Friday, May 2, 2014

Billy Joel - We Didn't Start the Fire

Video-USA: Washington's May Day march demands massive social change

Ceasefire goes into effect in Syria's old Homs: reports

A ceasefire reportedly went into effect on Friday between the Syrian government troops and the armed rebels in the contested old quarter of the central city of Homs, Arab TV stations and activists said. The ceasefire is part of a deal between the rebels and the government troops, under which the rebels would be allowed to leave their positions to areas in the northern countryside of Homs with their light weapons only within 24 hours. The rebels have agreed upon the ceasefire following two weeks of heavy shelling by the government troops on the rebel-held districts in old Homs, which has been besieged by the latter since two years ago. The Syrian army started a wide-scale offensive to wrest back control over the few remaining rebel-held districts in old Homs two weeks ago. The ceasefire and the rebels' evacuation would be considered the latest victory of the Syrian army in Homs, allowing the Syrian troops to fully secure the city. Reports said that between 700 and 900 armed rebels, mostly Syrians, are stationing in old Homs. Homs, Syria's third largest province, was one of the first provinces to sympathize with anti-government movement in Syria. The rebels there have taken considerable swathes of land, but the government troops have stripped them of their territory over the past year. The country's three-year crisis started in mid-March 2011, when anti-government protesters took to the street calling for reforms, but rapidly evolved into a civil war. So far more than 150,000 people have been killed and about one third of Syria's population forced to leave their homes.

Night battle for Kramatorsk over, sides counting losses
The evening battle for Kramatorsk in Ukraine's southeast has ended, leaving one defender of the city dead and nine others wounded, RIA Novosti reports. According to the agency's source, the Ukrainian army column was unable to enter the city. Hostilities broke out in the Yasnogorka area on Friday evening. The Ukrainian armor column blocked by civilians the day defore, decided to go on a break. "They were afraid that we would take away their weapons or armored vehicles," said one of the locals. There is no information about the losses in the Ukrainian army yet.
During the battle in Kramatorsk civil alert sirens were turned on, which hadn't happened in the morning, during the fight in the city of Slavyansk, 12 km from Kramatorsk. Eyewitnesses also reported that Ukrainian soldiers captured one of the militia checkpoints between Slavyansk and Kramatorsk during the day. It is reported that there will be no public transportation between the cities and within Kramatorsk tomorrow. No buses will be provided for workers from local factories, even though they have a continuous cycle of production. People finishing the night shift will have to go home by foot.
After the evening battle near the entrance to the southeastern city of Kramatorsk Friday evening, the city hospital has reported 10 individuals have been wounded and one dead. Earlier it was reported that after the attack in Kramatorsk the number of injured and dead went into the dozens and they were taken to hospitals in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. In an area between the two cities in Yasnogorki peaceful civilians blocked a column of between 10 and 14 armored military vehicles and other equipment. After dark set in, they took action and began firing trace bullets from semi-automatic weapons. "We received 10 injured with bullet wounds. There are seriously injured and some with lighter wounds. At least on woman (aged 36), an activist, is among them. Unfortunately, one died," doctors told RIA Novosti.
Ukrainian armed units had begun storming positions of the self-defence force in the city of Kramatorsk, the Donetsk region, a Russia 24 television correspondent reported. He said volunteers had told him about the assault and wounded people taken to hospitals. The volunteers had arrived at Kramatorsk hospitals to care for wounded people. The number was not known. Local residents helped render first aid to the wounded, the reporter said in a live broadcast. The special operation also resumed in Slavyansk a few hours ago. Read more:

Shots fired as locals stand up to Ukraine troops in the east

Obama, Merkel Vow Unity on Sanctions

Dramatic video: Odessa Trade Unions building on fire with dozens of activists blocked inside

Dozens killed in building fire and clashes in Ukraine's Odessa

38 people die after radicals set Trade Unions House on fire in Ukraine's Odessa

At least 38 anti-government activists died in fire at Odessa’s Trade Unions House after suffocating with smoke or jumping out of windows of the burning building, Ukrainian Interior Ministry reported. The building was set ablaze by the pro-Kiev radicals. Some 50 people, including 10 police officers, were also injured in the incident, the official statement said. It was not immediately clear whether those injured in Friday street clashes in Odessa were included in those numbers. According to the ministry, the Friday standoff on Odessa included “anti-Maidan” activists on one side and “football fans” from Odessa and Kharkov, as well as "euro-Maidan" activists, on the other. A criminal case on the charges of mass unrest has been opened. Earlier, a live video stream from inside the building showed disturbing scenes of supposedly dead bodies lying around the rooms with thick smoke in the air and blood stains on the floor. Most of the bodies filmed had St. George ribbons attached to their clothes, distinguishing the victims as pro-Russian or anti-Kiev activists. The person filming said he counted up to 25 dead bodies on the upper floors alone.
As the house was engulfed in flames, photos posted on Twitter showed people hanging out of windows and sitting on windowsills of several floors, possibly preparing to jump. Reports claim that those who jumped and survived were surrounded and beaten by football ultras and the Right Sector.
The riot police lines standing beside the building were apparently doing nothing to prevent the violence, the photos showed. Police officers reportedly said they cannot do anything because they were “unarmed.”

Obama, Merkel "ready and prepared" for more Russian sanctions

President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they were united in their desire to impose costs on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, if the May 25th election is compromised.

It's not Russia that's pushed Ukraine to the brink of war

Seumas Milne
The attempt to lever Kiev into the western camp by ousting an elected leader made conflict certain. It could be a threat to us all
The threat of war in Ukraine is growing. As the unelected government in Kiev declares itself unable to control the rebellion in the country's east, John Kerry brands Russia a rogue state. The US and the European Union step up sanctions against the Kremlin, accusing it of destabilising Ukraine. The White House is reported to be set on a new cold war policy with the aim of turning Russia into a "pariah state".
That might be more explicable if what is going on in eastern Ukraine now were not the mirror image of what took place in Kiev a couple of months ago. Then, it was armed protesters in Maidan Square seizing government buildings and demanding a change of government and constitution. US and European leaders championed the "masked militants" and denounced the elected government for its crackdown, just as they now back the unelected government's use of force against rebels occupying police stations and town halls in cities such as Slavyansk and Donetsk.
"America is with you," Senator John McCain told demonstrators then, standing shoulder to shoulder with the leader of the far-right Svoboda party as the US ambassador haggled with the state department over who would make up the new Ukrainian government.
When the Ukrainian president was replaced by a US-selected administration, in an entirely unconstitutional takeover, politicians such as William Hague brazenly misled parliament about the legality of what had taken place: the imposition of a pro-western government on Russia's most neuralgic and politically divided neighbour.
Putin bit back, taking a leaf out of the US street-protest playbook – even though, as in Kiev, the protests that spread from Crimea to eastern Ukraine evidently have mass support. But what had been a glorious cry for freedom in Kiev became infiltration and insatiable aggression in Sevastopol and Luhansk.
After Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the bulk of the western media abandoned any hint of even-handed coverage. So Putin is now routinely compared to Hitler, while the role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.
So you don't hear much about the Ukrainian government's veneration of wartime Nazi collaborators and pogromists, or the arson attacks on the homes and offices of elected communist leaders, or the integration of the extreme Right Sector into the national guard, while the anti-semitism and white supremacism of the government's ultra-nationalists is assiduously played down, and false identifications of Russian special forces are relayed as fact.
The reality is that, after two decades of eastward Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west's attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. Its rejection led to the Maidan protests and the installation of an anti-Russian administration – rejected by half the country – that went on to sign the EU and International Monetary Fund agreements regardless.
No Russian government could have acquiesced in such a threat from territory that was at the heart of both Russia and the Soviet Union. Putin's absorption of Crimea and support for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine is clearly defensive, and the red line now drawn: the east of Ukraine, at least, is not going to be swallowed up by Nato or the EU.
But the dangers are also multiplying. Ukraine has shown itself to be barely a functioning state: the former government was unable to clear Maidan, and the western-backed regime is "helpless" against the protests in the Soviet-nostalgic industrial east. For all the talk about the paramilitary "green men" (who turn out to be overwhelmingly Ukrainian), the rebellion also has strong social and democratic demands: who would argue against a referendum on autonomy and elected governors?
Meanwhile, the US and its European allies impose sanctions and dictate terms to Russia and its proteges in Kiev, encouraging the military crackdown on protesters after visits from Joe Biden and the CIA director, John Brennan. But by what right is the US involved at all, incorporating under its strategic umbrella a state that has never been a member of Nato, and whose last elected government came to power on a platform of explicit neutrality? It has none, of course – which is why the Ukraine crisis is seen in such a different light across most of the world. There may be few global takers for Putin's oligarchic conservatism and nationalism, but Russia's counterweight to US imperial expansion is welcomed, from China to Brazil.
In fact, one outcome of the crisis is likely to be a closer alliance between China and Russia, as the US continues its anti-Chinese "pivot" to Asia. And despite growing violence, the cost in lives of Russia's arms-length involvement in Ukraine has so far been minimal compared with any significant western intervention you care to think of for decades.
The risk of civil war is nevertheless growing, and with it the chances of outside powers being drawn into the conflict. Barack Obama has already sent token forces to eastern Europe and is under pressure, both from Republicans and Nato hawks such as Poland, to send many more. Both US and British troops are due to take part in Nato military exercises in Ukraine this summer.
The US and EU have already overplayed their hand in Ukraine. Neither Russia nor the western powers may want to intervene directly, and the Ukrainian prime minister's conjuring up of a third world war presumably isn't authorised by his Washington sponsors. But a century after 1914, the risk of unintended consequences should be obvious enough – as the threat of a return of big-power conflict grows. Pressure for a negotiated end to the crisis is essential.

