Monday, April 21, 2014

‘Saudi, most oppressive fascist regime’
Press TV has talked with Collin Cavell, a political commentator from West Virginia, to further discuss the Saudi regime’s heavy-handed crackdown on the pro-democracy aspirations of its citizens in oil-rich eastern provinces.
Below is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Press TV: Perhaps it is good for you to tell us about the significance of the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, Qatif in particular, and why it is that even though protests are illegal in the kingdom it does happen there and of course then compare that to what is going on maybe in Bahrain, since we know there is influence of Saudi Arabia in that Persian Gulf island.
Cavell: Well, for your listeners who are not familiar with that region, this in on the western border of Saudi Arabia, the eastern part of the Persian Gulf, north of the city of Dammam.
Al-Qatif is in the northern part of Dammam and the city where the two protesters were beaten to death, al-Awamiyah, is in the northern part of Qatif but all of these are the oil-producing regions in Saudi Arabia.
So the eastern part of Saudi Arabia is full of lots of oil and that is that the regime is very worried because the majority of the population there is overwhelmingly Shia and they are tired of monarchy, tired of oppression and they want democracy, they want democratic rights, and they want their resources, and this is why the regime is so brutal in beating protesters to death and sentencing them to 20 years in prison and this follows on an edict issued by King Abdullah earlier this month that says anybody who criticizes the regime, anybody who calls for any change will go to jail.
It is horrendous, this is a clear violation of universal rights that are in the United Nations charter.
Press TV: And quickly if you can, do you think that when these demonstrations break out in Qatif, that perhaps that there is a possibility of it spreading throughout Saudi Arabia?
Cavell: Absolutely. In fact every time someone risks speaking out against the regime, it gives hope, it gives encouragement, it gives motivation to all of the millions of others in Saudi Arabia who are tired of the prison-like conditions of that country.
Saudi Arabia, for those people who never have been there, is the most oppressive regime on the face of the earth. It is worse than the fascist dictatorships and so yes, speaking out gives encouragement. These are brave souls.

Bahraini protesters hold anti-regime demos

Bahraini protesters have held anti-regime demonstrations across the country, despite an ongoing crackdown by Saudi-backed forces. On Monday, people in the town of A’ali and in the villages of Maqsha, Karbabad, and Ma’ameer took to streets to express their anger over the recent death of an anti-government protester. Abulaziz al-Abbar, 27, died on Friday after 55 days in coma from injuries he suffered during an anti-regime demonstration held in late February in Sa’ar, a residential area near the capital Manama. The demonstration was part a funeral procession for another Bahraini killed by the regime forces. According to Bahrain’s Center for Human Rights, security forces had fired teargas canisters and birdshot at Abbar. Since mid-February 2011, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power. On March 14, 2011, troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invaded the country to assist the Bahraini government in its crackdown on peaceful protesters. According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested. 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.

During Asia trip, Obama will renew effort to ‘rebalance’ U.S. relationship with the region

President Obama departs Tues­day for a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia, where he and his top aides will be less focused on any big policy announcements than on reassuring jittery allies that America remains committed to bolstering its security and economic ties to the region.
The trip — rescheduled from October, when Obama canceled his plans because of the government shutdown — includes two of the countries on his original itinerary, Malaysia and the Philippines, as well as Japan and South Korea.
On one level, the president has a long list of tasks awaiting him: He will try to make headway on trade negotiations with Japan, work to ease tensions between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, foster a closer alliance with the government in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and shore up support for Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
But it is also, by its very nature, an interim step in the administration’s larger project of seeking to “rebalance” its relationship with the most economically and socially dynamic region of the world at a time when China continues to expand its influence there.
In a briefing Friday, senior administration officials detailed the president’s plans to hold bilateral talks and visit sites, including the national mosque in Malaysia and a science and technology museum in Japan. National security adviser Susan E. Rice emphasized that she and other top officials “increasingly see our top priorities as tied to Asia, whether it’s accessing new markets or promoting exports or protecting our security interests and promoting our core values.”
“And at a time of ongoing regional tensions, particularly with regard to North Korea and territorial disputes, the trip offers a chance for the United States to affirm our commitment to a rules-based order in the region,” she added.
Douglas Paal, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia program, said that sort of affirmation will be critical to those who watched Obama establish a “red line” in Syria over the use of chemical weapons but then decide against intervention when such munitions were used last summer.
“The heavyweights in the region got very scared by the Syrian decision last summer,” Paal said, noting that those same leaders remain deeply invested in the United States maintaining a strong influence on Asian affairs. “These are people who want the U.S. to be successful.”
In part, leaders of the four nations need the United States to serve as a counterweight to China’s efforts to assert territorial control both at sea and in the air. The air-defense identification zone that China established in November, for example, overlaps with some of Japan’s, South Korea’s and Taiwan’s airspace. Malaysia and the Philippines, meanwhile, have clashed with China over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea.
Those moves have created a political opportunity for the United States, said Andrew Kennedy, a professor of public policy at Australian National University.
“Whereas 10 years ago the U.S. was often seen as the more aggressive power, today it’s China that many are worried about,” Kennedy said by e-mail. “That has created opportunities for the U.S. to strengthen relationships with a range of countries in Asia.”
But even as Obama shows these allies America’s support, he will also have to be careful not to alienate the Chinese.
“Providing reassurances to countries in the region on the one hand and making sure U.S.-China relations are not turned into a more hostile and confrontational direction, that’s a rather tricky thing to do,” Yongwook Ryu, a research fellow at Australian National University, said in an interview.
Economic relations rank just as high as security issues on the president’s list of concerns to be addressed on this trip. The United States and Japan have been engaged in intense negotiations for months — and as recently as Friday — over how to resolve their trade differences in the context of the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that would encompass 12 nations and 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
The two sides still have serious differences over how to treat the agricultural and automobile sectors, but officials from both governments said last week that they remain optimistic about reaching a deal. Even so, any agreement will face Democratic opposition once it reaches Capitol Hill.
In an interview Thursday, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker — who is headed to Asia for the third time since taking her post a year ago — noted that her department has focused on the region by placing nearly 27 percent of its foreign commercial service officers there, more than in any other region in the world. While high-level visits tend to garner the most attention, she said, “the daily work that goes on to help American businesses do work throughout the region is through the foreign commercial service. That’s in full swing.” The president will also seek to connect with everyday Asians — especially young people. He will hold a town hall meeting at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with youth representatives from 100 countries as he launches a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative. That sort of outreach could lead to more enduring ties with a country such as Malaysia, which has been sending fewer students to the United States recently, according to Marvin Ott, Southeast Asia senior scholar at the Wilson Center.
At the same time, Obama will be under pressure from advocates such as John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, to criticize Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government for curbing free expression by labeling opposition politicians as gay. Last month, a Malaysian court overturned a 2012 acquittal of government critic Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges, for example, and sentenced him to prison for five years.
“We’re not looking for the White House to humiliate their hosts,” Sifton said, “but we’re looking for them to mildly embarrass their hosts because they deserve to be embarrassed, especially on the LGBT thing.”
Regardless of how he navigates some of those specific political pitfalls, said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Obama needs to use this “do-over trip” to articulate an overarching vision for the U.S. role in the region.
“I think the president’s really got to say, ‘What is the American bottom line in Asia?’ And that’s that — we want a rule-based order where our allies are already on board, where the future is in the direction of democratic values and rule of law,” Green said in an interview Sunday, adding that in the countries Obama will be visiting, “they really want to hear that.”

