Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saudi Beirut Embassy hosting Syria militants: Report

Dozens of Saudi militants fighting in Syria have surrendered themselves to the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon in order to be sent back home, Arab media report.
According to the Quds al-Arabi daily, the militants fled to Lebanon after the Syrian army took control of the strategic al-Qalamoun region following a fierce battle.
The militants had been fighting for the al-Qaeda-linked group al-Nusra Front.
The Saudi Embassy has reportedly asked the Lebanese authorities to facilitate the entry of any Saudi national escaping into Lebanon from Syria.
Syria has been experiencing unrelenting militancy since March 2011. Reports indicate that more than 150,000 people have so far been killed and millions of others displaced due to the ongoing violence.
Saudi Arabia - along with Qatar, Turkey and some of its Western allies - is viewed as one of the main supporters of militants fighting to overthrow the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In March, Syria formally complained to the United Nations about Saudi Arabia’s role in supporting foreign-backed militants operating in the country.
In letters to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President of the Security Council Sylvie Lucas, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said the Saudi regime is promoting extremism in the region, noting how Riyadh continues to fan the flames of turmoil in Syria.

Removal of chemicals from Syria to be completed within days - UN envoy

The removal of chemicals from Syria will be completed within the next few days, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on Saturday, April 19, Itar-Tass reports. Read more:
Up to date, Syria has removed or destroyed in-country approximately 80 percent of its chemical weapons material, she said. Kaag said in a statement that further engagement was expected to sustain momentum and to complete removal operations during the next days.
This will contribute to meeting the deadlines set by the OPCW Executive Council, including the June 30, 2014 target date for completing the destruction of Syria's entire chemical weapons programme.
“The renewed pace in movements is positive and necessary to ensure progress towards a tight deadline,” Kaag said. The statement also noted that Syria had further completed destruction of empty mustard gas containers, and made progress closing chemical weapons production and storage sites. According to the OPCW, no chemical weapons will be left in Syria by April 27. They will be destroyed by Britain, Germany, the United States, and Finland.
When all of the Syrian chemicals from all storage sites have been loaded aboard the Danish and Norwegian cargo ships, they will be transported to various locations for destruction under the verification of OPCW inspectors. The majority of Priority 1 chemicals will be neutralised at sea aboard the U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray, while a smaller amount will be neutralised at a land-based facility in Ellesmere Port, UK. The Priority 2 chemicals will be destroyed at commercial facilities in the U.S. and Finland. A facility in Germany will dispose of part of the effluent from the Cape Ray operations, the OPCW said.
The Syrian Government informed the Joint Mission of a revised plan for removing all relevant chemicals from its territory by April 27. The amended plan was considered by the OPCW Executive Council in The Hague in early March 7. Western countries were concerned that the delays would not allow Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons by June 30, 2014 as was initially planned and it will need a delay of several months.
The removal of the most critical material for destruction began on January 7, 2014, a week after the deadline for its completion set by an agreement brokered by Russia and the United States under which Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.
On November 15, 2013, the OPCW Executive Council (EC) approved a detailed plan of destruction to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. In the plan, Syrian chemical weapons will be transported for destruction outside its territory to ensure their destruction in the “safest and soonest manner”, and no later than June 30, 2014. Under Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) and decisions of the OPCW Executive Council, Syria’s entire chemical weapons programme is to be destroyed by June 30, 2014.
Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons under an agreement brokered last year by Russia and the United States.
Read more:

​Leaked inspectors report: UK schools discriminate against non-Muslims

Schools in the UK city of Birmingham are discriminating against non-Muslim students, practice forced sex segregation and invite extremists to promote Islamic values among the children, says an official report leaked to The Telegraph. The report released by the inspectors from the Department for Education focuses on three Birmingham’s schools, including Park View School, a secondary school with an academy status, Golden Hillock School, also an academy and Nansen Primary School. The Park View School practiced forced sex segregation as “boys [were] sitting towards the front of the class and girls at the back or around the sides” despite the school’s claims that such separation was voluntary, says the report. “Students told us they were required to sit in the places which they were given by teachers,” add the inspectors, saying that this method (of sex segregation) is considered to be “non-compliance with the Equality Act” and is “less favorable treatment for girls.” The school was missing many “un-Islamic” elements from the GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) syllabus and the subjects were formed “to comply with conservative Islamic teaching.” Park View also encourages to “begin and end each lesson with a prayer.” The call for prayer was broadcast via loudspeakers across the school, says the report. School officials at Park View have invited Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, an extremist preacher “known to extol... the stoning of homosexuals, anti-Semitic views [and is] sympathetic to Al-Qaeda,” according to the report.
"Non-Muslims" have to teach themselves
Golden Hillock school banned any discussion of sexual orientation or intimacy, a move which highly affected “the broad and balanced teaching of many subjects, including art and English literature.” Christian and non-Muslim students also suffered discrimination, add the inspectors as many Christian students at school “have to teach themselves” in one GCSE subject after the teacher “concentrated on the students who were doing the Islamic course.” The only primary school among them was Nansen where 10-11-year-old children were not taught arts, humanities or music while Arabic was a compulsory subject for all the children. The biology classes at all three schools were also changed according to Islamic values. The biology teacher “briefly delivered the theory of evolution to comply with the syllabus,” and explained to the children that “this is not what we believe,” a child from one of the schools told the inspectors. “Topics such as body structure and the menstrual cycle were not covered in class, though pupils needed them for the GCSE exam . . . students told us that as Muslims they were not allowed to study matters such as reproduction with the opposite sex,” wrote the inspectors.
According to the report, all three schools were in reality ruled by Tahir Alam, a chair of governors at the Park View School academy and a leading activist of the Muslim Council of Britain. Alam had an “inappropriate day-to-day role in the running of the schools” and received undeclared payments from them as a “consultant,” the report says.
“Rude and dismissive” attitude towards ‘non-Muslim staff’
Meanwhile, the schools also reorganized their teaching staff according to Islamic standards. According to the report, school chiefs filled leading positions at schools with close relatives, who had no teaching experience. So teaching standards as well as children’s safety were put at risk, says the report. Female staff at one of the schools were also treated in a “rude and dismissive” way.“ "One of the senior leaders [at Nansen] interviewed reported that she had never met a governor or been invited to a governing body meeting, although the male senior leader with similar responsibilities was invited to every meeting,” says the report. Park View’s non-Muslim executive head teacher, Lindsey Clark, had been marginalized and reduced to a figurehead. The governors of the school said that she was “was unaware of the names of some of the more recent appointments to the senior leadership team.” In March Clark said that Park View established an “all-female madrasah” type of education, a specific type of religious school or college for the study of the Islamic religion. She retired at the beginning of April. The governors at Nansen appointed the brother of a convicted terrorist as a deputy head teacher. Razwan Faraz “was appointed deputy only three years after [achieving] qualified teacher status,” the report says. Faraz is an administrator of the Educational Activists group, which is calling for an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham schools. Meanwhile, the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, is prepared to attack those who promote religious values on secular schools on Saturday. “We cannot have narrow, religious motives which seek to divide and isolate dictating state schooling. We cannot have head teachers forced out, teachers undermined, curricula rewritten and cultural or gender-based segregation,” he said at NASUWT (National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) union conference in Birmingham. In March, Birmingham city council started investigating the allegations that a group of radical Muslims were attempting to islamize Birmingham schools. A leaked letter to Birmingham City Council outlined a plan called ‘Operation Trojan Horse,’ which aimed at “taking over” at least four schools in areas of the city with large Muslim populations. According to the letter, a group of radical Muslims was trying to oust head teachers and secretly turn schools into Muslim academies based on Salafi Islam principles. Salafis strictly adhere to religious traditions of the seventh century rather than 21st century realities. The movement has been linked to some terrorist groups around the world. Alam, who was accused of being one of the plotters, said that the letter was “a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.” The Department for Education and Birmingham City Council agreed to investigate the letter, although West Midlands Police decided that it was not a matter for them. Meanwhile, the probe into Birmingham schools has widened. According to the reports, released from Thursday, at least 25 schools in the city are now under investigation.

