Sunday, June 8, 2014

CNN Challenges John Kerry On Bergdahl: 'Sounds Like You're Not Sure' About Bergdahl

Security Concerns: A 'Threat to Sino-Pak Friendship'?

By Shannon Tiezzi
China, who supplies a lot of Pakistan’s weapons and foreign investment, has told its troublesome neighbor to fix the situation or see China go from being a helpful to a hostile neighbor.
A commentary in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper expresses concern over a “threat to Sino-Pak friendship.” The article points to terrorism and other security threats as a major issue in China-Pakistan relationship. Of China’s three major concerns regarding the China-Pakistan economic corridor, only one actually has the potential to derail the project entirely: Beijing’s security concerns.
Chinese leaders are concerned about the potential for terrorists trained in Pakistan reentering and conducting attacks in China, but they are just as worried that Pakistan’s government will be unable to guarantee the safety of Chinese workers within Pakistan. In fact, the recent kidnapping of a Chinese tourist in Balochistan seems to have inspired the Dawn commentary.
The article concludes by saying that Chinese analysts hope for Islamabad to take military action against militants in the tribal areas, where the leaders of the anti-China Turkestan Islmaic Party (TIP) are also believed to be based. And Pakistan cannot afford to ignore Chinese pressure on this issue; as the piece notes, “China is investing around $52 billion in major projects in Pakistan.”

Afghanistan accuses Lashkar-e-Taiba, 'foreign country,' of suicide attack that targeted presidential candidate

A statement released by Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier today accused the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba and an unnamed "foreign country" of executing the June 6 attack that targeted presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah. The suicide attack killed at least 12 people, including seven civilians and five security personnel. From Reuters:
"Initial investigation indicates that an intelligence agency of a foreign country and LeT have been involved," said a statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office after he chaired a security council meeting at the presidential palace on Sunday. "The terrorists of this group are after disrupting the Afghan presidential election."
The ministers of the security sector briefed the meeting on the attack against Abdullah.
The "intelligence agency of a foreign country" is of course a reference to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which has supported terrorist operations in Afghanistan in the past.
If the attack on Abdullah was indeed executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, then it would have done so with the aid of what ISAF used to call the Kabul Attack Network. This network is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate as well. The network's tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Kunar, Ghazni, and Zabul, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Background on the Lashkar-e-Taiba
The Lashkar-e-Taiba has been linked to numerous complex attacks in eastern Afghanistan and in Kabul. Its fighters are believed to have worked with the Haqqani Network, run by Siraj Haqqani, to carry out attacks on Indian targets in Kabul.
Lashkar-e-Taiba fighters have fought alongside al Qaeda and the Taliban in multiple engagements against US and Afghan forces in the east, including the deadly assault on the US combat outpost in Wanat in Nuristan province in July 2008. More than 400 enemy fighters launched the coordinated attack. In the fierce fighting at Wanat, nine US troops were killed, 15 US soldiers and four Afghan troops were wounded, and the post was nearly overrun. Although US forces ultimately defeated the attack, they withdrew from the outpost days later.
The terror group is known to have run training camps in Kunar and Paktia provinces up until the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Lashkar-e-Taiba also currently operates camps in Pakistan in Mansehra, Sindh, Punjab, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan's military and its Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate support Lashkar-e-Taiba as part of Pakistan's so-called strategic depth against rival India.
The terror group, which is backed by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate and the military, and sheltered by the government, essentially runs a state within a state in Pakistan. The sprawling Muridke complex in Punjab houses "a Madrassa (seminary), a hospital, a market, a large residential area for 'scholars' and faculty members, a fish farm and agricultural tracts. The LeT also reportedly operates 16 Islamic institutions, 135 secondary schools, an ambulance service, mobile clinics, blood banks and several seminaries across Pakistan," the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal reported. Over a period of years and with the help of the Pakistani establishment, the Lashkar-e-Taiba has established an organization that rivals Lebanese Hezbollah. The group succeeded in providing aid to earthquake-ravaged regions in Kashmir in 2005 while the Pakistani government was slow to act. Lashkar-e-Taiba is active in fundraising across the Middle East and South Asia, and has recruited scores of Westerners to train in its camps. The most well-known Western recruit is David Coleman Headley, an American citizen who helped scout the deadly November 2008 Mumbai terror assault and also plotted attacks in Europe.
Like al Qaeda, the Lashkar-e-Taiba seeks to establish a Muslim caliphate in southern and central Asia. Lashkar-e-Taiba has "consistently advocated the use of force and vowed that it would plant the 'flag of Islam' in Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi," according to the Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal. Also, like al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba practices Wahhabism, the radical Islamist school of thought born in Saudi Arabia.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has an extensive network in southern and southeast Asia. After the Mumbai terror assault in November 2008 that killed 165 people, a senior US military intelligence official described the group as "al Qaeda junior," as it has vast resources and is able to carry out complex attacks throughout its area of operations. "If by some stroke of luck al Qaeda collapsed, LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba) could step in and essentially take its place," the official told The Long War Journal in November 2008.
The relationship between al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba is complex, the official noted. "While Lashkar-e-Taiba is definitely subordinate to al Qaeda in many ways, it runs its own network and has its own command structure. The groups often train in each others' camps, and fight side by side in Afghanistan."
The US government designated Lashkar-e-Taiba as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in December 2001. The Pakistani government banned the group in January 2002, but this did little to shut down its operations. The group renamed itself the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and has conducted business as usual.
Hafiz Saeed, the emir of Lashkar-e-Taiba, and several other leaders have been added to the US's list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. In May 2012, the US added Saeed to the Rewards for Justice program, and offered $10 million for information leading to his arrest and prosecution. Saeed continues to operate openly Pakistan, and is often feted by Pakistani politicians and the media.
Read more:

Karachi airport attack : Tehreek-e-Taliban claims credit
ehreek-e-Taliban claim responsibility for Karachi airport
The Tehreek-e-Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack on the Karachi airport. The militants claimed responsibility a few hours after the Pakistan army said that a six hour siege of the airport had ended. Although it was not clear what reasons the Tehreek-e-Taliban had given for the attacks, they come even as government-led peace talks with the local Taliban faction and other militants have floundered in recent weeks. Read more at:

23 Pakistanis killed by assailants who stormed Karachi airport

Militants launched a brazen attack on Karachi’s international airport Sunday night, killing at least 23 people and seizing control of part of the airport in Pakistan’s largest city for more than five hours.
The well-coordinated attack involved 10 assailants who were armed with grenades, rocket launchers and assault weapons, authorities said. Some of them were also said to be wearing suicide vests. They battled Pakistani security forces through the night before all the assailants were slain, officials said.
Several large fires broke out at the airport, but all airline passengers escaped unharmed, according to a Pakistani army spokesman.
But the siege, one of the worst security breaches at a Pakistani airport, is raising serious questions about the country’s ability to protect its major transit hubs amid the persistent threat of terrorism. The attack comes as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s military have been considering a major offensive against the Pakistani Taliban, which has been waging a bloody insurgency.
“This act of terror is unforgivable,” Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s defense minister, told local television reporters. “The state will give an appropriate response to such cowardly acts of terror. Those who plan and those who execute the terrorist attacks will be defeated.”
There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the attack.
It was unclear how such an assault could occur at what is supposed to be a heavily fortified airport. The attack, which began at 11 p.m. and lasted until dawn, is likely to be another blow to Pakistan’s efforts to lure international business to help its struggling economy.
“I would not want to send any nonmilitary, non-law-enforcement personnel into that area at this moment,” Terrance W. Gainer, a security consultant and former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, said in an interview. He said U.S. security and anti-terrorism officials would undoubtedly be scrutinizing the attack to learn how it occurred.
Preliminary details
According to preliminary information from Pakistani security officials, the attack began when about five assailants gained access to Jinnah International Airport, apparently shooting their way through a gate near the old terminal. At least five others entered separately; they may have blasted their way through a wall near the cargo area, officials said.
Amjad Shah, a Karachi police official, said at least some of the militants were wearing uniforms used by security forces.
Once inside, the militants began lobbing grenades and took up positions near the runway and in the airport’s cargo area. One senior Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security issues, said some of the militants intended to hijack a plane but were unsuccessful.
All arriving flights were quickly diverted from the airport, which serves 6 million passengers annually. Three international flights were scheduled to leave between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., going to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates; Bangkok; and Dubai. But all passengers at the airport were evacuated safely, according to Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the spokesman for Pakistan’s military and security agencies.
About 90 minutes after the attack began, hundreds of Pakistani army commandos arrived on the scene and began battling the militants.
Hospital officials said that at least 11 people were killed by the assailants — eight airport security personnel, a Pakistan International Airlines employee, a police sub-inspector and an official with Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority.
About 5 a.m Monday., Bajwa reported that the siege had ended after all the attackers were killed. Bajwa said that eight of them were shot and that two blew themselves up once cornered.
Earlier in the night, at least some of the militants had initially been searching for the airport’s fuel storage facility, according to one security official. For much of the night, Pakistani television news stations aired footage of two-story-high flames shooting over the top of aircraft parked near the runway.

Video Report: Terror attack at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport 4 securitymen, 1 militant killed

Army called in as Karachi Airport's old terminal attacked

Karachi Airport's old terminal has been attacked by heavily armed assailants on Sunday night, Dawn News reported.
Pakistan Army troops have been called in to deal with the situation and troops from Malir Cantonment have been dispatched. According to DawnNews, five Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel have been killed in the attack. A hand grenade attack was carried out on the Isphani Hanger.
The attackers are said to have forged fake ID cards of ASF and entered the area. Some eight to ten attackers are said to be engaged in a gun battle with security forces.
DawnNews reported that two terrorists managed to get inside a plane.
One plane each of PIA and AirBlue and a cargo plane of a foreign company have been damaged. The firing came to a halt for some fifteen minutes but resumed again.
Heavy contingents of police and Rangers have surrounded the airport and routes to the airport have been sealed. Staff is being rescued by the security personnel and moved to safer areas.
Rescue teams are being allowed after being checked thoroughly.
Meanwhile all flight operations at Jinnah Terminal have been suspended and flights have been diverted to other airports. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has reached the scene of the incident.

Blasts, gunshots, fatalities as armed militants storm Pakistan's largest airport

At least 5 people have reportedly been killed and an airport emergency declared after heavily armed militants stormed the airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Twelve militants are thought to be inside and fire is seen rising from the scene.
The militants launched grenades and opened fire as they entered Jinnah International Airport. At least three blasts were heard, and an airport emergency has been declared, with flight operations suspended, reported the local Karachi Post. The five people killed are Airport Security Force (ASF) staff, according to Pakistani news channel There are also reports of fatalities among the assailants.
The militants reportedly forged ASF identification passes and entered the airport’s old terminal, known as Fokker Gate. Rescue forces have been dispatched and are being allowed to pass into the area after being intricately checked, according to Pakistani English-language newspaper Dawn.
The number of assailants varies from source to source with police saying there are up to 6 militants in the airports and media outlets talking of a dozen. “Exchange of fire is continuing. We don't know the exact number of the attackers but suspect four to six terrorists have attacked the airport,” Senior police official Rao Muhammad Anwar told AFP.
One of the rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) in the terrorists’ possession was fired towards a plane, journalist Ali Kamran Chishti reported on his Twitter. Two planes stranded on the runway at the airport’s Jinnah Terminal and the passengers are being interrogated as they are directed to leave, Chishti said. “Terrorists have walkie talkies, satellite phones - heavy weapons - they are here for the long-haul,” Chishti tweeted. He added that Pakistani politician, Farooq Sattar, who leads the MQM political party is reportedly on one of the planes. Pakistan has been waging war against a homegrown Islamist insurgency for more than ten years, which cost the country thousands of lives.

Heavy fighting reported at Karachi airport

Group attacks international terminal with guns and grenades, with at least five people killed, medical sources say. Heavily armed gunmen have attacked Jinnah international airport in Karachi with at least five people killed, medical official told Al Jazeera.
According to reports on Sunday, up to six armed men hurled hand grenades and opened fire as they entered the airport. Dr Simi Jamali told Al Jazeera that at least five people, including three airport security force personnel and two Pakistan Airline employees, had been brought into Jinnah hospital from the airport. All local and international flights were suspended. A witness told Al Jazeera by telephone that she could see smoke rising from the airport. Rao Muhammad Anwar, a senior police official, said the attackers were armed with automatic weapons and grenades and were exchanging gunfire with security guards. "Exchange of fire is continuing. We don't know the exact number of the attackers but suspect four to six terrorists have attacked the airport," he told the AFP news agency. The attack happened at a terminal not generally used for commercial flights but for VIP flights, the AP news agency reported.

Pakistan's Karachi Airport under siege..ARMY HAS BEEN CALLED.

At least four Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel were reported killed in a terrorist attack on Karachi Airport late on Sunday. Plumes of smoke can be seen rising from the runway area of the airport, and shots continue to be fired. All flights to and from Karachi airport have been cancelled or delayed and flights diverted to other parts of the country. ARMY HAS BEEN CALLED.

Pakistan: Karachi airport under attack: five ASF men killed

Two gunmen have been killed while five personnel of Airport Security Force (ASF) lost their lives following an armed attack at Karachi airport. According to initial reports, four armed attackers hurled grenades and opened fire as they entered the tarmac from fokker gate. This led to an exchange of fire between ASF personnel and the gunmen. As a result, two attackers were killed while five ASF personnel also lost their lives. SSP Malir has confirmed presence of four armed assailants at the airport. Smoke is seen billowing towards the sky from the tarmac of Jinnah Terminal. Flight operations have been suspended at the airport. Gunshots and blasts were being heard with intervals outside the airport until the last reports came in.