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Scottish independence: Universities quit CBI

THREE of Scotland’s leading universities have quit business organisation the CBI as the row escalates over its formal support for the No campaign in the referendum. The universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen say they are pulling out because they must be seen to have a “strictly neutral position” on the constitutional debate. The move follows the CBI registering as a formal supporter of the No campaign last Friday. Both Dundee and Glasgow Caledonian Universities are to consider their membership of the body later this week. And Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University (RGU) has also expressed its disapproval at the decision, but has decided to remain a CBI member. The head of the CBI, John Cridland, yesterday expressed “considerable regret” at the withdrawal of a growing number of members from the organisation after the lobby group’s controversial decision. He insisted the decision was taken for “compliance reasons” so that events the CBI stages – such as public dinners featuring speakers opposing independence – did not fall foul of strict electoral rules which could see such events deemed to be a type of campaign spending. Broadcaster STV, as well as government agencies Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland, have already announced they will leave the CBI, insisting its anti-independence stance is at odds with their own neutral position. Edinburgh and Glasgow are the biggest universities in Scotland with about 50,000 students between them. Last night a University of Edinburgh spokesman said the institution hosts debate from “all sides in the discussion around Scottish independence”. But he added: “We have a strictly neutral position on the issue. We have therefore withdrawn from membership of CBI Scotland while they are officially backing one side in that debate.” And a spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “We have carefully considered the decision of CBI Scotland to register with the Electoral Commission and decided that in order to maintain our impartiality we must resign our membership forthwith.” A spokeswoman for Aberdeen University said officials had quit the CBI because it does not take a position in independence. “The University of Aberdeen feels it is inappropriate to continue our membership of this body,” she said. The universities were facing claims from pro-independence supporters that a slice of income from their student fees would effectively be funding the No campaign through their CBI membership costs. An RGU spokesman said the purpose of the university’s membership of the CBI is to assist in developing links with potential business partners and that, as a result, the institution had opted not to quit. He said: “The university is strictly neutral in relation to the independence referendum, and does not approve of the CBI statement. However, we are not in the CBI in order to address Scottish independence.” Mr Cridland said the decision did not represent any wish for the organisation to campaign to influence voters’ opinions ahead of September’s referendum. But the Scottish Government says the change makes the CBI membership of its agencies “clearly inappropriate”. The Balhousie Care Group and energy company Aquamarine Power, both members of the pro-independence Business for Scotland body, have also resigned from the CBI. Mr Cridland said: “We were advised that we needed to comply with the Electoral Commission’s rules because we have a position on the issues. “I regret any CBI member leaving. That is a matter of considerable regret to me as chief executive. But I respect the fact that there are a variety of views. “Nothing changed this weekend about the CBI’s position on the issue. All that changed is that for compliance reasons, we decided that we needed to register to be on the right side of those regulations.” It emerged on Friday that CBI Scotland, which represents many businesses across the country, had registered with the Electoral Commission, meaning it can spend more than £10,000 on campaigning during the referendum period. Registering as a campaigner also gives access to the electoral register and the right for representatives to attend postal vote opening sessions, polling stations and the counting of votes. After the move was announced, the confederation faced fierce criticism that its position did not accurately reflect its members’ views and that officials had failed to consult them before formally registering to campaign for the Union. But Mr Cridland added: “The members of the CBI want the CBI to have a view, and that view is that it is a matter for the Scottish voter. “We are not trying to campaign to influence the Scottish voter but we are a business organisation and on the business issues – jobs in Scotland, growth in Scotland, living standards in Scotland – we have a view. “We don’t think the economic case for independence has been made and we think the economy in Scotland and the economy of the United Kingdom is stronger together. “We are not taking actions in an election but we do have a point of view.” But Balhousie chairman Tony Banks said CBI took the decision without consulting its members and has challenged the organisation to produce evidence that it has followed due democratic process. Mr Banks, who chairs Business For Scotland but insists his business is “neutral” in the independence debate, has predicted more walkouts in the days ahead. “The CBI declaring for the No campaign has put us all in an untenable position,” he added. “To maintain our neutrality we have to resign from the organisation.” He added: “They believe they have a mandate from the council of CBI Scotland but I have spoken to council members who cannot remember this being discussed or voted upon. “I would actually challenge the CBI to produce minutes and evidence of the fact that they have gone through a democratic process to come to this decision. “Businesses are now taking their time and reflecting on this decision, and when business is back to normal on Tuesday I’m sure we’re going to see a number of other resignations from CBI Scotland.” The CBI is the UK’s premier business lobbying organisation, which it says was set up to provide a voice for employers at a national and international level.

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Confronting Both Russia and China 'Strategic Mistake' for US – Russian Lawmaker

The United States runs the risk of making a huge foreign policy blunder by simultaneously antagonizing two major world powers, Russia and China, a senior Russian lawmaker wrote on Twitter Monday.
“For the United States, Russia is an enemy and China is a potential enemy. But the confrontation course with both major powers is a strategic mistake,” Alexei Pushkov, who chairs the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house, wrote.
US President Barack Obama denied last month that Moscow was Washington’s number one geopolitical foe, calling Russia “a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness.” Washington’s relations with Beijing have also become strained, given a new US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region to contain China. During Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent visit to Beijing, his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan said that efforts to contain China would never succeed.
In remarks to Obama's statement, Pushkov said by calling Russia a “regional power,” the US leader showed “the depth of his despair over the growing international role of Russia from Siberia to Ukraine.”
The fate of Crimea, formerly an autonomous republic within Ukraine and part of Russia since last month, has triggered the most serious geopolitical showdown between Moscow and the West since the end of the Cold War.
Obama has claimed the Russian population in Crimea was never under threat from the growing influence of ultranationalists on Ukraine’s political life, as Russia had repeatedly warned, and denounced Moscow’s move to protect its compatriots.
During a question and answer session with the public last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that trust between Russia and the United States had been lost to a great extent, but not due to Moscow. Restoring the trust between Russia and the US requires the elimination of all approaches based on double standards, the Russian president said.

Exclusive: U.S. force in Afghanistan may be cut to less than 10,000 troops

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan may drop well below 10,000 - the minimum demanded by the U.S. military to train Afghan forces - as the longest war in American history winds down, Obama administration officials briefed on the matter say.
Since Afghanistan's general election on April 5, White House, State Department and Pentagon officials have resumed discussions on how many American troops should remain after the current U.S.-led coalition ends its mission this year.
The decision to consider a small force, possibly less than 5,000 U.S. troops, reflects a belief among White House officials that Afghan security forces have evolved into a robust enough force to contain a still-potent Taliban-led insurgency. The small U.S. force that would remain could focus on counter-terrorism or training operations.
That belief, the officials say, is based partly on Afghanistan's surprisingly smooth election, which has won international praise for its high turnout, estimated at 60 percent of 12 million eligible votes, and the failure of Taliban militants to stage high-profile attacks that day.
The Obama administration has been looking at options for a possible residual U.S. force for months.
"The discussion is very much alive," said one U.S. official who asked not to be identified. "They're looking for additional options under 10,000" troops. There are now about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2011, when troop numbers peaked a decade into a conflict originally intended to deny al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
With British and other foreign troops scheduled to depart in lock step with U.S. soldiers, the size of any residual U.S. force could add fuel to a debate in Washington over whether Taliban-led violence will intensify amid the vacuum left by Western forces, as some U.S. military officials expect.
Military leaders, including American General Joe Dunford, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has identified 10,000 soldiers as the minimum needed to help train and advise Afghan forces fighting the insurgency, arguing a smaller force would struggle to protect itself.
During a March visit to Washington, Dunford told lawmakers that without foreign soldiers supporting them, Afghan forces would begin to deteriorate "fairly quickly" in 2015. The Afghan air force, still several years away from being self-sufficient, will require even more assistance, he said.
A smaller U.S. force could have other unintended consequences, possibly discouraging already skeptical lawmakers from fully funding U.S. commitments to help fund Afghan forces.
At their current size, Afghan forces will cost at least $5 billion in 2015, a sum far beyond the reach of the Afghan government. The United States has been widely expected to be the largest outside funder for those forces.
The Taliban and other militants have been weakened by more than 12 years of Afghan and NATO assaults, but they still can obtain supplies and plan attacks from Afghanistan's remote mountain regions and tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan.
Some analysts are wary of reducing the U.S. presence to less than 10,000 troops.
"If the White House opts to keep a lower number of troops, it will put more pressure on the Afghan forces and run the risk of squandering their recent progress against the Taliban," said Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst and State Department official now with the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank in Washington.
A U.S. force significantly below 10,000 might focus almost exclusively on counter-terrorism, tracking militants affiliated with a greatly weakened but resilient al Qaeda insurgency based on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials said.
Debate over the size of a residual U.S. force follows the failure of the U.S. and Afghan governments to finalize a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) to authorize a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the deadline for U.S. and NATO troops to conclude their fight against the Taliban.
"The longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission," said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a White House spokeswoman. "Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition."
Results of the recent presidential election may not be known for weeks, or months if runoffs take place. But leading candidates have said they will sign the agreement, which has been on hold because of reservations from current Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In late February, Obama announced that the United States might seek to sign the deal with Karzai's successor and possibly keep troops there after 2014 to train and advise Afghan forces and pursue al Qaeda militants.
Some U.S. officials believe Afghan forces will require substantial, hands-on support from foreign troops, in addition to help from the United States.

