Sunday, March 2, 2014

Commentary: West should work with, not against, Russia in handling Ukraine crisis

As the West reacted with alarm to Russia's latest approval of military action in Ukraine, tensions might further escalate. Based on the fact that Russia and Ukraine have deep cultural, historical and economic connections, it is time for Western powers to abandon their Cold War thinking, stop trying to exclude Russia from the political crisis they failed to mediate, and respect Russia's unique role in mapping out the future of Ukraine. Protests in Ukraine started on Nov. 21, 2013, with peaceful demonstrations demanding the country's European integration, but soon snowballed into a violent movement against authorities. Crimea, an autonomous republic within Ukraine, currently has become the center of the crisis in Ukraine. Crimea is a multiethnic region enjoying autonomy after Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991. According to the 2001 Ukrainian Census, 58.3 percent of the Crimean population are ethnic Russians and most of them hold Russian passports. Russia also maintained its only Black Sea naval base in the port of Sevastopol, Crimea. The Russian parliament on Saturday authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force to protect Russian interests. Russia has reportedly increased movement of troops and equipment into Crimea. It is quite understandable when Putin said his country retained the right to protect its interests and Russian-speakers living in Ukraine. Over the decades, Ukraine's population was divided along language barriers with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the European Union (EU) while eastern and southern regions looking to Russia. Although the EU has made efforts to broker a peace deal between Yanukovych and the opposition in order to solve the crisis, the situation in Ukraine rapidly worsened. Right now, the West should show more appreciation for what Russia can do to solve the crisis in Ukraine. Given Russia's historical and cultural influence in the country, the Kremlin is the piece that cannot be missing in this political puzzle. The West should also be honest with the fact that their biased mediation has polarized Ukraine and only made things worse in the country. Ukraine now appears headed for an economic depression that can hardly be cured by its Western neighbors, as the EU itself is also struggling economically. Looking to the future, Russia's economic cooperation and assistance are vital for Ukraine to solve its various problems. Right now, the Ukrainians have to figure out what is best for their own country and solve the problems through political dialogue and negotiations. At the same time, the United States and European countries must work with, not against, Russia to tackle the Ukraine crisis.

Kerry Heading to Ukraine as Russia Tightens Grip on Crimea

Secretary of State John Kerry will be heading to Kyiv Monday for discussions there Tuesday, the U.S. top diplomat tweeted as Russia continued to assert increasing control over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
"Secretary Kerry will meet with senior representatives of Ukraine’s new government, leaders of the Rada (Ukraine's parliament), and members of civil society. The Secretary will reaffirm the United States' strong support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future, without outside interference or provocation," says a statement by the U.S. State Department.
Quoting a senior U.S. government official, the New York Times reports that the trip will be a gesture of support for the new Ukrainian government. Also on Sunday, President Barack Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, according to senior administration officials. The purpose of the talks, they said, was to re-state the "complete illegitimacy" of Russian action in Ukraine and discuss available responses. According to the officials, the U.S. and its allies are looking into offering an "off-ramp" if Moscow chooses to pursue its concerns diplomatically. International tools, they said, are available to President Vladimir Putin to address concerns about the safety of ethnic Russians, such as through the United Nations and/or through monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe.
G-7 condemns Russia
The Group of Seven major industrialized nations (G-7) on Sunday condemned Russia's intrusion into Ukraine and canceled for now preparations for the G-8 summit that includes Russia and had been scheduled to take place in Sochi in June, the White House said. ”We, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and the President of the European Council and President of the European Commission, join together today to condemn the Russian Federation's clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the G7 said in a statement. We have decided for the time being to suspend our participation in activities associated with the preparation of the scheduled G-8 Summit in Sochi in June,” the group said.

CrossTalk: Crimean Crucible

Russia's moves on Ukraine are congruent to extraordinary situation - Putin

President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that Russian citizens and Russian-speakers in Ukraine faced an "unflagging" threat from ultranationalists, and that the measures Moscow has taken were completely fitting given the "extraordinary situation", the Kremlin said.
In a telephone conversation during which Merkel expressed concern about developments in Ukraine, she and Putin agreed that Russia and Germany would continue consultations in bilateral and multilateral formats to seek the "normalisation" of the situation, a Kremlin statement said. The conversation was initiated by the German side worried over the development in Ukraine, and in its autonomous republic of Crimea in particular. The Russian president drew attention of the German chancellor to growing threats of violence on the part of ultranationalist forces in Ukraine, which endanger the lives and legal interests of Russian citizens and the entire Russian-speaking population of Ukraine. “The Russian leader stressed that Russia’s measures were completely consistent with the current extraordinary situation,” the press service said.
Russia's Vladimir Putin has agreed to a proposal from Angela Merkel to set up a contact group on Ukraine, the German government said Sunday. "President Putin accepted the German chancellor's proposal to immediately establish a commission of enquiry as well as a contact group, possibly under the direction of the OSCE, to open a political dialogue," Berlin said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation in Ukraine with his US counterpart Barack Obama by telephone. Putin reminded the US president of crimes committed by Ukrainian ultranationalists with the connivance of Kiev's new self-proclaimed government. The conversation was at Obama's request and lasted more than an hour, according to the Kremlin's press service. In response to Obama's concerns over the possible use of Russian troops in Ukrainian territory, Putin said that Russia reserved the right to defend both its own interests and the interests of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine if violence spread to Ukraine's eastern provinces and Crimea. Putin accentuated the existence of real threats to life and health for Russian citizens and millions of compatriots living in Ukraine. Putin also spoke with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He made clear that, if violence against the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine and Crimea escalated, Russia would not remain aloof but would take all necessary measures within the framework of international law. Both sides pinpointed the need to prevent the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine. Putin shared his assessments of the situation in Ukraine in a follow-up telephone conversation with French President Francois Hollande. The two leaders discussed ways of promoting solutions to the crisis and agreed to maintain contact.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US counterpart Barack Obama discussed in detail "different aspects of an extraordinary situation in Ukraine" in a telephone conversation, the Kremlin press service reported on Sunday. The Russian president noted that Russia retained the right to protect its interests and Russian speakers living in Ukraine if violence spread to eastern Ukrainian regions and the Crimea. Putin spoke of real threats to life and health for Russian citizens and numerous compatriots living in the country. In reply to Obama's concerns over plans on the possible use of Russian armed forces in Ukraine, Putin noted provocative and criminal actions by ultra-nationalistic elements that are actually encouraged by current authorities in Kiev. The United States initiated the telephone conversation.

