Friday, April 18, 2014

Syria tightening noose around militants in Homs

Syrian government forces make fresh advances in their battle against foreign-backed militants in the western city of Homs as clashes continue between the two sides in the county’s north.
Government forces have tightened their noose around the Old City of Homs in recent days and have captured several buildings, including a church.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the army’s achievements.
The London-based pro-opposition group also said government troops are shelling the Bab Hud and Wadi al-Sayeh districts to flush militants out of their strongholds.
Some 1,200 militants and nearly 200 civilians are believed to be in and around the Old City.
Meanwhile, 14 people were killed in the city after a bomb detonated near a mosque in a government-held area after Friday prayers.
Security sources said the bomb attack was in retaliation for the Syrian government’s daily advances in the militant-held Old City of Homs.
According to government sources, army forces repelled an attack on a military barracks in Hanano, killing a number of militants. Syrian troops have also managed to reopen Aleppo’s international airport.
Syria has been experiencing unrelenting militancy since March 2011. The Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are said to be supporting the militants operating inside Syria.

Amnesty Slams Bahrain Regime’s Intimidation against Cleric as Unacceptable

Amnesty International criticized the Bahraini regime for threatening a cleric who was stripped of his nationality in 2012 calling on Manama to “rescind” the decision. On April 15, the Al Khalifa regime gave Ayatollah Sheikh Hussain al-Najati two days to leave his homeland and threatened to harm his family if he failed to do so. “This campaign of threats, harassment and intimidation against Sheikh Hussain al-Najati is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” said AI Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program Said Boumedouha on Thursday.
Ayatollah Najati had been among the 31 opposition figures deprived of their Bahraini nationality by the country’s Interior Ministry in 2012.
The Amnesty official further criticized the Manama regime’s decision to revoke the nationality of Ayatollah Najati and the other opposition figures as an “arbitrary attempt to silence all government critics,” stressing, “It should be rescinded immediately.”
On April 16, Bahrain’s main opposition bloc al-Wefaq National Islamic Society also slammed Manama’s move as “unlawful,” saying, “Targeting national religious figures is meant to target the whole people of Bahrain.”
Manama has launched a heavy-handed clampdown on anti-regime protesters since the uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa broke out across the Persian Gulf kingdom in February 2011.
Scores of Bahrainis have so far been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested in the ongoing regime crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

Video: CrossTalk: Indecision & Paralysis in Ukraine

First steps towards decentralization in Ukraine already made

Participants in the Geneva negotiations on Ukraine have already made some steps to expand powers of regional authorities, Russia's Ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov said, adding that it mattered little whether the ultimate outcome would be called ‘federalization’ or ‘decentralization.’ “We proceed from the fact that Ukraine needs a profound constitutional reform,” he told Rossiya 24 TV channel on Friday. “Ukraine and its people deserve a better constitution than the one that is changed by each new president. The work that has been done in Kiev until recently is the wrong path. A reform can be successful only when it takes into account the opinion of all regions, all political parties of a country. It is absolutely natural. And such a reform should be carried out based on the referendum results.” “I think there is no way a referendum can be avoided. The question is its format and essence. Eastern regions insist that it should be held at the regional level. This is a difficult task. So, let us wait and see which solution will be found by Ukrainians,” the Russian diplomat noted. “As concerns federalization, the first step in this direction has already been made. After all, all the signatories to the Geneva documents agreed that decentralization was needed,” he stressed. “The main thing is not how to call this solution but how to implement it.” “It is vital that such a decision be passed openly, transparently and was accepted in all regions of the country,” he added.

Russia must not be treated as guilty schoolgirl, language of sanctions is unacceptable - Kremlin spokesman

Russia must not be treated as a guilty schoolgirl, language of sanctions is unacceptable, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. On Western stance on Ukraine Peskov said that "It's not a vanity fair, it's a hypocrisy fair", RIA reports. Though "the very fact that dialogue took place is positive, its productivity has to be carefully analyzed", Peskov added, according to Interfax. Read more:

WASHINGTON D.C.:Four cocktails, three bars, one night
The Post’s Fritz Hahn takes you inside the exclusive Dram and Grain for one of D.C.’s wildest cocktails, plus Bar Charley for tiki drinks on tap and Quill for author-inspired sips.