China's Xi orders "crushing blow" to terrorism

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered troops stationed in Xinjiang to deal a "crushing blow" to terrorists.
Xi, chairman of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks when visiting the People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops stationed in Xinjiang.
Speaking with senior PLA officials on Sunday, Xi ordered PLA forces to assist local government and party departments in combating terrorism and safeguarding social stability.
All forms of terrorism should be rooted out in an early phase, while decisive action must be taken to stop terrorists gaining momentum, he said.
In a separate meeting with officials from the PLA and China's armed police forces in Xinjiang on Tuesday, Xi said the long-term stability of the autonomous region is vital to the whole country's reform, development and stability, as well as to national unity, ethnic harmony and national security.
He called on the PLA and the armed police to play a better role in protecting China's borders and combating violent and terrorist activities.
They must work to enhance ethnic unity and should participate in and assist Xinjiang's future development and construction, in order to contribute to the region's lasting peace and order, Xi said.

China refutes U.S. annual counter-terrorism reports

China here on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction with the China-related content in country reports on terrorism freshly issued by U.S. State Department.
In response to relevant content alleging China's cooperation in 2013 with the United States on counter-terrorism issues "remained marginal," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China always attaches great importance to international cooperation in the fight against terrorism.
"China falls victim of terrorism, and always firmly opposes terrorism in any form and terrorist acts conducted or backed by any person under any name," said Qin.
China always fights against terrorism in accordance with law while paying attention to eliminating both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism, he said, adding that China is opposed to linking terrorism to specific ethnic groups or religions.
"Terrorism is the common enemy of mankind, and the international community should make concerted efforts to fight against it," he said, noting China will continue to conduct exchanges and cooperation with other countries based on the principle of mutual respect and equality.
"On anti-terrorism issue, to make irresponsible remarks towards other countries and pursue double standards will not help international cooperation on counter-terrorism," he said.
On April 30, the U.S. State Department submitted Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 to the U.S. Congress.

Kiev authorities must 'stop killing' their citizens - Russian PM Medvedev

The authorities in Kiev should realize the folly of their actions and stop the killing of their fellow countrymen, said Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. Otherwise, Ukraine’s future may be grim, he added. On Friday morning Ukrainian military launched a full-scale assault against the city of Slavyansk in Donetsk region, using tanks and military aircraft, and casualties were reported. Moscow called Kiev’s actions a punitive operation that effectively puts an end to any chance of de-escalation of the current situation in accordance with the agreement made in Geneva.
"The use of force in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine is a demonstration of the actual powerlessness of de facto rulers of Kiev. Instead of starting a meaningful dialogue in accordance with the Geneva agreements, instead of joining their opponents at the bargaining table, they launched a punitive action," Medvedev wrote on his Facebook account on Friday. The Prime Minister noted that airborne assault troops and attack helicopters are being employed by Kiev, that blood is being spilled and people are dying, and declared that "the ones responsible for waging war against their own people" are those who "make criminal decisions" in Kiev.
"The authorities in Kiev in Kiev should realize the folly of their actions and stop the killing of their fellow countrymen, otherwise, Ukraine’s future may be grim indeed," Medvedev concluded.
Read more:

Video: Molotovs, stun grenades in Ukraine's Odessa as pro- and anti-Maidan rallies clash

Video: President Obama Honors the 2014 Teacher of the Year and Finalists

Video: Obama, Merkel meet in White House, strategize over Russia and Ukraine

Talks between U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House will focus on how the West should handle the growing conflict in Ukraine.

Video:Multiple arrests following May Day scuffles in Seattle

Protesters shouting ''anarchy lives'' clash with police in Seattle during a May Day protest that led to scuffles and at least nine arrests.

U.S. economy adds 288,000 jobs in April; jobless rate falls to 6.3 percent

New government data released Friday morning showed the nation added 288,000 jobs in April, a reassuring sign that the economy has picked up momentum since stalling out over the winter.
The hiring spree surpassed most analysts' expectations and is the strongest showing in more than two years. Businesses added workers across a broad array of sectors, including business services, retail and construction. The unemployment rate plunged to 6.3 percent -- the lowest level since 2008 -- though part of that was due to workers leaving the labor force. The upbeat report provided a convincing counterpoint to data released earlier this week that revealed economic growth was virtually flat during the first quarter. Many analysts attributed that weak reading to the unusually cold winter and argued that a spring thaw is already underway. The Labor Department also increased its estimates of hiring during the previous two months by 36,000 net jobs.
"This was an exceptionally strong report, and it suggests that the labor market has more than recuperated from the weather-induced slumber earlier this year," said Millan Mulraine, deputy head of U.S. research and strategy at TD Securities. ​
The construction industry provided one of the biggest boosts to job creation last month. The sector added 32,000 jobs, concentrated in heavy and civil engineering and residential building. Over the past year, it has hired 189,000 workers, with the bulk of those gains coming within the last six months.
The main hiring engine was the professional and business services sector, which created 75,000 net jobs. Retailers and bars and restaurants each added more than 30,000 jobs. The health care industry gained 19,000 positions. April’s pickup in hiring also helps validate the Federal Reserve’s decision this week to continue scaling back its support for the recovery. The nation’s central bank is reducing its monthly bond purchases by $10 billion to $45 billion -- about half the amount it was pumping into the economy every month last year. The Fed has tied its stimulus to the health of the labor market, and Friday’s data clearly show it is improving.
There was at least one ominous note in the report, however. The nation's workforce shrank by more than 800,000 workers in April, sending the labor force participation rate plummeting 0.4 percentage points to 62.8 percent. The Labor Department said there has been no clear trend of workers entering or leaving the labor force in recent months. "I would actually say that this big drop in the unemployment rate is not consistent with a really robust labor market because that labor force participation rate did not rise, and the employment-to-population ratio is shockingly low,” said Tara Sinclar, an economics professor at George Washington University and economist at, one of the nation's largest sites for job postings.
Some measures of the labor market remained stubbornly weak. The number of long-term unemployed fell slightly to 3.5 million in April, accounting for roughly one-third of America’s jobless. About 7.5 million people were in part-time jobs for economic reasons. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has cited those dynamics as reasons to keep the central bank’s benchmark short-term interest rate low for years to come.
But the sharp drop in unemployment could complicate the Fed's task. Several top officials, including San Francisco President John Williams and Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, have said they believe the first rate increase should come when the jobless rate falls to about 6 percent. Both officials had predicted that would not happen until next year, but that goal post is now much closer.