Karachi Airport Attacked, Fire: Pakistan Militants Reportedly Attack Jinnah International Airport with Guns, Grenades
The Karachi International Airport was allegedly assaulted by Pakistani militants on Sunday, according to reports. Officials in Pakistan confirmed the attack to AFP and Newsweek Pakistan, while Reuters reported that at least four security personnel were confirmed dead. Newsweek reported that several gunmen armed with grenades were involved in the assault. Local television stations said thick smoke was seen rising from the airport. All flights at the airport are being diverted, other reports said. Dawn News reported that four Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel were injured in the incident. The attackers were said to have forged fake ID cards to get into the area. Eight to ten attackers are said to have been in a battle with security forces. Police and other security forces have been deployed around the airport and routes inside have been sealed off.

Pakistan: Four security personnel injured in terrorist attack on Karachi airport

At least four Airport Security Force (ASF) personnel were injured in a terrorist attack on Old Terminal of Karachi Airport late on Sunday. According to details at least four ASF personnel were injured when terrorist hurled crackers and opened firing near Old Terminal of Karachi Airport. Terrorist were trying to enter the run way. Back-up contingents have been called-in. Police and rangers have cordoned off the area and flight schedule have also been put on hold.

World Cup sponsors call for investigation into Qatar bid

Pressure from Adidas, Sony and Visa mounts on Fifa as technology firm demands inquiry into claims that bribes were paid to secure 2020 tournament
Sponsors Adidas, Sony and Visa have called on football's governing body to deal thoroughly with allegations of bribery to secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, an issue that is overshadowing this week's kick-off in Brazil.
With its four-yearly showpiece event only four days away, Fifa is on the defensive, conducting an internal investigation into the decisions to hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 competition in Qatar. Both countries have denied any wrongdoing.
Qatar's bid attracted controversy from the outset because of the extreme summer heat during the months when the World Cup is played and the tiny country's lack of a domestic footballing tradition. If it goes ahead, the tournament is expected to be switched to a date later in the year, creating scheduling headaches for broadcasters and European football clubs.
The signs of unease from some of Fifa's paymasters will raise pressure on the body, led by 78-year-old Swiss president Sepp Blatter, to get to the bottom of the allegations and tackle underlying concerns about how it is run.
"The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners," said a spokesperson for Adidas, which has signed up as Fifa sponsor until 2030, extending a partnership dating back to 1970.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper has over the last two weekends printed what it says are leaked documents showing bribes were paid to secure the event for Qatar, which Qatar denies. Former US prosecutor Michael Garcia, who is leading Fifa's internal investigation, is due to report in July, around a week after this year's World Cup final.
A spokesperson for Visa, which has a contract as a Fifa sponsor until 2022, said the card company was monitoring the progress of the Garcia investigation.
"We expect Fifa will take the appropriate actions to respond to the report and its recommendations," it said in a statement.
Sony took a similar line, saying said it expected the allegations to be "investigated appropriately". It is unusual for sponsors to say anything publicly on such a sensitive issue and the comments reflect concern over the knock-on effects on their image.
"This underlines that companies need to make sure that any high profile association enhances their reputation rather than damages it," said Andy Sutherden, Global Head of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship at communications firm H+K Strategies.
Fifa, which Blatter has led since 1998, earned almost $1.4bn (£832m) last year, including more than $600m from the sale of broadcasting rights and more than $400m from sponsors and other marketing partners.
Sony, Adidas and Visa are among six main Fifa sponsors who collectively paid around $180m last year. Sony's sponsorship agreement, which also included the 2010 World Cup, expires this year, giving it particular leverage as it negotiates a new deal.
Airline Emirates, whose sponsorship deal is also up for renewal at the end of the year, declined to comment, as did South Korean carmaker Hyundai/Kia. Coca-Cola was not immediately available for comment. The Sunday Times printed new accusations on Sunday, just four days before the 2014 tournament kicks off in Brazil, alleging that then-Asian football chief Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari, had brokered meetings between Qatari officials and governments to discuss bilateral trade deals.
Qatar denies Bin Hammam was connected to its bid for the Cup. Bin Hammam has not commented. Fifa has already banned Bin Hammam for life from football over accusations he paid bribes to win votes for a bid to become Fifa president. That ban was overturned but another was imposed for conflicts of interest.
Fifa is now facing calls to strip Qatar of the World Cup should Garcia's investigation prove that it bought the votes needed to host the tournament.
The United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea were the rivals who lost out to Qatar in the 2010 vote and are all safer choices as former hosts of major sporting events and developed markets for consumer brands. US broadcaster Fox, which paid an estimated $425m for rights to the 2018 and 2022 world cups, was already unhappy with plans to switch the dates of the Qatar tournament to later in the calendar year when it would clash with the NFL American football programme.
Both fans and sponsors would be likely to cheer a switch to a different venue, although Qatar would be certain to mount a legal challenge to keep the competition. "None of the sponsors would want it to be held in Qatar," said David Peters, managing director of marketing company Dentsu Aegis Network Sport & Entertainment.
"Fifa haven't given a great deal of consideration to sponsors. The sport is so big, they are less beholden than other sports," he added.

Egyptians wary but hopeful for their new President

While Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has already lost some of the popularity he earned by taking power in just a few brief months of army rule, now he is a civilian president, and the population will expect him to keep promises and be accountable for any mistakes he makes.
Most Egyptians say the country needs stability, and jobs. Many appear ready to give Sisi the benefit of the doubt for now, but the hunger, and need for change, is palpable and pressing. The army mobilised to ring Cairo and Tahrir Square with steel and drop Sisi promotional material from helicopters. They were determined to reserve the square for their supporters to allow a show of strength, uncontested by any opposition forces.
“Congratulations to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. We ask him to care about young people, because they need to work and they need housing. Egypt needs a good president and al-Sisi is a good man,” said one woman.
“We ask him to pay close attention to our country and to achieve social justice and security because security is important for investment,” said a man. “Egyptian people have been suffering for three years. We ask him to care for the poor and the people that eat waste and rubbish, and we want security,” was another man’s opinion.
Once his inauguration was finished, security forces began allowing Sisi supporters into the square, and a party atmosphere began to make itself heard.
“After being sworn in, the new president begins his mission filled with difficulties. Barbed files are waiting on his desk, the most prominent being the economy, security and how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in the future,” said euronews correspondent in Cairo, Mohammed Shaikhibrahim.

Peres, Abbas embrace ahead of prayers at Vatican

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exchange warm welcome ahead of unprecedented prayer meeting with Pope Francis.

