Saturday, March 1, 2014

US withdraws participation in preparatory meetings for G8 in Sochi - Obama
US President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US will suspend upcoming participation in preparatory meetings for the G8. The conversation took place on Obama's initiative and was dedicated to the situation in Ukraine.

Obama, wary of foreign crises, faces East-West standoff in Ukraine

As Russia deepened its military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea region on Saturday, ignoring Barack Obama's stern warning, the U.S. president faced a critical test of whether Washington has the leverage or the will to get Moscow to back down. Obama, who has avoided entanglement in global crises where possible and focused on domestic affairs, now finds himself in the midst of the most dangerous East-West standoff since the end of the Cold War. U.S. officials have said for months they did not want Ukraine's political crisis to turn into a Washington-Moscow tug of war. But on Saturday, a week after Ukraine's Russian-backed president was ousted in a tide of popular anger, Obama's foreign policy aides rushed to craft a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's blunt moves. Putin's parliament gave him the authority to invade Ukraine, which he regards as part of Russia's sphere of influence and where his troops have apparently already seized the Crimea peninsula. In what appeared to be a tough 90-minute phone call with Putin on Saturday, Obama condemned Russia's military intervention in Ukraine and warned that it could face further political and economic isolation, the White House said. Obama told the Russian leader that Washington was suspending participation in meetings to prepare for this summer's G-8 meetings in Sochi, Russia. But Putin had brushed aside Obama's threat on Friday that "there will be costs" for any use of force in Ukraine. The Russian leader, whom Obama once hoped to make a partner, now seems a determined adversary. He appears to be calculating that Obama's willingness to go to the mat over Ukraine, a country few Americans know much about, does not match Russia's readiness to assert itself over a former Soviet republic with which it has close historic ties and economic interests. Crimea, part of Russia until 1954, is Ukraine's only region with a majority ethnic Russian population, and Russia has a military presence already with the headquarters of its Black Sea Fleet. "Even though the president doesn't want to view this as a Cold War scenario, Vladimir Putin does," U.S. Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a frequent critic of Obama's foreign policy, told Reuters. "The fact that the United States has appeared weak in the world has encouraged him." The Obama administration appears to have few other ready options to push back. Current and former U.S. officials insist that Washington and its European allies, while they have ruled out the use of military force, can still exert pressure on Moscow by demonstrating that it has a lot to lose if it continues on its current course. That could the include the boost to its image from hosting February's Winter Olympic Games. "Putin spent allegedly $50 billion to show off the 'New Russia' at the Sochi Olympics," said Michael McFaul, who left his post as U.S. ambassador to Moscow earlier this week. "He has to understand that all he has hoped for will be swept away if indeed there's a genuine military conflict." CRISIS MANAGEMENT The escalating crisis also raises questions about whether the White House was quick enough to recognize the seriousness of the Ukraine issue and to give it adequate attention. U.S. officials and other sources said that the State Department, particularly the hard-charging assistant secretary of state for Europe, Victoria Nuland, had for months been raising alarms about Russia's more aggressive posture toward former Soviet states, and Ukraine in particular. Washington's engagement accelerated after a November 2013 European summit at which Ukraine - along with Armenia - declined under heavy Russian pressure to sign association agreements with the European Union. "That's when you saw the Americans stepping up," said Damon Wilson, executive vice president of the Washington-based Atlantic Council, and a former adviser on Europe to President George W. Bush. Nuland, he said, "created U.S. policy really out of very little at the time." McFaul said the Ukraine crisis was "on our radar at the highest levels" from the outset last fall and he personally acted as a bridge between the White House and State Department. "It's important to understand the limitation of what we can and can't do, but to say we weren't paying attention is incorrect," the former ambassador, a longtime Obama confidant, told Reuters by telephone late on Friday. Wilson praised Obama's sharper warnings to Russia on Friday. Now, he said, the United States will have to decide how deeply broader ties with Russia - already strained by differences over the Syrian civil war - have been harmed. "At what point does this disagreement become so significant that it bleeds over into other issues?" SEVERE CRISIS, FEW OPTIONS James Collins, U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1997-2001, said that compared with the last major crisis with Russia, its 2008 war with Georgia, "this could be even more severe in terms of poisoning Russia's relations with the Europeans and the United States." Obama, who decided to step in front of the cameras at the White House on Friday after signs of heightened Russian military activity in Crimea, was vague in his threat of the consequences. A senior administration official said options being considered included skipping the Sochi G8 summit in June and rejecting Russian overtures for deeper trade and commercial ties. In a statement on Saturday after Obama's phone call with Putin, the White House warned that Russia risked "greater political and economic isolation." While it is too early to contemplate economic sanctions, "there will be a time and a place for punitive action against Russia if it in fact follows through on what appears to be happening on the ground in Crimea," McFaul said. For the moment, Washington is still talking to Moscow at high levels. In addition to the Obama-Putin call, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke on Saturday with his Russian counterpart, the Pentagon said, adding Hagel told Sergei Shoigu that Moscow's military intervention risked an escalation that would threaten European and international security. Asked whether some U.S. military units had been on alert over turmoil in Crimea, a U.S. official said there was no change in the U.S. military's stance and the U.S. focus was on diplomatic options. Obama's national security team met to discuss policy options on Saturday, a senior Obama administration official said.
Along with troops, Putin has made clear he is prepared to pour money into Ukraine to pull it closer to Russia's orbit. The European Union, United States and International Monetary Fund are all considering monetary support to Ukraine's new government, with promises of much larger IMF help if Ukraine implements economic reforms after its elections in May. There is concern in Washington whether funds will be delivered fast enough to prop up Ukraine's troubled economy. Pressure is building on Capitol Hill to accelerate U.S. aid. Obama also finds himself without a U.S. ambassador in Moscow at a critical juncture, although the Obama administration appears to be moving to rectify that. Though McFaul's departure had been scheduled for months, Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, and the State Department only recently agreed on a candidate to succeed him, officials said, a sign that an announcement could come soon. Speculation in Washington is that those under consideration include three former U.S. ambassadors to Ukraine, John Tefft, Steven Pifer and Carlos Pascual.

Russia has right to defend its interests - Putin to Obama
Putin said to President Obama that in case if the violence in Ukraine and Crimea spreads, the Russian Federation reserves the right to protect its interests and the interests of the Russian-speaking citizens. In a statement posted online, the Kremlin said Obama had expressed concern about the possibility of Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Barack Obama by telephone that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. "In response to the concern shown by Obama about the plans for the possible use of Russia's armed forces on the territory of Ukraine, Putin drew attention to the provocative, criminal actions by ultra-nationalists, in essence encouraged by the current authorities in Kiev," the statement said. "The Russian President underlined that there are real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens and compatriots on Ukrainian territory. Vladimir Putin stressed that if violence spread further in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers living there."

Putin: Russian citizens, troops threatened in Ukraine, need armed forces’ protection

Russian President Vladimir Putin has requested the use of Russian military forces in Ukraine to settle the situation there. The Russian population and the Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet are threatened by the situation in the country, he said. Facts you need to know about Crimea and why it is in turmoil Putin’s request was filed after the Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, said that in order to “protect the people” Russia could theoretically send troops to Ukraine. She particularly referred to the crisis in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, where Russians make the majority of the population. “It’s possible in this situation, complying with a request by the Crimean government, even to bring a limited contingent of our troops to ensure the safety of the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian citizens living on Crimean territory. The decision is for the president, the chief military commander, to make, of course. But today, taking the situation into account, even that variant can’t be excluded. We need to protect the people,” Matvienko said.
The Russian government has so far been careful in its assessment of the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian government in Kiev. Matvienko said the reason for that was Russia counting on its Western partners, who vowed to guarantee the February 21 agreements between ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition. “Russia did not interfere in the situation in Ukraine for a very long time and showed restraint, assuming that the Western states, which became backers of the agreements, would see that strict compliance with the deal is observed,” she said. However, after “violent upheaval” took place in Ukraine, the Western states did not come up with “any reasonable measures or responses,” Matvienko said. Russia, in contrast, for a very long time has urged the situation to be resolved by lawful means, and called for the anti-coup sentiments in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine to be heard, she said. “Not seeing an adequate reaction from the West, we could no longer maintain status quo,” the speaker concluded. Matvienko spoke as thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators rallied in the Crimean cities of Simferopol, Melitopol, Yevpatoria and Mariupol, protesting against the rule of new Kiev authorities. The Russian leader held detailed phone discussions on “various aspects of the extraordinary situation in Ukraine" with US President Barack Obama, the Kremlin press service reported. Putin stressed that in the case of further spread of violence in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, Russia reserves the right to protect their interests and the Russian speaking population. Putin emphasised the existence of real threats to the life and health of Russian citizens on Ukrainian territory. In a separate conversation with French President Francois Hollande, Putin said that there is a real threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, Itar-tass reports. The Russian commander in chief also held a telephone conversation with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the case of an escalation of violence against the Russian-speaking population in the eastern regions of Ukraine and Crimea, the Kremlin announced. Putin stressed that Russia cannot remain on the sidelines and will apply the necessary measures within the framework of international law to prevent further escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. According to the Russian Constitution, the use of Army on foreign territories can only be approved by the majority of the Federation Council members upon a request by the President.
The developments follow an appeal by the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, who requested that Russia to help cope with the crisis and ensure “peace and calm” in the region. The tension in Crimea escalated following an attempt to seize the building of the local Interior Ministry by gunmen overnight. Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement, blaming the new authorities in Kiev for intending to “destabilize the situation on the peninsula.” Meanwhile, self-proclaimed Ukrainian Acting President Aleksandr Turchinov has signed a decree ruling that appointment of the pro-Russia premier in Crimea is “illegal.” Aksyonov, who is the leader of Crimea’s Russian Unity party, was appointed as the new Prime Minister of the autonomy after the Crimean Supreme Council dismissed the regional government. Peace and order in the region has been maintained by local armed self-defense squads, which were widely misreported as Russian troops on Friday. Massive media speculation also arose around claims that the Russian military have been making “illegal” moves in Crimea. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent an official note to Ukraine, stressing that all the moves are carried out “in full accordance with basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet.”

