Wednesday, March 19, 2014

U.S. examines pilot simulator data as Malaysia plane search falters

The FBI is helping Malaysian authorities to analyze data from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of a missing Malaysian airliner, a U.S. official said on Wednesday as investigators grasped for clues 12 days after the plane vanished.
Malaysia's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said an examination of the simulator, taken from the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, showed its data log had been cleared on February 3, more than a month before the airliner, carrying 239 people, disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
"The experts are looking at what are the logs that have been cleared," he told a news conference.
No wreckage has been found from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast at 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8 (1721 GMT March 7), less than an hour after taking off.
Malaysia has now made available to the FBI electronic data generated by both pilots of Flight MH370, including data from a hard drive attached to the captain's flight simulator, and from electronic media used by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, a U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters.
The official said he could not confirm that some data had been wiped from the simulator and stressed that there was no guarantee the FBI analysis would turn up any fresh clues.
U.S. investigators had become increasingly frustrated in recent days that Malaysian authorities had not asked them for more help.
The FBI has extensive experience investigating airplane crashes, including those of TWA 800 and EgyptAir 990 off the U.S. east coast in the 1990s and Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In the case of EgyptAir 990, the FBI helped air safety investigators establish that the crash was caused by a suicidal co-pilot, while in the case of Pan Am 103, the agency worked with British and U.S. intelligence to build a case against the government of Libya.
In Kuala Lumpur, at the headquarters of a search operation that has so far turned up few leads, Chinese relatives' anger over sparse information on the fate of their relatives sparked chaotic scenes on Wednesday. Malaysia's transport minister ordered an inquiry after security guards carried out the distraught mother of a passenger from a briefing room where she had protested about a lack of transparency. "They are just saying wait for information. Wait for information. We don't know how long we have to wait," cried the woman before being whisked away from a massive media scrum.
Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he regretted the anguish.
"Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH370 and hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family members are missing," he said in a statement. DWINDLING HOPES Prospects that a 26-nation operation would lead to quick results appeared to be dwindling, however, as investigators confirmed they were focusing on the remote southern Indian Ocean after failing to find any traces of the jet further north. "Our top priority is being given to that area," Hishammuddin told the news conference, confirming an earlier Reuters report. Australia is leading the search in the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the U.S. Navy. It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers an area of 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), roughly the size of Spain and Portugal. The unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER had focused on two vast search corridors: one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island to west of Australia. "The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said a source close to the investigation. That view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane entered their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part of the southern corridor. Some sources involved in the investigation have voiced fears it could stall due to the reluctance of countries in the region to share militarily sensitive radar data that might shed new light on the direction the jet took. Two people familiar with the investigation said the search had been hampered in some cases by delays over the paperwork needed to allow foreign maritime surveillance aircraft into territorial waters without a formal diplomatic request. "These are basically spy planes; that's what they were designed for," said one source close to the investigation, explaining the hesitance of some nations to give blanket permission for other countries to scour their waters. Hishammuddin confirmed that some assets that could be involved in the search were waiting for diplomatic clearance. "The search for MH370 involves diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges," he told the news conference, held in a Kuala Lumpur airport hotel that has served as a temporary crisis coordination centre and a base for dozens of news organizations.
Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was deliberately diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew aboard has not yielded anything that might explain why. If the plane did indeed end up in the southern Indian Ocean, one of the remotest places on Earth and also one of the deepest seas, it increases the chance it may never be found - and investigators may never know for sure what happened on board. Officials believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777 and commercial aviation navigation switched off two vital datalinks: the ACARS system, which relays maintenance data back to the ground, and the transponder, which enables the plane to be seen by civilian radar.
U.S. agencies have looked for evidence that anyone other than the pilots knew how disable ACARS but have found nothing.

President Obama Hosts a Screening of "Cesar Chavez: An American Hero"

Biden visits Lithuania, warns Russia of 'dark path'

Vice President Biden pledges to support Baltic allies worried by Russian aggression.

Putin: Crimea similar to Kosovo, West is rewriting its own rule book (FULL SPEECH-Video)

Relatives of Chinese passengers on board missing Malaysian flight demand answers

As family tensions grow, investigators say they're looking into deleted data from the pilot's flight simulator

Toyota to pay US $1.2 billion over accelerator problems

Kerry slams Israeli Defense Minister Ya'alon's Obama remarks

In response to harsh US criticism of Ya'alon over comments he made about Obama, sources close to the defense minister say that some in the US have "marked" him for being a bothersome element in the peace talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning to "protest" Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's criticism of US President Barack Obama, stopping short of calling for the minister's resignation, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. "Clearly his comments were not constructive," Psaki told reporters. "It is certainly confusing to us."
Psaki added that Kerry does not believe Ya'alon's comments "reflect the view of the government of Israel."
Sources close to Ya'alon responded Wednesday to the harsh US criticism over remarks he made about Obama on Tuesday. Ya'alon's sources claimed there are "some people" in the US that have marked the Defense Minister as a "bothersome element in the peace talks with the Palestinians," Israel Radio reported. The sources said that the Americans who oppose Ya'alon are seeking to deligitimize him because they know that he is a "hard nut to crack," according to the report. The sources added that Ya'alon would continue to forward Israel's security concerns even if people try to tarnish his image. Defense minister Ya'alon will clarify his comments to the Americans in private meetings, a source in his office said. Netanyahu and Ya'alon discussed matter today, the source added. On Tuesday, the United States used unprecedented language to condemn Ya'alon after he continued weeks of criticism of Obama, and members of his foreign policy team, on Tuesday.
“We were shocked by Moshe Ya’alon’s comments, which seriously call into question his commitment to Israel’s relationship with the United States," a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday night. "Moreover, this is part of a disturbing pattern in which the Defense Minister disparages the US Administration, and insults its most senior officials."
Ya'alon said on Tuesday that, in light of developments on crises in the Middle East, relations with China and with Russia over the annexation of Crimea, Obama's "image in the world is feebleness." Ya'alon sensed "disappointment" in the world community, he said at Tel Aviv University.
"Given the unprecedented commitment that this administration has made to Israel’s security, we are mystified why the Defense Minister seems intent on undermining the relationship," the official continued.
The defense minister also implied that US policy on Iran was pushing Israel to plan for war, should talks over its nuclear program fail in Vienna.
"At some stage the United States entered into negotiations with [the Iranians], and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better," Ya'alon said.
Ya'alon's criticism of the US administration was extensive: he suggested the White House "come to its senses," or else risk new terrorist threats from around the world.
"Look what's happening in Ukraine, where the United States is demonstrating weakness, unfortunately," he continued.

