Saturday, March 22, 2014

Noor Jahan - (Ghazal) - Mujhe Se Pehli Si Mohabat


India and Space Defense

By Amit R. Saksena
Concerned about global trends, India is making progress in building its space defense capabilities.
Fortunately, the final frontier has yet to become a battlefield. On present trends, however, the next two decades will witness a global arms race in space, culminating in a sophisticated weapons system being placed in orbit. The United States and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) have been active in this sphere since the early 1960s, when the Soviets first tested the “hunter killer” low orbit satellite system. The U.S. responded with a series of advanced strategic missile projects and some more promising ground launched initiatives. Since then, however, both the U.S. and Russia have constrained their space military programs, seeking to discourage weaponization. Still, both countries have made it clear they will start again, should a line be crossed.
In 2007, China sparked global concern when it successfully tested its first ASAT (anti-satellite) missile, destroying one of its obsolete weather satellites at an altitude of 865 km. In 2006, the U.S. government released a report claiming that China had tagged some U.S. observation satellites with a high-power laser system. Although no major damage was done to the satellites, it later emerged that the laser was not directed at the optical lenses, which could have rendered the satellites useless. In 2008, when the Shenzhou-07 was in orbit, the taikonauts on the mission released a BX-1 micro satellite. The BX-1 flew within the 1000-mile secure radius of the International Space Station (the ISS is programmed to change trajectory and orbit should this happen). Although no harm was done, this demonstrated China’s ability to deploy micro satellites with ASAT capabilities.
China has long lobbied against the weaponization of outer space. The sudden change in its space policy can be viewed as an attempt at deterrence, as well as a hedging of its bets. According to Theresa Hitchens, director of the Center for Defense Information, a private group in Washington that tracks military programs, “For several years, the Russians and Chinese have been trying to push a treaty to ban space weapons. The concept of exhibiting a hard-power capability to bring somebody to the negotiating table is a classic cold war technique.” In 2006, the Bush Administration authorized a policy, noting that the United States would “preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space” and “dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so.” It declared the United States would “deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests.”
Apart from the global ramifications, these developments have sent alarm bells ringing in India. An opponent of the weaponizing of space, India has made impressive developments with its Agni–V Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile, joining an elite club of countries that possess this technology. Recently, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) announced that it can harness the technology to manufacture anti-satellite weaponry. This, along with the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) success with indigenous launch vehicles, equips the Indian space program with the technological capability to undertake space weaponization activities. From the mid 1970s to 2005, the Indian space program suffered due to the imposition of a sanctions regime in response to its nuclear policies, which left it struggling with little outside technical assistance. India was welcomed back to the mainstream only after a deal with the U.S. was signed in 2005. Eventually, in 2011, the U.S. administration moved certain strategic companies, including those from the ISRO, off the so-called Entity List, in an effort to drive hi-tech trade and forge closer strategic ties with India.
ISRO has already established a reputation for reliability when it comes to launching smaller satellites using its smaller Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Its workhorse launch vehicle has put more than 35 satellites of various countries, weighing between one kg and 712 kg, into orbit, not to mention more than a dozen Indian satellites. With the recent success of the geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-D5), the ISRO is ready to take on satellites weighing in excess of two tons, an important prerequisite to the deployment of any weapons system. Existing space treaties prohibit placing weapons of mass destruction in space, but not other types of weapons. Therefore, the next logical step for the DRDO is to develop orbital weapons, which could remain in space for as long as required while orbiting Earth or the Moon.
The line between militarization and weaponization is blurred. Militarization is the build up to a state of conflict and broadly encompasses any activity that furthers this objective. Weaponization, by contrast, means actively developing or deploying a weapon. According to many experts, militarization of space first occurred in 1957 when Sputnik 1 was put into orbit by the Soviet Union. Since then, many auxiliary technology satellites have been launched (such as telecommunications, relief mapping and orbital imaging), directly or indirectly assisting warfare efforts on terra firma and over water. Today, militaries all over the world rely heavily on satellites for command and control, communication, monitoring, early warning, and navigation with the Global Positioning System (GPS). While the term “peaceful purposes” hardly applies to such activities, military applications such as using satellites to direct bombing raids or to orchestrate a “prompt global strike” capability are gradually encroaching on the space environment and have raised serious concerns.
So space warfare can be studied on the basis of a utility criterion in three ways: auxiliary systems, which can assist in warfare on other terrains; defensive systems, which are required to protect these space assets; and weaponized systems – which are purely offensive in nature. In 2012, the then DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat emphasized a defensive strategy for India in the space domain. Sticking to the principle of “no weaponizing,” Saraswat projected the view that space security entails the creation of “a gamut of capabilities,” including the protection of satellites, communications and navigation systems and denying the enemy the use of their own “space systems.” The domestic Indian missile defense shield is designed to protect key parts of Indian territory from ballistic missiles originating from China and Pakistan. Priority has to be given to the kill vehicle. Going forward, said Saraswat, “What is needed is technology to track the movement of enemy satellites, for instance, before making a kinetic kill. We are trying to build a credible deterrence capability.” At the same time Saraswat made it clear that this anti satellite device “will not be tried out in real life conditions unless there are exigencies.” The comment echoes India’s resolve to stick to a defensive program only.
Countries have long grappled with the issue of space junk left behind by their activities. The 2007 Chinese ASAT test filled the Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) with an estimated 2500 pieces of dangerous debris. In May 2013, a Russian satellite was stuck and destroyed by one such piece. Thus, systems to protect against debris also need to be developed for LEO satellites. India, now a major spacefaring nation, has in orbit a substantial number of satellites for communications, meteorology, earth observation and scientific research. It is also developing its own indigenous Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) to reduce is reliance on the GPS used by the U.S. and the Russian GLONASS
India recently launched its first dedicated defense satellite, GSAT-7 for the Indian Navy. This is seen as the start of a long line of defense application oriented satellites that the Integrated Space Cell (ISC, initiated in 2008) may want to put into orbit. Already an “eye-in-the-sky” system for the Air Force is being considered. The Integrated Space Cell is currently operated jointly by the three service arms, the DRDO, and the ISRO, making it more of a central information network system than an offensive one. The CARTOSAT-2A, a dedicated satellite of the Indian Armed Forces, will also fall under the jurisdiction of this nodal agency. Although a fledgling agency at the moment, the ISC may be the stepping stone to a fully fledged Indian Military Space Command in the near future.
For India, the issue is China’s reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, which are essentially satellite-based systems. In battle, the army in possession of the higher ground has a natural advantage over its adversary; right now this higher ground is space.

North Korea fires 16 small range missiles in the direction of the Sea of Japan
The authorities in Seoul assume that North Korea has fired missiles in retaliation to the annual U.S. - South Korean exercises (Foal Eagle) that are currently under way in South Korea
North Korea launched 16 small range missiles on Sunday, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff reported on Sunday. They say the missiles were fired from mobile launchers located near Wonsan in Gangwon province. All the missiles were fired in the direction of the Sea of Japan.
On Saturday, North Korea launched 30 small range missiles simultaneously. They flew about 60 kilometers, according to the South Korean military sources.
The authorities in Seoul assume that North Korea has fired missiles in retaliation to the annual U.S. - South Korean exercises (Foal Eagle) that are currently under way in South Korea. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) regards them as allied training ahead on intrusion into Korean peninsula.