Putin welcomes new NATO head, says better ties with West possible

Former President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemns attack on Hamid Mir
Former President Asif Ali Zardari strongly has condemned attack on Hamid Mir in Karachi Saturday evening. Reportedly renowned journalist Hamid Mir was shot twice and being treated in hospital in Karachi. In a statement, Asif Ali Zardari said he was shocked and grieved by the news of attack on Hamid Mir in which he was injured and hospitalized for treatment. He prayed Almighty Allah for his early recovery. He hoped the attackers will soon be arrested and brought to book.

Ram Chahe Leela Song ft. Priyanka Chopra - Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-leela

Nimbooda Nimbooda song - Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam

Punjabi Song:- '''Lokan Do Do Yaar Banaye, Afshan Zebi '''

In Afghanistan, childhood is often a full-time job

By David Zucchino
It's estimated that at least a quarter of Afghan children work, despite labor laws that forbid it.
Sami Rahimi sleeps fitfully on a bread rack above the bakery's cold concrete floor. He rises at 5 a.m., sweeps up, washes in a pan of chilly water, then prays. Before the sun has risen, Sami is pushing a dented wheelbarrow through the dim streets, at 13 still a tiny figure among the vegetable hawkers and butchers slicing bloody flanks of sheep from carcasses hung on hooks. He gathers water from a public well and takes it back to the bakery. By 6 a.m., the gas-fired stone kiln is glowing a fiery red, ready to bake the flat loaves known as khasa and the round loaves called kamachi.
Sami sweeps a platform where hot flatbread is stacked for sale. He then sits cross-legged to begin selling loaves for 10 afghanis, about 20 cents each, to customers who thrust bills through a window that he opens and closes with a long metal hook.
Working until dark six days a week, Sami earns about $80 a month, enough to support his entire family: disabled father, mother, three brothers and five sisters. Sami has been at the bakery since he was 10, when he rode a bus from the countryside to assist his uncle, Yar Mohammed, who himself began at age 8. “I'm happy I can support my family, but I would rather go to school and be an educated person,” Sami says. He shrugs as he flips over a steaming loaf with his hook, a weary gesture that makes him seem old and careworn.
Child labor is endemic in Afghanistan, despite vaguely written laws that prohibit children younger than 14 from working full time. The regulations, adopted in 2007 and last revised in 2012, allow those 14 and older to serve as apprentices and those 15 to 18 to perform "light work." They prohibit children younger than 18 from work considered hazardous or dangerous to their health. But the laws are widely ignored because of resistance from employers and from families who need the income, said Sami Hashemi, a child-protection specialist for UNICEF in Afghanistan. Children as young as 6 work in brick making, carpet weaving, construction, mining and farming. Others resort to begging, collecting garbage or selling trinkets on the street.
Families scramble for any job to survive. "They must focus on today, not on a future for their children," Hashemi said. Aid groups that have poured billions of dollars into Afghanistan since 2001 are unsure how many children work. The best estimate is nearly 2 million between the ages of 6 and 17, or at least 25% of Afghan children, Hashemi said. The numbers are rising as growth in mining and construction, fueled by international assistance dollars, has lured more underage workers. In a U.S. Labor Department report last year, the word "unavailable" is listed in a chart on the numbers of Afghan working children. The report describes sexual abuse of children who herd livestock. And it tells of children maimed or killed in construction jobs and forced to work in extreme cold or heat, carry heavy loads, smuggle narcotics or serve as soldiers. "Research does not show any laws to prohibit child commercial sexual exploitation, pornography and use of children in illicit activities," the report says. "There do not appear to be any mechanisms to reach children involved in the worst forms of child labor in the informal sector." Asked whether it was frustrating for a child-protection specialist to see youngsters performing punishing or dangerous jobs, Hashemi replied, "Any human being, when he sees kids with a right to education and recreation working under these conditions, will be frustrated."
On the chaotic streets of Kabul, skinny kids dart among the vehicles in traffic. They tap at windshields and beg for money. They pester drivers to buy chewing gum, candy, maps, matches, scarves, toilet paper. They collect trash to burn for fuel, or pick through garbage heaps for rotting fruit or half-eaten kebabs. At the downtown taxi ranks, drivers pay small boys about 10 cents for each fare they enlist. They are a manic and aggressive lot, competing and cajoling and jabbering. Sometimes they half-drag, half-shove fares into taxis already jammed with men whose knees are folded to their chests. They are more gentle with the burka-clad women, helping them into open taxi trunks.
Abdul Rafi's voice emerges from his scrawny body as a croak. He's only 9, but he has the coarse rasp of a lifelong smoker. He says he wore out his voice screaming at fares, an endeavor he began at age 6. Abdul is the oldest of three brothers, and it has fallen to him to find work in this country whose traditions require that elder sons support their families. He is up every day at 5 a.m. for morning prayers. Then he hustles to the taxi rank amid a cacophony of donkey carts, creaky old Toyotas, Afghan military vehicles brimming with gunmen and black SUVs ferrying warlords. Most days, he barely earns $3. "I would rather just go to school," Abdul says, his eyes scanning the street for fares. "But my family needs the money, and I'm the oldest." He wants to be a soldier one day — a literate soldier. He takes off four hours for class on school days, then hustles back to catch the late-afternoon rush hour. He's still shouting for fares at dusk, until the shrill call from the muezzin signals evening prayers, and Abdul is off, lurching and weaving through traffic like a drunk, just another working stiff on his way home.
Across Kabul, in a warren of muddy dirt pathways at the edge of the teeming Ali Reza Khan metal market, a 12-year-old boy named Hekmat raises his hammer and slams it down on a sheet of metal. There is a sharp clang, clang, clang as the boy pounds the soft metal into shape. He has the sure stroke and effortless timing of a jazz drummer.
The metal will become a decorative cake tray in Hekmat's swift and nimble hands. All around him, boys and men beat a steady ding, ding, ding to pound out tea containers, ladles and cookstoves. Hekmat is small and slender, with hands stained gray from four years of pounding metal. He began when his father, a garbage picker, arranged the job through the shop owner, a family friend. Hekmat earns $6 a week for part-time work that helps support his parents and three younger brothers. He takes off from noon to 3 p.m. to attend school. He wears clean school clothes under a wool coat, stained trousers and tattered sneakers. "I like doing this job," he says, still pounding as he speaks in a light, childish voice. "It's fun to make things."
He intends to keep at it until he graduates from high school. He hopes to become an engineer. "That will be a much better job than this one, so then I'll quit," he says. His boss, Mohammed Zulmai, 25, began pounding metal when he was 10. He bought his own metal shop a few years ago. He says he knows there are laws against child labor but that he hired Hekmat as a favor to the boy's impoverished father. He doesn't hire men, Zulmai says. Their hands are too clumsy. "These boys have small hands, quick hands for this delicate work," he says. "I train them, and they become experts." Zulmai has a dream for Hekmat and the other boys who work for him: "If they save their money, like me, they can one day own their own metal shop."
At the bakery, the kiln is still glowing at dusk, and Sami Rahimi is selling fresh naan for dinner. Some customers buy on credit. Sami cuts a notch into a long stick to track each purchase; at the end of the week, he counts the notches and collects payment. Yar Mohammed, his face glistening with sweat, laughs. "We live in the 21st century, but we still count on sticks," he says. Mohammed says he too supported his entire family when he started working in a bakery at age 8. After 20 years, he opened his own place.
"Young boys have always worked in bakeries. That's our tradition," Mohammed says, shrugging, when asked about child labor laws. And Sami isn't working against his will; the boy considers himself fortunate that his uncle hired him as a favor to his father. Mohammed blames Western aid groups for not doing more to find alternatives for poor families and their children. "Billions of dollars have come to Afghanistan," he says, shouting to be heard over the din of customers and the kiln. "Where did it go? Wasted. Stolen. The system is corrupt, and the Americans are part of it." Mohammed has promised Sami's father that the boy will be educated. "I don't want this boy to have my life — stuck inside this bakery," he says. Sami listens and nods. Every day, even when he's dealing with customers, his mind is focused on the future. "I think always about my lessons," he says. "I think about my future, which is my education." Sami hasn't been home in 45 days. About once a week, he speaks with his mother on a borrowed cellphone. He misses his family, he says, but the men in the bakery serve as his family for now. Customers are thinning out, trudging home in the dark. Soon, Sami will hop down from his perch and help clean up the mess from the long day. By 10 p.m., he will curl up beneath a blanket on the rack and fall asleep beside the embers dying in the kiln.