675,000 Ukrainians pour into Russia as ‘humanitarian crisis’ looms

An estimated 675,000 Ukrainians left for Russia in January and February, fearing the “revolutionary chaos” brewing in Ukraine, Russia's Federal Border Guard Service said. Officials fear a growing humanitarian crisis. On Sunday, the border guard service said Russian authorities have identified definite signs that a “humanitarian catastrophe” is brewing in Ukraine. “In just the past two months (January-February) of this year…675,000 Ukrainian citizens have entered Russian territory,” Itar-Tass news agency cited the service as saying.
"If 'revolutionary chaos' in Ukraine continues, hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into bordering Russian regions," the statement read.
Ukrainians have long formed a large presence in Russia. According to the official 2010 census, 1.9 million Ukrainians were officially living in Russia, although the head of the Federal Migration Service put that figure as high as 3.5 million one year before. While those migrants were often prompted by economic concerns, political turmoil has spiked the recent rise in Ukrainians attempting to leave the country. On Saturday, Russian migration authorities reported that 143,000 requests for asylum had been sent to Russia within a two-week period. Russian officials have promised to expedite the processing of those requests. “Tragic events in Ukraine have caused a sharp spike in requests coming from this country seeking asylum in Russia,” said the chief of the FMS’s citizenship desk, Valentina Kazakova. “We monitor figures daily and they are far from comforting. Over the last two weeks of February, some 143,000 people applied.” Kazakova said most requests come from the areas bordering Russia, and especially from Ukraine’s south. “People are lost, scared and depressed,” she said. “There are many requests from law enforcement services, state officials as they are wary of possible lynching on behalf of radicalized armed groups.” A week after the government of Viktor Yanukovich was toppled by violent street protests, fears of deepening political and social strife have been particularly acute in Ukraine’s country's pro-Russian east and south. Soon after Yanukovich opted to flee the country in what he branded as an extremist coup, a newly reconfigured parliament did away with a 2012 law on minority languages which permitted the use of two official languages in regions where the size of an ethnic minority exceeds 10 percent. Apart from the Russian-majority regions affected by this law, Hungarian, Moldovan and Romanian also lost their status as official languages in several towns in Western Ukraine. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Ukrainian deputies were wrong to cancel the law, while European parliamentarians urged the new government to respect the rights of minorities in Ukraine, including the right to use Russian and other minority languages. Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s commissioner for human rights, was far more damning in his criticism. “The attack on the Russian language in Ukraine is a brutal violation of ethnic minority rights,” he tweeted. Out of some 45 million people living in Ukraine, according to the 2013 census, some 7.6 million are ethnic Russians. Leaders of several predominately Russian-speaking regions have said they will take contr

Turkey: Corruption or noble cause?

Postmodern theories suggest that there are no facts, but only “competing narratives.” We may disagree with the ultimate rejection of claims of reality, but cannot dismiss the importance of “narratives” for understanding politics. It may sound odd, but the recent political crises in Turkey are indeed a very good case of “politics as competing narratives.” The recent grand corruption case is not a corruption case in the minds of many in Turkey, not because the ordinary supporters of the government are fanatics and/or fools and not because PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the ultimate manipulator or a kind of snake charmer. In fact, he is, but that is not and cannot be the whole story.
The PM and his party are currently trying to manipulate public opinion by presenting the corruption case as an attack against not only himself and even his government, but as an assault or plot against Turkey. It sounds and indeed it is the ultimate chutzpah, but after all, it works, and we need to understand how it works to be able to make sense of politics in Turkey. I am not sure if it was hypocrisy on behalf of the founders of the governing party to denounce their Islamist past and to redefine themselves as conservative democrats that they turned their back on their Islamist roots when they felt powerful enough, or whether it is because the AKP could not cope with the challenges of governing Turkey and foreign policy, leading it to seek to take refuge in its previous, simplistic, Islamist understanding of politics. No matter which version is true, it seems the AKP turned to base its politics on an Islamist-nationalist mission at some stage, and the PM and his close circle is not only trying to manipulate public opinion, but genuinely believes what he says in terms of his new Islamist discourse.
According to this discourse, there is no corruption but there is a wicked plan to ruin “the finances of the noble cause.” “The noble cause” is assumed to be rescuing the Islamic world from deprivation and submission to the West under the leadership of Turkey, with Erdoğan as its leader.
It is now clear that it is not secular law and justice or even jurisprudence, but Islamic law that is of relevance for Erdoğan and the leadership of the party, as well as for many of his supporters. In their eyes, “the deals with businessmen” are legitimate, since the corruption probe has been denounced by the Islamic scholar (who is accepted as a religious authority by Erdoğan) on Islamic grounds that “financial help from businessman can be accepted for the public good even if it is offered for financial deals.” Nevertheless, it is not only that the PM, the government and many AKP supporters are Islamists and, being so, do not genuinely acknowledge just a secular law, as well as a secular political system and institutions, but also believe in Islamic legitimacy.
As for Islamism, it is not a religious narrative with reference to politics, but a political narrative with reference to religion, while there is not one but many Islamist narratives. The new AKP version is based on a narrative of “a success story of the new Turkey and its great Muslim leader who is being targeted by global powers and their native collaborators.” Finally, the corruption case is no corruption case, but a confrontation of competing narratives in today’s Turkey. Turkey managed to overcome some aspects of the democracy deficit resulting from the politics of “secularism at the expense of democracy” under AKP rule, but now it is time to overcome the politics of “democracy at the expense of secularism.”
You see, after all, postmodern theorists have a point: Unless we agree on a narrative (a “secular democracy” narrative in this case) we cannot even define corruption as corruption!

Saudi women activists demand end to 'absolute' male control

Saudi women activists have petitioned the country's consultative council to back a demand to curb the "absolute authority" of male guardians over women in the ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom, a signatory said. Saudi Arabia imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic law, forbidding women to work or travel without the authorisation of their male guardians.
It is also the only country in the world that bans women from driving, and a woman cannot obtain an identification card without the consent of her guardian.
Activist Aziza Yousef told AFP that "rights activists have petitioned the Shura (consultative) Council on the occasion of the International Women's Day (on March 8) demanding an end to the absolute authority of men over women".
They demanded "measures to protect (women's) rights," in their petition to the Shura Council, she said.
Laws in the kingdom enforcing such restrictions on women "are not based on religious" teachings, said Yousef.
The petition, signed by 10 female activists, also calls for allowing women to drive. Women in Saudi must obtain permission from a male guardian to perform "certain surgeries" and to "leave the university campus during study hours," she added.
She cited a recent case in which a pregnant student had to give birth on campus after a women-only university in Riyadh denied access to paramedics.
And a university student died in February after paramedics were prevented from entering her campus because they were not accompanied by a male guardian, a must according to the strict segregation rules in the Muslim kingdom. Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia suspended a notification programme that had been running since 2012, which alerted male guardians once women under their custody left the country, even if they were travelling together. Three female members of the Shura Council presented a recommendation that women be given the right to drive in October, but the male-dominated 150-member assembly blocked the proposal. The Shura Council is appointed by the king and advises the monarch on policy, but cannot legislate.
Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Former President Zardari has felicitated Pakistan Cricket team on its victory

Former President Asif Ali Zardari has felicitated Pakistan Cricket team on its victory in the match against India today describing it as ‘spirit lifting’. He said that every player of the team, captain Misbah, the team coach and manager and PCB management is lauded by the nation over the splended performance.