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Lavrov: US should face responsibility for powers it installed in Kiev

The Russian Foreign Minister says the US should take responsibility for those whom they put in power instead issuing ultimatums to Moscow.
"Before giving us ultimatums, demanding that we fulfill demands within two or three days with the threat of sanctions, we would urgently call on our American partners to fully accept responsibility for those who they brought to power,” said Lavrov during a press conference with his colleague from Mozambique, Oldemiro Baloi.
All attempts to isolate Russia will lead to a dead end because Russia is "a big, independent power that knows what it wants," he added
Meanwhile, the Russian FM also criticized statements from Western countries and Kiev’s authorities, which “invent possible and impossible arguments against Russia,” claiming that a large amount of Russian arms in the conflict zones proves Russian interference in Ukrainian affairs.
He called the statements absurd as Ukraine has traditionally used Russian-made arms.
“This statement is ludicrous. Everyone has Russian arms in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, he also said that TV outlets have reported that US arms were also found in Ukraine and illegal armed groups, not the Ukrainian army were in possession of these American arms.
Speaking about the crisis situation in eastern Ukraine and Kiev’s crackdown on the Donetsk region, Lavrov also said that Kiev authorities don’t want or maybe cannot control the extremists who continue to control the situation in the country.
"The authorities are doing nothing, not even lifting a finger, to address the causes behind this deep internal crisis in Ukraine," he said.
Meanwhile, Lavrov also said that the Kiev coup-appointed government has violated the Geneva agreements of April 17, after the four-sided talks between the EU, the US, Russia and Ukraine.
“The Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group has been “running the show” in the streets of central and western Ukraine and is trying to affect eastern regions,” he said, adding that buildings in Kiev seized by the protesters haven’t been freed and the streets haven’t been cleared.
“However, Kiev authorities say that “Maidan” is acting legally which is totally inadmissible,” he said.
Meanwhile, the attack by militants on the checkpoint in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on Easter Sunday is a crime beneficial only for those who want to derail the Geneva agreements, said the Russian FM. “The fact that extremists started to shoot at unarmed civilians is unacceptable,” he added. Meanwhile, he also criticized the attitude of Kiev to foreign journalists in Ukraine as journalists in the country are being arrested and the authorities won’t let them into the regions for them to observe what is happening. He also stressed that one of the Geneva agreement’s points is to amnesty political prisoners and participants in the protests. “Instead of releasing the Donetsk governor, Pavel Gubarev, Kiev authorities continue to arrest activists in southeastern Ukraine,” said Lavrov. According to Lavrov, the Kiev authorities are still spinning out the implementation of constitutional reform in the country.
“Why were they waiting for so long to speak about the necessity of constitutional reform? Why are they spinning out the process?” he asked at the conference.
Lavrov also stressed the necessity of restoring order in the crisis-torn country. By this he meant stopping extremism and religious intolerance, starting constitutional dialogue and disarming the illegally armed groups.

Pakistan: PPP leader asks govt to give GB wheat subsidy
PPP Central Punjab Secretary General Tanvir Ashraf Kaira has called upon the federal government to restore the wheat subsidy for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
He said the PML-N government was a government of the capitalists by the capitalists and for the capitalists.In a statement issued on Sunday, he said that the Gilgit- Baltistan (GB) government had been facing tough resistance from the people who resorted to staging a sit-in.
He said that the wheat subsidy to the people of the region was critical because they could not afford buying expensive staple food.He added that the previous government of the PPP had never even thought of such anti-poor steps and continued the subsidy throughout its period.
Kaira pointed out that the government’s generosity towards the elite had no limit as it had given more than Rs 300 billion exemption in duties and taxes through various SROs to the crony capitalists.
He expressed his dismay over the ignorance of a minister for state who had said that wheat subsidy was not the subject of the federal government. Tanvir Kaira assured the people of Gilgit-Baltistan that the PPP was with them in difficult times and supported their legitimate demand.

Afghanistan; Secure Room For India, China Cooperation, Investment

The impending with drawl of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan presents a compelling opportunity for strategic cooperation between India and China.
Although bilateral relations between the two remain troubled by territorial disputes and imbalanced trade, both countries’ interests seem to overlap in Afghanistan. The most obvious area of concern for both India and China is the domestic security situation in Afghanistan-neither would like to see Afghanistan turn into a haven for terrorist groups following the US withdrawal. Furthermore, should the United States and Afghanistan fail to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement in time, India and China will be motivated even further. While China has seen opportunities for investment in Afghanistan, it is becoming increasingly apparent that its foreign policy towards the country is being driven more by security concerns.
During a recent visit to the country, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized the importance of domestic stability in Afghanistan for the internal stability of China’s western province of Xinjiang. For China, the possibility of Afghanistan turning into a permanent place of refuge for insurgents and terrorists that would eventually foment unrest in Xinjiang is anathema. Wang’s counterpart reassured him that Afghanistan “Would never allow the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) to take advantage of the Afghan territory to engage in activities endangering China, and will continuously deepen security cooperation with the Chinese side.” Similar to China, the Indian government and Indian investors have shown great interest in emerging opportunities in Afghanistan in mining, hydrocarbons, infrastructure development and other sectors. Despite India’s formidable commercial interests in Afghanistan, there is also a strong strategic push to prevent the country from succumbing to domestic instability.
Keeping the Taliban at bay in Afghanistan is paramount for India. India’s interests in Afghanistan are also tied to its concerns about Pakistan and Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT most infamously staged the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, which killed over 180. It is known to operate in Afghanistan where it bombed the Indian embassy in 2008, in April 2013, ISAF forces apprehended a senior LeT leader in Ghazni province. On the surface, it would appear that given China’s close partnership with Pakistan, India and China cooperation in Afghanistan would necessarily be superficial and limited. However, Pakistan and China find themselves at odds in Afghanistan. For Pakistan (particularly its military), the over-whelming strategic objective in Afghanistan is to undermine Kabul’s ability to govern the rest of the country and maintain Afghanistan as a subordinate backyard, free from foreign influence.
This has effectively been the dictum that Pakistan’s elites have aimed for since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This objective is incompatible with China’s interests in Afghanistan and will likely lead to some friction between these allies. Pakistan is central to Afghanistan’s fate, but it will likely be unable to condition the manner in which India and China cooperate in that country. The groundwork for deeper cooperation between India and China seems to exist, but not particularly on a bilateral level between the two countries. India, China and Russia have had several trilateral dialogues on cooperation in Afghanistan. Despite this, Afghanistan did not feature in Manmohan Singh’s October 2013 trip to Beijing when he spoke with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. New developments are slightly more promising. Over the weekend, India Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh traveled to Beijing to speak with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhu Zhenmin. The meeting presented a rare opportunity for the two countries to exchange views on their mutual concerns in Afghanistan. Ultimately, there is room for cooperation between India and China in Afghanistan following the exit of the United States and NATO forces. Whether Asia’s two giants will be able to capitalize on the opportunity will depend on several factors.
While India’s current government has been willing to approach China about Afghanistan, it remains to be seen if the next government-possibly led by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-will be as interested in bilateral and multilateral cooperation. For China, the more it grows involved in Afghanistan, the more it will find itself at odds with its supposed “All-weather” partner Pakistan. While uncertainties abound in how exactly India and China will approach Afghanistan, what remains certain is that Afghanistan will continue to be a nexus of geopolitical interest for its neighbors.