Turkey’s Battle With Twitter

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the combative prime minister of Turkey, has called Twitter “the worst menace to society,” and he seems intent on intimidating its users.
After the government blocked Twitter in Turkey for two weeks recently, the company’s executives met this week with officials in Mr. Erdogan’s administration to discuss its various demands. The government has been railing against the company and other Internet platforms like YouTube because some Turks have used them to post leaks from a corruption investigation that has implicated prominent political figures, including Mr. Erdogan, and their families. Two weeks ago, Turkey’s highest court ordered the government to unblock Twitter.
Separately, Twitter has agreed to prevent some posts from being seen in Turkey, though they remain viewable in the rest of the world. The government also wants the company to open an office in Turkey, pay taxes on advertising revenue and reveal the identities of people publishing the leaks.
The company has not said whether it would turn over information about users to the Turkish authorities. In the past, it has refused to reveal user data in some cases; in other circumstances, it has given up the information when ordered to do so by a court. According to the company’s semiannual transparency report, it received 1,410 requests for account information from various governments worldwide in the last six months of 2013. The company produced at least some user information in 50 percent of those cases. It received fewer than 10 requests from Turkey and 833 requests from the United States.
If the Turkish government tries to compel Twitter to reveal the users’ identities, the company should certainly strongly resist what is clearly a politically motivated action. Complying with such demands would aid Mr. Erdogan’s administration in its persecution of critics and political opponents. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Turkey is the “world’s top press jailer” and imprisoned 40 journalists as of Dec. 1. Most have been held on terrorism or other anti-state charges, which are often used to silence and punish dissidents.

Amateur video captures ferry chaos

Jaanu, Afshan Zebi Pakistani Song 2014

‘Pakistan must break alleged links with Afghan insurgents’

Pakistan must break alleged links with any Afghan insurgents if it is to adhere to Article 40 of the Constitution, said an opposition lawmaker in the Senate on Friday. Opposition lawmakers were expressing their views during a debate in the Senate on a motion on foreign policy moved by Senator Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Opposition senators called for ending ‘duplicity’ in foreign policy formulation and stressed on the need to retrieve the ground lost by civilians to the security establishment over the past decades.
Senators called for a serious rethink of policy formulation in the light of realities emerging as a result of political transitions last year taking place in Pakistan’s neighbouring countries, including China and Iran, and now Afghanistan and India.
Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the basis of foreign policy formulation is laid out in Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan.
Reading out Article 40, he said that if we have to adhere to them we must break alleged links with any Afghan insurgents and stop the ability of Afghan fighters to seek refuge in Pakistan.
“A stable and democratic civilian government leading foreign policy formulation would be welcomed by all parties, as compared to the security establishment leading it without any accountability,” he said.
“Duplicity in policy making is too obvious. While the prime minister has kept the portfolio of the foreign minister with himself, there is an advisor and a special assistant. Besides, a federal minister and chief minister Punjab articulate independent foreign policy issues without referring to the foreign office,” he said. “CM Punjab even went as far as signing a joint declaration with the chief minister of Indian Punjab,” Babar added.
“While there is no issue with promoting people-to-people contacts, it should have been done by the foreign office and not by the chief minister. This will encourage different organs of the state pursuing their own agendas.”
“Although the government has said several times that Pakistan will not take sides in the Syrian civil war, suspicion has been lingering that non-state actors are being encouraged to move to Syria and the Middle East with weapons and armaments,” he added. Babar also recalled how a former head of a security agency had publicly claimed clandestinely shipping weapons to Bosnia in violation of the UN ban, earning him the ire of the US. He said that in a recent television talk show, the finance minister said that if people went to Bahrain and Syria then it should be seen an “employee-employer relationship” that has nothing to do with the government. He warned against letting such ‘relationships’ run to such an extent that Pakistan is “sucked into another Afghanistan, this time in the Middle East.” Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik also called for an urgent in-camera briefing by the government on security and foreign policy.
Senator Afrasaib Khattak said the security situation in the neighbouring Afghanistan is fragile and Pakistan has to quickly frame its policy keeping in view fluid developments in the region.
Senator Hasil Bizenjo cautioned the government over activities of elements hostile to Pakistan trying to disturb relations with Iran. “Iran has a great role in the region therefore Pakistan must maintain good ties with the country,” he said.

