Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Obama Unveils 2015 Budget; Republicans Dismissive

President Obama has sent the U.S. Congress his proposed budget of $3.9 trillion for fiscal year 2015 that he hopes will bridge the gap between rich and poor in America. The president unveiled his spending plan at a bilingual elementary school in Washington, D.C. “It’s a roadmap for creating jobs with good wages and expanding opportunity for all Americans," said President Obama. The plan includes more money for early childhood education, tax breaks for the working poor, and increased funding for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure - as well as job training. All this, Obama says, will help put more Americans back to work. But his proposed budget is likely to run into big challenges in Congress, where a skyrocketing deficit and America's slow recovery from recession are a focus in upcoming elections. Republican lawmakers want spending cuts and a reduced deficit. They argue that government spending is not the key to reducing poverty. Senator Mitch McConnell: "Since 2009, the government has spent almost $18 trillion. Yet millions, millions of middle class Americans continue to suffer, whether in the unemployment line, or in jobs that barely allow them to get by. It is time the president realizes that doubling down on the same failed policies is not going to work," said McConnell. Opposition lawmakers have already declared the administration's defense portion of the budget dead on arrival. It calls for Army troop levels to be reduced to their lowest levels since before World War II.

Kunming attack prompts call for strengthened anti-terrorism legislation

Legislators and political advisors have proposed improving legislation to counter terrorism following the deadly terrorist attack that killed 29 civilians and injured 143 others.
"We advise the National People's Congress (NPC) to make a special arrangement for anti-terrorism legislation," said Zhou Hanmin, a legal expert and a political advisor.
Zhou suggested the country's top legislature make a decision to improve laws against terrorism and work out a timetable to advance the agenda. Local legislatures could make their own regulations accordingly, he added.
The NPC's standing committee passed a decision to improve anti-terrorism work in October 2011, but it was never made into a law. Zhou said it is international practice to strengthen anti-terrorism efforts at the legal front. George W. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act 45 days after the September 11 terrorist attack.
Another political advisor, Zhu Yilong, said China already has a legal framework for the effort against terrorism based on the Constitution, the Criminal Code and the extradition law, but much more needs to be done. Dilnar Abdulla, a Uygur NPC deputy said improving anti-terrorism legislation is definitely necessary, adding that she hopes people would realize terrorists' "ulterior secessionist motive and the destructive nature of their acts."
A group of knife-wielding attackers slashed people at the square in front of a train station in southwest China's Kunming City on Saturday.Police shot to death four of them at the square and had captured the four others as of Monday. Nurlan Abdumankin, a political advisor from the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, also urged the nation's top political advisory body to conduct in-depth study on the issue of religious extremism.
"The rise of religious extremist activities has instigated ethnic secessionist thought and terrorist acts. Such thought has been used to radicalize people to commit crimes of terror," Abdumankin said.
Many advisors say one of the lessons the nation must learn from the tragedy in Kunming is that citizens should be better prepared against such acts of terror with knowledge and skills. Compiling brochures on anti-terrorism can be a good place to start empowering citizens, they said.

Putin in speech on Ukraine makes clear Russia isn't on anyone's side, but opponent of anti-constitutional coups - expert

Experts said that the Russian President's statements that he made during his meeting with journalists on March, 4 were important and accurate regarding the current situation in Ukraine. Experts believe that the head of Russia did not only dot the i's, but also outlined the prospects and scenarios of further Russian actions in the current political situation.
In his speech Vladimir Putin made ​​it clear not only for the government of Ukraine but also for the countries of the European Union and the United States that Russia is not on anyone's side, but the opponent of the anti-constitutional coups. This opinion was expressed in an interview to "Voice of Russia" by Alexey Martynov, the director of the International Institute of the newest states:
"Those forces and leaders of certain countries who support the unconstitutional practice of coups and interceptions put into question the entire system of international law. But by putting it into question, they should be ready, that the same practice of armed coups can be easily applied to them. Surely they don't want it and they believe that this is possible only in Ukraine and it is not going to happen in Europe. But it will happen and that's what Vladimir Putin was talking about".
Western countries were trying to put psychological pressure on Russia and used threats to exclude it from the G8 due to the situation in Ukraine, but have been mistaken in their expectations. They didn't take into consideration that national interests are much more important for Russia than any prestigious event, stated Pavel Svyatenkov, the leading expert of historical perspective and political scientist: " Of course, it is our priority to defend our position in Ukraine and to protect the interests of the Russian-speaking population. Putin said it right, it's okay if G8 decides not to come. National interests are above all that. But I think they will still come. Within a few weeks, the conflict will shift from the acute phase to a mild one and then it will become clear that it is better to build a relationship with Russia than to damage it. Especially considering that Russia has strategic interests in Ukraine and to ignore it from the West would be a big mistake".
Vladimir Putin shared with the EU and the US his method of resolving the situation. The West now has to answer the question: how much are they willing to help to resolve the political crisis in Ukraine. Alexei Mukhin, CEO of the Center for Political Information comments: "Currently the ball is on that part of the field, where European Union and the United States is in charge. If they really want to stop crisis in Ukraine by political methods, they have to create control-contact group that would consist out of four parties: Ukraine itself, and here they would have to take certain steps towards Russia as Russia doesn't accept new Ukrainian government, Russia, EU and the US. In general, that means that every part of this group will have to search for a compromise with all the other participants and find a way out of this complex situation. Those countries and political groups, which followed the development of the crisis, must understand that if Vladimir Putin made a similar statement from the start, there wouldn't have been such psychological effect. And by making it, at least in part, Russia has stabilized the crumbling political system of Ukraine and has ensured that the process of escalation of the military conflict has been discontinued as well as the attacks from the west towards east and south of Ukraine".
Current statements of Vladimir Putin regarding the Ukrainian issue are not only important and vital for the Russian and European politicians but also for the post-soviet countries. For instance, for Belarus as well thinks Yuri Shevtsov, political scientist and director of the Center for European Integration:
"For Belarus it is important that Putin has underlined the fact that no region will be dissolved from Ukraine. Thus, he supported the principle of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is important because a few days ago Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko talked about the same thing. Here they have a common position for the same principle question. Putin's statements go along with the opinions that share Belarus authorities. We don't have any miscommunication between two countries, like we had, for example, on the question regarding the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia".
Putin's speech is an open statement that Russia does not want to go into war with Ukraine, said in an interview with "Voice of Russia," Ravshan Abdullayev, analyst, the head of the Research Fund "Eurasia" in Tajikistan: "I think during the last few days, after the Federation Council has approved Putin's request for troop deployment, Russia has very seriously analyzed economical, political and other possible risks. In particular, the possibility of the CIS population that might begin to fear Russia. The fact that Putin held press conference means that Russia decided to seek peaceful ways to normalize relations with Ukraine. Russia has shown there will be no war".
The expert is sure: what happened on Independent Square is not new. The same thing has already happened in various republics of the former USSR. Therefore, nowadays war will hardly solve anything. Now it is important to understand who, why and what for is trying to undermine the unity of the former Soviet Union.

Kerry Pledges $1 Bln Loan During Kiev Visit

US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged $1 billion in US loan guarantees, offering much-needed financial help for Ukraine’s new government during his visit to Kiev on Tuesday.
Along with the loan, the US was also ready to provide technical support for the country's central bank and finance ministry, Kerry said.
Ukraine’s economy is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy as it tackles a punishing balance-of-payments crisis. President Obama said after introducing the 2015 US budget that the proposed aid package would “stabilize the economy in Ukraine, help to make sure that fair and free elections take place very soon and as a consequence help de-escalate the crisis.” Kerry’s visit to Kiev, the highest-level since the ouster of the pro-Russian government 10 days ago, came amid reports of large deployments of apparently Russia-commanded troops in Crimea.
The US wants Russia to "return its troops to the barracks," Kerry said Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the deployments earlier in the day and said a military intervention in Russia’s western neighbor would be a last resort to defend the interests of the region’s Russian-speaking majority. "Russia has talked about Russian-speaking citizens being under siege. They're not," Kerry told reporters in Kiev.
“I think it’s is clear that Russia has been working hard to create a pretext for being able to invade further,” the top US diplomat said.
He admitted Moscow has "legitimate" interests in the country, such as a naval base in Crimea, and called on Russia to start direct negotiations with the interim authorities in Kiev and to engage in other bilateral and international diplomatic efforts. Simultaneously, US President Barack Obama delivered a similar message in Washington. Russia may have legitimate interests in Ukraine, but “that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state,” the US leader said.
“We have said that if in fact there is any evidence out there that Russian speakers or Russian natives or Russian nationals are in any way being threatened, there are ways of dealing with that through international mechanisms,” Obama said.
“I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations, but I don't think that's fooling anybody,” he continued.