Afghanistan's fleeting 'Camelot' moment

Helena Malikyar
The Afghan people's formidable show of support for the democratic process has been hijacked once again.
As the polls closed in Afghanistan's presidential elections on April 5, optimism reigned supreme. The war-ravaged nation had regained its sense of determination and self-confidence. For "one brief shining moment", it seemed in the three-decade-long history of invasions, internecine wars and despair, "there was Camelot".
The announcement of a partial vote count last week, which comprised 10 percent of total ballots, woke the people up from their state of reverie. The results placed Abdullah Abdullah at the top, followed by Ashraf Ghani. At a far distance, Zalmai Rassoul - long touted as "frontrunner" by mainstream Western media - was in third place. The ranking has remained the same as the results of 50 percent of ballots were released on April 20.
This seemingly simple picture belies a complex set of factors, games and consequences. The Afghan populace shows signs of readiness to move beyond predatory politics, but the political elite continue to lead them on the basis of Byzantine games.
Sadly, several significant messages that were conveyed by the large turnout and preliminary results are overlooked by Afghan leaders: First, voters said "no" to regress, be it Taliban-style or based on platforms offered by conservative candidates within the system; second, they expressed their dissatisfaction with Hamid Karzai's two-term presidency; and third, they demonstrated awareness of the democratic process and used it to voice their opinion, moving away from the culture of violence.
Outgoing president still a player
Preliminary tallying has confirmed a slight move away from ethnic politics. Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, received a percentage of votes from the northern mostly non-Pashtun provinces. Abdullah attracted voters from the south and the east, the so-called Pashtun belt, even though he is considered a leader of the Tajiks. The general assumption was that he whom Karzai chose would be the winner. The president's skilful manoeuvrings in internal Afghan politics during the past 10 years had built a perception that he would always win. By the time the campaign season officially kicked off, Karzai's unannounced choice appeared to be Rassoul, a former foreign minister and the president's confidant since 2001.
According to one conspiracy theory, the Afghan president was plotting a Putin-Medvedev style arrangement by amending the Afghan constitution after Rassoul's victory and replacing the presidential form of government to a parliamentary one, whereby Karzai would regain control by becoming prime minister, while Rassoul would serve as the figurehead president. His Plan B, the theory went, was that in case his candidate did not achieve a clear win, Karzai would take the lead in forming a coalition of all top candidates, ensuring continued relevance for himself in the future government.
The announcement of preliminary results triggered a series of meetings and negotiations between the top three candidates and with the outgoing president. Abdullah is said to have had several meetings with Karzai and Rassoul. A couple of such parlays were also purported to have taken place between Ghani, Karzai and Rassoul. Team members from all sides are constantly engaged in talks.
Rumours abound about all sorts of deals in the making. One scenario pictures Abdullah and Rassoul teaming up. What has prevented the conclusion of such a deal so far is, according to some sources, that Abdullah believes he will be the undisputed winner with well over 50 percent of the votes, and therefore does not deem Karzai or Rassoul to be in a position to set conditions for a deal.
The latest buzz has it that to strengthen his bargaining position vis-a-vis Abdullah, Karzai has now dropped Rassoul and has made overtures to the Ghani camp. A Karzai-Ghani alliance would place the president - and possibly Ghani - in a favourable negotiating position with Abdullah. Why, one might wonder, if there is a good chance that Abdullah will garner the highest votes would he try to seek a deal with Karzai? Why is Ghani's team insisting that their candidate will end up as the winner? Why are Rassoul's proponents still optimistic about his presidency, even though the preliminary results put him at slightly above 10 percent?
Deal-making vs democratic process
The Ghani camp insists that if the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and the Elections Complaints Commission (ECC) conduct a transparent and honest tallying, Abdullah's total votes (after fraudulent ballots are deducted) will drop to below 50 percent, necessitating a runoff between him and Ghani. In this scenario, they are predicting to receive additional Pashtun votes that during the first round went to Abdullah and Rassoul, resulting in a Ghani win in the second round.
The international community and particularly Washington do not favour a runoff, which will be costly and a security headache. The delay in swearing in the new president will also present governance problems, not to mention further suspension of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which Karzai has refused to sign with the US. It is therefore more convenient to avoid a runoff, support a coalition of major stakeholders and call it a success in democratising Afghanistan.
Seeking deals and coalitions are deemed necessary because there is a perceived threat that the Pashtuns, as the largest ethnic group, may not accept Abdullah as the country's president. On the other side too, some members of Abdullah's team are throwing threatening statements to the effect that anything short of their candidate's win, will turn Kabul into a bloodbath.
"Afghanistan is not yet ready for a straight-forward, winner-takes-all, democratic process," argue many politicians these days. "Leaving out any major player will drag the country back to violence."
If stability can only be assured by forming a coalition of all three candidates, who will form the political opposition that is necessary for a healthy democracy? More curiously, why does an outgoing president continue to be a major player in the negotiations?
If a deal is struck preventing a runoff, we shall never know if the announcement of one candidate as winner of the elections would have been acceptable by the nation. Both electoral bodies have already lost people's trust due to decisions and activities that were perceived to have been influenced by power centres, be it the presidential palace or some of the candidates. Moreover, the threat of violence is being used effectively to push for a coalition or as yet another "corporation with the same old shareholders", as the critics call it.
If, on the other hand, the powers that be allow completion of the election process and one winner emerges, the best scenario would be for the next president to genuinely reach out to competent people in his rivals' teams and recruit them. This will raise his administration's competence and will portray him as a national leader capable of rising above petty politics. A conceptual framework under the title of "national unity government" already exists. It was an initiative launched by Ahmad Wali Massoud and prepared by a group of intellectuals in consultation with political leaders, including the presidential candidates. The scheme, which may need some adjustments and refining, calls for the losing candidates to present a number of well-reputed technocrats from their teams to the winning candidate. The latter, in turn, is to show flexibility and wisdom and form an inclusive and competent government. The idea is to have a widely participatory and capable government, while breaking away from the tried and failed coalitions of past years.
Afghans' formidable show of support for the democratic process on April 5 has since been hijacked by their leaders and the international community. The US and its partners are, once again, supporting expediency at the expense of principles. The brief shining Camelot moment of the people of Afghanistan has ended, but setting the country back on the right track can still be achieved.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Another Professor Shot Martyred By ASWJ-LeJ Terrorist In Karachi
A Shia professor embraced martyrdom and his colleague was injured when the Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba ambushed them near Liaquat Underpass on Monday. According to Shiite News, Professor Saifuddin Jafari and his colleague were going to somewhere in his car when notorious terrorists of banned Yazidi takfiri nabsi outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba/Lashkar-e-Jhangvi/ ASWJ opened fire upon them near Gharibabad –Liaquatabad Underpass. Terrorists were riding of motorcycles and fled the scene. Professor Shamsuddin was a professor in Government College of Technology. His injured colleague was identified as Shakil. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the murder of Shia professor. They demanded military operation to liquidate the terrorists.

International influence needed to reform Pakistan's military

The Geo News channel presenter's brother, Amir Mir, has accused the powerful military intelligence service, the ISI of being responsible for the attack.
Former member of parliament and former presidential media advisor, Farahnaz Ispahani, knows the Mir brothers well.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Farahnaz Ispahani, former Pakistani member of parliament and former presidential media advisor, and current public policy scholar, Woodrow Wilson Research Centre, Washington DC
ISPAHANI: I know Hamid and his brother very well. And his brother in particular, is known to be a very sensible and scrupulous journalist. He is not the kind of person to have made an allegation like this, unless there was substantial evidence. I cannot say for a fact, because I have not seen the details myself, but the source that is making these statements about the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), I can say that Amir Mir and Hamid Mir himself, had talked about this before. There was a bomb placed under his car, just last year, and he was lucky to have survived. This was not an attempt to scare him, this was an attempt to kill him.
LAM: Pakistan's government has a special commission to investigate the attack. Who exactly is under investigation here - might the army and indeed, the ISI be part of the brief?
ISPAHANI: I think that's highly unlikely. You'll probably remember the Abbottabad Commission that was set up to look into Osama bin Laden, and why Osama bin Laden had been found by the Americans living inside Pakistan, with many wives and children, for so many years and who had protected him, and who had given him cover, et cetera. That report, like many other reports that have tried to look into what the Pakistani military or what the Pakistani military intelligence had done in the past - those reports never see the light of day in any complete form. I have a feeling that whoever they put on the Commission, even if there is a Commission, we still don't know really who killed the prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
LAM: So the fact that prime minister Nawaz Sharif, just last month pledged to offer greater protection to journalists, that's a hollow promise?
ISPAHANI: Well, I think when the prime minister said it to the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) I'm sure he believed it, but the point is, that since he said it, our friend and well-known journalist Raza Rumi, he nearly lost his life. His driver had close to 20 bullets pumped into him, 25 year old driver, dead. Raza Rumi has had to leave the country. So where are the protections? You know, so I do believe that perhaps Mr Nawaz Sharif would like to have done something, but the state seems to be falling apart.
And Karachi in particular, has become almost a war zone in some ways. Political party workers are dying, people are dying because they're from the Shia sect. People are dying because they're journalists.
LAM: These cities are lawless, partly because the military and the ISI either won't or can't do anything. So who will be in a position to rein in these rogue elements within the military and also the ISI?
ISPAHANI: The Pakistan army has become so powerful, they now need to step in and support the civilian government. They have the guns, our police do not have that. They have the latest technology, our police do not have that. But they have to stop playing their own games. It's time for the world to get a little serious. Like in any civilised country, the military and the military intelligence services have to report to the prime minister, and all countries like Australia, like the United Kingdom, like the United States of America and Canada, and all of these countries have got to tell the people that they deal with in Pakistan, whether it's the military, or the civilian side, or the journalistic community, enough is enough! There'll be no more aid, there'll be no more relationship. This has to end.
LAM: So you think the pressure has to come from outside? That within Pakistan there's no one strong enough to rein in the military and the ISI?
ISPAHANI: Many people have stood up. Our people are very brave in Pakistan. Our reporters are very brave, activists are very brave, our politicians are very brave, but we have lost too many people. We are bleeding.
So if you are interested enough to call me, to to ask me about this, I will say to you, this is time for the world to acknowledge that it is time to help Pakistan. If you look for example, at countries like Chile and Argentina, and others in latin America, which were military juntas and repressive and totalitarian, and today they've become stronger economically, they've become democracies, et cetera, because of external pressure, some because of internal pressure and some because of a combination of both.
So the people of Pakistan are now reaching out - we are fighting at every level, but we need the world to hear us. And I hope that your show and others like it, will help shed light on this issue.