Forget al Qaeda, here's a bigger threat

By Andrew Hammond
Friday marks the anniversary of the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by U.S. forces. Three years on, the core organization of al Qaeda has been significantly depleted. However, the danger from so-called "home-grown" terrorism may yet be on the rise, fuelled by foreign nationals returning from key international theatres of war such as Syria. In the United Kingdom, for instance, Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-terrorism, recently asserted that the threat from UK nationals travelling to participate in the Syrian conflict is the "biggest challenge" to UK security services since 9/11. The total number of UK nationals who have fought in Syria is estimated at up to 366 by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at Kings College London, with a significant number believed to have been killed there.
Moreover, ICSR estimates that as many as 11,000 foreign fighters overall may have fought in Syria, from more than 70 countries, a number which is reported to be a higher concentration than anywhere since Afghanistan in the 1980s. A central concern here is that many of these individuals, which include potentially as many as 2,000 from Western Europe, plus individuals from North America, Australia, South-east Asia, and Africa, will return from Syria to their respective homelands battle hardened with significantly greater terrorist capability and resolve.
And given that the relatively large number of these foreign fighters makes them collectively difficult to track with precision, further home-grown attacks appear increasingly likely. While this offers propaganda value for al Qaeda, such individuals often lack thorough indoctrination of the network's core messages, even though some, including last year's London and Boston terrorists, appear to have been partially motivated or inspired by them.
This reflects, in part, the continued diminution of al Qaeda's central organization which is unlikely to be able to provide operational support for home-grown terrorists. It also means that these people, while highly dangerous, do not individually represent the same level of threat to international interests as larger cells and terrorist groups, and are thus less likely to be able to perform major, spectacular attacks in the mould of 9/11.
Thus, while bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has sought to seize on home-grown Western terrorism, and indeed the chaos in Syria, for propaganda purposes, this cannot disguise the central al Qaeda organization's declining fortunes. Al-Zawahiri lacks bin Laden's personal authority within the terrorist network, and the core has also been weakened by the assassination of numerous other senior terrorist leaders.
A fundamental challenge for al-Zawahiri is that while the central al Qaeda leadership appears to remain located largely in Pakistani tribal areas and borderlands, the wider network has becoming increasingly de-centralized and dispersed. The problems this can cause were underlined earlier this month in Syria when a jihadist group called Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) accused al Qaeda of having "deviated from the correct path," and "divided the mujahedeen in every place."
The origin of the dispute probably lies in an edict from al-Zawahiri to ISIS to confine its activities to Iraq after it was accused of abuses of civilians and rival rebels in Syria. Al-Zawahiri has instead recognized the al-Nusra Front as the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria and called for jihadist unity behind it.
Accompanying this dispersal and de-centralization has been shifting the focus of al Qaeda groups and franchises whose attention is more on "local" national or regional issues, rather than the broader international designs of bin Laden. In part, this also reflects the greater difficulty of attacking key international targets many of whose defences have significantly hardened since 9/11.
There has also been evolution in the geographical focal points of al Qaeda activity with terrorist nodes of growing importance, for instance, in key African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Yemen, where political upheaval since bin Laden's death has allowed terrorists and other insurgents to secure greater foothold. And reflecting this changed risk pattern, U.S. forces are re-deploying as a result.
For instance, the CIA has expanded its staff in Yemen, and also enhanced its air bases in the Gulf from which it can launch drone strikes into the country. Only last week, Washington launched a major drone attack which, according to the Yemeni government, killed at least two dozen militants, including foreign fighters, in an al Qaeda training camp in the remote mountainous area of Abyan.
Meanwhile in Africa, U.S. forces have also scaled up facilities in numerous states, including Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic. This is intended to allow for greater aerial surveillance coverage and drone strikes, especially in North Africa, plus sites for military hardware storage.
So while the central core of al Qaeda has been diminished since bin Laden's demise, much of the wider terrorist network remains potent, albeit more focused on local grievances than grander international ambitions. However, danger may be growing from home-grown threats fueled by battle-hardened individuals returning from foreign theaters of war, especially Syria, with greater terrorist resolve and capabilities

UN urges Afghanistan to prioritise ‘dignified’ return of refugees

The head of the United Nations' refugee agency on Wednesday said he hopes Afghanistan will prioritise the “safe and dignified” return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and other countries. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told journalists in Islamabad that Kabul had given “little priority” to the repatriation of refugees in the past. His comment comes as Afghans are in the process of electing a new president to replace President Hamid Karzai. Since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, some 3.8 million refugees have returned home. Nearly 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees continue to live in Pakistan.

The war correspondents' view from Afghanistan

Laura King
Two war correspondents let the facts — and the people — speak eloquently of the conflict's devastating effects in Carlotta Gall's 'Wrong Enemy' and Anand Gopal's 'No Good Men Among the Living.'
Wars are often at their most dangerous as they are winding down, fraught with unpredictability and chaos. But that is also the time when the conflict's true trajectory becomes clear, and the perspective of thoughtful and seasoned observers takes on greater urgency.
A pair of new books on the war in Afghanistan — "The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014" by Carlotta Gall and "No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes" by Anand Gopal — both by journalists who spent years in the Afghan theater, provide a window not only into what went wrong but why.
A highly respected New York Times correspondent, Gall spent a dozen years covering the war in Afghanistan and, in tandem, the tumultuous events in neighboring Pakistan. In this important work, she makes a compelling case that Pakistan — an ostensible ally of the United States — was a driving force of the Afghan conflict, with its powerful intelligence service as a fateful instrument. (The book's title comes from a quote from the late Richard Holbrooke, the American statesman who was an architect of peace in the Balkans but was confounded by the Afghan war.)
Tracing the arc of the conflict from the days after the 9/11 attacks until the recent past, Gall's narrative unfolds on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, employing both sweep and dexterity as she weaves seemingly disparate events into a coherent whole. Telling details accrue like a mosaic of coming calamity: mounting Afghan civilian casualties, maltreated Afghan prisoners, disrespected tribal elders, profound cultural misunderstandings that contributed to everything from a plague of "insider" killings to the unraveling of the American relationship with President Hamid Karzai. "I saw it time and time again in Afghanistan: foreign troops taking actions for their own protection, alienating the local population, and thus undermining their security," Gall writes.
The authoritative tone that pervades "The Wrong Enemy" falters somewhat at what may be the book's most crucial juncture: the circumstances underpinning Osama bin Laden's long sojourn in Pakistan, which came to an abrupt and violent end when U.S. Navy SEALs raided his Abbottabad compound in 2011, killing him. While Gall does unearth previously unreported revelations pointing to official Pakistani complicity at the highest levels in the sheltering of the Al Qaeda chief, she is also forced to rely on an unaccustomed degree of conjecture and intuition on the part of her sources — "I got a feeling he knew," one former associate says of former President Pervez Musharraf.
Perhaps mindful of the pitfall of journalistic memoirs in which the reporter's inner life takes center stage, Gall only rarely lets slip an observation colored by her own feelings. She alludes briefly to being deeply moved by the patience and stoicism of bewildered Afghan villagers in the horrific aftermath of an errant U.S. strike. She tersely describes her reaction when, on patrol with troops in an IED-ridden slice of Kandahar province, she hears a blast a short distance away and realizes from soldiers' shouts that the powerful antipersonnel mine was triggered by João Silva, the New York Times photographer traveling with her. "I cursed," she writes. (Silva lost both legs, one above the knee and one below, but eventually returned to work after being fitted with prostheses and undergoing dozens of surgeries.)
One might wish for a more emotionally resonant portrait of the remarkable events the author witnessed at perilously close range over more than a decade. When I met Gall at the end of 2006 in Quetta, Pakistan, where we had traveled separately on assignment for our respective newspapers, a fresh bruise was blooming near her temple, inflicted hours earlier when men she believed were military intelligence agents burst into her hotel room. What I most vividly recall is her utterly uncowed demeanor: furious, really, but not scared.
Recognizing, perhaps, that reticence can be a strength, Gall here lets the facts she lays out for us speak eloquently for themselves.
From three angles
With a plethora of policy-oriented works on Afghanistan having appeared in recent years, Anand Gopal wisely chooses to tell the war's story from the personal perspective of three characters: a Taliban commander, a U.S.-allied Afghan official, and an Afghan housewife who claws her way out of a suffocating village existence and eventually becomes a lawmaker. While a younger and less experienced correspondent than Gall, Gopal nonetheless displays a keen understanding of the levers of power in Afghan society and their sometimes devastating effect on individuals trying to make their way in the world. Gopal's literary method —- switching from one character's life story to another, adding in a wartime chronology and blending in sometimes unwieldy chunks of explanatory prose —- can create something of a whipsaw effect. But he anchors his narrative with small, beautifully rendered Afghan scenes: houses "built right into the mountainside — hundreds of them, lit up like candles, like some votive offering from the earth itself."
The portraits come alive to varying degrees. The Taliban commander, despite a wealth of detail about his activities, remains an opaque presence. The Afghan warlord, enriched and relied on by credulous-seeming Americans, is almost cartoonishly repellent; he is unrepentantly corrupt and keeps a young boy close at hand, praising his "beautiful eyes." (In Afghanistan, many powerful men regard pedophilia as a perquisite of authority.) The most conflicted but triumphant story is that of the educated but long-thwarted Heela, offering a nuanced view of a loving marriage that was nonetheless marred by domestic violence and the wrenching choices she must make at times to protect herself and her children.
Like "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," Katherine Boo's luminous account of the travails of Mumbai slum dwellers, this volume presents precisely rendered dialogue and detailed accounts of events that would in many cases have taken place years earlier. For some readers, that might raise the question of whether such a reconstruction, presented as nonfiction, can be considered entirely faithful. Gopal addresses that in a postscript, telling of interviews with multiple witnesses, retracing subjects' steps and careful use of existing documentation. The reader is left to judge the likely degree of veracity. Many of the areas where both Gall and Gopal traveled over their years of reportage were extremely dangerous at the time, and for the most part remain so. In both books, much of the action takes place outside the capital, which is always a virtue in reporting about Afghanistan. Swaths of countryside grow ever more violent, as exemplified by the shooting death last month of Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus in remote Khost province, near the Pakistan border. Her AP colleague, Kathy Gannon, who had written about Afghanistan for decades, was seriously wounded.
Gopal's book, like Gall's, contributes to our understanding of a conflict that seemed at its outset to hold such moral clarity but devolved into what Gopal calls "the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy" of violence becoming its own end. Much to their credit, neither writer loses sight of the real lives caught up in war's machinery.,0,4954234.story#ixzz30YoPZg45