What Michelle Obama, Peng Liyuan have in common

OK, 'most spoken word on the planet', marks its 175th anniversary
Whatever you're doing today, wherever you might be, take a moment to reflect on the most popular word in the English language, OK? It will be 175 years since OK - or, as some prefer, okay - first appeared in print, on page two of The Boston Morning Post, then one of the most popular newspapers in the United States.
"I think OK should be celebrated with parades and speeches," Allan Metcalf, an English professor in Illinois who is the world's leading authority on the history and meaning of OK, said. "But for now, whatever you do [to mark the anniversary], it's OK." In his 2001 book, OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, Metcalf calls OK "the most frequently spoken (or typed) word on the planet".
Concise and utilitarian, it's quintessentially American in its simplicity. Etymologically, it has no direct relationship with Latin or Greek or any other ancient tongue.
Oxford Dictionaries, on its website, rejects speculation that OK is derived from the Scottish expression "och aye," the Greek "ola kala" (it's good) or the French "aux Cayes," which refers to a Haitian port famous for its rum.
Rather, it favours a theory - shared by Metcalf - that it's an abbreviation of "orl korrekt," a derivative of "all correct" from the 1830s when jokey misspellings were all the rage. Credit for finding its first use in print goes to Allen Walker Read, a Columbia University professor who died in 2002 after a lifetime interest in OK and another widely used word with four letters that starts with the letter F. It appeared in the Post in the context of an article concerning the ironically named Anti-Bell Ringing Society, founded in 1838 to oppose a municipal law in Boston prohibiting the ringing of dinner bells.
Society members were on their way to New York, it reported, adding cryptically that if they should travel through Rhode Island en route home, the newspaper editor in the New England state might well "have the 'contribution box,' et ceteras, o.k. - all correct - and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward." Other abbreviations proliferated at the time, like NG for "no go," GT for "gone to Texas" and SP for "small potatoes."
But OK truly entered America's lingua franca in 1840, when spin doctors for Democratic presidential nominee Martin Van Buren, a native of Kinderhook, New York, insisted to voters that it meant "Old Kinderhook." Internationally, OK has travelled remarkably well - including in Hong Kong, where "OK la" has become common parlance.

Video: 'Twitler': Turkey's Twitter ban sparks outrage, social media mocks

Turkey: We’re counting days to an authoritarian Islamist regime

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “We’ll eradicate Twitter, mwitter,” before adding he does not care what the international community will say.
He also said nobody should expect the AKP government to abide by the latest European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decision which called Turkey to create the mechanisms to let the jailed leader of the illegal Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan apply for conditional release in his 25th year in prison.
In reality, Erdoğan should be one of the people who know very well that Turkey has to abide by the ECHR’s decisions as a rule of national law.
Another fact is the ECHR’s decisions must be held superior to the Turkish law when there is a contradiction. There is only one meaning for the Prime Minister’s defiance of the international community and the ECHR, which is: The prime minister has declared that Turkey is turning away from being a part of democratic Western civilization.
If he succeeds, he can indeed be at ease.
Just like Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and countries like these do not care about the rules that the democratic Western system upholds, neither will Turkey!
It is hard to understand how to try to be a member of the EU, while saying, “I’ll do it the way I want, regardless of what they say.”
Apparently, the prime minister is so bored of legal rules to render an account to the democratic world that he’s counting down the days until having the authoritarian-Islamist regime he has in mind. When prime minister gave the signal…
We know Prime Minister Erdoğan very well. Sometimes during election rallies, he is buoyed by his own voice and says the first thing that comes to his mind.
I thought the same thing happened when I first heard Erdoğan’s speech in Bursa.
“We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic,” the prime minister said.
But hours after these remarks it was announced that Twitter was banned based on three court decisions. We later learned that the court rulings were given earlier. It is obvious that when the prime minster gave the signal, officious officials in the Telecommunications Directorate (TİB) took this as an order and shut down access.
We witnessed concepts such as DNS and VPN quickly become a part of our daily lives.
There is no question that court orders should be applied, although we saw police chiefs resisting prosecutor’s orders after the Dec. 17, 2013 corruption probe. The prime minister said he would not follow a court ruling ordering the halt of the construction of a new prime ministry building in Ankara, but in a state of law everybody should obey the court’s decisions. Hence, the responsibility of taking Turkey out of the situation it was put in falls on the courts’ shoulders. I want to hope the Turkish Bars Associations’ objection to a higher court will soon get a result and we are better than at least China, even with our limited democracy.

88 injured, 29 arrested in Madrid as anti-austerity march turns violent

Protesters clashed with police in Madrid as thousands of people trekked across Spain to protest austerity which they claim is destroying their country. Under the banner "no more cuts!" the protesters called for an end to the government’s "empty promises." Police arrested at least 29 protesters following the clashes which took place after the march. According to emergency service, 88 people were injured - 55 of them police, El Mundo newspaper reports. Protesters were seen throwing stones and firecrackers at police. According to witnesses, officers used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
Clashes broke out during a final speech at the demonstration when protesters tried to break through a police barrier. Riot police took charge by beating protesters with batons, AP reported.
“The mass rally was coming to an an end when reportedly a group of younger protesters, who had masks on their faces, started throwing rocks at the police. Police tried to push them away from the parameter that they organized around this area,” RT’s Egor Piskunov reported from Madrid.
“They (police) tried to push them (protesters) away from these police fences and then we started seeing firecrackers being thrown at police and reportedly authorities started firing rubber bullets at the protesters. As a result, there are injuries on both sides and several people have been arrested as well.” “I can confirm that there is very heavy police presence in this whole district. Since it is the center of Madrid, there are lots of luxury hotels in this part of town and security here is very tight,” he added. Six “columns” of trains, cars and buses, as well as bands of pedestrians have travelled from Extremadura, Andalusia, Valencia, Murcia, Asturias, Galicia and Aragon, among other Spanish regions, to converge on Madrid in mass protest this Saturday. The demonstration itself has been dubbed 22-M, Marches for dignity.
Eight groups of activists are expected to move into the Spanish capital at different points throughout the course of the day. As a precautionary measure, the Madrid authorities have closed roads in the center of the city and asked people to use public transport whenever possible on Saturday. In addition, the Spanish authorities have deployed 1,650 riot police to keep the situation under control in Madrid.
The protest movement is demanding an end to the so-called Troika-style cuts in Spain, more jobs and affordable housing. “Why am I here? I’m sick of this government. With all the promises they never fulfill. They said they were going to create more jobs and lower the taxes but it’s a lie! Instead, unemployment rose from 4 to 6 million. This is the only way we can fight back,” one of the protestors, who had been on the road since March 9, told RT correspondent Egor Piskunov.
A large proportion of the protesters who have made their way on foot to the Spanish capital are unemployed and plan to camp in Madrid until their demands are met. “There are too many reasons: my sons have to work every day from 8 in the morning to five of the next morning only for 400 euros per month! Also I'm a teacher and I know what cuts in the public sector mean,” said another activist. “All these evictions - this is insane. I'm marching to Madrid because I can't walk to Berlin or Brussels. We must stop them and the Troika!” Hundreds of people are evicted from their homes every day in Spain. The General Council of the Judiciary reported that 49,984 forced evictions had been carried out across the country last year, which averages about 185 a day.
The number of evictions reached an all-time high in Spain in 2012 with over 500 a day, according to a report by the BBC. This combined with an unemployment rate of 26 percent, the second highest in Europe after Greece, has left many Spanish citizens with nowhere to turn. This is reflected in the growing number of suicides in the country, with the country’s National Institute of Statistics estimating that at least 8 people take their lives every day in the country. Pepe Caballero, one of the organizers of the protests said the Spanish government is trying to return Spain to the Franco era. “What the government wants is to go back to the Franco years and keep the working class from demonstrating in the streets and saying what our main problems are. We won't allow that to happen and they know it,” Caballero told RT, adding that the protest movement will change Spain from the “bottom to the top.” At the beginning of this month, the Spanish Minister of Employment Fatima Banez said that Spain had finally pulled itself out of the recession and registered economic growth. However, the Spanish Union of Workers dismissed Banez’s announcements as “government propaganda.”

