Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Obama Calling for Tough Decisions in Israeli-Palestinian Talks

UN report accuses Syrian rebels of committing crimes against humanity

Voice of Russia, DW,,
UN investigators have, for the first time, accused Syrian anti-government fighters of committing crimes against humanity. The Geneva-based UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria had previously only blamed the government for such crimes.
"Widespread attacks and sieges on civilian areas in Syria by pro-government forces are leading to mass casualties, malnutrition and starvation," said the commission in its seventh report, covering the six-month period between 15 July 2013 and 20 January 2014. Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, head of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syrian Arab Spring, held a press conference on Wednesday before handing the report on Syria to the UN`s Human Rights Council. Pinheiro said the Syrian regime commits mass killings in civilian areas. The report says more than 250 thousand people are besieged and exposed to heavy bombings, leaving them no choice but to surrender or starve to death. The humanitarian commission called on groups fighting around the Yarmouk camp, near Damascus, to cease fire, to allow a humanitarian aid corridor to those in urgent need in the camp. It offers shelter to 18,000 Palestinian refugees. Previously, the UN had only blamed the Syrian government for committing crimes against humanity. Thursday's report also hit out at regime forces, however, saying the military and its allied militias were continuing systematic murders, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. The commissioned said government forces were using siege warfare and starvation against civilians as part of their military strategy. More than 250,000 people remain besieged the country, which is embroiled in three-year civil war. Many people were "denied humanitarian aid, food and such basic necessities as medical care, and must choose between surrender and starvation," it said, accusing the government of a "starvation until submission campaign."

Lavrov, Kerry Agree That Ukraine Should Uphold Peace Accord

The top diplomats of Russia and the United States agreed at their meeting on Wednesday that they should help Ukraine to implement the EU-brokered reconciliation deal.
“We have agreed that Ukrainians need assistance to implement the February 21 accord,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
He met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris before heading to a meeting with top diplomats of France, Germany and Poland, who mediated the signing of the reconciliation agreement between the government and the opposition and put their signatures under it. The agreement announced early presidential and parliamentary elections, a national unity government and a return to an earlier constitution. It would have allowed the erstwhile pro-Russia government to remain in power until early elections. Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovych was impeached by the parliament a day after the agreement was signed, enabling the opposition to take control and appoint interim leadership. Russia has since accused Ukraine's new leaders, whom it considers illegitimate, of violating the deal. Lavrov criticized Western countries for taking measures that “undermine dialog and cooperation” between various political forces in Ukraine.
Some of these measures have been taken within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Russia-NATO council, the Russian foreign minister said.
OSCE said Wednesday that it would send 35 unarmed military personnel to Ukraine to dispel concerns about “unusual military activities” in the south of the country. “Kerry… agreed that honest agreements, that would help the people of Ukraine to stabilize situation, can hardly be reached in the atmosphere of threats and ultimatums,” Lavrov said. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced a full review of cooperation with Russia Wednesday. He said that officials would halt staff-level meetings with their Russian counterparts and step up contacts with Ukraine instead. He also said that NATO would suspend planning for a joint Syria disarmament mission with Russia

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

President Obama Speaks at Café Beauregard in Connecticut

Chikungunya: The Mosquito-Borne Virus That Contorts Your Limbs

Thousands in the Caribbean have been infected with an incurable mosquito-borne illness that renders patients feverish and immobile—interminably. Why Americans could be next.
For those unable to extract sufficient anxiety from world events such as the Crimea or Syria crises, the US economy, or Rand Paul, ‎here's a good one: an actual scary-as-shit new incurable infectious disease is heading your way soon: United States, meet chikungunya.
Chikungunya, which causes fever and severe aches, has been a big deal in public health circles for a decade or so since an explosive outbreak of the viral infection occurred on the Reunion Islands in the southwestern part of the Indian Ocean. Once introduced there, 266,000 of the island’s 770,000 people developed the clinical disease. And after the epidemic burnt out in Reunion, it moved to India, where 1.25 million cases were seen in short order. Then Italy. Then more islands in the Indian Ocean.
The swiftness and high case-rate of Chikungunya is almost unprecedented in the annals of horrible viral outbreaks. The reason is simple—the virus itself is in a genus of viruses that humans seldom have encountered—so most people have zero immunity not only to Chukungunya but to any virus faintly related to Chikungunya. It occupies an immunologic blind spot—until now.
The symptoms of chikungunya are easily understood by translating the term “chikungunya” from Kimakonde, an East African dialect: it means "to become contorted.” Though seldom lethal, people who are infected have days and weeks of fever and severe joint pain sufficiently intense to make a person double over.
As Robinson who first described the disease in the 1950s wrote, "the pain was frightening in its severity, completely immobilizing many patients.” And many patients with joint aches continue to have significant joint pain months and even years later. Chikungunya is on the radar now is because it has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere— the Caribbean to be precise. In December 2013, the CDC announced that cases—many cases—had been identified. in St Maarten, Guadeloupe, and the British Virgin Islands, among other places. Both fulltime inhabitants as well as tourists were affected.
The likely reason that chikungunya has spread from Africa to the Indian Ocean and now to the Americas is an unsettling example of the inter-relatedness of countries throughout the world and that old favorite—the unintended consequences of seemingly harmless activities. The story centers on Aedes albopictus, aka the Tiger mosquito, a newcomer to the New World. For centuries, our locavore mosquito was the Anopheles, transmitter of malaria, West Nile, and other diseases, as well as the cause of countless summertime bug-bites. The United States once was a pit of malaria-toting mosquitoes from the South all the way up to Philadelphia and beyond. Indeed, malaria figured heavily in the Revolutionary War and may have helped defeat the Redcoats. The National Malaria Eradication Program mounted in Atlanta after World War II used DDT to vanquish the mosquito and made America malaria-free. The effectiveness of the effort led to establishment of a public health headquarters—now the CDC—in Atlanta, at the time a fledgling southern city.
In contrast to the veteran Anopheles, the Aedes mosquito did not arrive until the 1980s. Its path here is almost comic: evidence indicates that the mosquito was brought because of the international used tire trade. It turns out that millions of bald tires are moved from rich countries to poor countries and retreads sent back from the poor to the rich. Millions, seriously—check this out. Used, hubcap-free tires are well known to sequester standing water—a perfect breeding ground for the next generation of mosquitos. The problem is bad enough that entomologists are looking for how best to apply insecticides to the rubber in tires. (For example, see “Efficacy of alpha-cypermethrin and lambda-cyhalothrin applications to prevent Aedes breeding in tires” in Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association). Once the mosquitos had set up shop in the Northern Hemisphere, it was inevitable that the virus would arrive and Chikungunya transmission begin. Similarly— sorry—it is inevitable that Chikungunya will move through the rest of Caribbean and find its way to Florida, Texas and the rest of the muggy South unless an intense mosquito eradication is undertaken. Such a program will be expensive, require thoughtful planning and coordination between states both red and blue, involve harsh pesticides and a re-consideration of the necessity of an international tire resale business. Control also will need faster more widely available diagnostic tests, smoother healthcare delivery, and exploration into new vaccines. In other words, unless we as a country become contorted in a fashion not seen since the great 20th century public health triumphs against diseases such as polio, we soon may be contorted by Chikungunya.

