Friday, April 25, 2014

Turkish president approves disputed Internet law
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has approved a controversial bill which critics said aims to increase government controls over the internet.
Gul announced on his Twitter account that he signed the legislation into law Tuesday after government officials stated that two disputed articles of the legislation would be amended.
The legislation, approved by Parliament earlier this month, allows the telecommunications authority to block websites for privacy violations without a court decision. It also forces Internet providers to keep records of users' activities for two years and make them available to authorities.
The EU, which Turkey hopes to join, had called the legislation "a step back" for media freedom. Gul said the government would submit amendments to the law to parliament on Wednesday.

Saudi woman gets 150 lashes for driving: Report

A woman has been sentenced to 150 lashes and eight months behind bars in Saudi Arabia on charges of driving, a report says.
The woman was handed down the sentence this week after she resisted arrest by Saudi police forces, who stopped her for driving, DPA reported on Friday. There is no specific law to prevent women from driving in the kingdom, however, women simply cannot apply for driving licenses and some have been arrested for driving.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving. The medieval ban is a religious fatwa imposed by the country’s Wahhabi clerics. If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged.
Supporters of the ban say allowing women to drive will threaten public morality and encourage them to mix freely in public.
In 2011, dozens of women took part in a campaign, dubbed Women2Drive, challenging the ban. They posted on internet social networks pictures and videos of themselves while driving.
In 1991, authorities stopped 47 women who got behind the wheel in a demonstration against the driving ban. After being arrested, many were further punished by being banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces.

Pharrell Williams - Marilyn Monroe

Obama: I would absolutely save Putin from drowning

Can a case boost your iPhone 5's WiFi? Check the Linkase

The Linkase for iPhone 5 boasts up to a 50 percent boost in Wi-Fi signal strength thanks to a small electromagnetic waveguide extension. Does it work? See for yourself in these mobile speedtests where Wi-Fi is usually terrible.

President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with President Park Geun-Hye of The Republic of Korea

In Seoul, Obama urges Japan to settle ‘terrible’ sex slave issue

U.S. President Barack Obama urged Japan on Friday to settle disputes over the issue of women, mostly Koreans, who were forced to provide sex to Imperial troops in Japan’s wartime military brothels, calling it a “terrible” human rights violation. “This was a terrible and egregious violation of human rights,” Obama said at a joint press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye following their summit at the Blue House presidential office in Seoul. Many women who were forced to work in the military brothels, euphemistically called “comfort women” in Japan, were from the Korean Peninsula.
Disputes over the issue, particularly the role played by the Japanese military and, more recently, demands for official compensation for the women, have strained ties between Japan and South Korea.
Obama said the victims deserved to be “heard” and “respected.”
“There should be an accurate and clear account of what happened,” he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accepts that the past has to be recognized “honestly and fairly,” Obama said.
It is in the interests of both Japan and the Korean people to find ways to soothe the heartache and pain of such women, Obama said.
Obama said, “My hope would be that we can honestly resolve some of these past tensions but also keep our eye on the future and the possibilities of peace and prosperity for all people.”
Obama brokered the first meeting between Abe and Park since they took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively, in The Hague in March, hoping an improvement in relations between Tokyo and Seoul will help the United States deal with regional issues including North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Abe said his government will stick to the government’s 1993 apology noting the pain of the victims and the military’s involvement in running the brothels. The apology was expressed in a statement issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
In 1995, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed an apology for the suffering Japan inflicted on other Asian countries before and during World War II.
“Before holding the summit, the Japanese leader had made many promises such as inheriting the Murayama statement and Kono statement and working hard to take sincere actions for former comfort women,” Park said. “We should not lose the momentum of the meeting of South Korea, the United States and Japan and it’s not necessary to do a lot of talking, but Prime Minister Abe should sincerely keep promises he made,” she said.
During trilateral talks in the Netherlands, Abe and Park agreed to reactivate bilateral dialogue and both governments held senior working-level talks on disputes over the comfort women issue earlier this month.

Files shed new light on Japan's atrocities

Documents refute right-wing denials of war crimes, Chinese experts say.
Newly deciphered Japanese wartime archives offer fresh evidence of atrocities committed by Japanese troops during the invasion of China.
The Jilin Provincial Archives has released 89 files related to Japan's Kwantung Kempeitai (military police corps) and the then "central bank" of the Japanese-aligned puppet state of Manchukuo.
Experts said the archives are of great historical value, as they refute the denial of war crimes by Japanese right-wingers.
"The Abe administration and Japan's rightists have tried to disown history by glorifying or giving ambivalent definitions of Japan's invasion," said Jiang Lifeng, a research fellow at the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Now they can find answers to 'what an invasion is' through the documents."
"I was stunned when I visited the Jilin archives two months ago and saw such a colossal volume of files kept in such good order. These files fully expose the atrocities of Japan's militarism," Jiang said.
For example, a report on an investigation into "restoration of public order by Nanjing Kempeitai" by Commander Ooki Sigeru on February 28, 1938, said that the population of Nanjing was about 1 million before December 1937, when the Nanjing Massacre took place.
At least 300,000 Chinese civilians and unarmed soldiers were killed by invading Japanese troops in the massacre.
But some Japanese rightists have tried to deny the massacre by claiming the population in Nanjing before the Japanese occupation was no more than 300,000, Jiang said.
The latest population figure provided by the Japanese wartime commander may cause some of them to cease claiming this, he said. Another file contains an edition of the Osaka Daily News for Dec 23, 1937, documenting how Japanese troops killed 85,000 people in just three days in Nanjing.
"Dead bodies stretched for 1,000 to 1,500 meters to the lower reaches of the Yangtze River," the report said.
Twenty-five newly released files relate to "comfort women" — sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war.
One file records that from November 1944 to March 1945, 532,000 yen ($5,195 at the current exchange rate) was transferred by the "central bank" of Manchukuo for the arrangement of "comfort women" for a military branch, under an account described as "public spending for military use".
Su Zhiliang, director of the "comfort women" research center at Shanghai Normal University, said: "It is an astonishing fact. That was a large amount of money then."
"It once again proves that the sex slavery system was enforced officially, rather than a private commercial operation as claimed by Japan's right-wing politicians."
The archives show in detail how "comfort stations" were operated by the Japanese military from northeastern China, central China and Indonesia.
Wherever there were Japanese troops, there were "comfort stations", Su said.
The documents also suggest that numerous Asian women, including Chinese and Koreans, experienced sexual abuse by the Japanese military.
For example, one Japanese military document shows that the ratio of "comfort women" to Japanese soldiers was 1:178 in Nanjing. In Zhenjiang, a city near Nanjing, the document shows that 8,929 Japanese soldiers visited "comfort stations" in 10 days. Zhao Yujie, team leader of a research project on the Nanjing Massacre at the Jilin archives, said such statistics show that the "comfort women" system was authorized and carried out systematically by the Japanese military. Yin Huai, curator of the Jilin Provincial Archives, said it now has nearly 100,000 files of Japanese wartime documents, and 90 percent of them are written in Japanese.
The archives also contain audio recordings of the speeches of Japanese wartime leaders, including prime minister Hideki Tojo, general Yoshijiro Umezu and high-ranking Manchukuo officials.
Zhao Sujuan, 81, a retired archivist from the Jilin archives, said that when Japan surrendered in 1945, Japanese troops buried documents they had no time to burn as they retreated. In the 1950s, the documents were unearthed at a construction site in Changchun, Jilin province.
Since 2012, Jilin Provincial Archives has organized research teams to decipher and translate these documents.
"As the research into the Japanese archives continues, more evidence of Japanese wartime atrocities inflicted on Asia will emerge," Su Zhiliang said.