The First Lady Michelle Obama on the Importance of Studying Abroad

Turkish Music

Turkey: Erdoğan lost his Twitter battle - very badly

On March 20, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said in an election rally that he wanted to “root out” Twitter, no matter what the “international community” thought. Within hours, an Ankara court had shut down the site to the 12 million Twitter accounts in Turkey.
The official reason from the PM’s press office was shown as the number of court cases opened by Turkish citizens against Twitter on the basis that they had been insulted.
But there are many speculations about the actual reason for the unfortunate move.
Erdoğan has been getting more upset because of leaks of wiretap records of telephone conversations between him and his family members, Cabinet members, media figures, and business figures, with lots of claims of corruption. This has been the case ever since the graft probe started on Dec. 17, 2013, which has so far cost Erdoğan the resignations of four ministers.
Instead of opening the judicial path to investigation of the corruption allegations, Erdoğan started to bash judges, prosecutors, policemen and social media for trying to stage a “coup” against him with manipulation from his former close ally Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident moderate Islamist scholar. It was then that the leaks started to cause so many headaches for the prime minister.
As Turkey approaches the March 30 local elections, Erdoğan and his close aides have started to worry about more leaks, which could affect the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) votes.
Erdoğan first introduced more political control over judges and prosecutors, and then passed a law restricting the use of the Internet, taking advantage of the AK Parti’s domination of Parliament.
But nobody expected that he would act so quickly and so firmly as to shut Twitter down completely.
There are speculations regarding the timing of the move as well.
When the day turns from March 20 to March 21, day and night are equal in the northern hemisphere, which marks one of the most ancient festivities on earth: Nevruz (Nooruz in Persian, Novruz in Azeri, and Newroz in Kurdish). On March 21 in the predominantly Kurdish populated city of Diyarbakır, the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) held a big rally. It featured a message from Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which shares the same grassroots with the BDP.
Erdoğan’s government was uncomfortable with the possibility that the PKK would end the dialogue process on the grounds that the government has not been doing enough, or at least give an ultimatum to end the cease-fire.
There is speculation that those who are leaking the documents could have a recording between Turkish Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan and Öcalan about guarantees for his release. The possibility of a leak before the BDP’s Nevruz rally could ruin all Erdoğan’s game plan before the March 30 elections.
So he preferred the hard way and shut down Twitter, which he sees as the source of the leaks.
Erdoğan had once promised to take the Turkish people into the European Union, or at least to the level of the EU’s democratic standards, but with the latest ban he has put Turkey in the same league as North Korea, China and Iran.
Nevertheless, hours after the ban most Turkish users were back on Twitter, using the ways and means of digital technology.
What’s more, to Erdoğan’s dismay, those rejoining Twitter and breaking the ban included Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek (a genuine Twitter addict).
President Abdullah Gül, who had “unwillingly” approved the recent Internet law, also broke the law, saying via his own Twitter account that he was against the ban.
Immediately after the ban went into effect, millions of Turkish Twitter users hit back, defying the restrictions and demonstrating that the walls of fear that Erdoğan is trying to build have started to fall apart.
It is getting more difficult for Erdoğan to rule Turkey as he has done up to now, even if his AK Parti comes first on March 30.

Turkey: Erdoğan fears 140 characters

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has slammed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan over the government's blocking of Twitter during his election rally in the Aegean city İzmir on March 22.
Thousands of CHP supporters who packed Gündoğdu Square in this CHP stronghold welcomed Kılıçdaroğlu, chanting "Prime Minister Kemal." In response, Kılıçdaroğlu said "Inshallah [God willing] it will happen. The first step will be March 30," referring to the upcoming local elections.
"They have banned Twitter. Twitter is mostly used by young people. You have created a prime minister who fears 140 characters," Kılıçdaroğlu said. He continued: "I'm giving him [Erdoğan] a title: He's not an ordinary thief; he is the Thief-in-Chief. And now all the world knows his new title. Have you ever seen another politician who called Twitter 'a trouble' and promised to close down Facebook and Twitter?"
Although Erdoğan "brings shame" on Turkey, Kılıçdaroğlu has claimed, "The ban don't cut no ice with the youth." The number of active Twitter users, as well as tweets, had soared in Turkey since the government blocked access.
Twitter suspends one of the accounts
Meanwhile, Twitter has suspended an account in accordance with the Turkish government's requests, semi-official Anatolian news agency has reported.
The government had listed three court rulings and one prosecutor's order as the source of the blocking on Twitter. One of these cases was related to a Turkish woman's complaint for the removal of her explicit photos shared through an account without her consent.
Lawyer Mehmet Ali Köksal has told daily Hürriyet that Twitter's removal is a routine procedure, while the pro-government media has presented the development as "Twitter's retreat" in the face of Turkish government's increased pressure.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, on the other hand, has signaled that the blocking can be revoked anytime, if Twitter cooperates with Ankara on all issues. After the representatives of both sides met in Ankara, Twitter expressed hope that full access to the website will be returned soon, but the Turkish government keeps closing the backdoors like DNS services and argues that there are hundreds of court rulings Twitter doesn't abide by.

