Tuesday, June 3, 2014
The 25th edition of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival will run from June 12 to 22, 2014 with a program of 22 films that bring human rights struggles to life through storytelling, and remind us that film can be a powerful source of change and inspiration. The festival is co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and IFC Center. Twenty documentaries and two fiction films will be featured, including 19 New York premieres and an unprecedented 16 features by women.
Minutes after officially being declared as president of Egypt, former Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi addressed the nation in a televised speech on Tuesday night, declaring that it is now “time for work.” Al-Sisi was elected president by 96.9% of valid votes, totaling 23,780,104, beating the only other contender, Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahy.
By Sergei Duz
Monday was a "Day of Silence" in Syria. On Tuesday, the country is to elect its president. Experts believe that there are two possible scenarios: it will be either al-Assad or al-Qaeda. The voting in Syria is to take place on June 3. Parliamentarians from 30 friendly countries, including Russia, will be observing the elections.
In the last day of the election campaign al-Assad stated that Syria had withstood and warded off the plot aimed against it thanks to its people. However, one of his opponents, Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar, agrees with that only partially. "The Arab Spring is a true movement of the Arab nations. People went to the streets with clear and justified demands and that is their right. Unfortunately, international political forces used the Arab Spring for their selfish purposes and channeled it into another direction. Initially there was no plot." Maher Abdel Hafiz Hajjar believes that the new head of state has to have three priorities: "First of all, it includes the improvement of the social situation of our citizens. I believe that the crisis in the country started due to the poverty of some regions as well as the social discrimination. I intend to fight poverty by improving economic criteria and the social guarantees of all the citizens of the country." "Secondly, my priorities include the strengthening of Syria's role on the international arena. Our country has a great potential for cooperation with the BRICS countries, primarily with Russia and China." "Thirdly, we need to strengthen Syria's role in the Arab world. Syria will work towards ridding our region of despotism of any given country. Syria aims to become a democracy and only its people can run the country. In order to strengthen our position in the Arab world we need to improve Syria's economy." Meanwhile, the optimistic forecasts regarding Syria's future are in this or that way linked to al-Assad. No matter how one views his personality, one must admit that the current president is perhaps the only present politician capable of pulling the country from that dramatic dead-end that it finds itself in partially at the hands of the West, which decided to support the Arab Spring without taking the specifics of the region into account. According to the majority of experts, currently, Syria finds itself at a crossroads: either al-Assad keeps his presidential position or al-Qaeda takes over the power and wins the war waged against terrorists. The presidential election is a good moment for the government to demonstrate that it controls the situation in the country. Read more: http://voiceofrussia.com/2014_06_03/Assad-only-politician-capable-of-pulling-Syria-out-of-quicksand-its-in-expert-7045/
Voting has been extended in Syria’s presidential election by five hours because of high voter turnout.
Tuesday’s voting has been extended until midnight (2100 GMT), allowing more Syrians to take part in the election that would determine the country’s next leader. The winner would be the crisis-hit nation’s next president for the coming seven years. Over 15 million Syrians are eligible to vote in more than 9,000 stations across the government-controlled areas of the country. Election officials in the capital Damascus have described the voter turnout as great. Incumbent President Bashar al-Assad, MP Maher al-Hajjar, and businessman Hassan al-Nouri are competing for the top post. All the three candidates have already cast their ballots. Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since March 2011. Over 160,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced due to the violence fueled by the foreign-backed militants. According to reports, the Western powers and their regional allies -- especially Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are supporting the militants operating inside Syria.
General Secretary Pakistan Peoples Party Sindh Senator Taj Haider has said in a Press Statement that the Economic Survey presented by the Finance Minister had clearly brought out the fact that the economic policies of this Government were solely for the benefit of the elite and the poor working classes were being severely exploited. ‘Trickle Down Economic Policy’ pursued by this Government had miserably failed even in developed countries. Pursued again and again in Pakistan by the political right and religious extremist wing the policy has further marginalized the working classes and filled the tax evading coffers of the rich. Mr. Taj Haider said that the 70 % of our population lived in villages. Most among them lived below the poverty line. The reversal in the growth rate of agriculture sector was most alarming. The governments of Pakistan Peoples Party through their pro-poor policies had turned Pakistan from a food importing country to a major food exporting country. Living standards in rural Pakistan had seen a marked improvement during the PPP government. This had been achieved in spite of the year after year flood disasters that had severely affected the agriculture sector. This year in spite of the excellent weather conditions and ample supply of irrigation water the growth rate of agriculture had gone down. Are we once again turning Pakistan into a food importing country and pushing more farmers below the poverty line? Mr. Taj Haider questioned. There is an exceptional growth in the Construction sector. But who owns the skyscrapers, the shopping plazas, luxury houses and flats? Not they who toil night and day to build these luxurious palaces. The Katchi abadies where the toiling masses lived were rotting in filth. These were devoid of even the basic amenities while houses in posh localities were being reconstructed after demolition as a routine to suit the tastes of their owners. Huge foreign loans were being taken to finance fancy projects. How many living quarters were being built for the millions of homeless of the country was a crucial question that could not be pushed under the carpet. The stark truth behind the exceptional growth in the construction sector was that wealth accumulated by the elite was being spent in non-productive luxury pursuits. Same for the growth in Heavy Industrial Sector, Mr. Taj Haider pointed out. The size of the small industrial sector and home based work most of which is in the informal sector and is serving as the backbone of production and employment has shrunk down. The growth in the Heavy and the formal industrial sector is solely due to the hundreds of billions of subsidy provided to the Electricity producers of the private sector in the name of clearing the circular debt. The circular debt has returned at the end of the year almost in the same volume. It is obvious that this subsidy to the private sector is now a recurring annual feature. The most alarming features of the pro-elite economic policy are tax reliefs to the rich amounting to 452 billion through the illegal and unconstitutional SROs and the blind borrowing for fancy projects which having crossed the legal limit of 60 % of GDP now stands at 67% of the GDP. The SRO relief directly affects the poor in terms of high inflation and shortage of resources, besides greatly reducing transfers under the NFC to the provinces. Notwithstanding the miserable failure of the Federal Government to meet Revenue collection targets the SROs have resulted in Sindh receiving 65 billion less in the NFC which has completely derailed the provincial development program. Simultaneously Sindh is at a loss to understand where and in which province the obtained loans are being used. As far as Sindh is considered even the 11 most important projects included in PSDP have been taken out, Senator Taj Haider concluded.
China's foreign minister will visit India next week for the first high-level meeting between the two countries since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in May.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Foreign Minister Wang Yi would arrive in New Delhi on Sunday for a two-day trip as a special envoy of President Xi Jinping. Wang would meet Indian officials, including the new foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said Hong. He added that the agenda was still being worked out and he could not say if Wang would also meet Modi. Last month Modi invited Xi to visit, seeking greater engagement on trade and regional security issues. Beijing has yet to formally respond to that invitation. Hindu nationalist Modi was elected by a landslide, ending a decade of Congress party rule. Modi is keen to rebalance relations between New Delhi and Beijing that have long been marked by suspicion. China's closest ally in the region is India's traditional foe, Pakistan, whose prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, attended Modi's inauguration. China and India fought a brief border war in 1962 that India lost. Tensions have occasionally flared along their mountainous border, which spans about 3,400km and is still partly in dispute. India runs a US$40 billion annual trade deficit with China, and Modi is expected to seek greater market access to reduce that gap.