China blames MUSLIM militants for train station attack by knife-wielding ‘terrorists’

Associated Press
China on Sunday blamed an unprecedented “terrorist attack” by knife-wielding assailants at a railway station that killed 33 people and injured over 130 on Islamist militants from the volatile Xinjiang province and described the slashing rampage as the country’s 9/11.
It was a macabre night at the crowded Kunming railway station, the city known for its serenity, when a group of black-clad knife and sword-wielding attackers, including two women, mowed down people at random, sending shock waves across the nation which prides itself in its watertight security.
Police fatally shot four attackers, including a woman, during the mass knife-attack which went on for 25 minutes in Kunming, the capital of southwest Yunnan province. They are searching for at least five more attackers. Over 10 “terrorist suspects” were involved in the last night’s attack, while left 33 people, including 29 civilians, dead and over 130 injured. Most of the victims sustained head injuries as the militants went on the stabbing spree. One more female suspect has been arrested and is being treated in hospital for unspecified injuries. Reports said Chinese police captured an injured woman militant who was reportedly being interrogated to get more details.
Evidence at the crime scene showed that the attack was orchestrated by separatist forces from Xinjiang, home to the mostly-Muslim Uygur minority, the municipal government of Kunming said today. TV footage showed police recovering swords carried by some of the assailants. Nothing justifies civilian slaughter in China’s “9-11″, state-run Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on the last night’s dreadful attack. “China was outraged and the world shocked after separatists from Xinjiang knifed down innocent civilians at a crowded train terminal in Kunming Saturday night,” it said. “It was a typical terrorist attack and also a severe crime against humanity. It was China’s ’9-11′”, it said.
It is the first time militants from the banned East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) from Xinjiang have been blamed for carrying out such a large-scale attack from their remote homeland.
It follows an incident in Beijing’s iconic Tiananmen Square in October which shook the country’s Communist leadership, forcing them to establish a state committee to ensure national security. The attack came ahead of the commencement of China’s Parliament beginning from tomorrow, an annual political season that lasts about a fortnight. Observers said the attack is a shock to the Chinese government as the militants chose a soft target like Kunming, which is far from tightly secured capital Beijing. The banned ETIM, an alleged al-Qaeda linked group, is fighting for the independence of Xinjiang province, which is endowed with natural resources, including oil. Last year three members of a family, including two women, tried to carry out an attack at the Forbidden city near the Tiananmen Square where the Parliament holds its session at the Great Hall of People. Five persons were killed in the attack.
The attacks point out that the ethnic conflict in Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and Afghanistan, is spilling over to mainland China.
Overseas Xinjiang groups allege severe repression by the Chinese security forces. The province is witnessing violent ethnic conflict in recent years as ethnic Muslim Uygurs, who form over 45 per cent of the provincial population, resented the settlements of China’s Han majority. Before the emergence of ETIM, the province witnessed several riots between the two communities. Senior Chinese security official Meng Jianzhu, who rushed to Kunming last night on the directive of President Xi Jinping, pledged to harshly punish terrorists in accordance with the law to ensure social stability. Meng, head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC, said the attack caused big losses to people’s lives. The terrorists were devoid of conscience as they brutally attacked unarmed civilians and exposed their anti-humanity and anti-society nature. They should be harshly punished in accordance with the law, he said. Xi, who is regarded as the most powerful Chinese leader in recent years as he headed, Presidency, CPC and the military, ordered authorities to firmly suppress terrorists’ rampant momentum, official media reported. The President, who also heads recently formed China’s national security commission, asked law enforcement agencies to crackdown on violent terrorist activities in all forms, Safeguard social stability and guarantee the safety of people’s lives and property. A day after the attack, eyewitnesses recalled the horrific moment with Kunming resident Yang Haifei saying he was buying a ticket when he saw a group of people rushed into the station and started attacking people. “I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone,” he said, adding that the attackers caught those who were slower. “They just fell on the ground.” “At first I thought it was just someone fighting, but then I saw blood and heard people scream, and I just ran,” said Liu Chen, a 19-year-old student from Wuhan City of central China’s Hubei Province, who was visiting Yunnan. The killing spree showed that terror attacks are spreading from Muslim Uygur Xinjiang to rest of the areas which makes it imperative to tighten security all across the country, an official media report here said.
“If the Tiananmen car crash incident that happened in October 2013 marked the first sign that terrorism was starting to trickle into China’s central and eastern areas, this massacre can clarify that the eastward expansion of Xinjiang terrorism is accelerating,” a report in Global Times website said today.
The attack “signals and sets alarm for the rest of China, especially large cities, that terrorism has already crept in. This new tendency pushes China’s anti-terrorism efforts into a much more severe and demanding situation,” it said. “This means other cities and provinces, which were previously believed to be unlikely to be targeted by terrorism, must prepare for any possible attacks by terrorists,” the report said. Xinjiang is not dealing with this issue alone any more. People must realise that a handful of extremists do not represent tens of millions of local residents in Xinjiang.
China’s legislators and political advisors have expressed their support for an iron-fist crackdown on terrorism after the bloody killing spree.
“We should launch a nationwide campaign against such terrorist activities and resolutely fight the terrorists,” said Yin Zhuo, director of the Expert Consultation Committee of the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Chen Shu, a deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’ s top legislature, urged a “quick and harsh crackdown on the terrorist activists”.
“All countries should join hands to fight terrorist activities like this one,” he said.

Train station mass stabbing attack 'was China's 9/11'

The chilling violence at a Chinese train station which left at least 29 people dead is being seen in China "as a 9/11 style event" says Telegraph's Tom Phillips
Officials said a group of knife-wielding "terrorists" from the restive Xinjiang region launched a premeditated attack at the Kunming Railway Station in China's southwest on Saturday night. More than 130 people were wounded. Armed riot police stood guard as people streamed into the railway station on Sunday only hours after the attack, one of the worst of its kind in China in recent memory. Police shot four of the attackers dead and captured one, state news agency Xinhua reported. About five others were on the run, it said. Xinhua quoted the Kunming city government as saying evidence at the crime scene showed the attack was carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces. Word of the violence spread quickly, with graphic pictures that showed bodies covered in blood posted to the Twitter-like microblogging service Sina Weibo – posts that were later deleted by government censors. State television showed police wrapping a long, sword-like knife in a plastic bag.
Shop and restaurant workers said hundreds of people had fled into their stores seeking refuge. Scores of patients from the attack spilt into corridors from overflowing wards at Kunming's No 1 People's Hospital where they were being treated. In the neurosurgery department, several patients had head injuries. China's domestic security chief, Meng Jianzhu, vowed those responsible would be brought to justice. Telegraph's Tom Phillips reporting from the scene said the attack recalled the fear and chaos felt after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001. "This is very much being seen here as a 9/11 style event. It's by far the worse incident of its kind in China and it will have a huge impact on what will happen here," he said.

Crimea remains calm despite Russian troop presence

All eyes rest on Ukraine's Crimea territory, where Russian troops remain on patrol in what has quickly escalated into an international crisis.

