Sunday, June 1, 2014

In Europe, Obama gets second chance to explain his Russia policy

President Barack Obama heads to Warsaw, Brussels, Paris and Normandy this week where he is expected to elaborate on the US commitment to counter Russian moves against Ukraine and reassure nervous allies the United States has their backs.
In Poland, Ukraine's western neighbor, Obama meets with Eastern European leaders - including Ukraine's president-elect, Petro Poroshenko, on Wednesday - and is expected to address criticism he has not done enough to push back against Moscow after it annexed Crimea in March.
The president's trip follows a speech at the US Military Academy last week in which he argued that American leadership in the world should be exercised mainly by diplomacy, multilateral action and economic pressure, as in Ukraine, rather than through military might.
"Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away. Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions," Obama said.
But when Obama meets in Warsaw with leaders from 10 nations from Central and Eastern Europe, analysts say he will be urged to articulate a clearer plan to help prevent more instability in the region.
"There's a concern that we will disappear, we will fade, when the next crisis hits us," said Heather Conley of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Obama has long faced calls from Eastern European statesmen to be more forceful, including from Lech Walesa, who led Poland's Solidarity trade union movement that played a critical role in the overthrow of communism in the 1980s.
Walesa, a former Polish president, said in an interview on Poland's TVN24 television network last week that he was disappointed in what he considered Obama's insufficiently robust approach to the Ukraine crisis. "The superpower has not been up to the job, and therefore the world is at a dangerous point and maybe it really is the case that lots of bad things are happening in the world because there is no leadership," Walesa said.
Americans supported pro-democracy activists during martial law that was imposed in Poland in 1981, and backed their struggle for the first free elections 25 years ago, recalled Ryszard Schnepf, who was part of the Solidarity movement.
Obama's visit is "kind of a sentimental treat to Poland" on the "Freedom Day" anniversary of those elections, Schnepf, now Poland's ambassador to the United States, said in an interview.
Poland is grateful for US support in the current crisis, but leaders want more, he said. "We are supporting the idea of more engagement of the United States in the region," he said.
Obama is slated to give an address on US-European relations on Wednesday at the "Freedom Day" celebration.
The White House is considering ideas for more military "rotational deployments" or additional personnel in the region, Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters.
But Obama is not expected to make major announcements on the trip. Rather, his mission is one of reassurance.
"What you've got with each stop is a lot of symbolism," said James Goldgeier of American University's School of International Service.
G7, not G8
After Poland, Obama heads to Brussels to meet with the G7. The summit of the major economic powers had originally been planned for Sochi in Russia until Moscow was suspended from the group - then the G8 - over the Ukraine crisis. Russia has since taken steps to pull back troops it deployed at the border earlier this year and Ukraine's presidential election went ahead without major problems, so it appeared unlikely the G7 would push for further economic sanctions against Moscow. "At present, all partners are agreed that the goal is to move toward a de-escalation and no new sanctions are envisaged at this time," an official in French President Francois Hollande's office told Reuters. "The idea is more to do all that we can to restore dialogue," the official said. Obama then heads to France on Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops stormed the Normandy beaches in the invasion that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War Two.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will attend the ceremonies, is due to meet with Hollande in Paris on Thursday. Obama is also slated to dine with Hollande that evening, but the White House said Obama and Putin had no formal meetings scheduled.

China urges Abe not to stir up enmity

China on Saturday refuted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's recent comments regarding maritime disputes by urging the Japanese side to respect truth and not to stir up enmity and mislead the public.
We have taken note of Japanese leader's recent comments in which he has insinuated other countries," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
Qin's comments came in response to a question regarding Abe's speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Friday. While saying that Asia is a region with remarkable growth, the Japanese leader said Japan would give "its utmost support" to some of the countries in their maritime claims.
"We have decided to provide ten patrol vessels to the Philippine Coast Guard," Abe said, adding that Japan is also "moving forward with the necessary survey to enable us to provide such vessels to Vietnam as well." "In fact, Japan should clarify its recent moves in military security field to the international community, and abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations while addressing territorial and maritime disputes with its neighbors," Qin said. The spokesman urged the Japanese side to face up to history and respect truth, and avoid stirring up enmity and confusing the public.
Japan should take more practical actions that help maintain regional peace and stability, the spokesman added.

Chinese military official speaks of need to stop punitive operation against civilians in east Ukraine
Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army of China Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong at a meeting with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov at the 13th international conference on security in Asia supported the Russian stance on Ukraine. "During the discussion of topical international security problems separate attention was paid to the situation in Ukraine. The head of the Chinese delegation expressed support for the Russian position and voiced serious concern about the developments in Southeastern Ukraine stressing the importance of stopping Kiev's punitive operation against civilians," a report of the Russian Defense Ministry press service received by Interfax on Sunday says.
The toppling of the legitimate Ukrainian authorities by Maidan protesters is the main cause of the Ukrainian crisis, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping told Russian reporters in Beijing on Tuesday. Read more:

Foreign Jihadis Fighting in Syria Pose Risk in West

Two years ago, a young man who now calls himself Abu Muhajir slipped into Syria with a few friends and $80,000, forsaking what he said was a job as a high school science teacher in North America to wage jihad.
In a conversation conducted by text message in recent weeks, he said he was raised in a religious family, studied at a madrasa on Sundays and had no non-Muslim friends growing up. And he suggested that Western governments could indeed have cause to be worried that the foreign jihadis in Syria might someday return home to carry out attacks.
“Attacks occurring on the soil of Middle Eastern countries,” he said. “We can only expect a response. Americans are still in Afghanistan.”
More than 70 Americans are thought by intelligence and counterterrorism officials to have traveled to Syria to fight the government of President Bashar al-Assad. One of them, still publicly unidentified, carried out a suicide bombing there on Sunday, making him the first United States citizen believed to have been involved in such an attack.
As many as 3,000 Westerners are believed to have gone to Syria to fight, prompting increasingly aggressive efforts by their home governments to keep them from leaving and to detain them on their return. In Britain, the Home Office has stripped at least 20 jihadis of their citizenship, and the police said that the number of “Syria-related arrests” totaled 40 from January to March of this year, compared with 25 for the whole of last year.
Just last week, Mashudur Choudhury, 31, of Portsmouth, was convicted of engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts after he returned to Britain from Syria in late October. He is the first Briton to be convicted of fighting alongside Islamists in Syria.
The stories told by Abu Muhajir, 26, and other Westerners fighting in Syria provide some insight into their motivations and outlook as extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda try to identify, recruit and train men from the United States and Europe to carry out attacks when they return home, according to senior United States intelligence and counterterrorism officials.
Abu Muhajir has identified himself on social media as American. He said his grandparents emigrated from Pakistan to North America, where he was raised. He would not directly say that he is an American citizen, but said that he is not Canadian and that he had gone back and forth to Syria several times without being stopped.
Abu Sumayyah, a British jihadi now fighting in Syria, says that growing up in Britain, he was a “bad Muslim.” He smoked, went clubbing, dated a string of women, took and sold drugs, went on binges for days and worried his mother.
He would fast only on special occasions, like the holy month of Ramadan, but he shunned Friday Prayer at the mosque. “I was only a Muslim by name,” he said in a Skype interview from Syria, using, like Abu Muhajir, his kunya, or Islamic nickname. “I was living like a non-Muslim; I was like a disbeliever.”
But by the time the war in Syria broke out three years ago, he said, he was a deeply devout man, a self-taught student of Islamic history. Now in his early 30s, he said he had been fighting in northern Syria for nearly a year. He left Britain quietly without telling his parents, taking just a few clothes and some cash; as a precaution, and as a break with the past, he threw away his British cellphone.
Experts and academics who track Western jihadis in Syria at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, a research institution partnered with King’s College, London, have independently identified both men as fighters in Syria, as has Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a Brussels-based researcher who blogs about Western jihadis, with whom he is in regular contact.
Abu Sumayyah was initially reached through Twitter and agreed to be interviewed on the condition that his real name not be published. Abu Muhajir was interviewed on Kik, an instant messaging platform for smartphones popular among fighters. He would not divulge his real name. Although he identified himself on, a social media site, as “American ‘Jihadi’ or wtever they are calling it,” he said he sometimes says he is Canadian rather than American, to mislead people. He refused to be more specific. The researchers said they believed he is either American or Canadian.
Abu Sumayyah said he had no intention of bringing jihad back home. He plans to die in Syria, he said, and hopes for a rewarding afterlife. “It’s not something you can really think about, you know, by looking at it in a worldly view,” he said. “I’m looking at the hereafter because the reward is a lot.”
Abu Muhajir offered a darker view, suggesting that jihadis could do more to carry their fight to Western nations.
“I knew this war will be long,” he said. “Requires steadfastness.”
Both men said they were appalled by the West’s failure to halt the killing in Syria. They are also united in a wider goal, they said, to establish a caliphate ruled by Shariah law, even if that ideology is not shared by a majority of Muslims in Syria.
A total of 11,000 foreign fighters are estimated to be in Syria, including those from other Muslim nations as well as those from the West, said researchers at the Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.
The British and the French are thought to make up the largest contingent of Westerners — 400 and 700 — among the fighters, according to government estimates. Several hundred Belgians, Dutch and Scandinavians are also thought to be fighting, according to official figures. A minority of fighters are from Eastern Europe, including Albania, Bosnia and Serbia, and also from Australia and Canada, according to the center. The estimate of 70 from the United States is up from about a dozen last July.
Most Westerners who go to Syria go to wage jihad, but even those who go for purely humanitarian reasons end up being radicalized, Mr. Van Ostaeyen said.
One of the most popular — and extreme — of the fighting groups among Westerners in Syria calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Part of its appeal comes from its extensive public outreach, experts say. The group is the most prolific on social media compared with other groups — it has several official Twitter accounts and its own media channels. Its fighters habitually post on Twitter about their activities in English and other Western languages, and even argue for days with other Twitter users who oppose the group’s ideology.
Many fighters share the belief that Islam is under attack by non-Muslims — a view they say is expressed in the Quran and popularized by the Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. On Sept. 11, 2001, Abu Sumayyah and Abu Muhajir were teenagers interested in video games, sports and the start of college. But both men said they were deeply affected by the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. They came to question the Western world they lived in, and their role in it.
“I saw our brothers in Afghanistan, and I realized that there is something very wrong that is happening in society,” Abu Sumayyah said. “I saw this taking place in front of my eyes, so I had to do something about it, otherwise I would feel sinful.”
Both men said they were in rebel-controlled northern Syria.
Abu Muhajir trained as a sniper and guards the city of Shaykh Najjar, north of Aleppo. He usually holds the front line for three days, followed by three days of rest. He was fearless in the beginning, he said, but soon got a taste of war. “To be honest I didn’t used to get scared, only after I got an injury,” he wrote. “Shrapnel in the arm.”
He is an avid user of social media, to pass the time. People ask him for advice on going to Syria: how to get there, the cost of a gun, where to buy camouflage gear. He said he responded cautiously.
He has also received marriage proposals, which he declines. One woman asked whether electricity was working in Syria so she could bring a hair curler. “Advice to people who want to come is, Don’t bring your hair curlers,” he said.
Abu Sumayyah is a gunman who works shifts every two weeks, based in Raqqa, a stronghold of ISIS. On his days off, he studies military tactics and trains with other weapons. Syria changed him, he said. “In Britain and in Europe we are living in a bubble, living in dreamland, that everything is O.K.”

Bruce Springsteen - I'm On Fire

India 'Toilets first, temples later' : Badaun girls' tragic story points to risks women face in rural India