LEAVE no soldier behind.
The four words are honored at every rank in the American military. Soldiers willingly, sometimes foolishly, risk their own lives to keep their comrades out of enemy hands. So the White House expected that the release of Bowe Robert Bergdahl, a 28-year-old taken prisoner in Afghanistan nearly five years ago would bring cheers. President Obama personally publicized the release, speaking in the Rose Garden on Saturday alongside Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents. (A private when captured, he was promoted in captivity.) Instead, many of his fellow soldiers are outraged. When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the news to troops at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, he was met with silence. Online, soldiers and veterans — including some from Sergeant Bergdahl’s own platoon — have filled Facebook pages to condemn the decision to free five Taliban commanders from the Guantánamo Bay prison in exchange for him. The Obama administration’s decision to talk with the Taliban to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release is not what has driven that anger. The American pledge not to negotiate with terrorists has been honored more in the breach than the observance from the moment President Ronald Reagan made it. And the Taliban already play a major role in Afghan politics. The United States will be dealing with them for the foreseeable future, like it or not.
No, the military fury stems from the troubling circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture — and the fact that several American soldiers from units in the province where he disappeared were killed in the months that followed his disappearance. Sergeant Bergdahl’s critics say some of those deaths were related to the search for him, though the Pentagon has said those charges are unsubstantiated. Michael Hastings, an investigative reporter who died last year, examined Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance in a lengthy 2012 Rolling Stone piece whose accuracy has not been questioned. Drawing on emails that Sergeant Bergdahl sent to his family and interviews with his fellow soldiers, Mr. Hastings reported that he had despised serving in Afghanistan almost from the moment he arrived in the spring of 2009. By Mr. Hastings’s account, Sergeant Bergdahl’s unit was undisciplined, undermanned and poorly led. Sergeant Bergdahl didn’t understand why he was there. Following a long firefight that May, Sergeant Bergdahl’s anger worsened. On June 27, he wrote a final email to his family, according to Mr. Hastings. It included these words: “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting.” Three days later, he left his rifle and night-vision goggles and walked off his base. The decision was so reckless as to verge on suicidal. Not surprisingly, the Taliban captured him in less than two days. Sergeant Bergdahl may have broken any number of military laws. Under Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a soldier commits desertion if he “quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or shirk important service.” Desertion during wartime is punishable “by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.” Of course, no military court has found him guilty of any crime. But there’s no doubt that Sergeant Bergdahl’s disappearance caused terrible trouble. American forces across eastern Afghanistan suspended other operations and spent weeks searching for him.
Meanwhile, he had the opportunity to repent his decision to leave the base. He spent almost five years in the less than welcoming hands of the Taliban, who made propaganda videos with him as an unwilling star. As a reporter, I embedded for modest stints with American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I’m asked about those experiences, I always say — and mean — that we civilians don’t deserve the soldiers we have. In this case, perhaps, the reverse was true. The White House worked tirelessly to free Sergeant Bergdahl, and did not let the murk around his disappearance stop its decision to trade Taliban detainees for him. I’m no soldier, but that decision seems right to me. No man, or woman, left behind. But now that this man is on his way home, what to do with him? The White House clearly erred by pretending that Sergeant Bergdahl was an ordinary prisoner of war and that his return would be cause for unalloyed celebration. It should have brought him home as quietly as possible, with no fanfare. Now I don’t see how the Pentagon can avoid re-examining what happened on June 30, 2009. If Sergeant Bergdahl is proved mentally competent to stand trial, maybe he deserves a few years in Leavenworth to reflect on his dereliction of duty. Ultimately, his peers in a military court must answer that question. But the anger and confusion that his release has generated seems somehow fitting, a messy and inconclusive end to a war that went on far too long without a clear purpose after the rout of Al Qaeda. Bowe Bergdahl is going home. So are the Taliban.
President Obama on Tuesday strongly defended his administration’s decision to return five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban in exchange for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after five years of captivity, though he acknowledged that some of the released detainees could once again try to harm the United States. “We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Bergdahl,” Obama said on a trip to Poland to discuss Eastern European security. “We saw an opportunity, and we were concerned about Bergdahl’s health. We had the cooperation of the Qataris to execute an exchange, and we seized that opportunity.” He added that “the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure we would not miss that window.” Amid mounting congressional criticism about the operation, Obama said both the United States and authorities in the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, who helped organize the trade, would closely monitor the released Guantanamo detainees. “Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama said in a news conference with Poland’s president. “There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place.” But Obama added that he would not have authorized the trade if he “thought it was contrary to U.S. national security.” Obama also refused to rule out that Bergdahl could face punishment for, as some allege, abandoning his unit in Afghanistan. But he said that question is not the priority as Bergdahl recovers from captivity. “We obviously have not been interrogating Sgt. Bergdahl,” Obama said. “He’s going to have to undergo a significant transition back into life. He has not even met with his family yet.” Obama added that regardless of the circumstances of his capture, “we still get back an American soldier if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.” Obama framed the war decisions he faced as the natural sorts of choices that come with the end of the war.
America's Top Military Official Gave The Best Possible Response To Critics Of The Bowe Bergdahl Swap
By Brett LoGiurato
The U.S.' top military official on Tuesday defended the controversial prisoner swap that freed Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, even as he said the military would look into the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture. "Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said in a statement Tuesday morning. " Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred," the statement continued. But Dempsey defended the Obama administration's decision amid a burgeoning controversy over its decision to free five prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl's release. After the weekend prisoner exchange, s everal soldiers who served with Bergdahl said he willingly deserted his unit . And Republican lawmakers have leveled claims that the swap was illegal because it proceeded without a timely notification of Congress. Dempsey said the deal presented the "last, best opportunity" to recover Bergdahl. He said freeing U.S. soldiers from enemy captivity is a priority regardless of the speculation about Bergdahl's conduct. And he thanked those who tried, and ultimately succeeded, in securing Bergdahl's release.Here's Dempsey's full statement: "In response to those of you interested in my personal judgments about the recovery of SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity. This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him. As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty. Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family. Finally, I want to thank those who for almost five years worked to find him, prepared to rescue him, and ultimately put themselves at risk to recover him."
The electoral team of Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, on Tuesday officially endorsed Abdullah Abdullah during the second round of election. Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf was not present during the endorsement ceremony; however, his supporters including his vice-presidents announced their support to Abdullah in election runoff. Sayyaf’s vice-presidents said they have taken the decision to support Abdullah in the second round of election, after numerous meetings and debates. Sayyaf is a prominent Mujahideen leader who had secured 7.5 percent of the total votes in the first round of election. He had received 465,207 votes during the first round of election.
fghanistan is about to go back to the polls to pick a new president. Both candidates boast anti-Al-Qaeda credentials. But after America is gone, will the winner manage to keep a country that is perennially on the edge of war from reverting to its bad old ways? President Barack Obama announced in late May a plan to cut the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by the end of the year and completely leave the nation to its own devices before 2017. The longest war the U.S. has ever fought is about to end, but no one can guarantee that Afghanistan, which once hosted the masterminds of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, will not pose a threat to the U.S. again. Much will depend on who wins: former Afghan finance minister Ahsraf Ghani or former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. The two will face each other in a runoff election on June 14 because neither candidate managed to secure half of all votes when the country voted in April. Voter turnout was high, and Taliban threats to attack polling stations never materialized. Both candidates say they will sign a Bilateral Strategic Agreement with the U.S. to allow American troops to remain in the country. But so had the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, who nevertheless reneged on his promise and refused to sign the pact. Both candidates have said they would negotiate with the Taliban, and, as it turns out, so has the United States, even though it considers the group that NATO forces chased from power in 2001 a terrorist organization. This week, a three-year secret negotiation between America and the Taliban culminated in the release of America's last known prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchanged for five high-level Taliban detainees.