Russia’s Shifting of Border Force Stirs U.S. Worry

The White House cast doubt Friday on the Kremlin’s claims that thousands of troops massing on the border of southeastern Ukraine are merely involved in training exercises, deepening fears that Russian aggression will not end in Crimea. “It’s not clear what that signals,” the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, said to reporters in a briefing at the White House. But she added, “Obviously given their past practice and the gap between what they have said and what they have done, we are watching it with skepticism.”
At the Pentagon, senior officers and analysts said they were monitoring the Russian infantry, airborne, air defense and other reinforcements with growing alarm, uncertain of President Vladimir V. Putin’s ambitions.
Pentagon officials do not believe that a new Russian move into Ukraine is imminent. But one of their big worries is that American and NATO officials would have virtually no time to react if it did happen. All told, officials said, there are more than 20,000 troops near the border.
“The Russian forces are reinforcing and bulking up along the eastern Ukrainian border,” a Pentagon official said. “Our view is they’re preserving all their options, including going in, absolutely. If they choose to do that, we just wouldn’t have much warning.”
President Obama cited the troop movements on Thursday in announcing new sanctions against officials with ties to Mr. Putin and in opening the door to broader measures against key industrial sectors. He warned Russia against further incursions after its annexation of Crimea. Ms. Rice’s comments, which set the stage for Mr. Obama’s trip to Europe next week, suggested that the tensions between the United States and Russia were continuing to intensify. Asked if the Ukraine crisis was prompting a “fundamental reassessment” of America’s relationship with Russia, she answered in a single word: “Yes.”
Russia’s integration into the global political and economic order after the Cold War, Ms. Rice said, was predicated on its adherence to international rules and norms. “What we have seen in Ukraine is obviously a very egregious departure from that,” she said. Her comments were among the bluntest of any ranking administration official since the crisis began, and were even more striking because they came hours after Mr. Putin signaled that he wanted to halt the cycle of tit-for-tat retribution between Moscow and Washington.
The White House, it seems, is paying less attention to Mr. Putin’s words than to the movement of his troops, described as a mix of infantry, motorized and airborne forces. Officials also worry about clashes with Ukrainian soldiers, who are increasingly agitated. Ukrainian officials have told American officials that Russia could use that as a pretext to move.
“This is obviously a very worrying and fragile situation,” Ms. Rice said, “but we have been very much admiring of the posture that the Ukrainian people and government have been taking.”
On Thursday, Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that “the troops he has arrayed along the border are there to conduct exercises only, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action,” according to the Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby. Mr. Hagel has held several urgent calls with Ukraine’s defense minister, Ihor Tenyukh, and told him Friday that the Pentagon was reviewing a request for military assistance. Ukrainian officials have asked for small arms and ammunition, as well as nonlethal aid like medical supplies. The Pentagon said it was focusing on nonlethal aid. On Wednesday, Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, called Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to warn him about the mounting tensions in the country’s east. Mr. Biden was then on a two-day trip to Poland and the Baltic States to reassure them of American support in the wake of Russia’s moves against Ukraine.
He encountered deep divisions among Europeans about how swiftly to impose sanctions on Russia. Estonia’s president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, urged his fellow leaders to act boldly, but officials in Poland and Lithuania were more cautious, citing energy contracts with Russia. The European Union stepped up its own sanctions, adding 12 Russian officials to its list of 21 blacklisted figures. But it did not penalize wealthy business people with ties to Mr. Putin, whom the White House describes as cronies. Part of the reason, a senior administration official said, is that Europe has different legal criteria for penalizing such people. The “cronies” tend to have assets stashed in Europe, which makes putting them on a blacklist more complicated.
Ms. Rice said the European Union’s latest move “very much matches the theory behind the executive order that President Obama signed yesterday, which gave us and gives us the ability as needed to target particular sectors within the Russian economy.”
In addition to targeting those close to Mr. Putin with sanctions, the White House hopes to drive away foreign investors. In that regard, the best news the White House might have gotten was an announcement on Thursday by Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, that it had downgraded its outlook for the Russian economy to negative.
Ms. Rice was not among three White House officials banned from Russia by the Foreign Ministry in response to Mr. Obama’s sanctions. One of the officials who was — Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser — stood next to her at the briefing.
While Ms. Rice inveighed against Russia, Mr. Rhodes offered a businesslike recitation of the president’s schedule next week, which includes a meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican, with King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and with the leaders of the Group of 7 countries in The Hague — a club in which Russia is normally the eighth member. “Of course,” Mr. Rhodes said, “the meeting itself is part of our isolation of Russia.”

Lavrov meet with Kerry at Nuclear Security Summit in Hague
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to meet with the US Secretary of State John Kerry at Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague, the Russian Foreign Ministry reports.
It is assumed that the parties are going to discuss the political crisis in Ukraine. The Nuclear Security Summit will be held March 24-25 in the Hague.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry are likely to meet in The Hague, a Russian Foreign Ministry source confirmed to Itar-Tass on Saturday. "Such a meeting is planned," he said. On Friday, State Department official spokesperson Jen Psaki spoke of the planned meeting between the senior Russian and US diplomats but no exact date was given.
It is known that Kerry will accompany Barack Obama on his visits to The Hague, Rome, Vatican City and Riyadh from March 24 to 28. As the Russian Foreign Ministry reported earlier, the minister and state secretary had agreed to stay in contact on Ukraine, including to discuss ways to de-escalate the situation and promote the launch of Ukraine's constitutional reform with the full participation of all the regions of the country.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he expects to see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Europe next week to discuss the Ukraine crisis.
Kerry, who is going to The Hague to meet with European allies, said he thought there would be a meeting with Lavrov on the side. "So hopefully we will see where we are at that point in time," he said. His comments came after the Russian parliament ratified a treaty on reunification of Crimea and Russia.
Read more:

What cards is Russia holding?

On March 18 Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with the Crimean and Sevastopol delegations to accept the Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as part of Russian territory. As the situation becomes more complex, and in the face of political pressure from the US and Europe, it is inevitable that people will ask what cards Russia is holding.
Many believe that the Ukrainian opposition clearly has the support of the West in its protests and demonstrations; and Viktor Yanukovych's deal with the opposition and his removal from the presidency was obviously a loss of face for Russia. Nevertheless, the importance of Ukraine to Russia goes far beyond its importance to either the U.S or Europe. And it seems that Russia has turned the situation to its advantage.
The West has continued to warn that Russia will pay a high price for its actions, and the bill may well be presented in the form of concellation of the G8 Summit to be held in Sochi. Barack Obama has also said that the U.S. will unite with European countries to make Russia pay. But to a large extent these threats are gesture politics. The truth is that the U.S. and Europe don’t have much of a hand to deal with the Ukraine issue.
Russia is a powerful country, and there are too many difficulties that cannot be solved without Russian support. Even after the Crimean referendum, Barack Obama was still looking for diplomatic ways to resolve the crisis in accordance with the mutual interests of Ukraine and Russia.
From the economic perspective, Russia continues to implement diversified strategies and to attach importance to its economic connections with the other BRICS. In contrast, the trade volume between the U.S. and Russia now is less than US $50 billion - even if the U.S. imposes sanctions against Russia they will have little impact. Europe is more reliant on Russia than the converse.
In military terms Russia has the most powerful nuclear arsenal. Although the U.S. and Europe have strong forces, there is almost no likelihood of military confrontation between them.
Basically, the Ukraine crisis had its origins in the internal struggle among its parties, prior to becoming part of the geopolitical game between Russia and the U.S. and Europe. Resolving this kind of international problem means finding a compromise based on exchange and mutual concession, and creating a balance of interests. There may be clearer hints as to how that compromise and balance will be reached after the Ukrainian presidential election in May.