Putin takes on West over Ukraine: who blinks first?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a gamble on Ukraine and is betting that U.S. President Barack Obama will blink first. Wounded by a personal political defeat in a battle for influence over Russia's Slavic neighbor, Putin is fighting back, and presenting the crisis as a question of symmetry.
In his view, the West "stood by" and allowed armed men to direct events in the capital Kiev - now he is "standing by" as armed men extended their control over the Crimea region.
The former KGB spy blames the West for stirring passions in Kiev, encouraging an opposition to break agreements to restore peace and allowing what Moscow calls "extremists" and "fascists" to dictate political developments in Ukraine. Now authorized by parliament to deploy Russia's military in Ukraine to protect national interests and those of Russian citizens, Putin is taking on a West he feels has cut Moscow out of talks on the future of Russia's Orthodox Christian brothers.
How far he will go is the big question.
While Moscow has put 150,000 troops on high alert near Ukraine's border, it has shown no signs, yet, of sending them and denies Ukrainian allegations it sent the protesters who have hoisted Russian flags in some eastern towns. Putin is saying nothing in public on Ukraine - and has not done so since Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovich was deposed more than a week ago. At the center of attention as one Western leader after another calls to urge him not to use force, he is betting the West's response will be weak.
His calculation is that Obama has few levers at his disposal and no appetite for war over a remote Black Sea peninsula with symbolic and strategic value to Russia as home to a Russian naval base, but little economic significance. The two presidents spoke by phone for 90 minutes on Saturday. The call appeared to have ended in a stalemate.
Putin is banking on salvaging something out of a battle over Ukraine that he appeared to have won when Yanukovich spurned trade and political deals with the European Union in November, but then seemed to lose when Yanukovich was ousted after three months of protests. "The West told Putin to get lost over Ukraine," said Sergei Markov, a pro-Putin political analyst and director of the Institute for Political Studies in Moscow, underlining the depth of hurt Putin felt over Ukraine. Accusing Western powers and international organizations of trying to ignore Moscow in talks on financial assistance for Kiev, Markov said: "What we are saying is that if there are any U.N., IMF, G8 agreements without consultations with us, then we will see them as illegitimate." Reclaiming Crimea, a former Russian territory handed to Ukraine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, would win Putin kudos among core voters and especially nationalists. If the status quo established in the last few days holds, with Russian forces already in charge in Crimea, he can hope to have won back Crimea without a shot being fired in anger or the necessity of taking on another drain to the state coffers. Even if a pullback is forced on him, Putin will still portray himself as the defender of national interests and those of Russians abroad. In the eyes of many voters, he hopes, he will not have given up Ukraine without a fight. While he has been busy defending national interests, his lieutenants have been lambasting the West over Ukraine, accusing it of manipulating events and working with a government chosen by gun-toting "extremists". Combined with an orchestrated wave of nationalist indignation over attempts to limit use of the Russian language and persecute Russians in a country many consider an extension of their own, Putin's stance plays well at home. His insistence that Ukraine's new leaders stick to the terms of a European Union-brokered political agreement last month with Yanukovich goes down well. This month, his popularity ratings have bounced back to almost 70 percent, according to an opinion poll by independent pollster Levada. "Putin has not forgiven the fact that the agreement was not fulfilled and that is one of his greatest motivations. He considers he is acting in a symmetrical way," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin spin doctor. "I think that the authorities think it's very helpful that people are getting themselves worked up about this... And the majority feel in a patriotic mood about Crimea and Ukraine. I think it's positive for the Kremlin. They won't refuse action." ACTION? Whether he takes action may still depend on the West. Military intervention in Ukraine has higher stakes than the war Russia fought with Georgia in 2008 - invading Ukraine's southeast could transform Putin, a man who wanted the Sochi Winter Olympics to show Russia's modern face, into a pariah. If Western powers decide to try to punish Russia with sanctions, Putin will be likely again to pursue a "symmetrical" policy and hit back with similar moves. This would go down well with core supporters, but might risk unsettling the wealthy businessmen whose support helps cement Putin's grip on power. But there is a risk Putin could be forced into action over Crimea by the nationalist thinking that he has let loose - and this would be particularly risky if he were pushed into action to defend Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. The decision to seek authorization to send in troops looked less like a prelude to war and more like a threat aimed at getting Kiev and the West to cut a deal, Professor Mark Galeotti from the Center of Global Affairs at New York University wrote on his blog. "As the language toughens and the troops roll, though, it's getting harder to believe that common sense is going to prevail in the Kremlin." In broadcasts with Cold War overtones, state television has many times repeated footage of parliament accusing Washington of crossing a red line by warning that Moscow will face "costs" if it intervenes in Ukraine. It has run image after image of pro-Russian protesters raising the Russian flag above administrative buildings in several eastern regions, including the industrial centers of Donetsk and Kharkiv. The patriotic mood has caught on. For every dissenter wondering whether this is the worst thing Russia could do since it crushed opposition in Czechoslovakia in 1968, there are dozens more who say the West is fomenting violence. Near Red Square and the Defense Ministry in Moscow on Sunday, a few hundred protesters waved banners calling for "No War". Dozens were detained. But their numbers could not match the thousands who turned out for a demonstration for the "defense of the Ukrainian people" in central Moscow.
"Fascism will not win," the protesters chanted. "Crimea is Russia. We are for Russian unity."

Kerry threatens Russia with economic isolation over Ukrainian crisis
Kerry said G8 nations and some other countries were prepared “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia" with a wide array of options available to them
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has threatened Russia with “very serious repercussions” for Moscow’s decision to take steps towards defense of the Russian-speaking population in Crimea and other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. “Russia is in violation of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia is in violation of its international obligations,” he claimed. He indicated that the U.S. and “other countries” might take the sanctions that would isolate Russia economically in case of Moscow’s decision to introduce troops to the Ukrainian territory for the defense of national interests and the ethnic Russian population there, which the upper house of Russian parliament authorized on Saturday. Kerry said G8 nations and some other countries were prepared “to go to the hilt to isolate Russia" with a wide array of options available to them, adding that “Russia has major economic challenges." In the light of it, he made a particular stress on the “the ruble already going down” and also mentioned bans on the issuance of travel visas and freezing of assets.

Ukraine troops in Crimea change sides to back pro-Russia authorities without bloodshed
Crimea-stationed Ukrainian troops have switched sides to join forces with local pro-Russia authorities in the Russian-dominated autonomous republic of Crimea, a source in the region’s administration has said. The source has stressed the transition was peaceful and without a single shot being fired.
Some of the servicemen reportedly left their posts without prior warning, while others surrendedered letters of resignation but the majority went over to the Crimean government. According to the source, all troops will soon be sworn in by the authority of the Crimean republic.