Pakistan: Senate committee accepts resolution to unban YouTube

The Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights has accepted a resolution to unban YouTube in Pakistan. According to the committee, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) chairman had said that there was no benefit of banning YouTube as blasphemous content was available on other websites. Members of the committee were of the view that an entire library cannot be shut because of some objectionable content. The video sharing website was banned in Pakistan on September 17, 2012 after refusing to remove blasphemous content.

Fractured State of Pakistani Taliban Calls Peace Deal Into Question

When the Pakistani Taliban said they were willing to make peace, many Pakistanis were skeptical that the militants had truly abandoned their dream of transforming the country into an Islamic caliphate.
But since talks with government negotiators officially started last month, the question is not just whether the Taliban wish to deliver a deal, but whether they even can. An eruption of violent rivalries and internal disputes in the past month has strained the militants’ cohesion, cast doubt on their ability to make peace, and raised the prospect of a militant surge into Afghanistan.
Most immediately, an outbreak of infighting between rival Taliban commanders in the hills of Waziristan left at least 40 militants dead and exposed a violent rift in the movement’s operational heartland, according to Taliban members and locals.
That fight stemmed from a leadership crisis that started with an American drone strike in November that killed the group’s commander and inflamed internal arguments — including a debate over whether to prioritize the fight against Pakistan’s army, or to send more fighters into Afghanistan as American troops are leaving.
And a series of bomb attacks during a supposed six-week cease-fire has raised the possibility that the very idea of making peace has divided the Taliban, with militant cells splintering off rather than speaking with the government.
“We will know where the Taliban stand when they put their demands on the table, but I’m not hopeful,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier and former head of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency’s Peshawar office. “There are so many complications. Ultimately, I don’t think these talks can succeed.”
Despite their ferocity, the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, have never been a very united fighting force.
Since its formal emergence in 2007, the group has been an umbrella organization for Islamist militants — estimates run from 15 to 30 organizations — scattered across the tribal belt along the Afghan border. The unruly coalition was held together by the steely grip of leaders from the Mehsud tribe and anchored in the jihadi havens of North and South Waziristan where a wide variety of Pakistani and international militant groups hold sway. But the American drone campaign loosened the Mehsud dominance, with missile strikes that killed Baitullah Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban founder, in 2009; his deputy, Wali ur-Rehman, in May of last year; and the second leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, in November. Now the Taliban is led by a lame-duck figure, Maulana Fazlullah, who has struggled to keep his commanders in line. Mr. Fazlullah came to power in November with solid hard-liner credentials — his supporters had flogged criminals and attempted to kill Malala Yousafzai, the teenage activist — but a less impressive military record. He was driven from his native Swat Valley, 200 miles northwest of Waziristan, by a Pakistani military operation in 2009. Now, according to Pakistani and Afghan officials, he is sheltering in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar.
“Fazlullah is not a strong leader because he was defeated, he left Pakistan and he remains across the border,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who helped the government make initial peace overtures to the Taliban.
The Taliban chose Mr. Fazlullah, many believe, to quell feuding between rival factions of the Mehsud tribe. But the violence hardly abated after Mr. Fazlullah’s nomination, and it began looking like an all-out turf war in Waziristan this month.
Taliban fighters ambushed each other’s camps, bombed convoys, and took prisoners over six days of tit-for-tat bloodletting in the same remote, forested valleys where C.I.A. drones have attacked militant compounds. By the time tribal elders brokered a hasty truce earlier this month, 40 to 60 people had been killed according to most estimates.
Ostensibly the fighting stemmed from a simmering rivalry between two hotheaded commanders — Khan Sayed Sajna, a onetime contender for the Taliban leadership, and Shehryar Mehsud — who are battling for dominance of the Mehsud wing of the Taliban. Mr. Sajna, considered the stronger of the two, sent a message to his rival that “there cannot be two swords in a single sheath,” according to a senior Taliban commander.
But the fight was about more than clashing egos. According to militant and Western officials, the Sajna group is partly funded by the Haqqani network, a notorious militant group that uses its base in the Pakistani tribal areas to mount audacious attacks on civilian and military targets in Afghanistan. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, wants to draw more Mehsud fighters into his fight against the Afghan government; as a result, he is pushing the Taliban to make peace in Pakistan. As ever in tribal politics, money is a deciding factor: The Haqqani network draws on the proceeds of a vast criminal and fund-raising empire that spans Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf states. The Haqqanis also enjoy a close relationship with the ISI intelligence agency, which has cultivated ties for decades, although the extent of the Pakistani influence remains an open question among experts.
Mehsud tribal elders also favor negotiations. Weary of years of war, including Pakistani military bombardment and the displacement of tens of thousands of villagers, community leaders are pressing the Taliban to talk to the government, said government officials and Waziristan residents. The Taliban’s fractious nature also leaves it vulnerable to other, mutually hostile influences. Foreign jihadists from Al Qaeda and Uzbekistan, who live among its members in North and South Waziristan offer money and a fanatical ideology. And recently, Afghan intelligence has gotten in on the act, hoping to steer the Taliban away from Afghanistan.
In Kabul, former and serving government officials described a policy of sanctuary and limited financial assistance to Taliban factions that wish to resume fighting inside Pakistan. “It is about convincing these guys about who they should be bothering,” said one former official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If they want to cause problems in Pakistan, that is something that is not going to be discouraged.”
The Afghan spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, has penetrated the Taliban most successfully at the eastern end of the border with Pakistan, where Mr. Fazlullah and his supporters are hiding. Afghan officials said Mr. Fazlullah has received sanctuary and some money; one of his spokesmen is frequently found outside nearby Jalalabad. Another Pakistan Taliban operative lives under the spy agency’s protection in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, where he produces militant propaganda videos.
The embryonic Afghan attempt to cultivate proxies within the Pakistani Taliban is a response to a widespread perception that the ISI intelligence agency is trying to push the war from Waziristan into southern Afghanistan as American troops withdraw. “They want to move all the vipers and snakes on to the Afghan side and let them fight it out here,” said the former Afghan official. Equally, though, Afghan officials recognize that Taliban factions are highly unreliable allies. And a Western analyst cautioned that it would be a mistake to see the Taliban purely as puppets of the various spy agencies in the region. “They’ll take money from whoever is handing it out, as long as it suits them,” the analyst said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But they’ve very much got their own mind.” As ever, though, militant alliances are constantly shifting and reliable information is hard to obtain. Ascertaining the exact motivation of competing factions can be akin to Soviet-era Kremlinology. Mr. Fazlullah’s weakness is just one factor in decision making. Unlike the rigidly hierarchical Afghan Taliban, Pakistan’s insurgency has a decentralized, almost acephalous quality in which most power rests with the ruling shura, or leadership council. And the tribal strife comes against a background of unprecedented Taliban expansion in the rest of Pakistan. In the past year, the movement has expanded its reach in Karachi, strengthened ties to like-minded militant groups, and increased fund-raising through extortion and kidnapping.
That complexity is what makes striking a peace deal such a challenge for the Pakistani government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
His government has staked much hope on the peace talks, betting that the Taliban can be persuaded to lay down their arms. Officials said they saw the Taliban’s announcement of the cease-fire’s end on Wednesday as a negotiating ploy, not the collapse of the whole process. The Taliban, too, insist that talks will continue. To win the Taliban’s confidence, the government has agreed to free at least 12 low-level Taliban prisoners and is considering demands for several hundred more. But the crunch will come when the Taliban make a formal list of demands. The omens are not promising. Already, one hard-line commander with links to Al Qaeda, Omar Khalid Khorasani, has announced that he will not settle for anything less than the imposition of Shariah law across Pakistan. Such statements greatly worry Pakistanis who say that the Sharif government has already conceded too much to Taliban militants who may be using the talks to build legitimacy among ordinary Pakistanis — all the while priming their weapons for the next round of fighting.