2,000 out of 18,000 Ukrainian Troops to Leave Crimea

Less than 2,000 of Ukrainian troops serving in Crimea decided to leave the peninsula for Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday.
"As of March 21, less than 2,000 out of 18,000 Ukrainian servicemen staying on the territory of the Republic of Crimea decided to go to Ukraine," the ministry said in a statement.
Those willing to continue their service in the Ukrainian armed forces will be provided with transport to carry their families and belongings to the Ukrainian territory. A total of 147 military units in Crimea have hoisted Russian flags instead of Ukrainian and applied to join the Russian armed forces.
"St. Andrew's flags of the Russian Navy have been raised on 54 out of 67 vessels of the Ukrainian Navy, including eight warships and one submarine," the defense ministry said. Ukraine's only submarine, the Zaporizhzhia, joined the Russian Black Sea Fleet earlier on Saturday and will be soon relocated to its base. R
ussian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Friday to ratify the treaty providing for the reunification of the Crimean Peninsula with Russia.
Leaders in the predominantly Russian-ethnic republic refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government in Kiev that came to power amid often violent protests last month, instead seeking reunification with Russia.

China spots new possible plane debris in southern Indian Ocean

China said on Saturday it had a new satellite image of what could be wreckage from a missing Malaysian airliner, as more planes and ships headed to join an international search operation scouring some of the remotest seas on Earth.
The latest possible lead came as the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 entered its third week, with still no confirmed trace found of the Boeing 777 or the 239 people on board.
The new potential sighting was dramatically announced by Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, after he was handed a note with details during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, scooping the official announcement from China.
"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area," Hishammuddin told reporters.
China said the object was 22 meters long (74ft) and 13 meters (43ft) wide, and spotted around 120 km (75 miles) "south by west" of potential debris reported by Australia off its west coast in the forbidding waters of the southern Indian Ocean.
The image was captured by the high-definition Earth observation satellite "Gaofen-1" early on March 18, two days after the Australian satellite picture was taken, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said on its website.
It could not easily be determined from the blurred images whether the objects were the same, but the Chinese photograph could depict a cluster of smaller objects, a senior military officer from one of the 26 nations involved in the search for the plane said. The wing of a Boeing 777-200ER is approximately 27 meters long and 14 meters wide at its base, according to estimates derived from publicly available scale drawings. Its fuselage is 63.7 meters long by 6.2 meters wide.
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing.
Investigators believe someone on board shut off the plane's communications systems, and partial military radar tracking showed it turning west and re-crossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot. That has led them to focus on hijacking or sabotage, but they have not ruled out technical problems.
Since Australia announced the first image of what could be parts of the aircraft on Thursday, the international search for the plane has focused on an expanse of ocean more than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) southwest of Perth. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said one of its aircraft reported sighting a number of "small objects" with the naked eye, including a wooden pallet, within a radius of 5 km. A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft took a closer look but only reported seeing clumps of seaweed. It dropped a marker buoy to track the movement. "A merchant ship in the area has been tasked to relocate and seek to identify the material," AMSA said in a statement. The search area experienced good weather conditions on Saturday with visibility of around 10 km and moderate seas. Australia, which is coordinating the rescue, has cautioned the objects in the satellite image might be a lost shipping container or other debris, and may have sunk since the picture was taken.
"Even though this is not a definite lead, it is probably more solid than any other lead around the world and that is why so much effort and interest is being put into this search," Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters, before latest Chinese image was reported.
China said its icebreaker "Snow Dragon" was heading for the area, but was still around 70 hours away. Japan and India were also sending more planes and Australian and Chinese navy vessels were steaming towards the southern search zone.
But the area is known for rough seas and strong currents, and Malaysia's Hishammuddin said a cyclone warning had been declared for Christmas Island, far off to the north. "There are vessels heading in that direction. They may have to go through the cyclone," he said. "Generally, conditions in the southern corridor are very challenging," said Hishammuddin. "The ocean varies between 1,150 meters and 7,000 meters in depth." NO SIGN IN NORTHERN CORRIDOR Where the missing plane went after it flew out of range of Malaysia's military radar off the country's northwest coast has been one of the most puzzling aspects of what has quickly become perhaps the biggest mystery in modern aviation history. Electronic "pings" detected by a commercial satellite suggested it flew for another six hours or so, but could do no better than place its final signal on one of two vast arcs: a northern corridor from Laos to the Caspian Sea, and a southern one stretching from Indonesia down to the part of the Indian Ocean that has become the focal point of the search. Malaysia has said the search will continue in both corridors until confirmed debris is found. Hishammuddin said that, in response to a formal diplomatic request from Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan had all said, based on preliminary analysis, that there have been no sightings of the aircraft on their radar. Aircraft and ships have renewed the search in the Andaman Sea between India and Thailand, going over areas in the northern corridor that have already been exhaustively swept. The Pentagon said it was considering a request from Malaysia for sonar equipment. The P-8 and P-3 spy planes, which the United States is already deploying in the search, also carry "sonobuoys" that are dropped into the sea and use sonar signals to search the waters below. The search itself has strained ties between China and Malaysia, with Beijing repeatedly leaning on the Southeast Asian nation to step up its hunt and do a better job at looking after the relatives of the Chinese passengers. For families of the passengers, the process has proved to be an emotionally wrenching battle to elicit information. In a statement on Saturday, relatives in Beijing lambasted a Malaysian delegation for "concealing the truth" and "making fools" out of the families after they said they left a meeting without answering all their questions.
"This kind of conduct neglects the lives of all the passengers, shows contempt for all their families, and even more, tramples on the dignity of Chinese people and the Chinese government," they said.
Some experts have argued that the reluctance to share sensitive radar data and capabilities in a region fraught with suspicion amid China's military rise and territorial disputes may have hampered the search.

President Obama's Weekly Address: Rewarding Women's Hard Work and Increasing the Minimum Wage

Michelle Obama discusses missing plane in China

Afghan Pashto Song - By ARYANA SAYEED


By Aaranya Rajasingam
Early this week, President Hamid Karzai reiterated his decision not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US in his final address to the parliament. In a recent interview to Washington Post, he explained his position by stating “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours”. His strong resentment stems from the fact that though the US had fought its war on Afghan soil, it had failed to neutralise the Taliban threat emerging from neighbouring Pakistan and has continued its secret operations on Afghan soil without working in coordination with the Afghan security forces. However, this decision does not reflect the sentiment of all Afghans in general. In direct contradiction to the statement given by the Afghan president, Zahir Tanin, the ambassador of Afghanistan to the United Nations, gave firm assurances this week that the security deal will be signed by Kabul. And this seems more likely since many of the leading candidates in the next presidential elections seem favourable to this proposition.
In the rare event that the next elected president fails to sign this pact or come to a mutual agreement of some sort regarding security arrangements, the US will be forced to exercise the zero option. This entails a complete withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Such a decision will leave Afghanistan on its own to deal with national security challenges. Without a strong US presence it is unlikely that NATO forces will continue to stay, and this has serious ramifications for a country that is ill equipped to combat the Taliban insurgency alone at present. All this is taking place at a time when elections are looming ahead and security demands on Afghanistan have multiplied.
The real problem, however, is that any conversation on preserving the security and stability of Afghanistan dwells almost exclusively on hard security arrangements. While they are huge obstacles, the fact that security concerns have taken centre stage in all the debates on Afghanistan has been extremely counterproductive. Surprisingly, this emphasis on traditional security issues can be found in not only military and diplomatic circles but also in the development discourse on Afghanistan
The transition process in Afghanistan is a multi-levelled process and includes political, economic and security transitions. Any strategy towards Afghanistan needs to take into consideration a more holistic picture of the upcoming transition process rather than focus on selective tactics, which bring short term gains. The first important issue is to ensure a peaceful political transition of power to a legitimate Afghan government. Without the continuity of a strong central state structure, Afghanistan has little hope of overcoming all its problems, including the fight against terrorism.
Alongside the political transition, the state has to also focus on enabling a smooth economic transition. One of the casualties of the current security environment has been the economic stability of the country. At present Afghanistan is unable to retain millions of dollars worth investments. The state is highly dependent on international financial support for its survival, with over 65% of its national budget covered by external funds. It can be expected that the rapidly increasing financial burdens on the government will undermine its ability to function effectively. While the international community has pledged to stand by the financial commitments made at the Chicago Summit in 2012 and subsequent Tokyo conference, this is hardly adequate to finance all the needs of the state.
As evidenced above, solving hard security issues alone will not address the parallel transitional challenges that the country faces. Prioritising the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) above other considerations or focussing on negotiations with the Taliban has constantly shifted the focus of the “transition of power” debate in Afghanistan towards traditional security challenges. This has often meant that the global anti-terrorism campaign waged by the US and its allies dictates the peace process in Afghanistan. While the challenges from insurgents in the country are significant and contribute to many insecurities, the prioritisation of it above other challenges has not been beneficial for the people of Afghanistan. Civil society reports from within Afghanistan have begun to highlight this issue with more frequency.
The people of Afghanistan themselves are now initiating this much needed change. For example the current presidential debates focus a lot on non-traditional security issues. Election candidates have stressed the importance of good governance, transparency and the fight against corruption in their manifestos. Although this may be cosmetic rhetoric at present, it signals that these issues dominate the public discourse and are issues which Afghans are voting on. Another example is the attempts taken to prevent sectarian violence. While candidates and media outlets remain polarised along ethnic lines, the people have shown zero tolerance for any attempts, by military or government representatives, to incite ethnic hatred. Public outrage during such incidences (via social media and street-level protests) has shown that the population is wary of allowing the outbreak of yet another ethnic conflict post-2014.
The social and political landscape in Afghanistan has changed dramatically over the last decade. More than a million young Afghans have graduated from school and there has been tremendous infrastructure and technological development in the country. The proliferation of mobile phones and internet facilities has brought Afghans closer together and has amplified their opinions on the international stage. It is hard to claim that the people of Afghanistan are not speaking when in fact they are voicing themselves on a myriad of issues regarding health, education, infrastructure, corruption, rule of law and women’s empowerment. This is but one example of a shift towards a more holistic security outlook, one that puts forward human security issues in Afghanistan. To deny their voice would be a disservice to them.
It is vital that the media and international community focus on these conversations as they contribute to developing a vision for Afghanistan: a vision that can act as a blueprint for positive change over the long run. Though there may be no easy solutions for Afghanistan in the near future, supporting Afghans in finding their own answers would be an important step towards paving the way for peace and stability in both the country and the region.

Women's Rights in Afghanistan Must be Steadfastly Respected

Four years ago, a long-awaited law to protect women and girls from violence, the Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW), was finally passed in Afghanistan. In a country where many women and girls are forced to enter and stay in abusive marriages, it seemed a ray of hope. However, in January, a provision in Afghanistan's draft criminal procedure code became the latest in a series of attempts to roll back the already fragile legal protections for women and girls.
The 128-page draft code had undergone a six-year drafting process involving hundreds of hours of meetings and discussion among Afghan justice officials and international advisers on criminal justice, but the version passed by parliament and sent to President Hamid Karzai for his signature on February 9, 2014 included "relatives of the accused" among a list of people who "cannot be questioned as witnesses" in criminal proceedings. The rule, in Article 26, allowed no exceptions. It would have given the abusers of women effective immunity for their crimes.
The context for this latest drama matters. This is not a strange legislative drafting mishap or an unintended consequence of a poorly thought-through good intention. This comes after a year of frequent and serious attacks on women's rights by the Afghan parliament, government and judiciary.
Not only did that version have an outright prohibition against calling the "relatives of the accused" to testify in criminal proceedings, it also had a very broad definition of the term "relatives." A "relative" was defined as "husband or wife and their ancestors and descendants up to the second generation, mother and father and their ancestors up to the second generation and brother, sister, uncle, aunt and their descendants up to the second generation." In Afghanistan, that could have easily excluded an entire village.
If the provision were left intact, Article 26 would have gutted Afghanistan's new and still tentative protections for women who are victims of domestic violence by silencing a very large potential pool of witnesses to crimes committed against women in the privacy of the family home.
Crimes against women in their homes by family members remain a serious problem. In 2008, research by Global Rights showed (PDF) that 87 percent of a sample of Afghan women reported that they had faced at least one form of abuse in their lifetime, 39 percent said they had been hit by their husband in the last year and 59 percent said they were in forced marriages.
Article 26 of the proposed code violates the underlying aim of EVAW. The law bolstered legal protections for women by, for the first time, criminalizing rape, child marriage and forced marriage and by imposing tough new penalties for domestic violence. The UN has closely tracked the enforcement of EVAW, and the findings offer a mix of both frustration and hope for Afghanistan's women. Its 2013 analysis (PDF) indicates that government enforcement efforts have in many parts of the country been slow, uneven and lackluster, but the UN also reported progress in that both the number of cases of reported violence against women and related cases prosecuted under the law are gradually rising. For example, in 2013, 28 percent more cases of violence against women were registered than in the previous year. However, the number of prosecutions under the new law rose only two percent, suggesting that while the law is having a positive impact, it is far too slow.
So who would want to derail EVAW and why? It is not clear who drafted Article 26 in its present form, but a majority of members of parliament supported it, notwithstanding the negative impact it posed to efforts to protect women from violence. Besieged by pleas from Afghan activists and a growing number of donor countries not to sign the draft criminal procedure code into law without further amendments, Karzai paused. Officials initially argued that there had been a misunderstanding and that Article 26 would only prevent courts from compelling relatives to testify (but would permit voluntary testimony). Eventually the Justice Ministry conceded that the language of Article 26 suggested otherwise and agreed to revise it.
In late February, Karzai sought to defuse the controversy by signing into law the parliament's version of the code but following it up with a separate presidential decree amending Article 26. The decree clarifies that relatives of the accused are permitted to testify voluntarily. It also allows compelled testimony from anyone who is a "complainant or informant regarding the crime" and slightly narrows the definition of "relatives."
Karzai's revised Article 26 still exempts far too many family members from being called to court as witnesses. The new version of the law exempts grandparents and grandchildren and everyone in between from testifying, including former wives or husbands. Limiting testimony in criminal proceedings to only those witnesses who choose to "voluntarily" testify poses serious challenges for successful prosecution of violence against women and to victim and witness protection in Afghanistan. Even with the decree, in its current form Article 26 provides a legal shield to those accused of domestic violence who threaten relatives and intimidate them from testifying in courts. Additionally, Afghan lawmakers hostile to women's rights will have the opportunity as soon as this month to reverse the presidential decree when parliament reconvenes, but even if parliament leaves that decree intact, bureaucratic challenges may also inadvertently victimize women. Afghanistan's system of distributing legal codes is not computerized, so courts could receive copies of the code that do not include the presidential amendment to Article 26.
The last year has been a very rough ride for women's rights in Afghanistan. Lawmakers have argued for the repeal of EVAW and tried to abolish a set-aside of seats for women on provincial councils. The courtsreversed the 10-year sentences handed down to the in-laws who brutally abused 13-year-old bride Sahar Gul in a case that had previously been seen as emblematic of the positive impact of EVAW. Female police officers, legislators and activists suffered attacks, some fatal, and threats without receiving support from the government. Karzai undermined the credibility of the government's human rights commission by appointing unqualified new commissioners, including a former Taliban government official who urged repeal of EVAW. A committee including representatives of key government institutions prepared a draft law that would have reinstated stoning as a punishment for adultery.
It is likely that such attacks on women's rights will continue. The eagerness of Afghanistan's foreign donors to reduce their overall commitment to Afghanistan in line with the planned end-2014 withdrawal of foreign military forces is creating a space in which opponents of women's rights have freer rein to pursue their agenda. Foreign donors, who continue to provide virtually all of the Afghan government's budget, should insist that it respect and strengthen legal protections for women, not eviscerate them. Until they do, Afghanistan's hard-fought women's rights will remain perilously fragile.

Afghanistan: An eyewitness account of deadly hotel assault
The outgoing Afghan calendar year (1392) ended on a tragic note, with a deadly suicide attack on a luxury hotel in the heart of central capital Kabul.
Four foreigners and five Afghans, including women and children lost their lives in the brazen assault on the high-end Serena Hotel, where four teenage suicide attackers were also killed after a two-hour clash.
In the heart-rending incident, the two children were shot in the head. The foreigners were from Canada, New Zealand, India and Pakistan. A child, a hotel guard, two Afghan soldiers and a parliamentarian were among the injured. A Kabul resident, who had been for dinner to the hotel frequented by high-ranking Afghan and foreign officials, told Pajhwok Afghan News there was a small crowd of guests at the time of attack. The ambience was somehow characterised by gloom and silence.
Giving an eyewitness account, he said the attackers sat around a table in the restaurant and remained reticent. Clad in Local dress, they closely watched visitors; they did not look ordinary boys.
“One of bearers asked the guys what they would like to eat,” said the survivor, who did not want to be named. “And pat came the reply: Bring anything you want.”
Afghan journalist Sardar Muhammad was also in the hotel along with his family for dinner. Businessmen, lawmakers, foreigners and a handful of other people were waiting for dinner that never came.
The parliamentarians present included Qais Hassan, Habib Afghan and Farhad Siddiqui. A businessman from southern Helmand province, Haji Abdullah, was also there, according to the eyewitness.
Farhad Siddiqui rose from his seat to bring food, as Habib Afghan and Haji Abdullah talked. All of a sudden, two of the young men opened a volley of fire at them. The trader was killed on the spot while Habib Afghan was injured. The two other gunmen opened fire on journalist Sardar Ahmad. First, they killed his wife. Ahmad shouted: “I am Afghan, I am Afghan.” But the men shot him dead along with his children. “As the hall echoed with gunshots, the eerie silence ended. Waiters, guests and hotel staff ran pell-mell. Finally, they sought shelter in an underground portion of the hotel,” he recalled.
The audacious shooting triggered a fire exchange. “After two hours and a half, the clash ended and we were brought out of the hotel by security forces. But the incident has left deep scars on my mind.”

Afghan Journalists Boycott Coverage of Taliban After Reporter's Killing

About 100 Afghan journalists declared a boycott of coverage of the Taliban on Saturday after the insurgent group killed an Afghan reporter and his family in a hotel attack this week.
Sardar Ahmad, his wife and kids were out to dinner at Kabul's luxury Serena Hotel on Thursday night when a group of teenage Taliban militants entered the hotel with hidden handguns. He, his wife and two of their three children were shot dead, and one child remains in critical condition at a hospital in Kabul.
Five others were killed in the attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility.
"Once again, the journalism family in Afghanistan mourns the loss of one of its active members in a tragic incident," journalists gathered at the Sardar Mohamed Daud Hospital said in a statement on Saturday. "This incident comes despite the fact that Afghan journalists have assiduously tried to remain neutral in their coverage amid difficult circumstances."
Calling the attack unjustified, the statement said that the journalists had decided to boycott coverage of news related to the Taliban for 15 days, refraining from reaching out to the Taliban for statement or comment, and asked for an explanation of how the Taliban could justify shooting innocent children.
Sardar Ahmad was 40 years old. He joined AFP in 2003 and started working as senior reporter in the Afghan capital Kabul covering all aspects of life including politics and war.
On Friday, the attack received harsh condemnation from around the country. Many friends and colleagues of Sardar spoke out in shock and horror about what befell the promising journalist and his family.

Pakistan: Persecution of minorities :J&K Residents Protest Assassination Of Innocent Sikh In Pakistan

Assassination of a well-known Sikh ‘hakeem’ in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa induced enormous offense among the Sikh community in Jammu and Kashmir who on March 15, 2014 voiced their apprehension over targeted attacks against members of their community. President of Guru Manyo Granth Society, Jasdeep Singh, a fusion of Sikh youth organizations in J&K, said in a statement that extremist elements in Pakistan have again started religious persecution of minorities, including Sikhs.
“In the past few months several Sikhs have been killed, or abducted, in many parts of Pakistan, and the government of Pakistan failed to safeguard life, and property, of the Sikh community,” he said. “Minorities in Pakistan, including Sikhs and Hindus, live under the fear of being kidnapped, or killed,” he added.
“Criminals in Pakistan victimize people by using the anti-blasphemy law, and anyone who tries to raise their voice against abduction, or killing, is framed, and booked, under this law,” he added.
On Thursday, Paramjeet Singh, a ‘Hakeem’ from the Sikh community, was killed by anonymous gunmen in Shabqadar, Charsadda area of Dera Ismail Khan.
Just a month ago, two other Sikhs, Anand Singh and Sawrender Singh, were kidnapped from the same area. The location of the two is still mysterious. Paramjeet Singh, said the lives of Sikhs, and other minorities, are not safe in Pakistan. “Their historic, and religious, places are being encroached upon by others. We strongly condemn the systematic, and slow, genocide of minority communities of Pakistan,” he added.
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Pakistan: ''A total lack of transparency''- In pacts with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

Pakistan Today
Whatever is happening vis a vis Pakistan’s revitalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain is marked by opaqueness. The country suddenly received $1.5b described as ‘grant’. Originally the name of the donor was kept a secret. Even when media finally discovered through its own sources that the money had come from Saudi Arabia, no satisfactory answer was provided about the quid pro quo. Enter King of Bahrain. He undertakes a gesture unusual on the part of a foreign head of state to visit the Joint Staff Headquarters. We are assured by the prime minister that no Pakistani troops are being sent on any mission abroad. But is the country providing military advisers and trainers to Bahrain and with what job description? The question assumes relevance on account of the role played in Jordan by the then Brig. Zia ul Haq on a similar mission. Zia orchestrating what came to be known as the infamous Black September. Is Pakistan supplying retired army personnel to Bahrain? There were disturbing reports three years back regarding retired uniformed personnel and civilians engaged by Bahrain’s security establishment who used disproportionate force to quell the Arab Spring in the Kingdom, leading to negative coverage in the Arab media.
Pakistan is a democracy and transparency is one of the characteristics that define this system of governance. The government commands majority in the National Assembly. Why is it not taking the house into confidence over the questions that continue to be raised by the opposition parliamentarians and the media? The secrecy being employed in diplomacy indicates a lack of faith in parliamentary processes. This also gives rise to suspicions that the government is trying to hide facts that could be damaging.
The PML-N leadership has been accusing former military ruler Pervez Musharraf of dragging Pakistan into a war that was not in the country’s interest in return for US dollars. It is maintained that the country continues to suffer from the consequences of Musharraf’s decision in the form of terrorist attacks which have killed over thirty thousand civilians and about three thousand soldiers. Musharraf could make secret pacts harming the country’s interests because he was a military dictator who considered himself accountable to none. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand is answerable to the masses who elected him and to National Assembly which chose him as the first among equals. Concerns have been expressed that Pakistan might be sucked into another quagmire. Further that the ongoing secret diplomacy might result in more sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan, leading to the emergence of another kind of Taliban in the country. The sooner the details of agreements are made public the better.

Pakistan:Megha Arora: ''Hindu girl who won 2nd position in essay contest awaits awards''

She has lived the 18 years of her life as a member of a marginalised community, with life offering her very few opportunities. Yet, this ambitious girl does not believe in giving up. A student of F.Sc final year at Government Degree College Jhanda Chichi, Megha Arora defied barriers and social constraints, and excelled in the recent Punjab Youth Festival by bagging the second position in the province in the essay writing competition.
This young woman secured the top position at the district level in the essay writing competition but was not awarded commendatory certificates and cash prizes, even after the provincial government had approved it. As a Pakistani citizen, Megha demands that the government give equal opportunities to students of her community who can become contributing members of society. “I pray to God to bring peace and prosperity to the country,” she said.
Her parents are proud of Megha. “People pray to God for a male child, but I’ve never desired this. My daughters are better than sons and I am proud of them,” said Jag Mohan Arora, father of Megha. Her mother’s support has been a huge motivation for her. Kavita Arora, Megha’s mother, says they never made her feel short of anything. “It is our desire to see her become a responsible citizen and work for its development.”
Her heart is in issues related to the country’s development which is evident from the topics she has written on for award-winning essays. At the regional level, she wrote about dilemma of water and energy in Pakistan. “Water and energy crises have serious ramifications on our country’s economy. This needs to be resolved,” she said. At the provincial level, her essay was about the role of media as social watchdog. Megha feels that the media can play a far greater role in highlighting social deprivation, discrimination and can help keep a check on those in power. However, Megha feels that it is not playing its due role in highlighting social problems, particularly those concerning minority communities. For writing essays she discusses issues with parents and her elder sister Varsha Arora, an M.phil student of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi.
Megha doesn’t consider herself a genius at all, and works hard to understand things. “I don’t believe in cramming.”
She says she is lucky, and unlike some of her friends she never felt uneasy among her Muslim colleagues who always treated her equally. “I am fortunate. Many students from our community either quit or could not excel due to lack of opportunities or anti-Hindu sentiments,” she said.
Provincial Secretary Education Abdul Jabbar Shaheen and Commissioner Rawalpindi Zahid Saeed could not be reached for comments about Megha’s pending awards, despite repeated attempts. However, Director Colleges Hamayun Iqbal said a ceremony will be held soon where Megha will be awarded her cash prize and commendatory certificates. He said he will also forward her case to the Punjab Chief Minister for a scholarship.

Pakistan: ANP opposes peace zone for TTP

ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain on Tuesday opposed the Tehreek-i-Taliban’s call for the creation of a peace zone for dialogue with the government and said his party would never allow anyone to play with the solidarity of the Pakhtun soil. Addressing a news conference at the press club here, Mian Iftikhar asked the government to show courage and effectively deal with terrorism. He said ANP had always advocated dialogue for peace but would never accept the TTP demands hurting the country’s interests. The ANP leader said the government should speak to the TTP only after the latter accepted its writ. He said ANP would support the federal and provincial governments for their peace initiatives but wanted them to effectively respond to the terrorists’ activities at the same time. Mian Iftikhar accused the TTP of having double standard saying on hand one, the outfit wanted dialogue but on the other, it continued to kill innocent people. “Earlier, they (TTP) openly claimed responsibility for terrorist activities but now, they don’t do so. We now face the hidden enemy,” he said. The ANP leader said his party had formed an alliance with two major parties for the coming local body elections and would emerge as successful. He said the alliance fully supported the PTI government over the local body elections but feared the latter won’t be able to ensure introduction of biometric voter verification system for the polls. “They (PTI government) don’t have the capacity to put the system in place,” he said. Mian Iftikhar said the PTI government had yet to begin a new development scheme in the province. “All the current development schemes on which work is underway were initiated by our government,” he said, adding that the current government had handed over its affairs to consultants despite having full-fledged departments.

Bilawal Bhutto expresses grief over Hub bus accident
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has expressed his deep grief and sorrow over the tragic road accident near Hub in Balochistan resulting in loss of large number of human lives.
“It is very horrific for our nation, which is already facing numerous tragic events in the recent days,” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said and sympathized with families of passengers of ill-fated buses.
PPP Patron-In-Chief said road-safety measures must be taken and government should take notice of the growing incidents of vehicles catching fire during collision or road accidents and minimize the dangers.
He prayed to Almighty Allah to grant courage and fortitude to victims’ families and rest the departed souls in eternal peace.