FBI investigates Bergdahl family threats

President Obama to order help for student loan debtors

The president will issue an executive order Monday in the name of easing student borrowers’ debt loads by capping repayments at 10 percent of their monthly income, the White House confirmed to POLITICO.
President Barack Obama said in his weekly address Saturday that he would take action on student loan issues in the coming days, but gave no details. The executive order, first reported by the New York Times, will expand on a 2010 law that capped borrowers’ repayment but left a hole in eligibility for people with older loans. Those left out of that relief include people who borrowed before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011.
“This makes it simpler to have one set of terms,” said Jason Delisle, director of the New America Foundation’s Federal Education Budget Project. But he pointed out that all borrowers already have the option of basing loan repayments on their income.
Federal student loan debt reached more than $1 trillion last year, an amount that has some economists concerned is creating a chilling effect on spending, home-buying and other economic drivers. “This is commencement season, a time for graduates and their families to celebrate one of the greatest achievements of a young person’s life,” Obama said Saturday. “But for many graduates, it also means feeling trapped by a whole lot of student loan debt.” The economic reasoning behind the maneuver is questionable, however, Delisle said. The president is making the case that “we need to help [student loan debtors] with debt so they can go into even more debt,” such as taking out a mortgage to buy a home. But student loans already helped these borrowers consume beyond their means, he said. The executive order will be part of a White House event on student loans planned for Monday. The White House said the change will allow an additional 5 million borrowers with federal student loans to cap their monthly payments at just 10 percent of their income.
Obama’s executive order wouldn’t kick in until December 2015, however, the White House said, to give the Education Department time to propose and enact new regulations.
The Education Department also will renegotiate contracts with federal loan servicers so that they have incentive to keep borrowers from falling behind on payments or defaulting on their loans.
The proportion of borrowers defaulting on their federal student loans within three years of beginning to repay them has been rising for several years running: From fiscal year 2009 to 2010 it rose from 13.4 percent to nearly 15 percent. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that capping payments for borrowers at 10 percent will cost the U.S. between about $10 billion and $12 billion. Some of the cost could be offset: For example, some borrowers’ eligibility for having what’s left of their loans forgiven entirely could be delayed by several years. The president has proposed changes like these in his budget several times, Delisle said, but those offsets require action by Congress.
The Education and Treasury Departments are working with the big tax prep firms H&R Block and Intuit (maker of TurboTax) on an effort to ensure borrowers are aware of repayment options and tax credits for college tuition, the White House said.
The president’s action follows concerns about growing student debt reaching a fever pitch among Senate Democrats. A bill that has Obama’s support from Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is expected on the Senate floor Wednesday, after a series of hearings on student loans, including two last week, as well as a press conference labeling loan debt a “double whammy” for women because of the wage gap.
Warren’s proposal would allow existing borrowers to refinance student loans at lower interest rates put into place for new borrowers last year. It has 39 Democratic co-sponsors. The measure is unlikely to pass the Senate, however, and even if it does, it likely would not clear the GOP-led House because of the way it would be financed. Borrowers’ refinancing would be paid for via the so-called “Buffet rule” that would raise taxes on the wealthy. “This bill doesn’t make college more affordable, reduce the amount of money students will have to borrow or do anything about the lack of jobs grads face in the Obama economy,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement to POLITICO. Delisle, of the New America Foundation, said Obama’s plan is preferable to Warren’s. Refinancing students’ debt would have no effect on their monthly payments, though it could shorten the duration of their payments in the long run. But he questioned the wisdom of helping those who already have attended college instead of finding a way to invest in students who are trying to obtain a degree in the first place. In addition to the White House event planned for Monday, Obama is scheduled to answer questions about student loans on the microblogging site Tumblr on Tuesday. Read more:

Hillary Clinton remains popular for her time as secretary of state, viewed apart from Obama

By David Nakamura and Scott Clement
Hillary Rodham Clinton retains broad public support for her performance as secretary of state, a sign that President Obama’s struggles abroad and Republican attacks over Benghazi have not been a major drag on her reputation.
Clinton left office 1 1 / 2 years ago as the most popular outgoing secretary in recent memory, and 59 percent of the public still approve of her tenure, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll this month. That dipped from 68 percent in late 2012, but 67 percent call her a strong leader in the most recent survey.
The findings suggest the public is willing to view Clinton’s term separately from Obama as she attempts to define her legacy with the release on Tuesday of “Hard Choices,” a reflection on her four years overseeing the State Department. The poll found just 41 percent approve of Obama’s handling of foreign policy, an all-time low for the president.
In the book, she carefully draws distinctions between herself and her former boss on a number of international crises that remain unresolved, most notably her push to arm and train Syrian rebel fighters, which was overruled by Obama, according to a copy obtained Saturday by The Washington Post.
Clinton also strikes stronger notes of criticism than Obama toward Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and touches on the risks of dealing with the Taliban to win the release of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Obama’s decision to trade five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl last week earned him condemnation from many Republicans.
“More people blame the White House than they blame the secretary of state, and that strikes me as quite appropriate,” said Kori Schake, a former State Department official during the George W. Bush administration. The public “admires Secretary Clinton’s toughness and how much she got out there and tried to do stuff.”
Since leaving office, Clinton has avoided directly criticizing the president, and she praises him in other sections of her book — particularly his decision, which she supported at the time, to authorize a risky special forces operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. Clinton also writes in the book that she was wrong on her 2002 Senate vote authorizing military action in Iraq, something Obama opposed as an Illinois state senator.
Clinton aides played down any potential division between her and Obama, saying she will emphasize their joint success in placing tougher economic sanctions on Iran and North Korea, moving U.S. armed forces out of Afghanistan and coordinating the global strategy to restore the economy.
“That’s what this book is about,” said Tommy Vietor, a former White House foreign policy spokesman who now is helping on media strategy with Clinton’s book release. “There are clear successes she will point to, and also some areas that are a work in progress.”
Anticipating a Clinton presidential run, Republicans have sought to tie her to Obama’s foreign policy challenges in places such as Russia, Syria, Libya and Egypt while also driving a wedge between the two on other issues, such as the Bergdahl deal.
This spring, the Republican National Committee sent a release tying Clinton to the administration’s stumbling Russia “reset.” It also created a Web video called “Bad Choices,” faulting Clinton’s record at the State Department.
The centerpiece of the GOP attacks on Clinton has been the State Department’s response to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
In “Hard Choices,” Clinton defends the administration’s initial assessment, based on intelligence reports, that the attacks were an outgrowth of regional protests of a YouTube video rather than a pre-planned terrorist attack.
“She’s not going to run away from Obama,” said Brookings Institution defense analyst Michael O’Hanlon. But, he added, Clinton can also argue that she will lay out her own path once in the White House.
The Post-ABC poll found 50 percent of the public disapproves of the way Clinton handled the response to the Benghazi attack. But the survey also showed that 59 percent of the public believes Clinton has new ideas for the country’s future, and more than half consider her “honest and trustworthy.”
With many of the Obama administration’s foreign policy priorities still unresolved, Clinton has struggled publicly to identify her biggest accomplishment. But supporters say that it is unfair given her role as part of Obama’s “team of rivals” in the first term.
“She devoted herself to being a total team player in support of President Obama,” said Michèle Flournoy, former undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon in Obama’s first term. “Part of the reason why people say, ‘What is her individual legacy?’ is that everything she did, she made it the president’s success. She didn’t go out there trying to be a sole actor or collect a set of individual legacy achievements.”
Clinton played a leading role in the administration’s attempt to shift attention and resources to Asia to meet China’s rise as a world power, including reestablishing diplomatic ties to the long-isolated country of Burma — an issue she highlights in the book. Asia analysts have said her departure from the administration has set back that effort. Former colleagues also point to Clinton’s “people-to-people” diplomatic initiatives, championing the rights of women and girls and promoting Internet freedom under repressive regimes. Detractors minimize such items as “soft power” initiatives that do not add up to a grand legacy. The contrast with her successor, John F. Kerry, was striking after he quickly launched an all-out effort last year to pursue a peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. That push was unsuccessful, but some of Clinton’s critics — including former president Jimmy Carter (D) — have praised Kerry for being willing to put his credibility on the line for a longshot deal. The White House was less enthusiastic.
“Let’s give him lots and lots of points for telling the White House, ‘Yeah, yeah, I don’t care what you think,’ ” said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “That’s not what Mrs. Clinton said.”