Ending Afghanistan’s Drug Addiction Is Looking Like ‘Mission Implausible’

Mark Thompson
The Pentagon watchdog overseeing American efforts in Afghanistan says that the country’s booming opium industry is enjoying unprecedented growth that will fuel Taliban insurgents and challenge the government in Kabul.
As U.S. troops continue to pull out of Afghanistan, the country’s booming poppy crops and the opium they yield have reached unprecedented levels that will fuel Taliban insurgents and challenge the government in Kabul, the Pentagon watchdog overseeing Afghanistan says.
“We don’t really have an effective strategy” to counter Afghanistan’s expanding narcotics industry, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said in an interview Thursday. “Cultivation is up, drug usage is up, production is up, seizures are down, eradication is down, corruption is up—if you look at all those indices, it’s a failure.” And the U.S. is running out of time to change course.
The U.S. has spent $7.5 billion trying to eradicate Afghanistan’s poppy crop since invading the country on Oct. 7, 2001, shortly after Osama bin Laden oversaw the 9/11 attacks from his sanctuary inside the country. But since 2008, the U.S. and its allies have succeeded in eliminating less than 4% of it, according to satellite imagery. Seizures of opium are even less, accounting for about 1% of production.
The bottom line is bleak: if the U.S., with all of its military might and money, couldn’t tame Afghanistan’s drug problem in 13 years, what chance does a weak central Afghan government have after most of those American troops leave? The Afghan drug trade is like a colony of termites eating away at the framing of an Afghan society the U.S. hoped to build.
“If our policy was to assure we had a stable government in Afghanistan, so it would not be open to be a terrorist sanctuary to attack us—and that’s our stated goal for why we’ve lost 2,300 GIs and spent billions and billions of dollars—we’ve got a grave problem,” Sopko says.
Afghanistan is the source of about 90% of the world’s opium. Its farmers dedicated more than 500,000 acres to the opium poppy’s cultivation in 2013, up 36% from 2012. Much of that crop is sold to the Taliban, who pocket an estimated $100 million annually to fund anti-government forces. “The drug trade undermines the Afghan government because it funds the insurgency, fuels corruption, and distorts the economy,” the IG said in his latest quarterly report. “Moreover, the number of domestic addicts is growing.” The report is crammed with grim statistics: an estimated 7.5% of Afghan adults use illegal drugs. And while Kabul has established 50 drug-treatment centers across the country, their patients represent only 1% of the nation’s addicts. In some sections of the country, half the parents provide opium to their children, the UN has reported.
Whatever gains the U.S. and its allies may have achieved in Afghanistan are in jeopardy so long as drug money flows freely, distorts Afghanistan’s economy and encourages corruption. (Last year, 50 of the 700 Afghans arrested by special anti-drug units and convicted in Afghan courts were government employees). Sopko, whose assignment is limited to scrubbing the existing efforts—not proposing new ones—concedes the challenge. “It’s extremely difficult, and the people are trying their darndest, and many have died,” he adds. “But the bottom line is, it hasn’t worked.”
Sopko is a veteran government investigator whose blunt assessments often anger those he’s investigating, at least in public. “Off the record, [the U.S. officials responsible for the counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan] say ‘it’s a disaster,’” he says. “On the record, they say `this is a long-term project that’s going to take many years.’”
The inspector general isn’t telling the Pentagon anything it doesn’t know. “Narcotics continued to play an integral role in financing the insurgency, creating instability and enabling corruption,” the Defense Department said in a report to Congress last month assessing recent progress.
The root of the problem is economics, not narcotics. The subsistence farmers growing poppies will grow whatever puts the most food on their tables. “They are not inherently criminals, they are not even politically motivated in what they are trying to do,” William Brownfield, who heads the State Department’s counter-narcotics efforts, told a congressional panel in February. “They conclude that they can make $500 a year if they grow wheat, but they can make $2,000 a year if they grow opium poppy, so they grow opium poppies.”
From 2011 to 2013, as the U.S. troop presence dropped from nearly 100,000 to less than 70,000, the number of drug raids fell 17%. The seizures of opium dropped by 57%, and heroin dropped by 77%. There are now about 33,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and most, if not all, of them are set to pull out by the end of the year.

US Gen: Corruption Is Top Threat in Afghanistan

A former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said Wednesday that corruption, not the Taliban, is the worst threat to the future of the war-torn country.
"For too long we focused our attention solely on the Taliban as the existential threat to Afghanistan," Ret. Gen. John Allen told a Senate subcommittee. "They are an annoyance" compared to the scope and the magnitude of corruption.
Allen framed his opening remarks to the lawmakers in the form of a letter to the winner, who has not yet been determined, of the recent Afghan presidential election.
"While the Afghan National Army will battle your nation's foes and, in that context, battle the Taliban, the battle for Afghanistan — the real fight — will be won by righteous law enforcement, a functioning judiciary and an unambiguous commitment to the rule of law," Allen said.
"Wresting back the institutions of governance from corruption must be one of your highest priorities. ... Corruption is the dry rot of democracy."
Allen reiterated his recommendation that 13,600 U.S. troops and about 6,000 other international forces stay in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in December. The Afghan forces need the help to improve their leadership skills and technical know-how, which will allow them to mitigate the threat from the Taliban going forward, he said.
The Pentagon made a similar point in a report to Congress Wednesday that said continued international military support for Afghanistan after 2014 "will be critical" to sustaining Afghan forces.
The Pentagon report, which described developments from Oct. 1, 2013 through the end of March, said that despite battlefield successes against the Taliban, the Afghan forces face what the Pentagon called four "critical high-end capability gaps." The four are air power, intelligence operations, commando operations and the ability of Afghan government ministries to sustain security forces.
The report also said that while al-Qaida is unable to use Afghanistan as a platform from which to launch transnational terrorist attacks, the group's relationship with Afghan Taliban leaders remains intact and "remains an area of concern."
Allen also urged the next Afghan president to repair relations with the United States, which have been badly damaged by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's unwillingness to sign a bilateral security agreement with the U.S. And he called on the new president to make Afghanistan business-friendly, reach out to Pakistan and protect the rights of women and civil society.
Allen's testimony echoed a 260-page report issued Wednesday by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The report said that more than a decade of work financed with American tax dollars is at stake if bribery and theft are left unabated in Afghanistan.
Widespread corruption hampers the government's ability to collect revenue and hinders economic development and the effort to promote accountability, the quarterly report said.
"The costs in Afghanistan — both in lives lost and money spent — have been enormous,'" Special Inspector General John Sopko said in the report. "If we don't take advantage of this opportunity and get serious about corruption right now, we are putting all of the fragile gains that we have achieved in this — our longest war — at risk of failure."
SIGAR says corruption is affecting all levels of customs collection, a revenue stream that could help Afghanistan become less dependent on international assistance. The report said U.S. agencies estimate that tens of millions of dollars are lost to smuggling each year and that stemming corruption "could potentially double the customs revenues remitted to the central government."
Between December 2012 and December 2013, Afghanistan missed its $2.4 billion revenue collection target by nearly 12 percent and reportedly could miss this year's target of $2.5 billion by as much as 20 percent, the SIGAR report said.
"This would mean that the Afghan government will only be able to pay for about a third of its $7.5 billion budget. It will depend on the international community to cover the shortfall," according to the report.
The U.S. has allocated at least $198 million to help Afghanistan collect customs revenue. Efficiency and collections have been improved at various sites, including the Kabul International Airport, but corruption still permeates all levels of the process, the report said.
"Criminal networks use intimidation to smuggle commodities, resulting in the estimated loss of approximately $25 million annually for wheat and rice imports at a single customs location," the report said. Trade officials told SIGAR that about $60 million is lost each year to commercial smuggling and that Afghan employees listening to U.S. advisers are being kidnapped and intimated.
Progress has been slow in setting up an electronic payment system, and customs fees in Afghanistan continue to be collected in cash. This requires customs brokers to travel long distances with large quantities of cash to pay the fees, leaving brokers vulnerable to theft and increases opportunities for corruption.

