he is not aware of any development about conclusive negotiation with Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) and that the party would join the government. “Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) believes in politics of reconciliation and we are in contact with all political parties including MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement).” Doors are open for dialogues with all political parties, Memon added.

Formation Of Terrorist State Will Not Be Allowed On Pashtun Land: Mian Iftikhar

ANP leader and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said here Monday that formation of terrorists’ state will not be allowed on Pashtun land. Talking to reporters here, he alleged that the committee nominated by Taliban for peace talks was trying to establish terrorists’ regime in the province, which will not be allowed come what may. He said shedding the blood of innocent people in the name of talks was not at all a good step. “When real time of the advocacy came, Taliban’s advocate Imran Khan escaped from the arena, but we would not permit formation of a terrorists’ state on Pashtun soil,” he said while criticizing the PTI chief. “The non-flexible attitude and stiffness of Taliban caused this deadlock in the peace talks of the dialogue committees,” Mian Iftikhar said, adding the government should not show any weakness at this critical stage. The action launched by the government, against Taliban in North Waziristan, should not be called an operation, in fact it is a counter reaction against brutal acts of the militants, he said. The ANP leader said the government should also formulate its last option alongside talks with the militants. The militants were taking revenge of the killing of their leader Hakeemullah Mehsud and did not stop their terror acts even during the talks, he added. He alleged that the PTI government was supporting the TTP, and added that terrorism in the tribal areas of the country had increased. The Pashtun culture has no connection with terrorism whatsoever, as Pashtuns are peace loving nation, he said and claimed that terrorists were now trying to increase their support in the parliament.