Interview: 'Afghanistan's Ashraf Ghani Pledges ‘Genuine Reconciliation''

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani says that, if elected, he will do all in his power to promote "genuine reconciliation."
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on April 17, Ghani indicated that the country's former warlords must accept responsibility for their actions and that the country needed to move on.
“We are not going to get bogged down in our past in a way that deprives us of a future," he said. "[We need] to be coming together, accepting responsibility, moving on, and making sure that if there are victims that we tend to them. It’s a process of healing our wounds.”
Ghani said "violence is not an answer to violence."
Ghani, a former Afghan finance minister, had previously taken a strong stance against the former strongmen, many of whom were involved in the country’s devastating civil war.
The 64-year-old pledged a “government of competence” that would strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption, and introduce an economic system that would lessen the country’s dependence on aid.
"I had no money and I had no backing from a political party, the government, or had foreign support," he said. "This is a genuine social movement that is going to deliver.”
Ghani, among the election front-runners, said he was confident of winning an outright victory in the April 5 vote.
Ghani confirmed he had held meetings with President Hamid Karzai and some of his rival candidates since the election.
But he said it was not to forge a deal that would avoid a second round runoff, which is likely because no candidate is expected to win an outright majority.
He said a second round was necessary to “let the people decide” the country’s next president.
Partial results released on April 13 put Ghani is second position behind leading candidate Abdullah Abdullah.
Preliminary results for the election are expected on April 24.

Afghanistan: Building a Vision Of Hope and Change

Lloyd Grove
Afghanistan is creating a positive future for itself. Sixty per cent of those eligible to vote have done so in the country’s elections, and the Taliban’s influence is waning.
For an overwhelming majority of Americans, weary of the longest war in United States history—which has cost trillions in taxpayer dollars and exacted more than 2,300 deaths and 20,000 wounded among U.S. soldiers since Operation Enduring Freedom commenced on Oct. 7, 2001—Afghanistan is a lost cause.
The latest National Intelligence Estimate, the considered analysis of all 16 of the U.S. government’s intelligence agencies, predicts that Afghanistan will eventually descend into chaos, that the central government in Kabul will be increasingly marginalized as the once-ousted Taliban gains power and influence, and that much of the social progress and security improvements will ultimately be reversed. All this will come to pass, even if the United States leaves behind thousands of troops and keeps pouring billions into the hard-scrabble, impoverished country of 30 million souls that borders Pakistan and Iran.
Yet that depressingly bleak assessment is not universally shared. During a high-level panel discussion of Afghanistan’s future at New York’s Asia Society on Wednesday, the participants offered a vision of hope and change.
“It’s very difficult to predict what will happen if the Americans and the international community completely disengage,” said Afghan media mogul Saad Mohseni, who took part in the discussion moderated by MTV founder and former Viacom chief executive Tom Freston, who lived in Afghanistan as a textile exporter in the 1970s. “What we’re seeing today, and what’s very interesting, is 85 percent of all military operations are conducted by the Afghan forces,” continued Mohseni, whose Moby Group runs the country’s dominant television and radio outlets. “They are capable now. They’re beginning to take a lead role, which they have been for some months now. So things are falling into place.”
Mohseni—whose right index fingernail was covered in dark ink to indicate that he’d voted in Afghanistan’s April 5th presidential elections—argued that the United States and other western democracies have a vested interest in continuing to support his homeland.
“There’s no doubt that we will require international assistance for some more years,” he said. “The cost of our military is five billion dollars and Afghanistan cannot afford to pay for that. A stable Afghanistan is good for the region…We talk about counterterrorism and Al Qaeda, but even more, a stable Afghanistan will bode well for the future of Pakistan…If you look at predictions for 2050, Pakistan will have a population of almost 400 million people—it will be the fourth largest country in the world—and Afghanistan will have a population of 100 million. It will be the 16th largest country in the world…A stable Afghanistan is very important for the world.”
Mohseni was joined in his measured optimism by Afghan women’s rights activist and government reformer Aarya Nijat and Pakistani business advocate Faiysal AliKhan, a Carnegie fellow and a national security expert at the New America Foundation. All three suggested that the fact that 60 percent of eligible Afghan voters lined up for hours at the polling places—displaying courage and determination in the face of Taliban threats of violence (and an estimated 20 deaths and 43 wounded from Election Day attacks on voting centers)—proved that a thriving democracy in Afghanistan is a realistic ambition. Freston noted that the election to replace President Hamid Karzai, who is making good on a promise not to run again, will be the first peaceful transition of power in Afghan history. Millions of ballots are still being counted—with the winner expected to be announced by mid-May—but the three front-runners, Mohseni said, are all highly educated, multi-lingual, sophisticated public servants, “aspirational modernists” who could do a credible job reforming the historically troubled country.
“Space and time is very important for us,” he said, mentioning the bloody Soviet invasion of the 1980s. “We have certainly needed these years for the wounds to heal. Afghanistan was basically an instrument of the West in its proxy war against the Soviets. Our population in the late ‘70s was 12 million. We lost a million individuals in that war…and another million were handicapped. Afghanistan sacrificed a lot for the world, and it’s going to take us time to get up again.”
AliKhan, who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan during the election campaign interviewing voters and candidates, said rampant corruption remains a problem, with only 38 cents of every foreign-aid dollar making its way into the local economy. As for the Taliban—which has enjoyed protection from Pakistan as well as the respectful attention of other governments in the region—Nijat pointed out that the extreme Islamist and violent group is deeply unpopular in Afghanistan, even in the southern part of the country where its political base resides. Mohseni said a recent survey conducted by his Tolo television network indicated that the Taliban had around 8 percent support overall (even worse than the U.S. Congress!).
“Violence attracts attention,” Nijat said, “but it’s not going to go a very long way” to help the Taliban’s bid for power. She added that the Taliban has tried to capitalize on the resentments of Afghans who are “socially alienated” and “disappointed in the lack of public service delivery and the lack of law enforcement” by the Afghan authorities.
Mohseni, for his part, warned against naïve efforts to negotiate and compromise with the Taliban, especially recent attempts at constructive engagement by the U.S. state department, lest the violent extremists are “legitimized.” He said the Taliban typically dangle peace talks as a time-buying tactic, and “believe they will win on the battleground.” Only when that proves not to be true by the end of 2016, Mohseni predicted, will the Taliban seriously consider its non-violent options.
“By overdoing it, you’re legitimizing the Taliban and also creating the impression that they’re going to become a very important part of the Afghanistan of 2015 and 2016,” Mohseni said, referring to the period when the planned drawdown of U.S. combat troops is scheduled to be completed. “We have to be careful of that, because they don’t deserve to have an equal partnership just because they’re violent.”