Two killed, one injured in Bahrain bomb attack

At least two people have been killed and a third person injured in a car explosion in Bahrain, the Interior Ministry said.
"Two burned bodies and one injured person were found" in a car that exploded in the Shia village of al-Mughsha, west of the capital, Manama, the Interior Ministry noted on Saturday.
"Initial details indicate explosives (were) inside the" vehicle, it added.
Bahrain has been the scene of pro-democracy demonstrations since mid-February 2011. The peaceful demonstrations, however, were met with a heavy-handed clampdown by regime forces.
In March 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were called in to help Manama quash anti-regime protests.
Scores of Bahrainis have been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.
On Friday, Abulaziz al-Abbar, 27, died after 55 days in coma from injuries he suffered during a rally held in late February in Sa’ar, a residential area west of Manama.
In Mid-February, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Bahraini regime to respect its “international human rights obligations” in dealing with peaceful protests in the country.
Physicians for Human Rights says doctors and nurses have been detained, tortured, or disappeared because they have "evidence of atrocities committed by the authorities, security forces, and riot police" in the crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Commentary: Irresponsible Abe shames himself by lecturing China responsibility

By defaming China as irresponsible, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once again showed the whole world his ignorance of responsibility.
The nationalist leader on Thursday accused China of changing the status quo with force in maritime disputes, calling on the international community to prod China to peacefully rise as a responsible country.
His misleading and nonsensical claim over China is nothing but a imprudent perversion of truth. As a matter of fact, it is Abe and his government that have had no sense of responsibility and changed the status quo in the territorial dispute with China.
The Japanese side has already become a recidivous troublemaker in East Asia by denying history, sabotaging the postwar world order and scuttling its pacifist constitution. So, it is ironic that a troublemaking Japan urges a responsible China to act responsibly.
In contrast to Japan, China always matches its words with deeds. It advocates peaceful settlement to regional disputes and plays constructive and responsible roles in regional and global affairs.
Beijing's territorial demands in the South China Sea and East China Sea are justified and buttressed by numerous historic evidences and fully backed by international norms under the UN charter.
China shows great respects to its neighbors and regional stability by consistently exercising restraints in regional disputes.
What's more, China is not hesitant to shoulder its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Secuirty Council and a reliable partner. As a heavyweight regional player, the United States should see through Abe's covert motivation.
He wants to hide the fact that the simmering tension in East Asia was ignited by no one but his government by "nationalizing" China's Diaoyu Islands in 2012, and his visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last December, which worships war criminals during World War II.
His groundless criticism of China was meant to hype the "China threat" cliche to the Japanese and world people.
Moreover, by launching a verbal campaign against China a week before US President Barack Obama's Asia trip, Abe is playing dog-whistle politics with its American ally: Time for us to work together to contain China.
What is more disappointing is that his conspiracy seems to be working to some extent, as some US senior officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have bought it by harshly criticizing Beijing rather than Tokyo.
It will be disastrous if the United States, one of the ballasts of global and regional peace and stability, as well as other countries in the region, continues to turn a blind eye to Abe's tricks of casting a bone between Washington and Beijing.

U.S: ''Health Reform Watch: Repeal cries fade as ACA enrollment jumps''

President Obama Offers Easter and Passover Greetings

​No reason why things with West can’t be normal again – Putin

Russia sees no reason why its relationship with the West can’t normalize, President Putin said amid growing tension between the opposing camps over the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine.
“You know, it doesn’t depend on us, or rather on us alone. It depends on our partners. I believe there is nothing hindering normalization and normal cooperation,” the Russian president told Rossiya channel’s news show “Sergey Brilev’s News on Saturday”.
Vladimir Putin added that he is on good terms with former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who was selected to replace NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in October.
“He is a very serious and responsible man. We’ll see how the relationship will develop in his new capacity,” Putin said, according to a pre-broadcast transcript of the interview cited by news agencies.
The comments came after interviewer, Brilev, asked Putin whether he and Stoltenberg had had any incidents in the past similar to Rasmussen’s taping of a private conversation with Putin. The Russian president shared his memories of the episode on Thursday during his annual Q&A session on TV.
While NATO initially said nothing of the kind ever happened, it was revealed later that the taping actually took place in 2002, as recounted by documentary filmmaker Christoffer Guldbrandsen, who directed a film on Rasmussen.
In the Saturday interview Putin discussed the presence of Russian troops in Crimea, which he confirmed earlier on Thursday. The troops provided security as the peninsula was voting in a referendum to split from Ukraine and join Russia.
He also dismissed allegations that the vote took place at gunpoint, as critics of the referendum claim. “Speaking honestly and objectively, it is clear that nobody can force all the people out of their homes at gunpoint and force them to go to polling stations and vote. But the turnout was 87 percent,” Putin pointed out.
The Russian president also rejected comparisons between the attempts of the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev to suppress protests in eastern Ukraine with Russia’s own campaigns in the turbulent south of the country in the 2000s.
“The difference is immense. We were facing an aggression of international terrorist forces in the Northern Caucasus. Those were in fact organized well-trained gangs, which received foreign support and arms. That’s a big difference,” Putin stressed. Putin reiterated his calls to European buyers of Russian natural gas to help Ukraine with its gas debt to Russia. He stressed that the May deadline, after which Gazprom would stop supplying gas to Ukraine, unless it is pre-paid, has nothing to do with the scheduled presidential election in Ukraine.
“It has nothing to do with the election. We don’t link economics with the political process in Ukraine. On April 7 we were just supposed to receive the money owed for gas supplied in April. And we waited in vain for that $525 million. Zero. Despite it being the lowest price with all discounts applied,” he said.

Pakistan Taliban ended ceasefire over feared split

By Aamir Latif
The Pakistani Taliban ended a 40-day ceasefire because it believed the security forces have been attempting to create divisions within their leadership, according to a Taliban commander.
Although the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a coalition of militant groups within Pakistan, officially said the deaths of members in security forces' custody was a major reason for the end of the ceasefire, Taliban sources said the step was taken to send a clear message to the government about trying to divide the leadership.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior Taliban commander told Anadolu Agency (AA) that the group's consultative council holds the country's secret services responsible for clashes between two Taliban groups in North and South Waziristan, near the northwestern Afghanistan border, that killed 46 fighters last week.
He accused the secret services of actively patronizing one particular group to create divisions within the TTP.
Though the commander did not name the group, it is believed it is the Sajna group named after the alias of its leader Khan Syed, a former lieutenant for the TTP’s founding chief Baitullah Mehsud. They were involved in deadly clashes with the Shaharyar Mehsud group for control of South Waziristan. Sajna had appeared a strong contender to be TTP chief after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike in November 2013, but the TTP Shura elected the hardline Maulvi Fazlullah as its new chief.
A Shaharyar group spokesperson told media last week that it would not allow Sajna to achieve its alleged goal of seizing the leadership of TTP's South Waziristan chapter unless approved by Fazlullah.
“The Shura (consultative council) sees the whole exercise patronized by the army, as a bid to create division within the Taliban ranks in the name of peace talks, and ceasefire,” he said. Hamid Mir, an Islamabad-based defense and security analyst, also believes that the Taliban made the decision in an attempt to preserve its unity.
“The TTP Shura believes that the country’s security establishment wants to replace Maulvi Fazlullah by Khan Syed Sajna, who according to them (the security establishment) is not that hardline,” said Mir.
Mir said the divisions began when the former acting chief of the TTP Ismatullah Shaheen Bhittani was killed in February.
"Bhittani was the man who as acting Emir (chief) vetoed the appointment of Sajna as new TTP chief and threw his weight in favor of Maulvi Fazlullah, which was totally unexpected not only for Sajna group but for Pakistan's security establishment as well,” he said.
Mir said the Taliban think Bhittani, and various other TTP commanders, have been killed by the Sajna group in collaboration with the security forces.

Pakistani 'mercenaries' being sent to Syria?