They included the Taliban's former army chief, Mohammad Fazl, and deputy intelligence chief Abdul Haq Wasiq. Critics of the administration are concerned that the five could resume their roles as fighters, adding to Afghanistan's instability once NATO leaves the country. Obama announced in late May that by the end of this year, 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan, where currently 32,000 U.S.-led NATO troops are stationed. By the end of 2015, that force would be cut once more, by half. And as Obama’s presidency comes to a close in 2016, American troops will be out of Afghanistan, fulfilling the vow he made before he was elected to end the two American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington has been trying to reassure its allies in the region that Obama’s withdrawal plan will leave behind a stronger Afghanistan and that in the remaining two years, U.S. troops will further help strengthen the country and its military.
This is not pie in the sky. There are good reasons to be optimistic about Afghanistan. The April elections “surprised quite a lot of people,” Britain’s former foreign secretary, David Miliband, told me recently. “The first round of presidential election went better than people expected. There were remarkable scenes of people queuing to vote, ordinary Afghans wanting to have their voice heard. And two credible candidates emerged for the second round.” Ghani, a former World Bank official, was a high-profile advocate of a new Afghanistan in the aftermath of the NATO 1991 invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Most notably, he became a fighter against the widespread corruption that blights the country. Meanwhile, Abdullah, a former eye doctor and senior member of the Northern Alliance, fought against the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and against the Russians’ successors, the Taliban. He is half Tajik, which may prove to be a disadvantage against Ghani, who is fully Pashtun, the ethnicity that dominates the country’s politics. But Abdullah benefits from strong Western backing and has managed to raise a lot of money for his campaign, say Afghan watchers. Either way, according to Miliband, both are “good for Afghanistan.” Still, Miliband, who often visits the nation’s poorer villages in his current role as president of the International Rescue Committee, an organization providing humanitarian assistance around the globe, said that the country, the world’s fourth poorest, “continues to need help” from outsiders. And not only humanitarian assistance, he added, but also help “on the security and political fronts.”
As Ghani told the Atlantic Council last week in a videoconference call, the country’s annual revenue is $2 billion, while Afghanistan’s security needs cost $4.1 billion. While Obama has pledged to keep aid at the current level, Congress has cut it in half in 2014, to $1.12 billion. Expecting increased congressional scrutiny as U.S. troops leave, Afghanistan will “need to do a very significant amount of reform in management of the security forces,” Ghani said. Also, after over a decade of NATO presence, many in the region dread the day the U.S. military and its allies leave. “What we’re stressing is the issue of a responsible exit,” Abdullah told the French network France 24 recently. “Nobody would like to see a situation that can have the potential to lead to the earlier situation before the  intervention by the U.S.” That is why, perhaps, Afghan voters rejected candidates favored by outgoing President Karzai back in April and gave the highest number of votes to Abdullah and Ghani instead. Karzai has confronted Washington for too long, and “in Afghanistan today you can’t be too anti-American,” said one diplomat based in the region. The expected peaceful transfer of power to a successor will be remembered as a positive Karzai legacy, said Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the United Nations. But Karzai’s bad relations with the U.S. during his second term will also be remembered, he added. In an interview with Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch, an online streaming-audio station, Khalilzad noted that Karzai was initially a strong American ally. But as his re-election campaign approached in 2009, Karzai “came to a judgment that the U.S. was out to get him.” Harking back to his stint as the ambassador in Iraq, Khalilzad noted that both Washington and Baghdad had said they wanted a Status of Force Agreement, like the one proposed in Afghanistan, to allow a residual U.S. force to remain in Iraq. But the Obama administration and Nuri al-Maliki’s government failed to agree, even though “a lot of people hoped we’d stay there for a long time,” Khalilzad said. Obama’s top military advisers—most prominently the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, General Joseph Dunford—argued for leaving at least 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to help its military prevent an Al-Qaeda resurgence. Obama has suggested that no more than a hundred Al-Qaeda fighters remain in Afghanistan’s mountainous Kunar province. But a recently foiled car bomb attack against an American base in Afghanistan, which would have been disastrous because of the payload’s massive size, was hatched by Al-Qaeda, according to some reports, signifying, perhaps, the belligerent Islamist group’s return to active combat. Obama has been trying to reassure Americans and Afghans that Afghanistan’s future is bright. “Al-Qaeda’s leadership in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more,” he told West Point cadets on May 28. But not everyone is reassured. “Years ago I had a friend,” a diplomat from the region recalled recently, speaking not for attribution. “I met him in Paris while we were both young students. He was French, a recent convert to Islam. He grew a beard, changed his name, moved to Afghanistan, dressed like the locals.” When the Reagan administration and Afghani mujahedeen fighters were on the point of defeating the Soviet occupying forces in the late 1980s, the diplomat said, “my friend warned his U.S. contacts, who were about to leave, that some among the mujahedeen were already talking about the next war, against America. But all the Americans said to him was, ‘Don’t worry about that.’” Now, the diplomat concluded, “whenever the Americans say don’t worry, I worry.”
Last week, President Barack Obama outlined a reasonable plan to scale back — and ultimately end — the war in Afghanistan.