India to pay Russia for arms, ammo it sells to Afghanistan

Ahead of NATO troops downsizing their presence in Afghanistan, India has firmed up a far-reaching deal with Russia to supply arms to the troubled country under which New Delhi will pay for the military equipment that will be sourced from Moscow.
The deal, which had been under intense negotiations for the past few months, was clinched after a high-level Indian team made a quiet trip to Moscow in February and stitched up the loose ends even as Russia was bracing for the challenge in Ukraine. The first order under this deal, sources said, is already being executed.
India, through the strategic partnership with Afghanistan, is committed to provide arms and ammunition to strengthen the Afghan National Army. The arrangement with Moscow allows New Delhi to fulfill this commitment, an issue on which Kabul has been sending reminders including detailed lists of its requirements.
The issue was debated at length on various occasions in the Cabinet Committee on Security, which eventually arrived at two conclusions — that India will have no troop presence in Afghanistan; and that India will not provide small arms even though some are manufactured domestically.
The logic behind the second decision was to avoid a situation where any India-marked small arms make their way into Kashmir or to the hinterland through terrorist outfits. While Russia may separately supply its own range of Kalashnikovs, the Indian financing will largely focus on artillery guns, air support in the form of choppers and even armoured vehicles, including tanks. A range of non-lethal items could also make it to the list depending on the nature of the requirement. Also part of the arrangement is an exercise to refit some old Russian-made equipment lying with Afghanistan for years, sources said, adding that a survey of such equipment has been carried out.
As of now, the ANA is a predominantly infantry force as the US, sources said, limited its access to long-range guns largely due to Pakistani concerns. But over the past of couple of years, Afghanistan has been pressuring countries such as India and Russia to properly equip the ANA if it has to repel Taliban offensives on its own.