Senator Afrasiab Khattak of Awami National Party (ANP) on Friday made shocking revelations on the floor of Senate that Pakistani labourers working in the Gulf are being sent to Syria as mercenaries to fight against the Syrian government. Speaking on a point of order, he said Pakistani labourers in the Gulf are being exploited by their Saudi sponsors and being sent to Syria to fight along with insurgents in order to topple Bashar al-Assad's regime.
He said the government should ensure its citizens working in the Gulf must not indulge themselves in such activities as it would tarnish the image of the country in the comity of nations. At the same time, the opposition lawmakers in Senate called upon the government to review its foreign policy by breaking the alleged links with militant groups in Afghanistan.
The senators said in the last two years, the region witnessed some major changes as new governments took over in Pakistan, Iran, and China while the process of elections was almost completed in Afghanistan; and elections were under way in India. They maintained that the situation therefore required Pakistan to formulate its foreign policy mindfully, focusing on regional peace and stability especially in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Opposition senators were expressing their views during a debate in Senate on a motion on foreign policy moved by Senator Raza Rabbani of Pakistan People's Party (PPP). They called for ending 'duplicity' in foreign policy formulations and stressed the need to retrieve the ground lost by civilians to the security establishment over the past decades. The senators called for a serious rethink of policy formulation in light of emerging realities as a result of political transitions.
According to Senator Farhatullah Babar, the basis of foreign policy formulation has been 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." He added: "a stable and democratic civilian government leading foreign policy formulations would be welcomed by all parties, as compared to the security establishment leading it without any accountability."
"Although the government has said several times that Pakistan will not take sides in the Syrian civil war, a suspicion has been lingering that non-state actors are being encouraged to move to the Middle East with weapons and armaments." He informed the house that in a recent television programme, the finance minister said that if people went to Bahrain and Syria then it should be seen an "employee-employer relationship" that had nothing to do with the government. He warned against letting such 'relationships' run to such an extent that Pakistan was "sucked into another Afghanistan, this time in the Middle East."
ANP Senator Afrasaib Khattak said the security situation in the neighbouring Afghanistan was fragile and Pakistan had to quickly frame its policy keeping in view fluid developments in the region. He claimed that 'a Taliban project' had isolated Pakistan from the international community, adding the foreign policy of the country should be totally in control of civilian government.
Former Interior Minister Rehman Malik also called for an urgent in-camera briefing by the government on security and foreign policy. The house should be briefed on Pakistan's policy towards Syria, he maintained. Senator Hasil Bizenjo cautioned the government over the activities of elements who are trying to tarnish the relations with Iran. "Iran has a great role in the region therefore Pakistan must not spoil its relations with it," he said.

ARTICLE BY HAMID MIR: ''Journalism: A dangerous profession''

by hamid mir @HamidMirGEO
“Don’t try to become a journalist. It’s a dangerous profession in Pakistan,” my late father said this to me three decades ago when I was still a college student. Hamid Mir
My father was a Professor of Journalism at the University of Punjab, Lahore; he was also a well known columnist. One day I wrote an article about the problems of students and sent it to a well recognised Urdu newspaper. My article was published on the editorial page. In my article I criticized government policies. My teachers at college and my friends were thrilled at the publication of that article. It was a big achievement for a young student, but my father’s reaction was unusual. He gave me a small and very polite lecture about the hazards of journalism in Pakistan. He had himself faced much pressure after criticizing the policies of the (late) military dictator General Ziaul Haq. He told me very clearly, “the government is not happy with me; some religious fanatics are following me day and night; they may assassinate or poison me. It is very dangerous to write the truth in Pakistan. You are better off playing cricket and staying away from writing.”
I was disappointed, but within a few months my father’s fears were proved correct when he died under mysterious circumstances. Many human rights activists demanded an autopsy but the government authorities refused to comply, and buried him within a few hours of his death. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never followed my father’s advice. I became a journalist immediately after his death, as per my mother’s wishes. My mother was a brave woman. She even encouraged one of my younger brothers to follow in the footsteps of our father and become a journalist. She is no longer alive or she would see that journalism is still a very dangerous profession in Pakistan. Three decades have passed but the situation is even worse for journalists in Pakistan.
There has undoubtedly been much growth in journalism in the last decade in this country. More and more young people are coming into the profession because they think that the media is independent, and that it is becoming a tool of social change in Pakistan. The fact is that the media is paying a heavy price for its independence. Around 100 journalists have been killed since 9/11 in Pakistan. Many of them were kidnapped and tortured as well. Sometimes we know their killers but those killers are more powerful than the law. I know dozens of journalists who have been forced to quit this profession or leave their home towns. I also knew some journalists who refused to quit the profession or to leave their home towns and they were killed as a result. Physical attacks and threats of violence represent an extreme form of unannounced censorship in Pakistan. Hayatullah Khan from North Waziristan and Musa Khankhel from Swat told me before they died that they would be killed. I wrote a column about these threats for Musa Khankhel in January 2009. Even so, he was killed in Febraury 2009.
Recently the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued an edict against some media organizations. This edict was authored by Khalid Haqqani, the deputy chief of the TTP. He especially decorated this edict with pictures of the two journalists he hates the most: one is the famous columnist Hasan Nisar, and the other is myself, Hamid Mir. These days Khalid Haqqani is taking part in the TTP negotiations with the government.
This is not the first time that the TTP has threatened me. They sent me a detailed threatening letter in 2012 when I took a stand against them after they attacked that young campaigner for education, Malala Yousafzai, in Swat. A few days after their threats a bomb was planted under my car and the TTP accepted responsibility for planting the bomb. The TTP is not the only threat for me and other independent journalists. We are also, and more worried about the double games played and the threats posed by our security agencies. Many times it was the security agencies that kidnapped and killed our colleagues, but they blamed the TTP for it. Both the TTP and our security agencies are enemies of media freedom. The TTP pressurizes the media by accusing us of being anti-Islam. The security agencies try to dictate to the media in the name of patriotism, and when we refuse to listen they declare us “anti-state” through their proxies in the media.
Take my case as an example. I was kidnapped by the ISI in August 1990 just because I filed a story for the Daily Jang saying that the then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan had decided to dismiss the government of Benazir Bhutto. I was first declared “anti-state” by the spokesperson of the Pakistan Army on state controlled Pakistan Television (PTV) in 2005. My only crime was that I reached a mountain village of the Neelam Valley of Kashmir. The Army had not supplied relief goods to this village even two months after the earthquake in 2005. Intelligence agencies reported to the then military dictator Pervez Musharraf that I was maligning the Army on the behest of some enemies. Musharraf ordered the Vice Chief of Army Staff to visit the village in a helicopter and verify the facts, and I was proved right. After some time one of Musharraf’s top aides tried to use me against Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) by offering me Rs150 million for a single television show against him. When I expressed my inability to comply I was threatened and subsequently banned from television in 2007, along with five other TV anchors.
After the departure of Pervez Musharraf I started highlighting the issue of missing persons on my television shows, but I realized that even though Musharraf was gone his policies were intact. I was contacted by the ISI, the country’s powerful intelligence agency. They asked me to ignore the issue of missing persons ‘in the national interest.’ I tried to convince them that I was only performing my professional duty by highlighting violations against the human rights guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan. My explanation was considered to be defiance. It resulted in an attack on my children when they were going for their tuitions in Islamabad. That attack, so totally below the belt shattered my nerves, but that was not the end. The ISI tried to involve me in a murder case on the basis of a concocted telephone conversation. Many colleagues started a media campaign against me under pressure from a Naval officer posted in the media wing of the ISI, but nothing was proved against me in any court of law. In December 2011, I received some threatening text messages on my mobile phone. I decided to make all the threats public. A debate was started in our parliament on the subject of threats to the media. The former Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Fehmida Mirza, formed a special committee to investigate the threats to the media. Ahsan Iqbal (now a minister in the PML-N government) was made the Head of that committee. I provided the Speaker with the phone numbers from which the threats originated. After a few days an ISI official visited me and apologized for the “individual acts” of some officers. He said the threats were, “the act of some individuals but the whole institution does not think like that”. Credible sources informed me that powerful officials of the ISI thought I was a security threat because I was highlighting the missing persons issue. They wanted to eliminate me in a road accident. I was forced to change my residence and my vehicles. I did not press the matter because some senior ministers told me very clearly that they could not help me. The special committee of the National Assembly formed to investigate the threats to the media submitted its detailed report to the Speaker on March 13, 2013, but there was no mention in the report of any investigation of the threats made against me.
Journalists in Pakistan do not invite trouble from the TTP and security agencies alone. Sometimes diplomats belonging to powerful countries also become angry with us. Three years ago, when I discussed the alleged activities of Blackwater in Islamabad, the former US ambassador Anne W Patterson wrote a letter against me and my fellow anchor Kamran Khan to the Management of my television channel. Recently, I was informed by that Management that Zaid Hamid, the head of one anti-democracy think-tank tried to hire a person to kill me. This fanatic is well known for his links with intelligence agencies. Sometimes he declares me a “CIA agent,” at other time a “RAW agent” and at yet others “a Taliban agent.” My TV channel filed a case against him in a court of law and provided evidence to prove that some anti-democracy persons/groups, funded by intelligence agencies, are trying to blackmail the independent media in the name of Islam and patriotism. A Karachi court issued arrest warrants against the accused but he is still at large, because he is very close to powerful intelligence agencies.
Some political parties and religious groups also pressurize the media. Recently a terrorist court announced its verdict in the murder case of a journalist, Wali Khan Babar. The court convicted some workers of the MQM in the murder of Wali Khan Babar. When I said that the MQM must explain why a sitting member of the national assembly, belonging to the MQM, defended the alleged killers of Wali Khan Babar in court, the MQM leader Altaf Hussain was angry with me.
Many people think that the media is very strong in Pakistan. They think that journalists like me are very influential, but the fact is that I have not been sleeping in the same place twice for about a year now. I am not living a normal family life, only because I am a journalist. If I am living a miserable life in the capital of Pakistan then think of the hundreds of other Pakistani journalists who are working in other areas of conflict. They are more vulnerable than me. They are facing threats day and night from state and non-state sources. The government has failed to provide them with any security.
What should we do? Should we quit this profession? No! We will not, because our readers and viewers are our biggest strength. The people of Pakistan are the best judge. The people know we are fighting for their right to know. We are their hope. Enemies of media freedom cannot silence our voice because we live in the hearts and minds of our people. One thing is clear: we, the journalists, will keep fighting. We will not surrender. It is the constitutional obligation of the government to provide security to the journalistic community. The government is aware of the threats to us from non-state as well as state sources.
We know that the government is helpless. Democracy is not that strong but we will keep fighting to strengthen democratic forces in Pakistan. We know that Pakistan is the most dangerous place in the world and journalism the most dangerous profession in Pakistan, but we hope that we will defeat terrorism and extremism very soon. Three decades ago my father advised me to stay away from journalism. Now I am thinking of giving the same advice to my son but I know he will not listen to me and the struggle will continue. The new generation of Pakistanis will not accept this kind of censorship in their homeland.

Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns arm attack on Hamid Mir
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
has strongly condemned the arm attack on renowned and senior anchor person Hamid Mir in Karachi today and termed it as shocking and eye-opener for those people maintaining silence over growing violence. He termed the incident a blatant attack on the freedom of press and added that journalists were being targeted in the country continuously. He said that the attacks on journalists and incidents of violence were a source of great concern for the people. Bilawal Bhutto said that the perpetrators must be brought to justice. He also prayed for the early recovery of injured Hamid Mir.

Pakistan: Journalist, anchorperson Hamid Mir shot twice, reported injured
Famous journalist, anchorperson Hamid Mir is reportedly injured after being shot at twice on his way to office from airport, Dunya News reported. Hamid Mir has been rushed to a private hospital where he is being given treatment. There are no reports about his current condition. Mir was shot at twice by unknown gunmen on his way to office from the airport. Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as it develops.

Pakistan:Hamid Mir shot, injured in Karachi

Geo News senior anchorperson Hamid Mir was injured in a firing incident in Karachi on Saturday, Geo News reported. According to reports, unknown armed men ambushed Mir’s vehicle at Natha Khan bridge. He received bullet injuries and was shifted to a private hospital. Geo News reporter Afzal Nadeem Dogar said Hamid Mir was traveling from Karachi airport to the Geo office when he was attacked. Four gunmen riding two motorcycles opened fire on Hamid Mir’s car a few kilometers away from the Airport police station. Karachi police chief, Shahid Hayat said Hamid Mir has been shot twice. Geo News Islamabad bureau chief, Rana Jawad said Hamid Mir spoke to him after being attacked and said that the gunmen were following him and continue to fire at the car. Geo News correspondent Fahim Siddiqui reports that gunmen continue to fire on Hamid Mir’s car from near the airport to Karsaz which is a distance of approximately 6 kilometers. In November 2012, explosives were found under the vehicle of Mir in Islamabad when he had gone for some work with his driver and parked his car for a little. The bomb disposal squad was immediately called in to remove the bag after which it was revealed that the bag contained half kilograms of explosive material that was diffused by the squad. Mir had vowed to raise his voice for truth and justice.

Bilawal Bhutto felicitates Christians on Easter
Pakistan Peoples Party Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has extended felicitations to Christian community of Pakistan and all over the world on their religious festival Easter being observed on Sunday.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said he would like to reiterate the commitment of his Party for equal rights to all the people of Pakistan, including the religious communities as enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
PPP Patron said he and his Party will always remain in the forefront for the protection of Christians and other minorities and won’t allow any injustice to them in any sphere of life. “As citizens of Pakistan, Christians, Hindus, Dalits, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis etc shall enjoy equal rights without any discrimination,” he added.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said PPP workers will join the Easter festivities in their neighbourhoods all over the country.

Pakistan: PPP Co Chairman Asif Ali Zardari chairs meeting on pace of rehabilitation work
Former country’s President and co-Chairman Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari at a meeting of elected members and party representatives reviewed the overall progress and performance of the cabinet and members of provincial assembly.
He was given a detailed presentation about the drought in Mithi and the pace of rehabilitation work being carried out. Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, provincial Minister for Information, Archives and Local Government Sharjeel Inam Memon, members of provincial cabinet and Sindh Assembly were present on the occasion. He stressed upon early completion of the rehabilitation process and revisited the progress of various ongoing development schemes of Thaparkar district with special reference to drinking water supply, food and health. Zardari directed to ensure installation of dessert coolers at all the hospitals and schools in Tharparker.
He asked to expedite installation of 750 Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants at an accelerated pace. He instructed to have solar energy panels in villages and town. He directed to speed up Thar Coal Project and maintained the first right would always remain with the people of this province. He asked to provide lands to landless peasants women for their livelihood. The meeting was informed the Sindh government has been requested by different individuals/companies for adoption of schools/hospitals in Tharparkar. Asif Zardari directed the government to process it immediately and get it implemented.

UNICEF Staff Kidnapped In Pakistan

Police in Pakistan say gunmen have kidnapped two local employees of the United Nations' Children's Fund, UNICEF, in the southern city of Karachi.
The two men, identified as Sami Nawaz and Farrukh Saleem, were abducted late on April 17.
UNICEF has yet to comment on the incident.
The port city of Karachi is Pakistan's financial heart and home to 18 million people. Many neighborhoods are considered Taliban strongholds, including the area of Shorab Goth, which is near where the men were abducted. In February, armed assailants kidnapped three Pakistani men working for the UN's World Health Organization in the northwestern town of Tank.
The victims are still being held.