Combat operations will end in December 2014, but 9,800 troops will remain to serve as advisers to the fledgling Afghan army and participate in counter-terrorism operations. This is the right course, supported by Obama’s defense and intelligence team. The troops’ continued presence in Afghanistan is contingent on whether President Hamid Karzai’s successor will sign the Bilateral Security Agreement — something both candidates in the runoff election have pledged to do. And with good reason: Continued American support is essential for a smooth transfer of responsibility to the Afghan army and police. Both potential successors have stated that they will allow the U.S. to conduct independent operations — including drone strikes — as long as Afghan officials are notified beforehand. Far from “quitting just short of the goal line,” as House Speaker John Boehner argues, the administration has opted for a prudent, gradual drawdown that will demonstrate the independent capacity of the Afghan military and police as well as secure American gains. The plan should remain subject to developments on the ground, but this is essential for Afghanistan — as well as for the future of American foreign policy. Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2014/06/01/5056352/the-right-decision-on-afghanistan.html#storylink=cpy
By Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy On 15 May, Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah accepted the poll results and began readying themselves for the run-off according to the Constitution, scheduled for 14 June. The results of the run-off are scheduled to be declared on 22 June and the next president will assume office within 30 days of the declaration of results. What are the Afghans’ perceptions vis-à-vis the candidates? What role will ethnic identities play in the upcoming election? How comfortable is Pakistan with the Afghan election results and projections? Ethnicity and the Afghan Presidency Overall, most Afghan citizens have moved on from choosing their leadership solely on ethnic lines. For the most part, their primary concerns appear to be security, economy, stability and development. However, the run-off to elect the next president of Afghanistan will allow for some ethnic bias to play a somewhat decisive role. This election will show the level of support Abdullah and Ghani enjoy among the Pashtun electorate – the largest ethnic group in the country. From the time of announcement of candidates – and their running mates – the first round of elections promised a level playing field wherein there was no vote bank that could be completely co-opted. This was essentially due to the diversity in the ethnic backgrounds of the running mates (vice-presidential candidates), given that all presidential candidates were Pashtuns. The role of ethnicity will come to the fore in the 14 June poll. Abdullah Abdullah is half Tajik and half Pashtun in ethnicity, while Ashraf Ghani is a Pashtun belonging to the nomadic Kuchi tribes. Abdullah was the late Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud’s close associate, and someone who fought the Taliban and the Soviets. This, coupled with his lineage of Pashtun-Tajik – essentially uniting the north and the south – could work in his favour. Ghani on the other hand, is true-blue Pashtun, a veteran academician and a former finance minister with experience of working with international organisations. Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan believe that they are not adequately represented in the parliament. Given how Abdullah is perceived more as a Tajik than a Pashtun, there is a chance that the votes might swing in favour of Ghani. Additionally the complex web of alliances being struck by the candidates with disqualified candidates and other influential actors from the country is overwhelming. On the whole, although ethnicity is not the primary driver for most Afghans towards casting their vote, the ethnicity factor will play a greater role during the run-off than it did during the first round of elections. Pakistan and the Afghan Election Given the intimacy Abdullah shares with India, it is likely that Pakistan will back Ghani’s candidacy. This is not because Ghani is pro-Pakistan, but because Abdullah is extremely pro-India. The recently announced Hezb-e-Islami backing for Ghani is a clear indication of Islamabad (or Rawalpindi’s) preferences. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 11 May visit to Tehran likely saw closed door discussions vis-à-vis India’s growing influence in Afghanistan, and more importantly, the future trajectory of the country following the withdrawal of the Western troops. A stable neighbour is in Iran’s interest – as is in Pakistan and India’s interests – and Tehran is and will continue to be more New Delhi-friendly in its efforts towards ensuring a secure Afghanistan. Given the religious ideological differences it has with Pakistan and the Saudi-funded terrorists, Iran will likely be more guarded and intensify its efforts to secure its eastern borders. Tehran will remain pragmatic and cooperate with Pakistan wherever it finds necessary, but likely not in a nature that will threaten Indian interests in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, General Raheel Sharif, visited Kabul on 19 May to discuss security concerns with the chiefs of the Afghan National Army and the ISAF. This could mean that the Pakistani army might be looking at Afghanistan more pragmatically. Given Pakistan’s sealing of the Af-Pak border on 5 April, there appears to be a likelihood that the Pakistani army plans to engage with Kabul to tackle the insurgency in their western borders. Already, within two days of the visit, the Pakistani army launched air strikes in North Waziristan, targeting suspected Taliban hideouts. Furthermore, there might be a chance that Rawalpindi is trying to kill two birds with one stone: dealing with the Pakistani Taliban and thereby eventually de-stretching the army, and, establishing secure routes for energy supply in the future. Taliban and the Afghan Election The first round of the election was held on April 5 with surprisingly low instances of terrorist violence. One narrative that did the rounds was that the Taliban might have refrained from attacking the citizenry in a bid to gain some legitimacy, and eventually, stake a claim in the governing structures of the government. However, the Taliban kick-started their spring offensive on 12 May and their declaration as published on their website as well as spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid’s press statements indicate otherwise. The security prospects for 14 June seems bleak; but if the morale of the Taliban has to be substantially damaged, the Afghan citizens and the Afghan National Security Forces must ensure that the Taliban’s Operation ‘Khyber’ does not impede the democratic process.
On Tuesday morning, a 25-year-old woman by the name of Farzana Iqbal was beaten to death by her family. Farzana was on her way to the Lahore High Court when her father, her brother, and a mob of family members attacked her with guns. When they missed, she ran but her brother grabbed her headscarf, making her fall down. As she lay on the ground, she begged for her life. In response, her family members smashed her head in with bricks. Farzana was killed because she had married a person of her choice. Her family reacted to the love marriage in time-honored fashion; that is, by accusing her husband of kidnapping. Farzana was coming to the court to tell the judge she had not been kidnapped but had married of her own free will. She was three-months pregnant when she died. Farzana died perhaps 10 to 20 yards from the gate of the Lahore High Court. To be more specific, she died on the potholed surface of Fane Road, next to where Turner Road branches off. Across the road—as in literally across the road—are the offices of the advocate-general of the Punjab and the Federal Judicial Academy. I suppose if the learned judges undergoing instruction at the Academy had been disturbed enough to come out and check what was going on, the dead body could have been used to instruct them in the finer points of criminal jurisprudence. The judges were not alone in their indifference. Turner Road and Fane Road are Ground Zero for legal offices. There are at least a few thousand lawyers who work within a few blocks of where Farzana was killed. In the morning, which is when Farzana was killed, that particular crossroads is full of people hurrying to court. None of them did anything to stop her murder. To be fair, the trainee judges and the passers-by have an excuse: they are not in the business of maintaining law and order. In Lahore, that privilege belongs to the Punjab police. There are at least two squads of police within 50 yards of where Farzana was killed. One squad guards the entrance to the Lahore High Court. The other guards the entrance to the Academy and the advocate-general’s office. It takes time to beat a person to death, especially when the instrument in question is as blunt and unwieldy as a brick. In Farzana’s case, the attack reportedly lasted for about 15 minutes. During that time, Farzana’s husband ran to the police officers stationed at the court entrance and begged them to intervene. They refused. This was not the first time that Farzana had been attacked. Her family members had first tried to kill her at her lawyer’s office but had been repulsed. They had then waited outside and tried to kill her again. This time, they were stopped by officers from a nearby police station. The relatives were then held for about an hour before being released without charge. Fifty years ago, on March 13, 1964, a young woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in New York City. The New York Times reported that, “For more than half an hour, 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks.” The Genovese murder touched a raw nerve in America’s conscience. For decades thereafter, it has been used as a symbol of all that was wrong with city life and the anonymity of urban existence. I cannot speak as to why the police officers concerned did not respond. I cannot speak as to why the people there at the scene did not intervene. It is easy enough to be heroic in print; it is far more difficult to do something when confronted by an armed mob. What I can speak to is the aftermath. Right after the killing, there was silence. As much as I detest suo moto actions, this was perhaps one moment when the chief justice of Pakistan should have demanded answers. But he didn’t. Even the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, the head of the august institution to which Farzana had turned for justice, said nothing. It was only on Thursday, 48 hours after the killing, that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement condemning Farzana’s murder as “totally unacceptable” and directing the Punjab chief minister, his brother, to take “immediate action.” I am tired of writing outraged columns. Outrage has become a cliché, the one mode of expression that never dulls in this country because there is always something new to be outraged about. My television offers me 57 flavors of outrage—liberal outrage, Fauji outrage, mullah outrage, feminist outrage. And yet, surrounded as we are by professional outragers—outragists?—nobody found the time to be outraged about the death of a woman who had the misfortune to find love and the greater misfortune to believe in justice. According to newspaper reports, a bench of the august Supreme Court of Pakistan has demanded assurances from the federal government that the citizens of Pakistan will not be allowed to starve to death. If this is how institutions now work, perhaps their Lordships would like to assure Farzana’s husband his dead wife will receive justice.