UN chief says use of military force in Ukraine a mistake
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has reiterated his call for the implementation of the Geneva agreements on Ukraine and expects all the conflicting parties to cease futile actions and resume diplomatic efforts. Ban warned that any attempt to seek a military solution to the political crisis in Ukraine would be a grave mistake, Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Friday.
Military actions must be avoided at all costs, Ban said, otherwise the situation might spin out of control. The secretary general is concerned that 'situation could spin out of control with grave and unpredictable consequences.' The spokesman said that the UN chief reiterates his call to all sides to abide by agreements reached in Geneva. "He expects all sides to understand that the time is of the essence and therefore seize all unhelpful actions and instead reengage diplomatically to ensure full implementation now," Dujarric said.
Pro-federalization rallies have not been abating in eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk since March.
Protests later spread to more cities in the Donetsk region, including Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. In a bid to ease the mounting tensions, top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union brokered an agreement in Geneva on April 17, calling on all sides to refrain from violence, disarm illegal armed groups and start negotiations on a constitutional reform.
The Ukrainian government announced last week the launch of a special anti-terrorist operation providing for the use of military force against demonstrators.
Moscow called the decision to use force against protesters an extremely dangerous development of events. Kiev-controlled military units announced 'a second phase' of the military operation, intended to block access to the rebel city of Slavyansk.
Read more:


By Monish Gulati
The Chinese position on the Ukraine crisis and the Russian intervention in Crimea has been described as being of “studied ambiguity”, and one of the objectives of this policy was to balance interests in both Russia and Ukraine. The discussion on Chinese interests in Ukraine has largely centered on military cooperation and shipbuilding, obscuring Ukraine’s developing connection to China’s food security strategy.
China late last year concluded a deal to farm three million hectares of arable Ukrainian land over the span of half a century. Under the initial agreement worth $1.7 billion with KSG Agro, Ukraine’s leading agricultural company, 100,000 hectares were slated to be leased to Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC), a Chinese quasi-military organization, also known as Bingtuan. The leased farmland in Dnipropetrovsk region of eastern Ukraine was to be cultivated principally for crops and raising pigs and the output sold to two Chinese state-owned grain conglomerates at preferential prices. Eventually the project size was expected to increase to three million hectares, 50 percent more than China’s own agricultural land – becoming China’s largest overseas project involving farmland.
Food Security
According to the 2013 FAO report on food insecurity in the world, in 2011–13 a total of 842 million people or around one in eight people in the world are estimated to be suffering from chronic hunger, regularly not getting enough food to conduct an active life. Food security is a complex condition, with dimensions relating to availability, access, utilization and stability. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is home to 22 percent of the world’s population, but has only 9 percent of its total arable land. In 2009 China possessed just 2 million hectares of farmland. In 2011-13, the number of undernourished people in China stood at 158 million.
The situation has been aggravated by rapid industrialization and population growth, resulting in rising demand for farmlands which are not available within the country. A recent report declared nearly one-fifth of the nation’s soil, including 19.4 percent of its crop-growing areas, as polluted. China faces increasing pressure to enhance its domestic food production as it consumes one-fifth of all global food supplies.
Although China’s domestic grain output had grown for 10 straight years, demand for imported grain had also grown. It imported nearly 14 million tonnes of cereal and cereal flours last year, an increase of more than 150 percent from 2011. With a target to become 90 percent self-sufficient in food production, the Ukraine farming project was an important part of China’s food security programme and strategy of outsourcing the production of food to farms overseas.
African nations, with their vast and sparsely populated fertile lands, offer China a solution to its rising food demand. Most Chinese investment in African agriculture is concentrated in southern Africa: Mozambique, Tanzania, Malawi and Angola. The first major Chinese investment in Africa’s agricultural sector was in 1995. Elsewhere, China has also made substantial agricultural investments in South America, where it acquired 234,000 hectares to grow soya bean and corn in Argentina.
Incidentally, Chinese efforts to seek out foreign farmlands is a global trend. Countries such as the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and India have also purchased foreign farmland, initially mostly in Africa, but now increasingly also in eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia. A study from January 2013 showed that between 0.75% and 1.75% of the world’s farmland is now being transferred from locals to foreign investors.
Ukraine Connection
Ukraine has well-developed agriculture and is one of the world’s top 10 wheat exporters. Under the deal signed between China’s XPCC and KSG Agro, a Warsaw-listed Ukrainian agricultural company, crops raised in the region were to be sold at below-market prices to two Chinese state-owned firms. In exchange for its produce, Ukraine would receive seeds, equipment, a fertilizer plant (Ukraine imports about $1 billion worth of fertilizer every year), and a plant to produce a crop protection agent. Also part of the deal is a $3 billion loan for agricultural development from China’s Export-Import bank. XPCC had also proposed to help build a highway in Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea as well as a bridge across the Strait of Kerch.
Indian agricultural companies too have been involved in the recent trend of large-scale overseas acquisition of farmland in Asia and Africa. Many international companies have traditionally grown cash crops abroad, and more recently crops for producing biofuels for the global markets. The various factors driving the “outsourcing” of domestic food production have been identified as the Indian government’s concerns regarding long-term food security and diminishing ground water tables in northern and central India. Other factors include the allure of much cheaper land and more abundant water sources in overseas locations. In 2011-13, China had 158 million undernourished people as against 213.8 million in India. The Indian government has been taking steps such as high-level trade diplomacy and lines of credit from the Export-Import Bank to facilitate this trend.
The decision of China to partner in farming projects by Ukraine, a country once referred to as Russia’s breadbasket, appears to be based on geopolitical calculations. It was only after the Ukrainian government lifted a law that barred foreigners from buying land last year that paved the way for the Chinese project. Some analysts consider the Ukrainian decision as an attempt to distance the country from Russia and build stronger ties with the European Union and other partners. Ukraine and China, to further their partnership, set up an Intergovernmental Commission on Cooperation, as well as several sub-committees to intensify bilateral trade and economic cooperation. The Ukrainian economy and agricultural sector require the infusion of Chinese investment.
The Chinese situation in Ukraine illustrates how globalization has moved food security beyond a nation’s borders and neighbourhood. China characteristically employs a large percentage of Chinese labour at its overseas farm acquisitions, and if the Ukraine project had progressed beyond the initial stage it would have presented an added dimension to Chinese security concerns in Ukraine.