View from Pakistan: A reign of fear

An environment of fear across Pakistan is not only making it hard for the people to defend their rights, it is also preventing them from leading a normal life. One of the greatest challenges human rights activists today face in Pakistan is the near impossibility of guaranteeing those charged with blasphemy, or any other offence relating to religion, their right to defence. The difficulties in finding lawyers to appear in such cases have been reported for years.
Resolutions passed by lawyers’ bodies against defending any blasphemy accused are no secret. The courts have often been besieged by mobs demanding death for the accused without trial. The latest instance of an attempt to deny defence to a blasphemy accused has been reported from Multan.
A SC advocate, appearing for a teacher charged with blasphemy was arguing for quashing of the case when he was told by a lawyer and his companion to keep quiet, or otherwise he would be killed before the next hearing. It should be noted that the case was being heard inside a central prison ostensibly to protect the judge, the lawyers and the witnesses from mob violence.
Out of the many sub-sections in the Pakistan Penal Code relating to religion only one, 295-C, applies to blasphemy. Yet all accused booked under any of the other sub-sections are also branded blasphemers. This mischievous inflation suggests an enhanced threat to the majority community’s faith and the police and judiciary start panicking.
There are reports that extra efforts are made to secure the conviction of a person charged with an offence relating to faith. Bail applications are opposed with extraordinary vigour and there are reports that the lawyers who are persuaded to accept briefs take their responsibility rather casually. In a recent case, the prosecution drafted a confession of blasphemy in terms that no person in his right senses could accept, without the victim becoming aware of the content.
While more Muslims than others are facing charges relating to religion, including blasphemy, as a community they are not haunted by the fear of suddenly falling into the pit as the religious minorities are. The Hindus and the Christians who have emigrated over recent months — and their number in either category runs into the tens of thousands — cite fear of being framed for blasphemy as one of the reasons for seeking asylum abroad.
The view that a person charged with an offence relating to religion, especially blasphemy, cannot have a fair trial must not be allowed to gain ground. Otherwise Islamabad will be guilty of confirming the finding of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom that “the government of Pakistan continues to engage in systematic violations of freedom of religion.”
The narrative about the way in which feelings of insecurity are causing despair among members of the Muslim majority may be somewhat different but it also contains harrowing details. No end to targeted killing in Karachi is in sight. One day a doctor is killed and another day a lawyer is felled. More than a score of people perished in the Islamabad market blast. Sudden death has a different face in Quetta and Peshawar.
And the notion that life is secure in Lahore is an illusion. There is hardly a place in the entire country where fear of death is not wrecking the people’s peace of mind.
The entire population is on tenterhooks because there is no guarantee that talks with the militants will produce the results the people want. As if the fear of the suicide bomber or sniper on the prowl were not enough, two developments have accentuated public despair. First, there are reports that authorities plan to tell more and more communities to make their own security arrangements. Secondly, the government’s insistence on adopting laws like the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance sounds like a resolve to throw the people before the wolves. A regime that wishes to make laws that prima facie destroy the assumptions of justice cannot replace with hope, the fear gnawing in each citizen’s heart.
As old proverbs go, the fear of extinction is worse than death itself, and it is the foremost duty of those in charge of the people’s destiny to help them banish fear from their minds. This will need some doing but the first essential step will be a demonstration of the will to ensure governance in the interest of the people.

Pakistan: Militants and civil-military illusions

It is time the civilian government and military leadership shed illusions about any Taliban group being amenable to peace. The Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network, and the TTP are all chips of the same block. The timing to sort them out is of crucial importance. Unless they are taken out before the departure of the US-led troops in Afghanistan, enormous price in human and material terms will have to be paid to eradicate the threat. Any indecisiveness at this stage would be highly dangerous.
The TTP, we are told by one of its nominees for peace talks, could be persuaded to extend ceasefire provided the government was ready to deliver on its demands. The government has already released a number of TTP prisoners without the TTP releasing any of the noncombatants in their custody. The militants want to get their demands accepted under threat of violence. One fails to understand the wisdom behind continuing the process of peace talks “on a slow pace based on a wait and see policy”, as reportedly decided in the security meeting on Thursday. The terrorist attacks are continuing. One security man was killed and two injured in a blast near Peshawar. A series of explosions took place in the weapons depot of the Khyber Rifles in the tribal region completely destroying the depot. A Taliban subsidiary has claimed to have conducted the explosions. In Lahore police have nabbed a group affiliated with the LeJ which has owned killing 18 including Shia leaders besides committing bank robberies. Meanwhile, polio vaccination teams continue to be under attack, leading army to decide to provide them cover. On Thursday the KP government admitted in the provincial Assembly that 13 primary and middle schools had been shut down on the outskirts of Peshawar alone due to militancy. If this is the situation in the provincial capital one can imagine what might be happening to schools in far off towns and tribal areas.
The issue regarding the future of talks with the TTP was reportedly discussed at the federal cabinet’s meeting on Friday. The pursuit of peace through talks, strongly advocated by Ch Nisar, has led to a blind alley. The TTP had declared a unilateral ceasefire only after its strongholds in North Waziristan and other agencies were subjected to bombardment, commanders killed and IED making facilities destroyed. There is a need now to put an end to vacillation. The militants understand only the language of force. Putting an end to militancy by resort to the state’s machinery of coercion may be distasteful to some. But when lives of thousands of peaceful citizens and soldiers defending their county are at stake, vacillation has to be put aside.

Pakistan: ‘Wait and see’

After the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) refusal to extend the ceasefire that expired on April 10, both the government and the TTP have nevertheless reiterated their desire for the talks process to continue. However, the government’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) after its meeting on Thursday underlined that the talks could only be continued if the TTP sticks to peace, otherwise force would have to be used (with an extra punch). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the CCNS that Pakistan was facing formidable challenges domestically and far reaching developments in the region. And he called a cabinet meeting on Friday to discuss the finalised proposals of the CCNS. The thrust of these proposals is that all options will be explored and all resources employed to ensure peace and security. National security is of paramount importance if the economic gains made by the government since it came to power and those in the pipeline were to be consolidated. Relations with neighbours would be strengthened. In this context the important statement was that there would be no interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, whose people were congratulated for holding a successful presidential election, with Pakistan committed to supporting democracy in the war-torn country. Also, relations with India would be promoted (after, of course, the general elections taking place there). The CCNS endorsed the vision of putting Pakistan on the crossroads of opportunity rather than conflict. The issue of the release of Taliban prisoners also came under discussion.
In the current pause that has arisen in the talks process, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali intends to contact Maulana Samiul Haq and other members of the Taliban negotiation committee for an extension of the ceasefire. Chaudhry Nisar stated categorically that there could be no meaningful talks without a ceasefire. Maulana Samiul Haq and the Jamaat-i-Islami’s talks interlocutor Professor Ibrahim both advise patience, tolerance, and renewed efforts to get the talks back on track. The prime minister advised Chaudhry Nisar to address whatever grievances the TTP had in order to persuade them to extend the ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. The military on the other hand reportedly feels that the refusal to extend the ceasefire exposes the insincerity of the TTP vis-à-vis the talks. If the prime minister’s advice is heeded, these and other ‘differences’ between the civilian and military sides of the state should be resolved through the existing dispute resolution mechanisms, of which the CCNS offers scope for a free and frank discussion. Meanwhile the opposition in the Senate continues to harbour grave doubts and reservations about the government’s approach and strategy regarding the peace process. The question was raised in the upper house on Thursday what options the government had considered if the talks fail.
The repeated comment was that the government’s approach smacked of dithering and lack of transparency in taking, at the very least, parliament into confidence.
One cannot be sanguine about the TTP’s intentions or sincerity. However, such caveats do not apply to the government. Where the government can be faulted perhaps is in creating, through its ‘one step forward, two steps back’ peace process, a sense of drift or at the very least lack of strategic vision. If the CCNS outcome is examined, it is obvious that the government (and the military) have yet to move even one inch forward from their previous stated strategy of containment and retaliation towards the TTP. The containment idea implies bottling up the TTP in FATA, but who will guarantee there will be no repeat of the attacks in Islamabad and elsewhere in the country, given that it is widely believed (and has been endorsed by intelligence sources) that the TTP and its affiliates have sleeper cells dotted all over? As to retaliation, even with more punch, this is a passive reactive approach that leaves the initiative in the hands of the militants. Critics have been homing in on precisely this surrender of the political and military initiative to the extremists, with the government (and state) resembling nothing more than a punch-drunk boxer lashing out on the ropes against an opponent who is playing him for all it is worth. Strategic paralysis of this variety is a recipe for disaster.