Pakistan's Shia Genocide Continues; ASWJ Terrorists Kill 2, Injure 1 In MQM Dominated Areas In Karachi
At least three more Shia Muslims Imtiaz Hussain, Syed Ahmed Zaidi and Sajid Ali Jafri were attacked by pro-Taliban terrorists of banned outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba known as Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal-Jamaat, in MQM dominated areas of Karachi, The Shia Post reported. Injured Imtiaz Hussain, who was attacked this morning near Kazmain Imambargah in Gulbahar. martyr Syed Ahmed Zaidi s/o Syed Abid Ali Zaidi was attacked in Liaquatabad and Martyr Syed Sajid Ali Jafri was attacked in Azizabad area of Karachi. Injured Imtiaz Hussain is under treatment at Aga Khan University Hospital. All three Shias s were attacked in Mutahida Qomi Movement (MQM) dominated areas Gulbahar, Liaquatabad and Aziabad. MQM is Karachi’s largest party, is also partner of ruling government in Sindh province, while governor also belongs to the MQM. Both martyrs were shifted to Local Hospitals, where they succumbed to injuries. Yesterday, Shiites in Karachi also staged a peaceful huge protest outside Supreme Court, near Shaheen complex. The rally was taken out by the Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen against targeted killings of Shia scholars, doctors, lawyers, teachers, traders and others. Shia Muslims, who are suffering genocide of community including the systematic killing of Shia intellectuals and Shia professional from last 3 decades. Today Monday morning, Majlis-e- Wahad-e-Muslimeen (MWM) announced to end sit-in against the target killings in Karachi as the provincial government held successful talks with the organization’s leaders. Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon, special assistant of the chief minister Waqar Mehdi, Commissioner Karachi Shoaib Siddiqui and Karachi police chirf Ghulam Qadir Thebo held conclusive talks with the MWM leaders including Allama Mukhtar Imami. According to reports, Martyr Syed Ahmed Zaidi was also participant of sit-in protest. Pro-Taliban terrorists have killed thousands of innocent Shiite Muslims across the country, but government, judiciary and law enforcement agencies have failed to protect the citizens and have taken no step to stop ongoing genocide of Shiite Muslims in Pakistan. The terrorist groups have launched a violent campaign against Shia Muslims and appear to have widened their terror campaign in major Pakistani cities. According to local sources, militants affiliated to Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorist groups have killed thousands of Shia Muslims in the country. The killing of Shias in Pakistan has caused international outrage, with rights groups and regional countries expressing concern over the ongoing deadly violence against the Shia community, which reportedly makes up about a third of Pakistan’s population of over 180 million.
According to report of Nasir saeed for Pakistan Christian Post, the local council and EU elections are over in the UK, and all three key parties look concerned about the results, while UKIP (UK independence party) has achieved victory in both elections. Lots of Pakistanis have earned local council seats, while three Pakistanis have won European Parliament seats too. Tory MEP, Sajjad Karim, was able to maintain his seat while Afzal Khan of the Labor party and Bashir Amjad of UKIP have been elected MEPs for the first time. The Pakistani community seems joyous as now they have a significant existence in British politics. Now they have Pakistani Muslim representatives to speak for them in the local councils, House of Commons, House of Lords and even the EU, from where they will be able to increase the profile of their community, and of Pakistan too. In this whole scenario Pakistani Christians, James Shera, of the Labour party has been re-elected for the 10th time, while the young and highly educated Fraz Money, son of well-known businessman and ex Labour councilor Edgar Money, also won the local council election. Nasir Saeed is not aware of any Pakistani Christian having even entered the EU elections, not just from the UK, but from other European countries. According to him, it is very unsatisfactory. Pakistani Christians are not taking steps in the right direction to reach the corridor of power to make themselves taken seriously not by the Pakistani government but the world too. The reason is ignorance of the significance of joining UK politics, especially the European parliament, or because they lack the abilities. But it’s time to wake up and do something for their Christian community. All three major parties always look for Asian candidates, especially for local elections but Pakistani Christians do not come forward. Possibly it is psychological as we are not acknowledged in mainstream politics. On the contrary, in the UK there is a huge scope and equal opportunities are available for everyone with no difference on the basis of race, religion or social status, but purely on merit. He added, “It is very important for us to understand the changing realities of global politics, to reach these power houses as this is the need of the time. If we are really concerned about what is going on with Christians in Pakistan and elsewhere, and we want to make a real difference and eliminate their suffering, then there is no other better way to do this.” He further said, “next year the general elections are going to be held. I am aware of several Pakistani candidates, but again I am not aware of any Pakistani Christian standing in the next general election. Though most parties have already elected their candidates, there is still time. Contesting elections on the platform of any major political party is very beneficial in many ways and chances are always high of being elected, but in every election several independent candidates are elected too. They have the same respect and rights.” “If you have a heart for your community, you think you can make a difference, and can become a voice for your community, then your community needs you – come forward and bear the cross. The call is yours”, he said. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/become-of-voice-of-persecuted-christian-community-the-call-is-yours/#sthash.762Te5z1.dpuf
Qila Didaar Singh: Chief Officer Malik Manwar Hussain stopped the construction work of Presbyterian Church which was being reconstructed for about 6 months. The step taken by Malik Manwar Hussain infuriated the Christian Community.