So the Turkish army is in Syria…

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly acknowledged that a Turkish military convoy has carried “aid” into Syria, to the Süleyman Shah tomb. The tomb, which sits 25 kilometers from the border, has been Turkish land under Turkish sovereignty since a 1921 treaty.
Can anyone tell Turkey it should not defend its territory? Of course no one can and if anyone dares to make a comment on the issue, Turkey rightly would not listen to it either. Can Turkey wander into a neighboring country with tanks and armored military vehicles without getting consent from the government of that country? Can Turkey do that even if there is a civil war in that neighboring country?
What would be the meaning of Turkey with its tanks and troops entering foreign land clandestinely, without receiving approval from the government of that land?
The amount is irrelevant. Though for some people in the government, “legalization” of a wrong move might be undertaken later and any offense may be made a non-offense a while later thanks to the overwhelming parliamentary majority of the ruling political clan, but that cannot be done in foreign relations. Even if your next-door neighbor is Syria in civil war and its government has lost its international legitimacy, the tanks and troops that were ordered to enter the country was not no-man’s land. It is a constitutional crime in Turkey, for example, to allow even one single armed foreign soldier to be deployed on Turkish soil without consent from Parliament, unless it was done under Parliament-approved allied arrangements or as a requirement of international law.
Since Turkey does not accept the legitimacy of the current Syrian government and has long withdrawn its Damascus envoy, obviously Syria’s consent was not obtained before such a deployment. But, was it a deployment, a routine troop exchange practice, or as claimed widely, a Turkish operation on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) near the tomb of Süleyman Shah?
Syria has become massive quick sand, a quagmire that Turkey should remember Reyhanlı and such past examples of probable fallout on Turkish territory and stay away from that menace. That does not mean stop assisting refugees and carrying out precious humanitarian work. But Turkey’s prime concern must be to protect its own territory, provide security to its own people. Turkey cannot act like the gendarmerie of the Middle East.
This country, once upon a time, was pulled into a world war because of the greed of some Ottoman pashas to align with the apparent victor and reclaim some of the empire’s lost territory. The end result was rather bitter; the Ottoman Empire was no longer the “sick man of Europe,” but a deceased heritage of which was up for grabs among the victors. The Turkish Republic was established on the ashes of that empire with the dictum “peace at home, peace abroad.”
The claims that Turkey has entered Syria with tanks and some 300 troops reminded me of the alleged leak regarding the March 13 security discussions in Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s office that showed four top security officials of Turkey engaged in war mongering.
Since the military is just obeying orders, I am asking the prime minister, foreign minister or the top spy: Am I right to be worried?

Turkey: Police take tight measures in Taksim for May Day including 50 water cannons

As tension between the opposition, unions and the government over the opening of Istanbul’s Taksim Square for May 1 continues, the police have taken severe measures against attempts to enter the area.
The iconic square will be closed to entry on May 1 with roadblocks, and 15,000 police officers will be assigned to work in the area on the day, along with 50 water cannon police trucks (TOMA), some of which have been brought in from neighboring cities for the occasion. Additional surveillance cameras (MOBESE) have also been installed in the square.
Meanwhile, a lawyer in Ankara has applied to the Constitutional Court in a bid to overturn the government’s ban on celebrating May Day at Taksim Square.
Lawyer Sedat Vural from the Ankara Bar Association individually applied to the Constitutional Court, on the grounds of freedom of assembly and expression. Vural cited the 34th Article of the Turkish Constitution, titled “The right to hold meetings and demonstration marches.” The article reads as follows: “Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he would not allow May Day gatherings in Taksim Square, the scene of protests that have dogged the government since last summer. A similar decision in May last year to ban the use of the square – a traditional and symbolic rallying point for unions – led to violence, as police cracked down on protesters in a prequel to the wave of nationwide anti-government Gezi Park demonstrations last June.
Opposition parties and unions have objected to the ban on Taksim and said they will attempt to march to the iconic city center.

President Obama: Vladimir Putin ‘Not Stupid Man’ But Unlikely to Cave to Sanctions

President Obama said today he believes President Vladimir Putin is “not a stupid man” but that tougher western sanctions on Russia would do little to change its course in Ukraine.
“There’s going to come a point when he’s going to have to make a fundamental decision,” Obama said at South Korea’s Blue House. “Is he willing to see an economy already faltered weaken further … or is he going to use military force and the kind of destabilizing activities that we see so far?
“That’s the choice he’s going to have to make,” Obama said, “but we shouldn’t make the choice easy for him.”
Obama has said that a new package of economic sanctions is “teed up and ready to go” and could be deployed in a “matter of days, not weeks.” But the White House has signaled that “technical issues” with their practical implementation and coordination with European allies still need to be resolved.
“The violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity in Ukraine is a principle that the U.S. has to stand up to,” Obama said.
At the same time, when asked whether he thinks new sanctions will make any difference, Obama bluntly acknowledged there are “no guarantees” and even suggested Putin was unlikely to abide. “Mr. Putin, in my second term, has had an increasing tendency to view the world through a Cold War prism and to see Russia’s interests as invariably in conflict with the West,” he said. “I disagree with him with what’s in Russia’s interest, but he’s the president of that country.”
As for Putin’s recent comment that he thinks Obama would save him if he were found to be drowning, Obama said he would save Putin.
“I absolutely would save Mr. Putin if he were drowning,” the president said. ” I would like to think that if anyone is out there drowning, I will save them. I used to be a pretty good swimmer – I grew up in Hawaii -though [I'm] a little out of practice.