Israel: 'A danger named Ya’alon'

In continuing his unbridled attacks on the United States, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is endangering Israel’s security.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is continuing his unbridled attacks on the United States. After rudely insulting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last month (“He’s messianic, obsessed, should just take his Nobel Prize and go away”), for which he had to apologize, he did it again on Monday, referring to the U.S. administration as “comfortable Westerners” who “prefer to put off confrontation” with Iran.
But Ya’alon did not make do with just the Iranian issue; according to him, the U.S. administration is demonstrating weakness all over the world. In his address at Tel Aviv University, he argued that America’s aid to Israel, “has to be seen in proportion. It isn’t an American favor, it’s in their interest … they get quality intelligence and technology. We invented the Iron Dome. We invented the wings of the F-35 stealth fighter. We invented the Arrow.”
These hollow words of bravado and disdain for the American government and its aid to Israel were actually uttered by the defense minister, the one who is meant to know just how important the strategic relations with the U.S. are to the system for which he is responsible. He knows the true significance of this military, economic and political assistance, and is meant to understand that without this help, Israel could end up in real danger.
Ya’alon, however, prefers to act like the last of the right wing’s resistance fighters. If some Knesset backbencher would express himself that way, one could perhaps let it go by, but when the defense minister says such things he is endangering Israel’s security and its most important diplomatic asset.
It’s hard to know what is happening to Ya’alon. One can assume that he’s trying to position himself as an opposition leader, to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. From the Haaretz report on Tuesday on his address at TAU, it seems that the defense minister has changed his stance and is now inclined to support a military operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities even without American involvement, saying Israel must act on this issue as if it has only itself to rely on.
But Israel has no option of operating in a vacuum in contravention of the explicit position of the U.S. – not on the Iranian issue and not on other issues. At a time when international criticism of Israel is growing, and only the U.S. continues to stubbornly support Israel, the defense minister is sabotaging even that.

CHINA: Russian revival more benefit than threat

Moscow has shrugged off all warnings from the West and announced Crimea's return to its embrace. Russian President Vladimir Putin's geopolitical courage has rocked the US and Europe and was not expected by global strategists.
Putin has been dominant in the crisis taking place on the European continent. He seems to be announcing that Russia has recovered from the fall of the Soviet Union and has gained momentum in securing Russia's interests.
The West is in a state of depression. Small countries neighboring Russia have expressed anxiety. Opinions in China are divided into two groups: One highly praises Putin's counterstrike against the West and believes Putin's tough stance will help reduce China's strategic pressure from the West. The other worries that Russia's victory in Crimea will boost its arrogance and Beijing will find it difficult to deal with the country in the future.
Both sound reasonable, as the first is based on China's geopolitical reality and the latter comes out of historical experience.
China has suffered at the hands of the Russian Empire in the past. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Moscow offered concrete assistance, but also made us breathless. Therefore, some people worry that a Russia experiencing a revival will bring back a new geopolitical nightmare for China.
But China is not as weak as it was in the 19th and early 20th century. The strength of China in Asia and even the world cannot be compared to the past. The gap between the strength of China and Russia has changed fundamentally.
The two have carried out comprehensive strategic cooperation, but at the public level, mistrust does exist. Given the geopolitical environment of the two countries' development potential, Beijing doesn't need to be as watchful as Moscow.
For quite a long time in the future, the most strategic pressure will come from the US-led West. This pressure is not only geopolitical but also ideological. China promotes a multipolar world and a powerful Russia can accelerate this, which is much better than a unipolar world led by the US.
Putin holds on to the outdated thinking of "sphere of domain," which may trigger frictions with China as its influence in Central Asia expands. But the divergence between the two is not beyond management, and the two have initiated the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. So let's turn back to Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Russia has been driven away from its original sphere of influence. Restoring its influence in Eastern Europe is an unavoidable challenge for Russia during its revival process.
As long as Beijing properly handles its cooperation and divergence with Moscow and joins hands with it on global issues, the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership will become a solid foundation of their global diplomacy. In the coming years, Russia will not pose a strategic threat to China. China should become used to Russia's revival, and maintain its own interests when dealing with Russia.

China: Uygur militant’s support for Kunming knife attack ‘proof of China’s terror threat’

A Uygur militant leaders support of an attack this month in China in which 29 people were knifed to death is clear proof that the world should support China’s fight against terror, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
Beijing blamed the stabbings at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming on extremists from China’s far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uygur people.
Abdullah Mansour, leader of the rebel Turkestan Islamic Party, called the March 1 attack an “expensive offer” for China to reconsider its “cruel” policies in Xinjiang, the SITE monitoring service said late on Tuesday, citing a video by the group.
“If the fighters of East Turkestan are now fighting with swords, knives, and mallets, our dear Allah will soon give us opportunities to fight the Chinese using automatic guns,” Mansour said.
“Know that blood of those who are killing themselves is not being spilled for nothing, for their blood will bring tens of more to carry out jihad.”
China says it faces a serious threat from armed groups who seek to establish an independent state called East Turkestan, and has reacted with anger to suggestions its policies are to blame for stoking Uygur resentment and violence.
Mansour said this month that his fighters were gearing up for retribution against China.
The Turkestan Islamic Party, which China equates with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), keeps a low profile in Pakistan, where it is holed up in a lawless tribal belt. Unlike the Taliban, it almost never posts videos promoting its activities or ideology. Its exact size is unknown and some experts dispute its ability to orchestrate attacks in China, or that it exists at all as a cohesive group. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that Mansour’s video “exposes the true nature of their terrorist organisation” with their open support for the Kunming attack.
“Terrorism is the public enemy of mankind. Cracking down on the ETIM terrorist group is an important part of the international community’s fight against terrorism,” Hong added.
“We hope that the international community can clearly know their true terrorist nature of the TIP which represents ETIM and their serious threat, and understand and support China’s policies against terrorism.”
Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been beset by violence for years, blamed by the government on Islamist militants and separatists.
Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is China’s heavy-handed policies including restrictions on Islam and the Uygur people’s culture and language.
The government strongly denies such accusations but it has begun to recognise the economic roots of some of the upheaval, such as the lack of jobs in Uygur areas like rural southern Xinjiang, and it has poured money in to rectify the problem.
In the latest plan, the government wants to increase to one million people the number of people working in Xinjiang’s textile industry by 2020, up from the current 200,000, as a way of drawing unemployed youths away from joining militants, the official China Daily said on Wednesday.
More than 100 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April, according to state media reports.

NATO chief: Russian aggression is 'wake-up call'

Russia's advances in Ukraine are the greatest threat to European security since the Cold War, NATO's chief was expected to argue, in a speech Wednesday making clear the international military alliance must refocus on risks closer to home after years of fighting in far-away war zones.
"This is a wake-up call," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in remarks prepared for a Washington think-tank. An advance copy was obtained by The Associated Press.
He lambasted Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's strategic Crimea Peninsula as illegal and illegitimate, and repeated NATO's decision to suspend a joint maritime escort with Russia for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. Additionally, Rasmussen was expected to outline bolstered military measures under preparation for NATO states, if needed, to respond to Russia, including surveillance flights over Poland and Romania, and additional assets for an airspace protection mission over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
"This is the gravest threat to European security and stability since the end of the Cold War," Rasmussen said in the prepared afternoon speech at the Brookings Institution.
He added: "Developments in Ukraine are a stark reminder that security in Europe cannot be taken for granted. ...We need to focus on the long-term strategic impact of Russia's aggression on our own security."
Rasmussen's speech briefly touched on other NATO priorities — including the war in Afghanistan, peacekeeping in Kosovo and stopping piracy off the coast of Somalia. He was to describe ending NATO combat mission in Afghanistan at the year's end, and prepare for "a future relationship" with that country.
NATO has been pushing Kabul to sign security agreements with the U.S. and the alliance that would allow international troops to remain in Afghanistan for a training mission extending beyond a Dec. 31 deadline for withdrawal. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly refused, frustrating Western leaders who hope his successor will quickly agree after presidential elections this spring.
But the advances by Russia have forced some U.S. and NATO officials to question whether European forces will be willing to continue the mission in Afghanistan if their own borders are threatened.