Ukrainians and Russians in New York want peaceful resolution

As tensions rise between Russia and the Ukraine, members of the large ethnic communities in New York City pray for a peaceful resolution

Get the Phone: Malala Admits She Has No Cell

Malala Yousafzai may be the only teenager who doesn't have a mobile phone — and is willing to admit it.
The girl who was shot by the Taliban for daring to want an education set off a chorus of chuckles Monday night when she said she didn't own a handset during a conference showcasing cell phone provider Vodafone's initiatives to support women.
With Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao in the front row, it's a good bet she'll get one soon — and with the best 4G available. If not, International Development Minister Justine Greening offered to give her a spare. The admission charmed the crowd that had already melted into her enthusiastic appeal that children, especially girls, must be guaranteed the right to an education.

Malala Yousafzai Brings Literacy to Women via Mobile Phones

Malala Yousafzai is making good on her plans to change the world, in this case, one phone at a time. The 16-year-old is teaming up with the international phone company Vodafone to provide “mobile-based literacy learning” to 569 million women and girls around the world who can’t read or write.
Yousafzai gained international recognition when she endured a shocking shooting by the Taliban in her hometown of Mingora, Pakistan, where she was championing education for girls who are usually pulled out before secondary school. After Yousafzai attack she moved to England for surgery and recovery, and wrote her first book last year, entitled I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and has continued to speak out for women’s educational rights, including access to technology.
Access to a cell phone and the web can be a great combination to prevent all kinds of ills, Vodafone Foundation director Andrew Dunnett told Wired.
Dunnett alluded to the Foundation's newly released report, which estimates that connecting more women globally on mobile phones could help pull 5.3 million out of illiteracy by 2020, and as a knock-on effect help reduce the number of domestic violence attacks perpetrated against women by 80,000 during the same time frame. The latter can be deduced from an increased access to the right information, an increased sense of empowerment through education and access to mobile crisis alert systems. Yousafzai will officially announce the phone company's partnership with her charity, the Malala Fund at today's Connected Women Summit in London.

Fizza Malik: Face of Pakistan's latest tragedy

Young Pakistani lawyer Fizza Malik is being seen by many as the face of the latest tragedy in Pakistan's conflict. The country's media and social networks have seen an outpouring of grief since it emerged she had been killed in Monday's attack on a local court in Islamabad, reports BBC Urdu's Iram Abbasi.
"I wish my sister had listened and come with me to Dubai," said her brother Ali. Aged 23, Fizza had just qualified as a lawyer. She was working on a criminal case in the court in the city's F-8 area when militants mounted a suicide gun and bomb attack on the premises.
She used to love Pakistan so much that she never wanted to settle abroad but who knew her own country will become her killer?" her mother told the BBC, with tears in her eyes.
"My Fizza was so beautiful she didn't have to die so young."
Ms Malik graduated from Islamabad School of Law last year under a distance learning programme with the UK's University of Northumbria and had been practising for only a very short time. She was the only sister of two brothers who both work in Dubai. Her other brother Asad was weeping openly on his mother's shoulder when I entered the family house. "The menace of terrorism took my sister away - no brother could feel his sister is safe if she steps out of house to work," he said as he remembered their last phone conversation. Her father told me how caring his daughter had been: "We've sacrificed our daughter and it'll be in vain if this country doesn't stand up against terrorism. Will the government honour our sacrifice?"
Ms Malik had lost the sight of one of her eyes and had been receiving treatment in the US but her friend Ahmed told the BBC she had been so ambitious "even that didn't stop her from pursuing her goal of being the best criminal lawyer in the country". At least 11 people, including a judge and several other lawyers, were among those killed and more than 20 others were wounded in the assault on the court. Colleagues and friends remembered a young woman brimming with energy and potential in an article on the Dawn news website. "A life snuffed out," read the headline in Express Tribune. News of her death spread rapidly on Twitter. "We bury r children & move on. No change," read a message from human rights activist Alizeh Iqbal Haider.
"#RIP all those who are not among us today," tweeted Nazrana Yousufzai.

Ancient virus resurrected after 30,000 years, scientists say

Melting snow and ice in Siberia has unleashed a 30,000-year-old virus, which lay buried and inactive, frozen in a 30 meter deep layer of permafrost. Scientists who uncovered the virus brought it back to life after 30,000 years, and witnessed it attacking single-cell organisms like amoebas, according to a study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Professor Jean-Michel Claverie, from the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, said "this is the first time we've seen a virus that's still infectious after this length of time." The virus poses no threat to humans and animals, but scientists fear that more aggressive viruses like smallpox may also be lying deep in the Siberian permafrost that could also be revived if the ice continues to melt. "By going deeper we may reactivate the possibility that smallpox could become again a disease of humans in modern times," the scientist told the BBC.

Saudi female activists demand expanded women's rights in new petition

A group of female activists has sent a petition to the Saudi Arabian Shura Council, demanding the end of male guardianship and the expansion of women’s rights. The advocates want the Council to take the necessary steps to improve women’s rights and stop domestic violence against them. Twenty-five women—including some university professors— recently sent the petition ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8, the Saudi Gazette reported, citing Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat. Azizah Al-Yousif, an activist who signed the petition, said the group is determined to be heard.“This petition renews our demands as women. We want our issues to be put on the top of the Council’s priority list,” she said. Al-Yousif added that two Shura Council members promised to tackle many of the points raised in the petition. The changes the group seeks include women no longer be obliged to have a male guardian’s permission to complete education, work, and travel. Women also want to be able to file a lawsuit, receive medical treatment, be released from prison, or apply for an ID or passport without a man’s consent. Women and children who are victims of domestic violence at the hands of men should be protected by a special law granting them the right to self-determination, according to the letter. One example of the hold men have over women in Saudi Arabia is called “adhl,” when a male guardian prevents a woman in his custody from getting married. Men can now also demand minors to marry, divorce their wives without compelling reasons, and discriminate against women and harass them at work and in public. The petition wants to limit these powers. Women should be treated equally and provided the same opportunities as men to hold high positions in the private and public sectors, and granted the same pension benefits as men, according to the plea. After detailing their demands for expanded rights, the activists warned that these issues affect the lives of millions of women, and are vital to future generations. Writing in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily, Haya Al-Manee said that a Saudi woman is considered a minor. “In our society, a woman is treated a minor in every aspect… I don’t know when a Saudi woman would pass the phase of being a minor,” Al-Manee wrote. According to the website of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington D.C., the Shura Council is a consultative body that consists of 150 members of educated and experienced citizens appointed by the King. In 2004, the Shura Council’s mandate was broadened to include proposing new legislation and amending existing laws without prior submission to the monarchy. But only the King can pass or enforce laws.

Pakistan: Islamabad is not safe anymore, says Khursheed Shah

National Assembly Opposition Leader and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) senior member Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah has declared Islamabad unsafe. Speaking to media after visiting the victims of the Islamabad Court Attack at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) on Tuesday morning he said, “Islamabad is not safe anymore and the foreigners and the citizens are leaving the city.” “It is a misconception that India or any other state is responsible for the court attack”, he added. The opposition leader demanded that such deplorable incidents indicate failure of the administration and hence it should be changed at once. Khursheed Shah further said federal government is lucky to have opposition’s support even without any significant performance.

Video: Shahid Khan Afridi - A Tribute To Boom Boom Afridi

Cricket: Afridi goes ‘Boom Boom’ in win against Bangladesh

Shahid Afridi lived up to the ‘Boom Boom’ title for the second consecutive match as he blasted 59 runs from 25 balls in Pakistan’s win over Bangladesh. Not to be overshadowed by Afridi, Fawad Alam scored 74 runs to guide Pakistan to victory in the final overs of the match. Pakistan overcame a daunting 327 run target and confirmed their place in the Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka. Opener Ahmed Shahzad played a brilliant knock and scored a century ensuring that the required run rate remained in hand. Bangladesh captain Mushfiqur Rahim won the toss and elected to bat in a must-win match. Opener Amanul Haque scored a century and was supported by Imrul Kayes with 59 runs. Mominul Haque and Mushfiqur Rahim also chipped in with half-centuries.