The nightly trek into the fields behind their homes under the cover of darkness leave the women of Katra Shahadatganj in northern India feeling scared and vulnerable at the best of times.
But the abduction, gang-rape and lynching of two teenage girls as they went to relieve themselves last Tuesday have added a terrifying new dimension to their daily ordeal.
Maharani Devi, whose family earns a meagre living as farm labourers, said younger women were often harassed by men, and never went into the wheat and peppermint fields alone.
"Ever since this incident, we are now even more scared than before," said Devi, 40, whose three-room house, like most in the district, has no toilet.
"It's really not good, most women are reluctant even going with just one companion," the mother of five told AFP on Sunday.
"Some younger women who used to go out to the farms to give food or water to the men in the afternoon have (now) even stopped," said 75-year-old Om Vati.
The murder of the two teenagers has generated headlines in India and beyond in an echo of the uproar over the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012.
But the circumstances which left the girls vulnerable to the killers who pounced on them in the fields are not unusual in India.The victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had gone there at night because their families lacked a toilet and the village has no communal latrines.
UNICEF estimates that almost 594 million -- nearly 50% of India's population -- defecates in the open, with the situation particularly acute in impoverished rural areas such as the Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh.
Carolyne Wheeler of the non-governmental organisation WaterAid, which has carried out research on the issue in Uttar Pradesh, said around a third of women have no other option but to relieve themselves after the sun sets -- usually accompanied by a friend who keeps watch in case of trouble.
"It is the time when a woman is most vulnerable, exposed and the idea that such number of women are taking this daily risk to relieve themselves is shocking to us," Wheeler told AFP.
'Toilets first, temples later'
The lack of private toilet facilities is a problem recognised across the political spectrum.
Ahead of his recent election victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, "Toilets first, temple later."
In an interview with AFP, one of the murdered girls' female relatives said that she not only wanted the authorities to ensure the killers are brought to justice but also to build communal facilities.
"I am not generally afraid of open fields, of forests, snakes or local wildlife but I am nervous when I go out to relieve myself in the fields," she said. "I want the government to build us a community toilet in the village, at least." But experts warn that the new government faces a daunting challenge if it wants to end the practice of defecating in the open -- just one of many social development problems plaguing rural India.
Katra Shahadatganj, like other villages in the district, has power only a few hours a day, while stagnant water and raw sewage flow through its potholed dirt lanes.
The lack of progress on the issues has fuelled a sense in some quarters that the needs and wishes of urban voters carry more weight than their rural counterparts.
When a reporter asked Uttar Pradesh's socialist chief minister Akhilesh Yadav about the rapes in the state, he responded: "You haven't been harmed, have you? No, right? Great. Thank you."
But he later termed the attack "unfortunate" and called for fast-track courts for speedy justice. The two girls belonged to a low caste in India's social hierarchy system, which is still deeply entrenched in rural areas.
At least some of their attackers come from the Yadav caste, which is also of low standing but is powerful across the state.
The girls' families accused local police of initially failing to take action because they were prejudiced against their caste, with women considered less important than men.
The head of Uttar Pradesh's ruling party, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister's father, sparked uproar during the recent election campaign when he said rapists should not receive the death penalty because "boys will be boys".

Afghan security officers boycott Pakistan visit in wake of border tensions

The government of Afghanistan on Sunday boycotted the planned visit of senior Afghan army officers to Pakistan in wake of fresh border tensions. The decision was taken during the National Security Council (NSC) meeting chaired by President Hamid Karzai. Afghan national security advisor was also instructed to convey serious concerns of Afghan government regarding the cross-border shelling and violation of airspace of Afghanistan by Pakistan. The National Security Council criticized United States for remaining silent regarding the cross-border incursion by Pakistan and said such stance by Washington is against the commitments made to Afghanistan in long term strategic cooperation agreement. It was also concluded that the continued cross-border incursions by Pakistani military was aimed at disrupting the second round of election. The foreign affairs ministry of Afghanistan was instructed to convey the serious concerns of Afghan government through diplomatic channels to the government of Pakistan. The Pakistani military has intensified cross-border shelling in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan during the recent weeks. Local government officials said at least four civilians were killed and eleven others were injured after Pakistani gunship helicopters carried out airstrike in Dangam district on Saturday.

The Wrong Afghan Friends

At a checkpoint on a dirt road in southeastern Afghanistan in 2012, Rahim Sarobi, a farmer, braked to a stop behind a knot of idling cars. Up ahead, Afghan gunmen were piled into the back of a Toyota Hilux. On the ground, tied to the rear fender by their wrists, lay two bloodied men, laboring to breathe.
Everyone was ordered out of their vehicles. The burly checkpoint commander, known simply as Azizullah, said the unfortunate pair had not slowed sufficiently at the checkpoint, and only the Taliban don’t slow down. But Mr. Sarobi and fellow motorists recognized the men as farmers from their village. They pleaded, but Azizullah would not listen. The motorists were ordered to follow the pickup as it dragged the men along six miles of rock-studded road. By the time the convoy reached Azizullah’s base, the pair were dead. Their bodies were left decomposing for days, a warning to anyone who thought of disobeying Azizullah.
Mr. Sarobi told me that story in Paktia Province last February. It echoes ominously against President Obama’s announcement on Tuesday that about 9,800 American troops will stay in Afghanistan after most have withdrawn this year. Special Operations Forces will continue training Afghans and assisting in counterterrorism. And if the current pattern holds, we can expect them, alongside the Central Intelligence Agency, to keep partnering with commanders like Azizullah to fight the Taliban.
Bear in mind that Azizullah is not a member of the Afghan army. He does not work for the Afghan National Police. He is not, in fact, under the authority of the Afghan government at all.
Instead, his militia, which has been supported by the Special Operations Forces, is part of a network of semi-independent rural paramilitary groups that owe their funding, weapons and very existence to America’s war on terror. By backing this network, the United States is fostering an environment of lawlessness and impunity, exacerbating Afghanistan’s longstanding problems, and creating fertile ground for the Taliban insurgency to survive. Using such strongmen seems to run counter to the doctrine laid out in 2006 in a much publicized Army/Marines counterinsurgency manual, which emphasized the need to convince citizens that America’s fighting forces will keep them safe.
On my trip to Paktia last winter, I met with other villagers who shared stories about the commander. A university student said he was at a village bazaar with his teenage cousin, who had fled his own village to escape Taliban threats. Azizullah’s militiamen accused the cousin of having ties to insurgents. He was arrested, taken to Azizullah’s compound, chained to a wall, raped repeatedly by militiamen, and released the next morning.
Azizullah’s crimes are detailed in a confidential dispatch, sent in 2010 to the United States military by United Nations officials, asking the Americans to sever ties with him. “A boy aged 16 was arrested by Commander Azizullah approximately four months ago in the Angur Ada area in Bermal district” states a copy of the dispatch that I obtained. “His father tried to intervene and told Azizullah he could arrest him instead of his son. The boy was released after 25 days, during which Azizullah sexually abused him.”
Afghans tell similar tales about other American-backed commanders, who hold sway over villages, districts or provinces. In southern Afghanistan’s Khas Oruzgan district, residents accuse Abdul Hakim Shujayee of going on multiple killing and raping rampages. Afghan officials in Kabul said their government tried to arrest him, but failed because he was protected by American Special Operations Forces. American officials say they have cut their ties with him, a claim that has been met with skepticism from residents. In 2011, in the village of Khosh Khadir in Daikundi Province, villagers told me that an American-supported strongman known as Lalay let his forces rampage through the village in response to a Taliban attack, hanging civilians from trees, abducting women, and setting homes and shops ablaze.
American authorities insist there is no proof of such allegations, and experts on Afghanistan often attach the caveat that enemies in Afghanistan tell wild tales about one another. But it is unclear whether an investigation has ever been conducted in any of these cases. American officials have told me that Azizullah and those like him are essential for combating the Taliban, and even the strongmen’s detractors acknowledge their Taliban-hunting prowess. Maj. Michael Waltz, a former Special Operations Forces officer who worked with Azizullah, put the argument this way in an interview: “We can’t sacrifice security for this multigenerational effort to build rule of law.”
In fact, the United States has favored counterterrorism over building Afghan state institutions and promoting the rule of law. Less than 10 percent of American funding in Afghanistan has gone to nonmilitary expenditures, even as Washington has poured millions into the coffers of regional strongmen with human rights records arguably as poor as the Taliban’s. One result: The writ of Hamid Karzai’s weak government is concentrated in the cities, while power brokers like Azizullah unofficially rule the countryside — especially the rural south and east. So villagers like those I met feel they have no recourse to justice or protection from predation — just the sort of grievance the insurgency exploits.
The Afghan government has tried to co-opt the strongmen by anointing them as governors and police chiefs. And in recent years, the United States has rebranded hundreds of militias as “Afghan Local Police,” placing them under nominal government authority. In most cases, though, the strongmen retain independent sources of revenue, including drug money or American patronage, as well as control over the militias. Their corruption infects the whole government; a Joint Chiefs of Staff report says the state has sometimes become, in effect, a collection of “criminal patronage networks.” The report also quotes an unnamed member of an interagency task force network as explaining: “The corruption piece is hard because security reigns supreme. We won’t remove corrupt officials if it looks like it will interrupt security.” “Security,” in this context, does include protecting citizens from the Taliban — but not from predatory American-backed strongmen. Rural Afghans consistently told me they wanted freedom from both. But that is unlikely if American proxies continue the war on terror as it has been fought. The most effective weapon against the Taliban would be a strong centralized state, responsive to citizens’ needs. This would require Americans to sever unilateral patronage relationships with rural power brokers and militias, and direct all funding to the state. (To deter corruption, international donors and Kabul could manage disbursement jointly, through trust funds.) The Afghan government should then absorb these forces into its ranks; with the strongmen stripped of American protection and independent revenue sources, integration should be easier. Success will take great resolve, however, to meld the militias with a more cohesive state. When American-backed militias in Kunduz Province lost their funding in 2011, they resorted to banditry and bloody turf battles. If the United States continues to ignore state-building, similar outcomes could be a dark legacy of Western intervention. “We are happy the Americans are leaving,” Muhib Shah, a student in Paktia Province, told me. “But they have left a terrible gift for us.”