Putin's approval rate skyrockets at home

Takfiris carry out mass murders in Syria: UN

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) carried out "mass executions" in Syria in January, the United Nations says.
According to a report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria on Tuesday, the Takfiris "conducted mass executions of detainees, thereby perpetrating war crimes."
The commission said it had documented some mass execution cases in Idlib, Aleppo, and Raqqa provinces, including in a children's hospital in Aleppo used by the militants as a headquarter.
"The number killed as well as allegations of mass graves connected to these executions remain under investigation," it said, adding, "Many killings occurred hastily, at pointblank range."
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the head of the commission, told the UN Human Rights Council that the militants "are imposing their radical ideologies on the civilian population," in northern and northeastern provinces.
"Civilians in besieged areas have been reduced to scavenging... People, including young children, have starved to death," Pinheiro added.
Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011.
Over 130,000 people have been killed and millions displaced due to the violence fueled by Western-backed militants.
The Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are reportedly supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

Russia to redirect trade elsewhere in case of EU-US sanctions

Russia will switch to other trade partners if economic sanctions are imposed by the US and the European Union, the Russian President's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has said. "If one economic partner on the one side of the globe impose sanctions, we will pay attention to new partners from the globe’s other side. The world is not monopolar, we will concentrate on other economic partners," RIA news quotes Peskov. According to him, possible economic sanctions by the US and EU on Russia are unacceptable, and the Russian Federation intends to offer further economic cooperation with the European Union. "We want to keep good relations with the EU and with the US. Especially with the European Union as it is the main economic, investment and trade partner of the Russian Federation. Our mutual economic dependence assumes that we shall have good relations," the Russian President's Press Secretary declared. He also emphasized that discussion of global economic problems without involvement of Russia can't be a complete discussion. In a Tuesday telephone conversation between Russia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry they discussed the situation in Ukraine, and Lavrov said sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union against the Russian Federation are absolutely unacceptable and won’t come without consequences. According to data from the EU’s Eurostat, Russia accounts for 7 percent of imports and 12 percent of exports in the 28 European Union bloc, making it the region's third most important trading partner, behind the USA and China. In turn, the EU is Russia’s biggest trade and investment partner, with trade turnover estimated at $330 billion in 2012. The introduction of sanctions may lead to a considerable financial losses for the EU. “The set of economic measures which the EU can apply is extremely limited”, says the deputy director of Institute of economic prediction of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Shirov. “The Russian economy is 3 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. We generate a considerable volume of demand for European products crucial to such countries as Germany, Italy and France. The absence of normal trade and economic relations with Russia essentially means losses for these countries," the expert concludes. The US is a much smaller trading partner for Russia, as its trade turnover with Russia was about about a tenth of that with the EU at $38.1 billion in 2012.In 2013, the value of its imports was $26.96 billion, more than double the value of its exports.
Boomerang effect
US based companies that have strong business ties with Russia, including General Electric and Boeing, are becoming increasingly concerned over US plans to harden sanctions against Russia after the association of the Crimea. Businesses are afraid of countermeasures from the Russian authorities, says Bloomberg. “The CEOs are obviously very concerned about what is happening in Russia,” said John Engler, the president of the US Business Roundtable of major CEOs. “For some companies, it’s a substantial bit of their business. They are watching it very intently, trying to understand what will happen and what the next steps will be.” The aviation subsidiary of General Electric, GE Capital Aviation Services, has a fleet of 54 airplanes in Russia. The largest aircraft leasing company in the world is watching closely the development of interrelations. Boeing is afraid the demand for airliners will fall if the dispute leads to a decrease in global economic growth. Some of the world’s biggest companies in the West have already said they would run their businesses with Russia as usual and won’t be involved in the political conflict. Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, that has major exploration projects in Russia, said that the Texas-based company, wouldn’t take sides in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. On a country level, Latvia has so far voiced the biggest concern over sanctions against Russia, as the adverse effect would hit the country the hardest compared to all the EU member states. The country could lose up to 10 percent of its GDP, as the action against Russia could have a big adverse effect, according to the country’s Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma. On Monday Latvia also said that the EU should compensate any countries hurt by sanctions against Russia. On Wednesday the heads of nearly 100 companies from the Business Roundtable association will meet in Washington to discuss the question of sanctions.

Biden: US Will Respond to Aggression Against NATO Allies
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Russia is on a "dark path" to isolation with its actions in Ukraine and that the United States will respond to any aggression against its NATO allies.
Biden made the comments while in Lithuania, during a trip to reassure Baltic allies concerned about Russia's move to annex Ukraine's Crimea.
Biden met with the leaders of Lithuania and Latvia Wednesday after a visit to Poland on Tuesday. He reaffirmed the U.S. pledge to protect its NATO allies from attack.
The Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are NATO members. Ukraine is not.
The countries have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for moving to annex Ukraine's Crimea, and the White House announced a new round of sanctions will be put into place against Russia.
On Tuesday, Biden said the U.S. might conduct war games in the region and Washington has already added more fighter jets to patrol the airspace over the Baltics.
"The situation is alarming," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said to Biden at the start of their meeting. Latvian President Andris Berzins also attended.
The Baltic states are also concerned about the economic impact of tensions with Russia. They worry Putin could retaliate through trade bans or by withholding natural gas.
Last week, Russia suspended food imports through Lithuania's major port in a move some viewed as an effort by Putin to exert political pressure.

PPP Human Rights Cell demands to constitute NCHR
Pakistan Peoples Party Human Right Cell has demanded of the government to constitute the National Commission for Human Rights without delay as required by the law.
PPP HR Cell in a resolution expressed concerns in the delay of formation NCHR particularly delay in appointment of its Chairperson. The text of the resolution is as follows:-
“We the undersigned office bearers of the PPP Human Rights cell are strongly concerned at the delay in the formation of the National Commission on Human Rights particularly the delay in the appointment of its Chairperson. “The National Commission for Human Rights Act 2012 was passed in the last government but despite nearly two years, the Commission is not yet constituted.
“We demand that the government fulfill its legal obligation to constitute the NCHR especially in the perspective of serious human rights violations that have occurred recently.
“We particularly condemn the mob torching of the Dharmashala in Larkana, the gross police role in a teenage rape victim setting herself ablaze in Muzaffgarh, and the state violence on the nurses in Lahore and are disappointed that there is no national body that would respond to these human rights violations.
“These violations are of serious nature and require a full time National Human Rights Commission that takes note, and acts against these serious violations of fundamental rights.
“The meeting also noted that the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance would involve serious violations of peoples rights as enshrined in the constitution and that the law must only be enacted after a consensus is made in the parliament.” The PPP Human Rights Cell meeting was attended by Central Coordinator Dr. Nafisa Shah, Secretary General Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar (ICT), Yasmeen Rehman, Shazia Tehmas, Shahjahan Sarfraz, Rubina Qaimkhani, Imran Nadeem Shigri, Shah Fahad, Chaudhry Ilyas and Provincial Coordinators Fateh Mohammad Hasni Balochistan, Asma Arbab Alamgir Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sadiq Memon Sindh, Asif Khan Punjab, Coordinator AJK Raja Mubashir, Coordinator FATA Akhundzada Chatan, Coordinator GB Sadia Danish.