Afghanistan: Corruption Saps Government Revenues: SIGAR

The U.S. Special Inspector For Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report warning that pervasive administrative corruption drained Afghan government revenues this past year, and if gone unchecked, the problem could become even worse in the future.
SIGAR's report listed bribery, embezzlement and other forms of corruption as persistent threats to effective administrative functioning at all levels of the Afghan government. It said current Afghan budget expenditures would be impossible to sustain if graft is not addressed and revenues are not increased.
According to SIGAR, the Afghan government set a target of $2.4 billion from the overall 2012-2013 budget to come from domestic sources, but that was undershot by 12 percent. This year, the Afghan government has set a target of $2.5 billion from the total $7.5 billion it has been allocated, but SIGAR predicts it will fall 20 percent short.
The U.S. watchdog has said that if corruption trends are not addressed soon, then the Afghan government would likely only be able to fund one third of its national budget, with the rest being propped-up by international donors. As the NATO coalition prepares to withdraw at the end of the year, and much of the international aid that has flooded over the years begins to dry up, this inability to meet budgetary needs has become a matter of grave concern.
While the SIGAR report focused largely on what the malfeasance and revenue shortfalls meant in relation to U.S. taxpayers and governemnt aid, it also gave extensive focus to how Afghan revenues could be increased through better customs regulation.
According to SIGAR, $60 million per annum is used by organized crime syndicates in Afghanistan for smuggling commodities that would otherwise be taxed by the Afghan government. The report says customs officials that seek help from foreign advisors are sometimes threatened and even kidnapped.
"I talked about customs several times in the media, and there was even a tussle between me and Minister of Finance; we sent a joint delegation consisting of four important representatives, including the Ministry of Finance, to customs houses," said Azizullah Ludin, the former chief of Chief Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption. "During one year, 839 million AFG were lost at Nangarhar customs and another 3.5 billion AFG was lost at Hairatan customs - the minister of finance must assess these issues, but he says 'Ludin is against me'."
Some experts have said that insufficient oversight has caused corruption to increase, and blame Parliament for failing to act more effectively to stem the tide of graft that has been rising for a number of years.
"The lack of proper monitoring of revenue collections has increased corruption, while our expectations of the National Assembly was that it would closely oversee the process," the Chairman of the Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee, Mohammad Yassin Osmani, said. "For instance, the Minister of Finance has gotten the authority to certify tariffs, but on the basis of a law that is now against the Constitution."
Corruption has become a major issue that has received greater scrutiny as the U.S. takes stock of the investments it has made in Afghanistan before withdrawing in December. According to SIGAR, corruption is one of, if not the, greatest challenge facing the country, having weakened the Afghan government, undermined its credibility and disrupted real economic growth.

Pakistani Spies, Mir and the Missing People of Balochistan

Sahar Habib Ghazi
A man was shot six times. Bullets went through his ribs, pierced his stomach, his thighs, and his hand.
I can’t say for sure that Hamid Mir, Pakistan’s most prominent TV newsman, was shot by the Pakistan military’s intelligence wing, Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) or proxies acting on their behalf.
And neither can Mir’s employer of the last 12 years: Pakistan’s leading news channel Geo. Yet they broadcast Mir’s brother Amir Mir making an emotional, bitter and strongly-worded accusation against the military and ISI. The New York Times reported the story with the headline “Critic of Pakistan Military wounded in Karachi attack”.
The many people in Pakistan who are sharing memes that vilify Mir, calling him an Indian spy or puppet and tweeting their unconditional support for the country’s armed forces and spies, also cannot know with certainty who shot Mir.
But there is a good reason for suspicion. Mir has been receiving threats from individuals whom he calls the ISI within the ISI. For the past few weeks he has been very vocal about a topic on his popular news show that the Pakistan military and the ISI don't want anyone to discuss: their ugly role in the war in Balochistan.
According to the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan (HRCP), since 2010 the bodies of hundreds of Balochistan’s “missing people” have turned up bearing torture marks. In 2013 alone, 116 bodies were found across the province, 87 of which were identified by families who accused Pakistan’s security agencies of abducting their loved ones.
Fight the frame
The international media explains Mir's attack in the context of a larger story about Pakistani journalists at risk and the big bad Pakistani military. This angle explores the conflict between Mir's TV station Geo and most of the country's media, nationalists and the military.
It seems to me that the frame of media one-upmanship misses the real story, and a likely motive for the attack: the missing people of Balochistan.
Mir knew the risks of speaking out on Balochistan. Pakistan’s media avoided the subject for years. So did Mir.
The Pakistani media’s silence on Balochistan stems partly from self-censorship due to fear of the military, partly from a nationalist stance that treats silence as patriotism, and partly because few really understand what is going on in the southwestern province.
Balochistan’s foggy war
Pakistan's national media organizations such as Mir’s Geo employ only a few people in Balochistan. It is the country's largest and most resource-rich province, and also least populated and poorest. Insurgencies have been brewing and cooling here for decades. The government restricts media access for international journalists. These factors help explain why covering Balochistan is complicated and dangerous, and why reporting about the province is rare.
When did this insurgency become a war? I can’t say for sure, but some very smart people think it happened when the Pakistani state bombed and killed the most prominent face of the insurgency, 79-year old Nawab Akbar Bugti, in 2006.
Facts about the Balochistan war are hard to verify. Armed Baloch nationalists are seeking independence from Pakistan, and Pakistan's armed intelligence operatives are trying to suppress them, sometimes through extrajudicial means. The government maintains that separatists are funded by “outside forces,” which is a euphemism for India.
Various sectarian and Islamist militias also use the area for recruitment and training to fight wars in Iran and Afghanistan, which border Balochistan, and within Pakistan itself.
Sometimes these groups join forces in pursuit of money and resources. The result is the people living in Balochistan have to protect themselves from several different dangerous ideologies.
Some Baloch nationalists are trying to drive all non-Baloch and the Pakistan military out of the province. Military convoys are often bombed. Punjabi families who have lived in Balochistan for decades are now unwanted “settlers”; hundreds have been killed and thousands forced to flee the violence.
Organized sectarian militants are also killing the ethnic Hazara, who are Shia Muslims, and probably the largest casualty in this war. They are one of the largest non-Baloch groups in the province. Thousands have been killed since 2009 in attacks which have a level of sophistication that is outside the capability of Baloch insurgents.
The most under-reported element of this war is that Baloch men are being picked up by intelligence operatives. Respected journalist Mohammed Hanif detailed the plight of the families in a pamphlet published by the HRCP in 2012. Excerpts appeared in a few English dailies in Pakistan, but a larger discussion never ensued. These families hope their missing sons and husbands will return. Too often, instead, tortured, lifeless bodies are dumped outside their homes. Unmarked graves appear years later; evidence of their deaths offers closure but not justice.
Mir, spies and the Baloch
Mir has recently become a vocal and persistent advocate for the missing and their families on his TV show. This might have gotten him into lethal trouble with the ISI.
Fifteen years ago, Mir had strong ties with the ISI and trusted relationships with the Taliban. His links to both groups allowed him to swing the last known interview with Osama bin Laden after 9/11. Those relationships evidently went sour. In 2010 he accused his former friends at the ISI of framing him for incitement to murder. In 2012 he blamed the Taliban for an attempt on his life.
What made Mir speak out now? Maybe he was moved by Mama Qadeer, a 72-year-old man who organized the families of other missing Baloch in a five-month, 2000-kilometer march from Balochistan’s capital city Quetta through the rest of Pakistan.
Qadeer organized this unprecedented protest in an attempt to focus attention on his cause. He claims his son Jaleel was killed while in custody of intelligence agents in 2009. His advocacy now aims to help others whose sons have vanished get closure or justice.
On February 25, in a leading English-language daily, Mir urged the government to help recover Balochistan's missing people. The story, titled 72 year-old Mama Qadeer Baloch breaks record of Gandhi after 84 years, focused on the length and duration of the protest march, with the hope that the comparison would bring attention to an issue that has been systematically downplayed in the media.
Maybe Mir feels an affinity with the people of Balochistan because like him, they are now threatened from all sides. Like most Pakistani journalists who have been covering the not-so secret war in Pakistan’s northwest between the Taliban and the military, Mir was feeling increasing hostility and threats from his sources in the Taliban and the ISI.
Spies and intimidation
Pakistan's Ministry of Defence has petitioned the country’s broadcast regulation authority to cancel Geo's broadcast license. As I write this, Geo has voluntarily been made ‘less accessible’ by cable providers in most areas under army control or influence. Since Pakistan’s military owns or runs the largest property development companies in the country, Geo now risks being extensively censored across Pakistan.
The ISI has been increasingly aggressive and sloppy when dealing with journalists whose reporting assails its reputation. In 2011, journalist Saleem Shahzad's tortured body was found a week after he wrote a sensational story claiming links between Islamist militants and the armed forces. Before he disappeared he had received threats from the ISI.
Mir’s vocal stance in support of the rights of individuals being targeted by the state, by Islamist militants, and by others who resort to violence to further their political goals in Pakistan has nearly lost him his life.
It has also definitively placed him in opposition to those forces. We may not know who shot Hamid Mir, but we do know that the list of people willing to pick up a gun to get what they want in Pakistan is long. Mir was fortunate to escape with his life. But the battle for the rights of the missing in Balochistan is just beginning.