Gunmen attack Nato truck in Pakistan

Gunmen open fire at a tanker carrying oil for Nato troops in Afghanistan causing it to burst into flames in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province,

Beyoncé - Video Phone ft. Lady Gaga

Pakistan: 'Counter-Terrorism: The Deal With The Devil That Terrifies Asia'

Pakistan’s long (since the 1970s) support of Islamic terrorism has made it something of a pariah to all its neighbors. This is because Pakistan appears to have lost control of the Islamic terrorist groups it has provided support and sanctuary to for so long. This puts all the neighbors at greater risk of attack by Islamic terrorists who still operate out of bases in Pakistan. Those threatened include India, Afghanistan, China, Iran, the Moslem Central Asian nations and, worst of all, non-Moslem nations worldwide. Especially since September 11, 2001 Pakistan was increasingly and often publically criticized for its terrorism policy. This became more common since 2011 as many of the terrorists it supported have declared war on their host and the neighbors have concluded that Pakistan has lost control of the terrorism monster it created. Now the neighbors are discussing this situation with each other and international organizations. Pakistan appears unable to fix itself or deal with the international terror threat it created.
Pakistan is still reluctant to admit it is the cause of so many problems but the neighbors are not being very understanding. China, who supplies a lot of Pakistan’s weapons and foreign investment, has told its troublesome neighbor to fix the situation or see China go from being a helpful to a hostile neighbor. The other neighbors have had a similar reaction, but given China’s place as Pakistan’s most important ally, Pakistan can no longer ignore the problem.
Yet the Pakistani government really does not have a lot of control over the situation. That’s because its intelligence service, the ISI (Inter Service Intelligence agency) is supposed to be controlling the terrorists but is itself out of control and few politicians want to mess with the ISI. It wasn't always that way. The ISI was created in 1948 as a reaction to the inability of the IB (Intelligence Bureau, which collected intelligence on foreign countries in general) and MI (Military Intelligence, which collected intel on military matters) to work together and provide useful information for senior government officials. The ISI was supposed to take intel from IB and MI, analyze it and present it to senior government officials. But in the 1950s, the government began to use the ISI to collect intel inside Pakistan, especially on those suspected of opposing the current government. This eventually backfired, and in the 1970s, the ISI was much reduced by a civilian government. But when another coup took place in 1977 and the new military government decided that religion was the cure for what ailed the country and that ISI would be expanded to make this work. That meant encouraging Islamic clergy and groups to become even more active in politics and for Islamic terrorist groups to accept cash and other help from the government. The deal with the devil was made and there was, at least for the Islamic radicals, no going back.
What kept this nasty arrangement going for so long was the fact that until quite recently elected and military government alternated running Pakistan. Typically, the Pakistani generals seized control of the government every decade or so, when the corruption and incompetence of elected officials becomes too much for the military men to tolerate. The generals never did much better, and eventually there are elections, and the cycle continued. The generals controlled ISI and supported the pro-Islamic terrorism policy. Civilian government never had sufficient time or will to shut down ISI. The latest iteration began in 1999, when the army took over, and was voted out of power nine years later, pretty much on schedule. There followed, for the first time, another election that had one civilian government replace another. This has upset the generals considerably. Civilian governments tend to be hostile to the ISI, and apparently they are making a real effort to clear out many of the Islamic radicals in the ISI this time around. Then again, recent attempts by the government to take control of the ISI backfired when the generals said they would not allow it. Nothing is simple in Pakistan but this time is different and the ISI feels it is facing a grave threat.
The ISI grew particularly strong during the 1980s, when billions of dollars, most of it in the form of military and economic aid, arrived from the oil-rich Arab governments of the Persian Gulf. All this was to support the Afghans who were resisting a Russian invasion (in support of Afghan communists who had taken control of the government, and triggered a revolt of the tribes). The Afghan communists were atheists, and this greatly offended Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries, who feared that Russia would encourage Arab communists everywhere to rebel. So the resistance to the Russians in Afghanistan was declared a holy war which, after a fashion, it was. After about nine years of fighting the tribes, the Russians got tired of their slow progress (and more pressing problems back home, like the collapse of their economy from decades of communist mismanagement) and left in 1989.
The Soviet Union collapsed two years later, and the Afghan factions promptly fell upon each other and the civil war seemed never-ending. This upset Pakistan, which wanted to send millions of Afghan refugees back home. Few of the refugees were interested, as long as Afghans were still fighting each other. So the ISI created its own faction, the Taliban, by recruiting teachers and students from a network of religious schools that had been established (with the help of Saudi Arabian religious charities) in the 1980s. The most eager recruits were young Afghans from the refugee camps. The Taliban were fanatical, and most Afghans were willing to support them because they brought peace and rough justice. But the Taliban never conquered all of Afghanistan, especially in the north, where there were few Pushtun tribes (most Taliban were Pushtuns, from tribes in southwestern Afghanistan). The Pushtuns were about 40 percent of the population, and had always been the most prominent faction in Afghanistan (the king of Afghanistan was traditionally a Pushtun.)
Although a military junta was again running Pakistan when September 11, 2001 came along, the president of the country, an army general (Pervez Musharraf), sided with the United States, and turned against the Taliban. But many in the ISI continued to support the Taliban, and the army was too dependent on the ISI (for domestic intelligence, and to control Islamic militants that were attacking India, especially in Kashmir) to crack down on this treason.
Al Qaeda took this betrayal badly, and declared war on the Pakistani government. The ISI was used to seek out and kill or capture most of the hostile al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. But the ISI insured that Islamic terrorists who remained neutral were generally left alone. The ISI thwarted government efforts to have the army clear the al Qaeda out of the border areas (populated largely by Pushtun tribes, there being twice as many Pushtuns in Pakistan as there are in Afghanistan). But now, in one sense, it's September 11, 2001 all over again. The U.S. has told Pakistan that it is fed up with getting screwed around by the ISI, and if Pakistan doesn't clean out the ISI, and shut down Islamic terrorists along the Afghan border, NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops will cross the border and do it. On May 2nd, 2011 the U.S. did just that, to kill Osama bin Laden, much to the consternation of the ISI. This was a turning point for Pakistan as the bin Laden raid, although roundly condemned by Pakistani nationalists, did expose the ISI and military leaders as liars. Bin Laden has spent over five years living within sight of the Pakistani military academy and surrounded by retired and active duty officers and their families. This hurt the ISI and the military more than the generals like to admit.
While al Qaeda has become the most well- known international terrorist organization it was not the most successful. That title goes to less well known regional terrorist organizations. The most successful of these has been Pakistani Islamic terror group Lashkar I Toiba (LeT). While al Qaeda has been reduced to a franchising operation, LeT is a real organization with separate departments for recruiting, fund raising, training and operations. The LeT is, like the Taliban is a creation of the Pakistani ISI. The ISI has long been a power unto itself, with its own agenda and many members who support Islamic radicalism. In 2008, the civilian government sought to disband the political wing of the ISI. This section was believed be largely responsible for Pakistani support of Islamic, or simply Pakistani, terrorist operations in Afghanistan and India, as well as support for Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan itself. The political wing has also served as a domestic spying operation whenever the military was running the country (which is more than half the time.) That effort failed, as did several previous attempts to reform this espionage agency.
Only some parts of the Pakistani government back these terrorists, as most Pakistanis realize that too much Pakistani based Islamic terrorism inside India could trigger a major war with India. Since both nations now have nuclear weapons, this could get very ugly. The Islamic terrorists don't care, as they are on a Mission From God, and whatever happens is God's Will.
It’s interesting that many LeT leaders come from the same middle class neighborhoods that produce many of the army and ISI officers that back Islamic terrorism. The connections between ISI and Islamic terror groups are numerous and this intelligence organization has become a major threat to Pakistani democracy and Pakistan itself.
Foreign countries have tried to work with the ISI. The U.S. gave Pakistan's main intelligence agency; ISI tens of millions dollars for rewards since September 11, 2001. The U.S. money was paid as rewards for the capture or killing of wanted Islamic terrorists. The live ones were turned over to the United States. Pakistan says it captured over 800 of these terrorists, but the actual number is believed to be greater. The U.S. did not look closely at exactly who got the reward money. This backfired, as have efforts by other nations to work with ISI to control Islamic terrorist groups in Pakistan. It is now generally recognized that ISI is the enemy as much as the Taliban, al Qaeda, LeT or any number of other Islamic terrorist groups operating out of Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are turning against the ISI and the army. Despite all that the ISI remains intact and still allied with numerous Islamic terrorist groups. Four decades of government support for Islamic radicalism has resulted in a large minority of Pakistanis still supporting Islamic terrorists. But it’s no longer just India or the United States complaining about the murderous work of the ISI and their Islamic terrorist clients. All the neighbors, including Iran and China, are complaining and soon Pakistan will have to decide what is more important; survival or support for Islamic terrorism.