Pakistan: TTP-GOVT TALKS: ''Yet another chance''

WITH the government determined to have a dialogue with the TTP come what may, the rest of the stakeholders have seemingly fallen in line — except perhaps the TTP itself.
What was once touted somewhat facilely as ‘give peace a chance’ became even more improbably ‘give peace one last chance’ earlier this year and now has returned yet again to simply ‘giving peace a chance’. Perhaps the catchphrase of the season should be rephrased to more accurately reflect reality: give the TTP a chance — to do whatever it likes.
Few details are known about the Committee on National Security — when and how was the name changed from the original Cabinet Committee on National Security? — meeting and what was discussed, but the bottom line is clear: talks with the TTP will continue, though first of course the outlawed militant group will have to be persuaded to again announce a ceasefire and perhaps even to return to the negotiating table itself.
The policy of dialogue may be the government’s initiative, but it is also apparent that there is no alternative vision elsewhere in the political spectrum of the country. Even the PPP, whose leader, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, has been so critical of the TTP, has repeatedly and publicly backed the dialogue process.
But the ultimate responsibility is the government’s: both for pursuing talks with the TTP come what may and for ensuring the safety and security of the public. So now that the TTP has ended its ceasefire, surely part of the blame if — rather, when — further attacks occur must lie with the government.
For even in continuing to pursue talks and a restoration of the TTP ceasefire, the government is hardly showing the kind of urgency that it has itself argued is of vital importance. Instead, everything appears to be moving at an almost languid pace, the government unable to even quickly respond to the TTP’s public posturing.
Cravenness and capitulation to the TTP it may be, but the government’s ongoing non-strategy is likely being watched very closely by other groups with an interest in reorienting the Pakistani state and willing to use violence to achieve their aims. In fact, what the TTP is doing is creating a step-by-step playbook for how to wrest space, advantage and concessions from the state.
The TTP has even appeared to have mastered the art of psychological warfare and propaganda: just yesterday the TTP claimed that an end to the ceasefire would not mean a resumption of attacks against the public. Essentially, the TTP is trying to drive a wedge between state and society by picking and choosing targets to alternately sow fear and hope — the perverse hope that the only meaningful safety lies in not attracting the ire of the TTP. More and more, the TTP looks like a shadow government — and certainly more resolute than the one Pakistan elected last May.

Pakistan: Zardari announces cadet college for Tharparkar

The Express Tribune
Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Friday travelled to Mithi, the main city in Tharparkar, which was officially declared drought-hit nearly two months ago.
Zardari visited the Civil Hospital and the office of Thar Coal Project before chairing a meeting of local officials.
The former president directed the Sindh government to establish a university, cadet college and vocational school in the district. He also announced provision of greater health and drinking water facilities for Tharparkar and promised a water purification plant for every village. He also instructed the provincial authorities to set up 150 dastarkhwans (free community meals) in Mithi. Zardari asked the chief operating officer of the reverse osmosis (RO) plants, Irshad Hussain, to make all defunct RO plants functional and to build new ones. According to Hussain, the combined capacity of all the 48 RO plants is 75,000 gallons, enough to supply drinking water for 25,000 to 30,000 people, while another 25 RO plants are under construction. Zardari visited children’s nursery and paediatrics ward at the Civil Hospital Mithi where he inquired form the parents about their children’s health. He also visited Bahria Town’s medical camp, where four mobile medical teams are busy treating people. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and provincial ministers Sharjeel Memon, Jam Khan Shoro, Dost Ali Rahimo and others were also present in the meeting.
Memon said the government wanted to provide an RO plant to each village of Tharparkar. He added that the drip irrigation technique, which helps grow crops with the lowest possible use of water, will be introduced for growth of pastures for livestock which is the mainstay of the Thari economy.
The desert region received low rainfall last year. Moreover, the small amount of pastures and crops in the region were destroyed by an unusually strong wave of cold winter.