According to sources, Presbyterian Church was built near Lari Ada, Gila Arayian wala in 1963. After 50 years, the Christian Community decided to demolish the deteriorated building and rebuild the church again. The Christian community informed the former chief officer, Tahir Mehmood, about the reconstruction work. But the current chief officer ordered to stop the ongoing work of construction. In addition, Christian community involved in Construction work were threatened to be arrested. Christian Leaders say neither it’s not illegal nor are they constructing the church at new place. They are just reconstructing the 51 years old demolished building of Church. They therefore made an appeal to high authorities to start investigation against the Chief Officer of Qila Didaar singh. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/manwar-hussain-stopped-the-construction-of-presbyterian-church/#sthash.1Iou7q2O.dpuf
“Stop faith-based killings” – UN rights experts urge Pakistan to protect Ahmadiyya Muslim minorities
Three United Nations experts on freedom of religion, minority issues, and summary executions today call on Pakistan to adopt urgent measures to stop faith-based killings and ensure the security of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, whose faith is outlawed in the country. The human rights experts’ call comes after renewed violent attacks against Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, in which two members of the community have been killed, as well as a number of arrests on blasphemy charges. These attacks are believed to be related to their choice and peaceful practice of religious beliefs. “I am very concerned by the recent surge of violent attacks against Ahmadiyya Muslims by militant extremists. Such violence is fueled by existing blasphemy legislation in Pakistan particularly targeting minorities,” the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, said. “I urge Pakistan to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of minority religious communities.” “Pakistan must urgently put in place protective measures to ensure the personal security of Ahmadiyya Muslims, as well as any other religious minorities living in the country, under threat of hostility and violence by militant extremists,” the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, stressed. “The full range of rights of religious minorities must be guaranteed in law and in practice.” “In addition to robust protective measures, the authorities in Pakistan need to undertake urgent and firm steps to bring to justice the perpetrators of those killings,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns. “Showing determination in ensuring accountability in such cases must be a key element of the Government’s efforts to reduce the attacks and guarantee the safety of not only the Ahmadiyya Muslims, but other vulnerable groups.” On 13 May 2014, four Ahmadiyya Muslims were arrested by police on blasphemy charges in Sharaqpur, Pakistan. While three were released on bail, Khalil Ahmad was kept in detention, where he was shot dead by a visiting fifteen year-old teenager, who brought a gun, concealed in his lunch box, into the station. On 26 May 2014, Mehdi Ali Qamar, a US citizen and a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a doctor on a humanitarian mission to Pakistan, was murdered in Rabwah, Pakistan. He was killed by two unknown men on motorbikes, while taking an opportunity to visit the graves of his relatives at a local cemetery. Seven members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community were reportedly killed in 2013. The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. Three new mandates were added in March 2014. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx
If the government uses the law available to it for public benefit, we could see a marked decline in extremist tendencies and a more cohesive society would result. Is that aim on the government’s agenda is a different question
The people of Pakistan have been unfortunate in having to witness so many killings in acts of terror that target killing of individuals go mostly unnoticed by the common man. On a number of occasions during the last few years, these target killings have involved doctors who were serving humanity. These killings are not random by any means and have a very disturbing pattern in their selection. When the targets are doctors, the disproportionate number being from the minority Shiite and Ahmadi communities is a fact too obvious to ignore. In the last twelve months alone, two Shiite doctors were target-killed in Rajanpur and Karachi with the latter incident in April this year. In March this year, Dr Shaukat Nyani belonging to the Shia Ismaili community was killed in Karachi. In August 2013 a homeopath belonging to the Ahmadi community was shot dead while attending to patients, while on May 26 Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar, a respected Ahmadi cardiologist and a US citizen on volunteer work in Chenab Nagar (Rabwah), was murdered by assailants on a motorbike while he was visiting the cemetery that houses the graves of his parents. He received 10 bullets in front of his two-year-old son who was fortunate to remain unhurt. It is reported that Dr Mehdi regularly went to the region for three or four weeks at a time to volunteer at the cardiac hospital in Chenab Nagar from Ohio where he practices cardiology. This year too, he was treating patients irrespective of their communal alignments at the Tahir Heart Institute. It can be inferred that while Mehdi knew the dangers he faced in the country where his faith put him at risk of elimination, still his compassion for humanity outweighed the risks. Assassinations of those from minority communities who are involved in humanitarian work have a motive that goes beyond elimination. The target is their link in inter-communal interaction, which the extremists want to stop at all costs. The world of the extremist has no space for others and his mindset has no room for dissent. Such a mindset is a negation of Jinnah’s Pakistan, which was to be for all. Successive governments have been timid. Fighting terror is their international obligation as it affects global peace but fighting extremism is something that they avoid by choice as it is not an international imperative. Publication and distribution of extremist hate literature against Shiites, Ahmadis and Ismailis has not stopped as its distribution channels are run by strong religious entities funded by foreign elements with a political agenda. The political will to deal with the issue simply is not there. While the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) provides the tools to the government, it is not put to effective use. The law that the government has a constitutional duty to implement is explicitly clear. It would be appropriate to reproduce here section 153-A of the PPC, which states that whoever: “By words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or incites, or attempts to promote or incite, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other grounds whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities: or commits, or incites any other person to commit, any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities or any groups of persons identifiable as such on any ground whatsoever, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb public tranquillity...shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years and with fine.” If the government uses the law available to it for public benefit we could see a marked decline in extremist tendencies and a more cohesive society would result. Is that aim on the government’s agenda is a different question. While high profile murders like the one of the Shiite Dr Syed Ali Haider early last year caught the attention of the local media as it happened in the heart of Lahore, the assassination of the cardiologist in Chenab Nagar got little coverage in the local vernacular press. Unsurprisingly, local news channels also gave little coverage to this gruesome killing although these channels cover everything under the title of ‘breaking news’. This was perhaps of little news value to them as the victim belonged to a vulnerable section of society. It is perhaps beyond their horizon of wisdom that the murder of those doing humanitarian work is the murder of humanity and indeed a sad day for all and therefore deserves due attention. However, the news of this assassination has been covered by the international media. The Washington Post, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and others have carried reports that do not reflect positively on Pakistan. These assassinations and the terror attacks on these communities like those on the Hazaras in Quetta and on the Ahmadiyya places of worship in Lahore in 2010 which killed 86 Ahmadis in a single day are indicators of a systematic attempt at destroying these religious groups. If the distribution of hate material against these communities is not stopped, the resultant rise in extremist tendencies will escalate these acts of terror to the magnitude of genocide. Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of Genocide. 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. This Convention applies to all sections of society, including private groups that perpetrate genocidal acts in a country without direct assistance from the state. Under the Responsibility to Protect clauses, all countries are obliged to recognise if such acts are taking place and take steps to punish past transgressions while preventing future acts. The groups in Pakistan that want the Shiite and Ahmadis eliminated are well known to all and those belonging to them exercise not even a cosmetic attempt at a cover up. The local police and other intelligence agencies have information about the public meetings where such sentiments are vented and can point out the extremists easily if the government wishes to take these extremists to task. Does it have the will or grit to do so is another question. The people of Pakistan can force it do so but the general attitude of this silent majority can be summed up in an adaptation of the poem, First they came, attributed to Martin Niemöller, a German anti-Nazi theologian: “First they came for the Shias and I did not speak out because I was not one Then they came for the Christians and I did not speak out because I was not one Then they came for the Ahmadis and I did not speak out because I was not one Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.” We should all pray it never ends up like this.
In another act of being lawyer, judge and jury, police in Bahawalpur chopped off the left hands of two men accused of the theft of electrical barbed wire and mobile phones. The police defended itself by the absolutely ridiculous explanation that the men had tried to cut their wrists in a suicide attempt and sawed their hands right off with razor blades. This type of hysteria and religious righteousness needs to be addressed by the so called ulemas who roll out fatwas so easily to permit underage marriage while problems of rape, honour killing and extra judicial justice all in the name of Islam are side-lined. In a meltdown of law and order enforcement at the micro level, across the state there are numerous incidents of the police being incredibly inadequate. Last week, while Farzana Parveen was being stoned to death outside the Lahore High Court of all places, the police stood by and let the pregnant woman be killed. There is less than a 3 percent conviction rate in honour killings and rapes. There is nothing to deter ordinary people from such blatant acts of cruelty, like shooting down a doctor for his religious beliefs. Nor is the police being held accountable or responsible. This is not going to stop without a proactive approach. It has become a national, sociological problem. Even with a cruel and barbaric population, the state would still be functional if law was applicable. By the cynical political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, the law exists because people are cruel; it’s the only thing standing between people ripping each other apart over greed, religion and sheer lack of empathy and reasoning. By the classic Weberian definition, the state is a “human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. But if the law can’t be enforced, if justice rests with individuals and not the state, if the state does not protect its population that is dying in increments, and does not hold monopoly over legitimate violence (i.e. punishment for crime in modern statehood), then there is no state. In that case, we are living under the anarchical principles of a non-state. Accountability must start somewhere; and accountability for law enforcement officials seems like as good a place as any to begin.