Opinion: Crimea is Putin's bargaining chip

Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for the Ukrainian conflict is clear. As a result, Ukraine's new government and the West are in a dangerous jam, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.
On the Crimean Peninsula, events have taken a dramatic turn in recent days. The situation is dynamic, and from the beginning it has been clear that Moscow is the driving force behind the developments. The well organized and armed military officers without official badges that took control of critical spots on the peninsula were acting on behalf of the Kremlin. This also applies to the so-called pro-Russian politicians in Crimea, who have seized power in the shadow of the military command and plan to initiate the peninsula's secession from Ukraine via a referendum on March 30.
Then, there are the threatening gestures from Russia's side: military exercises, parliamentary statements and a press conference with ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. All these point to a concerted effort on Russia's part. The decision to allow the official deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine is simply the latest evidence of Russian intervention. Putin's aims and Kyiv's options
Through "Operation Crimea," the Kremlin has set up an extremely dangerous trap for the West and for the new government in Kyiv. This can be seen in Putin's strategy and options - because through his control of Crimea he is pursuing two goals. Firstly, he proactively secured the Russian Black Sea fleet base before the new government in Kyiv could recall the existing deployment treaty. Secondly, Moscow now has a bargaining chip for putting pressure on Ukraine's government. Following the ouster of Yanukovych, Putin is securing his place in the debate on Ukraine's future in a ruthless and nefarious way. If the new Ukrainian government doesn't agree to this, we can expect a new Transnistria or Abkhazia to emerge - a breakaway region with an isolated pro-Russian power structure, kept stable through a strong Russian military presence.
The new government in Kyiv now faces a difficult decision. A deployment of the Ukrainian army on the Crimean Peninsula could lead to an unimaginable disaster. The conflict could spread to the whole of southern and eastern Ukraine, the delicate economic situation could be further destabilized, and a full-blown war could erupt between Ukraine and Russia. And it is highly doubtful that the West would support a military solution.
Dilemma for the West
The initial statements issued by the US and the EU show their outrage at the developments in Crimea. But harsh words will have little impact. Putin is indifferent to what the West says or thinks about him. In addition to that, he constantly highlights the alleged demands of the ethnic Russian population of Crimea, whose safety he claims to want to ensure. As a result, the West finds itself in an uncomfortable predicament. It could retaliate with rigorous sanctions against Russia (trade restrictions, travel restrictions, account closures, eviction from the G8), which could lead to a new Cold War with negative consequences for the West's energy supply and huge investments into helping maintain the new "frontier state of Ukraine."
It's hard to imagine that the residents of western democracies would support this kind of solution. Or the West can grit its teeth for some time and silently accept Moscow's new role in Crimea, coercing the politicians in Kyiv into negotiating with Russia, which they are reluctant to do. In this way, Putin would - in a brutal way and in breach of international law - attain what the anti-Yanukovych opposition and western politicians didn't want to grant him in recent months: a strong voice in the negotiations on Ukraine's political and economic future.

Afghanistan: Kabul Residents Arrested for Celebratory Gunfire
The Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoIA) acknowledged on Sunday that a number of Kabul residents were arrested on Saturday night for celebrating the National Cricket Team's historic win over Bangladesh by firing guns into the air. After Cricket Team's victory over Bangladesh Saturday night, which marks Afghanistan's first cricket victory over a Test-playing nation, hundreds of Kabul residents poured out into the streets to celebrate. The public revelry Saturday night was not on the scale of that seen after the National Football Team won its first international title back in September, however, there were some similar sights. Afghan men danced and cheered, hung out of car windows and gunshots were heard around the capital. MoIA spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi said that the accused men's guns were seized and they could face legal repurcussions if found guilty in court. "The investigations are ongoing and they face serious punishment," Sediqqi said. A number of Kabul residents criticized those who expressed their happiness with the win by shooting skyward, indicating support for the Ministry's move to curtail the behavior. "We saw a 12-years old boy last night, and he was firing," one Kabul resident told TOLOnews. "He is the relative of a government official or supported by someone powerful."

Afridi secures a win for Pakistan

Pakistan defeated India in the 6th Asia Cup fixture played at Mirpur on Sunday. Afridi gave the ball a "Boom Boom" treatment securing a win for Pakistan. Pakistan bowlers restricted India to 245 for eight in the fifty overs in the sixth match of the 12th Asia Cup here at the Shere Bangla National Stadium on Sunday. Sent into bat by Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq, India could not accelerate the run rate due to accurate bowling by Pakistan spinners and pace bowlers despite three individual half-centuries. Ambati Rayudu scored 58, Rohit Sharma made 52 and Ravindra Jadeja remained not out on 52. Only three more batsmen – Ajinkya Rahane (23), Dinesh Karthik (23) and Shikhar Dhawan (10) - could get into the double figure. For Pakistan, off-spinners Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez grabbed three wickets for 40 and two for 38 while debutant fast bowler Mohammad Talha also captured two wickets for 22. Pakistan made one change giving international cap to fast bowler Mohammad Talha in place of Anwar Ali while India also made one change as leg-spinner Amit Mishra replaced Stuart Binny. Pakistan and India, both have played two matches each so far in the tournament, winning one and losing one.

You can help improve the safety of women in Afghanistan
Do you remember the 12-year old Afghan girl Sahar Gul? She was sold into marriage, then chained in a basement, tortured and sexually assaulted by her husband and his family, because she would not become a prostitute for them. Her case shocked the world, and her abusers were sent to jail. But last month Afghanistan was on the brink of changing the law to enable this kind of abuse to be meted out against girls and women across Afghanistan. It sounds too horrendous to be true, but the proposed law would have allowed people to attack their wives, sisters and daughters without fear of punishment, because family members would not have been allowed to testify as witnesses to the crimes. If they could not testify, the woman’s claim would be unlikely to be believed – and victims of violence would have been silenced.
The law was passed recently by the conservative Afghan parliament, but after a huge outcry from women within Afghanistan, as well as the international community, President Karzai decided at the 11th hour not to sign the law into force. Only a few months ago, Afghan women also were at risk of another brutal law, which would have legalised public stoning to death for people committing the crime of 'adultery', an allegation usually directed at women. Again, after an international outcry, the law was not approved – however, these kind of last-minute reprieves may be coming to an end. In the last 2 years, conservative decision-makers in Afghanistan have made several attempts to return to Taliban-era repression of girls and women, and the situation is becoming even more dangerous for Afghan girls and women. On 5 April, Afghans will elect a new President, and whoever is elected may not want to make such politically unpopular decisions to support women's safety and freedom. If you'd like to show your support for women in Afghanistan, check out Amnesty's campaign page( ) and be sure to sign the forthcoming petition calling on the incoming President to protect women's rights.