China: Western media coverage of Kunming's terror attack shows sheer mendacity and heartlessness

People's Daily
While China grieved and expressed its outrage following the savage stabbing of innocent civilians by Xinjiang separatists at the crowded railway station in southwest China's Kunming Saturday night, some Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, were already presenting their audiences and their readership with a distorted view of events.
The terrorist attack that occurred on Saturday night at the train station in southwest China's Kunming city left at least 29 innocent civilians dead and more than 130 injured. The deadly attack was orchestrated by Xinjiang separatist forces. This was an act of terrorism directed against the whole of humanity, civilization and society.
The international community strongly condemned this cruel attack, but the coverage of the incident by a few Western media organizations, including CNN, Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Washington Post was dishonest and appeared to be directed by ulterior motives. Emanating from such loud advocates of "the fight against terrorism", the coverage was insulting and has led to widespread resentment in China.
There was extensive evidence at the crime scene to leave no doubt that the Kunming Railway station attack was nothing other than a violent terrorist crime. But regardless of this evidence, some western media organizations were unwilling to use the word "terrorism" in their coverage. CNN's report on March 3 put the word "terrorists" in quotation marks, and offered the view that "mass knife attacks" are "not unprecedented" in China. The intention here was to associate this terrorist incident with a number of attacks that occurred in 2010 and 2012, all the more disgusting because these attacks happened at schools, they were conducted by individuals who were clearly mentally disturbed, and their victims were children. None of the perpetrators had any political connections, or any political motives. The Associated Press report used the term "described by the authorities as" to qualify their use of the word "terrorists". The New York Times and the Washington Post called the terrorists "attackers".
In their depictions of the background to the attack, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all ignored the significant social progress that has been made in Xinjing, instead focusing on the problem of "relations between China's ethnic groups".
Faced with such tragedy and such unambiguous facts, it is a hard-hearted and cynical media that would engage in such hypocrisy. Don't they love to talk about "human rights"? Did they not see the pictures of innocent victims lying in pools of their own blood? Did they show even the slightest concern for the victims and their "human rights"? Should such an event occur in America, how would they respond to the incident? Would they be quite so coy about describing the murderers as "terrorists"?
Prejudice has long been deep-rooted among Americans observers of issues related to Xinjiang. Not so very long ago, the American government passed three Uyghur prisoners detained in Guantanamo Bay to Slovakia, despite China's opposition. These suspects are all members of an group called the "East Turkistan Islamic Movement", recognized by the UN Security Council as a terrorist organization. For far too long the American government's logic has been that such people are only "terrorists" when the harm they are doing is being done to the US. The US government has always refused to describe bloody incidents involving Xinjiang separatists as "terrorist incidents"; it prefers to direct its criticism towards China. The American government's sympathetic attittude to Xinjiang separatists has undoubtedly provided the terrorist shadow of these groups with a boost. Should not the American government and its media revise their attitudes after the Kunming Railway Station tragedy?
On the issue of terrorism and terrorists, the double standards adopted by the United States and some Western media organizations cause actual harm to others, while providing them with neither benefit nor credit. They would do well to hope that their conduct and their attitudes do not ever rebound back on themselves.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain recall envoys to Doha

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors to Qatar after accusing Doha of interfering in the internal affairs of their countries. The move came on Wednesday, a day after a [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council ([P] GCC) meeting in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, between foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman. In a joint statement, the countries said they "have exerted massive efforts to contact Qatar on all levels to agree on a unified policy... to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state." Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE said the [P]GCC member states had signed an agreement on November 23, 2013, not to support “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media.” “But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2014,” the statement said. In the statement, the foreign ministers of the aforementioned states accused Doha of interfering in their countries' internal affairs despite Qatar's emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s denial of any interference.

Situation in Ukraine may have negative effect on Customs Union - Putin
President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the crisis in Ukraine could have a negative effect on the Customs Union linking Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and called for measures to protect the three nations' producers and exporters. "There might be negative effects for the Customs Union as well, so we should all think together on what needs to be done to protect our producers and exporters and work out parameters of cooperation with Ukraine," Putin said during a meeting of the Higher Eurasian Economic Council attended by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan.
"The extraordinary situation ... in Ukraine arouses serious concerns," Putin told the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan at the start of talks at his residence outside Moscow.
"Ukraine is a key economic partner of the Customs Union. Close industrial and trade ties unite us. Ukraine belongs to the CIS free trade zone. The extraordinary situation in Ukraine arouses most serious concern. The Ukrainian economy is in a deep, if not very deep crisis. Negative consequences for the market of the Customs Union are also possible," he said opening a session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the level of heads of state.
"Together we should think about what should be done to protect our manufacturers and exporters. And also work out parameters of further interaction with Ukraine," he said.

Former President Zardari condoles with the family of Shaheed Fiza Malik
Former President Asif Ali Zardari paid rich tributes to young lawyer Shaheed Fiza Malik who was martyred by the terrorists in an attack in Islamabad court on Monday morning. Shaheed Fiza Malik was a young budding lawyer who had just completed her law degree from Northumbria University, New Castle, UK.
Former President in a condolence letter addressed to Tariq Malik father of Shaheed Fiza Malik said that Pakistan People Party will continue to voice against terrorism and will lead the nation to a peaceful Pakistan. He said that loss of Shaheed Fiza Malik is a loss of entire nation. The letter was delivered to Tariq Malik by a PPP delegation comprising of Deputy Political Secretary to the former President Fauzia Habib, Incharge PPP Central Secretariat, Islamabad Amir Fida Paracha and Coordinator PPP Foreign Liaison Committee Ms. Palwasha Khan.
Asif Ali Zardari offered his sympathies to the bereaved family and prayed to Almighty Allah to grant courage to the family and friends of Shaheed Fiza Malik to bear this irreparable loss.

Jaane Kyun Log Mohabbat Kiya Karte Hain - Song from Indian movie

India Sets Dates for Nationwide Elections

India’s national elections will begin on April 7 and continue on nine separate dates until May 12 with results expected to be announced May 16, according to the Election Commission of India.
The vote is the world’s largest, with 814 million eligible voters slated to choose 543 members of the lower house of Parliament. This election is widely considered to be India’s most consequential since 1977.
No party is expected to win an outright majority in Parliament, although the right-of-center Bharatiya Janata Party and its controversial leader, Narendra Modi, enjoy a substantial lead in opinion polls. A total of 272 seats are needed to elect a prime minister, and a potpourri of regional parties will probably be needed to get a majority.
Early polls suggest that the Gandhi family, which has dominated Indian politics for most of the country’s 67-year history, could suffer its worst defeat ever, with some surveys predicting a rout for the family’s Indian National Congress party. A slowing economy and repeated corruption scandals have tarnished the family’s image.
Sonia Gandhi, the family matriarch and president of the Congress party, has suffered unexplained illnesses and is expected this year to pass leadership of the party to her son, Rahul Gandhi. But Mr. Gandhi’s equivocal public statements and lackluster campaigning have led many to wonder whether he truly wants the job. The family’s response to the results will be watched closely.
Results from Uttar Pradesh, the country’s biggest state with 80 seats, are expected to be crucial in determining the election winner, and the state will vote on five separate dates. State elections in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim will be conducted simultaneously.
India’s national elections are a huge administrative undertaking involving 11 million government workers, 930,000 polling stations and 1.7 million electronic voting machines, with administrative costs expected to exceed $645 million. The Election Commission sends personnel and supplies to every corner of India using cars, trains, planes, elephants, mules, camels and boats, V. S. Sampath, the chief election commissioner, said Wednesday.
“Elections free and fair, peaceful and participative are the life force of democracy,'’ Mr. Sampath said.
Problems are routine. Voters are sometimes openly paid for their selections, and candidates often exceed their allowed expenditures, although a higher spending cap of $1.1 million per seat may reduce such illegal expenditures this time.
Despite widespread corruption in Indian society, elections here are widely considered to be fair, and powerful legislators routinely go down to crushing and unexpected defeats. One of the most extraordinary elements of the process is the substantial turnout among India’s poorest. Voting patterns in India have long been heavily influenced by caste and religious affiliations, leading to decades of legislative efforts to appease one group or another.
But this year, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and a new entry, the Aam Aadmi Party, hope to break those patterns. The Bharatiya Janata Party expects its message of good governance and development to have universal appeal, and the Aam Aadmi Party has emphasized an anticorruption platform that has led to enthusiastic responses in diverse urban areas.

Pakistan: Musharraf's lawyers 'threatened with beheading'
Lawyers representing Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in a landmark treason case said on Wednesday they had been threatened with beheading and urged a new venue for the trial. They also urged the court to let Musharraf, who last month became the first former army chief to appear in court for treason, to go abroad for medical treatment. The case relates to his 2007 imposition of emergency rule and is seen as a key test of civilian authority over the country's powerful army. Lawyer Ahmad Raza Kasuri said the defence team wanted the trial shifted to another location and feared for its safety, after a gun and suicide attack on a lower court complex in Islamabad on Monday left 11 dead. "We cannot go ahead with this case in these conditions," he said, before reading aloud from a threatening letter he said the team had received. The handwritten letter, seen by AFP, said: "Dear Sirs, we request that the three of you stop representing Musharraf otherwise we will destroy your children and behead all of you." It was signed by the "people of South and North Waziristan". Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, is reviled by Islamist militants for joining the US-led "war on terror" and survived two assassination attempts by them. His lawyers also submitted a written application in which Musharraf stated: "It is requested that I may be allowed to travel abroad for my own treatment as also to attend to my seriously ailing mother". Musharraf was diagnosed with triple-vessel coronary artery disease by military doctors in January. His mother, who resides in Dubai is 94 and is said to be suffering from a number of serious ailments. Similar requests by Musharraf's lawyers in the past have been denied. The special court, which has three judges and is presided over by Justice Faisal Arab, did not rule on either matter and will resume hearing the case on Friday. Musharraf has endured a torrid time since returning to Pakistan in March last year on an ill-fated mission to run in the general election. Almost as soon as he landed he was barred from contesting the vote and hit with a barrage of legal cases dating back to his rule.