Pakistanis tired of 'hide and seek' over Taliban talks

Not many people in Pakistan expect much from the peace talks between the government and the Taliban, but after months of futile negotiations, they are getting increasingly frustrated.
The Pakistani Taliban have refused to extend a ceasefire with the government, which was introduced to facilitate the ongoing peace negotiations. The one-month-long truce, which began on March 1, expired Thursday, April 10. The Islamists, however, insist they are not backing out from talks.
The Islamist extremists have been waging a violent insurgency in the South Asian country for around a decade. Their major demand is to impose the strict Islamic law in Pakistan and also in neighboring Afghanistan, where their Afghan counterparts had a government from 1996 to 2001.
According to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the ceasefire was not given a further extension because Islamabad had not stopped military operations against them in the troubled northwestern tribal areas.
There have been violations of the ceasefire from both sides. The Taliban continued to launch attacks on civilians and the government's security forces. The government responded by targeting militant hideouts in the restive North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan.
But the two sides also agreed on certain issues such as the release of the Taliban prisoners from Pakistani jails. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's center-right government released 19 prisoners in South Waziristan earlier this month. The United States has also temporarily halted its controversial drone strikes in Pakistan's semi-governed tribal belt to give Islamabad and the Islamist insurgents a chance to reach a lasting agreement. It carried out the last drone strike on December 26, 2013, in which three suspected militants were killed. So why is it that the Islamabad-Taliban talks are not bearing any result? Not many people had high expectations from the "peace initiative" that Sharif's government took after coming into power in June 2013, but it seems now that people are getting very frustrated with the whole exercise.
Futile talks?
"Enough of the hide and seek between the government and the Taliban," Tahir Ahmed, a businessman in Pakistan's southern Karachi city, told DW. "I never had any illusion about the talks. But now I don't even understand what this dialogue is about. I think both parties have no idea what they are actually negotiating about. It is totally futile," the 45-year-old added. Hameed Satti, a psychologist and social activist in the capital Islamabad, agrees that Pakistanis are getting frustrated with the aimlessness of talks with each passing day. The expert, however, is of the opinion that it clearly suits the government. "They want to push people to a place where whatever the government decides they will accept it as a solution," Satti told DW.
Gaining 'time and momentum'
Karachi-based journalist and documentary filmmaker, Sabin Agha, does not agree that the Taliban do not know what they want from the talks, or rather from dragging out the talks. "The Taliban are gaining time and momentum. They have secured the release of their 'non-combatant militants.' But I agree that the government, on the other hand, seems at loss, and does not have a clear-cut policy for peace negotiations," Agha told DW.
Siegfried O Wolf, a South Asia expert at Heidelberg University, also thinks that PM Sharif is undecided whether to fight or to appease the Taliban.
"Nevertheless, his (Sharif's) policy and certain actions are indicative of him having a sympathy for religious extremists," the analyst added.
Observers also say that both Islamists and Islamabad are waiting for matters to unfold in Afghanistan. International troops are scheduled to withdraw from the war-torn country by the end of this year, and it seems the future of Afghanistan will depend on whether there will be a stable government in Kabul or not.
"I think the drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan will strengthen the Taliban, and that is why they are dragging their feet on the peace deal," Agha commented.
The crackdown option
Liberal Pakistanis demand an outright military operation against the Taliban though. They don't want Islamabad to engage in any kind of talks with the TTP.
"Should the people who are responsible for executing more than 40,000 Pakistanis, who bomb schools, who cut throats of people in the name of religion, and who want to send this country back to stone age be considered as stakeholders at all?," asked Agha. "The Taliban have been outlawed by the government, and they should be dealt with strictly."
But there are people who believe that going after the Taliban might not be so easy for the government.
"The Pakistani Taliban could have been routed out militarily or through police actions," Snehal Shingavi, a South Asia expert at the University of Texas, USA, told DW. "Everything indicates that they are not that sophisticated or large. But the Pakistani Army has used them as part of their strategic game in Afghanistan, and will probably continue to do so."