Pakistan-Saudi Relations: Friends or Masters?

By Ayesha Siddiqa
The secret or not-so-secret trips by the Saudi royal family do not make headlines, but a recent one, in which Pakistan’s federal government was given US $1.5 billion as a “gift,” did – and for many days. No one believes the story of this being a free lunch. Most people are convinced that Riyadh would expect something in return, such as providing support to Saudi policy in Syria and allowing proxies to fight there. Strengthening ties with Pakistan may also be an attempt to weaken Islamabad’s links with Tehran, which had developed during the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)’s tenure.
The PPP government, led by Asif Ali Zardari from 2008-2013, is perhaps the only significant phase in Pakistan’s history in which relations between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were strained. According to Wikileaks, a 2009 cable revealed that the Saudi King Abdullah described Zardari as “the rotten head that was infecting the whole body”. Other cables suggested that Riyadh was keen for Pakistan’s military to replace the political government. Such anguish was possibly because of Islamabad’s overtures to Iran. Furthermore, there were rumours of the Zardari-led PPP government trying to discourage contacts between the Saudi diplomatic mission in Islamabad and various militant groups. During a meeting around 2009, the then interior minister had said that the Saudi ambassador was sent off (not declared persona non grata) to Riyadh as he was caught giving money to a militant leader. Despite Zardari’s several visits to the Kingdom, the situation was not as warm as expected.
Although the PPP government ultimately failed to curb militancy as it had little control over its mechanics, the above-cited incident is a significant indication of the role that the Saudi intelligence and government, in general, played in Pakistan. The links between various Deobandi and Salafi militant groups and Saudi Arabia date back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Reportedly, a number of militant outfits, including the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) established in the early ’80s and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) set up later in the 1990s, received Saudi funding. But this was not the only source of funding for terrorist organisations.
Money came from other Arab states as well such as Libya, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some Gulf States have permanent bases in South Punjab, which are used for both hunting and making contacts with various stakeholders that include the militants. Over the years, there was an increase in both financing and sources of terror. The ’80s and the ’90s saw a steady flow of Saudi nationals, who came to Afghanistan via Pakistan to initially fight against the former Soviet Union and then establish the Islamic emirate in Afghanistan led by Mullah Omar. Many militants from South Punjab claim to have seen Arab nationals in Afghanistan and later in training camps in Pakistan’s Northern Areas such as Mansehra. Osama bin Laden represents a trend in Arab militancy that found safe havens in South Asia. Bin Laden also helped establish numerous militant outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), which was partly financed by Al Qaeda.
The Arab influence in Pakistan’s society and state seems to have gradually and systematically grown. However, the first glimpse of such influence dates back to the end of the ’70s, as a result of the proliferation of Pakistani manpower going to the Middle East. It was not only money which returned with these people, but social influence as well. Later, the cooperation between the states to fight the war in Afghanistan bolstered the Arab influence. The manifestation of the social impact is visible in the form of Al-Bakistan and Al-Bunjab car registration plates that are now seen more commonly in Pakistan.
Such influence might have not grown so fast had it not been for the relationship between the two states and its critical institutions. Although the ISPR was wary of giving figures for the number of soldiers and officers that go to Saudi Arabia to fight, former military personnel talk about the times when a division strength was dispatched to the Kingdom. Pakistani armed forces have been going to serve the Saudi monarchs since the time of General Ayub Khan. In fact, old officers narrate an incident when the Saudi government returned Ahmadiyya officers from Pakistan, when they found out about their faith. People still talk about the Pakistani contingent that had assisted the Saudis in 1979, at the time of an attempted internal takeover of the Kaaba by a group of Salafi rebels. In fact, the popular myth is that one of the reasons that the Saudi monarchs would not let any harm come to Pervez Musharraf is because he was leading the Pakistani contingent then. Incidentally, Pakistan’s role in the 1979 operation is over-emphasised. The Saudis had also sought help from western intelligence and their military.
The military’s presence in the Kingdom is not limited to the army. Ostensibly, there is almost a tradition to send a senior naval officer as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The military cooperation, however, is more of a one-way traffic in which a lot depends on Riyadh’s desire. The recent agreement to enhance defence cooperation indicates a possible increase in arms purchases that will be limited to small and light weapons or equipment mainly manufactured at the Pakistan Ordnance Factories, Wah. The Saudis and even other Arab states have never shown any keen interest in major weapons systems like submarines, gun and missile boats or fighter aircrafts that Pakistan assembles. This is mainly because of the fact that the Saudis and other Arab states have a traditional dependency on western equipment and would rather purchase from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) than Pakistan, which has limited control over the supply chain used for making major weapon systems. Most Arab countries with which Pakistan has defence ties prefer to procure trained military manpower. Another example of such preference was in the form of recruitment of retired military personnel in 2011 for dispatch to Bahrain. These men, hired by the military’s private foundations, were sent to Bahrain to curb the Shia insurgency.
Contrary to what we would imagine that this is about Arab dependency on Pakistan, it is the latter that may be dependent on the former because of money earned through the process. Keeping a large standing military busy, especially when the age of conventional wars is virtually over, is quite a task. Pakistan sends about 10,000 military personnel annually on UN missions. This is in addition to those dispatched to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. The arrangement is beneficial both for the armed forces and the individual as part of the salary is retained by the military. Given the possibility of a reduction in the UN’s requirement for peace-keeping missions, the Arab states will become important for Pakistan’s military as a lucrative posting for its personnel. Furthermore, the US$ 1.5 billion and more money that may be contributed by other Arab states is welcomed by the military as a source of financing that will keep the organisation afloat. Though the Pakistan military is never short of funds, it has not had major modernisation since the 1980s. It needs equipment for which money is essential.
The government of the PML-N probably shares this perspective. Given the dearth of resources, the inability to raise money through taxes and the pressure of numerous problems such as electricity shortages, the Sharif government would be happy to see an increase in its money supply. The news that these funds were given as a “gift” may not be taken lightly as Sharif is considered close to Riyadh’s heart. Not only does the Saudi royalty view him as “their man in Pakistan,” they have good memories of the Pakistani prime minister. The Saudi crown prince was the only foreign dignitary who was taken on a trip to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities after the atomic tests in 1998. This adventure also indicates that the political government in Islamabad and GHQ, Rawalpindi may be on the same page as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned.
Leaders of the present government have not just spent a considerable amount of time in Saudi Arabia, they also have financial investments in the country and financial connections with the Saudis. In fact, both the Bhutto and Sharif regimes had contacts in the Arab world. While the Sharifs have their eggs in the Saudi basket, the Benazir Bhutto family has links in the UAE, where her family has its primary base. Many amongst Pakistan’s elite launder their money through Arab countries of the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. It is rumoured that the Sharif government plans to repay the Saudis through initiating some old plans such as leasing out agricultural land in the desert of Cholistan.
The Saudi/Arab-Pakistani connection has come under some criticism. However, a question worth asking: Can the elite of Pakistan afford to say ‘no’ to the ‘freebies’ from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries? Given the country’s economic scenario, we continue to look outside for resources. The Arab money may appear ‘dirty’ to some, but this may well be a possible replacement for the American funding that is likely to be reduced as US and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Pro-Taliban group of Omer Khorasani has attacked Hamid Mir
State sponsored Pro-Taliban group of Omer Khorasani has attacked Geo News senior anchorperson Hamid Mir in Karachi on Saturday.
According to reports, the terrorists of Omer Khorasani group ambushed Mir’s vehicle as soon as it came out from the Airport onto the city’s main artery Shara-e-Faisal near the Natha Khan bridge. He received bullet injuries and was shifted to a private hospital.
Hamid Mir had told his family, friends, colleagues’ army and government officials that if he was attacked the some officials from the ISI and its chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam would be responsible.
Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir Mir has blamed ISI chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam to assassinate Hamid Mir. Karachi police chief, Shahid Hayat said Hamid Mir has been shot thrice, one bullet has pierced his intestine while the other two have wounded his leg and pelvic area.
Hamid Mir has been shifted to the operation theater and a brief from the doctors treating him is awaited. Pakistan’s army condemned the incident of firing on senior journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi, a spokesman of the ISPR said. The spokesman said that an independent inquiry must immediately be carried out to ascertain facts. The spokesman, however, said that raising allegations against ISI or head of ISI without any basis is highly regrettable and misleading.
The statement came after unidentified gunmen shot and wounded senior journalist Hamid Mir near airport in Karachi
Previous Attack
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.