Police in London have arrested the leader of Pakistan's MQM party, Altaf Hussain, on money-laundering charges, the BBC understands.
Officers are searching a residential address in north-west London, where a 60-year-old man was detained. Mr Hussain has lived in the UK since 1991, saying his life would be at risk if he returned to Pakistan. Police in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, which the MQM controls, have been put on alert amid reports of violence. Shootings have been reported from some parts of the city, which BBC correspondents say is tense. Traffic jams are reported in Karachi and other cities in Sindh province as businesses start to close and people head home fearing violence. Security is being tightened around the British mission in the city and other buildings. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party leaders are holding an emergency meeting at their headquarters in Karachi. The city has been wracked by violence - much of it politically motivated.
Russia has just announced a hugely strategic decision that may alter the regional power matrix and bug India at a time when the just-installed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was looking to deepen ties with Moscow. Sergey Chemezov, head of Russian state-run technologies corporation Rostec, announced on Monday that Russia has lifted an embargo on supplying weapons and military hardware to Pakistan. He also said that Moscow is negotiating the delivery of several Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Islamabad. "The decision was taken and we are negotiating the delivery of helicopters," the Voice of Russia quoted Chemezov as saying.
Why this move and why now?
The Russian decision is indicative of a paradigm shift in Russian foreign policy, a kind of move which one sees once in several decades. Naturally, when a state takes such a decision it must not be without considering the pros and cons of the matter, the strategic takeaways and the possible pitfalls. Two compelling reasons for the Russian move may well be Afghanistan and the Russia-West spat over Ukraine. Like India and China, Russia too is waiting with bated breath the post-2014 Afghanistan as American/NATO are scheduled to pull out most of their troops from the land-locked country by this year end. The Taliban is in a resurgent mode. Everybody knows that during the Taliban rule (1996-2001), Afghanistan had become the most productive and flourishing factory of jihad in the world. Therefore, the withdrawal of American/NATO troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 may well turn the country into a tinder box again. While Russia would definitely not like this scenario, it can hardly change the situation and counter the new situation with a Plan B. Pakistan’s importance would increase enormously in the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan. Improving relations with Pakistan would give an important leverage to Russia in the post-2014 Afghanistan. If Russia and China do not want the loose canons of the Taliban to unleash themselves at them, then it is Pakistan and no one else that can make it happen. The Russian move may be far shrewder than one can think. It may well be indicative of a China-Russia-Pakistan (CRP) axis, largely because of flawed policies of the Obama administration. Russia and Pakistan have had a rather cold relationship, despite the latter’s sustained attempts over recent years to mend the ties. Reasons for the Russian coldness toward Pakistan are not difficult to see. It is the India factor. India clearly does not favor Russia cozying up to Pakistan and Russia could not have afforded to annoy the Indians. Why, after all, Russia should play a zero-sum game in South Asia when it is having the best of relations with India, a sworn enemy of Pakistan? That was the argument of most Russians who opposed the very idea of needling India, the largest importer of Russian weapons. But even this defense relationship received setbacks in the past two years as Russia lost out to other competitors like Israel, the United States and Europe on several big-ticket Indian defense deals.The India angle
Let me begin the India angle in this context with two seemingly contradictory statements. One, the Russian decision of lifting its embargo on weapons supplies to Pakistan is a huge setback to India. Two, India and Russia will continue to do business together as both need each other immensely. It is highly unlikely that the Russian move would have come as a complete surprise to the Indians. New Delhi has been aware of formal consultations between Russia and Pakistan in the trilateral format on Afghanistan – the third country being China. It is quite possible that Moscow may have taken the Indians into its confidence on its upcoming policy change and put forth its strategic compulsions. Russia and India are working very closely in the Afghan theater and have embarked on a novel understanding wherein India pays for Russian arms supplied by Russia to Afghanistan for boosting Afghan armed forces’ capabilities. Is there a possibility that the Russians have taken a sort of ‘no-objection certificate’ from the Indians for their unprecedented outreach to Pakistan? One cannot rule out anything. Games such as these are often played on the strategic chessboards. What can be a bigger strategic chessboard than Afghanistan where all the top powers of the world are directly involved? Moreover, one should not expect an official statement from either Moscow or New Delhi on this issue. Games such as these are often played in the back alleys, far from the media glare.
Can Pakistan's future be decided by more military-civilian wrestling or is joint action against extremism possible?
Here is a shortlist of recent horror stories from Pakistan, for which there is no government accountability or action and little public protest out of fear generated by an ever-widening range of Islamic extremists, who carry out acts of terror with impunity. On May 27, a young woman who had married on her free will was stoned to death by her father and brothers near the Lahore High Court on a road that is one of the busiest in the city. Farzana Parveen, 25, was pregnant and on her way to court to contest an abduction case filed by her family against her husband - whom she had married out of love. Some 20 members of her family were waiting for her outside the court. They smashed her skull with bricks and she died instantly. Her father was arrested - but in a country where there are 800 registered cases of honour killings a year while thousands more go unregistered, culprits are rarely tried, let alone sentenced. No laws have been changed to make honour killings more punishable or to protect women. Successive military and civilian governments have followed a policy of inaction in all such cases. A day earlier, a Pakistani-born US citizen Mehdi Ali Qamar, 50, a prominent heart surgeon from Ohio state, was shot dead in front of his wife and three-year-old son, as they visited the family graveyard near Rabwah in central Punjab. Two men on a motorcycle pumped 10 bullets into Qamar at close range. He belonged to the minority Ahmadiyya sect that has long been vilified by Islamic extremists, who believe that Ahmadis cannot be termed Muslim, are apostates and barely human. Successive governments believe strongly in inaction in protecting Ahmadis, because it may incur the wrath of the extremists. The killers are still at large. A day earlier, bombs in Islamabad and the tribal areas planted by the Pakistan Taliban killed six soldiers and wounded several civilians. On May 7, Rashed Rehman, a well-known human rights lawyer from south Punjab, was shot dead in his office by gunmen. He was defending a university professor who was being prosecuted according to Pakistan's vaguely worded blasphemy law. The killers are still at large. Blasphemy charges Another case that has only highlighted the absurdity of the blasphemy law are the blasphemy charges put on 68 lawyers from Jhang in Punjab by the police. Most of them belong to the minority Shia sect, who have been targeted by Sunni extremists. Meanwhile Geo, the largest TV network in the country, has also been booked for blasphemy in a campaign orchestrated by right-wing groups and the military, which seek to punish Geo for several reasons. Geo has now apologised to the military, but its future is uncertain.