Malala Yousafzai: Meet The 16-Year-Old Girl Behind The Global Education Campaigner

By Brogan Driscoll

Despite being catapulted to worldwide fame for her work campaigning for children's rights to education, Malala Yousafzai's day-to-day life remains remarkably unchanged. When she's not fighting for education rights for children across the world, the 16-year-old is just a regular schoolgirl -blighted by schoolwork, enamoured by her friends and moaning about a brother who is constantly glued to his xBox. And she doesn't even own a mobile phone. But, speaking to HuffPost UK editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi at Vodafone's Connected Women Summit on Monday evening, Malala admitted that her busy schedule can be difficult to juggle. "Today I had a maths test but I got 1/11," she told Buzasi, to the audience's amusement. "I'm good at maths, but today I wasn't because my schedule is very busy."
Unsurprisingly, Malala is as devoted to her own education as she is to the world's - a stack of homework awaited her after the evening's interview.
But it's a shame, she feels, that others can't be as committed to their studies. Malala believes that, generally speaking, boys take school for granted. "In our country when girls get the opportunity of going to school, they take it very seriously," she told Buzasi. "If a girl wants to become a doctor or an engineer or a teacher then she has to get educated." "When I look at boys, they don't take it seriously at all. Even my brother sits all day playing on xBox," she claimed. "Men think that even if they do not go to school, it's very easy for them to get a job and work and earn money." Malala revealed that despite her busy schedule she never loses focus on her global advocacy work. "I want to continue the campaign of helping children go to school. And I want to see a day when there are zero children out of school - that is my dream," she said. Speaking to Buzasi, she hinted to a future career in politics and returning to Pakistan: "I'm interest in politics and I want to help my country Pakistan. I want to see a bright future for Pakistan. We have suffered a lot from terrorism and poverty and illiteracy." "I also miss my country, I haven't been there for more than one year and it is my dream to see my home and my friends."


Analysts Say Karzai Is Taking U.S.-Afghanistan Deal Hostage

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is taking hostage a deal that would ensure U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan post-2014 in favor of his personal legacy and putting pressure on the United States, Afghan analysts and political commentators said on Wednesday.
In recent remarks Karzai reiterated his preconditions for signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), but a number of analysts believe that Karzai persists on delaying the pact to pursue his personal agenda.
"President Karzai seems worried about his legacy. He does not want to be seen as someone who easily signed an important document with America," the Chairman of Afghanistan Center of Strategic Studies, Dawoud Muradyan, said.
Karzai's delay is having a tangible impact on Afghanistan's economy, some analysts said.
"About a month ago, we saw the first sign. The U.S. administration sought 2.9 billion dollars from the U.S. Congress, only 1.2 billion dollars was approved, the other 1.7 billion dollars was rejected. Now that has really created a huge gap in the national budget of Afghanistan," political commentator Mahmoud Saiqal said.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Karzai urged he will not sign the security agreement, unless the US kicks off the peace negotiation process. According to Karzai, US president Barack Obama told him that he will wait for Karzai's successor to sign the BSA.

Afghanistan: Qayoum Karzai Quits Election Race in Favor of Zalmai Rassoul
Afghan presidential candidate Qayoum Karzai has quit the race and thrown his support behind former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, sources close to Qayoum Karzai said on Wednesday. The official announcement is expected within 24 hours, sources added. The news comes after efforts to form a coalition between Qayoum Karzai and Rassoul failed last week after initial signs that one of the candidates might fold his campaign in favor of the other. Qayoum Karzai - the brother of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai - and a number of participants of the Jirga that was held to discuss the possible coalition last week announced on Friday that the campaign would continue uninterrupted.

Obama seeks $2.6b for Afghanistan in 2015 budget

Seeking more than $2.6 billion for the programme in Afghanistan in the budget proposals for 2015, the Obama administration on Tuesday said Washington eyed a long-term partnership with Kabul post-2014.
Submitting the $3.9 trillion budget package to the Congress, Obama said his administration was serious about the zero option in the absence of a signed bilateral security agreement between Washington and Kabul, Pajhwok correspondent in Washington reported. The budget includes $46.2 billion to fund the State Department and US Agency for International Development (USAID). US assistance for other countries, including Pakistan, comes from this fund.
The $1bn sought for Pakistan includes $280 million for supporting Pakistani security forces. The Obama administration is seeking $2.6bn for operations in Afghanistan and $1.5bn for Iraq, including $250m to support the Iraqi military. The White House described in the document “responsible transition” from “military missions to political and security support for a unified Afghanistan government” as one of the administration’s main goals in 2015.
In its budget note, the White House says that it wants the Afghan government to take “full responsibility for its own future” as the US withdraws. The war-funding measure is being delayed because the Afghan government has not signed the bilateral security pact. In the proposals, the White House says the funds for Afghanistan include resources to maintain a strong, long-term partnership by supporting military training and assistance.
The Afghan programmes include economic development, health, education, governance, security, and other civilian assistance necessary to reinforce development progress and promote stability. The White House says American and coalition forces will continue to train and sustain Afghan forces after 2014. The US will work collaboratively with Afghan forces to target Al-Qaeda and other entities that threaten the safety and security of the US and its allies.
Proposing $1.107 billion in civilian aid to Afghanistan, the State Department argued it was necessary for the continued security and economic transitions in the country.
The department believed the Afghan transitions were the most critical phase of solidifying the progress made over the last decade and helping establish Afghanistan as a stable, prosperous, secure nation in a stable prosperous, secure region.
“Fiscal Year 2015 assistance will focus on promoting economic growth by investing in viable sectors including agriculture and extractives, improved governance, a better system of justice, and alternatives to the illicit production of narcotics.” The assistance funds will help preserve gains in Afghanistan and the United States has been working in coordination with other major donors to create incentives for government enactment and implementation of reforms including respect for the rights of women and minorities, improved governance, anti-corruption efforts and improved legislation to support private investment. Another request of $325 million for Afghanistan includes a full year of operations for the interdiction, justice, corrections, and various support programmes in Afghanistan. The State Department has proposed $117.6 million to support a new Afghan government that will be elected in the April elections. It has also proposed $473.0 million for Worldwide Security Protection for Afghanistan; an increase of $88.8 million above the FY 2014 level.
This increase includes costs for general support operation expenses, equipment for the Tactical Operations Center, physical and technical security equipment such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and regional security-related costs, the State Department said.