Pakistan: Attack on Hamid Mir was carefully planned, reveals probe

A day-long investigation into the attack on senior journalist anchorman Hamid Mir has thus far established that the assailants had received support from someone working at the Jinnah International Airport (JIA) Karachi.
The probe revealed that one of the assailants was present on the spot 30 minutes before the attack and he was in regular contact with his accomplice via mobile phone.
Moreover, the police have completed their paperwork by preparing visuals of the incident and recording the statements of the eye-witnesses who would be facing a three-member judicial commission that was formed by Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to probe into the attack.
During the course of investigation, it was also revealed that the closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras were removed from their places before the construction of the airport flyover and were never installed again.
Twenty four hours after the attack, the wounded journalist regained consciousness in the emergency room of the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) and talked to his family members for few minutes.
On Sunday, a heavy contingent of police force from operation and investigation branches arrived at the spot to prepare visuals of the attack. They brought the driver and the guard who were sitting with Hamid Mir at the time of attack with them to prepare the visuals.
The eye-witnesses told the police that a 25-year-old man who had worn shalwar and kameez was standing beneath airport flyover and was busy with someone on his cell-phone. As his vehicle reached beneath the flyover to turn towards Sharea Faisal, he fired multiple bullets and start chasing the vehicle of Hamid Mir again,” they maintained.
Additional Inspector General (AIG) Karachi Shahid Hayat visited the spot and got briefing from the teams engaged in investigation. The AIG Karachi was told that a visual has been prepared with the help of Mir’s driver, guard and eye-witnesses. He directed the police officials to finalize the visuals and hand it over to him before 10:00 am today (Monday).
“I have an office in Falak Naz apartments and sitting along with my friends outside the office at the time of attack,” Syed Innayat Ali told the investigators. “Fortunately, I was discussing with my friends that traffic police personnel were not present today as they hold snap checking regularly beneath the flyover,” he added.
“I saw a 25-year-old man who was busy on cell-phone and again got busy with my friends,” he said, adding that “A few minutes later, I heard gun shots and when I looked at the site again, I saw that the man who was engaged on cell-phone had a gun in hand and he was going to ride the two-wheeler.” “The bike on which he rode stopped and the man who arrived with a two-wheeler to pick him was trying to start it again.”
“From statements of the eye-witnesses it was established that the attacker was getting information continuously on his cell-phone as the senior journalist arrived in the city,” a senior investigator, who wished not to be named, told Pakistan Observer.
“The level of the information the attacker had could be gauged from the fact that he crossed the road while disconnecting the call as he knew that he was sitting on the other side of the car,” he added. “In light of experience I had, I can say that the attacker had complete information from the time of Mir’s arrival at JIA Karachi,” he maintained.
Moreover, the wounded journalist regained consciousness on Sunday evening. Talking to this scribe, AKUH spokesman confirmed that Hamid Mir regained consciousness. Mir talked to his family members for a few minutes. The spokesman said that he would be kept under observation for some time.

Pakistan: Hamid Mir & Media Ethics

The shooting of the high profile journalist and TV personality Hamid Mir on Saturday, led as it rightly should have, to a frenzy in the media. The news channel, Geo News, to which Mir belongs was the frontrunner in reporting after the incident. In a country where the narrative on democracy is newly maturing, the symbolism of an attack on a journalist is not lost on many. This, and other recent attacks on journalists, are being increasingly debated as attacks on democratic institutions, on the principles of free media and free speech. Though this is important, what is occurring alongside is a simultaneous and regrettable show of the limitations of an institution still in its infancy, grappling with the ethics and rules of respectable reporting.
There are two things that stand out in this particular case. First, the bizarre sensationalism that has become, it seems, a fundamental part of the style in which the news and talk shows are presented to the public. With an impressive computer animation team working at break neck speed, the news is declared ceremoniously (visual and sound effects included), not reported. Photographs of the injured, the dead, the hospitalised are flashed hundreds of times every hour. News anchors and TV hosts hardly able to contain themselves set the stage for debate and discussion (both on TV and at home) that is low on quality and real content, despite some sane points of view. It is an unsavoury news style, and the public feeds into it.
Second, is the blatant point and blame game. The fact that Mir had pinpointed possible culprits at a time before the shooting actually occurred is worthy of reporting but it amounts to nothing without substantiation. Surely, there must be an epistemology somebody must make the effort of tracing, even under the assumption that Mir had good reason to point a finger at the ISI. To construct a media narrative entirely around this statement- even to present it as a central suspicion- highlights in many ways, the institution’s egotism and self-importance. One leading newspaper has already demanded the resignation of the ISI Chief.
The attack is a horrific example of the state’s state of affairs. The increase in violence has naturally led to a growth in the public’s imagination of violence. There are so many actors up for blame that it is easy to believe any one of them could be responsible. This is especially why the media must focus on responsible, ethical, informative reporting and protect itself from the infiltration of profit-seeking, conspiracy and sensationalism. It must recognise, proudly, that it is based on a principle worth protecting at all costs.

Pakistan: PPP to move resolution against attack on Hamid Mir

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) will move a resolution to condemn the murderous attack on the senior journalist and TV anchor Hamid Mir in the Sindh Assembly here today (Monday), Geo News reported. Sindh Information Minister, Sharjeel Memon told Geo News that his party today would move a resolution condemning the murderous attack on Hamid Mir. He further said that the attack on Hamid Mir was an attack on freedom of expression.

Geo management distances itself from Mir’s allegations
The management of the Jang and Geo News group on Sunday distanced itself from the allegations levelled against the ISI with its anchors claiming that the Mir brother’s allegations did not reflect the media outfit’s stance on the issue.
Soon after the attack on Mir, most media houses had aired allegations against the ISI and its director-general for over 14 hours since the attack took place.
Geo anchorperson Amir Liaquat Hussain claimed during a talk show that the allegations against the ISI and its DG were not a policy of the media group. He said the allegations were only from the family of Hamid Mir and not from the media house’s management.
Later, another anchorperson, Najam Sethi in his programme Apas Ki Baat welcomed Amir Liaquat’s statement, stating that it was a wise decision by Geo group to clarify that it had no link with statements of Hamid Mir’s brother regarding involvement of the DG ISI in the attack on the journalist.

Pakistan: Asia Bibi’s appeal put off again

The Express Tribune
An appeal by Asia Bibi, sentenced to death on charge of blasphemy, could not be heard last week although the case had been fixed before a Lahore High Court’s (LHC) special division bench. Lawyers say it is rare for a case not to be heard after it has been fixed by a court; if a bench is unable to take up the case, it is forwarded to another. Bibi’s appeal had earlier been fixed for hearing on February 24 and March 17. It could not be heard then as one of the judges on the bench was not available. The case was adjourned again without any progress on March 26. On April 14, the case was adjourned indefinitely as the bench was against not available. “This is the fourth Easter without her. We were hoping for the case to be disposed of but it has been delayed,” her husband Ashique Masih told The Express Tribune.