The ISI’s Great Game in Afghanistan

By Omer Aziz
By Omer Aziz
Irrespective of the election outcome, Pakistan will remain deeply involved in Afghanistan.
On the evening of March 20, two teenagers entered the buffet area of the luxurious Serena Hotel in Kabul. The well-guarded establishment was a popular meeting place for politicians, diplomats, and journalists; a kind of refuge away from the danger constantly present in Kabul. Like the many guests assembled at the Serena this night, the two young men told security officials that they were visiting the hotel for dinner to celebrate the Afghan New Year. As guests filled their plates and live music echoed throughout the hall, the men entered the dining area and began wildly shooting, killing nine people before being killed by security. Among the dead were the noted Afghan journalist Sardar Ahmad, who was killed with this wife and two daughters, and Luis Maria Darte, a longtime Paraguyan diplomat and election observer. Two days later, Afghan President Hamid Karzai released a statement saying the terrorist attack had been conducted “by an intelligence service outside this country.” Which entity did he have in mind? If there was any doubt, Karzai quickly put it to rest the following week in an interview he gave with an Indian television channel, when he said that terrorism was “nurtured” and “supported” in Pakistan, where the militants had their “ideological roots.” For four decades, Pakistan’s spy-generals have played Afghanistan like a powerful chip in a consequential game of poker. They know the important local militants, have open channels to their favorite groups, and regularly play various groups against the Western coalition. The twin justifications for the aggressive intervention in Afghan affairs are India and American withdrawal. Since Pakistan’s humiliating dissection at Indian and nascent Bangladeshi hands in 1971, Islamabad’s doctrine vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been known as strategic depth. For the ISI, Afghanistan is to be a safety net should the delusional prediction that India will invade a weaker Pakistan actually come true. A widespread view in Pakistan’s elite circles is that the U.S. will soon withdraw and leave the Afghan problem at Pakistan’s doorstep. I have been hearing a variant of this view for five years now. With U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2014 and potentially leave zero troops after two years, it is apparent now that this view has not been unfounded. But Pakistan has wanted a vacuum in Afghanistan all along. A despoiled, anarchic vestige of a state to its east means that Pakistan can virtually control the territory, as it did through its various puppets in the 1980s and 1990s. During the Soviet-Afghan War – during which American arms were shipped into Afghanistan through the ISI – Pakistani spymasters channeled funds and arms into the hands of their favorite militant groups, often the most retrogressive and extremist of the Mujahedeen. Leaders of some of these groups studied in Pakistani madrassas, a wellspring of indoctrination and militant thinking. By one estimate, the number of madrassas in Pakistan feeding the jihadists surged from 900 in 1971 to 32,000 in 1988. The ISI’s strategy at the time – and which remains its strategy today – can be summed up by what Pakistani dictator Zia ul-Haq told one of his generals: “Afghanistan must be made to boil at the right temperature.” In the intervening period, Afghanistan has done more than boil. It has been flayed and seared by selfish American short-termism and poisonous, neocolonial Pakistani long-termism. As is well known, the Afghan Taliban were themselves a creation of the ISI, and a de facto proxy by the time they took over Kabul in 1996. In 1999, Benazir Bhutto’s minister of interior, Nasrullah Babar admitted it quite explicitly, pronouncing, “We created the Taliban.” Today, the “Talban” are a hodgepodge of militant outfits, though the central leadership of the Afghan Taliban is thought to be in Quetta, Pakistan. For the ISI, there may be a chickens coming home to roost moment, as Pakistan faces a brutal insurgency within its own borders that has adopted the Taliban name but is in many ways far more rejectionist and hostile to the governing authorities. To give just one example, the Afghan Taliban support polio vaccination while the Pakistani Taliban vow to kill anyone offering such treatments. The ISI’s game of prolonging the post-9/11 insurgency in Afghanistan long enough for the tired American leviathan to pack up and go home – and for Pakistan to move in more forcefully – is the direct cause of this terrorist surge, which has taken over 50,000 lives. There are now three separate but interrelated insurgencies eating at the Pakistani state like overfed parasites: the sectarian Sunni jihad against Pakistan’s Shia population, the Balochi insurgency, and the gangsterism and religious extremism destroying Karachi. When exporting militancy is a state’s central foreign policy tool, it does not take long for the pawns to turn their guns on their masters. According to a number of reports, the ISI – sometimes called a state within a state – operates a highly secretive, off-the-record “S Wing” that is used to support the various militant groups that have been central to Pakistani foreign policy. A report leaked in 2006 by the British Defense Ministry stated, “Indirectly Pakistan (through the ISI) has been supporting terrorism and extremism.” The report went so far as to link the ISI to the 2005 London bombings, in addition to the various insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2012 NATO study based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters concluded that the ISI provided safe havens to the Taliban, monitored their movements, manipulated their fighters, and arrested those thought uncooperative. Behind all this lies India, which had been an ardent supporter of the Northern Alliance and today has an active presence in Afghanistan. The threat of Indian encirclement of Pakistan via Afghanistan seems widely overblown. There are fewer than 3,600 Indians in Afghanistan – most of them businessmen – and just 10 Indian diplomatic officers. While there is considerable evidence of Indian support of Balochi separatists, the paranoid ISI view of India in Afghanistan ignores New Delhi’s vested interest in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. It also ignores the centuries-old history between India and Afghanistan, and the erstwhile Indo-Afghan frontier. Afghanistan has received more than a billion dollars of Indian aid and, in 2009, celebrated the completion of the Zaranj-Delaram road, giving it better access to Iran. There is also the much-discussed animosity towards Pakistan by Karzai and by Pashtuns in general, who consider Islamabad an aggressive, prevaricating, double-dealing regime. The unfortunate but crystalline reality of Afghanistan’s future is that it hinges on the decisions made by Pakistani generals and whether their actions will be checked by a Coalition response. This is not to suggest that Afghanistan’s future is lost. To recapitulate some recent victories: 7 million Afghans turned out to vote on April 5, thirty-five percent of them women. The Afghan election went forward despite threats from the Taliban and accusations of fraud. Voters jubilantly participated in the electoral process, thwarting attempts by militant groups who have violently opposed elections. Regardless of who wins, however, Pakistan will be deeply involved in the internal workings of Afghanistan. It will be up to neighboring states and whatever remnant of the international community that is still engaged to ensure that over a decade of conflict and reconstruction does not conclude with a de facto takeover of Afghanistan by its neighbor across the Durand Line.

