Saturday, March 29, 2014

Damascus requests UN probe into Turkey’s ‘incursion plan’ leak

The Syrian government has asked the UN to conduct an investigation into the leaked record, in which top Turkish officials are allegedly discussing a plan to stage a false flag attack to justify a military operation against Syria. The audio file was uploaded on YouTube and prompted Ankara to ban the service in Turkey in response, citing national security concerns.

Turkey’s most chaotic elections

More than 50 million Turks will cast their votes on Sunday, March 30, in the country’s most chaotic election ever, but unfortunately it will unlikely diffuse the political tension. We’ll all have the results of the election by Sunday night, but we’ll wake up to a much more polarized country where rival political groups will continue their fight, this time for the upcoming presidential elections. Here are important issues that will continue to dominate Turkey’s agenda in the post-election era:
Corruption: Turkey will continue to discuss the corruption and graft claims after the elections, probably in a more tense way, as a parliamentary investigation committee will be established in April. The decision for opening such a commission was made on March 19, when a summary of proceedings about four former ministers was discussed at the General Assembly. According to Parliament’s internal regulations, the commission should be established before May 3, but the government will do its best to prevent the commission being turned into a court.
On the other hand, hopes for an effective and indiscriminative prosecution of corruption and graft claims engulfing Cabinet ministers and some leading businessmen are likely to fade in the post-election period.
More leaks: For many, phone recording leaks and other sorts of illegal recordings of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will continue in the post-election period. Aiming to tarnish Erdoğan’s image in the eyes of public opinion, these leaks could become more frequent throughout the presidential elections.
The Gülen-Erdoğan fight: The fight between Erdoğan’s government and the “Hizmet movement” of U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, will likely intensify. The two sides will use all their means to hurt the other while there are speculations that the government will remove more pro-Gülen bureaucrats from their positions. More pressure on pro-Gülen media and businessmen are also seemingly in the pipeline.
Espionage: The release of an illegal recording of a high-level security meeting had a game-changing impact on the Gülen-Erdoğan fight. The prime minister implied that what he called a treacherous espionage was carried out by the “parallel state” and vowed to “walk into their den.” A prosecution of the espionage has already been kicked out and will likely include some incidents from the past, like the stopping of intelligence trucks by the gendarmerie in Adana in January. Espionage is one the heaviest crimes and accusing someone of spying would bring about the heaviest of sentences, if found guilty.
The government and security forces are expected to go to any lengths to find the plotters of what they call serious espionage.
Twitter-YouTube: Bans of Twitter and YouTube have already been taken to the courts, but they will continue to ruin the country’s international image. One expectation is that the government will decide to lift the ban in few days after the elections, but the continuation of such leaks would delay this.
International concerns and reactions would complicate the situation for Turkey, especially from the European Union, which has already expressed its serious disturbance about restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to communicate. The post-election period is not going to be very pleasant for Turkey if it insists on such undemocratic bans.
Presidential elections: The results of Sunday’s polls will tell us more about what one should expect with regard to the presidential elections in August. The election process will begin in June, only two months after local polls, but discussions about it will immediately begin March 31. A vote less than 42 percent for the ruling party will make it really hard for Erdoğan to win the presidency in popular elections, which require a 50 percent majority in the first leg.
Peace process: Pro-Kurdish political parties seem to have made a strategic decision to support the government in its fight against the Gülen movement, believing that they can only get what they want under Erdoğan’s rule. However, Kurds will not wait until forever and the government’s unwillingness in meeting some very important demands from the Kurds could cause the derailment of the process.

Statement on Threat to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Death Sentence against Sawan Masih
PPP Human Rights Cell Central Coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah has strongly condemned threats by a banned outfit to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and demanded comprehensive action by Government of Punjab on its safe havens. The Cell has also condemned attack on commentator and TV anchor Raza Rumi.
It is clear that ceasefire is a red herring while terrorists are working on their agenda while government is either unwilling or unable to fight terrorism or address the fundamental problems of internal security, says Dr Nafisa Shah. The HR cell has further called the award of death sentence to Sawan Masih of Joseph colony an apparent miscarriage of justice which will further marginalize the minorities.
The Central Coordinator Dr Nafisa Shah said that “This seems to be a case of adding insult to injury, or might is right, as instead of punishing those behind the Joseph colony conflagration the courts have punished someone through a law that is usually misused against minorities.
”A hundred plus houses, besides schools, hospitals were torched and no one seems to have been punished for these cruel acts, “Says Dr Nafisa Shah. ‘This will only encourage mob extremism against the minorities as the recent example of Dharamshala in Larkana and Mandir in Hyderabad demonstrates, she added.
It is universally agreed that in most cases the present blasphemy law made during Gen Zia’s dictatorship has been misused against the Minorities. It is therefore no surprise that the State institutions including judiciary seem to be surrendering to the fanaticism and bigotry generally.
The HR cell has called upon all political parties to devise legislation to stop the misuse of the blasphemy laws and particularly called upon the legal community to ensure right to fair trial is ensured and that minorities are protected against discrimination in such cases.

Sawan Masih : Victim of Pakistan's Draconian blasphemy law

Hate > Human lives: Sawan Masih
Today Sawan Masih an innocent Pakistani Christian sweeper was sentenced to death under the allegations that he had blasphemed against Prophet Muhammad after waiting for an year for a verdict.
This took place after Sawan Masih and his Muslim friend got into an argument. What better way to win the argument then to blame the poor christian of blasphemy! Not only was Sawan put into prison an old christian neighborhood Joseph Colony was burnt down by a mob of 300 angry Muslims in reaction to this “blasphemy”. Poor christian families lost their houses and savings in split seconds.
According to the Pakistani constitution the blasphemy laws are in place to protect Islamic authority. But who are we kidding ever since the induction of these laws who has this law protected?? Instead it has been used as a weapon to take revenge and fulfill hateful greed. It has suffocated the essence of freedom of speech creating an environment of fear and restlessness. There is a constant threat when non Muslims are around Muslims that anything could trigger an incident that could lead to being accused of blasphemy. Christian children are told to be mindful of everything they say around their Muslim friends every day. There are so many examples that can be pulled out of daily lives of minorities in Pakistan which can prove how exposed their lives are to the threats of draconian laws like the blasphemy laws that sanction death or life imprisonment to anyone who as little as gestures or creates a sound that hurts the feelings of a Muslim.
While there is a growing number of liberal Muslims that are speaking up along with the religious minorities against these laws and are calling for their repeal. The people that hold power and influence are still narrow minded Islamists who are adamant on keeping these laws as a weapon to sabotage minorities asking for equality and to keep them bent under the heavy burden of fear. Even though it does not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes”, which are the only crimes for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law. According to a poll by a famous Pakistani English newspaper “The Nation” 68% of the Pakistanis believe that blasphemy laws should be repealed.
Today we are witnessing the death of an innocent man like so many innocent lives that are being lost in Pakistan due to various forms of religious intolerance and hate. But if we remain silent in response to these injustices for fear of our lives we are going to let our land drown in innocent blood and we will be accountable for not raising our voices for our persecuted brothers and sisters.
The youth of Pakistan is the NOW of Pakistan. It is in our hands to stop these evil forces that have hijacked our country. We need to uphold and share the message of tolerance, love and peace. Lets us write, speak and act to stop laws like blasphemy from being practiced in our country. I read a quote once and it has become one of my beliefs: It does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen on setting bush fires of freedom in the minds of men.
David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director said today, “This is a travesty of justice. There are serious concerns about the fairness of his trial, and an argument between two friends is not a basis for sending anyone to the gallows. Savan Masih must be released immediately and unconditionally”. Let us raise our voice and campaign for the release of Sawan Masih. It is time we value human life more then ancient doctrines that have been incorporated into our system not to uphold any faith but to use them as instruments of fear and persecution. There are very slim chances that we maybe successful but we will have done our duty for justice and humanity. - See more at:

Pakistani Shiites Stage Protests Against Desecration Of Holy Shrines In Syria
Shia Muslims stage rallies here on Friday to protest against the bomb attacks by the terrorists that destroyed the sacred shrine of Hazrat Uwais Qarni (RA) and Hazrat Ammar Yasir (RA) in al-Raqqa, Syria.
The rallies and demonstrations were staged outside Shia mosques after Friday prayers under the aegis of Majlis-e- Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and Imamia Students Organization (ISO). The protestors raised slogans against the foreign-funded takfiri terrorists and their masters for sacrilege of the sacred shrines of the loyal companions of Hazrat Mohammad (Peace Be upon Him). They also carried banners and placards to express their anger and displeasure against the despotic rulers who, they said, were playing proxy war of the Zionist Lobby in the region. Such rallies and demos were held outside Jamey Masjid Darbar-e-Hussaini Malir, Jamey Masjid Bu Turab (AS) Azizabad, Jamey Masjid Jafaria North Karachi, Jamey Masjid Imam Moosa Kazim (AS) Korangi Crossing and Aza Khan-e-Sughra. Allama Shafqat Sheerazi, Allama Hassan Salahuddin, Maulana Baqar Zaidi, Yaqoob Hussaini, Maulana Ali Anwar, Mubashir Zaidi, Ahsan Abbas, Ali Hussain Naqvi, AhleSunnat Cleric Qazi Ahmed Noorani Siddiqui and other officials of the MWM spoke to the protestors. They denounced the takfiri terrorists groups for desecration of the holy shrines saying that those trying to hide their ugly face in the name of the sanctity of companions of Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) in Pakistan never condemned their al-Qaeda affiliated allies in Syria and Iraq for sacrilege of the holy shrines. They urged the world conscience and human rights groups to take notice of the worst and heinous crimes of the ferocious terrorists and press the United Nations, OIC and Arab League to change their pro-terrorists policies that was tantamount to their complicity in these crimes.
They urged Pakistan government to desist from becoming a party to the Syrian internal affairs by joining pro-Israel U.S.-led alliance of unelected regimes of some Arab Muslim countries. They demanded that either Pakistan supports anti-Zionist camp publicly or remain neutral. They warned that there was no third option for Pakistan in this war of terrorists on innocent Muslims. They demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his government and Pakistani parliament should condemn the bombardment on the sacred shrines of Hazrat Uwais Qarni (RA) and Hazrat Ammar Yasir (RA) forthwith.

Pakistan: Ahmadi muslim mother, son brutally stabbed to death in Islamabad

Ahmadiyya Times
The blood stains around the residence indicate that a fierce struggle took place at the residence and the assailants faced strong resistance from the victims.
Two members of an Ahmadī family were discovered violently murdered in G-11 area of Islamabad, the capitol city of Pakistani, it is reported. According to some relatives and family friends of the victim family, the double murders of Rana Mubashar Ejaz Ahmed and his mother, Bushra Ahmad took place around 8 pm yesterday when his Father and elder brother were not at home. Ahmad's elder brother returning late from a business travel found the victims tied and brutally stabbed to death with knife wounds. Further according to the initial reports, the blood stains around the residence indicate that a fierce struggle took place at the residence and the assailants faced strong resistance from the victims. As of this report the motive has not been established and the family is cooperating with investigators. Victim Mubashar Ijaz was doing his PhD as well as teaching at a university, it is reported in social media. Family members, relatives and students of victim expressed their sorrow in the social media.

In Local Election, a Referendum on Turkey’s Leader

As the campaign bus moved through Istanbul’s traffic, the cityscape blurred: construction cranes, new shopping malls and boutiques, a billboard for the luxury department store Harvey Nichols — all signposts of a city more populous than some European countries, vastly reshaped under the Islamist government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Inside the bus was a secular candidate to be the next mayor, Mustafa Sarigul who for years has led Istanbul’s most affluent district, Sisli, and is now the greatest hope among Mr. Erdogan’s opponents. They see Sunday’s mayoral elections as the first step in loosening the hold that Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., has over Turkish politics.
Normally, local elections in Turkey are minor affairs — hinging on parochial concerns like zoning laws and municipal services. Yet these are anything but ordinary times in Turkey, as a corruption scandal and unrest in the streets have threatened the rule of Mr. Erdogan, in power more than a decade, and plunged Turkish politics into turmoil. The outcome of the elections could determine Mr. Erdogan’s political future.
Along for the ride with Mr. Sarigul were some of his old friends. Conspicuously absent, however, were any members of the local news media. They were apparently cowed by Mr. Erdogan, who in one of many leaked telephone conversations on social media was heard urging a local news executive to ignore Mr. Sarigul’s campaign.
“The media is scared of being on this bus,” Mr. Sarigul said in an interview. “If they came on this bus, they would be fired.”
The growing scandal, being played out in a series of embarrassing leaks on social media, has exposed a rift between Mr. Erdogan and his onetime ally, the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whose followers occupy positions in the judiciary and the police and are said to be behind the corruption investigation. Mr. Gulen lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, and his millions of supporters in Turkey are likely to vote for opposition candidates on Sunday, including Mr. Sarigul in Istanbul.
In a written response to questions, Mr. Gulen denied that his followers were targeting the government, saying, “Neither my friends nor I have been or ever will be part of a plan or conspiracy against those who govern us.”
Still, he left no doubt that his followers have withdrawn support for the A.K.P., saying, “The power consolidated in the hands of the ruling party’s elite is unprecedented in Turkish history.”
The nationwide municipal elections on Sunday, the first time Turks will vote since last summer’s antigovernment demonstrations, are seen as a referendum on Mr. Erdogan’s tenure as he struggles to survive the scandal with authoritarian countermeasures, including purges of the police and the judiciary; a crackdown on the press; restrictions on access to Twitter and YouTube, where most of the damaging leaks have first appeared; and a new law that gives the government more control over the courts.
While many analysts, as well as polling data, predict that the A.K.P. will win a plurality nationwide, the percentage is most important.
Anything substantially less than 40 percent — roughly what the party won in the last local elections, in 2009 — would be considered weak. The effects could intensify dissatisfaction in the party toward Mr. Erdogan that could ultimately lead to his exit from politics. A strong showing, though, could embolden him to seek the presidency in an election later this year or, alternatively, seek to alter his party’s term-limit rules and run for a fourth term as prime minister.
Turkey is a member of NATO and a mostly Muslim country of 76 million people whose economic prosperity and, until recently, democratic progress, had been welcomed by many in the West, including President Obama, as an exemplar of stability in a region in turmoil.
Turkey also had been seen as an important strategic ally of the United States and Europe in managing the region’s many complex problems, including the civil war in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program. But with Turkey preoccupied by an internal mess, and its leaders blaming the United States and other foreign powers for destabilizing the country, Turkey’s reliability as an ally to the West is increasingly in doubt.
Mr. Erdogan, of course, will not be on any ballot Sunday, but he has campaigned as if he were, crisscrossing the country in recent weeks and holding multiple rallies, underscoring the degree to which Turkish politics — even when it comes to local municipalities — revolves around his personality. At his rallies, if he is not blaming foreign provocateurs for his problems, he is taking swipes at the news media, putting an already intimidated press further back on its heels. But the news media is pushing back, and in an unusual move the editors of the daily newspaper Hurriyet published an open letter to Mr. Erdogan, writing, “Whatever percentage of the votes you get, it should be your and all of your duty to defuse the dangerous polarization and tensions that has spread throughout the whole country.”
Mr. Erdogan’s campaign is focused on Istanbul, where he was once mayor. “Whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey,” Mr. Erdogan said at a recent rally.
Istanbul is also where the money is: The city has long been important to the financing of political parties in Turkey. The party that controls the city is able to distribute lucrative contracts to construction firms, and in exchange, money from those firms flows to party coffers, experts say. It is a form of corruption that has flourished under the A.K.P., say analysts, and is at the heart of an inquiry that has focused on Mr. Erdogan and his inner circle.
“Istanbul is to the A.K.P. what oil is to Saudi Arabia,” said Henri J. Barkey, a Turkey expert who is a professor at Lehigh University.
Mr. Erdogan still commands deep loyalty among the religiously conservative masses that form his base of support. Those voters, who represent a class oppressed by the secular elite before the A.K.P.’s ascendance, will weigh the corruption allegations against the improvements in their own lives over the past decade, measured in rising incomes and gains in services and health care.
For many, Mr. Erdogan’s charisma, and his status as hero to the underclass, trump any allegations of corruption. In the Black Sea coastal city of Rize, where Mr. Erdogan, who is 60, spent much of his childhood, the prime minister’s face appears on banners draped over buildings. Although many residents of Rize say they have not seen a marked improvement in services or economic development, their support for Mr. Erdogan is unquestioned. “He is honest, hard-working, affectionate and has won the hearts of the nation,” said Omer Koroglu, a childhood friend and classmate.
Another resident, Havva Kaya, a 42-year-old tea industry worker, said, “no one here believes Erdogan is corrupt.”
An enormous A.K.P. rally in Istanbul held recently seemed like a religious revival, underscoring the vast support Mr. Erdogan enjoys in the city he once led and the challenges his opponents face.
Mine Kamis, a tailor who comes from the conservative neighborhood of Fatih, an A.K.P. stronghold, echoed sentiments expressed by many pious Turks: “The A.K.P. has been the first party to serve us. They built roads, houses and transportation systems, making us first-class citizens. How could we support anyone else?” While polls showed the A.K.P. still leading in Istanbul, the gap was narrowing, giving Mr. Sarigul a chance. The incumbent mayor, the A.K.P.’s Kadir Topbas, has kept a low profile. Mr. Erdogan, though, has campaigned so aggressively that by Thursday afternoon his voice had weakened to a squeak. Back on the campaign bus, Mr. Sarigul said, simply, “My opponent is Erdogan.”

Three candidates set for Istanbul mayoral vote Sunday

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Kerry cancels US return en route from Mideast

Halfway home from Saudi Arabia, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has abruptly changed course and will stay in Europe for talks on the Ukraine crisis. Flying from Riyadh to Shannon, Ireland, for a refueling stop on Saturday, Kerry decided to turn his plane around and was traveling to Paris for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as early as Sunday or Monday. Kerry spoke to Lavrov on the flight after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a call on Friday to have their foreign ministers meet to discuss a possible diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine situation. Kerry had already been due to return to Europe on Tuesday for a NATO foreign ministers meeting and had been considering returning to the Middle East to continue a press to salvage foundering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Kerry aides said the option of going to Israel, the Palestinian territories or Jordan remained a possibility. Kerry had been in Riyadh, as well as Rome and The Hague, with President Barack Obama this week but is traveling on his own plane. He had made a side trip to Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while Obama visited Brussels. Kerry has also had several conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since he left Washington last Monday.

Gun fight near Afghan election HQ ends, all militants killed: official

A five-hour gun fight close to the Afghanistan's main election office in Kabul ended Saturday evening after Taliban gunmen were killed in the counter-attack, an official said.
"Five suicide bombers were killed and two policemen were wounded in Saturday's terrorist attack on the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) office in eastern Kabul," Deputy Interior Minister in-charge of Security Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told reporters near the site.
The attack began at midday after the militants seized a four- storey building close to the IEC HQ and fired several rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) on the fortified complex besides exchanging of fire with security forces.
The attack took place days before Afghans go to polls in the country's third presidential and provincial councils general elections slated for April 5. The Taliban insurgent group has vowed to disrupt the polls.
The militants, armed with heavy guns and RPGs, were wearing Burqas, a women cloth covering from head to toe, to pass several security checkpoints, the official noted.
An IEC staff told Xinhua by cell phone that no employee of the body was hurt in the incident. Smoke was rising from the compound and nobody knows if any sensitive electoral materials were damaged in the incident. The Afghan Crisis Respond Unit and the Afghan Special Forces arrived shortly after the attack.
On Friday, two Afghan civilians and five Taliban insurgents were killed after the militants launched an attack on a U.S. guest house in western Kabul. More than one dozen of foreign nationals survived the attack and a powerful car bombing.
"Attacks by terrorist will not deter Afghan National Security Forces from the path they have chosen, providing security for upcoming elections," Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudza said in a statement.
Since early this year, the Taliban insurgent group have launched several attacks on civilian targets.
The Afghan security forces are also taking over security charges from more than 52,000-strong NATO-led foreign troops who are set to leave the country by the year end.

Turkey: CHP deputy Şafak Pavey granted secularism award of UK-based NGO

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Şafak Pavey has been granted the Secularist of the Year prize given annually by a U.K.-based nongovernmental organization (NGO).
Pavey will receive her award from the National Secular Society on March 29.
“Pavey is an extraordinary woman right at the center of an enormous upheaval in Middle Eastern politics. After she receives her award on Saturday [March 29] she will be rushing back to Turkey for the regional elections that are taking place this weekend. These elections will be a significant indicator of which way the mood in Turkey is turning,” said Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society.
“The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is showing a worrying authoritarian streak and recently tried to deflect criticism by attempting to ban Twitter. He has closed down TV channels that are critical of him and has jailed more journalists than anyone else in the world,” he added.
“But not only is Pavey at the center of this titanic struggle between secularism and authoritarian religion, she is always looking to the rights and needs of others. We are very proud to be able to honor her with this award.”
Pavey was awarded a Woman of Courage Award by the White House for her efforts to raise awareness of the plight of those with disabilities in countries where resources are limited.
She worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on humanitarian missions in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Europe and the U.S. dealing with different human displacement situations and holding various positions from managing global strategic communications to serving as regional spokesperson.
In 2010, she became the first appointed secretary to the newly established U.N. human rights secretariat at its headquarters in Geneva.
She left her position at the United Nations prior to being elected as deputy of Istanbul in June 2011.

Russia: Only way for Ukraine to reach settlement is to sign federal agreement – Lavrov

Russia believes that the only way for Ukraine to reach a settlement is to sign a federal agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the anchor of the News on Saturday with Sergei Brilev TV programme earlier today. "The current developments in Ukraine have resulted from a deep statehood crisis, triggered, among other things, by the inability (I’d hate to think of reluctance) of every next leader coming to power to reconcile the interests of Ukraine’s western region and Ukraine’s South-East", the Russian Foreign Minister said. "This cannot continue that way anymore".
"We are certain that Ukraine needs a profound constitutional reform. In all fairness, we can’t see any other way to ensure a stable development of Ukraine but signing a federal agreement", Lavrov said.
"Some may know better and are, perhaps, capable of finding some magic spell to ensure living in a unitary state, with people in the West, on the one hand, and the South-East, on the other, celebrating different holidays, honouring different heroes, developing different types of economy, speaking differing languages, thinking differently and gravitating towards different European civilization culture. But I think it’s pretty difficult to live in a unitary state like this", Lavrov said.
"We suggested that things be put right in all areas at once, the more so since an obligation to that end was signed by Vitaly Klitshcko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleg Tyagnibok, and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and Poland. We further suggested that a constitutional reform be launched at once, one that would prove comprehensive and would involve every single political force and region, with equal voting rights. We suggested that they start negotiating a federation that would grant each region sweeping powers in the fields of the economy, finances, culture, language, and education, as well as external economic and cultural ties with neighbouring countries or regions, where all minorities’ rights would be ensured", Foreign Minister Lavrov said.
"Given the share of the indigenous Russian population, we are certain that there is no other way to reach a settlement, the more so since some presidential candidates in Ukraine have repeatedly suggested that Russian should be made a second official language and that each of the federation’s territorial entities should guarantee the rights of minorities’ languages in keeping with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages", Lavrov said.
Russia’s topmost diplomat pointed out that a constitutional reform should be approved by a referendum and should reflect the interests of all regions, the interests that should be mutually agreed on, so that once the constitutional reform is approved by a plebiscite, presidential and parliamentary elections could be held, as well as the elections of regional legislatures, the executive authorities and governors, so that these are elected, rather than appointed".
The West is no longer dismissing Russia's arguments that Ukraine should become a federation through a constitutional reform, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
"I can say that 'federation' is no longer a taboo word in our negotiations. I am sure we should insist on this not just because we want this but because this is a demand by the southern and eastern regions [of Ukraine]," Lavrov said. The West has taken heed of Moscow's arguments in favor of Ukraine's federalization and the second official language, and Russia expects that Kyiv will be informed of these ideas through Western partners, Lavrov said.
"This is actually the only thing I hope for, because the current Ukrainian government can hardly be suspected of independence," Lavrov said sarcastically.
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Putin Calls Obama to Discuss Ukraine, White House Says

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reached out to President Obama on Friday to discuss ideas about how to peacefully resolve the international standoff over Ukraine, a surprise move by Moscow to pull back from the brink of an escalated confrontation that has put Europe and much of the world on edge. After weeks of provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border, Mr. Putin’s unexpected telephone call to Mr. Obama offered a hint of a possible settlement. The two leaders agreed to have their top diplomats meet to discuss concrete proposals for defusing the crisis that has generated the most serious clash between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.
But it remained uncertain whether Mr. Putin was seriously interested in a resolution that would go far enough to satisfy the United States, Ukraine and Europe, or instead was seeking a diplomatic advantage at a time when he has been isolated internationally. While the White House account of the call emphasized the possible diplomatic movement, the Kremlin’s version stressed Mr. Putin’s complaints about “extremists” in Ukraine and introduced into the mix of issues on the table the fate of Transnistria, another pro-Russian breakaway province outside his borders. Neither American nor European officials expect Mr. Putin to easily reverse his seizure of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed last week after Russian troops took control there. Indeed, the Kremlin statement made no mention of Crimea, suggesting Mr. Putin considers the matter a fait accompli that is no longer up for discussion. Analysts said the Russian leader may be seeking some sort of de facto acceptance of that new status quo in exchange for not sending troops massed on the border into eastern Ukraine.
Mr. Obama took the call from Mr. Putin at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after finishing a two-hour dinner with King Abdullah to discuss Iran, Syria and other security issues. Amid intelligence reports warning of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine, American officials were trying to puzzle through the situation on Friday night, unsure what Mr. Putin was up to, but deeply suspicious.
“President Obama underscored to President Putin that the United States continues to support a diplomatic path in close consultation with the government of Ukraine and in support of the Ukrainian people with the aim of de-escalation of the crisis,” the White House said in a statement. “President Obama made clear that this remains possible only if Russia pulls back its troops and does not take any steps to further violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
In its statement posted on its official website, the Kremlin said Mr. Putin “drew Barack Obama’s attention to continued rampage of extremists who are committing acts of intimidation towards peaceful residents, government authorities and law enforcement agencies in various regions and in Kiev with impunity.”
“In light of this,” it added, “the president of Russia suggested examining possible steps the global community can take to help stabilize the situation.”
Neither the Kremlin nor the White House said what those steps might be. The White House said Mr. Putin was responding to an American proposal that Secretary of State John Kerry presented to Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov during a meeting at The Hague earlier in the week, a proposal developed in consultation with Ukraine’s interim government and European allies.
Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov have been passing a “working document” back and forth that explores ways for the Russians to pull back militarily, as well as ideas for how the international community could support constitutional reform in Ukraine. Among other things, it could include guaranteeing more autonomy for certain regions, disarming the militias that have emerged and defining Ukraine’s relationship to international alliances like NATO.
In citing extremist action, Mr. Putin sought to capitalize on a tense internal showdown in Kiev. Members of an ultranationalist group, Right Sector, have surrounded the Ukrainian Parliament over the last two days, demanding the resignation of Ukraine’s acting interior minister over the shooting death of one of the group’s leaders earlier this week in western Ukraine.
The presence of masked, armed demonstrators threatening to storm the Parliament building offered the Russian government an opportunity to bolster its contention that the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, after pro-European street protests last month was an illegal coup carried out by right-wing extremists with Western encouragement.
In fact, the nationalist groups, largely based in western Ukraine, had formed just one segment of a broad coalition of demonstrators who occupied the streets of Kiev for months demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster.
The Ukrainian Parliament voted Friday to create a special commission to investigate the death of the Right Sector leader, Oleksandr Myzychko, who was also known as Sashko Bely and was shot to death in the city of Rivne on Tuesday, apparently as law enforcement authorities tried to arrest him. Parliament decided not to vote on a proposal calling for the resignation of the interior minister, Arsen Avakov, until the commission makes its report. Members of Right Sector said they were not satisfied with that decision, but would only picket the Parliament building and not try to go inside as some had threatened. Some of the group’s members carried clubs and axes.
Despite the weaponry, the atmosphere outside the building by Friday afternoon was relaxed, with many of the demonstrators having returned to Independence Square, the central gathering point during more than three months of civil unrest in Kiev.
While not mentioning Crimea, the Kremlin drew attention to Ukraine’s blockade of Transnistria, a breakaway, pro-Russian region of Moldova, another former Soviet republic to the south. Frozen for years in an international limbo, neither accepting Moldova’s rule nor formally part of Russia, Transnistria has relied on land access through Ukraine for crucial imports.
The Kremlin said a new blockade would “significantly complicate the living conditions for the region’s residents, impeding their movement and normal trade and economic activities,” and it urged negotiations to address the situation.
Russia has more than 1,000 troops in Transnistria, the remnants of a peacekeeping force deployed since 1992, and it has relied on overland access through Ukraine to supply them. The next talks on the conflict are scheduled for Vienna on April 10 and 11.
Some officials in the region have asked to follow Crimea and become part of Russia. Moldova has been working toward the same sweeping political and free trade agreements with the European Union that prompted Russian opposition in Ukraine.
American officials and analysts saw Mr. Putin’s reference to Transnistria as an ominous sign and possible prelude for Russian intervention, just as Moscow cited unsubstantiated threats to Russian speakers in Crimea when it ordered troops to seize the peninsula.
Mr. Putin’s willingness to negotiate suggested some confidence that he will be dealing with the West from a position of strength, having consolidated his grip on Crimea and largely dispersed the remaining Ukrainian military units that had been holed up awaiting instructions from Kiev. The Ukrainian government this week formally ordered a withdrawal.
But American officials hoped that the move reflected a growing realization that much of the world was against Mr. Putin. Although sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe so far have been limited largely to individual Russians and a Russian bank, Moscow has found little if any support for its actions, even among allies like China. Other members of the Group of 8 advanced states responded by suspending Russia as a member.

In Afghanistan election, three plausible presidents

By Ronald Neumann and Michael O'Hanlon
A reasonably fair election could put any of the top contenders into power.
Negative early headlines about Afghanistan's April 5 presidential election are easy to imagine. Some candidates are already trying to foster a simplified view among Westerners that they can fail to make the likely second-round runoff only if there is fraud. This is a deliberate attempt to provoke U.S. interference, whatever the facts.
A peaceful transition of power to a new president broadly accepted as legitimate by the Afghan people is essential for several reasons: to secure future Afghan stability; to maintain support for Afghanistan in the U.S. Congress; and, above all, to achieve a key strategic goal — that the nation does not again become a base for terrorism against the United States. Extensive fraud could undermine the goal of an acceptable transfer of power. But it will be important not to discredit the legitimacy of the Afghan election simply because it falls short of perfection. The international community should concentrate on a practical standard that recognizes the challenges that young democracies inevitably face in holding elections, and not let preconceptions write the story in advance.
In fact, this election is too close to call. There are entirely plausible reasons that any of the three main candidates — former Foreign Ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani — could win. Ghani and Rassoul are, like President Hamid Karzai, ethnic Pashtuns (the largest ethnic group). Abdullah is considered primarily Tajik (the second-largest ethnic group and provider of many of the military leaders).
Consider each:
Abdullah Abdullah
The runner-up to Karzai in the 2009 presidential race, Abdullah has many strengths. Of the three, he has spent the most time in and near Afghanistan during its troubles in the 1980s and '90s, working for a time as a close political advisor to the Northern Alliance and the famous mujahedin leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. He has a platform committed to political reform, beginning with a proposal for the direct election of governors (now presidential appointees), and reform of the Senate. His ticket is multi-ethnic, with a Pashtun and a Hazara. He appears to have considerable support not only in Tajik-dominated parts of the country, where security is fairly good and therefore voter turnout likely to be relatively high, but also in segments of the country's Pashtun belts.
Abdullah's possible liabilities include his ethnicity. Although Afghans are not as sectarian as Iraqis or Syrians have proved in recent times, there is a strong tradition and expectation of Pashtun leadership. He is still seen as a Tajik candidate despite being half-Pashtun by virtue of his father's ethnicity. Because he fought with the Tajik-led Northern Alliance, Pakistan may find his leadership troubling and escalate its support for the Taliban should he win. Because of his past rivalry with Karzai, his election could also raise concerns about major tension between them.
Ashraf Ghani
Ghani is a brilliant man who spent many years in the West. He moved back to Afghanistan after the Taliban's overthrow and has been a crucial figure in the government. He is probably its best economist and is well equipped to attack problems of economic management, which will worsen because of the withdrawal of NATO combat forces. He has built a broad national base over the recent past, when he led the Afghan side of the transition process, and has attracted significant enthusiasm in his recent rallies. But Ghani also has significant negatives. Many fear his temper would hinder his working with key power centers. The main challenge is that he selected Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the brutal Uzbek leader, as his first vice president (undoubtedly to gain much of the Uzbek vote). Dostum is considered a war criminal and reviled by many, especially Pashtuns. In addition, Ghani lacks a Tajik on his ticket and is viewed by some as an anti-Tajik Pashtun chauvinist. Some also characterize him as a crypto-communist; this charge, even if unfair, would cost him votes.
Zalmai Rassoul
A gentle man who spent much of his life in Italy as the personal physician to Afghanistan's exiled king, Rassoul was until last year the nation's foreign minister (a position Abdullah held earlier in the Karzai presidency). His greatest strength is that he is seen as the candidate least likely to provoke radical change. In this sense he is reassuring (non-threatening) to power brokers and perhaps some entrenched criminal elements, but also to ordinary Afghans who feel buffeted and threatened by constant change. His running mates are reputable individuals who provide good ethnic balance on his ticket.
As for liabilities, Rassoul is often viewed as too weak to confront the country's problems. He is a latecomer to the race whom many view as Karzai's preferred candidate, especially since Karzai's brother Abdul Qayum recently dropped out of the race and endorsed Rassoul. This means that Karzai might greatly influence a Rassoul presidency, and that Rassoul might not attack the corruption and bad governance that have implicated many in Karzai's inner circle. It also raises worries, shared and sometimes stoked by the Ghani and Abdullah camps, that any Rassoul victory would be the result of government-led fraud. In fact, our soundings on a recent trip to Afghanistan suggest that there is growing support for Rassoul in several parts of the country, although we cannot gauge its depth.
Each of the three candidates would be a plausible president of Afghanistan — or a plausible first-round loser. Each would be more comfortable for the West than Karzai. So when complaints about fraud are voiced by the camps of whoever falls short in the first round, we should not jump to conclusions or declare the Afghan project a failure.
It is important that fraud be less than it was in 2009, and that the independent bodies holding the elections and vouching for their integrity be willing and able to do their jobs effectively. It is important that whoever wins work hard to create inclusiveness and stability in his government, and to take governance responsibilities seriously. But it is also important in coming weeks to keep perspective, check the facts and quietly press the Afghan contenders to reach agreements they can all live with. There is much about this process that is hopeful. We should not rush to judgment.

Afghan Militants Target Election Headquarters
Afghan officials say militants have attacked the Independent Election Commission in Kabul. A deputy spokesman for the interior ministry told VOA the insurgents launched their attack Saturday morning on the election headquarters from a nearby house. Witnesses say they heard several explosions and gunfire at the election site. There was no immediate information about casualties. The assault is the latest in a series of attacks that the Taliban has promised to deliver in a campaign of violence to disrupt the presidential election next week.

Iran to Enhance Security of Borders with Pakistan

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani underlined that the SNSC is working hard to enhance security at the country's borders with neighboring Pakistan.
"We have serious plans for protection of Iran's Eastern borders," Shamkhani told FNA on Friday.
He underlined that the Iranian security forces will soon give a crushing response to Jeish Al-Adl terrorist group which has recently staged a set of attacks on Iran, including abduction of five Iranian border guards. On Thursday, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli cautioned Islamabad to adopt a more responsible approach towards the safety of the five abducted Iranian border guards, one of whom was killed by Jeish Al-Adl terrorist group this week. "Iran will draw on all of its capabilities along its borders with Pakistan if Islamabad does not adopt a responsible approach regarding the five Iranian border guards recently abducted by a Pakistan-based terrorist group," Rahmani Fazli told reporters.
He reiterated that Iran will consider it as its right to use all its might to release the Iranian border guards.
The Iranian interior minister called on Pakistan to take more “measured and principled” action with respect to such issues and observe its legal obligations regarding its neighbors under international law.
On Monday night, the Iranian Interior Ministry confirmed the reports that Jeish al-Adl terrorist group has killed one of the five Iranian border guards.
"The local officials (in Pakistan) have confirmed the report on the martyrdom of one of the abducted Iranian border guards by Jeish al-Adl terrorist group," Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri told FNA on Monday night. He made the remarks after Jeish al-Adl claimed on its tweeter page that it has killed Jamshid Danayeefar, one of the kidnapped border guards.
The execution of the border guard came as an Iranian official said on Sunday that efforts and consultations with the Pakistani officials still continue to secure the release of the border guards.
"Talks with national and local Pakistani officials have been held at different levels and they have made some promises," Governor-General of Iran's Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi told FNA. He expressed the hope that the young border guards would be released to return to their families soon. The five Iranian border guards were abducted in Jakigour region of Iran’s Sistan and Balouchestan Province on February 6 and taken to Pakistan.

Minor girl killed, 15 injured in blast near FC vehicle in Quetta
A five-year-old girl was killed and 18 people were injured when a bomb went off near a vehicle of paramilitary troops in Pakistan's southwest Quetta city on Saturday afternoon, local media reported. The explosion happened in the commercial Sohrab area of Quetta, the capital city of southwestern Balochistan province, when people including women were shopping there. Police said the blast was triggered off by a remote controlled device and the explosive materials were fixed in a roadside rickshaw parked, and the apparent target was a vehicle of local paramilitary troops Frontier Corps (FC), which was passing. Though police said that no FC man had been injured in the blast, local media quoted eyewitnesses as saying that at least four FC members were among the injured people, who have been shifted to Civil Hospital of Quetta. Hospital sources said that most of the injured include women, kids and laborers who were working near the site of the blast, which also destroyed several shops and a restaurant. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.

Saudis woo Pakistan with $1.5 billion grant -- Why now?

By Taha Siddiqui
As US president Barack Obama looks to mend ties with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh today, the Saudis hope to shore up regional support. Their $1.5 billion gift has raised suspicions among Pakistanis.
Pakistan announced last week that it received a $1.5 billion grant from Saudi Arabia, which it termed a “friendly gift” and an “unconditional grant.”
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long had warm ties, but the no-strings-attached gift sparked immediate concern from Pakistani journalists, security experts, and opposition politicians, who question whether the grant is part of a behind-the-scenes deal for Pakistan to provide weapons for Syrian rebels.
“There are no free lunches in foreign diplomacy,” says Baqir Sajjad, a journalist at Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, which has published articles questioning the deal. The grant was confirmed at a briefing by Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s advisor on national security and foreign affairs, who also said that Saudi Arabia had agreed to purchase weapons from Pakistan.
The Pakistan government declined to specify what kind of weapons the Kingdom was looking for and denied that any arms purchased by Saudi Arabia will be sent to Syria. Pakistan, which has the sixth-largest army in the world, is known as a major arms importer, but it also sells fighter jets, anti-tank missiles, armored personal carriers, and small arms to Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Malaysia. Ayesha Siddiqa, a defense expert based in Islamabad, says that Saudi Arabia – who is desperate to counter arch-rival Iran’s support for the Syrian regime and has publicly called for arming Syrian rebels – may want to buy weapons from Pakistan rather than other countries because Pakistan cannot enforce an agreement about where the arms end up.
“If the arms bought from the West were supplied to Syrian rebels and the sellers like the United States or other such countries found out, they would be able impose sanctions on the Saudis,” she says. “But Pakistan has no such leverage over the Saudis if they violate the agreement” because the government is cash-strapped and worried that US foreign aid will diminish once American troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
The disclosure of the grant and weapons agreement follows a series of high-level talks between Pakistan and Saudi Arabian officials over the past three months and Pakistan's break last month from its neutral stance on the Syrian civil war. It said for the first time that the Assad regime should step down.
There is no proof that Pakistan’s decisions are the direct result of Saudi Arabia’s actions – or that its arms will reach Syria. Even if they did, “there are so many arms coming from so many different places,” says Michael Kugelman, a Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington in an e-mail. “Unless the level of Pakistani arms shipments reaches some sort of critical mass, I don’t see them being any kind of game-changer for the conflict.”
The consequences of Pakistani arms sent to Syria “could be destabilizing for sure,” Mr. Kugelman says, though more so for Pakistan than for the Middle East. The risk is that “Pakistan's already-raging sectarian violence would worsen. And its battlefield role in the ongoing Iran-Saudi Arabia sectarian proxy war would grow ever more strong,” he says.
At home, Pakistan is struggling with its Sunni-Shiite violence and ongoing strife from the Pakistan Taliban’s insurgency. There were 687 sectarian killings in Pakistan last year, an increase of 22 percent from 2012, according to the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. Violence between Sunni Muslims (about 75 percent of the population) and Shiites (15 to 20 percent) has never reached massive levels, but there’s concern that it’s on the rise.

Sunni days for Saudi's hired gun Pakistan, as Obama visits Riyadh

US President Barack Obama headed into Riyadh on Friday evening on a brief visit to Saudi Arabia, a long-time ally with which ties are fraying amid rapid changes in the region through events that also touches the Indian sub-continent.
Things have soured quite dramatically between Washington and Riyadh, which have long enjoyed an oil-for-security equation from the time President Roosevelt sealed an alliance with Saudi's Founding King Abdul Aziz. But several developments in the region, topped with America's own discovery of a vast trove of energy at home through shale gas exploitation, had disrupted the cozy arrangement. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on the White House to call the Saudi kingdom to account for its human rights excesses and funding of Sunni extremism through the region.
Just ahead of his departure, Amnesty International challenged Obama to take a female Secret Service driver with him to Riyadh to show his displeasure over the medieval Saudi Kingdom's ban on women driving — the only country in the world with such an absurd rule. Some 70 US lawmakers also wrote to the US President urging him to raise critical human rights issue with the Saudis. Earlier this week, Washington feebly complained about the Saudis denying a visa to the Washington-based bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post who planned to cover the Obama visit.
But these will be trifles as Obama deals with what White House sees as larger issues. He will also likely hear a laundry list of complaints from Saudis - the perceived US betrayal of Saudi interests arising from Washington's recent overtures towards Iran, to letting Riyadh down in Syria. In both countries, Saudis are fighting for Sunni influence in the region again Shia-dominated regimes. In neighboring Bahrain, it is backing a minority Sunni regime against a majority Shia uprising.
In fact, the Sunni axis that Saudi Arabia has forged comes close to India's borders, since Pakistan is the hired gun Riyadh has chosen to act as an enforcer. According to reports in the Pakistani media, Saudi Arabia transferred a whopping $1.5 billion to Islamabad earlier this month, ostensibly to shore up Pakistan's economy.
While the Nawaz Sharief government confirmed the transfer as "no-strings-attached" grant from a "friendly" government, the scuttlebutt in strategic circles is that it is payoff for Pakistani foot-soldiers waging Saudi bankrolled jihad in Bahrain and Syria, among other places.
In fact, Washington's biggest fear is that the Saudis are also making sure they have access to the Pakistani nuclear arsenal just in case the US easing of pressure on Teheran results in Shiite Iran going nuclear. The Saudis have said as much, that they will be forced to go nuclear if Iran does. The Saudis are also ticked off with Washington over events in Egypt, where Riyadh is opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose deposed ruler Mohammed Morsi, was backed by Qatar, home to the satellite channel Al Jazeera, which is also seen as being inimical to the Saudi Kingdom.
President Obama enters this snakepit at a time the sentiment in the US is increasingly to withdraw from regions where Washington has no strategic interest. Indeed, the rapid decline in US dependence on middle-east oil, affords this.
But the flip side is Washington's withdrawal will enable the spread of both toxic Sunni fundamentalism and Shiite resurgence that will come with an invigorated Iran. Both developments will bring trouble to the India-Pakistan region.
On its part, the Obama administration has ignored every report pointing to Pakistani malfeasance - from the sheltering of Osama bin Laden by its military-intelligence, to its secret nuclear deal with the Saudis, to its export of mercenary foot-soldiers to Bahrain and Syria. With Secretary of State John Kerry seemingly well disposed to it, Islamabad is easing its way back into American favor.
As a first stem, the US is reported to be considering channeling some of the huge surplus of military equipment in Afghanistan, worth some $7 billion, to Pakistan, even as it exits from the region. None of this augurs well for a new government that will come into place in New Delhi in May, particularly given India's own bilateral problems with Washington over trade and administrative issues that has put the strategic dialogue on the backburner.

Pakistan: Peace at what cost!