Pakistan: Hamid Mir appears before panel probing attack on him

Senior Pakistani TV journalist Hamid Mir, confined to a wheelchair after surviving an assassination attempt, on Friday recorded his statement before a judicial commission probing the attack on him.
The three-member probe panel, constituted by the Supreme Court to investigate the attack, held its proceedings at the Supreme Court's Karachi registry.
The inquiry commission headed by Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali and comprising Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan and Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman conducted the judicial proceeding in a closed room where Hamid Mir appeared on a wheelchair and recorded his statement.
The commission comprising three Supreme Court judges was formed last week to probe the attack on Mir. The commission has three weeks to submit its report. A reward of Rs 1 crore has been announced for those who help identify the attackers.
Mir, 47, came to the court under heavy security arrangements. He has already been shifted out of the hospital to an undisclosed location due to "security threats".
"Yes, I had to be taken out of hospital after some serious security threats, and I am right now bleeding from the stitches covered by bandages at the slightest movement," he told the News daily, which is part of the Jang group that Mir works for.
One bullet hit Mir's urinary bladder damaging it as was part of his intestine that was hit by another bullet, a part of which the surgeons removed after the April 19 gun attack.
Though there have been suggestions to move Mir abroad for further treatment, he is not medically fit for air travel as of now.
Mir has blamed the "ISI within the ISI" for orchestrating the attack on him alleging that he is receiving threats which "advise" him to leave the country.
"Yes, advice keeps coming in that I should leave the country but the reason I refuse it is because I and my brother have taken a certain position saying that rogue elements tried to take me out, and I will not bow my head in front of them by leaving the country.
"Repeatedly, I have said I am not against any institution. I have been made an example but this will not deter me in any manner," he was quoted as saying by the daily.
Mir's brother has already recorded his statement before the judicial commission.
His brother has also accused "elements in the ISI" of orchestrating the attack on Mir, a charge denied by the military.

Early Warning Signs of Shia Genocide in Pakistan

By Waris Husain
The international community can no longer ignore the alarming rise in violence directed at Pakistan’s Shia minority.
Last month the world commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. Dignitaries from around the world delivered speeches to mark the occasion, but UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s statement was perhaps the most remarkable, as he admitted that the United Nations was “ashamed” of its failure to prevent the mass killing. At the same time Ban was making this statement, a Shia doctor was gunned down in Karachi, Pakistan by sectarian terrorists, as part of a self-avowed campaign to “make Pakistan a graveyard” for all Shias.
Despite the escalation of targeted killings of Shia leaders and large-scale bombings of Shia neighborhoods, the Pakistani government and international community have failed to apply the lessons from cases like Rwanda in recognizing the early warning signs of an impending genocide perpetrated by sectarian terrorist groups. While the murder rates of Shias in Pakistan is nowhere close to the 800,000 Tutsis killed in Rwanda, members of the international community are duty-bound to prevent mass killing events before they occur.
The Shia’s plight must be understood in the context of Pakistan’s position within the larger sectarian struggle between Sunnis, largely supported by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Shias, supported by Iran and its close allies. Pakistan walks a tightrope in this conflict as it shares a border with Iran, but relies on Saudi Arabia for aid and political patronage. This international tension has domestic implications with 20 percent of Pakistan’s population belonging to the Shia faith, amounting to nearly 25 million people who are being threatened with extermination by sectarian outfits.
To understand the threat that Pakistan’s Shias face, one must look to the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide, to which Pakistan is a signatory. Under the Convention, a genocide occurs when a party has the intent to destroy a religious, ethnic, or racial group “in whole, or in part” and acts on that intent by killing, injuring, or deliberately causing conditions leading to the physical destruction of that group.
The Convention applies to all people, including private groups that are perpetrating genocidal acts in a country without direct assistance from the state. Under the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), all countries are obliged to recognize if such acts are taking place and take steps to punish past transgressions while preventing future acts.
In the context of Pakistan, the two elements to prove genocide are clearly satisfied: terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have openly committed brutal murders of Shias with the self-avowed purpose of “cleansing Pakistan” of their presence. The attacks against Shias have basically taken three forms. First, high profile community members like doctors, lawyers and judges have been targeted in drive-by shootings in Karachi. Second, Shia religious processions and pilgrims have repeatedly been targeted in mass-shooting attacks. Third, Hazara Shias have been attacked en-masse in the city of Quetta, with several car bombings that have left hundreds dead in the last three years.
This has led to a mass exodus of Hazaras from Balochistan, with as many as 30,000 leaving the province over the last five years, according to some estimates. Many have left because they believe the government refuses to acknowledge the concerted campaign against them, and is therefore not taking steps to protect them.
Sectarian groups like Laskar-i-Islam (LI) and LeJ use various methods to terrorize Shias and force them to leave their homes, including the distributing threatening pamphlets, as occurred in Peshawar on April 16, 2014. Further, these groups often accept responsibility for vicious attacks on Shias, and express their genocidal intent in promising future attacks. This was certainly the case when the “Principal of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi” issued an open letter declaring that all Shias were “wajib-ul-katl” or “worthy of killing” in the aftermath of an attack that left eight Hazaras dead.
Despite these openly violent assertions, the government of Pakistan continues to deny the existence of genocide against Shias. As such, there are no official statistics on the number of victims, which would be a key component in understanding the level and frequency of violence perpetrated by sectarian militants. It is difficult to assess the level of political or military support these sectarian groups enjoy; however, there are a few issues that have raised concern in the past. First, the Pakistani judiciary has been woefully ineffective at punishing acts of terrorism, especially when the victims were religious minorities. One need only look to the case of Malik Ishaq, a co-founder and leader LeJ, who has been arrested and released from jail several times, despite being implicated in the murder of hundreds of Shias. Sectarian groups often target judges and prosecutors in order to intimidate the court and its officers.
Second, many blame Islamist dictator General Zia Ul-Haq for creating these sectarian militant groups to use as proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan in the 1980s. The groups have long since turned their violence inward toward Pakistan’s religious and ethnic minorities. Many fear the pattern from the 1980s may now be repeating itself as Syria witnesses an influx of Pakistanis entering the country to fight alongside anti-Shia militant groups aligned with Bashar al-Assad. This could wreak havoc on Pakistan when these battle-hardened operatives return home and turn their guns on the nation’s minorities, especially Shias.
Additionally, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a Zia protégé, has been accused of being soft on these groups while leading his socially-conservative political party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN). This claim was given credence by the fact that the PMLN was distributing a monthly stipend to Malik Ishaq’s family while Ishaq was in jail for one of his forty-four different criminal charges relating to 70 murders, many of them Shias.
Further, some also believe that anti-Shia rhetoric is seeping into the mainstream of politics. For example, Maulana Ludhanvi, the leader of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) recently won a national assembly seat. In campaigning for the seat, Ludhanvi promised, “At the moment I can raise a voice for my anti-Shia mission only at a local level and from my local mosque. But when I get the microphone in the [National] Assembly, the whole nation and the whole world will listen…”
All of these examples are consistent with the early warning signs of genocide identified by international legal scholars like Barbara Harff, who created an analytical rubric that examines “trigger events” for genocide, such as assassinations of community leaders, impunity for genocidal actors, or political instability. Accordingly, in her annual Global Watch List, Harff has repeatedly identified Pakistan as a high-risk country for mass killings targeting religious minorities, including the Shia community.
Even though the administration has not openly acknowledged the potential for genocide against Shias, there are indications that the government, or parts of it, is taking note of the growing problem. For example, the Ministry of Interior recently admitted to the Senate that more than 2,000 Shias have been killed in sectarian attacks over the last five years. Similarly, Punjab provincial police have recently begun targeting “sectarian outfits,” which has already resulted in the arrest of suspects believed to be involved in eighteen attacks that left 16 Shias dead. Furthermore, the government is in the process of passing anti-terror legislation like the Pakistan Protection Ordinance and the Fair Trial Act, which could be used to effectively prosecute sectarian militants in the future.
Pakistan and the international community at large have a responsibility to protect populations vulnerable to genocidal acts, and the first step towards this protection is realizing the scope of the problem. If the government of Pakistan were to recognize that anti-Shia attacks are early warnings of a campaign that has the potential to endanger the lives of more than 20 million Shia citizens, it could begin collecting official statistics on Shia murder rates. It could also use already existing legislation criminalizing hate-crimes to prosecute members of these groups. In addition, the government could utilize the powers that were recently granted to it under the anti-terror laws to tackle the sectarian violence.
At the same time, the international community could assist with resources and scholarly advice while applying diplomatic pressure to force Pakistan’s government to more vigilantly punish and prevent anti-Shia campaigns by terror groups. If the UN is truly “ashamed” of its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda, it must use early warning signs and diplomatic pressure to abide by the mantra of genocide prevention: “Never again.”