Exclusive: Shift by hard-line Taliban factions may have sealed prisoner exchange

The breakthrough leading to Saturday's surprise exchange of a U.S. prisoner of war for five Guantanamo detainees suddenly became possible after harder-line factions of the Afghan Taliban apparently shifted course and agreed to back it, according to U.S. officials.
The United States had tried diplomacy since late 2010 to free Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive in Afghanistan for nearly five years. But the efforts came to little until now.
Mistrust between Washington and the insurgents had blocked progress, U.S. officials said. So did the deep-seated fears of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that a deal between the Americans and the Taliban would undercut him and his fragile government.
Complicating the talks, U.S. officials said, was an internal split between Taliban factions willing to talk to Americans and those staunchly opposed.
After the details of earlier diplomatic efforts became public in late 2011, the Taliban's leadership struggled to contain internal splits over a potential peace deal, U.S. officials said.
All of that changed in recent weeks - the exact time-frame is unclear - when Taliban hard-liners reversed position, officials said. The shift cleared the way for the dramatic pick-up of Bergdahl on Saturday by U.S. Special Operations forces in remote eastern Afghanistan and the freeing of five Taliban detainees, who flew aboard a U.S. military aircraft from Guantanamo to the Gulf emirate of Qatar.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have long acknowledged a fragmented understanding of the Taliban's internal politics.
But the Taliban's reclusive leadership may have realized that this was their last and best chance to retrieve its prisoners. Another contributing factor was presidential politics. Both contenders in the second round of Afghanistan's presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have pledged to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement allowing a small U.S. force to stay after NATO combat operations end in December.
The question now, two U.S. officials say, is whether the prisoner swap could lead to broader peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government for a negotiated end to the Afghan conflict.
The officials expressed hope that it might.
"We do hope that having succeeded in this narrow but important step, it will create the possibility of expanding the dialogue to other issues. But we don’t have any promises to that effect," said one senior U.S. official deeply involved in the diplomacy.
After a five-month diplomatic freeze, last November the Taliban signaled to the United States, via intermediaries, its willingness to talk, the official said. Leaders made clear they were only willing to discuss a prisoner exchange.
In January, after the Taliban produced a "proof of life" video confirming Bergdahl was alive, U.S. negotiators told the Afghan fighters they would proceed with the swap.
Then the Taliban introduced a new roadblock, refusing to meet directly with the Americans. Envoys from Qatar would be present at every step, passing messages between the sides and ultimately escorting the five Guantanamo detainees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo aircraft bound for the Gulf nation.
Many details about the talks remain unknown.
But some U.S. officials said the Americans were surprised at the deal's speedy conclusion, after nearly four years of stalemate. U.S. President Barack Obama was regularly briefed, including while on a surprise Memorial Day weekend visit to Afghanistan last Sunday, a second senior U.S. official said.
At that moment, talks of prisoner releases, taking place in the Qatari capital of Doha, were entering what U.S. officials called their "terminal phase".
Final arrangements were made for Berghdal's release, and Obama on Tuesday spoke with Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. The two personally reviewed and agreed on restrictions for the movements and activities of the Taliban prisoners.
The five are expected to live on compounds in Qatar, and their families will be brought there to live with them, officials said.
There are indications that the Taliban will be more willing to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government once Karzai leaves office, the officials said.
But given the tortured diplomatic path needed to release five Afghans and an American, those talks are likely to be difficult.