The deep desert shadows over Pakistan

Ayaz Amir
Don’t we have enough of a Sunni-Shia problem at home that we should be taking sides in the larger Sunni-Shia cleavage racking the so-called world of Islam? The battle lines of this larger conflict are drawn most visibly in the killing fields of Syria and Pakistan, at the bidding of friends, has committed itself on the side of the increasingly sinister anti-Bashar al-Assad coalition.
The recent joint communiqué signed in Islamabad calls for “the formation of a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers...” in other words for the ouster of al-Assad.
The western powers wanted Syria to go down the Libyan path, and would have succeeded but for the Syrian military, the crucial help rendered by Hezbollah – the only Arab outfit, let us never forget, which has worsted the Israeli military in combat – and Russia’s backing of the Assad regime.
And holy friends are incensed because President Obama launched no air strikes on Syria and because he is trying to improve relations with Iran, anathema to friends and to Israel. Even by the Middle East’s usual standards of throwing up the bizarre this would be counted as unusual: friends and Israel on the same page and both raving against the US.
Saudi ambassadors are not known for their op-ed writing skills but when the US-Saudi rift over Syria came into the open the Saudi ambassador in London penned an op-ed column sharply critical of American policy. Unprecedented but there it was.
The Obama administration is being careful about Egypt, skeptical of the military-led government but not openly critical. Friends from the desert of Hejaz are, on the other hand, openly supportive. Their cheque book the most potent weapon in their arsenal, a cheque for five billion dollars was recently written for the new dispensation in Egypt led by Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Let’s try to make sense of this. In Egypt our friends – and please forgive me for being euphemistic – are for military-led ‘stability’. In Syria they are for the rag-tag opposition even if it contains significant al Qaeda elements. In Egypt they don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood because it is a populist movement, populism and monarchic absolutism not going well together, and because being who they are they look with profound distrust at anyone else claiming to hold aloft the true banner of Islam. In Syria they don’t like Bashar al-Assad because he is an Alawite Shia backed by Shiite Hezbollah and Shiite Iran.
The US, Britain, France, and now even Turkey, are wary of Islamic extremists not only penetrating but dominating the al-Assad opposition. But our friends have thrown caution to the winds, the Saudi spy chief, Prince Bandar, previously long-time Saudi ambassador in Washington, overseeing the effort to arm and fund the anti-Assad forces. Into this Sunni-Shia conflict played out on a large checker-board, Pakistan has stepped at external bidding because (a) it is not easy for PM Sharif to say no to the quarter from where this pressure is coming, his friends having saved his skin during the Musharraf regime; and (b) Pakistan’s perennial need for dollars and riyals, or any other foreign currency. At a time of acute financial crisis Pakistan needs money and our friends, having worked themselves up into a passion for what they consider to be America’s betrayal of their interests – not a very sound analysis – are loosening their purse strings, or so think Pakistan’s present rulers. And Pakistan given the lure of short-term gains has been usually ready to offer its services to foreign contractors, no matter how high the risk involved or how questionable the enterprise so being fuelled. Indeed few countries would equal our record as masters of the bad bargain. Our popular narrative rightly blames military dictators for jumping into battles that were not Pakistan’s and selling Pakistan’s interests for a song. Now Pakistan has signed on to something that doesn’t concern it at all. If Gen Zia and Musharraf concluded deals and understandings without public disclosure much less anything resembling public discussion, Pakistan’s new tack on Syria has also come about in the same hugger-mugger fashion. Long live democracy. Some content is provided by this AFP dispatch (Feb 23): “(our friends are) reportedly in talks with Pakistan to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to Syrian rebels fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, a Saudi source said on Sunday.” No one in his right mind will say spoil relations with Saudi Arabia. If the Sharifs have some cachet with our friends from the holy kingdom they should exploit it in the country’s interest. This is a cash-strapped government, indeed a cash-strapped economy. We could do with what help we can get. But our begging bowl is eternal. We are always in need of cash. No one bailout or temporary funding is going to redeem our condition.
In any event, this should not mean bartering away other interests such as our vital relationship with Iran for short-term gains. Iran and its rivals are entitled to the pursuit of their sectarian agendas and indeed their dreams of glory. But why must Pakistan become a party to this useless exercise? The Sharifs at a personal level perhaps owe a lot to their patrons in their days of exile. But if any repayment is required let it too be at a personal level. There was no protocol necessity for PM Sharif to receive and see off his recent guests at Nur Khan airbase. If he did and felt that this is what he his benefactors, that’s fine. But jumping into the Syrian cauldron is a different ballgame.
Pakistan has been a proxy battleground for competing Saudi and Iranian interests from Gen Zia’s time, the Saudis pouring in money to Deobandi madressahs and the Iranians funding Shiite seminaries and imambargahs, and Pakistan reaping the whirlwind and turning into the sectarian and extremist powder keg it has become. Have we learned nothing from our tale of woe, the record of our follies?
After Pakistan suffered defeat at the hands of India in 1971 Bhutto initiated the look west approach, the turning to the Arab world. But he knew how to play the game and developed equally cordial and close ties with all Arab states, conservative and so-called radicals alike. But Zia played to Saudi sensitivities because he wanted Saudi support and his treasury was empty. Afraid that the Saudis might appeal for sparing Bhutto’s life the then Jamaat chief, Mian Tufail Muhammad, was sent to Saudi Arabia where he met King Khalid. Of all the countries close to Pakistan only Saudi Arabia kept mum over Bhutto’s hanging.
The Hudood Ordinance prescribing so-called Islamic punishments for sex and drinking – the single most regressive bit of legislation on our statute books – was issued by Zia to please the Saudis. This was just before Bhutto’s hanging. The irony remains that the constitutional amendment passed under Bhutto declaring Ahmedis as non-Muslims was also something, according to some Bhutto insiders, on which some of Pakistan’s foreign well-wishers were keen.
In the name of religion or in the name of anything else Pakistan doesn’t need to be a pawn or a plaything of outside interests, the US or any other country. And the war against extremism in which Pakistan currently finds itself needs no mixed signals. It should be all clarity and no confusion. The understanding on Syria, however, sends a confused message, that instead of moving forward we are still clinging to aspects of our dangerous past.

Pakistan: ''Demand To Establish Minority Rights Commissions''

The South Asia Partnership-Pakistan has demanded to built an institution of commissions on minority rights at provincial and national.
It will help meliorate the condition of human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. It was also stipulated that it should be an independent organization with fiscal and executive powers which could also analyze the laws and policies causing biasness against religious minorities.
SAP-PK also requested the Government of Pakistan to guarantee religious liberty and other primary rights of minorities as assured under the national and international obligations. Throughout a press briefing at a local hotel on Monday, SAP-PK’s National Coordinator for Human Rights Fund-III (HRF-III) Hameed Gondal said that the organization had already ongoing to execute a plan “HRF-III” aspiring to amplify the security and promoting rights of expression, assembly, association and thought including religious sovereignty of minorities all over the state.
Articulating worry over the condition of minorities, he shared that it was awful to say that harassment of minorities in Pakistan was a major issue, but the matter was not being taken critically by the government. He said “the Constitution of Pakistan in its introductory chapter clearly said that no person would be prevented from or be hindered in doing that which was not prohibited by the law; and no person would be compelled to do that which the law did not require him to do.”
Citing a number of examples of essential rights as assured in the Constitution of Pakistan, he said the Chapter One-Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy said that laws inconsistent with or in derogation of Fundamental Rights to be void. Similarly, Articles 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the Constitution grant freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of speech to every citizen in Pakistan regardless of any distinction. Article 20 of this Constitution allows professing religion and managing religious institutions.
Speaking about the international commitments, he added that Pakistan had approved the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which held the State to make sure the defense of religious sovereignty and other essential rights such as right of expression, association, assembly and thought.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/demand-to-establish-minority-rights-commissions/#sthash.IrIdvZg5.dpuf

Saudi Regime after Pakistan arms for Syria militants: Sources

Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide foreign-backed militants operating inside Syria with anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, sources say. An unnamed Saudi source, who is close to decision-makers in the country, said on Sunday that Pakistan produces its own version of Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, known as Anza, and anti-tank rockets, both of which Riyadh is planning to get for the militants. The source referred to Pakistani army chief of staff General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Riyadh earlier this month during which he met Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Last week, Prince Salman himself headed a large delegation to Pakistan. The source further said that Jordan is set to provide facilities to store the arms before they are delivered to the militants within Syria. Ahmad Jarba, the head of the so-called Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said last week during a visit to northern Syria that "powerful arms will be arriving soon." Citing Western and Arab diplomats as well as foreign-backed Syrian opposition sources, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 15 that Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide the foreign-backed militant groups in Syria with more sophisticated weaponry, including anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles. A Western diplomat with knowledge of the weapons deliveries told the journal that “new stuff is arriving imminently.” Meanwhile, the Syrian army has reportedly arrested more than 80 foreign officers and soldiers, mostly from Saudi spy services. The detainees are said to have entered Syria to carry out terrorist attacks. Saudi Arabia has been the main supplier of weapons and funds to foreign-backed militants inside Syria. Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011. Over 130,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced due to the unrest. MR/PR/SL

Hand grenade defused near Iranian consulate in Peshawar

The Express Tribune News
The Bomb Disposal Squad defused a hand grenade near the Iranian consulate on University Road in Peshawar, Express News reported Tuesday.
The grenade was found on a railway track near the consulate and the area has been cordoned off. Sniffer dogs were also brought in to search for any other explosive devices that may have been planted. Just yesterday afternoon, on February 25, three Frontier Constabulary personnel were killed and 10 others injured in a botched suicide attack on the residence of the Iranian consul general. The residence of the Iranian consul general and the adjacent consulate building remained safe in the attack. Initially, the Bomb Disposal Squad had cleared the bomber’s vehicle but hours later, they had found two more powerful bombs planted in the car that were subsequently defused. A search operation of the area had continued until late yesterday evening and was resumed this morning.

Pakistan: Khursheed Shah seeks briefing on ‘Syria policy shift’

Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah on Monday objected to reportedly likely sale of arms to Syria and demanded a briefing by the government on foreign policy. Speaking on a point of order in the lower house of Parliament, he claimed that it was a shift in the foreign policy, which would have serious repercussions like the country faced after indulging in Afghan war in 1980s. He said when the country itself was facing extremism, supporting another troubled nation like Syria would be counterproductive. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader said that policies should be changed taking ground realities in account. Indulging in the affairs of other countries would have a backlash for Pakistan itself, he added. “We should learn from the consequences of our previous policy of interference and make efforts for peace without inviting any problem,” said Shah. Referring to the prevailing situation in the country in the wake of terrorist activities, the opposition leader said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should take the house and the nation into confidence. “We and the nation want to know the status of dialogue with the militants,” he said and assured whatever the decision the government would take, the opposition and the nation would stand by it as well as the armed forces. Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid said that the government will soon take members of the National Assembly it into confidence on the issues of militancy and foreign policy. He described the claim of alleged “U Turn” in foreign policy by the opposition as “speculative” and clarified that nobody should think that the government lacked political ownership of the decisions. “Today is the first day of session. Tomorrow the cabinet will meet to discuss important issues. Afterwards, the house will be taken into confidence,” he said. The minister said that an amendment was made to the rules of procedure and conduct of business to bring the development budget of ministries to the standing committees of the house. “This amendment was moved by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and it is for the first time that the rules are being implemented properly,” he said, adding that 11 standing committees had either submitted their proposals or were in the process of doing so. “Remaining standing committees shall also hopefully accomplish their task within the stipulated time,” Hamid said in connection with the discussion on the development budget of relevant ministries. He said the proposals had been sent to respective standing committees by 22 ministries, most of which were being deliberated for preparation of recommendations for inclusion in the annual budget by the finance ministry.