President Karzai had warned Benazir Bhutto that his intelligence service had learned of threats against her life

Source: What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden
Benazir Bhutto had spoken out more than any other Pakistani politician about the dangers of militant extremism. She blamed foreign militants for annexing part of Pakistan’s territory and called for military operations into Waziristan. She declared suicide bombing un-Islamic and seemed to be challenging those who might target her. “I do not believe that any true Muslim will make an attack on me because Islam forbids attacks on women, and Muslims know that if they attack a woman, they will burn in hell,” she said on the eve of her return.
She also promised greater cooperation with Afghanistan and the United States in combating terrorism and even suggested in an interview that she would give Western officials access to the man behind Pakistan’s program of nuclear proliferation, A. Q. Khan.
President Karzai of Afghanistan warned Bhutto that his intelligence service had learned of threats against her life. Informers had told the Afghans of a meeting of army commanders — Musharraf and his 10 most-powerful generals — in which they discussed a militant plot to have Bhutto killed.
On Oct. 18, 2007, Bhutto flew into Karachi. I was one of a crowd of journalists traveling with her. She wore religious amulets and offered prayers as she stepped onto Pakistani soil. Hours later, as she rode in an open-top bus through streets of chanting supporters, two huge bombs exploded, tearing police vans, bodyguards and party followers into shreds. Bhutto survived the blast, but some 150 people died, and 400 were injured.
Bhutto claimed that Musharraf had threatened her directly, and Karzai again urged her to take more precautions, asking his intelligence service to arrange an armored vehicle for her equipped with jammers to block the signals of cellphones, which are often used to detonate bombs. In the meantime, Bhutto pressed on with her campaign, insisting on greeting crowds of supporters from the open top of her vehicle.
In late December, a group of militants, including two teenage boys trained and primed to commit suicide bombings, arrived at the Haqqania madrasa in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak. The madrasa is a notorious establishment, housing 3,000 students in large, whitewashed residence blocks. Ninety-five percent of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan have passed through its classrooms, a spokesman for the madrasa proudly told me. Its most famous graduate is Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran Afghan mujahedeen commander whose network has become the main instrument for ISI-directed attacks in Kabul and eastern Afghanistan.
The two young visitors who stopped for a night at the madrasa were escorted the next day to Rawalpindi, where Bhutto would be speaking at a rally on Dec. 27. As her motorcade left the rally, it slowed so she could greet supporters in the street. One of the two teenagers fired a pistol at her and then detonated his vest of explosives. Bhutto was standing in the roof opening of an armored S.U.V. She ducked into the vehicle at the sound of the gunfire, but the explosion threw the S.U.V. forward, slamming the edge of the roof hatch into the back of her head with lethal force. Bhutto slumped down into the vehicle, mortally wounded, and fell into the lap of her confidante and constant chaperone, Naheed Khan.
As Bhutto had long warned, a conglomeration of opponents wanted her dead and were all linked in some way. They were the same forces behind the insurgency in Afghanistan: Taliban and Pakistani militant groups and Al Qaeda, as well as the Pakistani military establishment, which included the top generals, Musharraf and Kayani. A United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances of Bhutto’s death found that each group had a motive and merited investigation.
Pakistani prosecutors later indicted Musharraf on charges of being part of a wider conspiracy to remove Bhutto from the political scene. There was “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that he did not provide her with adequate security because he wanted to ensure her death in an inevitable assassination attempt, the chief state prosecutor in her murder trial, Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, told me. (Musharraf denied the accusations.) A hard-working, hard-charging man, Ali succeeded in having Musharraf arrested and was pushing to speed up the trial when he was shot to death on his way to work in May 2013.
Ali had no doubts that the mastermind of the plot to kill Bhutto was Al Qaeda. “It was because she was pro-American, because she was a strong leader and a nationalist,” he told me. A Pakistani security official who interviewed some of the suspects in the Bhutto case and other militants detained in Pakistan’s prisons came to the same conclusion. The decision to assassinate Bhutto was made at a meeting of the top council of Al Qaeda, the official said.

Pakistan: ISI chief knew whereabouts of Osama bin Laden's hideout: NYT

Former ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha knew of Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan and LeT founder Hafiz Saeed was in regular contact with the slain al-Qaeda chief, a media report said today.
Soon after the US Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden's house, "a Pakistani official told me the US had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad," the New York Times reported in an article by senior journalist Carlotta Gall.
"The information came from a senior US official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha's or one about him in the days after the raid", Gall wrote in the article titled 'What Pakistan Knew About Bin Laden', adapted from the book 'The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014', to be published next month.
Gall covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the paper from 2001 to 2013.
"He knew of Osama's whereabouts, yes," the Pakistani official was quoted as saying. "Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy," the official said, adding he was surprised to learn this.
But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad.
The haul of handwritten notes, letters, computer files and other information collected from bin Laden's house during the raid revealed regular correspondence "between Bin Laden and a string of militant leaders who must have known he was living in Pakistan, including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a pro-Kashmiri group that has also been active in Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar of the Taliban".
"Saeed and Omar are two of the ISI's most important and loyal militant leaders. Both are protected by the agency. Both cooperate closely with it, restraining their followers from attacking the Pakistani state and coordinating with Pakistan's greater strategic plans.
"Any correspondence the two men had with Bin Laden would probably have been known to their ISI handlers," it said.
Bin Laden was shot dead by US commandos in May 2012 in a unilateral raid by them, catching the Pakistanis by surprise.
It was always suspected that some on the Pakistani establishment knew bin Laden's whereabouts as he was living a stone- throw away from the military academy in the garrison city of Abbottabad.
"According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden," the daily reported.

Hamein Khokar Bohat Pachtao Gay - Runa Laila

Government, NGOs rush relief to Tharparkar

The Sindh government, Pakistani army, Rangers, police, NGOs and philanthropists are working to bring goods and medical assistance to the district.
Though drought is an annual occurrence in the district, this year's has been particularly harsh, and has contributed to the deaths of more than 100 children.
Government data indicate that the area has recorded a rainfall deficit of 30% in the past year and that some towns have not reported any rain in months, according to a report on
The problem was exacerbated by a breakdown in the ability to get relief goods to those in need.
After an investigation into that problem, the Sindh government March 11 sacked Relief Department Provincial Minister Makhdoom Jamil-ul-Zaman and Relief Commissioner Lala Fazl Rehman and named Taj Haider, advisor to the Sindh chief minister, acting relief commissioner.
Providing relief to hard-hit areas
Haider set up his camp office in Mithi, one of the five worst affected tehsils of Tharparkar District, and has accelerated relief and rehabilitation work.
Malnutrition, pneumonia and chickenpox have claimed children's lives and the Sindh government has sent several truckloads of relief goods, medicines and doctors to the hard-hit Mithi, Islamkot, Nangarparkar, Chachro and Diplo areas, Haider said.
"Our teams have provided wheat to 100,000 families in the past three days, and within the next few days, we will reach out to another 150,000 families who need our support," he added.
Dealing with annual drought conditions
The provincial government is also working to implement a programme to overcome the root causes of annual drought.
"In my first meeting with the provincial government officials March 12, I pointed out that relief is not a solution ... and that we will have to enforce a rehabilitation programme to end this chronic issue," Haider said.
Meanwhile, "We are working out a comprehensive programme to ensure that the people of the area get safe drinking water, employment, health and education on a regular basis," he added.
As part of that effort, the Pakistani army recently donated its one-day food ration to drought survivors and army medical teams are helping the victims, a statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations said March 12.
Pakistani Rangers also sent trucks loaded with food packets containing flour, pulses, rice, ghee, milk, tea, juices, biscuits and drinking water for more than 4,000 families, Maj. Sibtain, Rangers spokesman in Karachi, said in a statement March 12. And Rangers' medical teams have treated more than 2,000 patients in the make-shift hospitals in Tharparkar District in the past two weeks.
The private sector has also stepped up.
Bahria Town, Pakistan's biggest private real estate company, announced a Rs. 200m (US $2m) relief package for drought-affected families in the region.
Bahria Town Chairman Malik Riaz's own personally hired welfare workers are distributing goods, Malik said March 12.
"We are also giving cash to affected families ... to support them in their difficult time," Malik said.