Bowe Bergdahl Rescued: Obama Speaks About Release of Captured Soldier

Video: Bowe Bergdahl Bergdahl's parents speak at White House

US Defense Chief Defends Secrecy of Prisoner Swap Deal

VOA News
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is defending the deal to secure the freedom of an American soldier in a swap for five Afghan insurgents, even though Congress was not notified ahead of time as required by U.S. law.
Hagel said officials feared the life of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was in danger. As a result, he said congressional leaders were not given the required 30-day notice that President Barack Obama planned to release the prisoners from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and turn them over to Qatar. Qatari officials have pledged to hold them for a year.
Some opposition lawmakers in Washington have praised Bergdahl's release, but criticized the terms of the prisoner swap.
One Republican critic, Congressman Mike Rogers, called the prisoner swap "a fundamental shift" in U.S. policy that would give terrorists "a greater incentive" to take Americans hostage.
Bergdhal was flown Sunday to a U.S. Army base in Germany to undergo a medical checkup and initial questioning about his nearly five years in captivity at the hands of the Taliban. The circumstances surrounding his capture remain murky.
Obama, appearing with Bergdahl's parents at the White House Saturday, said that the soldier "wasn't forgotten by his country" and that the U.S. "does not leave our men and women in uniform behind."
The U.S. leader announced last week that by the end of 2014 it will end combat operations in Afghanistan, while leaving about 9,800 troops there to train Afghan military personnel and assist in counter-terrorism operations. Obama plans to further cut the troop level to less than 1,000 by the end of 2016.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy Taliban military operations at the heart of the terrorist attacks against the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people on September 11, 2001. Hagel said he hopes the prisoner exchange will lead to breakthroughs in relations with militants. He made the comments after an unannounced arrival at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to discuss the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops. Officials say Bergdahl's handover to U.S. Special Forces near the Pakistan border was non-violent.
The 28-year-old Bergdahl, a resident of the western U.S. state of Idaho, was captured by the Taliban on June 30, 2009, about two months after he arrived in Afghanistan. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho had been planning its annual "Bring Bowe Back" event on June 28. But upon hearing of his release Saturday, the event was quickly renamed "Bowe is Back," and is now planned as a welcome home party.

President Obama defends deal with Taliban to free only American POW in Afghanistan

Deal allows five terror suspects free from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
President Obama Saturday night defended his decision to negotiate indirectly with the Taliban, trading five terrorism suspects in U.S. custody to gain the release of the only American soldier held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. The president said the deal is part America’s “iron-clad commitment to bringing our prisoners home.”
“That’s who we are as Americans,” Mr. Obama said in the White House Rose Garden, with the parents of released U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at his side.
Mr. Obama briefly gave the details of the deal with the Taliban, but did not address directly the negotiations in which the government of Qatar served as a go-between.
“The United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar,” Mr. Obama said. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”
Sgt. Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban Saturday in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old Sgt. Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.
The handover followed secret and indirect negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban. Qatar is taking custody of the five Afghan detainees that had been held the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Top Republicans on the Senate and House Armed Services Committee criticized Mr. Obama for negotiating with the Taliban. “Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Berghdal’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, and Rep. Buck McKeon, California Republican, in a joint statement.
Mr. Obama, who is under a storm of criticism for his administration’s neglect of veterans’ health care, hugged the parents of Sgt. Bergdahl, Bob and Jani Bergdahl of Idaho, at the end of his comments. “While Bo was gone, he was never forgotten,” Mr. Obama said. “His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day. He wasn’t forgotten by his country.”
The president also said his administration is “deeply committed” to bringing back other Americans detained unjustly abroad.
Mrs. Bergdahl thanked “everyone who supported Bo.” The soldier’s father said his son was having trouble speaking English after so long in captivity. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he informed Congress Saturday of the decision “to transfer five detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Qatar.”
“The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised,” Mr. Hagel said. “I appreciate the efforts of the Emir of Qatar to put these measures in place, and I want to thank him for his instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.”

Pakistan: Bilawal Bhutto condemns victimization of PPP leaders
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has condemned the victimization of PPP leaders former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Federal Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim by Federal government and asked PML-N to think twice before revisiting the era of political victimization.
In a press statement issued here, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said PPP, its leaders and workers have braved victimizations at the hand of the worst dictators in the past and concocted cases, jails and courts are nothing new for them. “Characters who initiated false cases and references against the PPP leaders in the past had apologized later on when they became commoners,” he pointed out and demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to come out openly if he has shunned the policy of reconciliation initiated by Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and pursued by the Peoples government.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should make it open and public if he has droped the policy of reconciliation and strengthen of democracy as PPP will never stop its struggle for restoration of complete democracy and equal rights to people from all walks of life without any discrimination of provinces, parties, ethnicity, cast , or creeds.

Pakistan: Hardships of Christians increased since Muslim League Came in Power

According to Pakistan Christian Post, the threat against religious minorities in Pakistan has changed drastically since the Pakistan Muslim League (N) came in power. There was several blasphemy cases registered in the Punjab province during the rule PML-N government in the past and the same practice was on.
A Christian family with children and women were burnt alive and the Christian colony was set ablaze in Gojra city in 2009. In the city of province Punjab, Sangla Hill and Joseph Colony, Lahore; the same practice had been seen, cases were registered against those attacks but no action is being taken against the complainants.
In addition, since s the PML-N government came in power in the federal, Islamabad slum settlements were alerted to vacate and were considered infringement. The inhabitants were living there for about four decades. Officials in capital of Punjab province, Agency, along with the police from different stations reached at the Katchi abadi in Qaziabad, Gulshan-i-Ravi, with bulldozers and earthmovers in the early morning. The workers demolished houses amongst cries and screams of women and children.
Punjab government appears to be in hurry now to crush the Christians during their rule. The colony was reportedly built about40 years ago and during his first Government, Nawaz Sharif promised them that no one would force them to leave their houses. But during his current rule he has lifted them all. In recent past; Islamabad High Court’s Justice Shaoukat Aziz Siddique had directed Capital Development Authority – CDA to clear the slum settlements from the Capital, Islamabad. The situation of Christians can thus be better explained by this Urdu poetry:
Mera qatil he mira munsif hy kia mery haq mein faisla dy ga.
(My killer is my judge, will he decide anything in my favor)
The issue is not just limited to Christian only but others are suffering too. A university professor was entrapped in blasphemy case and his lawyer was killed. A blasphemy case was registered against 65 protesters in his favor. Recently blasphemy cases have been registered against a well-known Geo TV anchor Dr, Shaista Wahidi, Geo TV owner and two participants who afterwards had to flee from the country due to this reason. A man in small district, Shariq pur; accused of blasphemy case was killed during his judicial investigation. A foreign national Ahmadi Cardiologist doctor was killed during his visit to Pakistan.
According to Pakistan Christian Post Situation is more severe for the minority groups in the country. Many Christian families are suffering in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. UNHCR is not paying attention to these asylum seekers. Most of the Christians are shifting to other countries and rests do not find any future in the country.
To conclude, Christian Posts poses a question to all Christians,
“Are we equal citizen; if not should we stand for our rights?”
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Genocide Of Pakistan's Ahmadi Muslims: ''While we persecute you''

Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari
It is savagery at its worst, with everyone as an accomplice because there is a disagreement about your religious beliefs, under which many are unsure what kind of punishment is required. Yet there is no disagreement about random extremists acting out the judge, jury and executioner roles
Persecution has existed since antiquity. You have to, however, be a special kind of unfortunate to be persecuted by Muslims. There will be no mercy. There will be no hope. No one in power will stand up for you, attempt to protect you or even throw your way two words of consolation. A caravan will be led by the vocal extremists and many silently approving groups across the socio-economic strata will walk with it, chin up. The only outrage there will be is going to be from your own community, and that too, measured — you cannot appear to be a formidable force or you will stroke the fires of hate to an extent that you will be annihilated. No one wants that, not even your enemies who want to instead poison you slowly with lethal fear, hunting you and eventually clenching the grey-wolf-like jaws on your jugular — your best will go first.
It is savagery at its worst, with everyone as an accomplice because there is a disagreement about your religious beliefs, under which many are unsure what kind of punishment is required. Yet there is no disagreement about random extremists acting out the judge, jury and executioner roles. Luckily for the rest of the world, John Locke philosophised the separation of church and state: a rather simple concept but one that prevents not just the denial of civil rights on the basis of religion but also prevents religious persecution.
From among you was a man who loved the Pakistani cricket team and was crazy about the city of Lahore. He was a cardiologist, had three sons and lived and worked in the world that John Locke helped into law. This man decided that he wanted to come back to his country and serve at a hospital where thousands are treated for free in a town called Chenab Nagar. The place was previously called Rabwah.
He was unaware that those who consider themselves the truest of believers had been distributing posters that declared treatment from this hospital was forbidden. Would knowing this stop him? We do not know. On May 26, 2014, he went with his two-year-old son and wife to a nearby graveyard where he paid respects to his parents who had passed away. In this same graveyard you buried Pakistan’s greatest mind, a Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam. His grave, just like others in the graveyard, lies desecrated and the Islamic proclamations ashed-out by the authorities.
Did this man pay his respects to Dr Salam, who we do not own, celebrate or adorn national monuments for? We will never know. Some 94 men, women and children from your community were massacred by the Taliban in two mosques in Lahore on May 28, 2010. They are buried in the same cemetery. We do not know if he paid any respects to them either. We never will. He walked out towards his car. There, in front of his wife and baby, he was gunned down. Shot with 10 or more bullets in his body for being a lesser Muslim in the eyes of the killers. The man from your community, no longer with us, is Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar. His assailants fled but this was not the reason that the perpetrators were not caught or brought to justice. The Lahore mosque massacres or the 137 others from your community who have been killed in the past three years still have their killers at large. None have been brought to justice. With other popular causes such as protesting drone attacks, yours is a bit difficult to rally around for politicians and civil society alike.
There are a few things we do know about your community: you do not take up arms and you do not retaliate. You say this is the teaching of the Holy Quran. May your message triumph.

Pakistan: Two children die in Charsadda from measles vaccine

The Express Tribune
One month after being administered the measles vaccine, two children in Charsadda died on Sunday , Express News reported.
Faizan and Sabeen, who were both four years old, were injected with the measles vaccine on May 3 after which their condition became critical and they had been taken to the district hospital in Charsadda. The two children died today.
An investigation committee has been formed to look into the matter.
Who’s at fault?
The government launched a 12-day measles campaign on May 19 and since then several cases of negative reactions to the vaccine are surfacing. Around 110 adverse reactions have been recorded by the health department so far.
According to investigations, 40% of the anti-measles vaccine staff is untrained and lack sufficient knowledge about the technicalities of administering measles vaccine.
But a medical specialist in Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Shabqadar earlier told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity that the deaths were caused by the vaccine and not due to untrained staff.
He claimed the medicine lost its efficacy due to prolonged outages in the hospitals.
According to the specialist, the hospitals where the vaccines are being stored face almost 20 hours of outages. “The cold chain for all vaccines needs to be maintained; since the hospitals face outages the quality of medicine is affected,” he added.

Pakistan: Stoned To Death: ''Awaiting Justice''

It took two days for the Prime Minister to take notice of the brutal murder of Farzana Parveen outside the Lahore High Court. It took another day for the Chief Justice to do the same, and he has given forty eight hours to the Punjab IG forty to file a report. The government is seemingly looking to speed things up, and has moved the case to the anti-terrorist court. Four suspects have been arrested, including her father who turned himself in after he was done stoning his own daughter in broad daylight. International coverage of the incident, coupled with mass outrage has led the government to display that some effort is being made to do something unprecedented for cases like this in Pakistan; work towards providing justice. If only all the other cases of rape, mutilation and murder of women (most of which go unreported) provoked similar feelings of urgency from the state, then this issue would not have been as widespread.
The arrest of four suspects should be lauded considering honour killing cases are rarely ever reported, and even those that are do not make it to court, but over twenty people were involved in this heinous attack. Justice should be served to all those that participated, not just those that have been apprehended so far. The perpetrators are not the only ones that need to be punished, however. The police that stood and watched this happened share the blame, and their failure to protect Farzana Parveen cannot be ignored. The police of Pakistan does not view most of the attacks on women as crimes worth stopping and this attitude enables people like Farzana’s family to abuse women with impunity. Domestic abuse, acid attacks, rapes and honour killings somehow do not qualify as crimes that should be dealt with by the mostly-misogynist police force.
Farzana’s murder is a shame for all of us. But the hundreds of crimes against women which go unanswered for annually are just as much of a disgrace, if not more merely because of the high frequency. The government and the media are both equally to blame for being indifferent to the plight of these women, and for letting them slip into anonymity. Pakistan needs to work towards ending the subjugation of women protecting their rights with as much diligence as those of men. Even if all those responsible for Farzana’s death pay for their crimes, our society will not be made any better for it if the same thing is going to happen again and again.

Iran denies claims regarding completion date of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline

Iran denied it has extended the completion date of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Iran has not made any agreement with Pakistan to change the completion date of the project, the ISNA news agency quoted Iranian Deputy Oil Minister for International and Trade Affairs Ali Majedi.
During the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Iran, the two countries held in-depth discussions on the completion of IP gas line and agreed to extend the completion date by one year. On May 24, 2009 Iran and Pakistan signed a bilateral treaty titled Intergovernmental Framework Declaration, while on June 5, 2009 Inter State Gas System of Pakistan (ISGS) and National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) signed the Gas Sale Purchase Agreement (GSPA), which envisaged the first flow of gas to Pakistan to commence by December 31, 2014.
Iran laid the pipeline on its side by investing $2 billion but Pakistan failed to lay the pipeline on its side of the border. Pakistan had invited bids but no company participated in it. Iran committed two tranches of $250 million each to lay Pakistan's portion of the pipeline but recently it declined to provide financing, saying it was ready to provide gas but would not provide money for Pakistani portion of the project.

Pakistani Terrorist Malik Ishaq : A free man again

Malik Ishaq, the leader of banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been released by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi because of lack of evidence to prove that he made hate speeches on three different occasions to stir religious sentiments. The speeches from the archives of any media house could have served the purpose though. The prosecutors’ ignoring this crucial evidence suggests that the relationship between the Punjab government and the militant groups in Punjab is much deeper than what meets the eye. So far, Punjab is a far safer province as compared to other provinces in the country. The Punjab government had gone as far as pleading with the Taliban in its previous tenure to spare the province for the similarities of ideology both of them share. What ideology Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was talking about was not made clear. The question persists and the more it is parsed the further the suspicion gets stronger that the militants in Punjab enjoy the backing of the Punjab government. The fear does lurk that once this nexus breaks, Punjab perhaps would be the worst hit.
Malik Ishaq had been booked for orchestrating the killing of the Hazars Shia community in Quetta in January 2013. Ninety people died and several were injured in the massacre. Laskher-e-Jhangvi, spearheaded by Malik Ishaq, accepted responsibility for the brutal attack. Malik Ishaq was immediately arrested, on the insistence of the Hazara community, who refused to bury their dead ones unless the main culprit was caught and punished. The incarceration did not last long and Malik Ishaq was soon released. According to reports, Malik Ishaq was required by the Punjab government to mediate between the militants and the Punjab government. Malik Ishaq had served 14 years in jail and had masterminded the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team from jail in 2009.
The same pattern of leniency was witnessed during the general elections, where the process of scrutiny for the religious candidates was different from other candidates. If it was not for the Supreme Court, we would have had Ahmad Ludhianvi sitting in the National Assembly by now. Being the runner-up, he had almost convinced the Election Tribunal in Faisalabad to consider him the victorious candidate for NA-89 after the election of Sheikh Muhammad Akram was declared void by the Tribunal. From what Pakistan has become today, the government has to realise that the policy of cultivating religious fanatics as an aide to bolster the state’s power has come home to roost. The survival of the state lies in getting rid of them.

Pakistan: ‘Nawaz should avoid politics of GT Road, do country-level politics’

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should avoid the politics of Grand Trunk (GT) Road and Lahore and instead of this he should politics on country level.Sindh Minister for Information Sharjeel Inam Memonaddressing to a press conference at Karachi said Center should avoid behaving like dictatorial attitude and prejudice attitude with Sindh.Sindh provides highest number of taxes and Pakistan’s economy lies on Sindh but even bigotry attitude of federal government towards Sindh is like tyrannical, said Sharjeel.He said we would not avoid injustices to the people of Sindh at any cost while PML-N has restarted the politics of 90s by closing down 11 mega projects of Sindh, he added.People of Sindh are being punished because they voted Pakistan Peoples Party in general elections, he said.Federal government was behaving with Sindh step motherly. The federal government was keeping discriminatory behaviour for the people of Sindh and was taking dictatorial steps, he said.
Regarding targeted operation in Karachi, he said Centre’s practical role was not visible. In Karachi targeted operation, the federal set up was not seen. Sindh government tried again and again to make contact with the federal government regarding the purchase of latest weapons, bulletproof jackets and Armoured Personnel Carrier vehicles but federation has yet to take any step in this regard, he added.Sharjeel said the main reason of crime was illegal SIMS. Federal government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority were the authorities to stop issuing millions of illegal SIMS but there was no step taken by the federal government to stop issuance of illegal SIMS.In response to a question Sharjeel said if Pervez Musharraf left the country, responsibility would be laid on the shoulder of ‘independent judiciary and federal government’. “It seemed there has been a deal struck between federal government and Pervez Musharraf”.In another reply, he said lodging of cases on PPP leaders Yusuf Raza Gilani and Makhdoom Amin Faheem was a political revenge.He said PPP was not going to be a part of any grand alliance because PPP itself was so strong that it could thwart the conspiracies. PPP strongly condemns the false cases lodged on its senior leaders as PML-N has started the same politics of 90s by lodging false cases against PPP political leadership. In past also, false cases were registered to build pressure on PPP, but we would face such situation like in the past even today.