Pakistan's Benjamin Sisters: A Christian Singing Group of Three Girls

The Benjamin Sisters were a Pakistani singing group of three sisters, Nerissa, Beena and Shabana Benjamin. Commonly this group gave its appearances on Pakistan Television in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They achieved huge admiration in both Pakistan and neighboring regions of North India in what began to be referred to as the Benjamin Sisters Phenomenon.

Gari Ko Chalana-Benjamin Sisters-بنجامن سسٹرز... by jb_urdu
Benjamin sisters were born to Pakistani Christian Family. When they first started performing on TV, Nerissa was 21 years old and Beena and Shabana were 16 and 15 years old, respectively. Their mother encouraged the younger sisters but was a bit cautious about eldest one to appear on TV.
The Benjamin Sisters first took part in numerous music learning programs aired on Pakistan Television from 1968 to 1987. These programs were conducted by Sohail Rana; a prominent music director of Pakistan, and they were intended to educate children about music. The sisters typically sang Punjabi and Urdu songs, and inclined to originally provide new versions of songs sung by other artists contrasting to developing their own material. This was partially because the sisters in the beginning appeared in the TV talk show Silver Jubilee (1983), where old artistes were frequently the invited guests whose songs the sisters would sang as a mark of honor. The three sang in a synchronized way, in a “single voice.” The sisters later attained more fame after the release of the nationalistic songs of Pakistan, such as the Is parcham kay saye tale, hum ek hai, Ay roohe quaid aaj ke din ham tujhe sey wada kartey hain, Khayal rakhna khayal rakhna etc. which they sang during 1980s.
The express Tribune report says, “now they all got married and well settled in their lives. Nerissa continues to teach at St. Patrick’s High School, and Beena works as a voiceover artist and a VJ. Shabana Kenneth, meanwhile, is a housewife. Nerissa and Shabana have a daughter and two sons each, whereas Beena has been blessed with a daughter.” - See more at:

Pakistan Telecom Authority's Crusade

The Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) has been doing its magic and making pages vanish from Facebook. Without any prior warning or contact, the PTA specifically targeted pages which contain liberal, progressive and secular content. Facebook pages such as “talibansarezalims” and “” are known for their anti-extremism stance, and support for democracy. Just what pushed the PTA to act against them while turning a blind eye towards several pages which support terrorist groups, propagate religious extremism and preach hate against minorities?
Soon after the blockade of some popular pages by Facebook, social media started to make a noise which proved loud enough to be picked up by the mainstream media. Facebook was compelled to clarify that it had blocked the page on PTA’s request. PTA denied it right away. The regulatory authority had been put in the spotlight by the very social media it was crusading against. Embarrassed and unable to provide any justifications, it lifted the ban.
An issue which must be addressed here is PTA’s obvious ideological tilt. Liberals and their views are already under assault. The mainstream media and the larger society has become an extremely hostile place which refuses to accommodate and consider their opinion. In the face of growing extremism, they have retreated to their bubble; the internet. Now, an ideologically biased regulatory authority is threatening to completely shut them out. The PTA cannot be allowed to play the thought police and work on a conservative agenda which stands in opposition to basic human rights and civil liberties. It must back off, refrain from passing subjective judgments and becoming a tool in the hands of those who wish to hold a monopoly over ideas and speech. The government must ensure that regulatory authorities do not exercise internet censorship based on personal affiliations. A culture of rights and liberties is necessary for a democratic society to flourish and progress. Silencing liberal and moderates will not make Pakistan great, but will only push us further into the abyss.

Pakistan: CPJ denounces suspension of Geo license by PEMRA

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has decried in strong terms the decision of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to suspend the license of Geo News – the country’s most watched TV channel.
Joel Simon, the Executive Director of CPJ, expressed concern over the suspension of Geo’s license. He said the decision to shut down the biggest media outlet of Pakistan reflects narrow vision and reeks of politics, terming it against the spirit of assurances held out to the CPJ by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
It may be recalled that a delegation of CPJ had met Nawaz Sharif in March this year and got the assurance that the hazards being faced by the journalists of Pakistan would be thwarted. Since then, unfortunately, the number of incidents of torture and persecution of journalists has been on the rise viz a viz firing on journalists, attacks and threats.
The attack on Hamid Mir in April and subsequent accusation of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) only led to the snowballing of tension.