The courts, judges and police are now too scared to carry out trials against militant groups, with their hitmen or leaders who carry out such killings. The government refuses to reform the system or even condemn such killings. It took two days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reacted to the killing of the pregnant woman. The publicity field is left free for a variety of extremist groups to take control. The extremists are also decapitating the health sector. Half a million children will not be inoculated against polio, the disease which cripples children, because the Pakistani Taliban will not allow doctors into the regions they control. Since late 2012, the Taliban has gunned down 56 nurses, doctors and policemen who were part of inoculation teams The World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency, saying the Pakistani strain of the virus has been found in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Israel so far. Thus Pakistan has gone from being the epi-centre of terrorism to the global epi-centre of a disease that should have been wiped out in 2012. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is rushing from country to country to drum up foreign investment, while the government appears helpless to stop Pakistan's most lethal export - polio. Sharif still believes that talks with the Taliban, who are now waging war against children, are still possible. When people ask me how Pakistan compares to Afghanistan, I answer that Afghanistan has only one civil war - the one between the government and the Taliban. But Pakistan has at least three and possibly half a dozen lesser civil wars. These three major wars are being fought against the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch separatists who want to divide the country and multiple ethnic, criminal and Islamic gangs in Karachi. Minor wars are those being waged against the minorities, the massacres of Shia innocents, sectarian killings, murder on behalf of blasphemy and honour killings. Extremists are happily seeking heaven by targeting all minorities - Muslim and non-Muslim - Christians, Hindus, Shias, Ahmedis, Ismaelis and others. The failure of governance is all around us, every day, every hour. We worry about our children when they don't get home on time, and we worry for them when they do. Those in the front lines against extremism - lawyers, doctors, journalists, teachers, women activists - have started to live circumscribed lives. No unnecessary trips to the bazaar, the park or to restaurants. Stay hunkered down in homes that increasingly look like fortresses. Those who can afford it, buy guns, bullet-proof cars, bodyguards and attack dogs. In Karachi, a city of 20 million, there are only 27,000 policemen but 55,000 private security guards, according to the government. For us from an earlier generation, this is not the way we were bought up to live. Failure to govern Both the military and elected political governments must be blamed for the failure of the state to govern. For the last three decades the army and its Interservices Intelligence Agency and civilian governments have played backup to a variety of Islamic groups who have become part of the country's foreign policy to keep neighbouring India and Afghanistan on the defensive, but instead have inundated Pakistan with their hate-filled venom, false narratives and distortion of social norms.
Former President Pervez Musharraf helped revive the Afghan Taliban in 2003 to fight the Americans in Afghanistan, and this led to the rapid spawning of the Pakistani Taliban who instead chose to fight the Pakistan army with the aim of turning the country into a theocratic state. People were told that those Taliban fighting the Americans and the Afghans were the "good" Taliban, those fighting Pakistan soldiers the "bad" Taliban. Later, right-wing Islamic parties produced a new narrative - that the Pakistani Taliban killing Pakistani soldiers were actually paid agents of India, the US and Israel. The public discourse became heatedly anti-American and anti-Western. Democracy, human rights, women's rights or polio inoculations were seen as Western plots to subvert true Islam. Neither the army nor the politicians countered this narrative. When democracy arrived in 2008 under the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari, it failed on every level of governance and quickly became so threatened by the army that Zardari decided to hand over all security and foreign policy decision-making to the army chief General Pervez Kayani. Kayani refused to take on the Pakistani Taliban in a sustained campaign. They used Kayani's "do nothing" strategy to expand their territory, intensify attacks on civilian and military targets and recruit militant groups from around the country to join them. Now in a welcome change, the new army chief General Raheel Sharif (no relation) wants to go up against the Pakistani Taliban. The army has suffered enough casualties at their hands to convince them of the need to wipe out them out. But the army wants political support from the government, which since January has been involved in meaningless non-productive talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Prime Minister Sharif and General Sharif are at loggerheads over several other issues, which has meant that once again, Pakistan's future will be decided by the outcome of a military-civilian wrestling match rather than joint action against terrorism and the rising tide of intolerance. Two successive civilian governments and an earlier military regime have failed to provide good governance, improve the economy or improve ties with its neighbours. No government has pursued a policy of no tolerance towards extremism. If Pakistan is not to sink further or once again become enmeshed in a civil-military conflict, the need of the hour is a common front for civilians and the military to deal comprehensively with the extremist threat. Until that happens Pakistan will remain a ship permanently poised on the verge of failure, alienated by the global community for failing to take its international responsibilities seriously, whether it be saving children's lives or protecting the minorities.
One soldier was killed and two wounded, against 16 Taliban attackers dead in an assault on border posts in Bajaur Agency on Saturday. Around 200 militants are said to have been involved in the attack, which was repulsed with helicopter gunship and artillery support. The attackers retreated across the Afghan border after a three-hour firefight. The Afghan province of Kunar is opposite the Bajaur Agency, where Mullah Fazlullah, originally of the Swat Taliban and currently chief of an increasingly divided and fractured Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is based. This is not the first time such a cross-border raid has been mounted. As recently as May 25, an assault took place in the Mano Zangal area. Previously, we have witnessed massed attacks across the border by as many as 500 militants, indicating their ability to muster big numbers for such forays. Inevitably in the case of such cross-border clashes, Pakistan summoned an Afghan envoy to protest the attack from its soil, while the Afghan authorities accused Pakistani forces of killing at least four Afghan civilians in indiscriminate shelling into Afghan territory, a charge denied by the Pakistan foreign office. This clash and the previous ones highlight the precarious security situation on the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border, particularly in the Bajaur salient. Mullah Fazlullah may have decided to overcome the fractious disputes between Mehsud factions in the TTP to concentrate on cross-border enhanced action. The influx of militants from Bajaur earlier and North Waziristan of late has obviously strengthened his hand in this endeavour. Also inevitably, such cross-border exchanges are more than likely to ratchet up tensions between the two neighbouring countries and the US/NATO forces on their way out of Afghanistan. Pakistan complains that previous such attacks from Afghan soil have not received the attention of the Afghan or western forces despite protests being lodged. One does not know the western forces’ attitude to the matter, but it would come as no surprise if the Afghans are not exactly unhappy to see Pakistan hoist by its own petard through its policy of creating and nurturing jihadi proxies, only to see such forces turning on and biting the hand that fed them for so long. Poetic justice, the Afghans could be saying with a quiet chuckle, for Pakistan’s interventions in Afghanistan over the last four decades. Whatever momentary satisfaction that may bring to the Afghans who feel hard done by at Pakistan’s hands, the inescapable fact is that it is in the interests of both sides to cooperate in the fight against their respective terrorists. One major obstacle to such cooperation is the continuing presence of the Afghan Taliban on Pakistan’s soil and their apparent freedom to mount attacks inside Afghanistan from such safe havens. We have argued for a long time in this space that Pakistan should seriously revisit its policy of using jihadi proxies for foreign policy objectives before the ‘reverse osmosis’ of Pakistani militants finding refuge across the border and mounting attacks on Pakistan comes to pass. Well, we seem to have arrived at that point by now. The critical policy reformulations that would see an abandonment of support to and the use of militant proxies is nowhere in the offing. Even if our security establishment has trimmed its sails to a more modest objective of ensuring the Afghan Taliban get a stake in power in Kabul rather than a total victory, this ‘reduced’ objective still pits us against the Afghans and their western backers. And arguably, the benefits of this policy have long ago been overtaken by its high costs (witness the emergence and growth of the home grown Taliban, who enjoy a nexus with foreign terrorists, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban). To persist with a policy stance that has long ago been overtaken by developments in and around the region, is to repeat the folly until its serious consequences unfold. It is still not too late for Pakistan to see the wood, not just the trees, by becoming sensitised to the threat TTP terrorists based on Afghan soil will pose, particularly in the near future after the bulk of western forces have left Afghanistan by the end of the year. The window of opportunity to pre-empt and deal with this threat will not remain open forever, and may well snap shut by end-2014.