Pakistan: Threat to Sino-Pak friendship

By Muhammad Amir Rana
THE issue of terrorism remains at the heart of the world’s diplomatic, economic and strategic engagement with Pakistan. It invariably constrains Pakistan’s pursuit of economic, strategic and political interests.
The ghost of terrorism will continue to haunt Pakistan and put more pressure on the country’s relations with its neighbours after the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s major economic, strategic and political partner China will also expect that the former puts extra efforts into dealing with terrorism.
The recent incident of the kidnapping of a Chinese tourist from Zhob district of Balochistan coincided with President Mamnoon Hussain’s and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Beijing to sign the contract of Pakistan’s first metro train project. Though the president condemned the incident and vowed that Pakistan would take effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and projects in the country, China is deeply concerned about the security of its interests in Pakistan.
Also, it is concerned about the Uighur militants who are allegedly based in the Pak-Afghan border areas and have developed strong links with Pakistani and foreign militants of Central Asian and Arab origin sheltered in these areas.
Pakistan cannot set aside Chinese security concerns as China has emerged as a major economic development and trade partner of the country. According to media reports, China is investing around $52 billion in major projects in Pakistan.
China’s new leadership has come up with a regional economic approach to engage neighbouring countries for common development and economic integration. Under this framework, China wants improved regional infrastructure for better connectivity; it is offering help and collaboration in building better transport networks including roads, motorways, railways and air links.
Under this vision, China is planning to develop four highways and maritime economic corridors including the Bangladesh-India-Myanmar-China economic corridor and one with Central Asia. However, the Chinese are more enthusiastic about the China-Pakistan economic corridor and consider it an important part of the 21st-century Silk Road.
Chinese policymakers calculate three major risks which they think can hinder progress on the project. First, they are concerned about policy risks, both internal and external, and see the US as an irritant and India as a troubling factor. The internal policy issues are least likely to create any hindrance as the Pakistani establishment cannot delay the projects with China because of internal political turmoil; public opinion is also in favour of China.
The same applies to Chinese concerns about external interference as it seems almost impossible that the Pakistani political and military establishments would hamper any Pak-China project under external pressure. The Iran-Pakistan pipeline project has different global and regional perspectives and China understands the situation and Pakistan’s stated limitations.
The second risk entails Chinese policymakers’ perceived fiscal concerns. But the PML-N-led government is planning to allocate over Rs73bn in the Public Sector Development Programme for the next budget (2014-15) in order to implement development projects under the China-Pakistan economic corridor. Given Pakistan’s economic situation, assistance from the Chinese financial sector cannot be ignored. The Chinese know if there is a political will, there will be an economic way.
However, Pakistan needs to take more initiatives to address Chinese concerns related to their perceived security risks. China has two major security concerns: first, the link of terrorism and insecurity in China’s Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s tribal areas; and second, the security of its citizens working on projects in Pakistan.
The terrorists based in Pakistan’s tribal areas are not the only actors contributing towards insecurity in China; separatists and violent extremists based in Xinjiang also pose major internal security threats.
These factors have internal and external support and operational mechanisms. After the recent wave of terrorist incidents, Chinese authorities admitted that extremists are learning terrorism techniques through the internet. The growing similarities in militants’ operational tactics and strategies in Xinjiang, Chechnya and Dagestan reflect that coordination among the militants of these different regions cannot be completely ruled out.
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement (Etim) and its breakaway factions such as the Turkestan Islamic Party are expanding their outreach within China and recent incidents of terrorism in Beijing and Kunming have increased anxiety among the Chinese authorities. A realisation is growing among Chinese think tanks that only the development strategy in conflict-ridden regions cannot resolve the problem; they will have to adopt a political approach to increase engagement with communities, including the Uighurs. Despite these changing dynamics of terrorism and insecurity in China, Beijing still expects active support from Pakistan. The Chinese believe that militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas were the masterminds behind major recent terrorist attacks that occurred in China.
That is why after incidents of terrorism in China, pressure on Pakistan increases.
Though Beijing does not interfere in Pakistan’s approach to pursuing talks with the local Taliban, this writer’s recent interaction with some Chinese think tanks and scholars suggested that China wishes that Pakistan should soon reach a conclusion about launching an operation against militants in the tribal areas. They perceive that military action will also weaken Etim. They fear that any delay in action against terrorists can provide space to the latter and they can relocate themselves around the proposed economic corridor and create problems in smooth construction and trade through the corridor.
This is a tough equation; China is not the US, and it keeps politics separate from its core issues. Pakistan will have less space to avoid Chinese pressure on this subject.

Pakistan: Polio: where’s the urgency?

AS of today, anyone travelling beyond this country’s borders will have to, by the orders of the Pakistan government, produce a state-issued polio vaccination certificate or face being disallowed from travel. In this bland statement lies a world of extra burdens placed on travellers, massive additional pressure on state infrastructure and resources, and the fears of the rest of the world that because of Pakistan, the crippling virus will be reintroduced in the planet at large. The restrictive travel advisory was first suggested in 2011 by the Independent Monitoring Board for Polio Eradication, as strains of the virus specific to Pakistan started turning up in other countries. The world noted how the resistance to the vaccine went from refusals to more and more deadly attacks on polio workers. Even when, early last month, the situation became grave enough for WHO to issue a travel restriction advisory, the world deferred to Pakistan’s sovereignty: other than India, which made the decision several months ago, no other country has issued the warning that unvaccinated travellers from Pakistan will not be allowed to enter — even now, the world has the grace to allow this country time to clean up its act.
Where, then, is the urgency to take responsibility of affairs? With tens of thousands of passengers leaving through the airports, the government has reportedly set up polio vaccination counters which will make the long queues at airports an even worse nightmare. And, if any such counters have been set up at the land border crossings in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we have yet to hear of them. The government has issued a list of hospitals/medical centres where state-endorsed certificates are available after vaccination. But several such facilities have already run out of these vital pieces of paper. They have not been provided more and people are being turned away. Indeed, only in Islamabad is there a plan in evidence that would make it likely for the international traveller to easily be vaccinated. But then, that is typical of our governments, who feel their mandate refers to the capital alone.
It would have been natural for the government to initiate, in the run-up to today’s deadline, a large-scale advertising campaign telling people what exactly was required, where they should go, and what they should be aware of. This, too, is nowhere in evidence. Could the apathy be greater? Yet the fact that Pakistan must now face is that transmitting the polio virus to other countries is far too serious a matter for other governments to continue to be accommodating. The travel ban is already enforced; if we cannot take urgent steps to ramp up the child vaccination campaign and make vaccines accessible to all travellers, further unpleasant realities may await us.

Pakistan: Zardari warns govt against political victimisation

Former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari has warned the government against the alleged victimisation of PPP members.
In a statement on Saturday, Mr Zardari said he was “shocked” that while the PPP was seeking to protect the democratic system through political reconciliation, the government was “chasing opponents and thereby undermining the unity of political forces”.
He “deplored” the alleged victimisation of former premiers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf and former commerce minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
The PPP co-chairman said that policy decisions about rental power plants or subsidies in importing commodities were taken collectively and transparently by the cabinet in the light of objective realities and singling out the prime minister was “patently wrong and smacks of political victimisation”.
He said it was strange that in references only public representatives had been accused of wrongdoing, because not a single sponsor of the power projects had been indicted.
On the other hand, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government had nothing to do with the decisions of courts or investigating agencies and that the PPP could move higher courts if it considered such decisions as “witch-hunting or political victimisation”. Talking to Dawn, he said only a few days ago when an accountability court acquitted Mr Zardari in the polo ground reference, his counsel praised courts and the National Accountability Bureau.
Mr Rashid said the PPP should know that judiciary was independent and that doors of high courts and the Supreme Court were open for them.