Chicago mayor Emanuel announces high school named for President Obama

Chicago’s wildly popular network of selective-enrollment public high schools, conceived as a bulwark against a perceived flight of middle-class city residents to the suburbs in search of educational opportunity for their children, is set to get its 11th member: Barack Obama College Preparatory High School.
Frank Spielman and Lauren Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times report that the secondary school will be constructed on the near north side, mere blocks from Walter Payton College Prep, one of the most successful members of the selective-enrollment network, whose acceptance rates are in many cases on par with those of the Ivy League universities. Payton, named for the late Chicago Bears running back and philanthropist, in fact, is so tough an admissions ticket that its acceptance of the daughter of the Republican gubernatorial nominee has been a significant political football over the past year.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Sun-Times reporters note, has been under fire for building new schools and expanding facilities at Payton and at fellow selective-enrollment secondary Jones College Prep on the relatively upscale southern periphery of Chicago’s Loop in the immediate wake of the City Hall–ordered closure of 50 schools. The first-term mayor, previously Obama’s White House chief of staff, has also weathered a bruising strike by Chicago Public Schools teachers. (View slide show.)
U.S. News, in rankings out this week, tapped Chicago selective-enrollment schools as the four top public high schools in the state of Illinois, led by Northside College Preparatory, which the magazine ranked No. 36 nationally. Payton was ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 49 nationally; Jones, No. 3 in Illinois and No. 91 nationally; and Whitney Young Magnet High School, No. 4 in the state and No. 120 in the country. Suburban secondary schools, however, claim the vast majority of the U.S. News statewide rankings between fifth and 50th.
The high school named for the president is slated to open in the fall of 2017, according to the Sun-Times report, mere months after the anticipated return to Chicago of the Obama family. Naming the school for a living person will require a Board of Education rule change or exception, note Spielman and Fitzpatrick.
Chicago has also been jockeying for position in the race to land the Obama presidential library.

U.S. President Obama pays tribute to Korean War dead

Putin, Merkel emphasizing importance of holding Russia, EU, Kiev negotiations on gas

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone conversation with German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday. The conversation was held at Merkel's initiative, Interfax reports. "The leaders of the two countries reiterated the importance of prompt negotiations on the safety of supply and transit of Russian gas involving representatives of Russia, the European Union, and Ukraine," the Russian presidential press service said in a report.
"Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel exchanged opinions on the critical situation in Ukraine and the unwillingness of the Kiev administration to fulfill the Geneva agreements of April 17, 2014.
Vladimir Putin sharply condemned the attempts made by the Kiev regime to use the army against civilians in the southeastern regions of the country," the Kremlin press service said.
The conversation also addressed issues relating to the work of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine.
Read more:

Dostum, a former warlord who was once America’s man in Afghanistan, may be back

By Joshua Partlow
He was America’s ally, a stocky, gray-haired warlord who fought on horseback alongside U.S. Special Forces to overthrow the Taliban government in 2001. But within three years, Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum had so antagonized U.S. officials that they sent a B-1 bomber to buzz his house.
Now, after several years out of the spotlight, Dostum may again assume a central role in Afghan politics. He is a vice-presidential candidate on the ticket of former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, one of two front-runners in the election.
The return of a strongman known for brutal, reckless behavior would be a troubling development for the U.S. government, which has spent billions of dollars trying to build a stable democracy in Afghanistan. As recently as 2009, American officials tried to block Dostum from returning to Kabul from a stint abroad. Then-U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry warned that Dostum’s presence would “endanger much of the progress made in Afghanistan.”
This time around, U.S. officials are taking no public stance on the swaggering former militia leader, hoping to avoid the appearance of meddling in Afghanistan’s election. People close to Ghani’s campaign say U.S. officials did not try to prevent him from choosing Dostum.
Such a hands-off approach is a stark departure from past U.S. policy. Interviews with former American and Afghan officials, along with presidential palace documents and State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, have revealed the lengths to which the U.S. government has gone to influence and then sideline Afghanistan’s “quintessential warlord,” as the State Department once described Dostum.
As the senior of two vice presidents, Dostum would exert considerable power. When the Afghan president travels overseas, the vice president becomes acting president and can make decisions and sign decrees.
Ghani once called Dostum a “known killer” but now says his ticket symbolizes reconciliation. Other Afghan officials, however, worry about Dostum again assuming a high-profile position in the capital after years in which he was based in northern Afghanistan. They fear that he could reestablish his fearsome militia, incorporating his followers into the Afghan security forces as U.S. troops withdraw.
Dostum denies harboring such intentions.
“They want to portray me as the leader of a coup. Those who say so are my enemies,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday. “They say I will bring my men, en masse, and pose a danger to the future. If I were a danger, I would have done something in the past 13 years.”
Souring of ties with U.S.
Dostum, a former plumber, wrestler and oil refinery worker from Sheberghan, the capital of the northwestern province of Jowzjan, rose to prominence as a pro-Soviet commander fighting the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. Switching sides multiple times during the ensuing years of civil war and Taliban rule, Dostum developed a reputation for treachery and siding with the winner.
Before the Taliban pushed him into temporary exile in the late 1990s, Dostum controlled a wide swath of northern Afghanistan. He printed his own money, owned an airline and commanded tens of thousands of militiamen. When the United States went to war in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers worked with Dostum and his Uzbek militiamen to direct bombs onto Taliban front lines. During that period, Dostum was accused of letting hundreds of Taliban prisoners die, baked alive in the shipping containers in which they were held. He has denied responsibility for the deaths.
After the Taliban’s ouster, when U.S. guests would visit his compound in Sheberghan, Dostum liked to show them a pistol given to him by Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command at the time. Dostum would repeat the story of how he broadcast to Taliban fighters over the radio the voice of a female American pilot as bombs dropped on them. While recounting this to U.S. Embassy visitors one night in 2004, Dostum roared: “If an American woman can kill you, guess what the American men will do to you tomorrow, you pathetic dogs!” one staffer recalled. Then Dostum raised a glass of whiskey and toasted: “To American women!”
“He really sees Americans as blood brothers based upon the joint combat up in the mountains,” said Brian Glyn Williams, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth who wrote a book about Dostum.
But the feeling soon stopped being mutual.
Before the 2004 presidential election, the Pentagon was anxious to avoid internecine fighting between Afghan militias and security forces. Afghan leader Hamid Karzai also wanted to weaken regional militia leaders such as Dostum who controlled customs revenue and were resisting demobilization programs. Dostum and a rival commander, Attah Mohammed Noor, were regularly fighting bloody battles over control of northern Afghanistan.
Then-U.S. Ambassador Robert Finn had tried to persuade the men to focus on developing the oil and gas resources in their territories. “I tried to talk Dostum and Attah into becoming rich people,” Finn said. “But they’d rather kill each other over cows.” When the fighting continued, he cut off $1 million in U.S. Agency for International Development assistance to the commanders in fall 2002.
In April 2004, Dostum’s troops seized the capital of Faryab province and ousted the police chief and Karzai’s appointed governor. An Afghan army battalion was dispatched to restore order, but Dostum vowed to block its passage through Sheberghan and indicated that he might attack it. Given that U.S. military advisers were with the Afghan battalion, he was “threatening Americans,” said one U.S. official involved at the time, “and that was obviously unacceptable.” The U.S. official — and several others interviewed for this report — spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount behind-the-scenes events.
One night, then-U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called Dostum and warned him against taking action against the battalion. Khalilzad and the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan at the time, Gen. David Barno, decided to enforce the message by flying a B-1 bomber low over Dostum’s house in Sheberghan multiple times, according to several U.S. officials. “We really threatened Dostum very seriously,” one official said.
Dostum subsequently told the Reuters news agency that he had planned to help the national army and complained about the flyby. “My kids were frightened, but let me say that I am not the type of man to be afraid.”
Several months later, the Americans had Dostum in an even more vulnerable position. In winter 2004, one of Dostum’s aides called Col. David Lamm, Barno’s chief of staff, pleading for help. Dostum, a heavy drinker, had developed serious liver problems and needed urgent medical care, the aide said.
“The first thing that came to my mind was: Good, he’ll die,” Lamm recalled.
But American officials decided that helping Dostum would make him beholden to the United States. A twin-engine propeller plane was dispatched to fly Dostum to Bagram Airfield, the U.S. base north of Kabul. From there, Dostum, two aides and an American escort took a medevac flight to the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, said an official who served in the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan during that period. Dostum spent 31 / 2 days under the care of Army doctors.
“I don’t think taking him to Landstuhl saved his life, but what it did do was gave him a much better quality of life,” the former embassy official said.
Upon recovery, Dostum hosted Khalilzad and other embassy officials at his Kabul home. Dostum had an Afghan musician perform for his guests and served them a series of cooked birds. “It was a super-awkward dinner party,” one guest recalled. But Dostum was grateful. “I want to thank my American friends,” he repeated.
Dostum’s exile and return
Dostum agreed to come into the fold of the Kabul government, and Karzai anointed him with a ceremonial title: chief of staff to the commander in chief of the Afghan National Army. But in the following years, there were more flare-ups.
Around midnight Feb. 2, 2008, some of Dostum’s men burst into the Kabul home of a political rival, Akbar Bai. They abducted Bai and his 20-year-old son and took them to Dostum’s house, where Bai was beaten and allegedly sexually assaulted, according to Afghan officials. (The U.S. Embassy described the incident in a cable at the time as the “latest of Dostum’s drunken fits.”) In the morning, Afghan police surrounded the house. Dostum’s militiamen fired at the police, who were under orders not to shoot back.
The government placed Dostum under house arrest. At the time, he denied the assault allegations and said they were “designed to create instability in Afghanistan.”
After extensive negotiations, Dostum left Kabul for Turkey in November 2008. Many Afghans believe that he traded political support for Karzai for the ability to leave the country.
Before the 2009 presidential election, Karzai was considering bringing Dostum — who retains mass appeal within the Uzbek community — back to help swing the Uzbek vote in his favor. The U.S. government was firmly opposed. Nine days before the balloting, Eikenberry told Karzai that Dostum’s return would be unacceptable and “would endanger future international support for the new Afghan government,” according to a diplomatic cable describing the Aug. 11 meeting.
Karzai went ahead anyway and sent a chartered Kam Air flight to Ankara to pick up Dostum. Upon returning to Afghanistan, Dostum held a large pro-Karzai rally.
‘This is just propaganda’
During Karzai’s second term, Dostum stayed largely out of the spotlight. He built a new house in Kabul and continued to spend time in Turkey, where his wife and children had remained. He was receiving a monthly payout from the presidential palace of about $70,000 for his cooperation, diverted from funding provided by the CIA, according to one current and one former senior Afghan official. They and several other Afghan officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities.
In the interview, Dostum denied the payouts. A CIA spokesman declined to comment.
An official in the palace’s administrative affairs department, as well as a Dostum spokesman, acknowledged that Dostum had received government money. But both said this stopped after Dostum’s current campaign began. Neither would specify the amount.
For the April 5 election, Ghani, a former World Bank executive who is an ethnic Pashtun, needed the Uzbek swing vote. Ghani said he chose Dostum as a running mate because he “is accepted as a charismatic leader by a significant number of my countrymen and countrywomen. It’s out of respect for their belief in him that we’ve joined forces.”
But Afghan officials and others worry about Dostum’s possible return. He no longer commands armed fighters, but he has tens of thousands of followers who could take up weapons at a moment’s notice.“He wants to restart his militia,” a senior official in the presidential palace said.
Dostum scoffed at the allegations. “This is just propaganda against me,” he said. The former warlord’s camp believes that he will have good relations with Washington if he becomes vice president. “America has been our ally and close partner, and we would like [the relationship] to continue,” said Humayoun, the Dostum spokesman, who goes by one name.
A political victory for Dostum would resurrect a familiar strongman that many American and Afghan officials would rather leave in the past. Last summer, Dostum was invited to visit Washington with other Northern Alliance leaders to meet with U.S. lawmakers. Although Dostum ultimately did not make the trip, an Afghan photographer went to his Kabul home to take a picture for his U.S. visa. The photographer was taking a long time adjusting the lighting, Dostum’s posture, the angle of his chin, said a person who was present. Dostum was getting impatient.
“My friend, even if you take a picture of my ass,” he said, “the U.S. will know this is Dostum.”