Pakistan: Extortion in Peshawar

The rising rate of violence related to extortion in the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) has triggered an exodus of businessmen and industrialists who have fled Peshawar to safer grounds and left thousands of people unemployed. Peshawar had 22 reported extortion cases in 2013 and this year’s incidents have more than doubled in the first three months. The actual figure may be much higher because most victims don’t contact police out of fear.
A recent report in this paper quoted a senior official of the K-P Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KPCCI) as saying that, at least, 150 business professionals have shifted their factories to other parts of the country or moved abroad. The largest industrial zone in the province, Hayatabad Industrial Estate (HIE), which houses up to 440 units and employs over 120,000 people, has been attacked several times. The drain of much needed capital in a city that serves as an employment hub for people from other parts of K-P as well as Fata, and subsequent unemployment is, unfortunately, likely to only worsen the security situation in the city as well as the region.
So far, the chief minister and police officials have made unfulfilled promises regarding ‘special committees to address the issue’ or separate police stations within industrial zones reducing the faith of the community in them for protection. When citizens don’t trust those mandated to protect them and criminals act with impunity because they don’t expect to get caught, then therein lays the real problem.
The state needs a two-prong approach to catch the extortionists and re-establish the writ of the state. Firstly, law enforcement agencies need to come up with more effective means of protecting businessman and their enterprises. Secondly, the police and judiciary need to accelerate investigations and convictions of extortion cases. Until extortionists start fearing punishment and industrialists start trusting law enforcement, people will continue buying one-way tickets out of Peshawar.

Britain 'should cut aid to Pakistan'

By Steven Swinford,
Pakistan is a middle income country, does not do enough to help its own poor and should receive less aid from Britain, MPs suggest
Britain should consider cutting aid to Pakistan because its own leaders do not pay their taxes and other countries are more in need. The International Development select committee Pakistan is now classed as a middle-income country and is not doing enough to help its own poor. The committee also questioned aid spending in Nigeria, which is benefiting significantly from British taxpayers despite a booming energy industry and rapidly growing economy. In 2014/15, Britain is set to give £446 million of assistance to Pakistan, making it the largest recipient of UK bilateral aid in the world. "It is unlikely that expenditure would be so high if the country were not having to confront Islamic extremism," the committee concluded.
"If this is the case, the budget can only be justified if there is clear evidence that DfID (Department for International Development) support is effective in reducing the extremist threat. "If not, we recommend that DfID consider reducing spending in Pakistan and increasing it in low income countries." The committee previously said aid increases should be held back unless Pakistan's leaders improved tax collection and paid their "fair and proportionate" share.
In their report, the MPs welcomed the UK becoming the first to meet the UN target but said spending the money effectively at a time of reductions in operating costs was a "major challenge". Keeping costs much lower than comparable donor countries was "not in itself a virtue" if it meant staff that should be deployed in the field were stuck behind desks, it suggested.
A review of all £5 million-plus projects ordered by International Development Secretary Justine Greening might also have backfired by encouraging staff to "gold plate" them.
They should "spend less time writing the perfect business case and more in thoroughly assessing which areas to allocate funds to and in monitoring the implementation of programmes, including by spending more time in the field", the MPs said. There was also criticism of the share of funding devoted to reacting to humanitarian disasters in relatively wealthy countries. Britain could not afford to continue leading the world in dealing with situations such as the Syria crisis and needed to do more to persuade other high-income nations -such as France – to contribute more, committee chair, Liberal Democrat Sir Malcolm Bruce, said.
"The UK has met the target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid; others should do the same.
"UK spending on humanitarian assistance has risen substantially due partly to a very large increase in the aid budget for 2012-13. This will not, however, be repeated in future years as DfID's budget will be linked to GDP. "It will simply not be possible for DfID to continue taking the lead in future; other countries must do more. "DfID must not provide funds to support disasters in middle-income countries by raiding bilateral development programmes in low income countries. Rather, we argue for the percentage of income spent in low income countries to rise over time provided they are capable of absorbing it and of using aid effectively."
Staff should "spend less time in their offices and more time out in the field building local knowledge and monitoring whether UK aid money is being used effectively", he said. A Dfid spokesman said: "Our investment in overseas development, including in Pakistan, creates a safer and more prosperous world for the UK.
"Tackling poverty in the world's poorest places can mean tackling the root causes of global problems such as terrorism, which matter to us here in Britain. Education is vital to transforming Pakistan’s future and is where a significant proportion of our funds are directed. This is firmly in the UK’s own national interest.”

Pakistan not doing much to root out terrorism: Dobbins

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James Dobbins has said that Pakistan is not taking appropriate measures to curb terrorism in the country as the religious seminaries (Madaris) in Fata and Balochistan were the cause of attacks inside Afghanistan and India.
He said that the relations between Pakistan and the US had become “abysmally low and gravely worst”. He said that Pakistan’s role in solution to the Afghan crisis was very vital.During the hearing into the Afghan crisis in the US Congress, Dobbins said that mutual confidence was lacking in the relationship between Pakistan and the US and so the ties of the two countries were facing a grave crisis. He said that both the countries had shared trade, economic, social and security interests.
Meanwhile, the US has ruled out any mediation on the Kashmir issue as long as India rejects such a proposal and asked Pakistan to avoid employing militancy as an instrument of state policy.
“As long as India rejects any actual mediation, there’s not much we can do in that regard specifically,” James Dobbins told Pakistan’s state-run television.“India has consistently rejected any third party mediation and argued that it is an issue that needs to be negotiated directly and without the participation of any third party. So they’ve rejected mediation,” said Dobbins, who was recently on a visit to Pakistan.
“I think as long as they reject mediation, there is only a limited amount that the US or any other party can do. We, certainly in our dialogue with Pakistan and India, encourage improved relations, improved trade relations, improved dialogue on strategy and military issues and we certainly encourage dialogue and negotiation on the territorial issues that separate the two countries,” he said.
Echoing India’s apprehensions about cross border terrorism, he said India was concerned about cross border militancy and terrorist attacks that had been conducted in India which they believed had their origin in Pakistani territory.
“I think as is the case with Afghanistan, this is something that is in everybody’s interest. I think all of the states of the region need to avoid employing militancy as an instrument of policy,” he said.
“This has been a long-term strategy which has created a cancer in societies and particularly in Pakistani society which is now threatening the actual existence of the state and its democratic institutions,” he said.“So it’s in the interest not just of Pakistan, but of all of its neighbours to move away from that approach to diplomacy and to geopolitical strategy, and to avoid employing these kinds of instruments and, as I’ve said, move towards the elimination of violent extremism in Pakistan and around Pakistan and all of the neighbouring societies,” Dobbins said.
Referring to the ongoing Lok Sabha elections, Dobbins said India would have a new government soon.“It will be a new opportunity. Pakistan now has a government that still has a long life in it with a clear political mandate,” he said.
“I think two governments with clear political mandates and a long future in each case offer an opportunity for both governments to take some of the risks and the political costs that are always inherent in any real opportunity to overcome differences. The US will certainly use its influence to encourage both the sides to take those risks,” he said.