Fear of polio virus: India, Georgia place curbs on Pakistanis

The Express Tribune,
India and Georgia have made it compulsory for Pakistani travellers to get anti-polio vaccine prior to entering their territory, reveals a letter of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination.
The letter titled ‘International Certification of Vaccination for Prophylaxis’ was written to Health Department. It explains what measures the department has to take to issue the polio vaccination certificates to the travellers, who plan to visit these two countries.
“This is in continuation of this ministry letter dated 24 Feb, 2014 on the above noted subject regarding compulsory polio vaccination of travellers going from Pakistan to India and Georgia,” the letter says.
It says that the directorate of Central Health Establishment (CHE) has already been directed to coordinate with the provincial health departments, executive district officers (EDOs), district health officers (DHOs), and complete the requisite formalities on top priority.
The letter says the port health officer under the directorate of the CHE as well as designated public sector tertiary care hospital in all provincial headquarters are authorised to administer Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) and issue vaccination certificate to the travellers.
Requesting anonymity, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official said that currently two countries had imposed travel restrictions on Pakistan but several others might also follow suit. “The Independent Monitoring Board for Polio Eradication and the WHO Executive Board will have their meeting around May 20, 2014. Considering putting curbs on countries where polio exists is on the agenda,” he said.
The official said two countries had made it mandatory on travellers of all ages to get polio vaccination certificate six weeks prior to their visit. “If other countries do the same then Pakistan may have to face problems and arrange vaccination for a large number of travellers,” he maintained.
He said Pakistan had the worst record of polio eradication in the world. In 2013, 11 cases of polio were reported in Afghanistan compared to 30 in 2012. However, In Pakistan, 58 cases were reported in 2012 and 85 in 2013 – a 40% increase. He said 47 cases of polio had been reported in Pakistan during this year, he said.
“The virus from Pakistan has reached Syria and even Palestine. If we calculate the number of polio cases since last May, above 70 polio cases are reported just in North Waziristan where total population is around 700,000. We have to eradicate polio to avoid the restrictions,” he added.
An official of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation said they had received the letter from the ministry and the relevant EDOs, medical superintendents were asked to follow the guidelines for issuing the polio immunisation certificate.

US condemns attack on Hamid Mir

The United States on Sunday condemned the vicious attack on television journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi, the latest in a series of worrisome attacks on journalists in Pakistan. According to a statement issued from Office of the Spokesperson Washington, freedom of the press, including ensuring that journalists can safely carry out their vital mission, is of paramount importance to freedom of expression and to the healthy functioning of any democracy. As Ambassador Olson powerfully said just recently, attacks like these should be a wake-up call to all who value democracy in Pakistan. We wish Hamid Mir a speedy recovery, and urge the Government of Pakistan to bring all those responsible for these attacks on the media to justice, the statement said.

Pakistan: Attack on Hamid Mir
The attempted assassination of TV anchor and journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi on Saturday, April 19, 2014, is a grim reminder of the dangers facing media persons in Pakistan. Not for nothing has it been dubbed the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Clearly, the schedule and travel plans of Hamid Mir were known to his attackers, given that he had just left the airport on the way to his office and was ambushed en route. His family and employers have been at pains to highlight a written message Hamid Mir had conveyed some time ago that if anything happened to him, the trail led to the ISI and particularly its chief, Lt-General Zaheerul Islam. ISPR has refuted the charge and described it as unfortunate and misleading when there is no proof of the assertion. Condemnation of the attack and calls for a thorough and independent investigation have come tumbling out from all quarters, including the government and military top brass. The latter, in particular, are obviously interested in clearing the name of the ISI. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced a three-member judicial commission will be set up to investigate the incident. He has also announced a reward of Rs 10 million to anyone providing credible information that could help track down the attackers. While these lines are being written, there are also reports of a high level meeting being held by the prime minister to discuss the issue.
Meanwhile the Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Menon has promised a thorough inquiry and investigation, but has asked for federal help in the endeavour. This is a reasonable demand since the entrails of whatever conspiracy lies behind the attempted murder of Hamid Mir could be difficult to trace at just a provincial level. Hamid Mir received three bullets, and the presence of mind of his driver allowed him to shake off the pursuing attackers and managed to get him to a hospital in time. Hamid Mir is reportedly recovering in hospital after a successful surgery to remove the bullets. We all wish him a full and speedy recovery. Journalist bodies countrywide have mounted protests against the attack, calling it not just an attack on Hamid Mir but a full, frontal attack on the media and freedom of expression. Everywhere the cry has gone up that such tactics and attacks meant to silence the media will not be allowed to succeed.
Attacks on the media and journalists seem to be intensifying since the start of this year and acquiring a sinister pattern. Earlier attacks on the Express group and particularly its TV anchor Raza Rumi in Lahore, in which he was fortunately relatively unscathed but in which his driver was killed, point to the slate of possible suspects. In Raza Rumi’s case, the gang responsible has recently been rounded up in Lahore and identified as belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned extreme sectarian group. However, given the controversy that has arisen as a result of the revelation of Hamid Mir’s allegations against the ISI, the matter assumes even more important dimensions requiring investigations that get to the bottom of the mystery. It may be recalled that some months ago reports spoke of a hit list of the Taliban that included media house owners, prominent journalists and even the unnamed editor of an English newspaper. Since Raza Rumi’s and Hamid Mir’s names were both reportedly on the hit list, it has by now acquired very sinister and important dimensions. Needless to say, the government and all state authorities not only need to cooperate in the investigation into this latest atrocity against a prominent journalist, the authorities and media houses also need to revisit the risks run by working journalists and chalk out security and other safety measures to safeguard those who strive to bring the truth into the light of day, a seemingly noble endeavour, but not without risk to life and limb from variegated enemies, as the track record of journalists killed, attacked and threatened in Pakistan over the years shows.

Pakistan: Another attack on the media

THE murderous attack on Hamid Mir, one of Pakistan’s most recognisable faces in the TV news industry, may have been shocking, but is anyone truly surprised? The media is specifically under threat and the spate of attacks culminating with the one in Karachi on Saturday against Mr Mir may only be the beginning.
Across the media, there is a growing fear that something truly dreadful and on a spectacular scale may be in the offing. And what is the government’s response? Verbal condemnations and an emergency meeting convened by the prime minister yesterday at which it was decided to form a judicial commission to investigate the attack. That, as the many commissions that have come before it are a testament to, is the government effectively saying there’s nothing it can do.
But there is much that the government can do. It could, for example, take a hard line with the group that directly, routinely and openly threatens the media: the outlawed TTP, the very group with which the government is negotiating.
At the very least, the TTP could be asked to take back its fatwa against sections of the media. The TTP could also, as part of the dialogue process, be asked to explicitly renounce violence against the media. Yet, a judicial commission whose report may never see the light of day if it ventures too close to uncomfortable facts is all the government has to offer.
There is also silence in another difficult area that became the focus in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Mr Mir: the role of Pakistan’s military-run intelligence agencies. While many of the accusations were emotional and bereft of hard information, there is a wider point to consider.
Instantaneous denials via the ISPR are never followed up with what should be the next step: finding the actual culprits. Who killed Saleem Shahzad, for example? All that is publicly known is who denied having anything to do with his death. Is it any surprise then that in moments of emotion, the same set of accusations is repeated? Unless such cases are investigated and the culprits brought to book, fingers will always be pointed at those whose duty it is, in fact, to provide protection to media personnel and other citizens.

Pakistan: cannot afford dictatorship

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has said the country cannot afford a dictatorship and that the judiciary will not endorse any ‘misadventure’.
“The current situation in the country does not allow any dictatorship and the judiciary will also not endorse any misadventure,” Mr Shah said while talking to journalists at the airport here on Sunday. Referring to strong reaction from the army on some speeches made recently in the parliament, the PPP leader said “minor mistakes” made by legislators should be tolerated and overlooked.
When asked whether the PPP supported the PML-N government or the army in the “tiff between the two”, Mr Shah said his party was “with the masses”.
Answering a question, he said that at a recent meeting with the prime minister, a PPP delegation led by former president Asif Ali Zardari advised him that the Protection of Pakistan Bill was not a good piece of legislation. “Mr Zardari told Mr [Nawaz] Sharif that the proposed law could even be used against the PML-N leaders.”
Mr Shah said the prime minister was also requested to take the opposition into confidence before moving the bill.
The PPP tabled 139 bills after consultation with the opposition during its five-year tenure and about 98 per cent of them were adopted with consensus.
“We asked the ruling party to adopt the same procedure and take inputs from opposition benches.”
He said he did not think that talks between the government and the Taliban could continue after the militants’ decision to end ceasefire.
Referring to retired Gen Pervez Musharraf’s presence in Karachi, Mr Shah said the former army chief was probably “being gradually whisked out of the country”. The general’s arrival in Karachi could be the “first step in that direction”.
He expressed fears that the Sindh government would be held responsible if the former military ruler did indeed go out of the country.
Mr Shah said that in a letter the Punjab chief minister had assured Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of “fool-proof security” during his stay in Lahore.