PAKISTAN: A student leader is missing after his arrest by the ISI as witnessed by his associates

Mr. Zahid Baloch alias Baloch Khan, the chairman of the Baloch Student Organisation Azad (BSO-A) was arrested from the secret hideout in the suburbs of Quetta city, the capital of Balochistan province, on 18 March by persons in plain clothes who identified themselves as being from the ISI. They were accompanied by uniformed FC men. He was holding a meeting of the members of the executive committee of the BSO-A. The ISI personnel raided the meeting place and arrested Baloch. They told the participants that since the BSO-A is a banned organisation therefore the meeting is illegal. The question must be asked as to why, if the organisation is banned then why did they not arrest all of the participants? In fact, they had been following Baloch for some time with the intention of arresting him.
The BSO-A was banned in 2012 by the federal ministry of interior on the charges of being a terrorist organisation.
After his arrest the people there protested and persons from the FC pointed their weapons towards the students and threw Baloch in the four-wheel double cabin vehicle. They told the students that they can contact the police station. The family members of Baloch Khan and his friends went everywhere to search for him. They had not made his arrest public on the advice of his family for the reason that he would be killed like other Baloch students. After one month, on 18 April, the acting chairperson of the BSO-A, Miss Kareema Baloch, along with other student leaders of the organisation held a press conference and informed the media about his disappearance after his arrest. She told the media that Pakistani secret agencies and security forces abducted the organisation’s Chairman, Zahid Baloch aka Baloch Khan from Quetta on March 18, 2014 at 5pm and that this had been witnessed by herself and other members.
They apprehended that Baloch khan must be going through severe torture and intelligence persons will kill him like other Baloch people during the illegal detention and his bullet riddled body will be dumped on the road as is the usual practice of the secret agencies.
BSO-A has decided to sit on a hunger strike against the abduction of their leader outside the Karachi press club. The protest will continue until the safe recovery of Zahid Baloch. The 20 students including some ladies have joined the hunger strike. One of the student leaders has announced he is on a hunger strike unto death.
Mr. Baloch Khan told the BBC that he will be arrested in coming days and will also be killed extrajudicially like other Balochs. For further details, please watch the video.
Meanwhile the Baloch Republican Party, also a banned organisation, says that in Turbat city, Pakistan security forces have raided houses in the Dasht area and killed Jangyan Baloch on 18 April at midnight. Forces claimed that Mr Jangyan was involved in attacks on security forces but the family denied the allegations and said they had no link with any armed or political party. More Details:

Don’t ignore Balochistan, Brahamdagh Bugti urges intl. human rights groups

Exiled Baloch leader and President of Baloch Republican Party (BRP) Brahamdagh Bugti has urged international human rights groups not to ignore the worsening situation in Balochistan, the Pakistan‘s largest province. He said incidents of enforced disappearances; torture and killings in Balochistan are on the rise, as security forces have adopted a “pick, kill and dump” policy against educated youth and political activists in the region.
Speaking to the ANI Bugti said, “There are many international issues like Syria, Ukraine and the Arab Spring, but it does not mean that the Balochistan issue should be ignored,”
He added: “Earlier, I raised the issue that from 2005 till date, more than 100,000-120,000 people have been killed, and twenty thousand people are missing. That’s the reason why we request all international organizations who work for humanity and the international media, to visit these places to find out and check the truth”.
Bugti claims the United States, which has been fighting a war against terror in Afghanistan, must talk with the Baloch for peace in the region.
Bugti blames the Pakistan Government for discriminating against the Baloch and exploiting the provinces’ natural resources.
The recent finding of unmarked graves in the Tutak area of Balochistan’s Khuzdar District reveals a tragic reality in Balochistan. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says that 169 bodies have been recovered from the graves. Pakistani officials, however, deny these claims, arguing that the total number of bodies is only 19.

Pakistan: 4 killed, 20 injured in Karachi blast

Express News
Four people were killed while 20 others sustained injuries in an explosion in the Delhi Colony area of Karachi, Express News reported on Friday. The injured have been taken to local hospitals. The blast took place outside a mosque and a carpet showroom was reportedly the target of the attack. Several cars, including two state vehicles, were damaged in the explosion. Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah has requested the IGP for a report on the incident. Eye witnesses said a suicide bomber detonated explosives near the cars. The exact nature of the explosion, however, could not be confirmed at the moment. A heavy contingent of police and Rangers officer has reached the blast site and cordoned off the area.

Pakistan: Sectarian violence

HOW many have died in sectarian violence in Pakistan since 2008? More than 2,000 was the answer Minister of State for Interior Balighur Rehman gave in the Senate on Wednesday. The bald number may be grim enough, but so are the details that Mr Rehman shared: from Fata to Islamabad and Balochistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, no part of the country has been spared sectarian violence. What the raw numbers do not tell though is the evolving pattern of the violence. What began as targeted killings of members of the Shia community (and, on a much lesser scale, reprisal attacks against virulently sectarian Sunni elements) has now escalated to indiscriminate attacks on markets, buses, religious sites and really any place where a gathering of a particular sect can be identified and targeted. It is a war on entire communities, even if it has not reached anywhere near the term ‘genocide’ that is unhappily bandied about without much regard for reality. What is real is the pervasive fear that has gripped certain communities and many parts of the country.
What happens next depends on how seriously the state takes the threat and how the communities themselves react. So far, other than in small pockets, there has been no communal violence, but tensions are rising because of the continuing proliferation of hate speech and paraphernalia. The question is really that of a tipping point and how far society is from it at the moment. Historically, despite all the allegations of a proxy Saudi-Iran war playing out inside Pakistan, sectarian violence has been sporadic and, usually, quickly contained. Part of that may have to do with demographics, as the sectarian equation is not overwhelmingly lopsided and sects are not confined to a few geographical zones, so there is much side-by-side existence. In fact, the communities do mingle and mix a great deal. Yet, this much is also clear: the historical pattern can be changed and tolerance can be eroded if elements bent on doing so are allowed to operate freely and the narrative of hate is not pushed back against.
So, what is the state doing about any of that? The interior ministry provided the province-wise breakdown of sectarian violence over the last six years, but how many of the murders have been investigated, how many of the killers identified and how many prosecutions secured? Surely, it is only a fraction, if that, of the violence that has been enumerated by the interior ministry. Meanwhile, the tentacles of fear continue to spread. In Karachi, the Majlis-i-Wahadat-i-Muslimeen have claimed several Shias have been killed in recent days, while the Ahl-i-Sunnat Wal Jamaat has alleged their members have also been killed. And Karachi is just one part of the national sectarian cauldron that is bubbling ominously. Does the state have any answers?

Pakistan: Ten injured in Karachi blast

At least ten people have been injured as a result of a blast in the Gizri area of the city. According to initial reports the blast took place outside a Mosque located in Punjab Chowrangi. It is suspected that the bomb was planted in a car parked near the Mosque. Rescue teams have rushed to the scene of the blast. TV footage showed that the blast had caused severe damage to vehicles parked in the area. This is a developing story and further details are awaited

Blast near mosque in Karachi's Delhi colony area

An explosion took place near a mosque in Delhi colony area of Karachi, DawnNews reported. The explosion was heard in adjoining areas of Clifton, Gizri and several phases of Defence Housing Authority. According to initial reports, the blast took place near the location of a carpet showroom in the area. Local news channels reported that there may be casualties in the incident. Emergency and rescue teams were dispatched to location of the blast.