The History and Logic of Military Ultimatums, From Suez to Crimea

Jacob Siegel
We run through some important modern ultimatums to show why governments make them, and what—if anything—they accomplish.
What’s an ultimatum? It’s a thousand different things, depending on who’s making it—but it’s generally something like a threat attached to a set of demands.
“There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine” President Obama said in a speech on Friday, though he did not specify what the costs to the Russians would be, or how they would be exacted.
In Crimea Monday, three days after President Obama delivered his remarks warning of costs, and as Russian troops occupied more ground in Ukraine, A Russian admiral delivered his own ultimatum. According to Interfax news agency, Aleksander Vitko, Russia's Black Sea Fleet chief, gave Crimean forces until 5 a.m. on Tuesday to surrender or face a full military assault.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied receiving any specific threat from Russian officials, and the same news agency that issued the initial story later reported that a Russian spokesmen denied any ultimatum was given.
What to make of all these ultimatums, those rescinded or falsified and those left on the table? Start with this: they’re given so often because they’re easily made, the price of making them isn’t collected right away, and because they buy time for preparations and appear useful to those for whom a course of action isn’t immediately clear or available.
And ultimatums aren’t always cheap. They can be useful if they’re backed up by some decisive action that proves a cause and effect between warnings and consequences; they don’t necessarily require force, but some form of clear and effective retribution if they are not abided. With no promises of thoroughness, here’s a rundown of some case-study ultimatums from our recent history. There are older examples that you won’t find here, ancient ones even, but to keep both the Bible and Hitler out of a complex situation that’s already been grist for reductive morality tales, let’s take a look at the scene starting after World War II. No Sudetenland references here, folks.
The Suez Crisis, 1956
An unlikely place to start, you might think, and a strange set of alliances: Israel, France, and England arrayed against Egypt, while the Soviet Union and the U.S. guarded their own interests and played peacemaker from the sidelines.
“Within 24 hours after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France joined in an ultimatum to Egypt and Israel—and then began to bomb Cairo,” Time magazine wrote in the Suez conflict’s immediate aftermath. The setup for the ultimatum: On the heels of an arms race between the French backed Israeli’s and the Soviet backed Egyptians, Israel invaded Egypt in response to the Nasser government nationalizing the Suez Canal and closing off the Straits of Tiran. France and Britain, wanting to regain control of the canal, are waiting in the wings to join the war.
An example of a certain type of ultimatum that, despite appearing to present terms to prevent war, was the pretext for an attack that was already decided.
Afghanistan, 2001
The beginnings of a familiar modern ultimatum, which holds a state accountable not only for its own direct actions but also those carried out by its citizens and groups within its borders.
President George W. Bush responded to al Qaeda’s attack on the United States and the killing of almost 3,000 American citizens by issuing an ultimatum to the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had a close relationship with al Qaeda and allowed the group to operate freely in the country. Bush demanded that the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda’s leaders and rid the country of terrorists. The Taliban refused and less than a month later the U.S. war began.
The ultimatum failed to produce bin Laden. That would take another 10 years and SEAL Team 6 to accomplish. But it did help cement the international coalition that backed the U.S. invasion and created a precedent that held sponsor states accountable for the groups operating under their auspices, or those that they had allowed to work within their borders. This is an ultimatum seeking a target in the disorienting matrix of asymmetric warfare.
Syria, 2013
A slow fuse ultimatum and then an ultimatum put on hold. In response to a question about the Syrian civil war posed in 2012, President Obama said, “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.”
In 2013, after reports surfaced of horrific casualties from the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians and rebel groups, the vague ultimatum the president had established in the past year became a test of U.S. resolve and a mandate for action. Would the red line be enforced if evidence proved that Assad had used chemical weapons? Did enforcement necessarily mean invasion or could it be accomplished through long-range missile strikes and air power? Did it have to mean military action at all or were there other ways to ensure the Assad regime’s compliance and reinforce the message that the U.S. was willing and able to back up its words and enforce standards in the international order?
Scrambling to interpret the implications of its own ultimatum, the Obama administration passed through a series of policy positions until a most unexpected development released them from having to decide exactly what Syria's trespass of the “red line” required. Seizing on a statement made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia stepped in to broker a peace deal with Syria that promised to both get rid of Syria's chemical weapons and relieve the U.S. of having to follow through on the Red Line speech's threat of action. Some observers warned at the time that ceding the diplomatic initiative and appearing to abandon earlier U.S. ultimatums would embolden both the Syrians and the Russians in the future.
There might be a useful lesson in the recent history of ultimatums. Rhetoric itself can be powerful. In Syria, the Russians—whatever their own interests and intentions were—made the U.S. an offer that it thought it couldn’t refuse. To have turned down the Russian initiative would have appeared like favoring war over peace. By publicizing a deal the U.S. thought it had to accept, the Russians were able to seize the initiative and begin dictating terms in Syria. That shift in the power dynamic didn’t come from force or the threat of it but from maneuvering around interests.
There are two ways to judge the effectiveness of an ultimatum. One measure is how effectively it yields the demands made of the other party. The other, broader measure of an ultimatum views it as an instrument of leverage rather than a precision tool for producing specific results. By this standard a successful ultimatum might be one that can’t be met, as long as making it increases the relative power and maneuvering position of the party placing the demands.

Ukraine Blame: US criticism of Moscow at odds with White House policies

Kerry Arrives in Ukraine, Pledges $1 Billion in US Aid

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived Tuesday in Kyiv, Ukraine, where he will announce a $1 billion aid package to a nation divided by political unrest. Kerry was met by enthusiastic crowds at Independence Square in Kyiv, where some protesters chanted "thank you" to America's top diplomat. Arriving for his first visit since the overthrow of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, Kerry described the experience as "moving, distressing and inspiring," according to Reuters. As Kerry demonstrated U.S. support for Ukraine's interim government, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country is prepared to use all options to protect Russians in Ukraine. He added that he hopes Russia will not have to use force. In his first public comments since Yanukovych fled Kyiv, the Russian leader called Ukraine's political power shift an "anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power," and said Yanukovych is still Ukraine's legitimate leader. "As for bringing in forces. For now there is no such need but such a possibility exists,'' Putin said, looking relaxed as he sat before a small group of reporters at his residence near Moscow. "What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort, absolutely the last."' Putin's comments Tuesday come amid a growing crisis over Russia's military presence in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. However, there was no immediate sign of any new movements by Russian forces in Crimea overnight. The United States and its European allies are considering sanctions against Russia for its presence in Ukraine. While in Ukraine, Secretary Kerry is expected to meet members of the interim government and reinforce U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty. Loan guarantees he was expected to offer are aimed at lessening the impact of proposed cuts to energy subsidies on Ukrainian citizens. Russian navy blocks channel Russian navy ships have blocked off the Kerch Strait which separates Ukraine's Crimea region and Russia, Reuters reported Tuesday. The Ukrainian border guard service said Russian servicemen are in control of the Crimean side of the narrow channel and that Russian armoured vehicles have been sighted on the Russian side. "The Kerch Strait is blocked by two Russian ships - from the north and from the south," Pavel Shishurin, the deputy head of the border guards, told reporters. The Russian military has not confirmed his comments. Elsewhere, Putin ordered tens of thousands of troops taking part in military exercises in western Russia, near the Ukrainian border, to return to base. The exercises were scheduled to end, so it is unclear whether the move was intended to help ease tensions. Moscow has denied that the exercises, started last week, were related to the situation in Ukraine. On Monday night, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other members of his national security team at the White House to discuss policy options. Earlier Monday, President Obama called on Congress to approve an aid package for the new Ukrainian government. In tandem with the diplomatic push, the U.S. Defense Department said Monday it is suspending military-to-military contacts with Russia. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the move is aimed at prodding Moscow to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, and said the suspension covers maneuvers, bilateral meetings, port visits and conference planning. EU deadline European Union foreign ministers have issued a Thursday deadline for Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops or face punitive measures. Russia, meanwhile, is calling on Ukraine to return to a February 21 agreement between ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition that involved forming a national unity government. But State Department spokeswoman Psaki said Monday that while the agreement could be used as a "basis," the dramatic change in circumstances since then means it is not usable as it is. President Obama accused Russia Monday of violating international law with its actions in Ukraine. He said the country is "on the wrong side of history." Russia says its military movements in Ukraine are to protect its citizens there. But the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council Monday that Russia's intervention is an "act of aggression," and not the humanitarian mission it is seeking to portray. Diplomacy U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke Monday by telephone with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The White House said Biden urged Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, support the immediate deployment of international monitors and begin a "meaningful political dialogue" with the Ukrainian government. Crimea is a Black Sea peninsula placed under Ukrainian control in 1954 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. It remained part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Crimea has a tiny border with Russia on its far eastern point, and the Crimean port of Sevastapol is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet. Most of the people living in Crimea are ethnic Russians, but the region also is home to ethnic Muslim Tatars, who generally show disdain for Russia. Ukraine's troubles began in November, when President Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties and economic aid from Russia. The move triggered weeks of pro-Western anti-government demonstrations in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine, and forced the pro-Russian Yanukovych to flee the capital in late February.

Putin Slams Ukrainian Govt, Says Invasion 'Last Resort'

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called the acting authorities in Ukraine illegitimate, but said a military intervention in Russia’s western neighbor would be a last resort. The remarks were the first public comments from Putin on the crisis in Ukraine since protesters in the capital, Kiev, swept to power last month. Putin said Ukraine’s new government had no legal authority, and he urged new elections as soon as possible. “The parliament is partially legitimate, but all the rest is not. The acting president does not have any legitimacy,” Putin told reporters.
While he denounced the Kiev authorities, Putin said Russia was not planning any imminent military action. “The use of troops is a last resort,” he said. “There is no necessity to do it at the moment, though that option is on the table.” Any intervention would be purely humanitarian in nature, Putin said.
“If we take a decision to deploy troops then it will only be for the people’s protection,” he said. “Our militaries are brothers in arms, friends. I am sure that Ukrainian and Russian soldiers will be on the same side of the barricade.”
Troops under apparent Russian command, many of them traveling in military trucks and armored personnel carriers, have deployed widely around Crimea, as attested by numerous eyewitness accounts from reporters on the ground. The troops have seized key strategic points across the peninsula, provoking a tense standoff with the Ukrainian military. Officials in Kiev and other capitals across the world have described the actions as an invasion. Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, approved on Saturday a request by Putin for the deployment of troops inside Ukraine.
While Putin said he did not agree with the methods of the protesters who overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, he sympathized with some of their aspirations.
“Corruption had reached levels that we couldn't even imagine here, in Russia,” Putin said.
But he said that “an anti-constitutional coup and a military seizure of power” in Kiev had led to a situation inside Ukraine that was chaotic and out of control.
“We see the revelry of neo-Nazis, nationalists and anti-Semites that is currently going on in different parts of Ukraine,” Putin said. Yanukovych suddenly left Kiev after deadly clashes between riot police and protesters resulted in over 80 deaths last month. He arrived in Russia shortly afterward and said Friday that he was still the legitimate president and will continue to fight to reassert his authority.
“While it is clear that he does not have any power, from a legal point of view the president of Ukraine is Yanukovych,” Putin said, who added that he did not feel any sympathy for the fallen leader whose private out-of-town mansions have been thrown open to curious Ukrainians in recent days.
The Ukrainian parliament, or Rada, last week approved a new interim president, Oleksandr Turchyunov, and appointed a new government led by an erstwhile opposition leader, Arseny Yatsenyuk. Putin said he does not recognize his interim counterpart and would not work with Turchynov, though he had instructed the Russian government to establish contact with the new Ukrainian administration. Russia committed last year to providing Ukraine with up to $15 billion of financial aid in the form of bond purchases, but Putin said this was unlikely to go ahead.
Instead, Putin said he was inclined to acquiesce to requests from officials in Europe and the United States who have asked Russia to work on a joint financial rescue package for Ukraine mediated through the International Monetary Fund.
But Putin warned that presidential elections in Ukraine – currently planned for May 25 – could not take place if the situation in the country does not improve. “If they take place in conditions of such terror then, of course, we will not accept them,” Putin said.

Obama Budget Proposal: Tie Tax Hike for Rich to Cuts for Poor

The President will roll out his 2015 budget plan on Tuesday
President Barack Obama’s proposed 2015 budget would raise taxes on many wealthy individuals while providing an estimated 13.5 million Americans a tax break, the White House announced Monday, in the latest manifestation of Democrats’ midterm-election agenda.
Obama’s budget, to be rolled out on Tuesday, would expand the earned income tax credit for low-income Americans without children, while expanding the child- and dependent-care tax credit to help families afford child care, the White House announced. Additionally it would include automatic enrollment in IRAs for employees to help save for retirement and several provisions to help students and families pay for college tuition.
The White House is framing the proposals as a continuation of Obama’s populist State of the Union message, “Opportunity for all,” which he encouraged Democrats to embrace at last week’s meeting of the Democratic National Committee.
The $60 billion in lost tax revenue would be paid for by stripping two tax breaks employed by the nation’s wealthiest, which the White House said “do not promote work or growth.” It would eliminate a provision used by hedge funds and private-equity firms to treat income from managed investments, known as carried interest, as capital gains, as opposed to ordinary income, effectively raising the tax rate on billions of dollars in payouts to firm managers. It would also remove the so-called Newt Gingrich or John Edwards loophole, which allows individuals to treat some income as corporate profits to avoid payroll taxes.
Obama has tried to raise the carried-interest tax rate to the level of ordinary income for years, but has been stymied by stiff opposition in Congress that has not subsided. The election-year budget is designed to showcase the party’s focus on the middle class, while portraying GOP opponents as defenders of the wealthy.
“This [carried interest] tax rate is significantly below the income and payroll taxes that a manager would owe on comparable salary income and is less than the effective federal income and payroll tax rate for a single childless worker making $50,000,” the White House said in an economic report on the proposed changes.
Read more: Obama 2015 Budget Proposal: Tax Hikes for Rich, Cuts for Middle Class | TIME.com http://swampland.time.com/2014/03/03/barack-obama-2015-budget-proposal/#ixzz2v0XEj100

Can We Afford Another Failed State in Afghanistan? Beyond the 2014 Drawdown

By Zaman Stanizai
President Obama has threatened a full U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan by the end of this year unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai signs a security agreement with the U.S. Obama didn't say anything about "the asking price" of the controversial agreement, nor did he say much about the Afghan state the U.S would be leaving behind. He did not give even any inkling of the possibility that Afghanistan could plunge into the quagmire of a failed state to which the U.S. will not be indifferent -- a scenario based on the uncertainties likely to be left by unresolved issues.
American and NATO forces are leaving behind a country where only 10 percent of its GDP of $1 billion comes from legitimate economic activity; of the remainder, 30 percent comes from underground narcotic trade and 60 percent from foreign aid. As a country with one of the highest military to civilian ratios, Afghanistan has more than 350,000 security force, both army and police, with $4 billion annual operation cost, but with few resources to support it. These armed forces are comprised predominantly of ethnic minorities from the north of the country that are launched against a resistance that comes largely from the country's Pashtun ethnic majority in the south.
Many of the warlords who Balkanized the country in the 1990s act as high-ranking officials and parliamentarians, ranks they have acquired through the flagrant abuse of ethnic loyalties and tribal quotas. They have divvied up public offices to their former militia and have carved out ethnic-exclusive zones of influence in the government bureaucracy. These ethnic fiefdoms within the present bureaucracy are a major stumbling block to reform and the source of unbridled government corruption.
Furthermore, some of these warlords-turned-demagogues have been implicated in crimes against humanity, but remain immune to prosecution with the tacit approval of the United States. Most of them are also on the not-so-secret CIA payroll and have acquired large estates in Afghanistan and abroad -- primarily in Dubai and Istanbul. By manipulating linguistic fault lines in the ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan the U.S. has been instrumental in creating a 'bribed and indebted' super rich class of collaborators in one of the poorest countries in the world.
The loss of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in America's longest military adventure has created what is perhaps the world's most corrupt state. At the same time, Afghanistan is a country with an estimated $1 trillion mineral wealth "without proper structures and management." The country's fragile political structure, presently held together by a scaffolding of American military and economic assistance, could collapse into a failed state overnight, manifesting the worse aspects of the civil strife seen in Rwanda, Congo, and Syria.
In the annals of U.S. foreign policy, Afghanistan stands as a typical case where a flawed military strategy has sidelined viable political solutions. Washington incentivized war through perks and privileges, and four-star promotions and undermined peace efforts. The U.S. has had a war strategy, but no political strategy or a clear exit strategy.
The presence of foreign troops is never conducive to peace and sophisticated weapon systems don't stop wars, they only raise the prize in blood the less equipped opponent is willing to pay, e.g. resorting to suicide bombing in desperation. The U.S.-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement may delay the occurrence of a failed state in Afghanistan, but without a peace initiative it will not prevent it. Averting that dreaded scenario requires a more comprehensive approach that reflects a peace initiative borne by regional reality rather than a shortsighted military strategy.
Now that Afghanistan's second generation is being raised in the nearly four decades of war, the welfare of its citizens should be achieved through minimizing foreign interference and maximizing political participation through reconciliation. Likewise, the success of the American assistance to Afghanistan should be measured through a dividend of peace and security that could potentially provide opportunities for American investment and offset some of the cost, instead of linking it to military bases that will undoubtedly entail onerous maintenance cost.
Thus, a peace initiative is not just an ideal, but a practical solution beneficial to both Afghans and Americans. A comprehensive peace plan can end the current impasse, achieve long-term regional security, and can prevent Afghanistan from becoming a failed state again. Early in the Obama administration there was a debate about the best exit strategy. The generals were calling for a surge to eliminate the resistance once and for all. The diplomats like Richard Holbrooke, a career diplomat who was instrumental in resolving the former Yugoslavia crisis, considered negotiation for power sharing with the opposition critical and essential to the Afghan crisis. That modicum of peace effort was abandoned with the untimely death of Richard Holbrooke and along with it all the expectations of a peace initiative from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate President Obama vanished. Now that the surge has failed to win "the right war," it is time to revive the peace initiative.
Every military conflict is eventually resolved through peace. No peace initiative will succeed without a bold stand by the United States to convince the Afghan resistance that while they may win through a costly war at some future point in time, they can certainly win without bloodshed now if they join the peace process. Similarly, the hedging strategies of neighboring Pakistan and Iran can be brought in line with an outright U.S. support for an ethnically balanced representative government in Afghanistan. This two-tier peace plan calls for a reconciliation stratagem modeled on the South African experience and the replication of Swiss Neutrality principle in the regional context:
. The U.S. economic assistance should not be made contingent upon the establishment of military bases; instead it should be linked to a peace and reconciliation process in which the re-integration of the resistance forces is coordinated to coincide with the complete withdrawal of the American residual forces.
A regional multilateral treaty must be signed with all of Afghanistan's neighboring states under the auspices of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that guarantees the neutrality of Afghanistan and the inviolability of its borders to any military intrusion or political interference.

Pakistan: Ahrah-ul-Hind is a fake organisation, TTP behind court attack-Altaf Hussain

Taliban involved in Landi Kotal, Islamabad attacks, Altaf Hussain said.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain on Tuesday demanded "a full and thorough" investigation into the tragic incidents in Islamabad District Court and Landi Kotal to find out if these attacks were carried out by the Teheeke-e-Taliban Pakistan.
“Although an unknown group Ahrah-ul-Hind has claimed the responsibilities of the attacks. However, majority of the Pakistanis believe this is a fake organization and these attacks were carried out by Taliban. Taliban does not want to take the blame for the attacks,” Altaf Hussain said in a statement.
Two incidents of terrorism occurred on Monday. The first incident occurred in Landi Kotal tehsil where terrorists attacked an FC vehicle, which resulted in the deaths of two personnel and injured scores of them. The second brutal, horrific and nerve-wrecking incident occurred in Islamabad where terrorists entered the district court of Islamabad and attacked it with guns and grenades. In this attack 11 people were killed and more than 25 injured. The dead included a senior judge, Rafaqat Ahmed Awan, and several lawyers.
One of the martyrs was a young lawyer Fizza Malik. The 23-year-old lawyer had recently returned Pakistan with a law degree from the UK and had started the practice two days.
Altaf Hussain said he wanted to share some important facts with the writers, journalists and intellectuals. He added that these facts would enable them to analyze new developments and events which occurred after the announcement of ceasefire of Taliban and offer honest and unbiased analysis.
“It is strange that no one knew about the organization when the negotiation with the Taliban started. The question is: Why has this organization been brought forward at time when the negotiation has started? Their statement is shocking. They have said they would not respect the agreement between the government and Taliban,” the MQM chief said.
He further stated that “the situation is very grave. I demand that prime minister, federal interior minister order and investigation into the attack. They should not believe on the statement of the unknown organization. This statement has been issued to mislead people and the government.”
He said Taliban can betray us and It would put security and survival at risk.

TTP ceasefire: should Pakistan be taken seriously?

Ayaz Amir
So there we have it. The resolve stories were a bit premature. Appeasement wins again and of course it will be hailed as a triumph of statesmanship. And the army while scowling in private will in public hide behind the fig-leaf of civilian supremacy. The inevitable – the having to take on the Taliban (TTP) – has been merely postponed, not the necessity of it eliminated.
Other countries compete in summer and winter Olympics. The Pakistan we have grown up with has come to specialise in playing games with itself. So just when it looked that government and army might have cast irresolution aside comes the charade of the ceasefire between the state of Pakistan and the Holy Shura of the TTP. It’s like Vladimir Putin and the Chechen rebels declaring a mutual ceasefire, or India in Indian Kashmir declaring a ceasefire with the Lashkar-e-Taiba. But then of course Pakistan, wafted by the winds of jihad, is in a class by itself. D
o these wizards really think there is common ground, any meeting point, between the Pakistani state and the messianic Islamist warriors of the TTP dedicated to the overthrow of the Pakistani state? If they think there is can they let us know? For you only negotiate if some common ground exists. Merely brandishing olive branches is never enough.
So what will government and army gain by this reprieve? Will the TTP come any closer to altering its makeup and becoming a force for peace? Will the army be in a better position, a month from now, to deliver a decisive blow against the TTP? What then are government and army hoping to achieve by this month long ceasefire?
From the TTP’s standpoint it makes perfect sense. The aerial strikes, via PAF and helicopter gunships, have been called off. The TTP will have a chance to regroup, relocate, make up for any losses suffered, and prepare for the next round. In return it has ceded nothing, not an inch of ground, not even any theoretical concession.
Government and army of course are crowing about a fictitious victory: sense was knocked into the TTP which is why, taking a small U-turn, it has agreed to a ceasefire. But the ceasefire at this stage, with the TTP under pressure from the patchy aerial offensive, means relief for the TTP, none for government and army. The 23 FC soldiers whose throats were slit – this particular horror forcing the military to act – are not about to be brought back to life. The TTP is not about to renounce violence or lay down its arms. Or is it so hard for the wizards to understand this? But we will be told to be patient and not rush to judgement. We will be told that this is just the first step, leading to talks and, with luck holding, a peaceful settlement. Fine, let us suspend disbelief, let us eschew negative thoughts and with open and welcoming arms embrace optimism. But the old nagging question remains: can anyone tell us, if not in detail in bare outline, the likely contours of a Taliban settlement? Kuch toh bataien…tell us something.
On this point we encounter the silence of the mountains. Even as government and army shift from one leg to another, painting appeasement and one-sided concessionism in the colours of victory, we are expected to take the government’s word on trust.
So far about the one thing which has happened is that the four-man government committee has been knocked out into the cold and the interior minister has emerged centre-stage to take charge of the so-called peace efforts. Let us wish him success and see what miracles he brings about. In a way this is good because the four-man committee was toothless. With all the ropes now finally in Nisar’s hands – and by the way, the announcement of the ceasefire from the government side came from the interior ministry – at least there won’t be room for any excuses when the delusions of peace finally dissipate and the hard rocks of reality rise more clearly from the waters. But a crucial month will have been lost and we will be that much closer to the Americans pulling out of Afghanistan. When that happens, the calculus of everything will change. And if anyone thinks that when that moment of vindication for Taliban arms arrives, the TTP led by Mullah Fazlullah of Swat fame will be in a more reasonable frame of mind regarding the confused republic of Pakistan, he will have to be counted amongst the diehard brigade. Air-Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhry’s piece in this paper last Saturday, ‘The case of the LTTE’, about the Tamil Tigers insurgency in Sri Lanka where he was ambassador in 2006 is worth reading by everyone concerned. It explains how peace talks and concessionism failed and finally what it took to defeat and crush the LTTE.
The Tamils at least had genuine grievances against the Sinhalese-dominated state. The Taliban insurgency is being fuelled not by a sense of genuine grievance but by the messianic desire to impose their will on the Pakistani state. The Taliban are not fighting for fundamental rights or Fata autonomy. They are fighting for their version, their very convoluted and primitive version, of the holy kingdom. And the Pakistani state is shuffling and shifting and making a spectacle of itself, and hoping, desperately hoping, that tough decisions will not be required and like manna descends from heaven peace will somehow descend from the skies.
Pakistan’s Pakhtun tribal population, the overwhelming majority, is committed to Pakistan, not because Pakhtuns sway to the sound of Iqbal’s poetry but because their economic interests are tied to Pakistan. But where the TTP holds sway they are sunk into a sullen and apathetic silence because they have lost faith in the ability of the Pakistani state to protect them and fight the Taliban. If the army really bares its fangs it can be assured of the support of the tribal people. But who will give that vitamin shot to the state and the army?
Under Gen Kayani the Pakistan Army perpetuated one of the great hoaxes of our time when it led most people to believe that because of tough terrain it was difficult going into North Waziristan. The tough terrain is in South Waziristan, not the north which is relatively flat.
Now look at the comedy which has been going on in Miranshah, the principal town of North Waziristan. There we have an army div hqs, the FC hqs and close by an establishment of the famous Haqqanis. Hakeemullah Mehsud’s house where the drone got him is hardly 4-5 kilometres from the div hqs. The villages where live our Uzbek, Chechen, and Arab friends are not far away. All this is common knowledge there. An operation could have been undertaken, had the will been there, long ago. But the nation has been fed the tale of North Waziristan’s near-impregnability. Where does fiction end and reality begin?
Meanwhile comes news of the attack on the Islamabad courts. And as I switched on the TV there was every channel in the land going on and on about the TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid saying the TTP had nothing to do with this attack. He’s right. This is another Indo-Zionist-CIA conspiracy to sabotage the peace talks.
Trust the TTP’s media apologists, and there is no shortage of this clan here, to plug this line and urge the government to remain steadfast to the peace process – a phenomenon visible through special goggles only to the TTP apologists and the Chamberlainites of the interior ministry.

John Kerry hopes to visit Pakistan again: State Department

The United States and Pakistan work closely towards regional peace and stability and Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to visit the South Asian country again as part of bilateral engagement, the State Department said. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stressed that Washington has an ongoing vital shared strategic interest with Pakistan in ending terrorism and pursuing a stable, peaceful, and prosperous region. The spokesperson referred to ongoing U.S. engagement with Pakistan including the Strategic Dialogue, adding that “the Secretary (Kerry) was there last summer. He said he hopes to go again.”

Blasts keep people away from cinemas in Peshawar

Cinemagoers in the provincial capital are yet to come out of fear and shock after the bomb blasts in the Shama and Picture House cinemas as most of the movie halls are presenting a deserted look even three weeks after the sabotage incidents.
The number of cinemagoers has come down by almost 80 percent after the hand-grenade attacks on the Picture House on February 2 and Shama Cinema on February 11 last. Though Shama Cinema is yet to open for showing films, during a visit to other movie houses it was revealed that just 45 people were watching a movie at the Arshad Cinema, which is relatively more secure compared to other cinemas.
A guard at the Picture House said that just 10 to 20 people visit the cinema daily. “At the late night show, the number goes below 10,” he added. He said the security arrangements had been strengthened and closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed to avoid such incidents in future.
The Sabrina Cinema was showing the cricket match between India and Pakistan but most of the seats were empty. Same was the case with the Aina Cinema in the Khyber Bazaar where a few fans were watching a Pashto film”Haraam Khor”.
The watchman on duty told The News that the number of visitors has reduced by almost 80 percent. “If 100 people used to visit the cinema in the past, now just 20 dare to watch a movie though the cinema has been open for the last nine days,” he added.
During the visit, it was observed that all the theatres had increased the security and installed CCTV cameras. Besides, strict checking with metal detectors is being done. The parking of vehicles near the cinema houses was also not allowed.

Gunmen kill 2 in attack on NATO trucks in Pakistan

A Pakistani official says gunmen have opened fire on a NATO supply convoy in the country's northwest, killing two truck drivers and wounding another. Local administrator Mohammed Asif says the attack took place in the tribal Jamrud region on Tuesday when the trucks were heading to neighboring Afghanistan to take supplies to NATO forces. Jamrud is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the city of Peshawar. The attack comes less than a week after the ruling political party in the northwest ended a three-month blockade of a NATO supply route to Afghanistan over contentious U.S. drone strikes in the country. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party blocked the route from the northwestern city of Peshawar, one of two overland routes used by NATO for getting supplies into and out of Afghanistan.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/03/04/3972665/gunmen-kill-2-in-attack-on-nato.html#storylink=cpy

Bilawal Bhutto condemns Islamabad terror attack

Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the terrorist attack on Islamabad Kachehri, F-8 Markaz, on Monday morning causing loss of many precious lives and injuries to many others. The eleven deceased included Additional Session Judge. In a statement, PPP Patron-in-Chief said that such terrorist acts carry evil for the country and aim to tamper with the lives and possessions of the Pakistani nation. He said that repeated terror attacks were a well-planned conspiracy to destroy social and economic fabric of the country. Bilawal Bhutto extended his condolences to the families of the victims and expressed his sympathies to all those injured.

Pakistan: Time for a reckoning

IF they cannot guarantee no militant violence during the negotiations phase, how will they be able to guarantee no violence after an agreement has been reached? It is a question that has from the outset haunted the very idea of talks with the TTP — and one that keeps coming back each time it appears that dialogue may be attempted again. For Taliban apologists and their ilk, each time there is fresh violence — even before the facts are established, as was the case yesterday after the attack on a local court complex in Islamabad — either some unnamed third force or thinly veiled outside power is alleged to be behind the violence. The logic of this illogic: the TTP, an insurgent group with the explicit agenda of the violent overthrow of the state, is actually in favour of peace and stability, while there are other unspecified elements that want to destabilise Pakistan. Atrocious as that suggestion may be, the obvious follow-up question is: why negotiate with the peace-loving TTP at all when the elements really bent on destabilising Pakistan are elsewhere?
Of course, advocates of talks cannot admit in public what they quietly accept in private: talking to the TTP is a policy rooted in fear. If the TTP is not engaged, according to this logic of wretched compromise, they will unleash far more murder and mayhem than the country has witnessed so far — so better to talk to the TTP than to suffer the effects of blowback if the fight is taken to the TTP in its strongholds. Still, even from that original position of weakness that the quest for a deal suggests, the state can do at least two things to demonstrate negotiations will not be conducted on the TTP’s terms. First, the government and its negotiating team should make a clear demand of the TTP now: if the TTP is not to be held responsible for any violence going forward, then the TTP leadership should make explicit which sub-groups and franchises it controls and directs and which are the elements that are beyond its control. Without that explicit and formal clarity, the wriggle room the TTP has to deny attacks linked to it would be unacceptably large.
Second, the government in a joint effort with the military leadership should continue to work on a plan to knock off the remaining TTP strongholds while also tightening security in the cities and towns where blowback can be expected. That would send the clearest possible signal to the TTP that negotiations are not the only option — that the state security apparatus is able and ready to protect the citizenry and the state itself. If that resolve is shown and maintained, the TTP’s room to manoeuvre will diminish greatly.

Pakistan: Opposition demands Nisar to resign on court attack

Opposition in Senate on Tuesday demanded resignation of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali over over Islamabad court attack, ARY News reported. Opposition senators lambasts the government today over the worst incident of terrorism in federal capital in which a group of gunmen killed a judge and 12 others in Islamabad district court. People's Party's Senator Raza Rabbani demanded resignation of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali after the incident. "The district court remained at the mercy of terrorism for 45 minutes, what the Quick Response Force of the interior minister doing," Rabbani said in his scathing remarks at the floor of the upper house. "Chaudhry Nisar should clarify which version of Sharia the Taliban are demanding," the PPP senator asked. No bargaining will be allowed over the present constitutional system, he said. Senator Hamza at the floor of the house said the Taliban should be defeated in battlefield. He called the dialogue the weakness of the government. Later, the opposition senators staged walkout from the house.

Pakistan's fragile ceasefire with the Taliban

Violence continues in Pakistan despite the Taliban's announcement of a month-long truce last week. Meanwhile, the demand for an all-out military offensive against the militants is growing in the Islamic country.
At least 11 people, including a session court judge, were killed in bomb attacks in the country's capital Islamabad on March 3 (main picture). It was the first such incident after the Pakistani Taliban - also known as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - announced a month-long ceasefire on Saturday, March 1, to facilitate peace talks with the Pakistani government. The negotiations between Islamabad and the Islamist insurgents formally began last month. But they came to an abrupt halt after the Taliban continued to attack civilians and security forces. The government responded by striking the militants' hideouts in the restive North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan, killing scores of insurgents.
On March 1, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the media that he had called on "all comrades to respect the decision and refrain from any activity during the ceasefire period." Pakistani authorities hailed Shahid's statement and said they would reciprocate the gesture by immediately stopping the "surgical strikes" against the extremists, thus raising hopes that the seven-year-long violent Islamist insurgency in Pakistan would finally come to an end. Rahimullah Yusufzai, a member of the government's negotiation team, told AFP that the truce inceased the possibility of resuming peace talks. "A ceasefire was the demand of the government ... But it should be effective, and there should be no attacks."
Can the Taliban be trusted?
But Monday's attack on an Islamabad court has once again raised doubts about the outlawed TTP's intentions. Many in Pakistan believe the Taliban are not serious about peace and that the truce announcement is only a tactic to avoid the military strikes and win more time to regroup after suffering heavy losses in the Pakistani Air Force's recent bombings in their northwestern strongholds.
Nasir Tufail, a journalist working for a private TV channel in Karachi, says he has no faith in Shahid or the TTP. "The militants will not cease the attacks. They are deceiving everyone. The only way to deal with them is through power," Tufail told DW. The journalist criticized Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government for lacking a "proper policy" to tackle the issue of terrorism in the country. The government's approach towards the Taliban is reactionary, he said, as Islamabad has limited itself to simply responding to the insurgents' attacks. The journalist believes the ceasefire won't last for long and that Islamabad will eventually have to go after the insurgents. "The Pakistani people gave Sharif a mandate for peace and not for truce with the Taliban in the May 2013 election. There won't be any peace if the PM keeps giving concessions to the Islamists," Tufail said, adding that he had no doubt that most Pakistanis would support an all-out military offensive against the Islamists.
Rallying support
Last week, hundreds of thousands of Karachi residents participated in an anti-Taliban rally demanding that the central government launch a decisive military action to uproot the fundamentalists. The so-called "solidarity rally" was organized by the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which has a big support in the Islamic Republic's southern urban cities.
Saman Jafri, one of the rally organizers and a member of parliament, says that Pakistan's progressive parties must unite against the religious fanatics if they want their country to survive. "We are pro-Pakistan and anti-Taliban, and we stand behind the security forces who are fighting the militants and sacrificing their lives. It is now or never, and the people have said 'no' to extremism," Jafri told DW. "The Taliban threat should be taken seriously," Abdul Hai, a veteran human rights activist in Karachi, told DW. "We see that the Taliban influence is growing, and it means that a huge disaster is in the making." This view is shared by Nizamuddin Nizamani, a political analyst and researcher, who argues that the government shouldn't negotiate with "terrorists."

Pakistan’s Minorities Retrieve Memories of Late Minister

It was 2nd March 2011 when Pakistan’s first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was brutally murdered. Muslim extremist group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan declared liability for his murdered near his residence in the Islamabad.
In Lahore, Christian has taken to the streets to pock his third death anniversary. Special prayers were organized in churches. Many people also get together carrying banners and intone mottos in support of the cause that Bhatti fought for as minorities’ voice. He is acknowledged for taking steps in support of religious minorities when he worked as federal minister. The minorities’ spokes people say Bhatti also gave his life to guard Pakistanis’ rights against extremist elements. Christian minorities have promised to continue his mission against terrorism and assist to bring peace in the country.
Christian communities have offered support for Pakistan’s fight against terrorism.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/pakistan-minorities-retrieve-memories-of-late-minister/#sthash.kLqImDEu.dpuf

Fresh military operation in Balochistan: 19 innocent persons killed 40 injured

At least nineteen Bugti tribesmen were killed and more than 40 wounded during a Pakistani military offensive in Dera Bugti area of Balochistan on Saturday. According to details a large number of fresh military troops backed by gunship helicopters launched a military operation many civilian populated areas of Sui, Dera Bugti. Pakistani Army indiscriminately bombarded villages in Darengen area where at least eleven people including three women and four children have been killed and more than 40 are injured. The deceased victims of Darengen area bombardment have been identified as Gulbaig s/o Naseban Bugti, Tari s/o Humbo Bugti, Wahido s/o Mohammad Bugti, Bashirullah Bugti, Samul Bib, Jannat Bibi and Hanifa Bugti along with her four children. Meanwhile sources reported bodies of at least eight previously abducted Baloch were also found in the same area. The BRP media cell alleged in their Facebook page that the victims’ bodies were thrown down from helicopters during operation in Darengen area of Sui. Two of the victims have been identified as Sate s/o Karam Ali Bugti and Wadhu s/o Pirka Bugti. The rest of the sex bodies could not be identified as they were decomposed beyond recognition. The BRP sources further said that Sate s/o Karam Ali Bugti and Wadhu s/o Pirka Bugti were abducted by Pakistani security forces along with many others from Pirkoh area during an operation on 13th Feb 2014. The affected areas were under the tight military siege until filling of this report. Forces sealed the exit and entry routes to the areas and innocent civilians are denied of any sort medical aid. The BRP media cell on Facebook wrote: “Provisional minister and head of military death squad, Safraz Bugti, is personally monitoring the deadly operation.” Two days prior to military operation in Dera Bugti, Pakistan forces have abducted more than 30 Marri Baloch from different areas of Kohistan Marri region of Balochistan. The raids were carried out in the darkness of night in Kahan town and adjoining villages. Separately, several people were abducted from Marri Bohri, Nahad kot and other nearby areas.

اسلام آباد ڈسٹرکٹ کچہری میں لال مسجد بریگیڈ نے جج رفاقت اعوان کو کیوں نشانہ بنایا؟