Closure Of Girls Schools In Pakistan's Northwest
Questions over the closure of girls schools in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has sparked angry debate in the region's parliament. The province's Education Department informed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on April 17 that 159 schools for girls in the province have been shuttered due to a variety of reasons, including threats by the Taliban and a lack of female teachers. But lawmakers accused the Education Department of giving "false information," citing data that shows that 385 schools remain closed in the region, including 295 schools for girls. The provincial minister of primary and secondary education, Atif Khan, dismissed accusations of providing false data, saying that the figures have been changing quickly in recent weeks. The matter has been referred to committee for further discussion.

Protection of Pakistan Ordinance presented in Senate amid protests

The Protection of Pakistan Ordinance was presented in the Senate amid strong protests from opposition parties, Express News reported on Friday.
The ordinance, recently passed by the National Assembly, grants sweeping powers of arrest and detention to security forces. Federal minister Zahid Hamid presented the ordinance during the Senate session presided over by Deputy Chairperson Sabir Baloch. Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Pakistan Peoples Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid protested against the ordinance, while PPP Senator Raza Rabbani labelled it as a “black law.”
After the discussion, the deputy chairperson sent the ordinance to the Standing Committee of Interior for review and asked the senators to record their reservations to the committee members.
Political parties and human rights organisations have criticised the law and called for drastic amendments before it is enacted into a law.
The government’s ability to pass any controversial legislation through the Senate will be severely challenged, as opposition parties, though divided, have an overwhelming majority in the house.
Having 39 members, Pakistan Peoples Party is the largest party in the Senate and sits on opposition benches since it was voted out in last year’s general elections for the National and provincial assemblies.

Pakistan: Taliban are not sincere to peace talks

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) legislators in the Upper House on Thursday claimed that the Taliban are not sincere to peace talks, which is why they have ended the ceasefire.
The Taliban wanted free land to create a headquarters there, meaning that a state within the state, said PPP Senator Rehman Malik while speaking in the zero hours. He asked why the government was accepting their demand of releasing their arrested people.
“Under what law the government released militants? It requires special orders from presidency. Leader of the Taliban, Fazlullah, was sitting in Afghanistan. Does the government take up this issue with the government of Afghanistan?” Rehman Malik asked the government.
He suggested that all parties should sit together and resolve this matter once and for all; otherwise “terrorists’ activities may rise in the near future”.
Earlier, Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the newly appointed governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in his first statement proposed to give general amnesty to the militants. “The statement of the governor would have disastrous implications for the security of the country and the fight against militants.”
Babar said that general amnesty to all militants would meant the release not only the criminals in government custody but also of those who had been arrested, tried, convicted and sent behind the bars.
“Such a policy statement could not have been made by the governor in his personal capacity, nor can he feign ignorance. The governor of the Pakhtunkhwa is the highest representative of the federal government in the militancy infested Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and also the agent of the president for the tribal areas. It is inconceivable that such a statement could have been made without the knowledge and even direction of the federal government.”
He demanded that the federal government must come out clean on the reported statement of the governor and either state that governor has misspoken, or take the nation into confidence over this shift in policy.
Another PPP senator, Mian Raza Rabbani, supporting Babar, said the government should informed the House about the charges against the released militants and if they were not special people of the TTP, then why they demanded their release. Rabbani said the ministers concerned should come on Friday and explain the government’s stance over militants.
Raza Rabbani also moved a motion in which said that the House may discuss the foreign policy of Pakistan, particularly after elections held in Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan's Former President Asif Ali Zardari exhibits remarkable maturity

IT is almost universally accepted that the previous Government of PPP completed its five year mandated term mainly because of the policy of reconciliation and mutual accommodation so wisely pursued by its leader Asif Ali Zardari throughout his tenure. He practically demonstrated large-heartedness, patience and cool-mindedness and did not go astray even in the face of adverse and at times scathing media attacks and reaped benefits of his sagacious approach.
Mr. Zardari once again exhibited remarkable maturity by accepting invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for an important meeting at a crucial time. Irrespective of what the two leaders discussed and agreed upon, the very fact that the top leadership of two major political parties sat together to review the overall situation will surely have a soothing effect on the political environment. Though one cannot say that there was any bitterness between the two parties over any issue but, of course, there were indications that irritants were raising their head and exchange of hot words had begun. This was particularly so in the backdrop of differences over Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO), which has been cleared by the National Assembly but is stuck up in the Senate where the Government has no majority and the PPP is not ready to endorse it in its existing form. It was encouraging that the Prime Minister was receptive to the concerns of the PPP delegation and that is why he advised his Minister Zahid Hamid to hold consultations on what could be done to make the law acceptable to PPP. Presence of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar in the meeting meant the two sides also discussed issues relating to release of funds for the Province of Sindh. Mutual consultations and discussions are always helpful and we hope frequent interaction between leadership of the two parties would keep them together in the interest of the country and the democratic dispensation. The resolve of Prime Minister Sharif and former President Zardari to stand united for consolidation of the democratic process is also a good omen. We believe that Zardari has not only done another service to democracy but also enhanced his own stature in the eyes of the people through his persistent policy of reconciliation.