Special Report: How the U.S. made its Putin problem worse

In September 2001, as the U.S. reeled from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Vladimir Putin supported Washington's imminent invasion of Afghanistan in ways that would have been inconceivable during the Cold War. He agreed that U.S. planes carrying humanitarian aid could fly through Russian air space. He said the U.S. military could use airbases in former Soviet republics in Central Asia. And he ordered his generals to brief their U.S. counterparts on their own ill-fated 1980s occupation of Afghanistan. During Putin's visit to President George W. Bush's Texas ranch two months later, the U.S. leader, speaking at a local high school, declared his Russian counterpart "a new style of leader, a reformer…, a man who's going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States." For a moment, it seemed, the distrust and antipathy of the Cold War were fading. Then, just weeks later, Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, so that it could build a system in Eastern Europe to protect NATO allies and U.S. bases from Iranian missile attack. In a nationally televised address, Putin warned that the move would undermine arms control and nonproliferation efforts. "This step has not come as a surprise to us," Putin said. "But we believe this decision to be mistaken." The sequence of events early in Washington's relationship with Putin reflects a dynamic that has persisted through the ensuing 14 years and the current crisis in Ukraine: U.S. actions, some intentional and some not, sparking an overreaction from an aggrieved Putin. As Russia masses tens of thousands of troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border, Putin is thwarting what the Kremlin says is an American plot to surround Russia with hostile neighbors. Experts said he is also promoting "Putinism" - a conservative, ultra-nationalist form of state capitalism - as a global alternative to Western democracy. NOT PAYING ATTENTION? It's also a dynamic that some current and former U.S. officials said reflects an American failure to recognize that while the Soviet Union is gone as an ideological enemy, Russia has remained a major power that demands the same level of foreign policy attention as China and other large nations - a relationship that should not just be a means to other ends, but an end in itself. "I just don't think we were really paying attention," said James F. Collins, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow in the late 1990s. The bilateral relationship "was seen as not a big deal." Putin was never going to be an easy partner. He is a Russian nationalist with authoritarian tendencies who, like his Russian predecessors for centuries, harbors a deep distrust of the West, according to senior U.S. officials. Much of his world view was formed as a KGB officer in the twilight years of the Cold War and as a government official in the chaotic post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s, which Putin and many other Russians view as a period when the United States repeatedly took advantage of Russian weakness. Since becoming Russia's president in 2000, Putin has made restoring Russia's strength - and its traditional sphere of influence - his central goal. He has also cemented his hold on power, systematically quashed dissent and used Russia's energy supplies as an economic billy club against its neighbors. Aided by high oil prices and Russia's United Nations Security Council veto, Putin has perfected the art of needling American presidents, at times obstructing U.S. policies. Officials from the administrations of Presidents Bush and Barack Obama said American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with Putin. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow. COMMON CAUSE Bush and Putin's post-2001 camaraderie foundered on a core dispute: Russia's relationship with its neighbors. In November 2002, Bush backed NATO's invitation to seven nations - including former Soviet republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - to begin talks to join the Western alliance. In 2004, with Bush as a driving force, the seven Eastern European nations joined NATO. Putin and other Russian officials asked why NATO continued to grow when the enemy it was created to fight, the Soviet Union, had ceased to exist. And they asked what NATO expansion would do to counter new dangers, such as terrorism and proliferation. "This purely mechanical expansion does not let us face the current threats," Putin said, "and cannot allow us to prevent such things as the terrorist attacks in Madrid or restore stability in Afghanistan." Thomas E. Graham, who served as Bush's senior director for Russia on the National Security Council, said a larger effort should have been made to create a new post-Soviet, European security structure that replaced NATO and included Russia. "What we should have been aiming for - and what we should be aiming for at this point," Graham said, "is a security structure that's based on three pillars: the United States, a more or less unified Europe, and Russia." Graham said small, incremental attempts to test Russian intentions in the early 2000s in Afghanistan, for example, would have been low-risk ways to gauge Putin's sincerity. "We never tested Putin," Graham said. "Our policy never tested Putin to see whether he was really committed to a different type of relationship." But Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and other conservatives, as well as hawkish Democrats, remained suspicious of Russia and eager to expand NATO. They argued that Moscow should not be given veto power over which nations could join the alliance, and that no American president should rebuff demands from Eastern European nations to escape Russian dominance. DEMOCRACY IN OUR TIME Another core dispute between Bush and Putin related to democracy. What Bush and other American officials saw as democracy spreading across the former Soviet bloc, Putin saw as pro-American regime change. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, without U.N. authorization and over the objections of France, Germany and Russia, was a turning point for Putin. He said the war made a mockery of American claims of promoting democracy abroad and upholding international law. Putin was also deeply skeptical of U.S. efforts to nurture democracy in the former Soviet bloc, where the State Department and American nonprofit groups provided training and funds to local civil-society groups. In public speeches, he accused the United States of meddling. In late 2003, street protests in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, known as the Rose Revolution, led to the election of a pro-Western leader. Four months later, street protests in Ukraine that became known as the Orange Revolution resulted in a pro-Western president taking office there. Putin saw both developments as American-backed plots and slaps in the face, so soon after his assistance in Afghanistan, according to senior U.S. officials. In 2006, Bush and Putin's sparring over democracy intensified. In a press conference at the first G-8 summit hosted by Russia, the two presidents had a testy exchange. Bush said that the United States was promoting freedom in Iraq, which was engulfed in violence. Putin openly mocked him. "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq," Putin said, smiling as the audience erupted into laughter, "I will tell you quite honestly." Bush tried to laugh off the remark. "Just wait," he replied, referring to Iraq. A PITSTOP IN MOSCOW? Graham said the Bush administration telegraphed in small but telling ways that other foreign countries, particularly Iraq, took precedence over the bilateral relationship with Moscow. In 2006, for example, the White House asked the Kremlin for permission for Bush to make a refueling stop in Moscow on his way to an Asia-Pacific summit meeting. But it made clear that Bush was not looking to meet with Putin, whom he would see on the sidelines of the summit. After Russian diplomats complained, Graham was sent to Moscow to determine if Putin really wanted a meeting and to make clear that if there was one, it would be substance-free. In the end, the two presidents met and agreed to ask their underlings to work on a nonproliferation package. "When the Russian team came to Washington in December 2006, in a fairly high-level ... group, we didn't have anything to offer," Graham said. "We hadn't had any time to think about it. We were still focused on Iraq." Graham said that the Bush administration's approach slighted Moscow. "We missed some opportunities in the Bush administration's initial years to put this on a different track," Graham said. "And then later on, some of our actions, intentional or not, sent a clear message to Moscow that we didn't care." THREE TRAIN WRECKS Bush's relationship with Putin unraveled in 2008. In February, Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia with the support of the United States - a step that Russia, a longtime supporter of Serbia, had been trying to block diplomatically for more than a decade. In April, Bush won support at a NATO summit in Bucharest for the construction of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Bush called on NATO to give Ukraine and Georgia a so-called Membership Action Plan, a formal process that would put each on a path toward eventually joining the alliance. France and Germany blocked him and warned that further NATO expansion would spur an aggressive Russian stance when Moscow regained power. In the end, the alliance simply issued a statement saying the two countries "will become members of NATO." That compromise risked the worst of both worlds - antagonizing Moscow without giving Kiev and Tbilisi a roadmap to join NATO. The senior U.S. official said these steps amounted to "three train wrecks" from Putin's point of view, exacerbating the Russian leader's sense of victimization. "Doing all three of those things in kind of close proximity - Kosovo independence, missile defense and the NATO expansion decisions - sort of fed his sense of people trying to take advantage of Russia," he said. In August 2008, Putin struck back. After Georgia launched an offensive to regain control of the breakaway, pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, Putin launched a military operation that expanded Russian control of South Ossetia and a second breakaway area, Abkhazia. The Bush administration, tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, publicly protested but declined to intervene militarily in Georgia. Putin emerged as the clear winner and achieved his goal of standing up to the West. ONLY ONE MAJOR ISSUE After his 2008 election victory, Barack Obama carried out a sweeping review of Russia policy. Its primary architect was Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and vocal proponent of greater democracy in Russia who took the National Security Council position previously held by Thomas Graham. In a recent interview, McFaul said that when Obama's new national security team surveyed the administration's primary foreign policy objectives, they found that few involved Russia. Only one directly related to bilateral relations with Moscow: a new nuclear arms reduction treaty. The result, McFaul said, was that relations with Moscow were seen as important in terms of achieving other foreign policy goals, and not as important in terms of Russia itself. "So that was our approach," he said. Obama's new Russia strategy was called "the reset." In July 2009, he traveled to Moscow to start implementing it. In an interview with the Associated Press a few days before leaving Washington, Obama chided Putin, who had become Russia's prime minister in 2008 after reaching his two-term constitutional limit as president. Obama said the United States was developing a "very good relationship" with the man Putin had anointed as his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and accused Putin of using "Cold War approaches" to relations with Washington. "I think Putin has one foot in the old ways of doing business and one foot in the new," Obama said. In Moscow, Obama spent five hours meeting with Medvedev and only one hour meeting with Putin, who was still widely seen as the country's real power. After their meeting, Putin said U.S.-Russian relations had gone through various stages. "There were periods when our relations flourished quite a bit and there were also periods of, shall we say, grayish mood between our two countries and of stagnation," he said, as Obama sat a few feet away. At first, the reset fared well. During Obama's visit, Moscow agreed to greatly expand Washington's ability to ship military supplies to Afghanistan via Russia. In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a new START treaty, further reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Later that year, Russia supported sweeping new U.N. economic sanctions on Iran and blocked the sale of sophisticated, Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Tehran. Experts said the two-year honeymoon was the result of the Obama administration's engaging Russia on issues where the two countries shared interests, such as reducing nuclear arms, countering terrorism and nonproliferation. The same core issues that sparked tensions during the Bush administration - democracy and Russia's neighbors - largely went unaddressed. A VAPORIZED RELATIONSHIP In 2011, Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of secretly organizing street demonstrations after disputed Russian parliamentary elections. Putin said Clinton had encouraged "mercenary" Kremlin foes. And he claimed that foreign governments had provided "hundreds of millions" of dollars to Russian opposition groups. "She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work," Putin said. McFaul called that a gross exaggeration. He said the U.S. government and American non-profit groups in total have provided tens of millions of dollars in support to civil society groups in Russia and former Soviet bloc countries since 1989. In 2012, Putin was elected to a third term as president and launched a sweeping crackdown on dissent and re-centralization of power. McFaul, then the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, publicly criticized the moves in speeches and Twitter posts. In the interview, McFaul blamed Putin for the collapse in relations. McFaul said the Russian leader rebuffed repeated invitations to visit Washington when he was prime minister and declined to attend a G-8 meeting in Washington after he again became president. Echoing Bush-era officials, McFaul said it was politically impossible for an American president to trade Russian cooperation on Iran, for example, for U.S. silence on democracy in Russia and Moscow's pressuring of its neighbors. "We're not going to do it if it means trading partnerships or interests with our partners or allies in the region," McFaul said. "And we're not going to do it if it means trading our speaking about democracy and human rights." Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that clashes over democracy ended any hopes of U.S.-Russian rapprochement, as they had in the Bush administration. "That fight basically vaporizes the relationship," said Weiss. In 2013, U.S.-Russian relations plummeted. In June, Putin granted asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama, in turn, canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin in Moscow that fall. It was the first time a U.S. summit with the Kremlin had been canceled in 50 years. Last fall, demonstrators in Kiev began demanding that Ukraine move closer to the European Union. At the time, the Obama White House was deeply skeptical of Putin and paying little attention to the former Soviet bloc, according to Weiss. White House officials had come to see Russia as a foreign policy dead end, not a source of potential successes. Deferring to European officials, the Obama administration backed a plan that would have moved Ukraine closer to the EU and away from a pro-Russian economic bloc created by Putin. Critics said it was a mistake to make Ukraine choose sides. Jack F. Matlock, who served as U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991, said that years of escalating protests by Putin made it clear he believed the West was surrounding him with hostile neighbors. And for centuries, Russian leaders have viewed a friendly Ukraine as vital to Moscow's defense. "The real red line has always been Ukraine," Matlock said. "When you begin to poke them in the most sensitive area, unnecessarily, about their security, you are going to get a reaction that makes them a lot less cooperative."
A PLIANT RUSSIA? American experts said it was vital for the U.S. to establish a new long-term strategy toward Russia that does not blame the current crisis solely on Putin. Matthew Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, argued that demonizing Putin reflected the continued failure of American officials to recognize Russia's power, interest and importance. "Putin is a reflection of Russia," Rojansky said. "This weird notion that Putin will go away and there will suddenly be a pliant Russia is false." A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, called for a long-term strategy that exploits the multiple advantages the U.S. and Europe enjoy over Putin's Russia. "I would much rather be playing our hand than his over the longer term," the official said. "Because he has a number of, I think, pretty serious strategic disadvantages - a one-dimensional economy, a political system and a political elite that's pretty rotten through corruption." Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador, said it was vital for Washington and Moscow to end a destructive pattern of careless American action followed by Russian overreaction. "So many of the problems in our relationship really relate, I would say, to what I'd call inconsiderate American actions," Matlock said. "Many of them were not meant to be damaging to Russia. … But the Russian interpretation often exaggerated the degree of hostility and overreacted."