After "AfPak," What Next?

One of the most critical yet overlooked tasks involved in the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan is shifting the U.S. conceptual and strategic thinking towards South Asia.Since 2009, Washington has come to view its relationship with Pakistan primarily through an "Afghanistan-Pakistan" or ‘AfPak' lens. Post Afghanistan, this term and regional strategy will likely be discarded. The question then remains: How will the U.S. redefine its relationship with Pakistan in a post AfPak world?
In 2009, President Obama first introduced ‘AfPak' as a way of emphasizing the U.S. regional approach to the conflict in Afghanistan and recognizing Pakistan's key role in countering the al-Qaeda threat. Despite calls by policymakers over the years to alter the language and approach (some, including Pakistan analyst Daniel Markey, even suggested that Pakistan should be the focus in what he termed a PakAf strategy), remnants of the old and largely unsuccessful framework have remained in place.
But the 2014 drawdown will mean finally de-coupling these two countries, not just in policymakers' lexicon, but also in their strategic thinking. Already think tanks, Twitter hash-tags, and blogs are moving towards a new framework by changing the names of departments and collapsing vast AfPak empires back under more humble and seemingly less ambitious ‘South Asia' titles. Of course, the hyphenated relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has never been popular, particularly amongst Islamabad's sophisticated Punjabi policy elites who viewed it as Washington's attempt to paint them all as backward tribal Pashtun militants. At the time, however, it made sense and Pakistan profited from the new nomenclature. It also provided a strategic rationale for bundling up large cash transfers to Islamabad to help the government flush out militants from the tribal belt (a policy that has yet to reap any tangible rewards).
But beyond mere semantics, tying the fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan together meant too often that the international community was prioritizing Afghanistan over its larger and arguably more fragile nuclear neighbor. It also meant the broad spectrum of political and diplomatic relations with Pakistan was often reduced in the eyes of some Washington policymakers to one simple counterterrorism objective. This served only to exacerbate the vast number of irritants within the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. More importantly, it also led to a de-hyphenation of Pakistan from India, which in turn led to an incoherent policy towards South Asia overall.
So the change in language should please Islamabad, which has long been pushing Washington to recognize it as more than a mere appendage to Afghanistan. But Pakistan should be careful what it wishes for. While international forces have been waging war in Afghanistan, India has had an economic boom and the U.S. relationship with the South Asian powerhouse has broadened and deepened significantly. If policymakers now revert back to a South Asia paradigm, without the AfPak status, Islamabad may find itself having to compete for scarce diplomatic attention and resources against its long-time rival.
If there is one thing that Islamabad hates more than falling back into diplomatic irrelevance, it is being neglected at India's gain. If this recalibration of the U.S. relationship with the region is not handled tactfully, it could inadvertently ratchet up diplomatic competition between the two states, causing the emergence of an India/Pakistan nuclear doomsday paradigm once again.
Instead of thinking about two separate and only vaguely related regions of AfPak and India, policymakers need to recast India and Pakistan's relationship as a potential anchor of regional stability and make that the central focus -- not Afghanistan. As Stephen Cohen, a Senior Fellow at Brookings points out, "India is a friend but not an ally, while Pakistan is our ally but not our friend." In balancing the two complicated relationships, Washington needs to play a more constructive role encouraging economic and trade integration between India and Pakistan as a means of normalizing this relationship. A stronger Pakistan-India economic focus should be accompanied by a revised counterterrorism strategy to assist Islamabad in stabilizing its own internal conflict. And as the U.S. goes through this transition, it needs to remain wary that a deserted Afghanistan does not become a new proxy battleground between the two nuclear powers but also that Delhi is not able to leverage policymakers over Islamabad and vice versa.
All in all, the drawdown from Afghanistan and removing the AfPak designation should not mean the U.S. simply walks away from Pakistan or the region altogether. There are dangers in this transition, but also opportunities to strike a new diplomatic contract with Islamabad and recast South Asia in a new light. Policymakers just need to be creative, cautious, and regionally-minded in how to get there.