Pakistan: Christian Girl Abducted By Her Muslim Boss And Sold As Slave

Sobia Masih, a Christian girl aged 19, was abducted and sold as a slave to another dominant Muslim of Muzaffargrah. Sobia Masih was abducted by Mohammad Adil Zulifiqar from Dera Ghazi Khan. Father of Sobia Masih, Sharif Masih approached WVIP office and asked for help and support to recover their daughter. World Vision in Progress WVIP is working for persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
Sharif Masih told them that Sobia Masih didnot returned home on March 11, 2014, when she went to work in house of Mohammad Adil Zulifqar, where his wife Rani Bibi was worked as maid but due to sickness did not went that day.
On March 11, 2014, Sobia went alone to clean home of Mohammad Adil Zulifqar who owns a workshop in Dera Gazi Khan but did not returned home till evening on which her parents went to house of Mohammad Adil Zulfiqar but it was locked. While enquiring from neighborhood, they were told that Mohammad Adil family left for Lahore yesterday and this afternoon he also gone to Lahore with your daughter and friends.
Victim’s parents went to police station to file report of abducting of their daughter but police denied to register their report but alleged that their daughter is run away from home and Mohammad Adil Zulifqar is a respectable Muslim of area.
When, theyi were madly searching for their daughter Sobia Masih, they received call from Mohammad Adil Zulfiqar that Sobia Masih has accepted religion Islam and he has married with her.
A WVIP field Officer, Ejaz Hussian, who also hails from Dera Ghazi Khan, approached to the local Political leadership and requested their assistance. On March 16, 2014, culprit was track down by WVIP team which reached hiding place of Mohammad Adil Zulfiqar along with local political and social leadership where he was alone and Sobia Masih was not found.
On begging and out cries of victim’s parents to produce their daughter before Muslim leaders in presence of Mohammad Adil Zulifiqar; he said “Sobia Masih is a Muslim now and his wife but not present here nor he can produce her but she will be available to record her statement before Muslim elders when deemed fit”
A close friend of Mohammad Adil Zulifqar Muhammad Dildar told Ejaz Hussain, that Mohammad Adil Zulifqar has sold Sobia Masih to a rich man in Muzaffargarh.
This is not the first time when Christian girls are sold out, Tania Rebecca, Parvisha , Sonia and now Sobia, there is long line of Christian girls who have been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and sold as slaves to influential Muslims.
- See more at:

Pakistan:Young Christian Girl Abducted And Forcibly Converted To Islam In Rahim Yar Khan

15 years old Christian girl Komal Yousaf, was abducted and by force converted to Islam in Rahim Yar Khan. In Rahim Yar Khan more than 3,000 Christians resides.
Yousaf Masih and his family were living in Sadiq Bazar. But on 4th March Komal Yousaf was abducted and then forced to convert to Islam. Yousaf Masih and his wife Rubina worked in a factory to feed their family. Muhammad Aslam who worked in the same factory as in charge again and again offers them to accept Islam so he can marry their daughter Komal. He is already married and has 2 Children.
On 24th February, Muhammad Aslam along with some Islamist came to victim’s house and forced them to convert their faith to Islam, and when Yousaf and his wife decline Aslam’s offer he and his associates left in anger. Yousaf Masih complained this to the manager of the factory Jabran Hussian but he did not take any action against Muhammad Aslam.
On 4th March when Yousaf and his wife were on their work, they got a call from a neighbor who told them that Muhammad Aslam along with few armed men intruded in their house and had taken their daughter Komal.
When the couple rushed to home and find the same they went to the local police station for registering FIR against culprit. But Police refused to registered FIR and stated that your daughter has accepted Islam and got married to Muhammad Aslam.
Muhammad Aslam and Muslim Cleric Qari Javed bully Yousaf’s family that if they did not stop following the girl they will kill them, they again offer them if they convert to Islam they can meet their family.
Yousaf Masih contacted Pastor David, who is his cousin from Multan. He immediately called NGO WVIP for assistance. WVIP started making efforts to rescue the girl, however police was not co-operating at all. On 15th March with the efforts of NGO and Local Muslim lawyer, culprit was forced to produce girl in the committee which was design to settle in clash. When Komal was produced she told that he by force took me from her house and took her signatures on papers. She also told that Muhammad Aslam also sexually assaulted her in all these days.
Targeting the Minor Christian and Minority girls in Pakistan is a pleasure full event for Muslim males. There are hundreds of girls like Komal who was abducted rape and then forcibly converted to Islam.
- See more at:

Pakistan:Ahmadi Muslims Under Attack: Police rapped for gravestones removal
Jamaat-i-Ahmadiya Pakistan (JAP) has criticised the police for removing gravestones from some graves of Ahmadis at Chak 96-GB, Jaranwala.
In a statement issued from Chenab Nagar (Rabwa) on Thursday, Saleemuddin, a JAP spokesperson, said a man submitted an application to the police for removal of the gravestones, claiming that the words written on these were hurting his religious feelings.
He said following the complaint, the JAP officials were summoned to police station and were pressurised for removal of the gravestones.
Upon their refusal, Saleemuddin alleged, the policemen themselves removed the gravestones of seven graves on March 9.
He said the police conduct was a sheer violation of human rights, alleging that instead of maintaining peace and treating people equally, the police were playing in the hands of anti-Ahmadi elements.

US Baloch Show Concern Over Balochistan Situation
Members of the Baloch community in the Pacific Northwest of the US held a rally here Sunday evening to protest human rights violations in their native Balochistan.
Braving Seattle’s chilling rain, the protesters at the city’s Westlake Park included women and children and carried signs and banners with pictures of the missing Baloch allegedly picked up by Pakistan’s security forces and intelligence agencies.
“We are here to raise awareness about what is happening in Balochistan,” said Zahid Ali Baloch, a young protester among a group of more than 25 Baloch who showed up for the Sunday’s rally.
The protesters demanded from the US government to stop Pakistan’s military aid. “US taxpayers’ money should not be used to commit crimes against humanity,” read a sign.
Ali Baloch, 21, expressed similar views. “Pakistan is not only committing crimes against humanity in Balochistan but also misusing the aid provided to them to fight the Islamic militancy in its northern tribal area.” He says Pakistani security forces are crushing Baloch dissent with the help of US military aid. “We would like to urge the United States government to stop the aid.”
This was the first event of its kind organized by the US Baloch in this part of the country, said Jalil Delwash, one of the event organizers. “This provided us a chance to mobilize the Baloch community in the area and raise a voice against injustices committed toward our people in Balochistan,” he said.
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest famously known for being the headquarters of tech-giants such as Microsoft and as well as the Boeing Company, world’s leading airplane manufacturer. The city is also believed to have the largest Baloch population in the country.
Ali Baloch expressed his concerns about mass graves recently discovered in Khuzdar district of the province. ”We request the international community and media to take notice of the plight of the Baloch people.”
Ali Baloch says Balochistan is losing an entire generation of young and promising people. “If the situation is not paid attention to, Balochistan will turn into a graveyard.”