Pakistan: Bombers’ trail leads to arrests from guava farm in south Punjab

Investigators have picked up the trail of the guava crates that housed the explosives used in the Sabzi Mandi bombing and traced them back to the south Punjab town of Qabola. According to officials close to the investigation, police have arrested the manager of the farm where the crate of guavas originated from.
Officials told Dawn that a consignment of 40 crates was loaded onto the roof of a passenger bus traveling from Qabola to the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Islamabad.
Investigators had earlier examined the crates found in the vicinity of the bomb. Further probing helped identify the individual who had paid for the consignment of fruit. However, the buyer was among those injured in the attack and it was unlikely that he was directly connected with the bombing, officials said.
Based on information provided by the buyer, police raided a farm in Qabola, near the town of Vehari. Ten suspects, including the farm manager, were picked up for questioning. During interrogation, the manager said he had the crates loaded onto the passenger bus.
Investigators also picked up the bus driver and his helper, who revealed that en route to Islamabad, unidentified individuals had ridden atop the bus along with their luggage, but they did not recall seeing them with any crates that resembled the fruit containers.
“The evidence gathered so far suggests that the explosives were put in the crates at Qabola,” sources close to the investigation said.
However, it is still unclear when the crate housing the explosives was added to the pile; en route from the farm to the bus terminal, during loading or en route to Islamabad.
“We are trying to compare the bombers’ modus operandi with that of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and the United Baloch Army,” officials told Dawn, adding that investigators had also been in touch with Balochistan police to determine whether this attack was linked to another bombing at the Quetta Sabzi Mandi on April 12 or the bombing of a train in Sibi on April 8.
The officials said that the last two attacks in Islamabad – the attack on the district courts in F-8 and the Sabzi Mandi bombing – were carried out by highly skilled terrorists who left behind little or no evidence.
Before last week’s attacks, crates of fruit had been used twice in the past to deliver a payload of explosives. On August 17, 1988, a case of mangoes exploded aboard an airplane carrying then-president General Zia-ul-Haq, senior military officials, members of the plane’s crew and with the American ambassador.
Then, on September 9, 2000, explosives concealed in a crate of grapes imported from Afghanistan, went off as the fruit was being auctioned to retailers at the capital’s Sabzi Mandi. The explosion claimed the lives of 15 people and injured 75.