Press freedom in Pakistan has deadly consequences

The Kansas City Star
Just four months into the new year, six Pakistani journalists have been killed, putting 2014 on track to become one of the most deadly years for reporters in Pakistan.
Two reporters who have survived recent attacks have chilling stories to tell. Raza Rumi, a senior television anchor, was attacked while in his car; the assailants killed his driver. He fled from Pakistan and is now in Washington, D.C. “It has been three weeks of surreal moments,” Rumi said by email last week. “I did not know that I would turn into a subject of all that I have been writing against: using violence to suppress dissent, terrorizing the media workers and muzzling free speech.” Hamid Mir, a news anchor and political talk show host, was also attacked while in his car and is recovering after being hit by multiple bullets. According to data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders — both nonprofit organizations aim to protect and support global press freedom — more than 1,530 journalists have been killed around the world since 1992. Iraq topped the list with 218 journalists killed; the Philippines was second with 112, followed by Pakistan with 87. As a Pakistani journalist, on a fellowship this year in the United States, I am concerned about the effects of this news on press freedom in my home country. “Pakistani journalists are under attack from all sides — militant insurgents, the military and intelligence services, drug lords, local criminal gangs, just to name a few,” Robert Dietz, Asia Program Coordinator for CPJ, told me by email. Gibran Peshimam, political editor for my newspaper, The Express Tribune, a publishing partner of International New York Times, also observed: “The current violence and omnipresent threat to their lives is unprecedented. It is clichéd to say that journalists are not safe in Pakistan. It is, however, important to note that it is getting more unsafe by the day. And that’s the troubling part.” Peshimam is right to worry about how the violence will affect Pakistan media, because journalists are facing a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there is the government. After Mir was shot, the government tried to revoke the license of his station, Geo TV, because it questioned the role of the military in the attack. Meanwhile, militants tell journalists “a bullet has been chosen for you.” Critics have accused Pakistan’s top spy agency — Inter Services Intelligence — of harassing and even killing at least one journalist, though ISI and the military have denied the accusations. Journalists also have been the target of TehreekeTaliban Pakistan and other extremists groups. TTP has publicly taken responsibility for the deaths of several journalists in Pakistan. These recent attacks signal that the government has not been able to reverse the country’s dreadful record of anti-press violence, despite promises to do so, said Sumit Galhotra, CPJ Asia Program researcher. One issue that needs to be addressed is regulation of content. Mohsin Leghari, an independent lawmaker from the Pakistan Senate, said that freedom of the press is a great thing, but it has to be exercised with responsibility. He says the electronic media in Pakistan have grown at a phenomenal pace: “The rating war and breaking news phenomena have compromised the content in Pakistan.” The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority must be empowered and equipped to monitor the more than 100 private television channels now operating at the moment, far more than it’s able to do, according to estimates. The government and media owners must work together to find a balance in legislation that would ensure freedom of the press while also supporting the state’s interests. But Rumi, who recently talked about his experience on National Public Radio, said he is “appalled at the way media is divided and state is unable to enforce its writ.” If the government can amend existing press laws by setting new and reasonable standards for all public and private broadcasters and publishers, it could help prevent the loss of more journalists’ lives.
Journalists who have been killed in Pakistan since 1994
Journalist News Outlet Where they died Year
Shahzad Iqbal Samma TV Mianwali, Pakistan 2014
Muhammad Khalid Express TV Karachi, Pakistan 2014
Muhammad Ashraf Express TV Karachi, Pakistan 2014
Waqas Aziz Express TV Karachi, Pakistan 2014
Haroon Ahmed Express TV Rawalpindi, Pakistan 2014
Shah Dar Aab Tak TV Larkana, Pakistan 2014
Aslam Durrani Daily Pakistan Peshawar, Pakistan 2013
Ayub Khattak Karak Times Karak, Pakistan 2013
Mehmood Ahmed Afridi Daily Intikhab Kalat, Pakistan 2013
Malik Mumtaz Geo TV Miramshah, Pakistan 2013
Mohammad Iqbal News Network International Quetta, Pakistan 2013
Saifur Rehma Samma TV Quetta, Pakistan 2013
Imran Shaikh Samma TV Quetta, Pakistan 2013
Razaq Baloch Daily Tawar Karachi, Pakistan 2013
Saqib Khan Daily Ummat Karachi, Pakistan 2012
Rehmatullah Abid Dunya TV Pangur, Pakistan 2012
Mushtaq Khand Dharti TV Khairpur, Pakistan 2012
Haq Baloch ARY TV Khuzdar, Pakistan 2012
Qadir Hajizai Vash TV Quetta, Pakistan 2012
Razaq Gul Express TV Turbat, Pakistan 2012
Aurangzaib Tunio Kawish TV Lalu Ranwak, Pakistan 2012
Tariq Kamal Freelancer Karachi, Pakistan 2012
Mukkaram Khan Dunya TV/Freelancer Shabqadar, Pakistan 2012
Mohammad Amir ARY TV Peshawar, Pakistan 2012
Murtaza Razvi Daily Dawn Karachi, Pakistan 2012
Javed Naseer Rind Daily Tawar Khuzdar, Pakistan 2011
Faisal Qureshi The London Post Lahore, Pakistan 2011
Shafiullah Khan The News International Rawalpindi, Pakistan 2011
Abid Naveed Akbar-e-Khyber Peshawar, Pakistan 2011
Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Mandi Bahauddin, Pakistan 2011
Nasrullah Afridi Daily Mashriq Peshawar, Pakistan 2011
Zaman Ali Extra News Karachi, Pakistan 2011
Wali Babar Geo TV Karachi, Pakistan 2011
Salman Taseer Business Plus Islamabad, Pakistan 2011
Munir Shakir Online News Network Khuzdar, Pakistan 2011
Abdoost Rind Freelancer Turbat, Pakistan 2011
Ilyas Nizzar Darwanth Pidark Pakistan 2011
Abdul Wahab Express TV Ghalania, Pakistan 2010
Pervez Khan Waqat TV Mohmand Agency, Pakistan 2010
Abdul Hameed Hayatan Daily Tawar Karachi, Pakistan 2010
Misri Khan Daily Mashriq Hangu, Pakistan 2010
Ejaz Raisini Samma TV Quetta, Pakistan 2010
Muhammad Sarwar Aaj TV Quetta, Pakistan 2010
Faiz Muhammad Sasoli Independent News Pakistan Khuzdar, Pakistan 2010
Ghulam Rasool Birhamani Daily Sindhu Newspaper Hyederabad, Pakistan 2010
Azmat Ali Bangash Samma TV Orakzai, Pakistan 2010
Malik Arif Samma TV Quetta, Pakistan 2010
Ashiq Ali Mangi Mehran TV Khairpur, Pakistan 2010
Ejazul Haq City 42 TV Lahore Lahore, Pakistan 2010
Mehood Chandio Daily Awaz Mirpur Khas, Pakistan 2010
Lala Hameed Baloch Daily Intikhab Turbat, Pakistan 2010
Janullah Hashimzada Freelancer Jamrud, Pakistan 2009
Wasi Ahmed Daily Azadi Turbat, Pakistan 2009
Musa Khankhel Geo TV Swat, Pakistan 2009
Muhammad Imran Express TV Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan 2009
Tahir Imran Freelancer Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan 2009
Mian Iqbal Shah Freelancer Peshawar, Pakistan 2009
Siddiq Bacha Khan Aaj TV Mardan Pakistan 2009
Raja Asad Hameed The Nation Rawalpindi, Pakistan 2009
Abdul Razaq Johra Royal TV Punjab, Pakistan 2008
Abdul Aziz Daily Azadi Swat, Pakistan 2008
Muhammad Ibrahim Express TV Khar, Pakistan 2008
Sirajuddin The Nation Mingora, Pakistan 2008
Chishti Mujahid Akhbar-e-Jehan Quetta, Pakistan 2008
Khadim Sheikh Sindh TV Hub, Pakistan 2008
Zubair Ahmed Mujahid Daily Jang Mirpur Khas, Pakistan 2007
Muhammad Arif ARY TV Karachi, Pakistan 2007
Javed Khan Daily Markaz Islamabad, Pakistan 2007
Noor Hakim Daily Pakistan Bajur, Pakistan 2007
Mehboob Khan Freelancer Charsada, Pakistan 2007
Nisar Solangi Daily Khabroon Karachi, Pakistan 2007
Hayatullah Khan Daily Ausaf Miramshah, Pakistan 2006
Munir Sangi Kawish TV Larkana, Pakistan 2006
Muhammad Ismail Press Pakistan International Islamabad, Pakistan 2006
Allah Noor Khyber TV Wana, Pakistan 2005
Amir Nawab Frontier Post Wana, Pakistan 2005
Sajjad Tanoli Daily Shumal Mansehra, Pakistan 2004
Fazl Wahab Freelancer Mingora, Pakistan 2003
Shahid Somorrow Daily Kawish Kandhkot, Pakistan 2002
Daniel Pearl The Wall Street Journal Karachi, Pakistan 2002
Asadullah Freelancer Karachi, Pakistan 2001
Sufi Muhamad Daily Ummat Badin, Pakistan 2000
Zulfiqar Memon The Nation Islamabad, Pakistan 1999
Carlos Mavroleon Freelancer Peshawar, Pakistan 1998
Z.A Shahid Daily Khabrain Lahore, Pakistan 1997
Muhammad Samdani Warsi Daily Parcham Karachi, Pakistan 1994 Muhammad Salahuddin Daily Takbeer Karachi, Pakistan 1994
Read more here: