Monday, April 14, 2014

Syrian army seizes town near Lebanese border

Syrian soldiers backed by Hezbollah fighters recapture the ancient Christian the town of Maaloula, north of Damascus, further squeezing rebels' supply routes through the Qalamoun mountains into Lebanon.

Scottish Independence 2014 - LIBERTY DENIED - referendum song

Original song for the referendum on the 18th September 2014 --
Scottish independence, Neo-eisimeileachd na h-Alba, is a political aim of some political parties, advocacy groups, and individuals in Scotland , for the country to become an independent sovereign state once again. Scotland was an independent country from its foundation in the Early Middle Ages (traditionally 843) until 1707, with the Treaty of Union and subsequent Acts of Union.
Scottish home rule, Scottish Assembly,
The visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822 and the subsequent rise in tartanry has been credited with reinforcing a specific sense of Scottish national identity. This 'identity' had been regarded by many as being split between the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic-dominated Highlands and the Presbyterian-dominated Lowlands[dubious -- discuss], following the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and continuing into the 18th century, through the Jacobite risings, the Act of Proscription and subsequent process of Highland Clearances by landlords.
From the mid-19th century, there was a growing feeling that there should be devolution of control over Scottish affairs, but support for restoration of full independence was limited. The "home rule" movement for a Scottish Assembly was first taken up in 1853 by the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights a body close to the Conservative Party. A key element in this movement was the comparison with Ireland, which, it was noted, received more support from the British Government than Scotland. The original movement broadened its political appeal and soon began to receive Liberal Party backing In 1885, the Post of Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Office were re-established to promote Scotland's interests and express its concerns to the British Parliament. In 1886, however, William Ewart Gladstone introduced the Irish Home Rule Bill. When many Scots compared what they had to the Irish offer of Home Rule, the status quo was considered inadequate. It was not regarded as an immediate constitutional priority however, particularly when the Irish Home Rule Bill was defeated in the House of Commons.
The Twentieth Century By the time a Scottish Home Rule bill was first presented to parliament in 1913, its progress, along with that of the Irish Home Rule Act 1914, was interrupted by World War I and subsequently became overshadowed by the Easter Rising and Irish War of Independence. However, the Scottish Office was relocated to St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh during the 1930s
In 1921, influenced by Sinn Féin, the Scots National League formed as a body, primarily based in London, seeking Scottish independence. The League established the Scots Independent newspaper in 1926 and in 1928 it helped the Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association to form the National Party of Scotland (NPS), the aim of which was a separate Scottish state. One of the National Party of Scotland's founders was Hugh MacDiarmid, a poet who had begun promoting a Scottish literature. Other literary supporters included Eric Linklater and Neil Gunn while others, like John MacCormick and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham had Labour Party links. The NPS co-operated with the Scottish Party, a home rule organisation formed in 1932 by former members of the Conservative Party, and these merged in 1934 to form the Scottish National Party (SNP).
At first, the SNP supported home rule through the establishment of a devolved Scottish Assembly within the United Kingdom, rather than all-out independence for Scotland . This became the party's initial position on the constitutional status of Scotland, as a result of a compromise between the NPS, which did support independence, and the Scottish Party which was devolutionist. However, the SNP quickly reverted to the original NPS stance of supporting full independence for Scotland. The interwar period proved to be difficult years for the SNP, with the rise of undemocratic nationalist forces in Europe in the shape of Fascism in Italy and Spain and national socialism in Germany. The alleged similarity between SNP and foreign nationalists, combined with other factors, such as a relatively low profile in mainstream media, made it difficult for the SNP to grow its support. Unlike the pseudo-ethnic or ultra-nationalist groups on mainland Europe, however, the nationalism of the SNP was based more on civic nationalism

Scottish independence: Labour official backing Yes

A LABOUR Party chairman has declared his support for Scottish independence.
Mike Dyer, constituency chairman of Anniesland, in Glasgow, revealed his backing for a “Yes” vote at the STUC conference in Dundee.
He cited the “relentless negativity” of the No campaign as one of the key motivating factors in his decision.
SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon made a special appeal to Labour voters to back independence in her conference speech on Friday, amid a concerted push to make pro-independence group Yes Scotland more appealing to supporters of the unionist party.
Mr Dyer, a member of Unite, and who is on the union’s finance sector committee, said he believes independence will lead to a “fairer Scotland”.
He said: “With a Yes vote industrial relations will no longer be shackled by the same anti-strike regulations or restrictions on employees’ rights that stem from Westminster.
“In an independent Scotland, workers can expect greater legal protection where we’ll all have collective bargaining rights and the right not to be victimised. Trade unionists want a Scotland where workers are looked after and a Yes vote is the best way to achieve that.
“The No campaign has so far been a tide of relentless negativity.
“Take ship yards, for example. If we have the skills and people power to build advanced naval ships, then surely we can build wind turbines and other forms of renewables?
“For me, the No campaign is a group of UK government ministers telling us how bad things will be, whereas the Yes campaign is a grassroots campaign with a strong message highlighting Scotland’s potential.
“When you speak to Labour Party members at constituency level they have radical ideas that are more associated with Labour’s traditions. So why is the party leadership not as radical as the ordinary members?”

‘Afghanization’ of Syria and the choice between the lesser of evils

“We are at war with Syria,” said Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaking on the night of March 30, which marked his victory in the local elections.
He was complaining about the leaked audio recording of Turkey’s top branch’s meeting about responding to an imminent threat stemming from Syria. He was rightly complaining that Turkey’s national security was jeopardized in order to harm him.
While Turkey is not officially at war with Syria, the prime minister’s description cannot to be taken lightly. The question is which Syria are we at war with? And there comes the challenge: there is no longer one Syria. But as of now, we can clearly say the two most hostile actors against Turkey is Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIS). It seems that it is no confidence that these two never fought against each other. While Turkish authorities lack clear evidence and therefore conviction that there is an organic link between the two, the fact that the two have never fought against each other points to an unnamed holy alliance.
Along the 911 km Turkish-Syrian border, Turkey confronts al-Assad’s war planes in the air and ISIS on the land.
Four critical border gates are under the control of ISIS. What’s more, ISIS has gained the control of the territory surrounding the tomb of Süleyman Shah, a very important historic figure for Turkey. This tiny stretch of land is Turkey’s only territory outside of its borders that belongs to Turkey.
When ISIS took hold of the territory on March 12; the meeting in which its audio recording was leaked took place the next day; resulting in Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s warning that the slightest attempt to target the tomb, protected by a small Turkish contingency of two dozen soldiers, will meet Turkey’s unequivocal reaction.
As a response, ISIS threatened to pull out its soldiers and bring down its flag; and as Turkey has not bowed down, ISIS so far has not taken a step to substantiate its threat.
Yet, the fact remains that Turkey is at war with a non-state actor at its border. What makes ISIS more dangerous is 90 percent of its recruits are made up of non-Syrians, it is believed to be open to all kinds of manipulation; so at the end of the day you don’t even know which manipulator you are fighting against.
Let’s put aside the reasonability of the Turkish government in ending up in such a mess at the border; one thing is for sure that while Ankara was wrong in its assessment about al-Assad’s quick departure, it was right about its assessment as to the possible scenarios in the absence of a departure. Ankara told Washington from the early days on that Syria would become the land of radical Islamist groups and that if the regime was let to survive, each day would bring us closer to the “Afghanization” of Syria.
While as of today Turkey seems to be paying the consequences of “Afghanization,” we should not forget that “Afghanization” ended with the 9-11 attacks in the U.S.
According to a high level Turkish official, the “Afghanization” risk started to resonate much more in Washington’s corridors. “The U.S. is more open to talk about options it used to not talk about,” said the official. The Turkish authorities seem to be convinced that the regime will never ever be able to establish its authority throughout Syria and in the absence of a political solution in the near future, the challenge appears to be finding the ways to empower the opposition. So the choice is going to be between the lesser of the two (or multiple) evils. This is no easy endeavor.
The fact remains that just as we were thinking of getting rid of the terrorism of the PKK, we are now facing another dangerous terrorist organization in asymmetrical warfare.

Spaniards hold anti-monarchy rally in Madrid

Hundreds of Spaniards have taken to the streets of the capital Madrid to protest against the scandal-stricken monarchy. Spaniards staged a large protest rally in Madrid on Monday, demanding a democratically elected head of state. Waving the Republican flags, the demonstrators blocked traffic as they made their way to a central square in the capital known as Puerta Del Sol. The monarchy is "a corrupt system that leads us to poverty", Pedro Riquelme, one of the protesters, said. "It is like a property that they pass from father to son. With a republic everything would be more transparent," Riquelme added. The Spanish monarchy has lost popularity over the past years, partly because of a luxury trip king Juan Carlos made to Africa in 2012 during the peak of Spain's financial crisis. The Spanish royal family has also been caught up in a corruption scandal involving King’s youngest daughter Cristina. The 48-year-old princess was the first member of Spain's royal family that attested in a court as the subject of criminal proceedings since King Carlos came to power in 1975. Cristina was summoned by Palma de Mallorca judge, Jose Castro, in February as a suspect for questioning over involvement in a charitable organization called Noos Foundation, which is run by her husband Inaki Urdangarin. Urdangarin was also accused of fraud, tax evasion, fabricating documents and embezzlement of six million euros ($8.2 million) in public funds. The high-level corruption scandal has severely damaged the royal family’s standing in Spain and has diminished people’s trust in public institutions at a time the country is struggling with a deep recession and tough cuts in public spending. A poll published by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo on January 5 showed that fewer than half of Spaniards, or 41 percent, support the monarchy in general and nearly two-thirds of them want Carlos to abdicate.

Putin to Obama: Use your influence to prevent bloodshed in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his American counterpart on Monday to use the White House’s influence on the Ukrainian government to prevent further “bloodshed” from occurring in the country.
United States President Barack Obama placed a phone call to Mr. Putin on Monday afternoon (EST) to discuss the ongoing and increasingly tense situation in eastern Ukraine amid growing concerns surrounding the country’s future stability following the recent ousting of Pres. Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year, and the turmoil that has gripped the region ever since.
According to a statement released after the phone conversation by the Kremlin, Putin dismissed recent reports that peg Russia as being responsible for heated protests that have erupted in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian activists have successfully managed to seize a number of local government buildings and police stations.
"In response to the president of the United States' expressed concern about Russia's supposed meddling in southeastern Ukraine, the president of Russia noted that such speculations are based on inaccurate information," the press statement read. Putin stressed that protests in several south-east regions of Ukraine are a result of “the Kiev authorities’ unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population,” read a Kremlin press service statement.
The Russian president called upon Obama to use all of the capabilities at his disposal, “to prevent the use of force and bloodshed,” and also reportedly denied that his government has had any involvement in the recent unrest during the call, according to the official statement.
“The president noted that such speculation is based on unreliable information,” the Kremlin said.
At the same time, Obama called on Putin to use his influence over pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine to “depart the buildings they have seized,” the White House said in a statement. “The president reiterated the importance of Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukraine’s border in order to defuse tensions.”
Representatives for Russia, the US and Ukraine are expected to meet with colleagues from the EU later this week in Geneva to discuss the recent series of events and what could come next, but the Kremlin said that both Putin and Obama agreed during Monday’s phone call that diplomatic cooperation must continue ahead of that meeting, currently scheduled for April 17.
In the meantime, the Kremlin said that Putin suggested during Monday’s phone call that Ukraine begin focusing on a new constitution that “involves all political forces in the country, creating a federalized state and guaranteeing Ukraine's non-aligned status.”
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told the Russian media earlier that day that the Kremlin has been receiving pleas for help from Ukrainians as a result of the events unfolding in the eastern part of the country.
“He is getting a lot of appeals addressed personally to him, asking him to intervene in one way or another. He is monitoring the situation in Ukraine with great concern,” Peskov stated.
On Sunday evening, Kiev threatened "full-scale" military force if protesters and paramilitaries refused to vacate the occupied government buildings by Monday morning, but that deadline came and went without action. Later, though, the US State Dept. and White House both weighed in on the matter and made conflicting statements about possibly supplying arms to Ukrainian forces.

China neutrality valuable for Ukraine crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives in China on Tuesday.
Foreign media have speculated that apart from paving the way for Russia President Vladimir Putin's visit to China next month and promoting Sino-Russian economic and trade cooperation, Lavrov will be sure to discuss the escalating tension in Ukraine's eastern region with the Chinese side.
How should China discuss this thorny issue with Russia and make a public statement?
It's a test of China's diplomatic wisdom and power. Ukraine's eastern region is different from the Crimea. Secession of the region from Ukraine strikes a direct blow to territorial integrity guaranteed by international law.
But the eastern region crisis is not isolated. It can be traced back to "revolutions" and turbulence that repeatedly haunted Ukraine in recent years.
Moscow led the joining of Crimea into Russia with resolution, while the uprising in Ukraine's eastern region is more spontaneous. But the attitude of Moscow and Kiev could affect the process of the crisis.
Moscow so far made no further actions except for deploying troops along the border region and warning Kiev not to take military actions. There is no further clear-cut position being stated. Putin is seemingly hesitant. Although Kremlin has a great influence on the public in the eastern region, it cannot give direct orders.
There aren't legitimate Russian troops stationed in Ukraine's eastern region. It's difficult to come up with an internationally recognized independence procedure. China should avoid a hasty position over the issue. It needs to take the following principles and considerations into account. To begin with, we should advocate the safeguarding of territorial integrity in the post-Crimea era.
As long as the possibility exists, we'd like to urge it so.
We also believe the solution to the Ukraine crisis should represent the interests of all parties including Kiev, Russians in the eastern region and Moscow, as well as the West.
The Sino-Russian relationship should be given top priority when Beijing dwells on its stance over the Ukraine situation. Beijing and Moscow should make concerted efforts to avoid divergence underscored through the Ukraine crisis.
Major powers except China have been embroiled in the Ukraine crisis, highlighting the significance of China's neutrality. Beijing needs to play a more active role in propelling peace.
China needs to secure a balance between not supporting the independence of Ukraine's eastern region and avoiding isolating Moscow with the West. Such a stance is not an indication of ambiguity but a unique distinction.
China has never served as an influential mediator in major international conflicts so far. We may be closest to that role in the Ukraine crisis.

If Kiev uses force, Russian cooperation over Ukraine will be undermined – Lavrov
"If the authorities in Kiev will use force, our entire cooperation on the Ukrainian issue will be undermined," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting of the World Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots. "We are now discussing the possibility of holding a meeting of Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine," Lavrov said.
"We shall be prepared to discuss ways of promoting a solution of the Ukrainian issue. But if the authorities in Kiev dare use force, our entire cooperation on the Ukrainian issue, on Ukrainian settlement will be undermined. We have let this known to our Western partners," he said, TASS reports.
Read more:

Canada to be first G20 country to abolish door-to-door postal service

Canadians are angry with their government’s plan to end door-to-door postal services, which would make it the first such G20 country, as delivery process have gone up dramatically.
The plan Canada Post had is set to take effect within five years and is necessitated, like in the United States, by dwindling profits caused by everyone switching to things like email, Reuters reports. But this is necessary, according to the service, who says they’ll start losing cash by mid-2014 if a major overhaul isn’t performed.
Spokesman for the service, Jon Hamilton, told Reuters how mail deliveries had gone down by a whole billion in 2012 compared to 2006, so “we had to make changes.”
The changes will entail the loss of 8,000 jobs, along with other things. The government-owned company spends much more than its private sector competitors.
“[The plan] really provides Canada Post with a future based on serving needs that Canadians have rather than trying to put something together that doesn’t work,” Hamilton said.
The company has been hemorrhaging money in recent years, reporting a whopping loss of C$109 million ( US$103 million) before tax – a 7.3 percent drop from the previous year. To make matters worse, its pension plan is in deficit by C$6.5 million.
Currently, about a third of Canada’s approximately 5.1 million homes get mail delivered to their door, and they are not too happy about the government proposing a system of community mail boxes under its five-point plan announced Wednesday.
Once the reforms take effect, not only will the people in small, remote towns feel the effect, but also those inhabiting large cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Now, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, are blasting the idea as a brash decision that may cripple the postal service, and have called on fellow workers to oppose the measure. Other groups have joined such calls too, like the official opposition party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), who fear the move could affect pensioners, whose everyday activities are greatly affected by winter months.
The Guardian visited a remote mining community of 7,000 people, surrounded by mountains, called Labrador City, in east Canada – a good example of just how much people’s comfort would be affected by Canada Post’s decision. Temperatures there can drop below -30C easily, while meters of snow in the winter make it really hard to get about freely.
The mayor of the city, Karen Oldford, said that battling through the impassable snow would be really difficult for some groups of people. She added that using the excuse of mail to affect home deliveries is preposterous, because “there is still no broadband access in our communities.”
Everyone from the elderly to the disabled is voicing concerns – even a petition on appeared, gathering 140,000 signatures. The mother of a child with cerebral palsy proposed if Canada Post execs could spend a week in a wheelchair and “see how they like it… I think their perspective would completely change,” Susan Dixon said. The Postal union chief joined the chorus, saying that “to cut, cut, and cut” isn’t the way to go, afraid that the plan would be the end of a whole era.
Although many agree with Canada Post’s upcoming five-point-plan, it is known that the company spends more than twice the money annually delivering correspondence to the door than it does to a community box – C$283 compared to C$108.
However, although email’s effect on profits is certainly noticeable, the company also sees mail orders booming, so believes that it’s more about adjusting to current trends. And community boxes, among other things, are easier to deal with when large parcels are delivered.
Speaking to the Guardian, Canada Post’s director, Deepak Chopra, was of the opinion that the logistical and climatic concerns for some groups of people aren’t as dire as it seems. "Seniors are telling me that 'I want to be healthy, I want to be active in my life,'" he said.
Older Canadians, however, continue to disagree.
The company believes that once the changes have been implemented, the postal service will feel the effects of financial revival by 2019.

President Obama: No one should fear when they pray

Sona Na Chandi Na Koi Mahal - Akhlaq Ahmed

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: NED University Students Condemn Murder Of Shia Teacher
The students of NED University of Engineering and Technology staged a rally on Monday to protest against the brutal assassination of their Shia lecturer Engineer Muntazir Mehdi alias Mohammad Yousuf. “Down with terrorism,” Stop murders of teachers,” Killing of teacher is tantamount to killing of knowledge and education,” and “Arrest the killers of Sir Muntazir Mehdi,” were the slogans raised by the students who marched from their departments to the main gate of their university.
Ali Rizvi on behalf of the students and president of Teachers Union on behalf of the pedagogues spoke to the protestors who were also carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans to pay homage to the martyr teacher. They said that takfiri terrorists were bent upon destroying Pakistan through murders of professionals particularly teachers, doctors and lawyers. They said that the terrorists have put the future of Pakistan at stake by their heinous crime.
They demanded of the government to assert its writ by eliminating the terrorist network by liquidating their masterminds and assets.
They said that Muntazir Mehdi was educating the generation who will guarantee bright future of Pakistan. They said that martyr lecturer belonged to a sacred profession that is attributed to light but the forces of darkness tried to switch off the light of knowledge by this brutal murder.
They said that the terrorists have failed and would fail in their nefarious designs aimed at creating gulf among Pakistanis on sectarian basis.

Pakistan: Government slanting the dialogue process: Khurshid Shah
Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurhsid Shah said the government is twisting the dialogue process with the Taliban. Speaking to journalists in Islamabad, he said the government is portraying wrong image of the opposition regarding peace talks.
He stated that according to TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shaid the names of sons of Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani and Salman Taseer were not in the exchange list of prisoners.
He said they are supporting the government but such type of dialogue process is not acceptable, urging the prime minister to take notice of the matter.
Replying to a query, he stated that one representative of Muttahida Qaumi Movement was included in the party formed for the National Finance Commission. He also expressed concerns over the tensions between the military and civilian sides. Replying to another query, the opposition leader stated many people are losing their lives in the capital, the so-called safe city by the Interior Minister.

From Kabul to Cairo, the Killing and Jailing of Journalists Continues

By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan
Journalism is not a crime. This is the rallying cry in demanding the release of four Al-Jazeera journalists imprisoned in Egypt. Three of them–Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed–have just passed their hundredth day of incarceration. The fourth, Abdullah al-Shami, has been in jail for more than six months. They have been charged with “spreading lies harmful to state security and joining a terrorist organization.” Of course, the only thing they were doing was their job.
Anja Niedringhaus also was doing her job as a photographer for The Associated Press when she was murdered last week in Khost, Afghanistan. She was covering the preparations for Afghanistan’s national election, and was sitting in her car with AP reporter Kathy Gannon when an Afghan police officer opened fire, killing Niedringhaus and wounding Gannon.
Niedringhaus’ work captured the brutality of war, and the hope of humanity. She began her career as a teenager, photographing the fall of the Berlin Wall in her native Germany. She went on to work for the European Pressphoto Agency, where she covered the war in the Balkans, the aftermath of Sept. 11 in New York City, and then on to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. In 2002, she moved on to the AP, where she covered Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as major international sporting events like the World Cup and Wimbledon. When scrolling through the images of our times that she left behind, you are struck by the courage, the talent and the ability to capture and transmit an instant in time charged with the full weight of history.
Niedringhaus is one of too many journalists killed while performing a critical public service: journalism.
Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote, in 2003, “Is journalism worth dying for?” She was reporting on the attempted murder of a colleague at the fiercely independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She wrote: “If the price of truth is so high, perhaps we should just stop, and find a profession with less risk of ‘major unpleasantness.’ How much would society, for whose sake we are doing this work, care?” Politkovskaya answered her rhetorical question through action, by continuing to cover power in Russia, especially the presidency of Vladimir Putin. She was murdered three years later, on Oct. 7, 2006. Her killing had the hallmarks of a contract killing, as have the murders of other journalists in Russia.
Neither death nor imprisonment should be the punishment for reporting the news. The Committee to Protect Journalists compiles statistics and organizes campaigns to defend threatened journalists, free those in prison and demand accountability for journalists killed. CPJ provides direct aid for journalists facing imminent threats, including medical and legal help, and relocation. Since 1992, CPJ reports, there have been 1,054 journalists killed worldwide.

Anxious China emerges as diplomatic player in Afghanistan

China is quietly preparing for a more robust role in the future of Afghanistan, concerned that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep.
The two countries are connected by a narrow mountainous corridor that is almost impassable, which meant Beijing could focus on mining and mineral deals in Afghanistan as Western forces battled Taliban insurgents. But officials say that China is emerging as a key strategic player.
In August it will host a "Heart of Asia" conference on Afghanistan, which may have a newly elected president by then, inviting leaders from regional nations including India and Pakistan. A Western diplomat said China has already held discreet trilateral talks with Afghanistan and other countries.
One of its chief worries is that Uighur militants who want a separate state in western China's Xinjiang region will exploit the security vacuum left after the bulk of NATO forces withdraw by the end of the year to step up their fight.
Hundreds of Uighur fighters are believed to be holed up in rugged, lawless tribal areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In a rare interview from an undisclosed location last month, their leader told Reuters that China would be made to pay for its crackdown on separatists in Xinjiang.
"In the past we said: 'The Americans are there, and the Americans don't want anyone else, especially not another great power, taking their place'," said Hu Shisheng, a South Asia expert at a government-backed think tank, the China Institute of International Relations in Beijing.
"Now with the U.S. strategic focus shifting, neighboring countries cannot just let Afghanistan descend into chaos.
"The Pakistan and the Afghanistan Taliban are sympathetic towards the Uighurs. So we absolutely have to pay attention to this, in a way that perhaps we did not before," he said.
So far, China's commitment to Afghan reconstruction since the ouster of a hardline Islamist Taliban regime in 2001 has been around $250 million and its security support has been mostly limited to counter-narcotics training.
China has a $700 million agreement to drill for oil in the Amu Darya Basin and a $3 billion deal to develop the Aynak copper mining project. But insiders say security concerns, not investment, are the primary driver of China's new focus.
"They were focused on economics, not reconciliation or peace. But recently they have expressed their willingness to get more involved in the peace process," said a member of the High Peace Council, an Afghan government body overseeing negotiations with the Taliban.
The Chinese and U.S. embassies in Kabul declined to comment.
It is highly unlikely that China will follow the U.S. lead and send soldiers into Afghanistan.
Officials believe, however, that, with the West's attention on the region set to fade, Beijing has an opportunity to flex its diplomatic muscle, using warm relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan to ease suspicion between the two neighbors.
Kabul has long accused Islamabad of providing havens for militants and sponsoring attacks inside Afghanistan, and now Pakistan believes Afghanistan is doing the same. A decade of U.S. diplomacy has failed to reconcile the two sides. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi said China had given assurances that it would encourage Pakistan to cooperate with Kabul's efforts to make peace with the Taliban.
"We trust them. We are working on a plan," he told Reuters.
China's push for a bigger role in Afghanistan is seen by some diplomats as an attempt to show it is a responsible global actor after rattling its own neighbors by asserting claims in the South China Sea. But Andrew Small, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and author of an upcoming book on Chinese-Pakistan relations, said it is driven by a realization that its own security is at stake.
Four years ago, Washington proposed several joint projects, including the construction of schools by China in Aynak - near its proposed copper mines - and teacher training by the U.S. side. It took China almost two years to respond, Small said.
Now the two countries work together training Afghan diplomats.
"At the end of 2011, the Chinese realized America was leaving and they were getting this dumped on their lap," he said. "Until then, China had sat completely on the sidelines. They just used to send people to read out statements in meetings."
A Beijing-based Asian diplomat cautioned, however, that Beijing's new enthusiasm for engagement with Kabul might run into trouble, especially as its officially atheist Communist leaders have limited experience dealing with Muslim countries.
"Afghanistan is highly factional, and it's not like any other Islamic country," he said. "China is going to have a very difficult time."

Pakistan: Taliban-Seminary Nexus

If recent reports by an international news agency are to be believed, religious seminaries or Madrassas, are plotting with the Taliban to execute terror attacks in the capital, in the event that talks with the government fail. The peace talks which kicked off in February this year, have proved to be largely ineffective. There have been few, if any victories for the PML-N government and at least 90 people have died in violent attacks since the declaration of the TTP ceasefire in March. Once viewed through the prism of probability, it seems likely, that the peace talks will indeed fail. When that happens, a deadly coalition will be waiting to strike the capital. This alliance is not outside the realm of possibility; not only have seminaries been under the microscope recently for the dispensation and cultivation of hate material under the pretext of an Islamic education, but the Red Mosque incident of 2007 serves as a reminder of the capacities of seminaries to execute violent Taliban-style movements in urban centres. The seminary suspects are already intellectually primed and motivated to act in accordance with TTP narratives on war with the government. There can be no better-placed partner for the Taliban to launch practical city-wide attacks from, than a network of Madrassas providing both cover and manpower. Hiding under the guise of religious seminaries, protected by powerful, radical clerics in government, the TTP could begin a new surge of brutal attacks and propaganda; both equally dangerous tools in the fight for peaceful narratives, and security for all. The government must act now; the country needs complete institutional cohesion to fight this war. Security forces must be mobilised and the judiciary must be empowered and protected to convict those responsible for the violence.

Unpaid dues: Ration supply cut off to jails in Balochistan

The Express Tribune
Ration supply to nine prison facilities and judicial lockups in Balochistan has been suspended by contractors over nonpayment of bills, which have soared to Rs21million. According to All Contractors Association Central Jails spokesperson, Sikandar Zehri, the prison department owes an amount of Rs21 million to the contractors, which accumulated over a period of three years.
“We reminded the department about the outstanding amount but it did not pay any attention which prompted us to suspend the ration supply to nine prisons and judicial lockups in Naushki, Gwadar, Jaffarabad, Kohlu, Duki, Barkhan and Qila Saifullah districts,” Zehri claimed while talking to The Express Tribune. Issuing a stern warning, Zehri said that the suspension of ration supply to prison facilities will continue “until our dues are cleared”. Taking a swipe at prison officials, Zehri said, “The Inspector General (IG) Prison Department Balochistan makes us wait for several hours and refuses to meet us.” According to sources in the jail department, a payment of Rs7 hundred thousand was made to contractors of Quetta and Mastung jails. However, the department does not have the funds to clear the outstanding bill of Rs21million. The contractors association cautioned that they will suspend the supply to all jails in Balochistan, if their dues were not cleared within a few days. Meanwhile, despite several calls, IG Prison Department was not available for comment.

Pakistan: Islamabad under siege

By Inayatullah Rustamani
The carnage among common citizens in Islamabad may not be disturbing our government at this point because it does not affect them indirectly or directly, but the complete ignorance to them will one day have lasting and uncontrollable implications on our elected representatives and the political elite too
The relentless terror strikes in the last few weeks presage the fact that peace is unlikely in Pakistan even with a ‘successful’ ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, has been bathed with blood twice after the so-called ceasefire. The first attack was a suicide-cum-firing inside a district sessions court in Islamabad last month, causing the deaths of a judge and nine other people. A terror group, Ahrarul Hind, claimed responsibility. However, the TTP disowned the attack, and its like-minded political and religious supporters lauded the TTP statement and instantly conceded its truth. The Ahrarul Hind claim of the attack cannot be taken seriously even with a pinch of salt, considering the group’s limited capability for strikes within the country. It is an established truth that suicide attack capability, in broad daylight inside Pakistan, belongs only to the TTP. It is altogether another matter that the TTP is being disingenuous by claiming that groups outside its control are involved in or responsible for that attack.
The latest bomb blast in a fruit market in Islamabad on April 9 has taken the lives of more than two dozen people and maimed over 50. The attacked was claimed by the banned United Baloch Army (UBA), though this claim was dismissed by the interior ministry and the Islamabad police. Islamabad is the capital of Pakistan and its population is less than 1.8 million people. It is strange that law enforcement agencies are unable to protect the citizenry of this city that has a population less than that of Hyderabad, Sindh. The brazen broad daylight attacks in Islamabad raise concerns among many in political and other circles with regard to the security of the Prime Minister’s and President’s Houses, the Supreme Court (SC), and the parliament house that are located in the city. The carnage among common citizens in Islamabad may not be disturbing our government at this point because it does not affect them indirectly or directly, but the complete ignoring of them will one day have lasting and uncontrollable implications for our elected representatives and the political elite. The outbreak of the Karachi unrest and lawlessness in the 1990s was not taken seriously at the time. It was ignored first because it had sweeping effects only on the common man and the workers of certain specific political parties. The long ignored violence in Karachi has eventually now started affecting lawmakers, law enforcement agency personnel, the business community, doctors and other ‘important’ segments of society. No one is secure in Karachi now. The latest Karachi operation has completely failed to bring peace to the city. This is because acts of violence have become a flourishing business in the city. Many law enforcement agencies have started investing in that lucrative business by involving their men in the criminal groups to make money by committing murders and looting banks and the affluent people of the city.
The incumbent federal government is apparently bereft of an anti-terrorism plan. It banks on a Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) appeasement policy. There has been no respite from terror strikes during a month long ceasefire. Despite that, the PML-N government has reportedly freed 19 TTP prisoners. This was never a wise move because the government could not even secure the freedom of prominent non-combatants like Professor Ajmal, Ali Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer from captivity by the TTP. Media reports also say that friction has developed between the federal government and the Pakistan army over the government’s release of the TTP prisoners and two federal ministers’ criticism of the Pakistan army. The civil-military imbalance in relations has never proved in the interest of the country, which is already plagued by multiple crises. The PML-N measures are incomprehensible. It has unilaterally approved the Pakistan Protection Ordinance (PPO) as a bill in the National Assembly. This bill authorises law enforcement agencies to pick up, detain, or even shoot on sight a suspect. This will further provoke human rights groups in the country against human rights abuses. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have lambasted the ordinance. Some among their ranks have designated it a “black law” and others as a draconian law. Some parties have threatened to oppose it in the Senate and others have vowed to force the matter into the courts. Given the track record of enforced disappearances, allegedly by law enforcement agencies, suggests that the PPO or another similar law will further worsen human rights abuses in the country. Islamabad is the capital of the country. It must not be left at the mercy of a bunch of terrorists. The capital city must be guarded at every cost before it becomes another Karachi. It should not be forgotten that the uncontrolled and unchallenged bunch of terrorists can plant their roots in Islamabad like they have Karachi. The terror strikes are in full swing so as to bring the country’s economy and its social life to a complete standstill. Pakistan is a nuclear country and its capital being frequently attacked does not bode well for the national and international image of the country, not to mention its security. If the attacks continue on Islamabad, the day is not far when the international media will dub Islamabad as a city under siege.