اسلام آباد ڈسٹرکٹ کچہری میں لال مسجد بریگیڈ نے جج رفاقت اعوان کو کیوں نشانہ بنایا؟ اسلام آباد- ڈسٹرکٹ کچہری میں تین مارچ کو صبح آٹھ بجے کلاشنکوفوں ،دستی بموں سے لیس پانچ سے تکفیری دیوبندی دھشت گردوں نے حملہ کردیا اور خود کش بم دھماکوں کے زریعے دو دھشت گردوں نے خود کو اڑایا جبکہ باقی حملوں آوروں کی فائرنگ سے ایک نوجوان خاتون وکیل سمیت تیرہ افراد جاں بحق ہوگئے،
وقوعے کے عینی شاہدین کے مطابق حملہ آور دھشت گردوں نے ایڈیشنل سیشن جج رفاقت اعوان کی عدالت پر ہلہ بولا اوراندھا دھند فائڑنگ شروع کردی جس کی زد میں درجنوں لوگ آئے اور اس کے بعد ایک حملہ آور نے ایڈیشنل ڈسٹرکٹ اینڈ سیشن جج رفاقت اعوان کی عدالت کے سامنے خود کو اڈا دیا جس کی وجہ سے رفاقت اعوان بھی ہلاک ہوگئے یاد رہے کہ ایڈشنل سیشن جج رفاقت اعوان کی عدالت میں لال مسجد کے دیوبندی تکفیری دھشت گرد غازی عبدالرشید کے بیٹے اور مولوی عبدالعزیز کے بھتیجے ہارون رشید نے جنرل پرویزمشرف کے خلاف ایک ایف آئی آر کے اندراج کا آرڈر لینے کے لیے درخواست دائر کی تھی جسے انھوں نے رد کردیا تھا اور اپنے حکم میں یہ لکھا تھا کہ “یہ سستی شہرت حاصل کرنے کی کوشش ہے” ایڈیشنل سیشن جج رفاقت اعوان کو اس کے بعد سے دھمکیاں موصول ہورہی تھیں،یہ بھی معلوم ہوا ہے کہ غازی ہارون رشید ،مولوی عبدالعزیز کے تحریک طالبان پنجاب جنودالحفصہ اور سپاہ صحابہ اہل سنت والجماعت جیسی دیوبندی دھشت گردوں سے بہت قریبی تعلقات ہیں کچھ حلقوں کا خیال ہے کہ ایڈشنل سیشن جج رفاقت اعوان کا قتل بھی مشرف کے خلاف غازی ہارون رشید کی ررخواست ضمانت رد کرنے اور اس کو سستی شہرت کی خواہش لکھنے کا نتیجہ ہوسکتا ہے یاد رہے کے کچھ دن پہلے لال مسجد دہشت گرد بریگیڈ کے سربراہ مولوی عبد العزیز دیوبندی نے پاکستانی حکومت، فوج اور عوام کو دھمکی دی تھی کہ طالبان اور سپاہ صحابہ کے تکفیری خارجی ایجنڈے پر نہ چلنے کی صورت میں پانچ سو زائد خود کش بمبار حملہ کر دیں گے – مولوی عبدالعزیز دیوبندی کے اسلام آباد میں تاجی کھوکھر، ملک ریاض اور احمد لدھیانوی سے قریبی تعلقات ہیں
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Pakistan:Where is the cease-fire?

In the restive tribal areas of Pakistan terrorism stems as much from religious extremism as from the lairs of crime mafias. But there is enough of evidentiary material to suggest that both sides live and flourish under the overarching umbrella of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. Then there are sub-groups the TTP leadership has directed "to respect and fully abide by the cease-fire declaration and restrain themselves from all kinds of jihadi activities". Within hours of TTP announcement the Bara-based Mulla Tamance group waylaid the security squad of anti-polio team killing 11 including a civilian and injuring many - only to be fiercely retaliated by army helicopters which killed five terrorists. Next day, the district courts located in the heart of Islamabad came under a suicidal attack killing a judge and 10 others in addition to some three dozen injured in the assault. And, Hafiz Gul Bahader, who enjoys immense clout in North Waziristan, that has announced his Taliban are not part of the understanding between the TTP and the government. Who then the government is talking to and who is to secure the cease-fire promised by the Taliban leadership. Apparently, there are quite a few unknowns, or undisclosed, links and pieces in the process with potential to derail the bilateral cease-fire understanding. That the government 'reserves the option and the armed forces reserve their right to react and take counteraction against the troublemakers, the interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali may be quite categorical in expressing the government resolve but how would he know that the TTP or any of its outfits is not involved in a particular terrorist act. Terrorist networks exist throughout the country, some alive and kicking and others hibernating as sleeper cells. And some have honed specialisation to undertake specific errands if and when asked for. No doubt then some people tend to interpret the Nawaz Sharif government's peculiar adjustments to keep alive peace talks with Taliban as a tactic to put off the much-awaited military operation in North Waziristan. There is just no room for this leniency unless one buys the theory that the Taliban are a natural reserved force of the rightists in national politics.
Ideally, the momentum built in the wake of surgical strikes should have continued till the job of total eradication of terrorists' hideouts wherever they are in Pakistan. The month-long relief from military action granted to the TTP has the inbuilt risk of giving terrorists sufficient time to regroup and revive their lethality. Since that is no more the case and government is prepared to sit with them at the negotiating table there are certain dos and don'ts that official interlocutors must observe. One, all of the talk has to be within the parameters of the constitution. The TTP side has to swear unqualified allegiance to the constitution irrespective of its reservations - the government simply doesn't have the mandate to concede anything which militates against the letter and spirit of the constitution. Two, before the regular talks begin the TTP must declare on whose behalf it would be talking to the government. In case, which is quite likely, as it happened in the case of suicide attack on the district court in Islamabad yesterday, it disowns representation of a certain group or groups it should name them and make no issue if security forces take retaliatory action against them. Though the TTP promptly denied any link with the Islamabad courts attack but the incident has all the hallmarks of suicide-bombings the entity has specialised long ago. Three, not only the talks have to be held at the place of the government's choosing but also not open-ended. Where in Pakistan is the 'demilitarised safe zone' the Taliban want as the venue for talks - reminiscent of The 38th Parallel dividing the two Koreas. So, even when 'talking to Taliban' - a strong sentiment with the Nawaz Sharif government - Islamabad must give a serious thought to the possible end product which may not be as pleasing as being forecast by some interested quarters. Not only has the TTP made no commitment as to its principal position on constitutional rule and democratic process, it is also not in a position to commit anything on behalf of other terrorist entities. Then, the proposed scheme of talks is localised to tribal areas while the menace of terrorism is almost evenly spread to most of the country. By granting a comparable status to the committed killers as stakeholders and worthy partners to the cause of peace in Pakistan the government has put itself to a severe test of competence in the eyes of people. Is the government prepared to conduct peace parleys with other violent entities that number in scores? Let's pause and think deeply, before we leap.

Pakistan: Safe city claim comes to haunt Nisar

Pakistan Today
The combined opposition in the upper and lower houses of parliament on Monday denounced the terrorist attack on Islamabad district courts and called for the resignation of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for failing to secure the federal capital in spite of his repeated claims.
Senate business was suspended and the session was adjourned in solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack, as the opposition senators walked out in protest over the security failure. During the 102nd Senate session, chaired by Chairman Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, the members condemned the terrorist incident in Islamabad district courts that left as many as 11, including an additional sessions judge, dead and 28 others injured. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Senator Aitzaz Ahsan said that Interior Minister Nisar should step down from his office for not being able to ensure security in the federal capital.
“The interior minister had claimed that 26 security agencies were working round-the-clock to ensure Islamabad’s security. He should accept responsibility for the security lapse and resign from his office immediately,” he said. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl Senator Hamadullah criticised the national security policy and declared it a bundle of lies. He added that the policy was targeting the seminaries, which was unjustified, as Osama bin Laden was not recovered from any seminary and Dr Shakeel Afridi was not a seminary graduate.
He accused the government of being involved in terrorism as well as patronising the terrorist elements across the country. “Chaudhry Nisar is the wrong person for the job and he should be sacked immediately,” he said. “Where were the 26 intelligence agencies when terrorists were spraying bullets indiscriminately for 45-50 minutes and judges and lawyers were running across streets to save their lives,” said Hamdullah. Pakistan Muslim League (PML) Senator Mushahid Hussain said that the day was the darkest in the history of federal capital and the tall claims by Interior Minister Nisar have been badly trashed.
“Now dialogue should be launched with this new group as well because Taliban have denied involvement in the incident,” he mocked the government.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Senator Tahir Mashhadi criticised the security personnel for failing to challenge the terrorists effectively.
He demanded the government give a go ahead to the armed forces to launch a decisive operation against terrorists.
PPP Senator Kazim Khan said that if the Taliban had not taken responsibility for the attack, they could deny any truce in the future. Senator Sardar Ali pointed out that two hours after the incident, no government officials appeared to take people on board. Senator Sehar Kamran questioned, “Where is the security across the country?” On the occasion, Senator Haji Adeel interrupted and hit hard the government’s irresponsible approach pointing out that no government official or the interior minister were present in the House. He staged protest walkout from the House that was joined by other opposition parties, including PML, PPP and MQM. The Senate chairman expressed his solidarity with the victims and suspended the business of the House on private members day and adjourned the session.