Though both the Taliban peace committee members and the government ministers are making hopeful noise regarding the prospects of a final peace settlement, the fact is that insiders tell of a very different story.
It is more than tat for tat from the TTP side. Firstly, it has agreed to release non-militant Pakistanis like VC Ajmal Khan only in exchange for the freedom of three Taliban fighters. Secondly, they say Shahbaz Taseer son of slain governor Sulman Taseer and Ali Haider Gilani son of former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani are are in the custody of foreign fighters, as such, the TTP cannot effect their release since the foreign militants are not under their control. It means the Pakistan has to make separate agreements with foreign militants to get the two freed.
Thirdly, the Taliban by applying some twisted logic, have declared the teenagers trained and sent by them to kill as non-combatant and are demanding their release from Pakistani jails. Fourthly, there are some women on the Taliban list which they want to be freed from Pak prisons while the government officials claim there are no Taliban women in custody. It would be not possible for us to prove such negative like that. Fifthly, they want a safe-zone in Shaktoi area in South Waziristan where they can come and go without the fear of being arrested or attacked by the Pak Army. Here again the logic is twisted, for large territories are not needed for negotiations, as the talks are not to be held by all the fighters whole armies but a few individuals from Taliban side.
It is more likely that once the Pak Army recedes from that mountainous area and the dialogue breakdown, the TTP fighters can take the area swiftly and more so because summer, the faviourite fighting weather of the Taliban fighters, is just around the corner. That is of course if the talks between the government and Taliban breakdown but talks can linger on indefinitely while the Taliban use the peace zone in South Waziristan for attacks in Afghanistan. No one should think because that part of Waziristan doesn't have borders with Afghanistan it cannot be used for war activities.
Once the Taliban regain control of a part of the South Waziristan, they can extend their influence and integrate it with the north and gain a strategic depth in their fight against any legitimate government in Kabul. However, the suspicion is becoming strong that the TTP eagerness for peace with Pakistan is a prelude to further negotiations to exactly that. It maybe that the TTP's whole exercise of talks for peace may be for that one purpose: to have an understanding with PML-N government it will not carry out terrorists acts in Pakistan in exchange for ceasing terrorism for to carry out attacks from here into Afghan territory.
Our Armed forces victory in South Waziristan was hard earned and should not be thrown away at a vague hope of peace. Peace or no peace with Taliban, Pakistan should not make a deal which allows militants to carry out armed assaults in the neighboring country. The Afghans have been complaining that we have been interfering in their country's internal affairs. One of the reasons the Afghan government puts forward for not handing over the TTP chief Molvi Fazlullah to us is that we harbour Taliban inside Pakistan who crossover for attacks in Afghanistan.
While the chances of success of peace talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are slim to none, unless the militants accept the condition that crossing over to Afghanistan for waging war will not be allowed, we will never know of their true intentions.
Islamabad also must be careful to not give more concessions to the TTP as the militants would than seem to be at par with Pakistan government.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has many times said that the sovereignty of the country will not be curtailed for peace with Taliban. The nation is hoping that it would be so.
If, however, Islamabad makes an underhand deal and accepts unreasonable demands for the sake of peace, the people will not accept it. Also that such deal will make the Taliban even stronger than they are; meaning that they will be able to make harsher demands in the future. It should be clear to the government that Taliban will not accept defeat in their hearts, unless their forces and hopes are completely crushed. We should not pin our hopes high on the prospects of peace as a result of talks.

Pakistan: Arson attack on Hindu temple in Hyderabad

A Hindu deity statue was broken and a small temple was partially damaged in early Friday morning arson attack near Fateh Chowk on Tando Mohammad Khan Road, sowing the feeling of insecurity among the religious minority community and triggering street protests.
Only a couple of weeks ago, a Dharamshala was set ablaze and some statues of Hindu deities in an adjacent temple in Larkana were damaged in protest against alleged desecration of the Quran.
The recent arson attacks on worship places are seen as an attempt to fan flames of communal violence in Sindh.
There are one big and two small temples — Kalimata Mandir, Shiv Bhulai Nath and Hanuman — on Tando Mohammad Khan Road near Fateh Chowk where around 3,000 people from the religious minority community lived, mostly in small houses in the vicinity of the large Kalimata Mandir.
According to residents, it was around five o’clock in the morning when four persons travelling in a car arrived at Hanuman Mandir. Three of them got out of the car and entered the temple. They broke the deity of Hanuman and sprinkled petrol all over the place before setting it on fire. A child, Darshan Kumar, who resisted the move, was pushed away at gunpoint, said Laxman Kumar, Mohan Lal Rathore and other residents.
While the arsonists fled, a hue and cry by the child drew the attention of the residents who rushed out of their homes and extinguished the fire. However, by then they said the temple was partially damaged.
Soon after the incident, the residents converged on the main road where they staged a sit-in in protest against the attack on the temple.
They also burnt tyres and junk on the main road leading to Tando Mohammad Khan blocking traffic for some hours. The law-enforcement agencies reached the area and convinced the protesters to call off their sit-in. The protesters, who were also joined by representatives of the Sindh National Party, condemned the attack on the place of worship. They also raised slogans against the authorities concerned which failed to ensure protection of the religious places of the minority community.
Speaking to Dawn outside the temple, Kalimata Mandar Committee chairman Mohan Lal Rathore and SNP chief Ashraf Noonari demanded that the government ensure protection of the lives and properties of Hindus who felt insecure. They condemned the incident and said that some people wanted to fan flames of communal violence in Sindh by carrying out such arson attacks on religious places.
FIR registered
An FIR (36/2104) was lodged on a complaint of Kirshan Kumar Meghwar, chairman of the Kali Mata Sheva Mandli Committee, under Sections 6/7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and 295-A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting Its religion or religious beliefs), 436 (Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house, etc) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code against three unidentified persons at the SITE police station.
Hyderabad DIG Dr Sanaullah Abbasi suspended Site SHO Abdullah Bhutto and transferred him to Sujawal district. He also recommended the suspension of Site DSP Sikandar Ali Korai to the police chief.
Dr Abbasi said that he beefed up security around 154 temples in the Hyderabad police range, including 34 Hindu temples in Hyderabad district only.
The DIG said he met a delegation of Hindu people and assured them of security and protection of their properties and lives. He suggested to the delegation to install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras on temples.
He said that police were investigating various aspects including minority, internally displaces persons (IDPs), local, national and economic interest of people.
Meanwhile, Hyderabad Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Nawaz Soho assured a delegation of Hindu people, who called on him in the evening, that every possible effort would be made to avert such incidents in the future and ensure protection of the holy places of all religious minorities.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan representative in Hyderabad Dr Ashothama said that Hindu religious places and properties were being attacked one after another. He said that there was unrest and a feeling of insecurity prevailing in the community. He suspected that both religious fanatics and land grabbers could be involved in such crimes. Religious extremists were destroying peace and harmony and the secular status which Sindh was famous for across the world, said rights activist and writer Zulfiqar Halepoto.He appealed to the government to check an influx of internally displaced persons from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa into Sindh.

PPP demands thorough investigation regarding threatening letter to Bilawal Bhutto

Former interior minister and leader of Pakistan People Party (PPP) Rehman Malik on Saturday has demanded the government of thorough investigation regarding threatening letter to PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Talking to media at Karachi airport, he said that the PPP seeing the threat seriously, it must be thoroughly investigated.
He said that Zaliman (Taliban) used to giving threats and everybody must be cleared that Laskar-e-Jhangvi and Taliban were the two names of same entity. Commenting on the government talks with Taliban, he said the terrorists has come to level of the state for fulfilling their conditions and it looked that they were seeking of NRO.
Malik said actually no one has right to forgive killer even the government.
Regarding the latest news about the coalition of PPP and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), he said the present situation of the country needed politics of reconciliation and if both the parties would joins hand it would be greater news.. Earlier Provincial Law Minister Punjab Rana Sana Ullah demanded the PPP to provide the threatening letter to the government of Punjab which was received by Bilawal Bhutto.
He said it will help the government to initiate investigate who were behind this crime and whether it was Rehman Malik or the terrorists behind this.