China: Striking terrorism with zero tolerance

A terrorist attack against civilians in southwest China Saturday night warns that terrorists deserve no sympathy and should be punished with zero tolerance. The terrorists have stabbed to death at least 29 people and injured 130 in Kunming Railway Station, where some victims were migrant workers who planned to return to their factories after family reunions during the Spring Festival which falls on Jan 31 this year. And some others were almost stepping on the door mat of their homes. The tragedy shocked and saddened people both informing and informed via the Internet. Many condemned and expressed their muffled and strangled feelings towards the violence. Investigation indicates the murderers are separatists from northwest China's Uygur Autonomous Region. Many people's first reaction is why. Yunnan, home to 26 nationalities, boasts for its ethnic diversity and harmony. The province is among the most popular resorts in the country that attract tourists with both natural and cultural heritages. But for those separatists, to destroy the peace and harmony of such a place should be a choice that cannot be better. An undisguised challenge against human nature and peace, the terror, however, can never shake our resolve -- terrorism that targets civilians in any form and at anywhere should be cracked down without hesitation. The knife-wielding attackers are cowards, not martyrs. And their attempt to create public panic is doom to fail as what they did create is public rage and condemnation against their crime. What people have expressed on the Internet shows that we are a lot stronger and more rational than expected. We are no fear of terror as long as justice is on our side. Why are civilians always targeted worldwide by terrorists? Because they think it is a shortcut to create confrontation and hostility among people from different countries or with different ethnic backgrounds. But they are wrong. Blind hatred would do nothing good but make things even worse. We will definitely not be made a cat's paw. We will not made the terrorist violence a free recruitment advertisement for them. No way! Netizens voluntarily call on people not to spread those bloody details and pictures not only to show respect to the victims but also unyielding attitude towards those coward-terrorists. It is true that cowards die many times before their deaths. Behind every dark cloud the sun still shines. Let's make unanimous efforts to combat terrorism globally because no one is born to live in fear.

China: Xi vows punishment on terrorists, careful rescue for victims

Chinese president Xi Jinping has urged the law enforcement to investigate and solve the case of Kunming terrorist attack with all-out efforts and punish the terrorists in accordance with the law. More than 10 terrorist suspects attacked people at the square and ticket hall of Kunming Railway Station at 9:20 p.m. on Saturday, killing at least 28 civilians and injuring 113 others. Police shot dead five attackers and are hunting for the rest. Xi stressed the careful rescue and treatment of injured civilians and proper handling of the dead. He ordered relevant parties to firmly suppress terrorists' rampant momentum, be fully aware of the grave and complex anti-terrorism situation and strengthen bottomline thinking. The president, also head of China's national security commission, asked law enforcement to crack down on violent terrorist activities in all forms, safeguard social stability and guarantee the safety of people's lives and property. Xi has assigned officials, including Meng Jianzhu, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, and member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, and Guo Shengkun, Chinese state councilor and minister of public security, to go to Yunnan to guide work and visit injured civilians and relatives of the victims. Premier Li Keqiang asked local authorities to chase and punish the suspects severely, and public security departments at all levels to strengthen prevention and control measures to guarantee the safety of public places. Local officials rushed to the scene to organize and direct the follow-up work. The treatment of the injured civilians and case investigation are underway.

At least 27 dead in 'terror' attack at Chinese train station

Twenty-seven people were confirmed dead and 109 others injured Saturday in a railway station attack in southwest Chinese city of Kunming, authorities said. It was an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack, according to the authorities. A group of unidentified knife-wielding people attacked the Kunming Railway Station in the capital of southwest China's Yunnan Province at around 9 p.m., causing death and injuries, said the city police. A Xinhua reporter on the spot said several suspects have been controlled, while police are still investigating people in the station. The reporter said that firefighters and medical workers have arrived on the scene, and injured people have been rushed to hospital for emergency treatment. The arterial road of the station has been cordoned off. A doctor with the Kunming No.1 People's Hospital told Xinhua over the phone that medical workers of the hospital are busy treating the injured, adding that they are not still unsure of the exact number of casualties. Another doctor with the hospital told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that the injured are still being sent to the hospital. According to Xinhua reporters at the hospital, a dozen of bodies can be seen at the hospital. As of 0:00 a.m. of Sunday, more than 60 victims in the attack have been sent to the hospital, emergency registration records showed. Yang Haifei, a local resident of Yunnan, told Xinhua that he was attacked and sustained injuries on his chest and back. Yang said he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people rush into the station, most of them in black, and start attacking others. "I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone," he said, adding that people who were slower were severely injured. "They just fell on the ground," he said.
At the guard pavilion in front of the station, three victims were crying. One of them named Yang Ziqing told Xinhua that they were waiting in the station square for a 10:50 p.m. train to Shanghai, but had to escape when a knife-wielding man suddenly came at them. "My two town-fellows' husbands have been rushed to hospital, but I can't find my husband, and his phone went unanswered," Yang sobbed. Pictures on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, show local police patrolling the station. Bodies in blood can be spotted on the ground in the pictures. Doctors were seen transporting injured people to a local hospital. A Weibo user screen-named "HuangY3xin-Dione," who was dining in a restaurant near the railway station, said that she was "scared to death," adding that she saw a group of men in black with two long knives chasing people. According to Kunming railway bureau, train departures have not been affected. The incident has fueled massive anger among the people across China, with netizens severely condemning the violent attacks on social websites like Sina Weibo and WeChat, a popular instant messaging service. The attacks at the station might have created blood and violence, but it has also awakened a strong sense of justice and strength among us. We strongly condemn violence, and we call on people to stop circulating bloody pictures, read a message on WeChat. On Sina Weibo, netizens are spreading the word of stopping the circulation of bloody photos on the Internet.
"Stop publishing bloody photos, because that's just what the thugs want," a Weibo user with the screenname "Fuzhaolouzhu" wrote on her Weibo account. Another Weibo user screennamed "CakeryCupcakes" said she hopes mainstream media could provide immediate and transparent report. "We should not forward unconfirmed information and bloody pictures to avoid more panics," wrote the user. The Security Management Bureau under the Ministry of Public Security called the incident a "severe violent crime" at its official Sina Weibo account. Now, the situation is gradually going stable, and the injured have been treated, while police are investigating the case, it said. "No matter what motives the murderers hold, the killing of innocence people are against kindness and justice. The police will crack down the crimes in accordance with the law without any tolerance. May the dead rest in peace," it read. The Kunming Railway Station, located in the southeastern area of the city, is one of the largest railway stations in southwest China. It was put into operation in 1958.

India, Iran and Oman go under sea to build pipelines, change geopolitics

India is contemplating energy pipelines from the Gulf again — this time running under the sea, rather than traversing Pakistan. With international sanctions on Iran fading as a result of a nuclear agreement, an energy pipeline may be the most positive regional consequence.
The new plan proposes to transport oil and natural gas through deep sea pipelines via Oman in a process where Iran, and even Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan energy can feed the pipeline for an ever-growing Indian market. Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Oman's foreign minister, raised the possibility with Salman Khurshid during their meeting on Friday.
Oman had invested $90 million on this project over a decade ago, but it got no traction then. But now, the technology has come of age, with pipelines being built under the Mediterranean Sea from Algeria to Itali, and under the Black Sea from Russia to Germany. Abdullah suggested the pipeline could transport gas from Iran, even Qatar, as well as Central Asian states.
Khurshid floated the prospect with Javad Zarif, Iranian foreign minister, who he met later in the day. The Iranians have revived talk of deep-sea pipelines to India after the failure of the IPI pipeline. Iran cancelled a $500 million loan to Pakistan in December. India had pulled out of the IPI several years ago citing price and security issues.
Those issues remain. In fact, as the US withdraws from Afghanistan, the TAPI pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan is fast losing its attractiveness.
Iran has reportedly jumped at the idea. Oman is India's most trusted partner in the Gulf, therefore comfort levels are high between New Delhi and Muscat, more than even with Iran. Zarif added to the Omani proposal __ Iran was negotiating separately with Turkmenistan for an overland pipeline to carry its gas to an Iranian terminal and thence to markets like India. If these negotiations succeed, Iran could be a beachhead for gas not only from its fields but from other Gulf suppliers, even Qatar, which is India's largest supplier of LNG.
"An undersea pipeline from Iran to India could be completed as quickly as 3-4 years. Our feasibility studies show they would cost in the region of $5 billion," said Subodh Jain, whose company, Sage is the best known Indian entity to acquire technology for such pipelines. Jain has proposed building an under-sea energy infrastructure corridor, which could be used by major gas suppliers to connect to terminals in India's west coast. Any such pipeline could transport about 31 million cubic meters of gas a day.
"India relies on LNG, but it's the equivalent of relying on champagne. If we stick to LNG, we will become addicted to expensive energy imports. Therefore, a gas pipeline particularly for the power sector, makes eminent sense," said a senior official. "Very soon, almost 20,000MW of gas-fueled power plants will go idle in India due to gas shortage. Pipelines are overdue here."
If energy trade is to resume between Iran and India, the Chahbahar port acquires greater important. Zarif and Khurshid agreed to get the final agreement on investment. India is putting in an affordable $100 million before the Nauroz holidays. The shipping ministry has already completed its studies and price estimates, so officials working on the project said this should not be a stretch.
The Iranian government has been flipping back and forth on this project, so officials reckon a deadline would focus attention in New Delhi and Tehran.
Once complete, Chahbahar would also be the entry point for Indian goods travelling to Central Asia and beyond through the international north-south transport corridor. In their conversation, Zarif made a determined pitch for the INSTC, though it has been Iranian tardiness that has delayed a project like this. In 2012, Turkey officially offered to join the north-south corridor, though with their recent troubles with Iran, no one is quite sure whether that still holds true.
In a related decision, India will conduct a dry run study in March on the INSTC, through Nhava Sheva (Mumbai)- Bandar Abbas (Iran)- Tehran-Bandar Anzali (Iran)-Astrakhan(Russia). This was agreed between India and Azerbaijan during the recent visit of Huseyngulu Baghirov, natural resources minister. Iran and Azerbaijan have to build Gazvin-Rasht-Astara (Iran)-Astara (Azerbaijan) railway route for connecting the railway lines of the INSTC.
What is clear is that Iran is returning to the geostrategic table in the region. It needs to have a credible nuclear agreement with the west before that happens.

Dunya Ghazal New Song 2014

GHAZAL : Sharab Cheez He Aisi Hai - Pankaj Udhas

Putin's proposal to deploy forces in Ukraine approved by Russian senators

From Delhi to Kabul, Via Moscow

Kabir Taneja
India may enlist Russia to provide Afghan government forces with needed weapons.
Debate over the security of Afghanistan after NATO forces pull out later this year is gathering momentum in New Delhi. During one of his trips to India last year, Afghan President Hamid Karzai provided the government with a military wish list, posing a challenge for the Indian leadership as to how to address the request.
One of the many strategies that New Delhi seems to be working on to make sure Afghanistan does not fall back into the hands of Islamists is to provide its government with military aid via Moscow. Even though the Afghan police and other security institutions have received training from their Indian counterparts, New Delhi has been apprehensive about directly providing Kabul with lethal military equipment because it fears they may end up in the wrong hands, which could damage its local reputation as predominantly a provider of developmental aid.
However, India is thinking of fulfilling at least some of Kabul’s wishes in order to maintain its strategic upper hand in Afghanistan, by providing military aid routed through Russia. Under the plan being considered, Moscow will provide Kabul with equipment such as helicopters, mobile bridges, trucks and possibly ammunition and certain artillery, while India foots the bill. This would not be the first suggestion that Moscow send its own military hardware to Afghanistan on behalf of a third party. Last year the U.S. was set to pay $1 billion for new Russian Mi-17 helicopters to be delivered to Afghanistan. However, the deal fell through after pressure on Washington mounted following allegations that the Russian firm manufacturing the aircraft, Rosoboronexport, was also providing weapons to Syria. The collapse of this deal was seen as a major setback for Afghan government forces.
Using Russia to provide much needed military assistance to Kabul seems to be one of the best options available to the Indian government at present. It means that no “Made in India” weapons will surface on the ground in Afghanistan. Russia is India’s largest weapons provider, making the transaction easier to orchestrate.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) also have mostly Russian weaponry in their inventories. Many of their soldiers have had previous military experience with Russian weapons; hence, providing military aid via Russia makes operational sense due to familiarity of equipment. However, the ANA and ANSF face their own set of challenges with desertions, radical elements and fratricide (although attacks have been falling), among other problems. Even as India may be preparing to enlist Russia in getting weapons to Kabul, the Ministry of External Affairs maintains that it is going to wait and see what kind of deal Afghanistan and the U.S. achieve over the latter’s troop presence beyond 2014 in the form of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), if any. The fact that U.S. President Barack Obama has now told the Pentagon to prepare for a complete withdrawal, leaving no troops in Afghanistan, certainly raises the stakes for countries such as India.
A good example of why India is worried about the security future of Afghanistan was highlighted in a recent charge sheet drawn up by the India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA). The document reportedly highlights the fact that senior members of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) terror group have joined Al Qaeda, and are fighting on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and in other areas of Afghanistan. Excerpts from the charge sheet published by an Indian daily also suggests that, according to intelligence available, some IM members have decided to go to Afghanistan every month on a rotation basis.
The NIA charge sheet offers a glimpse into New Delhi’s thinking—and its fears—when it comes to Afghanistan’s possible decent back into chaos, in which it is run by Islamists and terror groups with the possibility of Pakistan’s growing clout over such elements as in the past. On the strength of its intel, India has made known its serious apprehensions concerning a complete military pull-out to Washington.
New Delhi has also discussed the issue of Afghanistan’s future with its counterparts in the larger West Asian region. Diplomatic traffic between India and the Gulf region has been heavy, with high-level exchanges of diplomats and India actively participating in forums such as the Geneva II negotiations on Syria.
Two important visits to India this month where the issue of Afghanistan is expected to be a focal point are those of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Tehran has shown equal concern about the security situation in Afghanistan, while New Delhi and Riyadh now actively exchange intelligence. The need to maintain stability in Afghanistan calls for a pragmatic and workable BSA between Kabul and Washington. This agreement could give Afghanistan the military assistance it needs via NATO itself, as it builds up its defences to challenge the threats it will inevitably face.
In the meantime, both Delhi and Moscow can join hands and constructively, under strict terms and conditions, provide the ANA and ANSF with the much needed weaponry. Without this support, and even with a minimal NATO presence, concerns will mount about the security of both Afghanistan and South Asia.


By Adith Charlie
India is unsure about the drift of its bilateral relations with Iran even as the latter prepares to play a larger role in the geopolitics of West Asia.
In the backdrop of the epoch-breaking nuclear accord, the big question is whether Iran will open up to the West at the expense of its ties with India. On one hand, the removal of sanctions would provide India, once Iran’s second largest oil purchaser, with better access. Yet, another viewpoint suggests that Iran’s need for allies and commercial partners may change as the country unshackles from over three decades of international isolation. India’s inability to take a clear-cut stance on Iran’s nuclear activities, even as the six world powers were locked in negotiations with the Islamic Republic, did not help the cause. New Delhi-Tehran relations have definitely reached an interesting juncture and the onus is on India to ensure that its privileged ties with Iran are maintained. By being on the same page, both countries can help stabilize Asia and emerge as de-facto leaders in a continent that has a chequered history of foreign influence.
On the commercial side, the Indo-Iranian bonhomie has been primed around the areas of energy & hydrocarbons, trade and infrastructure access. At a political level, the two countries share concerns over inequities in the current global order. When it comes to regional security, both are willing to play a larger role in the rehabilitation of Afghanistan once the NATO forces start pulling out of the war-torn country.
Every year thousands of Iranian students enrol themselves in Indian universities while Iran receives a high number of religious tourists from India.
Speaking in Tehran in 1958, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said that India and Iran are among the few countries in the world that have had long, close and warm historical contacts. The affinities cannot be missed when one looks at monuments, culture, language, cuisine and the literature that defines the two countries. India and Iran shared a common border till 1947. India has enjoyed healthy relations with the Persian nation both before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
In strategic terms, Iran is an integral part of what has been defined as India’s “proximate neighbourhood.” Secondly, it has a strategic position along the Persian Gulf, which includes the narrow entrance to the Gulf at the Straits of Hormuz, is within the security parameter of India. According to the US Energy Information Administration, every day about 14 tankers pass out of the Persian Gulf through the Straits carrying 17 million barrels of crude oil daily. This accounts for 35% of the world’s seaborne crude shipments and 20% of oil traded globally.
Currently, India is the world’s fourth largest importer of fossil fuels and West Asia accounts for two-thirds of India’s oil trade. For long, Iran was one of India’s largest oil suppliers, second only to Saudi Arabia. However, India had to cut down Iranian imports last May after insurers refused to provide cover to refining plants, bowing to pressure from the US and Europe. In fact, two of India’s state refiners- Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals and Hindustan Petroleum Corp- halted purchases from Iran last year. As a result, India imported 5.82 million tons of Iranian crude during the first eight months of the year started April 1, down 55.7 per cent from 13.14 million tons that were imported the previous year. To replace lost Iranian volumes, India was compelled to import about 14 percent more oil from Latin America in the April-January period.
The nuclear rapprochement would address the problems with re-insurance of Iran Oil in the immediate term. By one estimate, this could boost Iran’s exports to India by 200,000 to 400,000 barrels daily. The new export numbers are significant as India’s external dependence on oil is set to continue into the next decade. The South Asian giant intends to extend economic development to its hinterland and access to oil is a key deciding factor. In an ideal scenario, India would prefer doing more of its oil business with Iran. Crude from Iran comes in favourable terms and India gets 60-days of credit for making payments. Moreover, Iranian crude comes at discounted rates in comparison to oil procured from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Forty-five per cent of the India’s trade with Iran is settled in Indian rupees. India has been pushing Iran to accept 100 per cent payments in rupees so that its trade deficit, which has been spiralling because of oil import costs, could be controlled.
However, Iran’s new reality would diminish India’s attraction as a customer. Initial indications are that 100 per cent rupee payment may be put on the back burner, at least for the time being. Since India’s exports to Iran are much lower than its oil imports, Iran has structural limitations in fully utilizing the rupees accumulating in its account with the Kolkata-headquartered UCO Bank. Following the easing of sanctions, India is now being offered the option of making euro-denominated payments through central banks of Germany and Switzerland following easing of the sanctions.
Already, the European oil companies are making a beeline to re-establish the suspended trade links with Tehran. France’s Total, Spain’s Repsol and Italy’s Eni among others have expressed willingness to resume work in Iran. European shipping companies have started talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) to restart operations at Iran’s ports. While these factors may not directly hinder India’s commercial interests, there is a high probability of India loosing its leverage position with Iran.
India’s proximity and dependence on Saudi Arabia further complicates the equation. Saudi Arabia is home to 2.5 million Indians, making it one of the largest bastions for Indian Diaspora. Unfortunately for India, both Iran and Saudi Arabia have diametrically opposite views on the current global order. This is clearly evident from their individual visions on the future of Syria. The beleaguered president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad has the backing of the Shia regime in Iran while the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar are said to be working behind the scenes, along with Western allies, to script a change. India does not approve of the conundrum as it has a sizable population of both Sunni and Shia Muslims. The two sects have had a history of violent clashes especially in the North Indian states of Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. Hence, India refrains from publicly siding with the Shia and Allawite-backed Syrian regime or adhering to the views of the Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia.
India hopes to perform an astute balancing act this week by hosting head of states of Iran and Saudi Arabia at the same time. Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif are in New Delhi this week, giving India the golden opportunity of jointly addressing and appeasing both its West Asian allies.
Amidst all the uncertainty, the unfolding security situation in Afghanistan presents is a good opportunity for India to strengthen relations with Iran. Both countries realise that state failure in Afghanistan, especially after NATO forces call it a day, could push religious extremism deeper into the region. A stable Afghanistan is paramount for cohesiveness in the continent.
Speaking in Tehran last year, India’s former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said: “We are both neighbours of Afghanistan and Pakistan and have both long suffered from the threat of transnational terrorism emanating from beyond our borders. India, like Iran, is supportive of the efforts of the Afghan Government and people to build a democratic, pluralistic and peaceful Afghanistan.” The US and its European allies have been pressurizing Afghan president Hamid Karzai to authorize foreign troops on his country’s territory after 2014, by signing the bilateral security arrangement. However, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not keen to allow outsider presence in Afghanistan. Hence, he is looking at both India and Iran to provide a critical lifeline during a period of transition and uncertainty for the Afghani people.
At a bilateral level, India has been proactively assisting the Afghani establishment in building defence capabilities. In his December 13 visit to India, Afghan president Karzai had placed requests for lethal and non-lethal military equipment from India. Yet, Tehran will have to be an integral part of New Delhi’s Afghanistan strategy. Tehran and Kabul recently agreed to sign a “pact of friendship and cooperation,” which could include aspects of political, security cooperation and economic development
Intelligence sharing and joint counter-terrorism efforts, although a bit premature to predict, can help both India and Iran to counter the common adversary, the Taliban. The timing of such as joint initiative is appropriate with Iran-Pakistan relations hitting turbulence, as evidenced by the recent firing of rockets by Iranian forces into Pakistani territory.
In this context, India’s move to further develop Iran’s Chabahar port and establish direct shipping routes with the country, is a timely one. Not only will it bring down the transit costs between the trading partners, but also reduce landlocked Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistani ports for unhindered access to sea trade. The trilateral arrangement would also help India is standing up to China’s growing circle of influence in the Indian Ocean. In February, Pakistan said China would operate its Gwadar port, which is just 76 km from Chabahar.
Thus, Iran and India have more complimentary strengths in today’s global order than ever before. The two countries can form a strong beachhead of influence in Asia and help counter the Western and Chinese influence in the region, if they play their cards right.
The devil, however, lies in execution of this grand vision.

Putin seeks permission to use Russian military in Crimea

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the country’s senators to approve sending Russian troops to Ukraine to settle the situation there. Russian MPs have said that the turmoil in Crimea could allow for such a move.
Earlier on Saturday, the Chairman of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, said that the current circumstances in Ukraine make such a move possible.
“It’s possible in this situation, complying with a request by the Crimean government, even to bring a limited contingent of our troops to ensure the safety of the Black Sea Fleet and the Russian citizens living on Crimean territory. The decision is for the president, the chief military commander, to make, of course. But today, taking the situation into account, even that variant can’t be excluded. We need to protect the people,” Matvienko said.
The Russian government has so far been careful in its assessment of the new self-proclaimed Ukrainian government in Kiev. Matvienko said the reason for that was Russia counting on its Western partners, who vowed to guarantee the February 21 agreements between Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition.
“Russia did not interfere in the situation in Ukraine for a very long time and showed restraint, assuming that the Western states, which became backers of the agreements, would see that strict compliance with the deal is observed,” she said.
However, after “violent upheaval” took place in Ukraine, the Western states did not come up with “any reasonable measures or responses,” Matvienko said. Russia, in contrast, for a very long time has urged the situation to be resolved by lawful means, and called for the anti-coup sentiments in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine to be heard, she said.
“Not seeing an adequate reaction from the West, we could no longer maintain status quo,” the speaker concluded. Matvienko stated as thousands of pro-Russian demonstrators rallied in the Crimean cities of Simferopol, Melitopol, Yevpatoria and Mariupol, protesting against the rule of new Kiev authorities.
According to the Russian Constitution, the use of Army on foreign territories can only be approved by the majority of the Federation Council members upon a request by the President. The developments follow an appeal by the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, who requested that Russia to help cope with the crisis and ensure “peace and calm” in the region.
The tension in Crimea escalated following an attempt to seize the building of the local Interior Ministry by gunmen overnight. Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the move in a statement, blaming the new authorities in Kiev for intending to “destabilize the situation on the peninsula.”
Meanwhile, self-proclaimed Ukrainian Acting President Aleksandr Turchinov has signed a decree ruling that appointment of the pro-Russia premier in Crimea is “illegal.” Aksyonov, who is the leader of Crimea’s Russian Unity party, was appointed as the new Prime Minister of the autonomy after the Crimean Supreme Council dismissed the regional government. Peace and order in the region has been maintained by local armed self-defense squads, which were widely misreported as Russian troops on Friday.
Massive media speculation also arose around claims that the Russian military have been making “illegal” moves in Crimea. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent an official note to Ukraine, stressing that all the moves are carried out “in full accordance with basic Russian-Ukrainian agreements on the Black Sea Fleet.”

Bilawal Bhutto condemns deadly attack on Security Forces in Quetta
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned attack on security forces convoy in Quetta Saturday morning killing three security personnel and injuring seven as reported.
Bilawal Bhutto said that such cowardly attacks could never weaken the resolve of our law enforcing authorities and the nation, to continue pursuing their struggle against the scourge of militancy and terrorism. Expressing his heartfelt sympathies with the bereaved families of the martyred, PPP Patron prayed for eternal peace of the departed souls.

Pakistani man challenges Christian Divorce Act in court
A Pakistani man on Friday challenged the nearly 150-year-old Christian Divorce Act in a court so that he could separate from his wife without accusing her of adultery.
Ameen Masih, who filed a petition in the Lahore high court, said, "I want separation but owing to complications in the Christian Divorce Act of 1869, I have no other option but to level an allegation of adultery against her. "I am not living happily with my wife over the past two years as I do not enjoy good relations with my in-laws."
He said: "With pain I have to admit that I accused my wife of adultery, which she never committed, in order to divorce her."
Masih said divorces under the act had been tarnishing the image of innocent Christian women. The act enacted during the British Raj has legal lacuna that should be done away with, he said. Section 10 of the act should be declared ultra vires and in contravention of the Constitution, he added. "Only provision of divorce abridges the fundamental rights of Christians," he said. Masih asked the court to strike down the impugned section of the act so that Christian men could divorce their wives in a "dignified way".

Bilawal Bhutto deplores terror attack on polio team in Jamrud
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the ‘barbaric’ attack on polio workers in Jamrud today, which resulted into loss of precious human lives while injuring many others. He said that health workers and volunteers serve humanity by participating in the anti-polio drive and should be provided security by the government. “All involved in the polio campaign are selfless volunteers, they do this to save lives, and they do this to save the future of Pakistan”, he added. PPP Patron-in-Chief called on the government to do its utmost to protect health workers and create a secure environment so that the health needs of the children of nation could be met. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari prayed to Almighty to grant eternal peace to the departed souls and courage to the bereaved families to bear this irreparable loss with equanimity.

What Is Russia’s Aim in Ukraine?

President Vladimir Putin of Russia played the genial host at the Olympic Games in Sochi, but his dangerous approach to geopolitics could be his true legacy. On Friday, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, said that Russian troops had taken control of two airports in Crimea and that the Russian Navy was blocking the Ukrainian Coast Guard. Moscow denied that it had sent troops in. But the fact is, Russia was outrageously provocative when it put 150,000 troops on high alert on Wednesday for war games near Ukraine’s border and then on Friday allowed the deposed Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, to give a news conference when he showed up in the Russian city Rostov-on-Don. The situation has now gone from chaos to the verge of military confrontation. The pro-Russia region of Crimea is seething, and the new central government that took over in Kiev after Mr. Yanukovych fled is barely functioning.
President Obama, speaking at the White House, was right to warn Russia against any military move and to indicate that the United States would join the world in condemning a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. He also said that “there will be costs” for any intervention in Ukraine, though it was not clear what, if realistically anything, that might involve. Mr. Obama spoke after armed men of uncertain allegiance took up positions at two airports in Simferopol, the regional capital of Crimea. Their military uniforms bore no insignia, and it was not obvious who they were or who was commanding them. There were no immediate signs of confrontations or panic, but The Times reported that armored personnel carriers with Russian markings appeared on roads outside Simferopol, sometimes alone but at other times in long columns of military vehicles. It was unclear whether the movement was a Russian push to occupy the city, a show of strength or simply a routine rotation of Russian military equipment. Russia has many military facilities in Crimea, where its Black Sea fleet is based, and the area has stronger historical ties to Russia than to Ukraine’s central government in Kiev. While promising to defend the interests of Russian citizens in Ukraine, Moscow has said it will not intervene by force.
But whether Mr. Putin will abide by that promise is unclear. In 2008, he sent Russian forces into neighboring Georgia, ostensibly to protect the secessionist Georgian enclave of South Ossetia; the real goal was to weaken the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.
Russia and the West both have legitimate interests in Ukraine and its future. Fomenting more tension in a country that is already in upheaval is not in anyone’s interest. Nor is encouraging a permanent break between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. Russia and the West need to work together to help stabilize the country politically and develop an economic and trade package that will begin to resolve the economic crisis. Mr. Putin’s dangerous tactics are sure to backfire and do more to alienate Ukrainians than to encourage them to accept any Russian role in their nation’s future.

Crimean Leader Appeals to Putin for Help

The new Crimean prime minister made a personal appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin for assistance Saturday amid widespread reports of Russian troop movements in the southern Ukrainian peninsula.
The Kremlin said in a subsequent statement that it would not ignore the request for help.
The Crimean parliament was seized Thursday by armed men who raised the Russian flag, and international media have reported a large Russian military maneuvers in the region, including armored personnel carriers, tanks and attack helicopters.
Russia has insisted that such troop movements in the Crimea are allowed under a 1997 agreement with Ukraine about the use of naval bases on the peninsula.
“I am turning to Russian President Vladimir Putin to request assistance to preserve peace and calm,” said Sergei Aksyonov, who was appointed as Prime Minister of Crimea after a parliamentary vote Thursday.
Aksyonov, who is also the leader of the Russian Unity Party, announced that a referendum on the status of Crimea within Ukraine will be brought forward by almost two months, to March 30. Local security forces including the police and the army - which are usually commanded from Kiev - will be temporarily transferred to under his control, Aksyonov said.
The announcements by Aksyonov appear to bring closer a possible partition of the former Soviet nation where a new government is struggling to control the country after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych last week. Putin has made no public comment on the current Ukrainian crisis since the opposition swept to power after months of street protests ended in a violent crackdwon in which 82 people died.
Armed men in balaclavas have occupied key public buildings in Crimea in recent days and appeared to have taken control of the region’s two main airports.
One of Ukraine’s largest telecommunications companies said in a statement Friday that telephone and internet links between Crimea and the rest of the country had been severed.
The incoming authorities in Kiev have described developments as an invasion, and interim president Oleksandr Turchynov told reporters late Friday that Russia was seeking to provoke conflict. Russia has recently moved about 6,000 additional troops into Crimea, Ukraine's defense minister said Saturday, according to report by Reuters news agency.
Crimea was transferred to Ukrainian Republic by the Soviet leadership in 1954. Since the fall of Communism it has enjoyed a large degree of political autonomy within Ukraine, including its own prime minister. About 60 percent of the population in Crimea identifies itself as ethnic Russian, with the remainder being Ukrainian or Crimean Tatar.
Pro-Russian groups and Tatars, who mostly support the new regime in Kiev, clashed outside the Crimean parliament Thursday during a confrontation in which at least two people died.

Obama heckled over Russia

During his speech to the Democratic National Committee, U.S. President Barack Obama is interrupted by a heckler who asks him about U.S. plans for ''nuclear war'' with Russia.

UKRAINE: Divided Nation: Views from both sides of Kiev's barricades (RT Documentary)

President Obama's Weekly Address: Investing in Technology and Infrastructure to Create Jobs

Pakistan: Three security personnel killed in Washak convoy attack

Three security personnel were killed and five sustained injuries as their convoy came under attack in Washak district on Saturday, Geo News reported. Sources said that some unidentified armed persons opened fire on a convoy of security forces that killed three security personnel and wounded five. Official sources said that a shootout between the armed persons and security forces was still underway.

Pakistan: Parachinar’s Shia leaders denounce govt for failure to stop Shia-genocide
Shia leaders of Parachinar Allama Syed Abid Hussaini, Allama Javad Hadi and Allama Safdar Ali Shah Naqvi have expressed solidarity with the heirs of Shiite martyrs of Pakistan. Shiite News Correspondent reported that in their telephonic conversations to Karachi-based Shia notables in the wake of assassinations of Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi and condemned the terrorist attacks on Shiites. Former Senators Allama Hussaini and Allama Hadi and renowned scholar Allama Safdar Naqvi said that it was a tragedy that respected teacher and educationist Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi was targeted. They said that Shiites were being killed unabated and the government failed to take action against the Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorists. They said that the government failed to establish its writ in the settled areas, let alone the tribal areas. They exhorted the government to order military operation to liquidate the terrorists. They warned that government’s failure could lead to its premature dismissal like 1999.

Nearly 100 Pakistanis flee to Afghanistan as government intensifies offensive against militants

Nearly 100 people have crossed into Afghanistan from northern Pakistan, a UN spokesperson said on Friday, as the Pakistani government is mulling a full-scale offensive to root out Islamist militants in its restive northern tribal region. "District officials in Pakistan's North Waziristan report that nearly 20,000 people, mostly women and children, have been displaced since February 20 because of military operations in the area, " Xinhua quoted Martin Nesirky, citing reports of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "The majority of displaced people urgently need access to adequate food, shelter and health care," he said.

Afghanistan: Zero option: Dobbins warns of widespread chaos

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins warned on Friday of widespread violence and rapid political disintegration in Afghanistan if the US and NATO opted to a full withdrawal. “In the absence of a continued train, advise, and assist US and NATO military mission, Afghanistan’s descent to more widespread violence and political disintegration is likely to be much more rapid,” Dobbins told a conference on Afghanistan at the US Institute of Peace (USIPC).
Pajhwok editor-in-chief Danish Karokhel is among others to attend the important meeting on Afghanistan. Karokhel addressed the gathering on the future of media in Afghanistan. In his key note address, Dobbins said the Afghans wanted the US to stay. “They need us to stay and we signed an agreement two years ago committing the two sides to a long term security partnership. So far almost the only prominent Afghan to speak out against the BSA is Mullah Omar,” he said.
He said President Karzai had repeatedly acknowledged the importance of the security agreement with Washington and nearly all other Afghan leaders had urged its early conclusion.
“If the security transition goes badly, it may not make much difference who governs Afghanistan next year, but the reverse is also true, if this political transition does not take place successfully, nothing achieved in the security sphere is likely to endure.” “So if the bad news is that uncertainty about conclusion of the BSA continues to cloud the security transition, the good news is that the political transition continues to move forward on schedule and so far without significant disruption,” Dobbins said. Overall, he noted, a cautious sense of optimism has taken hold in Afghanistan over the elections. A year ago, he continued, many Afghans doubted that elections would even take place, but more Afghans were now confident about the process and hopeful about the elections.
“If successful, the election can pave the way for Afghanistan’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of presidential power in its history. A successful transfer of power from President Karzai to a democratically-elected successor this year will do more than virtually anything to solidify the gains made over the last 12 years,” the top US official said. “It will also show all Afghans – including the Taliban that the rule of law matters and that country’s young constitutional system is resilient in the face of myriad challenges. To date, candidates have mostly played by the rules and respected the authorities of independent electoral institutions,” he said.
“Government organs have worked in coordination with the IEC on election security and administrative issues, and Afghan media have provided broad and generally balanced coverage and analysis of the candidates and election issues,” Dobbins said.

Pakistan’s jaundiced eye and Kabul

These days the talk of the two is the carnage in Kunar, Pakistan, the pullout of coalition forces, and the upcoming presidential polls. But Pakistan bombarded the talk and people’s attention diverted to what Islamabad said on Thursday. What Pakistan said, many of us realized that amid the talks and terror, reality feels to be missing.This also reveals how much Islamabad is a good player in hijacking the situation. Whenever there is some biggest terror incident inside Afghanistan that has the potential to bring all ethnic groups under one umbrella Pakistan tries to disturb it. When public anger was simmering against Pakistan over the Kunar carnage, Pakistan took some token steps to tame militants in FATA, and asked Kabul not to parry fleeing militants.
Pakistan called on Afghanistan to fend off Taliban militants from fleeing as a result of ongoing airstrikes in northwest tribal region from entering its territory. After the botched up peace talks, Pakistani jets pounded Taliban’s hideouts in North and South Waziristan. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that as per international and bilateral understanding Afghanistan shouldn’t allow militants to enter into its territory to take refuge on its soil. After hearing this odd song, we remembered about a famous English proverb: To a jaundiced eye looks everything pale. Since Pakistan has been at this affair—sheltering the Taliban, eulogizing them the real heroes fighting against foreign troops, and telling its citizens that the Taliban still rule on 80 percent of Afghanistan, so now it thinks as if Afghanistan is also at such an affair with the Pakistani Taliban. But the reality is quite otherwise. Now it’s necessary to see at the difference.
Where are the Afghan Taliban? In Pakistan. Where are the Pakistani Taliban? In Pakistan. Then how Afghanistan could shelter them, train them and send them into Pakistan for sabotage. Besides that Tasnim Aslam said it on Thursday while Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali said on Friday that no military operation is underway in tribal areas. What does it show? It shows Pakistan is not going to launch any decisive military operation because Islamabad thinks the Taliban its greatest strategic assets. Now Kabul should lodge its complaint with Islamabad officially for asking why Islamabad has been just doing some cosmetic actions to hurl the dust into the eyes of the international community and also Afghanistan.
When there is no military operation underway in FATA, why did Islamabad called on Kabul not to let the fleeing militants to have shelter on Afghan soil. If Islamabad is really sincere in its peace efforts and weeding out militancy it should sign a cooperation and extradition treaty. Under the treaty Pakistan will have to give ultimatum to Afghan Taliban to leave Pakistan within 24 hours and then Afghan government will do the same if there is any Pakistani Taliban on Afghan soil. But Pakistan will never do it. Moreover, why Pakistan army couldn’t ban foreign elements who are moving freely at will, and unleash havoc in the Pashtun-land on both sides of the Durand Line where the tribesmen have been forced to make exodus. Why Pakistan’s security establishment opted for the use of jet fighters and bombing terrorist hideouts when already drones attacks are elimination terrorists with few collateral damages. In drone attacks the risks of civilian casualties are too few. Why its intelligence agents are suppressing the voices being raised in favor of drone strikes but in meantime why they gag the voices being raised against fighter jets that cause heavy civilian casualties and collateral damages. All these things make Pakistan’s war on terror quite murky and when it has no clear policy and standpoint it should think a hundred times before pointing its fingers at Kabul.

Talk to The Baloch Now

By I.A.Rehman
THE ongoing attempts to have a deal with the militants who have been causing explosions all over the country are in a sharp contrast with the policy of ignoring the threat of an implosion in Balochistan that is getting more and more serious every day.
An indication of the government’s seriousness about resolving the Balochistan crisis will soon be available when the participants of the long march against enforced disappearance reach Islamabad. The federal authorities will do no good to the marchers or themselves if they treat them with the indifference so far displayed. Already reports of some official efforts to restrict the media coverage of the event have created a bad impression. It is necessary to demonstrate that these officials had no mandate from any government.
These courageous seekers of justice have already been on the road for 110 days — the longest and probably the only real protest march in Pakistan’s history. The boils on their swollen feet offer a measure of the hurt caused to them by the involuntary disappearance of their dear ones. They are convinced that state employees have been the agents of their incredible suffering and the failure of the state to redress their grievances has cut deeper into their hearts than even the disappearance of a brother or a son.
Ever since the people and the authorities became aware of disappearances a decade ago the issue has been causing increased and more widespread pain and disaffection. The Baloch believe that the relief they have received from the courts has been grossly inadequate. The realisation that their tormentors can even defy the country’s apex court has only deepened their feeling of alienation from the state.
Many developments have added to the Baloch grievances. The recommendations of the three-man judicial commission of 2010 have remained largely unimplemented; no law has been made to regularise and regulate the work of intelligence agencies, nor have they been put on a shorter leash. A variety of factors reduced the effectiveness of the committee headed by retired justice Javaid Iqbal and now the government is having difficulty in finding a suitable person to head a probe body. Those approached are perhaps wary of accepting an assignment that has been made totally unrewarding by the government’s incapacity to call the much-pampered security forces to account.
The view that the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance is going to legitimise disappearances and unlawful detention could not but increase the Baloch’s apprehensions. And the discovery of mass graves in Khuzdar — and everybody knows about the mafia in power there — has in a way substantiated the Baloch charges against the establishment.
The government must realise that any people aggrieved to the extent the Baloch have been can be palmed off with promises of doing better the next time only for a short period. The people of Balochistan reached the end of their patience long ago. The arrival of the long marchers in Islamabad will offer the government a wonderful opportunity not only to announce a plan to close the chapter of disappearances but also to launch a serious initiative to resolve the Balochistan crisis.
It is clear that the issue of disappearances is linked with the need for a new political compact with the people of Balochistan. Disappearances constitute a crude response to the Baloch nationalist upsurge and they exacerbate the situation instead of controlling it. Ways must, therefore, be found, and as expeditiously as possible, to clear the ground for talks with Baloch dissidents without any distinction. After the beginning of negotiations with the Taliban any delay in offering an opening to the Baloch nationalists will cause incalculable harm to Pakistan.
The federal authority has to disabuse itself of any notion that dealing with disappearances or the bigger issue of a settlement with the dissident nationalists is the provincial government’s responsibility. The Balochistan crisis is a national issue because it touches on the very survival of the federation. Moreover, all the discontent in that province has resulted from federal acts of commission and omission, and the federation alone has the means and authority to take the steps needed to make amends for the persistent and systemic denial of Balochistan’s rights.
It is also time to discard the old charge-sheet against Baloch nationalists. They were not the first to start a confrontation with the state; in each round of conflict they can be shown to have reacted to unjustified violence. The militants among them have harmed their cause by taking out their bile on settlers; the gaps caused in their society by the loss of professionals, from barbers to teachers and doctors, have adversely affected their social outlook and progress. All this must stop.
The nationalists are often called by a variety of names that can provoke a population. In today’s world no political demands can be rejected out of hand. All matters can be discussed around a table and, given the requisite scale of goodwill and earnestness, there is nothing that cannot be settled in accordance with the recognised principles of justice and fair play.
But whether it is a question of giving the participants of the long march their due or moving towards peace with the Baloch people, the custodians of power must realise that while as a willing federating unit Balochistan will be a great source of strength to Pakistan, a disenchanted and alienated Balochistan will remain a potential threat to its integrity.

Pakistan: Dasti's morality outburst

What independent MNA Jamshed Dasti did in the National Assembly on Thursday was absolutely uncalled for. He got up on a point of order to allege that Parliament Lodges had become dens of immoral activities. Girls, he said, are brought in and mujras (dances by ladies of the night) held, going on to make the incredible claim that liquor worth Rs 40-50 million was purchased. And that smell of liquor and charas (hashish) hung all over the place. He claimed to have visual evidence of the activities, although he did not explain where he got the figure for liquor price or the duration of use. For, Rs 40-50 million stuff to be consumed would mean almost every MNA is a regular drinker which is hard to believe. The legislator has been demanding that all members should undergo tests for liquor use detection, which is pointless considering that liquor does not stay in the system for so long.
In any case, if he had a genuine issue Dasti should have adopted the proper procedure to complain rather than to make sensational declarations. As Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq rightly observed, he could have informed him in the Speaker's chamber producing the evidence; there was no need to make scandalous allegations inside the House. The reason why he went for the dramatics could be a craving for media attention, which he has managed to get aplenty. Notably, the MNA, who is yet to clear his name for using fake graduation degree in the 2008 national elections, has remained out of the limelight since winning his seat as an independent candidate in last year's election. The one time he got some notice was last September when he moved a bill seeking two-year extension in the retirement age of the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, against whom he had earlier been making disparaging remarks.
That though is not to say the allegations are totally baseless and that all parliamentarians are angels. But that he should have first brought the issue to the Speaker's notice. People can do whatever they like within the privacy of their homes, but Parliament lodges certainly are not a place for 'mujra' performances. There are CCTV cameras in place. A month-long footage of the goings-on is available, which the Speaker can use to investigate the matter. Whatever Dasti's motive, he has provided an opportunity to the rightwing parties to demand curbs on normal entertainment. Picking up on his 'immorality' theme during Thursday's parliamentary proceedings, a JI member lashed out at TV channels for casting bad influence on the younger generation's sense of morality by airing foreign dramas and films while PTI's Ali Mohammad Khan questioned the showing of Indian films in cinemas, demanding punishment for whosoever permitted the 'immoral' activity. The Speaker is expected to deal with the issue in a sensible manner, disallowing such self-styled moralists any excuse to try and infringe social and cultural freedoms.

Pakistan: At least nine including three FC men killed in Balochistan

At least nine people including three security personnel were killed in two separate incidents in Balochistan's Kalat and Dera Bugti districts on Saturday, an official said. Spokesman Frontier Corps (FC), Khan Wasey told that a vehicle of forces on a routine patrol was targeted through an improvised explosive device in Balochistan's Kalat district. He said six soldiers suffered serious wounds, whereas, their vehicle was destroyed in the attack. "Forces were quick enough to shift the injured to a hospital", Wasey stated. Also, he said that three soldiers inside the vehicle were killed on the spot. In another incident, the FC Spokesman said six militants were killed during an exchange of fire in Balochistan's resource-rich district Dera Bugti early on Saturday morning. He said an armed clash between forces and armed militants erupted in Darinjan and Rustam Bazar areas of Sui, a tehsil of Dera Bugti district. "Forces quickly responded and six militants were killed on the spot", Wasey told. He said that the forces also recovered huge cache of arms and ammunition from the possession of militants. More personnel were called in the area to bring the situation under control. The incident could not be confirmed by independent sources that how exchange of fire started between the militants and security forces. Prior to this incident, the FC spokesman said that the forces also arrested five suspects involved in blowing up gas pipelines in the area. Dera Bugti, Balchistan's least developed and resource-rich district remained under the grip of violence for last more than seven years. Militants in the area have been targeting security forces and vital national installations.

Pakistan: Polio team targeted: 11 khasadar officials killed, 7 others injured in Jamrud blasts

The Express Tribune
Eleven khasadar officials who were providing security to a polio team were killed and seven others were injured in two separate blasts in Jamrud, Express News correspondent Yasir Ali reported on Saturday. A vehicle of a polio team in the Lashoro area of the town was targeted in the first explosion while the vehicle of the line officer of the polio team was reportedly the target of the second attack. The injured were taken to Hayatabad Medical Complex for medical assistance where emergency was declared. Polio teams have been the target of various attacks in the country. Militant groups see vaccination campaigns as a cover for espionage there are also long-running rumours about polio drops causing infertility. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio is still endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year, up from 58 in 2012.

Pakistan: Imran’s bee and mad cows

Dr Haider Shah
While on all fronts we see pragmatic political compromises, there is only one element of discourse that has stood the test of time: he is unwavering in his support for the Taliban
Neither Mr Bean, the show, nor any Bollywood comedy can be as hilarious as a talk show with Zaid Hamid or Orya Maqbool as participants. Increasingly, I have started finding Imran Khan also very entertaining.
Young voters, women and social media users were enamoured by the cricketer-turned-politician before the last elections as his massive advertisement campaign projected the image of a messiah who was destined to rescue a wayward nation. A leader is, however, not someone who merely capitalises on the negative public image of mainstream politicians. A true leader is one who produces a new discourse after correctly identifying the threats faced by the country. What we expected from Imran Khan was for him to spearhead progressive law making. As I find many educated women idolising him for his looks, he should have led the way for passing an anti-domestic violence law in parliament. He should have championed the cause of minorities. As he promises a new Pakistan, he should have introduced a modern school syllabus. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort has been witnessed. All his discourse boils down to is ‘Amreeka ki jang’ (the US’s war). What a criminal waste of talent Imran has proved to be.
The bee in Mr Khan’s bonnet keeps buzzing in his public statements. He is often heard claiming that the Taliban neither wanted sharia nor were against the constitution but had only taken up arms because of Pakistan’s pro-US foreign policy. This is an extremely irresponsible and dangerous viewpoint coming from a leader who promises us a new era of bliss and development. If someone believes in the constitution then he has to know that, as per the constitution, it is the discretion of a constitutionally elected government to formulate its foreign policy. If any group has a problem with the government’s foreign policy it can campaign for a change in the policy by approaching the electorate and winning an election. It cannot dictate by militant means what our foreign policy should be. Supporting such a cause should be considered for a trial under Article six of the constitution as it amounts to subverting the constitution.
Politicians need to be pragmatic and flexible. This allowance can be given to Khan sahib as well even though he himself projected the image of an iconoclast. While on all fronts we see pragmatic political compromises, there is only one element of discourse that has stood the test of time: he is unwavering in his support for the Taliban. At times one finds him to be a better spokesperson for the TTP than Shahidullah Shahid himself. In the recent past he was painfully trying to exonerate the Taliban of any involvement in terrorist incidents. More recently, he bombastically declared in a press conference that the Taliban believed in the constitution and hence all liberal commentators, he charged, had been telling lies as they were all US agents. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Within days, the Taliban announced that they did not consider even a single word of the constitution to be worth respecting. Now if political honesty had any value in Imran’s scheme of things, he should have at least retracted his earlier statements after duly apologising for his amateurish stance in the past.
Another argument floated by Imran Khan and religiously restated by other PTI leaders is that war is not a solution and peace only comes through negotiations. This was the philosophy followed ardently by British leaders in the 1930s. Returning from Munich in September 1938 after concluding a peace accord with Hitler, the then British prime minister, Mr Chamberlain, declared to a jubilant crowd gathered at Heston airport in west London that the accord signalled “peace for our time”. If appeasement has no red line then it is another name for surrender. When Germany entered Poland, the UK declared war on Germany as the red line had been crossed. An estimated 450,000 British military personnel and civilians died due to the resulting World War II. In Sri Lanka many peace negotiations were held with the Tamil Tigers but the Tamil Tigers’ leader Velupillai Prabhakaran refused to compromise and continued murdering those moderate Tamils who disagreed with him. As the red lines had been crossed, the Sri Lankan state saw to it that the terrorist organisation and its leader were conclusively and crushingly defeated. India is investing heavily in its own war against Maoist rebels known as Naxalites as they crossed the red line and did not take advantage of peace offers.
Another oft-repeated argument is that militants are fellow Pakistanis and we should live in peace with them. It is a well-known fact that animal rights activism is a high priority in the UK. Cruelty to animals is an offence and offenders go to jail. Anti-fox hunting became such a big issue that the Labour government had to ban it to keep its voters happy. The same British government, however, culled thousands of cows once the threat posed by mad cow disease became widely known. In Pakistan’s case, the official spokesperson of the main militant group, the TTP, has publicly claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks on law enforcement personnel while the government was negotiating peace with them. To add insult to injury, the TTP has dismissed the idea of any negotiations within the ambit of the constitution of Pakistan. When humans go mad, with deadly weapons in hand, they pose a far greater threat than mooing cows. I hope Mr Khan can understand that and appreciate the purpose of red lines in negotiations.

Pakistan: Lifting the YouTube ban

The decision by a US appeals court on Wednesday ordering Google to remove the controversial film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from the video-sharing website YouTube is welcome news for people in Pakistan. The film triggered mass outrage and violent protests around the country, far in excess of its aesthetic value or content. The Pakistani government now has no legitimate excuse to continue the ban, which is extremely unpopular with the public and with activists wary of the state's penchant for censorship. Not having legitimate reasons has never stood in the way of governments, but people working to overturn the ban can use this case to highlight two facts. The first is that banning YouTube was an unnecessary measure that violated constitutional rights to free information and speech, while empowering extremists to promote their violent narrative. The second is that bans and outrage don't work — rational argument does.
The judges hearing the case rejected Google's assertion that removing the film amounted to a prior restraint of speech that violates the US Constitution, on the ground that one of the actors involved in the production was misled about the portrayal and credit she would receive for participating. The plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, objected to the film after learning it incorporated a clip she had made for a different movie. How much simpler would Pakistan's case have been if, instead of hyperbolic, unconstitutional, and ultimately uninformed outrage and bans, the government had found legal grounds to challenge Google’s constitutional objections. In the case of Ms Garcia and YouTube, releasing the film without her knowledge or consent amounted to a violation of her rights, which the appeals court recognised. Moreover, Pakistani authorities could have negotiated an agreement with Google, as other countries have done, to limit certain content in Pakistan in case it inflames religious sentiments. The previous and current governments’ hypocrisy with regard to the ban is clear. If either government felt so strongly about the film, they could have spent the last two years investigating the film's legality and its release, citing statutes including incitement to violence, hate speech, or in this case illegal appropriation of another person’s creative property. Instead they chose to declare a day of protest, which caused millions in property damage, and ban a popular website, causing a great deal of resentment among the internet using public. If the government insists on acting as a ‘defender’ of Islam, it should also take that job seriously and effectively pursue its objectives, instead of making the public victims of its shortsightedness. It is better left to the public to defend their own faith as they see fit, since clearly the government cannot do so.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Two More Shias Shot Martyred In Pakistan
At least two Shia Muslims have been shot martyred in separate targeted killings in Pakistan’s Hangu and Karachi cities. Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba/LeJ/Taliban shot martyred a Shia official of the revenue department in a terrorist attack in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa Province on Friday. Shiite News Correspondent reported here that the macabre attack occurred in Patwar Khana (revenue office) of Hangu City. The terrorists opened fire upon Hassan Patwari, a Shia official there and fled leaving him dead. An other Shia youth Aslam Shaikh was ambushed by Yazidi terrorists of outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba / Lashkare-e-Jhangvi in Federal B Area Block 14, Karachi. Body of the martyr was taken to Shah-e-Karbala Imam Bargah for final ablution and funeral. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted murder and demanded arrest of the killers.

Peter Tatchell Supports Asia Bibi Petition

Asia Bibi was verdict to death in 2010 and since then fighting for her liberty and her life in an onerous appeals process.
Peter Tatchell a church campaigner today tweeted his support for Christian mother Asia Bibi, who has been in prison for last four years after being charged of blasphemy by her villagers while working in a Muslim farm in Sheikhupura, Punjab. Today Tatchell asked his 43,000 followers in his tweet to take action and support Asia Bibi by signing a petition being run by the Global Minorities Alliance.
A Glasgow-based human rights organization is aiming to collect 500,000 signatures before handing the petition in to the Pakistani Consulate in the city.
It is not the first time Tatchell has raised his voice about the human rights situation in Pakistan. In 2012, he said the British government should not send any financial aid to the country because of the level of human rights abuses. In this case, he was speaking exclusively on the forced marriages of young girls. Asia Bibi is just one of many victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that Christians have been fighting against for years.
They say Christians and other religious minorities are falsely accused of blasphemy by Muslims looking to settle disputes appropriate their property, or force them out of business.
An argue of blasphemy repeatedly has disturbing cost for the accused, with mass seeking their own rough justice by damaging their houses or property, stabbing them, or even killing them. If they are convicted, they face execution or spending the rest of their life in prison.
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Liberal newspaper Express Tribune cowed into silence by Pakistani Taliban
Media group opts for self-censorship on terrorism after Taliban admits murder of three employees for critical reports on militants
When it was launched four years ago, the Express Tribune set out to become the house newspaper of liberal-minded Pakistanis.
A newcomer to a market dominated by conservative-inclined papers, it made a point of writing about everything from the relentless rise of religious extremism to gay rights.
But in recent weeks the paper has been cowed into silence by an unusually blatant display of power by the Pakistani Taliban.
The paper was forced to drastically tone down its coverage last month after three employees of the media group, which includes another newspaper and television channel, were killed in Karachi by men armed with pistols and silencers on 17 January. The attack was later claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a large coalition of militant groups, which accused the media group of disseminating anti-Taliban propaganda.
Immediately following the killings, the paper's editor, Kamal Siddiqi, sent an email to staff outlining the paper's new policy.
Henceforth there would be "nothing against any militant organisationand its allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, religious parties and the Tehrik-e-Insaf", the rightwing party led by Imran Khan, that strongly opposes military operations against the TTP. There would also be "nothing on condemning any terrorist attack", "nothing against TTP or its statements" and "no opinion piece/cartoon on terrorism, militancy, the military, military operations, terror attacks".
Reporters have been banned from describing a movement responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, soldiers and police as "outlawed" or "militant".
The terrorist attacks that rack the country on an almost daily basis are covered on the news pages, but are pared down.
"We do have exclusives, but we don't run them," Siddiqi said. "It's very frustrating at a personal level for all journalists. But we have decided that we won't do anything at least for the foreseeable future that will come back to haunt us."
Other changes include a more conservative approach to photographs of female models in the paper's lifestyle sections and weekend magazine. Worst affected are the opinion pages. Once-feisty leader writers have almost entirely overlooked the near-continuous attacks that have rocked the country in recent weeks. Ayesha Siddiqa, a regular columnist, said the muzzling of Pakistan's media was contributing to an "absolutely mesmerising information deficit" among the public. "I said to the editor, 'what am I to do, start writing about cooking or films?' Because that's all that's left." The killings followed a bomb and small-arms attack on the company's offices in Karachi in December. One reporter on the paper said the attacks had terrified many colleagues. "The paper has an unusually young staff and a lot of the kids were pretty scared, with parents telling them they should quit," the staff writer said. "There were some people who said we should fight back, but they were a minority." After the killings, a TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, was allowed to join by telephone a live discussion programme on the paper's sister television station, Express News. He claimed responsibility for the killings, complained the company "was playing the role of propagandist in this war with the Taliban" and said it had ignored regular complaints he had emailed to the channel. The TV show's host, Javed Chaudhry, promised that the station and newspaper would take pains to present the TTP's position "without any trimming". "We will have a balanced and impartial attitude towards you and will convey your point of view to the people but we have only one request: that our colleagues should be protected," he told the TTP spokesman and watching audience. The TTP has threatened and attacked journalists in the past, including the BBC after its Urdu-language service aired highly critical comment about the Taliban attempt to assassinate the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in 2012. Although much of Pakistan's national debate is conducted in the country's generally right-leaning Urdu press and television, the TTP monitors everything. Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch, said: "The Taliban and other armed groups have threatened the media over their coverage for several years, but now those threats are ratcheting up by accompanying attacks. "It's an extremely effective tactic that does far more than just censorship, it also skews the entire national debate." Siddiqi, the editor, said he could not risk any more lives. "The fact is three people have been killed and no one out there is protecting us," he said, pointing out that no arrests had been made in connection with either of the attacks on the company.
"We are on our own. We have to look out for our own people."