By Gaurav Dixit
Afghanistan’s pivotal geostrategic location has always exposed it to periodic disturbance, either from within the country or from the outside in power battles for supremacy in the region. Situated at the crossroads of South Asia and Central Asia, Afghanistan has survived various political and military intrusions. The most scourging have been the ordeal under the Taliban rule and the succeeding international invasion, and the long relatively futile occupation by the US-led forces.
As international troops are about to withdraw from Afghanistan, there is every possibility that it would become the fulcrum around which various countries’ political fortunes will be built; because for the countries in South, Central and West Asia, Afghanistan is going to remain the vantage point from where they can consolidate their regional supremacy.
Among various Asian countries battling for preeminence like China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, India and Saudi Arabia, there have been a few unorganized, informal alliances and counter structures to neutralize each other’s influence in the region. The most dynamic and influential among all has been the Saudi Arabia and Pakistan alliance in the region, often endorsed by China. These countries in particular have different strategical pursuits, and at times overlapping or counter interests that ultimately determine the fluctuation of their Afghan policy.
For a country like Pakistan, at stake are its economic, cultural, political and diplomatic interests. The pressure to safeguard its interests in the contested region requires more than diplomatic or economic means, which has driven Pakistan to use external sources and military might to preserve its interest. At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s incorporation into the Islamic sphere of influence, its military weakness, lack of diplomatic room for manoeuvre and focus on economic buildup for long meant that a major part of its policy in Afghanistan was driven by the financial and military trade-off relation it shares with Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia has no immediate interest in Afghanistan as far as its economic plan is concerned. However, its policy in Afghanistan derives its distinctiveness from the impact Afghanistan has on Pakistan, Saudi’s ally, and Iran, its enemy in the region. Secondly, its involvement in the region has its own religious dimension. Pakistan, which in earlier centuries has looked upon Saudi Arabia for its theological revival, has endorsed Riyadh’s religious policies in the region. Similarly, Pakistan has cautiously traded with Saudi Arabia’s policy on Iran, showing a varying degree of assimilation and rejection of Iran’s interest in Afghanistan – occasionally, to combat India’s involvement in the region in alliance with Iran and Russia.
The distinctive correlative dependence between the two countries at the political and diplomatic level makes it really a powerful alliance in the region. The growing involvement of Saudi Arabia has also extended Pakistan’s influence in the region making it practically indispensable to ignore its influence.
Will the alliance be good at a larger level?
The two countries have stepped up engagement in the last six months with successive visits to Pakistan by Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and Deputy Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan. Earlier, Pakistan’s new Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif made his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia. The trip was termed as a “new era in strategic partnership” between the two countries. The intensified bilateral engagement consists of military and defence and economic engagement.
Recently, Saudi Arabia loaned $1.5 billion to Pakistan to support its foreign exchange reserves and undertake large energy and infrastructure projects. It was also meant to derail a $7.5-billion gas pipeline project with Iran. Consequently, the project now seems to be out of the question. Iran had in December cancelled a $500 million loan promised in 2012. The renewed engagement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia has aggravated Pakistan-Iran ties. These developments will have a resultant impact in Afghanistan.
The recent mistrust over Iran by Saudi Arabia has worsened the relation between the US and Saudi Arabia, pushing it more towards Pakistan. Pakistan has been struggling with its ties with the USA since the last couple of years. The worsening ties have the potential to impact the US’ advantage over these two countries in mediating in Afghanistan.
Saudi’s policy shift in Afghanistan
In the meantime, there has been substantial shift in Saudi’s policy towards peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and Afghan government. In 2008 and 2010, Saudi Arabia was the key peace broker between the two warring factions. But recently Saudi Arabia has shown little or no interest in initiating or promoting such peace talks. Now, more often than not, it has been a passive spectator of the Afghan crisis. Unlike its policy in Pakistan, where it is arguing for peace talks with the Pakistan Taliban, Saudi Arabia has sidelined the issue of similar talks with the Afghan Taliban.
The long and failed international occupation in Afghanistan on the enhanced offensive of the Taliban might assist in reviving Saudi’s previous policy of promoting a Pakistan-friendly, hence Saudi-friendly power in Afghanistan. In the past both countries were important facilitators for Taliban. Pakistan’s material and intelligence aid to groups embracing Taliban’s ideologies in Afghanistan was effectively sustained by the theological oversight and financial support from Saudi Arabia. Saudi has since very long promoted identical form of religious Sunni doctrines across West, Central and South Asia.
The possibility of the new Afghan president catering to the interest of Pakistan is less likely, considering the historical involvement of Pakistan in Afghanistan to facilitate anti-state powers like Taliban, Hekmatyar and Haqqani groups. Leading presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah is known to be anti-Pakistan, anti-Taliban and backed by Iran. It is quite obvious that if Abdullah Abdullah becomes president, the new Afghan regime will try to boost ties with neighbouring countries including Iran, which in turn would be against the interest of the Saudi-Pakistan alliance. Saudi Arabia will never favour a pro-Iranian government in Afghanistan, as both the countries in the past have competed for their strategic interest by backing various ethnic groups, promoting their religious ideologies, enhancing economic ties and at times influencing insurgent groups. Both are promoters of different and competitive forms of Islam, Shia and Sunni. The Iran and Saudi-Pakistan rivalry during the Taliban era is likely to be resurrected if the Saudi-Pakistan interest is subordinated under the new government. Even a loose diplomatic understanding of the history suggests that withdrawal of the international troops will create a vacuum in Afghanistan. The two powerful neighbours, Iran and Pakistan, will battle for their space; and as long as Pakistan sees its interests in Afghanistan marred by uncertainty, it will try to solicit Saudi Arabia’s help to seek ‘strategic depth’ or the ‘Taliban card’ to consolidate its position in the region. Saudi Arabia will back Pakistan in the region to preserve its own strategic gains, against Iran’s religious and economic interests in Afghanistan, posing a potential threat to regional equilibrium.

Christian Man in Pakistan Reportedly Killed After Refusing to Convert to Islam

A Christian man in his twenties was reportedly shot and killed by a Muslim co-worker in Pakistan after refusing to convert to Islam, Pakistani and Christian news sites are reporting. The incident, which occurred last Wednesday, came on the heels of a new study which reported that hundreds of Christian and Hindu women in Pakistan are forced to convert to Islam every year. The 22-year-old named Haroon began a new job as a cleaner at a bank in Lahore just days before his death, according to the reports. That’s where he began working with a Muslim security guard identified as Umer Farooq. “Farooq mocked Haroon’s Christian faith on a daily basis” and tried to convince him to embrace Islam, Pakistan Christian Post reported.
The British advocacy group the Center for Legal Aid and Settlement (CLAAS), which monitors persecution of Christians in Pakistan, said in a statement that Farooq had promised Haroon a life of luxury and marriage to a wealthy Muslim woman if only he would convert. According to various reports, Haroon refused. When Haroon went to work on April 16, the conversation over faith again resumed, CLAAS said. Again hearing his colleague refused to convert away from Christianity, Farooq reportedly then shot Haroon in the head. Christian Today reported that Farooq later said Haroon had tried to kill himself. The Religious Freedom Coalition reported the security guard had also told police his co-worker – the father of two young children – had “looked depressed.”
But Haider Masih, father of the deceased, was quoted by the Religious Freedom Coalition saying his son “was a lively young man” who had shown no signs of depression.
The British monitoring group CLAAS said that while police took the guard into custody, they did not file the documentation known as a First Information Report necessary to proceed with a criminal case in Pakistan.
The local Christian community later protested at the police station, after which the paperwork was reportedly filed. The case is currently under investigation with the suspect still in police custody.
Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said, “Justice must be seen to be done and Farooq must be charged with murder, and punished for killing Haroon, just because he refused to forsake his faith and bow to the pressure being placed on him.”
Earlier this month, a report issued by the Pakistani human rights group the Movement for Solidarity and Peace estimated that about 1,000 Christian and Hindu girls and women between the ages of 12 and 25 in Pakistan each year are forced to convert away from their faiths and marry Muslim men. Christian Today called the study “extremely alarming,” because Christians – who make up less than 5% of the population – are such a small minority in the majority Muslim country.
Earlier this month, a Pakistani Christian couple was sentenced to death after being accused of sending a text message to a local Muslim leader insulting the prophet Mohammed. The couple has denied the charges and says they will appeal.

Pakistan: Police record statement of Hamid Mir

Police investigation team on Thursday recorded statement of Hamid Mir, Geo News reported. In the statement, Mir provided details of his arrival at Karachi airport, attack on him and reaching the hospital. The probe team including SSP Investigation and other police officers recorded the detailed statement of Mir for nearly an hour. Police recorded two-page statement under section 161 and 162. Hamid Mir said as soon as he reached at Jinnah bridge from airport he heard bullet sounds. “I felt some pain in the stomach after window of my vehicle smashed”, he said. Mir said his drive took him to Agha Khan hospital in critical condition, adding he only remembered that he was got into the stretcher.