Obama's contingency plans in Afghanistan

How American security goals can be advanced after US troops withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of the year.
By informing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, our military, our NATO allies and the American people on February 25 that the US is finally planning an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan if Karzai does not sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA), US President Barack Obama has acted prudently and in a strategically sound manner. Currently, the US and our NATO allies have about 50,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from about 100,000 about two years ago. The United Nations and NATO mandate to keep these foreign troops on Afghan soil expires at the end of this year.
Therefore, the president must assume that these troops, and all of their equipment, will have to be completely out of the country and their bases in Afghanistan closed within 10 months. Therefore, it is prudent that the military begin now to plan to "accomplish an orderly withdrawal" by the end of the year. By waiting until later in the year to begin planning for a complete withdrawal, Obama would create a logistical nightmare for our forces and those of our allies. In fact, our NATO allies demanded clarity on the US position before their February 27 defense ministers meeting. There's no doubt that the US and its allies would like to leave a residual force of between 3,000 and 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014. These troops would be stationed at four military bases throughout the country, so that they could continue to train Afghan Security Forces, conduct drone strikes on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and conduct counterterrorism missions within Afghanistan in conjunction with Afghan security forces. Leaving this residual force advances several core American security goals. It would increase the likelihood that the post-Karzai administration would be able to prevent the Taliban from taking over all or part of the country as they did when the Soviets withdrew in 1989, and forestall al-Qaeda central from reestablishing itself in the country.
Not a colonial power
However, there are - at least - five benefits to Obama's announcement that the US is planning for a complete withdrawal of ISAF forces. First, it sends a signal to the people of Afghanistan that, unlike the British and the Russians, which did occupy Afghanistan in the past, the US is not an occupying or colonial power. This will help undermine the narrative of US occupation that the Taliban and other groups use to rally support among the Afghan people and turn them against the central Afghan government. And while the majority of Afghans want us to remain, at least for a short time, not all of them are convinced we would really willingly leave Afghanistan in the future. Planning for a full withdrawal at the end of the year establishes that the US is serious about leaving Afghanistan, whether now or in the future. Second, it not only puts pressure on Karzai to make a deal with us before he leaves office, but to negotiate a BSA that is acceptable to the Obama administration and the American people, i.e. one that gives immunity to American forces from the Afghan justice system. Given some of Karzai's statements and actions over the last couple of years, it is clear that he believes that the US wants a deal to keep troops and bases in Afghanistan more than it actually does, and will tolerate nearly any provocation as long as a deal is reached.
For example, he recently released 65 prisoners that had US and Afghan blood on their hands, against the wishes of the American commander. In addition, Karzai may believe that given the deteriorating security situation in Iraq after the complete US withdrawal there, the US may be desperate to avoid a similar situation in Afghanistan, giving him the upper hand in the negotiations. Obama's announcement makes it clear to Karzai that the US is willing to leave Afghanistan without a BSA. Third, it has forced all of the candidates running to replace Karzai in the April election to take a positive stand on the issue. As opposed to Karzai's posturing and foot-dragging, the candidates' support of the BSA more accurately reflects the will of the Afghan people. Fourth, Obama's action will allow the US adequate time to begin exploring other options to protect its interests in the region, if we are not allowed to keep troops on the ground in Afghanistan. This could include stationing forces in one of the Central Asian Republics. And while this is not an ideal solution, given their human rights records, we have used these bases extensively during the conflict in Afghanistan. Fifth, seeing Obama stand up to Karzai and plan for a complete withdrawal of US forces could persuade a war-weary American people and Congress to continue to provide financial aid to the Afghan government. Even if we are allowed to keep troops on the ground after December 31, 2014, the US and its allies will still need to provide the foreign aid that the Afghan government depends on. In Fiscal Year 2011, foreign aid amounted to nearly $16 bn - about equal to Afghanistan's GDP. Since the majority of the American people no longer think that the Afghan war was worth fighting, particularly given Karzai's erratic behaviour and his lack of appreciation for their sacrifices of blood and treasure, they welcome Obama finally laying down the law to the Afghan leader. There is little doubt that Obama, our military commanders, and our NATO allies wish that this situation was already resolved. However, Karzai's actions left Obama little choice but to call his bluff. Hopefully, Karzai's successor will have time to make a deal before it becomes logistically impossible to do so. But, even if a satisfactory BSA can be concluded with Karzai or his successor by the end of the year, we must keep in mind that the deal would only be for a limited period of time. US and NATO forces would still withdraw completely within several years. Ultimately, the Afghan government and its citizens will have to determine their own future.

Pakistan: Ceasefire?

The TTP’s offer of a one-month ceasefire puts the government in a difficult position. It comes after the militant group was given a chance to negotiate but spurned it by refusing to halt attacks while talks were ongoing. The military has started pounding TTP hideouts from the air and backed it up with ground forces and so the government may see the call of a ceasefire as a sign that the military option is working. The TTP appears to be under pressure as only a couple of days back its spokesman had rejected a unilateral ceasefire. The group does have a history of using negotiations as an opportunity to regroup and then resume its attacks. This may give pause to the government as it formulates its response to the offer, hopefully not unexpected as there are reports that the interior minister was conducting secret diplomacy. The leadership also needs to be aware that in a month or so the weather in the tribal areas will be more conducive to fighting the TTP on the ground so a pause right now may not be the worst idea. Thus preparations for military action must continue even if the talks are held on the sidelines. Before responding in the affirmative, though, a clarification is needed from the TTP about what it means by a ceasefire. Is it promising only to stop fighting military troops in the tribal areas in return for being left alone or will it also spare the rest of the country from bombings? The negotiating committees chosen by both the TTP and the government are still intact so they can be utilised to hash out the details.
If the offer is accepted, the government needs to make it clear that a single attack will be seen as a breach of the ceasefire. Just a few hours before the ceasefire statement was made, polio workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were attacked by militants. Such unprovoked, cowardly killings, cannot be tolerated.Nawaz Sharif may also want to consider holding a debate in the National Assembly to find out what the people’s representatives think. The All-Parties Conference may have settled on the negotiations option but the TTP’s conduct since then may give the political parties some pause before reiterating support for the ceasefire. It also needs to be made clear to the TTP that a ceasefire does not mean a withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas. There is too much cause to doubt the TTP’s intentions for us to take it at its word. Input from the military will be crucial too. The army chief must have told the civilian leadership just how confident it is of victory over the TTP. The ultimate aim must be neutering the militants’ ability to attack at will. The ceasefire offer will be a test of how the government thinks that can best be achieved.

Syria and Pakistan

In the wake of recent visit of Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Pakistan's policy position on Syria keeps coming up for public debate, as much for the initial obfuscation on the part of government on the outcome of visit as for the spanner thrown in the works by a news agency report. In fact it was the report which set off the debate by claiming that Pakistan agreed to sell anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to the Kingdom for onward supply to anti-government Syrian rebel forces. And this, the report suggested, was in furtherance of the Pak-Saudi agreement inked by the two sides during the visit to help set up a 'transitional government' in Syria. To the public mind, and rightly so, such a policy shift at a time when most of the challenges to our national security stemming from the growing menace of sectarianism are already on our hands, would add to our woes. All that the government had been saying up till then about the Syrian civil war that Pakistan is greatly concerned over gross violation of human rights and would like the two sides in the civil war to hammer out a peaceful solution. Never ever there was any suggestion made by Islamabad in support of a 'transitional government' in Damascus, which simply stated means the ouster of the Assad regime. That the Kingdom's number two had come, on the heels of a high-profile long-awaited visit by the Saudi foreign minister, at the time their erstwhile guest Nawaz Sharif is in power in Pakistan - perceptibly there was this rich concoction that tended to strengthen the impression that Pakistan was going to join the Syrian opposition. In fact there are even rumours of volunteers being enlisted. So there are now the PM Advisor Sartaj Aziz and Foreign Office spokesperson on job to inform the nation of the truth in the matter. There is nothing new in the Pak-Saudi joint statement, he told the National Assembly, adding 'it was in keeping with the declared position on Syria...the UN-backed Action Group in its Geneva meeting on June 30, 2012 had proposed setting up transitional government including members of government and opposition with executive powers'. And as for the much talked about sale-purchase of arms the Prince Salman travelled on to New Delhi from Islamabad and there too he signed 'defence pact aimed to help defence personnel of the two sides to work closely and learn from each other's experiences'. As for the arms sold to Saudi Arabia making way to Syria the Foreign Office spokesman insists it is not possible given that defence deals invariably carry end-users certificate which ensures that our arms are not resold or provided to a third country. So far so good; but one would have beef with the spokesperson when she rejects public criticism saying ill-informed people are liable to misunderstand the outcome of the Saudi visit, and added that "Bottom line is that foreign policy represents your national interests'. She is right but only to the extent of generality of her remark.
A large majority in Pakistan looks at the Syrian imbroglio in its wider context, both for its regional complexity and its negative impact on the unity of Muslim world. Given that civil war in Syria is increasingly becoming a direct clash between the Iran-supported Assad regime and Saudi-backed opposition it tends to suck in volunteers from the Shia-Sunni divide. Already, as poignantly pointed out by Prince Karim Aga Khan in his speech to a joint sitting of Canadian parliament, the tensions between the two denominations "have increased massively in scope and intensity recently and have been exacerbated by external interventions". "In Pakistan, Malaysia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan it is becoming a disaster". He aptly compared the Shia-Sunni divide with the situation in Ireland with Catholics and Protestants pitted against each other, and warned against being oblivious to this reality. Not that we think Pakistan is being led to the battlefields blindfold, but do detect the shift in our foreign policy on civil war in Syria. That Geneva-I backed the idea of transitional government and therefore this understanding with Saudi Arabia - two years on we find the argument a little hollow. And we want a transitional government in Syria because it would serve our 'national interests' - we need to redefine as to what constitutes a national interest. Only at the risk of being dubbed as grossly obstinate and irrelevant one would refuse to admit that to our blood-soaked sectarian showdown is as much a national creation as the 'kindness' of our foreign friends. No wonder then when Foreign Office justifies shift in policy on Syria in line with national interests the people look around and wonder.

Gunship helicopters kill five suspected militants in Khyber

In response to the militant attack on a polio team in Jamrud which left at least 11 dead on Saturday, security forces’ personnel launched a massive assault Sunday morning on militant hideouts in parts of Bara and destroyed a number of them.
Security sources confirmed that gunship helicopters struck the headquarters of Mullah Tamanche involved in the attack on polio workers. The Ayubi Markaz of Mullah Tamanche in Bara was destroyed in the airstrikes whereas five suspected militants were killed, the sources said. Gunship helicopters also targeted militant hideouts in Kalanga and surrounding areas and a number of them were destroyed. The locals in the area said shelling was ongoing.

Relatives of missing Baloch looking to UN as last ray of hope

After exhausting their years-long efforts, the relatives of the Baloch missing persons are now looking to the United Nations (UN) as the last ray of hope for the recovery of their near and dear ones.
Mama Qadeer Baloch, who led the long march of the missing persons’ relatives to Islamabad from Quetta via Karachi, told a press conference on Saturday that they had lost hope in parliament, Supreme Court and other state institutions.
The participants - 14 men, nine women and three children - started the long march from Quetta on October 27, 2013. The first phase, a 730-kilometre long march, ended in Karachi on November 23 and the second phase began in mid-December. “It was not easy to travel around 3,000 kilometres but the participants were determined to reach Islamabad and submit their demand to the UN,” said the 60-year-old Baloch rights activist outside the National Press Club (NPC).
Mr Baloch claimed that he had come to Islamabad on the request of UN officials, adding: “We will submit our demand to the UN on Monday.
“On our way to Islamabad, agencies threatened us. In Renala Khurd, a truck ran over the participants of the long march, leaving two of them, including a woman, injured. We handed over the driver to the police but he was released.”
He said the marchers stayed in Renala Khurd for one week unsuccessfully trying to get a case registered against the driver but later decided to continue the journey. “In Gujranwala, we were stopped by the police and told to go back,” he said. Mr Baloch added that even on Friday night they were threatened by the agencies in Islamabad.
“We were instructed to go back but we changed our residence and shifted to a building near the UN office,” he said.
Mr Qadeer claimed that he was in contact with the UN, adding: “The future of Balochistan has been decided and soon the people will know about it.” He also said the issue of the Baloch missing persons would also be decided within two months. “The government of Pakistan, parliamentarians and the Supreme Court are helpless in front of the agencies due to which the number of enforced disappearances is increasing.” He claimed that 19,200 persons had gone missing in Balochistan and bodies of another 2,200 had been recovered. The operation in Dera Bugti is still going on and on Saturday 19 persons were killed there,” he said. In reply to questions, Mr Qadeer said he was not getting any support from outside the country. Awami National Party (ANP) leader Bushra Gohar, who had come to receive the participants of the long mach, said the government should not ignore the protesters.
“The government of Punjab has been making world records. The relatives of the missing persons have also made a record which will not be ignored by the international community. Parliament should listen to them,” she said. Farzana Majeed, one of the participants, said they had contacted politicians of Balochistan but they were helpless in recovering the missing persons.
Farah Azeem Shah, a former member of the Balochistan Assembly, while talking to Dawn said she had come to show solidarity with the people of Balochistan. Afzal Butt, the president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), said it was the responsibility of the state to recover the missing persons.
“Only those can understand the pain of the relatives of missing persons who have also lost their loved ones,” he said.
Earlier, when the marchers reached the NPC, security guards closed its gates and did not allow them to enter the premises.
The marchers chanted slogans against the management of the press club.
However, the NPC management said the press conference of the long march participants was not scheduled.