With 2015 budget, Pentagon looks beyond Afghanistan

The Pentagon unveiled a $496 billion base budget on Tuesday that looks beyond Afghanistan to future U.S. security challenges after a dozen years of war, cutting the military to afford more training and new weapons as it adapts to an era of tighter spending. The budget set the Obama administration on a collision course with Congress by trying to eliminate popular older weapons systems and curb military compensation while seeking $26.4 billion in additional defense spending to be paid for by closing tax loopholes and cutting mandatory spending. The spending plan released on Tuesday means the Pentagon's base budget for the 2015 fiscal year essentially would remain flat for a third consecutive year as the department responds to directions to cut nearly $1 trillion in spending over a decade. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the budget "supports - and is informed by - our updated defense strategy" as outlined in the Quadrennial Defense Review, an examination of strategy and priorities that was released alongside the budget. "Today's world requires a strategy that is neither budget driven nor budget blind," he said in a statement. "We need a strategy that can be implemented with a realistic level of resources, and that is what this QDR provides." The two documents drew an immediate negative reaction on Capitol Hill. Representative Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed dismay at the shrinking security spending and flatly rejected the strategy review, vowing to make the Pentagon rewrite it. "The product the process produced this time has more to do with politics than policy and is of little value to decision-makers," McKeon said in a statement. Army General Martin Dempsey, the military's top uniformed officer, signed off on the strategic review as "appropriate to the resources available" but made no bones about the fact that it meant a "smaller and less capable military" that would make it more difficult to meet U.S. security obligations. The White House said the Pentagon's funding levels would enable the military to protect U.S. interests and execute the country's updated defense strategy, albeit with "somewhat increased levels of risk." The risks "would grow significantly" if higher budget cuts go into force in 2016 and beyond as planned, it said.
The Pentagon's five-year budget plan released on Tuesday ignores the spending caps set by Congress for the 2016 to 2019 fiscal years, seeking $115 billion more than the limits set in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Analysts said the true level of defense spending would not be known for several months until the Pentagon releases its war-funding request for 2015. The department increasingly has relied on that segment of the budget for funding operations and modernization related to the Afghanistan conflict because it is not subject to congressional budget caps. Todd Harrison, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said money included in the war-funding budget in 2014 largely offset the more than $30 billion in across-the-board cuts imposed on the base budget. He said Pentagon reliance on the war-funding budget was a "pretty dangerous situation" because once most U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan in December it will become more difficult to justify funding military operations through that supplemental measure. Christine Wormuth, the deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy and plans, said the review and budget represented a transition from "the wars of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan to looking at future threats and ... what our joint force needs to be able to do in the next 10 to 20 years." The budget calls for the Army to shrink to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, down from a war-time high of 570,000, a reduction of 40,000 to 50,000 compared to last year's proposal. It would eliminate the entire fleet of popular A-10 "Warthog" tank-killer aircraft, as well as the venerable U-2 reconnaissance planes. The budget also cancels several other key weapons programs. The Army's new ground combat vehicle would be eliminated, saving $3.4 billion over the next five years, and the Army communications network being built by General Dynamics Corp would be scaled back, saving another $3.4 billion. The budget also scraps plans to build two additional Lockheed Martin Corp Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, for $2.1 billion in savings, and defers two Global Positioning System III satellites to be built by Lockheed. The Pentagon would use some of the savings to invest in new research, development and procurement. The budget includes $153.9 billion for weapons, including $40 billion for aircraft, $22 billion for ships and $8.2 billion for missile defense.

Pakistan’s terror conundrum

SHARAT former High Commissioner to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s response to terrorism continues to be characterised by confusion, lack of national consensus on a way forward, lack of will and capacity to fight the menace and the consequent creeping surrender of the state to extremists and terrorists
Despite being a country subject to and used to frequent terror attacks, the alarming upsurge in terror-related violence in January in Pakistan made people sit up. Nearly 40 personnel of the army and other security forces were killed in terror attacks between January 19 and 22, including one near the GHQ in Rawalpindi; 24 Shias were killed near Quetta by Sunni extremists on January 21. Daily killings in Karachi and attacks against polio vaccinators continue. These incidents are a reminder, if one was needed, of the enormity of Pakistan’s terror conundrum. Yet, a large section of Pakistan’s political class believes that the terror challenge can be met through dialogue.
Slow track to dialogue
A conditional offer of talks by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the last quarter of 2012 was grabbed by political parties with significant electoral stakes in the Pashtun belt. However, there were no developments of note because of the impending elections. The TTP threatened the election rallies of all liberal parties, giving an edge to the conservative political segment. The approach of dialogue gained momentum after the May 2013 election, backed by the ruling PML-(N), Imran Khan’s PTI, the JUI (F) and the Jamaat-e-Islami. An all parties conference convened by the Nawaz Sharif government on September 9, 2013 adopted a resolution calling for an initiation of dialogue “with all stakeholders forthwith” and describing “respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs” as its guiding principle. The resolution was criticised in the liberal media for its cravenness, particularly in legitimising the TTP as a “stakeholder.” Heightened terror activity, including the killing of a major general followed, but was dismissed as being the handiwork of “foreign forces” by the votaries of dialogue.
Even as the government was trying to bring the TTP to the dialogue table, its head, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in an American drone strike on November 1, 2013. Forgetting that he had the blood of several innocent Pakistanis on his hands, the religious parties described him as a “martyr.” Though a setback, his killing did not end government efforts to engage with the TTP. Mounting expectations of military action following the spurt in violence in January were dashed when Mr. Nawaz Sharif announced on January 29 his intention to give peace “another chance” and the formation of a four-member committee to talk to the TTP.
Initial exchanges, surrounded by much uncertainty about the scope and content of dialogue, have ended abruptly because of the renewed terror activity, that resulted in the killing of over 30 security personnel. The army has carried out some air raids against militant hideouts. In a press conference on February 20, the Interior Minister was very hopeful of the dialogue process getting back on track!
The army leadership has been chary of talks with the TTP in order not to give them a breather to regroup and rearm. It is also because the army has lost many officers and men fighting the TTP. However, it has shown neither the will nor the capability to wage a decisive battle against the militants in the north-west. It conducted two major operations, in SWAT and South Waziristan in 2009, both in response to grave provocations. Its activities in other parts of FATA have essentially seen militants slipping away to other areas. A sizeable number of troops remain bogged down there. The army has also stonewalled repeated U.S. demands to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan, home to a veritable melange of Pakistani and foreign militants, including the army-friendly Haqqani network. Its reluctance has stemmed from not wanting to unsettle the Haqqanis and the uncertainty of success. According to Mr. Imran Khan, the army has told the government that an operation would have less than a 40 per cent chance of success.
Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s pursuit of dialogue is first and foremost the result of his desire to avoid a terror backlash in his home province of Punjab, which has remained relatively quiet since 2010, as a result of an operation against the TTP. He also has an eye on the sizeable conservative religious segment in his support base and the growing challenge from right wing parties, notably the PTI, who seek to exploit anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.
Terror groups and equations
The dialogue approach is underpinned by the fallacious belief of many Pakistanis that terrorism will end when their country pulls out of the U.S. War on Terror. Its efficacy remains highly suspect for various reasons. Having repeatedly demonstrated its ability to mount high-profile terror attacks at will all over the country, the TTP seeks to dictate terms to the government. Moreover, it is very difficult to make headway with this conglomerate of at least 40 terrorist, criminal and sectarian groups. Each time some factions have shown the willingness to talk, others have sabotaged the move by staging brutal terror attacks. More importantly, the TTP’s aim is not to take Pakistan out of the War on Terror or establish its own system of governance in a limited area, but, endorsed by al-Qaeda, is to take control of the Pakistani state to use it as a base to spread its obscurantist ideology to other countries. The TTP, therefore, seeks complete surrender by the state.
Pakistan’s response to terrorism thus continues to be characterised by confusion, an absence of national consensus on a way forward, a lack of will and capacity to fight the menace and the consequent creeping surrender of the state to extremists and terrorists. Besides the TTP, which targets the Pakistani state, there are groups indulging in sectarian violence, those targeting India and others focussed on Afghanistan. Regardless of their motivation and orientation, all of them are ideologically and operationally fused. Meaningful action has not been possible against terrorists in Pakistan’s west because of the army’s reluctance to wage a conclusive battle against them, its unwillingness to target groups such as the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, and now the backing by a large section of the political class of dialogue. Anti-India groups in the east have not been touched because the army regards them as assets. Robust action has not been possible against the extreme Sunni groups as they have political links and have been used by the security establishment to settle scores with Baloch nationalists. If this situation persists, the result cannot but be a state of paralysis, greater instability and mounting lawlessness in the country. Growing instability apprehended in Afghanistan post-2014 will feed into this trend.
Implications for India
What does it all mean for us? India-centric terror groups have naturally been our prime focus. However, they are a part of Pakistan’s larger terror conundrum, which we can ill-afford to ignore as an immediate neighbour. The success or failure of the Pakistani state in dealing with this existential threat would impact not only its own future, but also the security and stability of our entire region. What is needed is decisive and across-the-board military/police action against militant groups. An attempt to buy peace with the anti-Pakistan groups by offering them a secure foothold in a part of the country, for jihad outside Pakistan, will not succeed, because the prize they seek is the Pakistani state and there is the unbridgeable trust deficit between them and the army. That leaves us with the ongoing scenario of inaction and confusion. This can result only in greater instability in Pakistan, which will not leave us untouched. So, what can we do? An obvious answer is to keep our counter-terror machinery in top gear. Beyond that there are no clear-cut options.
Because of the nature of our relationship with Pakistan over the years, we have developed little positive leverage to influence Pakistan’s policy choices. However, there is now a growing and increasingly vocal section of people in Pakistan who are questioning the past policies of their country that have brought untold misery. They recognise that the use of terror against others has boomeranged on Pakistan and wish to engage with India constructively. They see the advantages of growing trade and economic links with India. Voices within this section of opinion have been questioning the wisdom of making a compromise with the Taliban. Such thinking must gain influence in Pakistan if it is to become a state at peace with itself and its neighbours. Therefore, our policy must not overlook the need to engage with this constructive segment in Pakistan, even as we contain and counter the dangers emanating from there.