Pakistan: Militancy brings the curtain down on 13 Peshawar schools

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government on Thursday admitted in the provincial assembly that 13 primary and middle schools for boys and girls had been shut down on the outskirts of Peshawar due to militancy.
In a written reply to a question submitted to the provincial assembly, the department of elementary and secondary education said 160 primary and middle schools had been closed down across the province due to lawlessness, natural disaster, unavailability of teachers and land disputes.
According to the reply, 28 schools have been closed down in Battagram, 14 in Charsadda, 24 in Kohistan, 15 in Hangu, 15 in Dera Ismail Khan, three in Swabi and two in Tank.
It said 39 schools had been shut down in Swat since 2010 when flash floods played havoc with the area, while two more schools had been abandoned due to militancy in the district.
Opposition MPA Mufti Syed Janan, who raised the question, said figures provided by the relevant department were incorrect.
During the question hour, the lawmaker from Hangu district said 47 schools had been declared dysfunctional in Peshawar only due to militancy and shortage of teachers.
He pointed out that the department had submitted written reply to the assembly secretariat in February last in which 385 schools, including 295 for girls, were declared dysfunctional in the province.
Mr Janan demanded action against officials for producing wrong data about schools. His question was referred to the relevant standing committee of the house. The education department came under fire for providing wrong information about schools to the assembly and its poor performance.
Discrepancy in figures also put elementary and secondary education minister Mohammad Atif in an awkward position, who had to promise strict action against officials concerned.
“They (officials) have not only tried to deceive this august house but also humiliated me,” said Mohammad Atif while responding to a question raised by MPA Zareen Gul.
He said he could never tolerate such irresponsible behavior of the officers and they would be punished.
The administrative secretaries again ignored the ruling of Speaker Asad Qaisar, who had issued directives on Wednesday that the relevant secretary and his staff should be present during the session. The opposition members staged a walkout against what they called antagonistic behavior of the bureaucrats and for ignoring the ruling of the chair. “Mr Speaker, the government does not take your ruling seriously, so I will not participate in discussion unless the elementary and secondary education secretary does come to the assembly,” said MPA Zareen Gul. Following his remarks, opposition members walked out of the house. Taunting remarks by the opposition members embarrassed Speaker Asad Qaisar who ordered to adjourn sitting until the arrival of secretary education Afzal Latif in the house.
When the session restarted, MPA Zareen Gul said the building for higher secondary school for boys and girls was constructed in Torghar district in 1996-1997, but it could not be commissioned due to unavailability of teachers.
After 16 years, he said the department had replied that the higher secondary school did not exist in the area. The sorry state of affairs in the education department is that there is only one middle school for girls in the entire Torghar district.
“Let me know who is responsible for this act,” Zareen Gul said, adding that status quo was still intact despite imposition of education emergency in the province.
Minister Mohammad Atif said the government was appointing 14,000 teachers to overcome shortage of teachers.
He said the monitoring system had been introduced to check presence of teachers and students in schools.

Pakistan: 1 killed, 3 injured in explosion near Peshawar

Express News
A security officer was killed and two others sustained injuries in an explosion in the outskirts of Peshawar, Express News reported on Friday. A vehicle belonging to the security forces was reportedly the target of the attack. The exact nature of the explosion – which took place near the Frontier Road - is not known at the moment.

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child
Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former US President Bill Clinton and ex-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, is expecting her first child this autumn.
The 34-year-old, who is married to investment banker Marc Mevinsky, made the announcement Thursday at the end of a Clinton Foundation event in New York on empowering girls.
Standing on stage alongside her mother, Chelsea Clinton told the group of female students that she feels "all the better whether it's a girl or a boy that she or he will grow up in a world with so many strong female leaders".
"I just hope I will be as good a mum to my child and hopefully children as my mum was to me," she said.
The former first lady, who is said to be eyeing up the presidency in 2016, said she was "really excited" about becoming a grandmother.
"It makes this work even more important because we've made a lot of progress," Ms Clinton said.
"I want to see us keep moving and certainly for future generations as well so that maybe our grandchild will not have to be worried about some of the things that young women and young men are worried about today."
The announcement comes amid speculation about a new addition to the Clinton family. In an interview with Glamour magazine last year Chelsea Clinton revealed that she and her husband were hoping to start a family soon and dubbed 2014 "the year of the baby".
Preparations for the newborn will run parallel with Hilary Clinton's consideration over whether to launch another campaign for the White House. The former secretary of state is expected to announce her decision later this year. A potential presidential campaign would coincide with her future grandchild's formative years.
Chelsea Clinton grew up under the pubic gaze in the White House before graduating form Stanford University and Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. She worked in New York for a hedge fund and a management consulting firm.
She and Marc Mezvinsky, the son of two former members of Congress, were married in Rhinebeck, New York, in July 2010. The former first daughter has since pursued a number of ventures, including studying for a doctorate from Oxford University, where her father was a Rhodes Scholar, while taking a leading role in her family's foundation.
Chelsea Clinton is the vice chair of the family foundation, which was renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. She helps to direct the organisation's humanitarian and philanthropic efforts around the globe. She also serves as a special correspondent for NBC News.
She has evaded voicing her views regarding her mother's potential bid for the White House but has said she will support her in whatever decision she makes. However, her influence would likely attract younger voters if the former secretary of state decides to seek the presidency.

Pakistan: Blast targets security forces in Peshawar

Three security personnel were injured when a blast targeted their vehicle in Peshawar, SAMAA reported Friday. Police and rescue teams rushed to the site of explosion on Frontier Road in FR area of Peshawar. Sources said the blast left three FC men injured.