Pakistan-Cuba: Friends indeed

We are so used to hearing bad news that when the slightest glimmer of positivity reaches us, we have cause for celebration. The first graduating batch of Pakistani doctors will receive their degrees after seven years of study in medical colleges in Cuba. The total number of students in this first lot is 308 and it is a hopeful sign that they have graduated from renowned colleges and received training of such high standard that would not have been possible back home. These doctors are part of 1,000 Pakistani youngsters from humble backgrounds who have been offered full scholarships by the socialist government of Cuba. The idea for this kind of help came in 2005 when doctors from Cuba came to Pakistan to give hands-on attention to the many thousands of victims of the massive earthquake that shook the northern areas of Pakistan in the country’s biggest ever natural disaster. During their medical and rehabilitation efforts, the Cuban doctors noticed the lack of sound knowledge and medical advances in our country, and just how important it was to educate aspiring students who did not have the means in the field of medicine. Not only did these Cuban doctors serve Pakistan with distinction and dedication, they conveyed the need for proper education back to the government in their home country, which went on to offer the 1,000 scholarships. What was the catch? Only that, once these students graduated, they help their fellow countrymen back in Pakistan with their new found education and training.
Cuba has one of the very best medical and healthcare systems in the world with students arriving from all over to learn and train.
That 1,000 of our youngsters were provided this opportunity is a creditable deed indeed. One must also consider that Cuba is a country under US sanctions for over 50 years, suffering from economic hardships. It has a hard time sustaining itself much less students from other countries on its roll but it has generously managed to take this big step for Pakistani students. One must admit that out of all our ‘friends’ and allies, no one has ever quietly stepped in to do something this nice for our people without any strings attached. Cuba sends many of its medical experts to other countries for applause-worthy medical services and is now helping others to become doctors of such worth. It is hoped that Cuba recovers soon from the hardships that bind it and that more than these initial 1,000 scholarships are renewed for our young aspiring doctors.

Pakistan: MQM’s adulation of the army

By Lal Khan
The main character of the petit bourgeoisie is its erratic and impatient nature. In periods of social lull and stagnation, this class, in its relentless quest to join the ruling elite, becomes the foot soldiers of reaction
The regular provocative and quixotic statements of the MQM’s leadership have become a sort of norm in the political decay Pakistani society has been passing through in the last few decades. Altaf Hussain, in another bizarre outburst from his bubble in London, has once again traversed the ridiculous to arrest the dwindling popularity of the MQM and his personal cult, which is already limited to the particular constituency of an ethnic group. Altaf Hussain’s outburst on a private television channel on Tuesday expounded: “Pakistan is more important than democracy for us and we cannot imperil our country in the name of democracy. If the country survives, democracy would flourish. If the elected regime does not join hands with the army for getting rid of the terrorists then I would suggest the military to step forward on its own.”
The erratic love/hate relationship of the MQM and the army has been ongoing for almost two decades, reflecting the unity and discord of both parties’ vested interests. The people of Pakistan are regularly subjected to the MQM leadership’s public outbursts, oscillating between hysterical displays of extreme hostility, including vile aggressiveness bordering on treason against the state, and opportunistic conciliation with wild gestures of praise and sycophancy. The origins and the rise of the MQM as a mass party of the mainly Urdu-speaking migrants from India after partition in 1947 are deeply rooted in a period of reaction rather than a revolutionary upheaval. It was the darkest hour in Pakistan’s history when the brutal military dictator Ziaul Haq was tormenting society with vicious attacks against the workers and the oppressed masses. The PPP and the left were the main victims of this tyrannical rule. This cruelty in the name of Islam was, on the one hand, trying to break the resistance of advanced sections of society fighting against this exploitative system and, on the other, while using religion and beliefs, Zia was callously trying to drive a wedge between the advanced and primitive sections of society.
Karachi was not just the main commercial, financial and industrial centre of Pakistan but also the bastion of the Pakistani proletariat with a rich tradition of struggle and militancy. The MQM’s birth and subsequent rise on an ethnic basis in Karachi was engineered and patronised by the martial law regime and, subsequently, this venomous prejudice was injected into the social streams of Pakistan’s largest metropolis to break the unity of the workers and their impeccable opposition to the Zia regime. The foundations of the MQM were a paradoxical mix of mainly middle-class students from two ideological adversary student organisations: the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) and the National Students Federation (NSF). With the ebbing of the class struggle after 1972 in Karachi, the nationalistic, religious, sectarian and ethnic prejudices of the past came to the fore. The Mohajirs, faced with a certain social alienation in these rising divisions, converged towards this relatively new student organisation, the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO), which later morphed into the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) with patronage from mafia capitalism. The MQM’s assertion to date is probably correct when it says that it is a middle class organisation.
The main character of the petit bourgeoisie is its erratic and impatient nature. In revolutionary periods some sections, particularly individuals, can play an important role in movements but in periods of social lull and stagnation, this class, in its relentless quest to join the ruling elite becomes the foot soldiers of reaction. From Nazi Germany to present day religious fundamentalism, reaction and fascism derive their social basis from this very class. In its insatiable greed for wealth it resorts to deceptive manoeuvres, violent means and criminal activities in the garb of piety and civility. Karl Marx prophetically analysed the class character of the petit bourgeois in his epic work, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “But such an individual, because he represents the petit bourgeoisie, that is, a transition class, in which the interests of two classes simultaneously mutually blunt each other, imagines himself elevated above class antagonism generally. These sophists concede that a privileged class confronts them, but they, along with all the rest of the nation, form the people. What they represent is the people’s rights; what interests them is the people’s interests. Accordingly, when a struggle is impending, they do not need to examine the interests and positions of the different classes. They do not need to weigh their own resources too critically. They have merely to give the signal and the people, with all its inexhaustible resources, will fall upon the oppressors. Now, if, when it comes to the actual performance, their interests prove to be uninteresting and their potency impotence.”
Being in power for most of the last three decades, the MQM is failing to whip up ethnic hatred and frenzy to sustain its social base. In the façade of nationalism, secularism, liberalism and religious bigotry, they have always served this rotting capitalism. The call for a military dictatorship to counteract ‘terrorism’ lays bare the bankruptcy of its political role. This only reinforces the impotence of the political representatives of a corrupt and reactionary capitalist class and its dependency on the state institutions to protect their crimes. That is where their weakness against the military manifests itself. It is not an accident that the main thrust of the MQM’s propaganda is the elimination of feudalism, only the remnants of which remain in Pakistan. It condones and extorts financial booty from the mafia capitalism that is dominating social relations and devastating human existence. The military uses this ethnic tool for its own ends but when it tries to become a Frankenstein monster it tries to rein it in. That has been one of the main causes of the ongoing violence in Karachi for more than two decades. Now, when there are more contenders in the field of this political crime and social repression, the conflagration has escalated. The decline of the MQM’s social support has made it more vulnerable and frazzled with internal conflicts morphing into this raging internecine bloodshed. The military will not bailout a force losing potency. Hence the MQM’s desperate gestures of adulation towards the army will not get much of a response.
As the crisis worsens, the disenchantment, indifference and revulsion towards the incumbent politics and parties as a whole are intensifying. There is a huge vacuum. The military is incapacitated by its own burgeoning internal crisis to take direct power. The social and economic crisis is too deep, too immense and excruciatingly acute for the present system to resolve. There is a seething revolt amongst the masses beneath the surface. When that volcanic lava erupts into a renewed class struggle, it will leave no stone unturned. It will go beyond all the structures and norms that seem to be eternal.