Losing a generation: 111 of every 1,000 children in Balochistan die before age 5

the express tribune
Child mortality rates in Balochistan are the highest in the country, with 111 children of every 1,000 births dying before they reach their fifth birthday. Ninety-seven of these children do not make it to the age of 1 year.
At a meeting on Friday, members of the Balochistan Assembly were provided with these statistics by Provincial Health Minister Rehmat Saleh Baloch, who was briefed by Unicef regarding its latest report, ‘Pakistan Demographic Health Survey’. The speaker, deputy speaker and 40 MPAs, including provincial ministers, were present at the meeting.
The health minister said that 60 per cent of these child deaths occur due to communicable and vaccine-preventable diseases. Additionally, while 39 per cent of union councils in the province do not have vaccination centres, the existing Extended Programme on Immunisation centres are understaffed; 600 additional vaccinators are required at the current EPI centres here.
In comparison with Punjab, where one EPI centre caters to residents within a radius of 62 kilometres, a centre in Balochistan accounts for residents within a 735kms. The Unicef report found that 52.2 per cent of children in the province are chronically malnourished.
The provincial lawmakers were informed that poor oversight, a lack of accountability and political interference had contributed to the current state of children’s health in the province. “The health department has launched an emergency plan for routine immunisations and an accelerated plan for polio vaccinations,” the provincial health minister said, adding that the department’s Health Intervention Plan is based on the idea of ‘Sehatmand Baloch’.

Pakistan: Blast in Quetta kills child, injures 14 others

The Express Tribune
A blast in Quetta killed a child and injured 14 other people including three security officials, Express News reported on Saturday.
The blast took place near the Saryab police station as a vehicle of security officials was passing by. Police and security officials have cordoned off the area and a search operation is underway. The Bomb Disposal Squad has been called as well.
It was reported that women and children were among the injured. The injured were taken to a local hospital for medical assistance of which five are in critical condition.
A rickshaw was destroyed in the explosion and further investigation is underway.

Pakistan's Taliban Talks to Taliban : A tricky beginning

THE first face-to-face session between the government negotiation team and the TTP leadership was tense and difficult, but, if the various insider accounts are parsed carefully, it does appear that both sides were laying down markers for future rounds.
Predictably, the TTP rolled out its two key initial demands: the release of prisoners and a zone in which the TTP can move around unimpeded during the dialogue process.
On the prisoner front, at least this much has now been admitted by the TTP: they are in a position to dictate the release of Shahbaz Taseer, Haider Gilani and Ajmal Khan, a former vice chancellor of Peshawar University.
While the TTP was allegedly unwilling to release the men tied to the PPP, a twist in incentives could nudge the government to keep up the pressure on the militants: securing the release of the two PPP scions could blunt some of the strongest criticism of the dialogue process by the political left in the country.
Yet, there may be more disturbing twists ahead, especially with the TTP now providing a list of the so-called non-combatant prisoners held by the state. While the TTP can and does lie to manipulate public opinion, if it were to turn out that the state has in fact held in detention even a few women, children or elderly people as leverage, it could turn public sympathy in the TTP’s favour.
So, instead of going back to the TTP in secret and updating them on the government’s search for the alleged prisoners, the government should go public with the list and clarify that none of the people named are in the custody of any state agency. Beyond that, the government will have to think hard about making further concessions to the TTP. Already a concession has been made by essentially sending the government negotiating team to meet the group on its own turf.
Is negotiating on the TTP’s own turf more of an embarrassment or less so than giving the TTP its own enclave for free movement in or near the tribal area, as it has demanded? It is a tricky question and the TTP has been clever in making where and how negotiations are to be held a part of the pre-negotiation process.
Yet, whatever the modalities, ultimately what matters is what long-term concessions are made. So far, the government has at least insisted on the need for talks to take place within the parameters of the Constitution and the democratic nature of the polity.
But what long-term shape would a deal with any part or even the whole of the TTP take? What kind of role does the TTP see for itself in a post-deal Pakistan? It is one thing to talk to absolutely anyone. It is quite another to find acceptable compromises.

Pakistan's Draconian blasphemy law: Death sentence under a black law

In a sad reminder of just how unjust and ugly the blasphemy law is in Pakistan, a trial court has sentenced a member of the country’s Christian community, Sawan Masih, to death on charges of blasphemy related to the Joseph Colony incident in Lahore. The accused had a very flimsy case against him with conflicting statements given by the ‘witnesses’. That the court deemed it fit to hand out a death sentence is baffling to say the least. Blasphemy cases in Pakistan tend to be decided on hearsay because the alleged blasphemy can never be repeated for that in itself would be blasphemy. How on earth does one then punish a blasphemy offence when the evidence cannot be cited? When one considers that capital punishment is meted out on such grounds, the injustice and absurdity of it all really hit home.
What smacks of complete discrimination is that the 3,000 rioters who torched Joseph Colony to the ground are still free with only about 133 standing trial, of which there has been no outcome so far. How can it be that those who in their rage ran rampant on an entire colony have still not been dealt with with the firm hand of the law when the lone man who stands accused — most say falsely — of committing the blasphemy that led to the rioting, has been given the worst possible punishment? Is this how the legal system in the land works when it comes to the thorny issue of blasphemy? We have not seen this level of wrong judgements by our courts as usually blasphemy accused are let off because most such cases are not about religion at all — they are about vested interests and settling vendettas. The truth is that the political will needed to take on the mullahs when it comes to this matter is sadly lacking. We are so nervous about curbing the rising extremism that the blasphemy laws have become a poster child for and all that is wrong and all that we cannot change. If repealing these laws, which would be the only sane thing to do, is impossible in the face of ‘mullah might’, then we must do all we can to amend the laws so as to safeguard people from being wrongly accused of this ‘crime’. Those who falsely accuse others of blasphemy must be punished as harshly as the alleged blasphemer. Religion does not need protection but God knows, we do.

Pakistan: Threat to Bilawal Bhutto

Must not be taken lightly
While the TTP has declared a ceasefire, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), one of the umbrella organisation’s components, has issued threat to PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. This is just one example of the duplicity that characterises the militant network. The organisation has now given a long list of the relatives of the militants who they want to be freed for being noncombatants. The TTP demands the release of two terrorists in return for Prof Ajmal Khan, the aged Vice Chancellor of Peshawar University. It has refused to hand over Salmaan Taseer and Ali Haider Gilani on the plea that they are relatives of the leaders of a party the TTP is at war with. Taseer and Gilani are not to be set free despite being noncombatants, how can the Taliban demand the release of their own relatives?
What Bilawal Bhutto said in his tweet about the LeJ and the shelter provided to its leadership in Punjab is widely known. The leaders of the anti-Shia terrorist group have long used Punjab as a launching pad for attacks all over the country. It is time the network is not allowed to use the province as safe haven.
The demand for action on Bilawal’s tweet by Sindh government and the Sindh Assembly Speaker indicates the sensitivity of the issue. Seven years back Benazir Bhutto died in a terrorist attack. Any attempt at Bilawal’s life would cause an unprecedented wave of resentment in Sindh with serious consequences for the federation. Routine instructions to the IGP to investigate the complaint are insufficient. The threat against the head of a mainstream political party must not be taken lightly. What is needed is action against the terrorist network. One expects Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to take serious note of the threat to the young and upcoming politician who stands committed to the unity and integrity of the country.
The first face to face meeting between the government peacemakers and the five-member militants’ committee has failed to make any headway. The Taliban wanted written assurances that their demands would be accepted and refused to extend the ceasefire in case this was not done within the next few days. This amounts to dictation with a pointed gun in hand. It is unthinkable for a responsible state to yield to blackmail. The committee which was not in a position to make the commitment has returned to report back to the government. It appears that those who painted the Taliban as being keen for peace and aroused hopes about the prospects of talks were leading the nation up the garden path. The government has now to prepare itself to meet the situation after the termination of ceasefire.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns terror attack on senior journalist Raza Rumi
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the terror attack on senior Journalist Raza Rumi in Lahore. PPP Patron-in-Chief called upon all citizens to come together against such terrorism in all its forms, so as to put an end to all plots targeting innocent people including journalists, civil society and institutions. Bilawal Bhutto expressed his sincere condolences to the family of the martyr driver Mustafa, while wishing speedy recovery of Raza Rumi and his guard.