US plans $280 mn military aid to Pakistan, cuts civilian aid
Arguing that Pakistan will remain a key player in counter terrorism post-2014, the U.S. has proposed $280 million in military assistance to the country, although it wants to cut civilian aid in an effort to acknowledge India’s concerns about misuse of the funds.
Marred by financial constraints, the Obama administration has proposed to substantially cut civilian aid to Pakistan to $446 million for the next fiscal year as against $703 million in 2013, which among other things the State Department argued is aimed at improving ties with India.
“The OCO (Overseas Contingency Operations) resources will support critical U.S. activities such as sustaining close cooperation with Pakistan, ensuring the safety of Pakistani nuclear installations, working with Pakistan to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan, and promoting improved relations with India,” the State Department said as it proposed $446 million in civilian aid to Pakistan.
“FY 2015 funding for Pakistan is crucial to meeting key U.S. strategic priorities of combating terrorism, strengthening security in both Pakistan and the region, and maintaining stability in Afghanistan post-transition,” the Department said. “Pakistan will remain a key player in U.S. counter terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation efforts in FY 2015, as well as in our long-term objectives of economic development and stability in the region,” the State Department said in its annual budget proposals to the Congress.
“Developing an enduring and collaborative relationship with an increasingly stable and prosperous Pakistan that plays a constructive role in the region will therefore continue to be a priority for the United States,” the State Department said proposing $100 million to Pakistan under the Economic Support Fund (ESF) for the fiscal year 2015.
Under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) category, the U.S. maintained $280 million in military aid to Pakistan for the fiscal year 2015 beginning in October 2014. Given the ongoing transition in Afghanistan and continued terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets throughout Pakistan, FMF is essential to Pakistan’s efforts to increase stability in its western border region and ensure overall stability within its own borders, the Department said.
“The $280 million Pakistan requests will enhance the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps, Air Force, and Navy’s ability to conduct counter insurgency (COIN) and counter terrorism (CT) operations against militants throughout its borders and will improve Pakistan’s ability to deter threats emanating from those areas, and encourage continued U.S.-Pakistan military-to-military engagement,” the State Department said.
The OCO supports a robust diplomatic presence and critical assistance programmes to support the government and its people following Pakistan’s first democratic transition.
“These funds will help facilitate increased stability and prosperity in this strategically important nation and will enable us to sustain a presence necessary to achieve essential strategic priorities of eliminating terrorism and enhancing stability in Pakistan and the region following the transition in Afghanistan,” the State Department said.
Pakistan lies at the heart of the U.S.’ counter terrorism strategy, the peace process in Afghanistan, nuclear non-proliferation efforts, and economic integration in South and Central Asia, it said.

Pakistan Hangu soldiers killed as talks due to resume

At least six Pakistani soldiers have been killed in a bombing in the north-west, as violence continues despite an apparent ceasefire with militants. The military said another eight people were injured in the blast targeting a security convoy near Hangu, 110km (70 miles) south-west of Peshawar.
It is the first attack on security forces this month, and comes two days after a court in Islamabad was stormed.
A Taliban ceasefire announcement at the weekend has failed to halt violence.
The Pakistan Taliban (TTP) promised a month-long truce while peace moves resume. In response, the military halted air strikes against militant positions in tribal areas near the Afghan border. The attacks since the weekend suggest the TTP are either not respecting the truce or are unable to control the many factions operating loosely under their command, observers say. The TTP distanced itself from the Islamabad court raid, which a new group calling itself Ahrarul Hind - or the Freedom Fighters of the Indian Sub-continent - said it carried out.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Wednesday's attack.
A military official told the BBC the explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED) planted on the roadside in the Warmangai area near Hangu.
They are the first military casualties since 17 February when a Taliban group said it had killed 23 soldiers held since 2010.
Hangu has been a hotbed of sectarian tensions as well as militant attacks due to its proximity to militant bases to the north and west of the town, reports the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad. The attack came as the government and the TTP were poised to resume peace talks that broke down last month. Continuing violence threatens to make any talks meaningless. There was no immediate reaction from the government or the TTP leadership.

Pakistan: Taliban talks: Khurshid Shah opposes army's involvement

Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah on Wednesday said that the government should not involve army in the dialogue process with the Taliban, Dunya News reported Talking to media outside the Parliament House, Shah said that army’s role is to follow government directive and not to hold talks or deals with the militants.
Involving the army in the dialogue process could be dangerous, he added.
A dangerous situation may emerge if the talks fail, he warned.
The opposition leader said that he has no objection if a former member of the armed forces participates in the peace talks.
Khursheed Shah’s comments came after reports emerged that the government may reconstitute its four-member negotiating team in a bid to make the peace process more ‘effective and result-oriented’.
According to sources, the members of the government committee are not very hopeful about peace talks since they are not provided adequate information and facilities that are required for the dialogue process.
Meanwhile, former ISI officer Major retired Amir also expressed no-confidence over the negotiating committee. He said the army should be on driving seat, questioning as to how can the committee takes all decisions when the army was fighting against the militants.


Trundling across the Afghan-Pakistani border in a handcart, Shayma dismisses militant threats and conspiracy theories about polio vaccinators while her four children receive drops that could finally eradicate the crippling disease.
About 1.3 million oral vaccinations are administered every year to children at the Torkham Gate crossing, the focal point of an intense global campaign to eradicate polio by 2018. But Afghanistan and Pakistan—two of the three remaining “endemic” polio nations—face a tough task due to fighting on either side of the border, Taliban opposition to vaccinations and rumors that the drops could cause impotency.
Families hurrying through the Torkham mountain pass are diverted down a channel where health workers deftly deliver two liquid drops into the mouths of all children aged under five. “We want the vaccinations so that my children don’t become disabled,” said Shayma from behind a blue burqa as she headed home from Peshawar in Pakistan to the Afghan city of Jalalabad. “It is not true that the vaccination is bad. I don’t agree with this,” she said. “I believe it stops polio.” Pakistan is a major concern for anti-polio experts with 93 cases last year, up from 58 in 2012. Vaccinators have been shot dead, bombed or taken hostage in Peshawar, Karachi and elsewhere, and some anti-polio programs have been suspended. The Pakistani Taliban oppose immunization, saying it is a cover for U.S. spying, and some people believe it is also a plot to poison Muslim children and cause infertility. While Afghanistan has had notable success in tackling polio, with 80 cases in 2011 and just 14 in 2013, eradication may be a long way off due to the constant flood of people back and forth across the porous border. “It does pose a big challenge in trying to ensure each and every child is vaccinated every single time,” UNICEF spokesman Kshitij Joshi said. “Afghanistan and Pakistan are same epidemiological block and it is important that children on either side of the border are vaccinated to ensure absolute protection.” Vaccinated children are marked on the thumb with a pen that lasts one month, but catching every child is nearly impossible in the crush of people on the colonial-era frontier, which is not officially recognized by Afghanistan. The vaccine is voluntary and is rejected by some families. One elderly man shouted at health workers and refused to allow his child to receive drops. “Sometimes we find a person like this, but the majority of people know that it is good,” said vaccination supervisor Asifullah. In Jalalabad city, on the main road to Kabul, UNICEF also targets migrant communities who move regularly between the two countries in search of work. One father living in a makeshift tent said he had been told that the drops had a bad effect and would make his children “naughty.” After a discussion, UNICEF female coordinator Rana persuaded him to allow his family to receive the vaccine.
Female volunteers are crucial to the anti-polio campaign as they are able to enter private homes, but they can’t access more dangerous areas in the Afghan border region. “It is difficult for women to go to several districts,” said Rana. “We are not allowed as the security is not good.”
Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan generally support vaccination—a result, says UNICEF, of years of work ensuring that the program is seen as strictly neutral. But in Pakistan and some parts of eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have stopped vaccinators reaching children in key polio enclaves.
“The Taliban in Kunar and Nangarhar provinces oppose the vaccinations, so we have 20,000 children there who have been unvaccinated for several months,” said Faizullah Kakar, the Afghan president’s polio specialist. “These places are near Kabul, so we are very nervous that if it gets to the capital it could spread quickly.”
The risk was highlighted last month when Kabul recorded its first polio case since 2001 after a three-year-old girl was diagnosed, probably due to her father carrying the disease from Pakistan.
“The problem is firstly the Taliban, but it is also refugees in Kunar who are somehow convinced that vaccinations are not good for their children and they also tell local Afghans not to vaccinate,” said Kakar. “We stopped three FM radio stations from constantly broadcasting propaganda against the polio campaign. And we try to halt books circulating that pick bits of science and claim that vaccines are from pig products or cause infertility. The Taliban use how Osama bin Laden was found (in part through a fake vaccination program), so they say it is about spying.”
Worldwide, polio is now restricted to two endemic areas—the Afghan-Pakistan border and northern Nigeria. But unless vaccination at key points such as Torkham Gate succeeds in stamping polio out completely, the risk of outbreaks in other countries will always remain.
For Kakar, there is one main obstacle to ridding the world of a highly contagious disease that is easily preventable but impossible to cure. “If we have peace here, we would hope to end polio very soon,” he said. “Without peace, it is a lot more uncertain.”

Fearing and fleeing in Pakistan

Asad Hashim
More than 2.3 million have been forced from their homes across the conflict-ridden northwest since 2009.
Peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - the Pakistani Taliban - have broken down amid continuing violence, and with momentum gaining for the use of military force in the tribal regions, tens of thousands are fleeing in anticipation of a bloody confrontation. As many as 40,000 people have fled the North Waziristan tribal area where the TTP and other armed anti-state groups are based, bound for the nearby areas of Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Karak and Kohat, locals told Al Jazeera. A steady flow of residents are moving into adjoining districts, with one local journalist telling Al Jazeera he observed as many as 300 people leaving the tribal area, bound for Lakki Marwat, within just two hours last week. It is almost impossible to get an exact figure of those who have fled in the latest wave of internal migration, which was sparked by a staccato series of military air raids that began in mid-January and have continued in response to TTP attacks on military and paramilitary forces, as the government has yet to establish any camps or registration systems for the new IDPs.
Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to go on the record, told Al Jazeera the military had killed between 60 and 100 people in the latest air strikes - mostly in the North Waziristan and Khyber tribal areas - carried out since February 16 when a faction of the TTP claimed responsibility for killing 23 Frontier Corps soldiers. With the air raids and helicopter gunship attacks continuing, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also announced a shift away from a dialogue-driven approach, with the use of a full-scale military operation in the face of the TTP's refusal to declare a ceasefire increasingly seen as a possibility.
Such military operations have, in the past, created hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan. Since 2009, more than 2.3 million Pakistanis have been forced to flee their homes from across the country's conflict-ridden northwest, mainly from the Bajaur, Mohmand, South Waziristan and Khyber tribal areas, and the Swat Valley. While many IDPs have since returned, there remain almost three-quarters of a million - 747,498 to be exact - displaced individuals who are either living in government-maintained camps, or on their own, according to the UNHCR.
History of Jalozai
Almost 40,000 of those IDPs live in the Jalozai refugee camp, located about 40 kilometres southeast of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Jalozai, a sprawling sea of tents, mud huts and unpaved paths, is spread out across about eight square kilometres of land. It is no stranger to providing refuge to those seeking respite from conflict. It was here that as many as 70,000 Afghan refugees fled after the Soviet Union invaded their country in 1979, and Jalozai grew over the years to become the largest refugee camp in Asia.
Back then, the camp was also a base for the "mujahideen", and, as recently as November 2012, long-buried surface-to-air Stinger missiles were still being found on its grounds. It is also home to a "martyrs graveyard" for those who fell fighting the Soviets, as well as Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian cleric considered to be Osama Bin Laden's spiritual guide in waging global jihad. Azzam was killed by a car-bomb in 1989 in Peshawar, and his attackers, to this day, remain unknown.
The camp was officially closed to Afghan refugees in April 2008 - having seen its inhabitants swell to more than 300,000 at its peak following the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. By 2009, however, Pakistani IDPs displaced by military operations were already flooding into the recently closed camp. Today, it is home to 39,823 people - about 21,000, or 53 percent, of them children. Families of four to eight people often live in a single tent, or one-room mud hut, across the camp's eight sections. "I came to the camp in 2009, from Bara [in Khyber agency]," says 45-year-old Khel Jan, who fled the violence there along with 20 family members. "The government told us to leave because of the military operation. We couldn't go back - I haven't even visited since then. If the government catches us when we are there, they accuse us of being Talibs, and if the Talibs catch us, they say we are government agents. "I came here out of desperation. I had no choice." Most of Jalozai's current inhabitants are, like Jan, from the nearby Khyber region, which adjoins Peshawar and has seen multiple large- and small-scale military engagements against groups allied with the TTP, including helicopter gunship operations in the past two weeks. Rahim Khan, a daily wage labourer who fled Khyber agency in 2009, lives in a small hut with his family of 10, and echoes that sentiment of desperation. "The situation was terrible there. There was no food for me or my family. There was government shelling, so we had to leave. We were desperate and even now we live in an IDP camp. We don't have a choice," the 48-year-old told Al Jazeera.
Longing for peace
With negotiations ongoing at the time of these conversations, camp residents expressed differing views on their expectations for results. Some felt the negotiations were "a drama", others said they wanted an outcome - but all agreed they desired a lasting peace so they could return home.
"If there is peace, regardless of whether it is the government or the Taliban in charge, we will go back," said Khan. Jan, however, offered a different point of view, one echoed by others Al Jazeera spoke to. "We fled our homes because of [the Taliban] - there is no point in sending us back to them. We will just have to flee somewhere else then." That tension around whether or not there will be peace, says local official Raina Shah, is a central challenge for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, which manages the camp. "The biggest challenge is to convince these people that it is safe to return to their homes. Someone who leaves a war will be afraid to return - how do you convince them that it is safe? How do you remove the fear?" In the meantime, those who are already displaced say they remain caught between a rock and a hard place, in an interstitial security space where they are treated with suspicion by both the Taliban and the Pakistani state. "Right now, I have issues being both here and there," says 21-year-old Khanat Gul, who fled to Jalozai from Khyber agency when he was just 17. "Over here, the police harass me because my identity card says that I am from Khyber, and there the Taliban harass me. Refugees are more free in this country than we are."

4.25 million Pakistanis drug dependent

Around 4.25 million people in the country are drug dependent with a substantial proportion of population aged 15 to 64 suffering from its devastating consequences, said a survey report launched here on Tuesday.
The ‘Drug Use in Pakistan Survey Report’ a research effort initiated by Narcotics Control Division, Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and UN Office on Drug Control (UNODC), is a first serious attempt of its kind to highlight level of drug use in Pakistan. The report estimates that 6 per cent or 6.7 million adults in Pakistan, used drugs in the last 12 months with treatment and specialist interventions in short supply. The treatment services were available to less than 30,000 drug users.
“In a country where almost a quarter of the population is estimated to be living on less than $1.25 a day, the barriers preventing the drug users access to structured treatment are exceptionally high,” it said. The survey, according to experts, was the first ever attempt aimed at providing baseline information on the prevalence and patterns of drug use among the population. The report will help the government, the civil society and private sector organisations design and implement a proper policy in this regard.
Mian Zulqernain Amir, Joint Secretary Narcotics Control Division, while inaugurating the launch of drug use survey 2013 said Pakistan had a serious drug use problem affecting every fiber of the society. “We are committed to eradicating the menace of drug use with special focus on youth,” he added.
Cesar Guedes, Representative UNODC, stated that National Drug Use Survey 2013 provided a comprehensive data of drug use and drug related HIV. The data provided in the report will form the baseline for future planning and designing of drug prevention and treatment programmes in Pakistan.
Cannabis was found to be the most commonly used drug in Pakistan consumed by 3.6 per cent of the adult population or four million people, listed as users. Opiates, namely opium and heroin, are used by almost one per cent of overall drugs users (860,000 chronic heroin users), and the highest levels of use in areas bordering principal poppy-cultivating areas in neighbouring Afghanistan. According to the report, men predominantly use cannabis and opiates, whereas women rely on tranquilisers, sedatives and prescribed amphetamines.
Alarmingly, the report also shows high prevalence (1.6 million) of non-medical use of prescription drugs nationwide, particularly amongst women. The report says almost all surveyed women said they resorted to misusing opioid-based (morphine like) painkillers, and to lesser extent tranquilizers and sedatives, which are readily available in pharmacies. Another key finding was the emergence of methamphetamine use in some areas of the country.

Pakistan: Baloch human rights marchers

The group of Baloch people who embarked on a long march from Quetta to Islamabad on October 27 carrying the photos of missing relatives along with the names and dates of disappearance to seek their recovery reached the destination on February 28. Along the way in Sindh and Punjab many people joined the marchers within their cities and towns, and a large number of civil society activists welcomed the group at Faizabad; the main entry point into Islamabad demonstrating that people all over the country sympathised with their cause. Within Balochistan, parties across the political spectrum are at one with each other in demanding an end to enforced disappearances and what is called 'kill and dump policy'. Notably, the Human Rights Watch says more than 300 people have fallen victim to this policy since January 2011. To say the least, that is a black mark against collective conscience of this nation.
The federal government has been trying to resolve the issue through political dialogue, albeit without much success. Towards the end of January, the prime minister visited Quetta to preside over a special meeting of all stakeholders, including top military leadership, where it was decided to constitute a committee to initiate peace dialogue with the 'angry Baloch' youth. Briefing a Senate committee a few days later, however, the Balochistan FC chief put a question mark on the initiative as he railed against militants saying it is wrong to call them 'aggrieved Baloch' that they are terrorists. Some of this bitterness is understandable considering that the insurgents have not only been damaging gas pipelines and power supply system, they have also been killing people as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign and bombing trains. As the Balochistan Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch - a self-admitted militant during a previous insurgency - noted in an interview, the insurgents in the past never killed people of other ethnicities. What is different this time is that outsiders, such as Kabul and Delhi governments, are backing the insurgents to settle their own scores or to destabilise this country by exploiting the Baloch sentiments. Reason therefore demands not an angry response but a cool-minded, well calculated policy of pacification.
The FC chief's rant notwithstanding, whether it is under political pressure or the apex court's insistence on production of the missing persons, there are some signs of improvement. The day the marchers arrived in Islamabad, Balochistan government spokesman Jan Mohammad Buledi, expressing the provincial government's concern over the issue, claimed having achieved success vis-a-vis the so-called 'kill and dump policy' saying, "in our time at least the dumping of mutilated bodies has stopped." But the agencies have yet to account for the missing persons. Those who arrived in Islamabad have made it known that they will not rest until they find out the whereabouts of their near and dear ones. Their leader, Mama Qadeer Baloch, said he had no hope of Pakistan government helping, and hence had decided to present a petition to UN officials in Islamabad so the international community applies pressure, adding that in the event of failure his people might march to Geneva. The best way to deal with this super sensitive issue would be to empower Balochistan's nationalist Chief Minister Dr Malik to come to a political settlement with the 'angry' Baloch.

Pakistan: Muslim Extremists Sabotaged Church Foundations In A Village Near Okara

In village Chack Number 3/4L, in district Okara of Punjab, more than a dozen Muslims extremist outfitted with fire arms attacked foundation construction of a Church.
In village Chack Number 3/4L more than 50 Christian families came together to place foundation of Church on their land and board of Church was mounted but on March 2, 2014, at 9:00 am more than a dozen of Muslims extremists riding on a tractor trolley arrived on Church site and sabotaged Church foundation.
With tractor on which they came, the Muslim invaders pulled down the Church board on which verses of Holy Bible were written. When Christians of village came out of homes the safety of the Church foundation the Muslims invaders pulled guns on them and wounded them with sticks.
The invaders were shouting slogans “No construction of Church in our village”, “No worship places of pagan Christians” which spread panic among Christians of the village. The Christians move toward police for help and FIR number 214/14 on happening was lodged under Section 298-A PPC in Saddar Police Station Okara against Mohammad Ghulam Ali, Mohammad Khalid, Mohammad Ghafoor, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Javed, Mohammad Irfan, Mohammad Rashid, Mohammad Ramzan, Mohammad Alla Ditta and others.
Until latest updates, no arrests were made by Saddar Police Station Okara and offenders were walking free in village and threatening the Christian applicant of FIR.
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Was Fizza Malik not daughter of Pakistan

by Syed Taheer Hussain
This is Fizza Malik, 25-years-old, lawer fell prey to Deobandi Taliban-allied organisation Deobandi Al Ahralul Hind’s terrorism along with a sessions judge and 10 other people in Islamabad today. Until yesterday, she was an aspiring lawyer in her very first days of Law practice. This morning, she became collateral damage in a war she was never involved in.
How can such a news be broken to a family?
How do we tell her father his princess won’t be coming home?
How do we tell her mother that no one will help around the house anymore?
How do we tell her brother that his caretaker won’t be there tomorrow?
How do we tell her friends that they won’t hear her voice again?
How do we tell her cousins that the laugh that made everyone smile will never be heard again?
Why do innocent people have to pay the price for the mistakes of corrupt leaders? When will we realize that the Taliban and their supporters are not our friends
Was Fizza Malik not daughter of Pakistan or only Deobandi Aaafia Siddiqui is the daughter of Pakistan? What do you say Mr Munawar Hassan Deobandi, Imran Khan Deobandi, Nawaz Sharif Deobandi, Maulana Fazlur Rahman Deobandi, Maulana Sami Deobandi etc?
My friend Zahid Ali Khan writes about Fizza Malik:
Rest in peace FIZZAH MALIK!
She martyred in today’s terrorist attack in Islamabad. She was my niece Sahar Farooq’s friend. On Feb 10, 2010, she invited us on breakfast at Pir Suhawa’s famous dhaba. I cannot forget her lovely smile. May Allah swt keep her in eternal peace for ever in the life hereafter
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Pakistan's Terrorist Groups: Historical context of Ahrar-ul-Hind, the new alias of Deobandi terrorists
by Taj
A previously unknown group Ahrarul Hind has accepted responsibility of suicide bombing and brutal killings of people in district and session courts in Islamabad on 3 March 2014. Media is telling us that this is a splinter group of the TTP which has parted his way recently due to TTP’s stance on talks with Government. We are of the view that this is yet another addition to the list of aliases used by takfiri Deobandi terrorists who are killing innocent Sunni Barelvis, Shias, Christians, Ahmadis and other communities in Pakistan to implement the Deobandi and Salafi/Wahhabi version of Shariat. Intriguingly, the Ahrar-ul-Hind utilised same mailing addresses and telephone numbers to communicate with same journalists as used by TTP!
Ahrar is a name used by Deobandi and Salafi/Wahabi terrorists imported from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan who are currently massacring not only Syrian army but also innocent Sunni Sufis, Shias and Christians in Syria.
In the context of Pakistan and India, Aharar are those Deobandi radicals who had established their struggle on intolerance and forced acceptance of their own interpretation of Sharia . The Ahrar Movement played a significant role in radicalizing lower middle class layers of Deobandi community in Punjab, KP and FATA. The anti Ahamdi violent movement was driven also by the Ahrars resulting in 1953 Lahore riots leading to the imposition of the first Martial law in Pakistan. Many innocent Ahmadiyya Muslims were killed in the riots. This is documented in the judicial reports by Justice Munir. Other journalistic sources include Abdullah Malik’s book “پنجاب کی فرقہ وارانہ تحریکیں”. It may be recalled that the May 2010 Ahmadiyya massacre in Lahore too was claimed by the banned Deobandi terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ, currently operating as ASWJ).
Majlis-e-Ahrar-ul-Islam was founded on 29 December 1929 in Lahore, and Deobandi radical clerics Syed Ataullah Shah Bukhari, Syed Afazal Haq, Habiburahman Kandhalvi, Zafar Ali Khan and Dawood Ghazanvi were its founding fathers. This coincided with a time when Hitler was organizing his followers in Germany and other parts of Europe on the basis of racial and religious hatred. The organized hate movements of the Nazis may have inspired the founders of the fascist Deobandis to organize as a hate group in the Indian Subcontinent. Deobandis were also inspired by a similar hate movement in Saudi Arabia, i.e., Wahabism/Salafism of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab. There is a book published by Maktaba Ahrar, Multan, compiled by Ataullah Shah Bukhari’s son, in which we see speeches of Atallah Shah Bukhari admiring Hitler and its armies. In that period when Deobandi clerics gave Fatwa that Hindustan had become place of war (dar-ul-harb) and Muslims should migrate from this place, then some Ahrari leaders and workers went to Afghanistan and some crossed the border and went to Burma which was captured by Japanese forces and some also reached Germany and they asked Hitler for their help against Biritish Indian Government as they wanted to establish a Deobandi (semi-Salafi) Caliphate in India. Ironically, progressive Pashtun leader Bacha Khan too was an active part of the Khilafat and Hijrat movements organized by the Deobandi and Ahrari clerics. In addition to establishing Deobandi madrassahs in KP and tribal areas, Bacha Khan (Ghaffar Khan) actively led the Khilafat and Hijrat movement in Pashtun areas. By the time, the Khiliafat Movement ended, the artificial unity among sectarian groups of Hindus, Sikhs and Deobandis shattered away.
The Ahrar movement became the first modern Takifiri Deobandi political party having strong links in Punjab before the Partition in 1947. After Partition, it became purely fascist Deobandi political and militant movement. Overtime, leadership of this Deobandi extremist group grew roots in Saraiki and Pothwar regions. Although the the movement was indigenous to the Subcontinent, it found natural allies within the extremist Salafists/Wahabis of Saudi Arabia. To the Ahrar leaders and cadre, Sunni Barelvis/Sufis, Shias and Ahmadia are simply unacceptable and they must be forced into submission by whatever mans necessary. In mid 1980s, another extremist Deobandi outfit, namely Spiah Sahaba (ASWJ or LEJ), emerged as natural evolution of the Ahrar and Khatam-e-Nabuwat movements.
While there is a mountain of evidence of Deobandi terrorism with support and financial backing of the Salafi sponsors of Saudi Arabia, the talking heads of politics and media are denying the existence of Deobandi terrorism and its deep roots in Deobandi ideology, seminaries and organisations. Deobandi terrorists have become dreadful killing machine; one group kills people and other group denies its involvement in terrorist act. The umbrella Deobandi organizations and sympathizers in the media (such as Hamid Mir, Ansar Abbasi) or politics (such as Jamat e Islami, Nawaz league or Pakistan Thereek e Insaaf) find ways to protect the killers and let them live another day. So these Deobandi terrorists may kill more innocent people. The recent “cease fire” and “dialogue ploys” are examples of tactics used to protect Deobandi terrorists. Creating new aliases and so called offshoots to claim responsibility for acts of terror thereby protecting TTP (or any other group) from State action is a tactic to protect Deobandi terrorists.
The Ahar’s original slogans were justice, humanity, Islam and divine rule (hukumat-e-ilahiyya). With the passage of time, humanity was removed and justice replaced with Shariah justice, and Islam actually meants takfiri ideology based on puritanical Deobandi and Salafi sects. In short, the takfiri Deobandi ideology is a fight to the death or conversion to the Ahrar’s version and vision of Islam. Whether is is Ahrar, TTP, ASWJ, LEJ, Jandullah, Jaish-e-Adl, or any new alias they adopt, their true and common identity remains radical Deobandism organised to use violence to implement Deobandi Shariat.

Pakistan:SC slams Islamabad police over court attack

As lawyers launched a three-day strike all over Pakistan, the Supreme Court on Tuesday slammed the Islamabad police and the administration for failing to prevent and tackle the terror attack on the district and sessions court on Monday. It ordered the installation of high-resolution CCTV cameras there within 48 hours apart from securing the three entrances. A three-judge bench after hearing lawyers who said the response of the police was lukewarm and there was reluctance to fire on the attackers, and the Inspector-General Islamabad Sikandar Hayat, the chief commissioner Jawad Paul and interior secretary Dr. Shahid ordered all of them to file statements.
On Monday after the attack, the chief justice took suo motu notice and asked for a report from the administration and summoned the three top officials. Dr. Shahid admitted all three security gates of the court were dysfunctional and no CCTV cameras were installed on the premises. The court asked him to file a statement before the next hearing on Monday on how many police were posted, how many were present and how many fired on the attackers. The court also asked the lawyers who were eyewitnesses to file statements on what they had seen.
Lawyers present said the police refused to fire claiming their guns were out of order and that if they fired the terrorists would come towards them. The bench also ordered compensation to be paid to the victims' families.
Earlier, the three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Tassaduq Jilani, Khilji Arif Hussain and Azmat Saeed Sheikh raised questions on the number of police deployed at the court and how many had fired their guns. While 66 policemen were on duty, only 47 were present and not all were armed. Dr. Shahid said two policemen fired at one of the suicide bombers. To pointed questions on how many policemen fired and how many rounds were fired, Mr. Hayat couldn't give satisfactory answers. The court said this showed the level of interest as the IG was not in a position to give facts.
The bench said there were intelligence reports that Islamabad was under threat but there were no CCTV cameras in the court complex and the security gates were non functional. Lawyers present in the court said the police were almost an hour late in coming. Dr. Shahid said that the reaction time was seven to ten minutes. The bench said if the police reached in that time, then the firing would not have gone on for 45 minutes and the terrorists would not have fled the scene. Nadeem Hasan, president of the Islamabad High Court Bar told the court that he was eyewitness to the incident and police came after 45 minutes. A senior police officer turned up around 11 am in casual clothing, lawyers said. A month earlier they had also informed the police about lack of security. The Chief Justice observed that there was no accountability in this country and people were paying taxes so that the police can protect them.
Mr. Hayat said he got to know of the firing at 9.07 and reached there at 9.30 am. He said there were two attackers who killed themselves and possibly one more. The Chief Justice said the IG didn't even know the exact number of attackers and he should have issued a public statement on the incident.

Pakistan: PPP opposes ‘TTP appeasement policy’

The PPP has termed the PML-N government's policy of appeasement towards the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan a failure, demanding it should stop pursuing it forthwith. "The cowardly act of terrorists in Islamabad district courts will not weaken the resolve of the Pakistani nation," PPP central president Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo said in a statement here on Monday, adding it would rather strengthen the will to defeat those trying to impose their 'dark ages' agenda on the country. "The TTP's unilateral cease fire offer for a month is not analogous to their bonhomie. Instead, it is the result of pre-emptive and targeted strikes by the army against terrorists' hideouts that forced them (TTP) to engage (in a dialogue) with the state," he said.

Pakistan: Civil society condemns terrorist attack on Islamabad District Courts

Civil society organisations, networks and individual rights activists across Pakistan on Tuesday condemned the terrorist attack on judges and lawyers at the Islamabad District and Sessions Courts in F-8 Markaz on Monday morning.
In a statement issued jointly by the human rights groups and individuals, the civil society expressed solidarity with the families of the 11 ‘shaheeds’ and 40 plus injured, as well as the entire legal community in this hour of grief, horror and shock.
“We note with outrage the well-planned, coordinated and orchestrated attack, where between 8-10 terrorists, including 2 suicide bombers and sharp-shooters gained entry and went on the rampage with grenades and guns for over 40 minutes, unhindered and unchecked by the police or any form of security inside the supposedly “secured and protected” four-walled premises of the Courts in the F-8 Markaz, and then fled unhindered in their ostentatious vehicles.”
The statement question the TTP’s statement, disclaiming responsibility for the attack during the so-called “ceasefire” and “cessation of war”, as well as the statement by the “Ahrar-ul-Hind”, an off-shoot of the TTP, claiming responsibility.
“We condemn the TTP’s failure to condemn the killings. We reject the conspiracy theorists’ mooting the deliberate red herring of the “third party hidden hand”, as too clichéd and convenient a scapegoat,” states the statement.
The statement also questioned the claims of the present government about the security of Islamabad. “Is this a demonstration of the complete and total fool-proof security for Islamabad — particularly at its high-risk venues — which was assured and guaranteed just last week by the Interior Minister on the floor of the National Assembly in the Parliament? Or should we believe the National Crisis Management Cell’s alarming but realistic threat assessment of Islamabad vis-a-vis sleeper cells of banned organisations, e.g. al-Qaeda, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi?”
It mentions that the national has seen 60,000 Shaheed Pakistanis and still counting. “How many more bodies of our loved ones and our compatriots will we need to bury before the cowardly, hypocritical, fearfully self-preservationist politicians/political parties comprehend the reality that Pakistan is truly slipping out of our hands, in front of our very eyes?”
The statement demands the government to immediately come out of its ostrich stance, exert its Constitutional authority, stop making committees and statements of pious intent only, and start taking urgent action. “We reject condemnable appeasement policies masquerading as ‘peace talks’, which lead to further terrorist attacks and killings. Is the Government aiming for the permanent peace of the cemetery?”
The statement called upon the public and private print and electronic media across Pakistan to stop furthering the appeasement policy by disproportionately projecting the viewpoint and ideology of the Taliban mindset; referring to terrorists as “Commanders” and “Ameers” (sic); and glorifying terrorism by repeatedly showing gruesome images of heavily armed masked criminals as heroes.