Pakistan: Prime minister’s absence

THE prime minister must have taken note of the moves to amend the Senate’s rules of procedure to make the chief executive’s presence in the upper house compulsory at least once a week. The need for such a move would not have arisen if Nawaz Sharif had attended parliamentary sessions regularly. As of now, Mr Sharif is upholding a rather unsavoury tradition: most Pakistani prime ministers have never been habitués of parliament. Obviously, they failed to realise that one of their duties is to strengthen democratic traditions by being a regular participant of parliamentary sessions. Mr Sharif’s record is among the worst of any Pakistani prime minister — he didn’t attend a single session of the upper house during the parliamentary year ending last month. And unlike Yousuf Raza Gilani, who regularly participated in debates, Mr Sharif’s record of presence in the lower house is even worse. He attended a National Assembly session on Jan 29 after a gap of seven months, and then was last seen in the people’s house on Feb 26. Since then, he has not been visible in parliament. No one should be surprised if his ministers take their cue from him, for his interior minister has been accused by senators of having resorted to an undeclared boycott of the upper house since those November days when opposition members in the Senate held sessions outside the parliament building, and the senators wanted Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to apologise for allegedly giving faulty information.
Granted, Mr Sharif is a busy person but then so are prime ministers of other parliamentary democracies. In Britain, the prime minister himself answers MPs’ questions and stands the booing and heckling that is an intrinsic part of a parliamentarian’s life. That Mr Sharif should absent himself from a house where his party has a majority is astonishing and demands an explanation. By appearing in parliament only rarely Mr Sharif is doing no service to himself or to democracy in a country that needs strong parliamentary traditions. ‘A clash of institutions’ is often talked about and feared in Pakistan. The best way to pre-empt such a malignant event is to strengthen parliament and make it a truly sovereign body that commands the respect of unelected institutions.

Pakistan:Khursheed writes to PM about closure of PIA offices
Opposition Leader in National Assembly, Khursheed Shah, on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif about the closure of four PIA offices in Sindh and Balochistan and sought his intervention in this anti-people act. “I would like to draw your attention to the closure of four PIA offices in four districts of Sindh, ie, Hyderabad, Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Nawabshah, and one in Pasni district of Balochistan,” Shah said in his letter, and termed it a matter of grave concern for the local community. It would result not only in loss of many jobs, but also a convenient transportation facility for local populace, he added.
Shah also said that the deserving officers had been completely ignored for promotions that not only raised questions on impartiality of the merit system, but also resulted in demoralisation of employees on the whole.
“I believe that decisions should be made in an unbiased and appropriate manner. Closing the offices and ignoring the deserving employees for promotions will not result in improvement in efficiency of the airline,” he said.
“If the government is seriously interested in the revival of PIA, Shah said, it should take such productive steps that could make it a profitable organisation and refrain from those that could deepen the sense of deprivation and exploitation.” Shah said, “The government’s responsibility is to facilitate the public rather than deprive them of the already available facilities,” and requested the prime minister to look into the matter and guide the authorities concerned to take rational and popular decisions.