Pakistan's Rape Victim: Aamna is dead, long live Aamna

Aamna shall die at her own hands it couldn't be her plan of life. But for reasons beyond her control rather early in her life came that defining moment. She walked up to the Mir Hazar Khan police station, set herself on fire and died a day later with her body 80 percent burnt. She was kidnapped and raped by a gang on her way home back from the college where she was a First Year student, and a brilliant one. She had her case registered in the police station nominating the rapists - a miracle in the life of an ordinary Pakistani where police would be so very evasive. Her case was strong and the police couldn't refuse. Or, perhaps the perpetrators of the heinous crime were too confident of their clout, they just didn't bother and police was left with no other option. They arrested the accused nominated in the FIR. Her complacence that her case is in the hands of custodians of lives of us the mortals was short-lived, however. The police changed the FIR and turned rape into attempt to rape - a substitution lapped up by Rana Sanaullah sahib hook, line and sinker.
Aamna met Mukhtaran Mai and the two went over to the police station to protest the distortion, but of no avail, resigning Mai to believe that money had worked its way to the police. But Aamna was not discouraged; she kept visiting and protesting - until she came across the fork in her way. The main culprit was bailed out by the court because the case was too weak to keep the accused in detention any further. She went over to the police station again to protest but was laughed at. She had to decide whether to live with the shame or leave the place so much fertile for growth of unpunished rapists.
In 2013 alone, some 370 women were raped and murdered. That makes more than one unpunished rape for every day of the year. Aamna decided not to be on that list, but go her own way. And she decided to end her life. What followed; we are familiar with this pantomime. Police officers have been suspended, suo motu notice has been taken by the highest court in the country, legislators walked out of the Punjab Assembly and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif flew over to her place and offered condolence to her family. Nothing wrong with all this, but is all that was needed to be done has been done. No, the government and the people have got to move on to the next obvious goal of securing our women's life and honour from the regular forays of these wolves. There must be a change, both in the attitude and behaviour of the officers at the police stations and updating of law dealing with the cases of rape.
Every complaint of rape must be registered as FIR without any loss of time; the FIR should be read out in front of the complainant, and its authenticated copy should be dispatched to district police officer the same day. The alleged rapist should be arrested as quickly as possible and should remain in detention till the end of the case. We must remember barring a very few exceptions no woman would turn up at the police station to complain rape unless there is truth to her statement. And the medical report must carry the examiners' finding on the DNA recovered from the body of the victim. Pity, there is resistance to treat identification as exclusive evidence, making it difficult for the courts to sentence rapists whose skill tends to flourish in the shadows. No wonder, many a rape victim does not come to the police station, fearful of the possibility that while they may earn shame for their families, the rapist would go scot-free. So, now that the government and legislators are profoundly concerned and Chief Justice of Pakistan says Aamna died protesting unmet justice to the accused, time has arrived for anti-rape legislation carrying stiffer penalty and drastically-upgraded definition of required evidence including greater weight to the DNA test report. This the government and the society owe to Aamna.

Pakistan: Quake jolts Swat, Ghazar and other areas

Tremors were felt in Swat, Ghazar including Malakand and Baltistan Division on Wednesday wee hours, Geo News reported. Seismological Centre said an earthquake of magnitude 5.3 on Richter scale jolted Swat, Ghazar including Malakand and Baltistan Division. The epicenter of the quake measuring 5.3 on Richter scale was the bordering area of Afghanistan and Tajikistan at a depth of 112 kilometer.

Pakistan: Army should not be used to fight in foreign countries

Chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Altaf Hussain has urged the Pakistan army that it must show resistance should the government decide to send troops to foreign countries. He was addressing a gathering at Jinnah Ground, Azizabad, organised in connection with the 30th Founding Day of MQM here on Tuesday. MQM chief said that Army should not accept any government decision that may harm image of the country.
“There is a conspiracy to flare up anti-Shia and anti-Sunni sentiments to foment massive unrest in the Muslim world, so the Pakistan Army should not fight in any country at the behest of others,” he said. He said that democracy could not flourish under feudalism, saying that innocent girls were being killed in the name of honour. He said that terrorism should be eradicated from the country to put it on a path of development and prosperity. “Negotiations between Taliban and the government indicate as if two states are negotiating peace,” he added. He said that government was negotiating with Talibans but the venue of meeting was yet to be decided.
Altaf said that Pakistan should not take a dictation from others as the “country is a sovereign and independent state.” He said that MQM believed in inter-faith harmony and it was striving for the fundamental rights of people. He urged people to extend a helping hand to the people of famine-hit area of Thar. He also urged the people of KP and FATA to gather under the banner of MQM to struggle for their rights. Earlier, MQM’s Farooq Sattar and others addressed the gathering.

Sentence for Dr Shakil Afridi still unjust: US
The United States says the 10-year sentence reduction for the doctor said to have helped the U.S. track down Osama bin Laden is a positive step but that his jail term is still unjust. A Pakistani judicial official Saturday reduced Shakil Afridi s sentence from 33 years to 23 years. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday the U.S. is continuing to tell Pakistan that the conviction sends the wrong message about "our shared interest in counterterrorism and in particular, bringing Osama bin Laden to justice." Last week, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) Commissioner Munir Azam reduced Dr. Shakil Afridi’s 33-year sentence by 10 years and also his Rs. 3.2 lakh fine by Rs. one lakh. Dr. Afridi was convicted for his links with a banned group Lashkar-i-Islam and its chief Managal Bagh. Afridi had allegedly helped the CIA by running a fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad a month before the US forces raid on a compound that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Pakistan: What’s the deal? ($1.5 billion with Love From Saudi Arabia)

IT is indeed a very generous ‘gift’ from a friendly Muslim country — $1.5 billion is not a small sum of money especially in these times of desperation and insolvency. This windfall has not only eased pressure on our fast devaluing currency, it may also help the prime minister fulfil some of his grandiose development plans. Hence the euphoria over this unprecedented magnanimity is not entirely inexplicable.
But what’s the price tag attached to this apparent bigheartedness? We are not supposed to know. “The money should just be accepted with thanks and not be made controversial,” says the finance minister. Even the name of the benefactor was not revealed initially. It may embarrass that country, we are told.
One wishes it was as simple. But things are much more complex than the Sharif government is willing to admit. There is nothing in relations between states that comes without quid pro quo, even if the charity is coming from brothers in faith.
There are no free lunches in international politics. And secrecy shrouds the deal; it is not even being shared with parliament. So much for the transparency and democratic norms that the government vows to uphold.
While the name of the main donor was disclosed courtesy multilateral agencies, the government is still reluctant to provide the details about other contributors. Some reports suggest that the bulk of the amount has come from Saudi Arabia with smaller donations from certain Gulf countries.
Apparently, this is only the first tranche of the massive financial assistance pledged by ‘friendly’ Arab countries for the Pakistan Development Fund recently launched by the government. Pakistan has surely been a recipient of generous foreign aid throughout its history, but such a massive cash grant is rare, if not unprecedented.
Although vehemently denied by the government, the cash inflow is believed to be a payoff for Pakistan’s agreement to play an active role in the unfolding power game in the Middle East at the behest of the Saudi-led Arab coalition.
The first indication of this emerging cooperation came when Pakistan supported the Saudi position on the change of regime in Syria during the high-profile visit of the Saudi crown prince early this year. That signalled a clear shift from Islamabad’s long-standing neutrality on the Syrian conflict. The change of tack is bound to plunge Pakistan into the wider sectarian war raging in the Middle East with disastrous consequences for national security.
The protracted Syrian civil war has drastically changed power dynamics in the region, sharpening polarisation along sectarian lines. While Saudi Arabia has actively been supporting the Sunni rebels, Iran continues to back President Bashar al-Assad. The conflict has already spilled across the Middle East leading to an explosive regional situation.
By taking sides, Islamabad may get further embroiled in the already escalating sectarian violence at home. There is a real danger that its strengthening nexus with Riyadh may further deepen the ongoing regional proxy war inside Pakistan, further weakening the already eroding state authority.
Surely Pakistan enjoys strong historic ties with the Saudi kingdom, but successive governments also maintained a delicate balance so as not to get involved in Arab-Iran rivalry. But this equilibrium is now threatened by the Sharif government’s latest strategic shift for Saudi cash.
Sharif’s strong relations with the House of Saud are not a secret. It was the intervention of King Abdullah that got him out of prison and he was later hosted by the Saudi government for seven years. The Saudi government had also come to the help of the second Sharif government when Pakistan faced a serious foreign exchange crisis following the nuclear tests in 1998, by subsidising the oil supply.
During the PPP government’s tenure, relations between Riyadh and Islamabad hit a historical low. Then president Asif Zardari’s closeness with Iran caused a further deterioration in ties. But things started to change with the return of Nawaz Sharif to power. The visit of the Saudi crown prince underscored the emergence of a new strategic relationship between the two countries. Another important factor giving impetus to this emerging Riyadh-Islamabad nexus is the easing of tension between Iran and the US.
A likely deal on the Iranian nuclear programme may allow Tehran to break its diplomatic and economic isolation raising Riyadh’s concern of a possible realignment in the Middle East. Increasingly wary over the rise of Al Qaeda-led rebel groups in Syria and Iraq, it is quite plausible that the West could seek cooperation of Iranian-backed Shia groups to counter Sunni extremists.
With Shia unrest building up in its own backyard and in neighbouring Arab states, the development reinforces Riyadh’s worst fears of an Iran-US rapprochement. In this situation, Pakistan becomes increasingly important for Saudi Arabia for the kingdom’s internal security.
Our retired servicemen had helped quelled the Shia uprising in Bahrain and we may see further the entanglement of Pakistan in the escalating sectarian strife in the Middle East. Volunteers from banned Pakistani Sunni sectarian groups are already reported to be fighting along with the Saudi-backed rebels in Syria.
Close military ties between Riyadh and Islamabad, though not new, have now taken on a new dimension with Iran’s potential nuclear capability. There is growing concern in the West that Saudi Arabia may be seeking Pakistan’s cooperation in the nuclear field. Undoubtedly, the Saudi grant is a huge boon for the cash-starved Sharif government. But what’s in the deal is perhaps the most critical question.

Questions about (Pakistan's) foreign policy

Despite being in power for nine months the PML-N government has still not been able to formulate a policy that could improve relations with neighbours. Despite Nawaz Sharif’s claim that victory in polls was a mandate for peace with India, there has been little improvement in relations. The issue of giving India MFN status remains still unresolved. The Pak-Afghan relations remain as estranged as ever. Last week Karzai again told the United States it could bring peace to Afghanistan if it went after terrorist sanctuaries and countries that supported terrorism, a clear reference to Pakistan. Pakistan’s relations with Iran which had improved considerably under the previous government suddenly nosedived when Pakistan and Saudi Arabia expressed similarity of views on regional issues. Iran thinks that the Saudi regional agenda aims at isolating and targeting Iran.
Sartaj Aziz has admitted that maintaining the balance in relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran was a tricky affair. Many think what is being done is the opposite of creating a balance. Nawaz Sharif has already visited Saudi Arabia. The COAS was in Riyadh for three days. Neither the PM nor the COAS have cared to go to Iran. The vow to maintain a balance loses credibility after the “grant” of $1.5 billion followed immediately by an about turn in Pakistan’s policy on Syria. Few would buy Aziz’s argument that the new stand on Syria does not imply a demand for regime change. After meetings held with the Saudi Crown Prince in Islamabad last month the FO expressed support for the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country. If this does not imply an agreement on change of regime, what else does?
Aziz has promised that Pakistan-made arms would not land in Arab conflict zones. How can this be ensured once the weapons are handed over to a party fully focused on the overthrow of Bashar al Assad and is openly supporting extremist groups fighting the Syrian army? It is a common practice among countries to supply weapons purchased with due end user certificates secretly to warring factions of their choice in civil wars. The shoulder fired anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles may even fall into the hands of Pakistani Taliban who would not hesitate to use them against Pakistan air force and army.
Pakistan’s failure to launch military operation against the foreign militants could damage the country’s ties with China also. The attacks by secessionist groups in China have of late increased manifold. Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has expressed concern over the threat by the Uighur militants reportedly based in areas on Pakistan’s side of the Afghan border.

Pakistan: Cholistan drought feared to result in famine
If the government does not take immediate steps, drought in Cholistan could result in widespread famine after Tharparkar, the affected people feared, demanding that it should declare Cholistan a disaster-hit area.
The desert consists of 6,600,000 acres of land where average rainfall is 75 to 80 millilitre and in the last year due to lack of rains and uncleanliness of more than 1,100 tobas, Cholistan is going through drought.
If there are no rainfalls in Cholistan until April, there is a danger that it might take the same shape like Thar. According to the experts, Cholistan faces famine after every 10 years which can be prevented by taking timely steps. They suggested that the government should make active 10 mobile dispensaries of livestock in Cholistan. They also said that it should repair and make functional the 254-kilometre pipeline which Cholistan Development Authority had installed.
Soodiya Water Supply Project worth millions of rupees is 90 percent complete but facing funds shortage and has been left incomplete. They also demanded immediate release of funds for its completion, and establishment of the camps for the people and livestock besides provision of medicines and food. However, the Bahawalpur commissioner is giving the report of all is well which is not true, they said.
Owing to the drought in Cholistan desert, the people have started leaving the area along with their cattle on a large scale as 99% tobas have dried up. “The government should declare Cholistan calamity-hit area and take steps to save the lives on emergency basis,” demanded the people. According to unofficial statistics, over 200,000 cattle heads including camel, cows and sheep and almost 175,000 Cholistani people totally rely on water which gathers in the tobas during the rains. Because of uncleanliness, the tobas had filled by sand.
As per official statistics, the government of Punjab every year accumulate revenue of Rs2 billion from Cholistan but the people are still deprived of water in this modern era. The water is shared by animals and the human. The residents of Toba Tharowali, Toba Qasaiwala, Toba Kitanawala, Toba Khokranwali, Toba Khariwala, Toba Bhochraanwali and Toba Akmalwala criticized the government for the situation.
Sooba Ram, Waryaam, Allah Bachaya, Hamid Razzaq, Sachoo Khan and Abdul Majeed said that billions of rupees was accumulated from Bahawalpur but in return the people were not even provided with the basic facilities. Because of the lack of attention of the government, several tobas had filled with sand, they regretted.

Pakistan: Quetta,Peshawar,Lahore among world’s most polluted cities
Three cities of Pakistan have been listed among the top ten most polluted cities of the world.
According to a 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore ranked at number four, six and 10, respectively.
The pollution is measured as the microgramme (mcg) concentration per cubic metre of air of particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometres (PM10)—about a seventh of the width of a human hair.
The figures are the average for the year. Seasonal spikes can be many times higher.
The WHO’s health guidelines are maximum exposure of 20 mcg/m3, measured as an annual average.
The list was topped by Ahvaz, a city in Iran with 372 mcg/m3 of pollution.
Ulan Bator of Mongolia was ranked at number two while another city of Iran, Sanandaj was ranked third.
Our very own Quetta was tied at number four along with Ludhiana, India at 251 mcg/m3 of pollution.
Peshawar, at number six, was measured at 219 mcg/m3 pollution according to 2003,2004 data while the Punjab’s metropolitan Lahore made it to number 10 with 200 mcg/m3 of pollution according to data of 2003/4.

Pakistan: Senator says CII strengthening Taliban’s narrative

Senator Farhatullah Babar addressed a round table conference titled ‘Media, Extremism and Islamic Narrative’, organised by a think-tank, Islamabad Debates, and an NGO, Insaf Network Pakistan, on Tuesday.
Mr Babar said that, unfortunately, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has been strengthening the narrative of the Taliban.
“In 1978, the CII recommended that Pakistan should have ‘Kalma Tayyaba’ on its national flag, and then the Mujahideen borrowed that idea,” he said.
“Today, there is a section of the media which is controlled by the militants. Maulana Fazlullah started the trend, and now there are over 50 publications of the militants. Moreover, the militants have started threatening the media persons, but the state has failed to provide them with protection,” he said.
“Now, it has become a battle of the narratives, but we have left the narrative of Islam upon the clerics. The CII recommended that the DNA should not be considered as primary evidence in rape cases and child marriages should be allowed, but unfortunately the reaction of the civil society was not as strong as it should have been,” he said.
Mr Babar said that sometimes the media plays a role in increasing extremism. He cited the example of how the number of casualties during the Lal Masjid operation, in 2007, was exaggerated by the media.
Senator Afrasiab Khattak, who was the moderator of the dialogue, said that the people of East Pakistan played a major role in the Pakistan movement and they also resisted against the martial laws.
Chairperson Islamabad Debates, Sajjad Bukhari, said: “The media, willingly or unwillingly, played its role in increasing extremism, by sensitising the issues. However, there are a number of journalists who have sacrificed their lives, after refusing to follow the instructions of extremists.”
“Because of the wrong policies of the state, extremism has increased to such an extent that it has become a threat to the existence of the country,” he said.
Journalist Mazhar Abbas said that although people did not vote for religious parties, these parties still outsmarted the liberal parties by playing their cards right. “1973 Constitution is a brain child of the PPP, but the religious parties hijacked it and claimed that they have made it. Liberal political parties always looked for consensus, but the religious parties never compromised on their demands,” he said.
“Media tried to convince politicians that they should not repeat what they did in East Pakistan, but the politicians ignored all of the suggestions. Today, the news channels have become infotainment channels,” he added.
Journalist Raza Rumi said that more than 12 years have passed, but a proper code of ethics has not been devised for the electronic media, and if there is any, it is not being implemented.

Pakistan: PPP rejects govt’s claim on $1.5bn Saudi aid

The main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has rejected the government’s explanation that it has received $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia as a gift and alleged that the government is hiding facts from the nation.
“It is the biggest gift in the world’s history and should be included in the Guinness Book of World Records,” said the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah, while talking to reporters at his Parliament House chamber on Tuesday. “One has to tell 100 lies to hide one,” he said and urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to tell the truth in a session of parliament. Mr Shah said that contradictory statements coming from different government circles were creating doubts about the official claim that the money had been received as a gift. On one hand, he said, the government claimed to have received such a big amount as a gift and, on the other, a minister had stated that Saudi Arabia had released the money on personal surety of the prime minister. “Gifts are not given on someone’s surety.”
He criticised Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for his “misleading and irresponsible statement” on the floor of the National Assembly that district and sessions judge Rafaqat Awan had been killed by his own guard during a terrorist attack on Islamabad courts earlier this month.
The PPP leader said that an inquiry report on the court attack suggested that the judge had been killed by terrorists and not the guard. He asked the minister to explain whom he had supported and served through his statement. “It is now up to him (the minister) to make a decision about himself over this act,” he said while indirectly calling for his resignation.
About the appointment of chief election commissioner (CEC), Mr Shah said that the government had accepted his proposal to appoint retired Justice Rana Bhagwandas and even a bill had been passed by the National Assembly. But due to some misunderstanding, the bill was referred to a committee when it was taken up by the Senate.
He said that he had asked the government to either wait for the committee’s report on the bill or propose three new names for the CEC office. He said that the government had yet to respond.

Iran and Pakistan’s Coming Clash

By Zachary Keck
Iran and Pakistan appear to be on a collision course that will in all likelihood leave relations severely strained in the years ahead.
The most visible sign of strain in the bilateral relationship is also in many ways the least serious. Specifically, as my colleague Ankit noted, last month five Iranian border guards in Iran’s Sistan Baluchistan region were kidnapped by the Iran-based Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice). However, according to the Iranian government, they were then brought to Pakistan and are being held in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
In the immediate aftermath of the kidnappings, the Iranian government expressed indignation at the Pakistan government for its failure to do more to curb the tide of Sunni Islamists in the country. Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli went so far as to threaten to send Iranian troops into Pakistan to secure the border guards’ release.
This prompted Islamabad to respond by saying, “Iranian forces have no authority to cross our borders in violation of the international law. We must respect each other’s borders.” It also added, “The government of Pakistan regrets the suggestions of negligence on its part over the incident, especially when Pakistan’s active support against terrorists groups in the past is well-known and acknowledged by Iran.”
Tensions have largely subsided since then, however, even though the five border guards remain in captivity. Last week an Iranian spokesperson said: “Based on the information available, all abducted Iranian border guards are in good health.” Other Iranian officials confirmed that they were engaged in talks with Pakistani officials to secure the border guards’ release, and Tehran has said it hopes to return them to their families in the near future. Still, tensions over the border region will continue to periodically spark crises between Pakistan and Iran for the indefinite future.
A more serious flashpoint between Pakistan and Iran is taking place farther away in Syria. Specifically, numerous media outlets and private intelligence firms have confirmed that recent Pakistani-Saudi Arabian defense cooperation meetings have been aimed at reaching an agreement whereby Riyadh would purchase military arms from Islamabad for Syrian opposition forces. According to the reports, Saudi funds will be used to purchase Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles—among other weapons—that will be smuggled into Syria via Jordan.
Such a deal would place Pakistan and Iran closer to direct confrontation as Iranian troops and their Hezbollah allies have long been operating in Syria in an effort to shore up the Bashar al-Assad government. Should Pakistani supplied arms bring down an Iranian transport plane, for example, Tehran would be hard pressed not to retaliate against Pakistan in some fashion.
Besides being a potentially far more dangerous flashpoint, the dispute over Syria is likely to persist for two reasons. First, the Syrian civil war is unlikely to subside anytime soon. Certainly, it looks to continue long after the dispute over the border guards has run its course. Additionally, the Pakistani-Iranian collision course in Syria is in many ways a microcosm of the larger problems over Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia and Iran’s reaction to it. As Saudi Arabia and Iran’s longstanding rivalry likely intensifies in the coming years, Tehran is almost certain to become more concerned about Islamabad’s ties with Riyadh. This trianglular relationship is likely to have interesting implications for some of the world’s major powers, among them the United States, China and India. It’s one reason, among many, why Iran and China are likely to clash in the coming years and decades.
One battleground where this trianglular relationship in general, and the Pakistani-Iranian rivalry in particular, is likely to play itself out in the near future is Afghanistan. As Ankit and I discuss in some detail on the podcast this week, the withdrawal of NATO combat forces this year is likely to prompt regional powers like Iran, Pakistan, India, China and Russia to assert themselves in Kabul.
Pakistan and Iran have nearly diametrically opposed interests in Afghanistan, which will make it a prime contender for the biggest flashpoint in the bilateral relationship in the coming years. And Saudi Arabia and India will also be right in the middle of this flashpoint. China might also find itself getting pulled in as well.