Pakistan: Test case for PTI: Hindu shrine illegally occupied

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has admitted that local clerics have illegally occupied the land of a Hindu shrine in Karak district.
K-P Advocate General Latif Yousufzai has submitted a report in the Supreme Court on behalf of Karak’s deputy commissioner explaining how and why the occupation has taken place.
Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) who has brought up the issue in the top court, said he had informed the top leaders of K-P’s ruling party (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) about the Hindu shrine’s illegal occupation. However, neither its central leaders Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi nor its local MNA Nasir Khan had taken any action.
“This is a test case for PTI. Let’s see how the provincial government retrieves the Hindu shrine’s land from influential persons,” Dr Vankwani said.
The K-P government, in its report, explains that a Hindu man named Shri Param Hans Ki Mehaj died in 1919 and was buried there. His followers often visited the shrine after his death and this practice continued till 1997. “Some locals destroyed the shrine and the issue came to light when some Hindu followers of the Param Hans Shrine attempted to restore the old path leading to the shrine, which is now occupied by a local cleric, Mufti Iftikharuddin,” stated the report, made available with The Express Tribune.
The provincial government also said that Hindu elders from Sindh tried to negotiate with the mufti and paid Rs375,000 as cost of the land. But the mufti, despite taking the money, has not vacated the land since 1997. Many negotiations and a jirga was held in 2005, which gave the verdict that the Hindus should start the renovation. However, the mufti, along with local politician and former MNA of the Jamaat-e- Islami, Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz, were against the implementation of the jirga’s decision in favour of the Hindu community.
Aziz opposed the construction of a Hindu temple, citing the unwillingness of local tribes to build it. He also contended that being a religious issue, it cannot be resolved through a jirga. He claims that a committee of senior muftis and ulema should give a religious verdict on the matter.
Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, while hearing the matter on Wednesday, had asked the K-P AG to consult the chief minister in resolving the issue before June 16.

Rs57m and counting: Musharraf’s trial costs millions to exchequer

The Express Tribune
The high treason trial of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has so far cost the national kitty a whopping Rs57.2 million, the budget documents reveal. However, the actual cost could be much more than this amount. Over Rs57 million has been sought by the Interior Division and the Law, Justice and Human Rights Division for the establishment of the special court and miscellaneous expenses, the budget documents show.
According to the breakup, appropriations, expenditures incurred during the high treason trial, payment of fees and contingency and other expenses have cost the national exchequer Rs49.5 million. This amount has been spent by the Interior Division.
Additionally, the cost of renovating the National Library building, where the special court is trying Musharraf, comes in at around Rs7.7 million, according to the budget documents. This sum was sought as a supplementary grant by the Law, Justice and Human Rights Division.
Legal expenses incurred by the government in pursuit of the former president exceed Rs20 million. According to a reply submitted by the interior ministry in the National Assembly, the government’s 14-member legal team is divided into prosecution and constitutional teams. Some of the lawyers in the government’s legal team are part of both prosecution and constitutional wings, and as such get paid twice. Interestingly enough, lead prosecutor Akram Shaikh gets paid the lowest with Rs999. On the other hand, prosecution in-charge Nasiruddin Khan Nayyer receives the highest pay cheque of Rs10 million.
The costs mentioned in the budget documents do not include expenses incurred on security. According to sources, as many as 300 regular police personnel, including commandos and policewomen, and 100 Rangers have been deployed for Musharraf’s security since the treason case proceedings began.
Police sources added that Rs100,000 has been spent on each hearing of the treason case, regardless of whether the former president appears or not. In this way, they said, the cost of the trial exceeds Rs100 million. The expenses incurred on the three judges of the special court over the last five months have not been incorporated in the new budget as well.

Pakistan: Wattoo slams federal govt for cutting education budget
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab President Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo has criticised the federal government for cutting education sector allocations by almost 11 percent in the 2014-2015 budget.
“It speaks volumes of the level of commitment of the present government with education sector,” he said in a statement on Saturday. He said that education played a pivotal role in overall social development of society and decrease in its budget clearly suggested erroneous priorities of the government.
Wattoo maintained that “bureaucratic budget” of the Punjab government would also reflect the same trend because they (government functionaries) were in favour of outsourcing this important sector to the private sector; thus providing the private sector an opportunity to swindle all and sundry. He added that the private sector had been squeezing the poor and middle class people dry, as they have to pay hefty tuition fees. They were being forced to send their children to private schools for the sake of quality education, which was not available in government schools, he observed.
Wattoo demanded the Punjab government to improve the quality of education at public schools. He maintained that nobody would like to send their children to such schools where even bare minimum facilities for students and teachers were not available. He urged that the Punjab chief minister to concentrate on improvement of education quality and academic environment instead of spending hefty resources on showpiece projects like expressways, metro trains or metro busses.
“How demoralised teachers could play their role in imparting quality education when they were subjected to administration’s brutalities when they protested for the acceptance of their legitimate demands?” he asked.
He called upon the Punjab government to abandon the patronage of discriminatory education policy of building and projecting Daanish schools and instead focus on responding to the needs of major population of the province. Provision of education to all and sundry was of paramount importance for a responsible citizenry, he added.

Genocide on Pakistani soil
As persecution of the Shia community in Pakistan grows, it has begun defending itself in the only way it can. Lately, police claim they targeted a number of Shia sectarian defence militias that operate in Karachi, where Shias have been relentlessly attacked by extremist Sunni organisations. Nearly 1,000 Shias were killed because of their religion during the last two years in terrorist attacks around the country. Reports say that there were 64 attacks on Shias in Karachi alone. Recently, Karachi police arrested the alleged head of what they say was a cell of the Shia Sipah-e-Muhammad militia, Syed Furqan, who remains in their custody. The Sipah-e-Muhammad is a militant group that grew as a self-defence organisation after attacks on the Shia community began in earnest in the 1990s by groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS). All these groups are designated terrorist or banned organisations by the government. However, organisations like the SS continue to operate under new names with impunity. The new face of the SS, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (AWSJ) operates openly and its head, Ahmad Ludhianvi, was recently declared elected to the National Assembly, though the nomination was struck down by the Supreme Court. The head of its sister group the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), Malik Ishaq, was recently acquitted on terrorism charges by a Punjab court. Both groups are implicated in the most gruesome incidents of violence against Shias over the last decade.
Sectarian conflict has been a part of Pakistan’s political landscape for 30 years, and its roots lie in the agenda of proxy militant groups supported by the state who wish to impose an ideology that keeps them in power. The narrow thinking of state institutions that have fostered these groups is a recipe for disaster. Recent events point to the possibility of a broader sectarian war developing, in which foreign interests will necessarily play a role. Attacks on Shias in Quetta, in other parts of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi have intensified as the government looks to segregate terrorist groups it can work with from recalcitrant groups that oppose the state. Pakistan’s recent experiences show that the attempt is likely to be futile. The agenda of groups like the SS does not include a pluralistic state, as evidenced by the hate literature and the statements of their own leaders that they widely disseminate under the government’s nose. Their understanding of Islam is non-existent and their belief system is focused on murder. If the state is willing to turn a blind eye to the sectarian cleansing of a religious group, then it can hardly expect them to roll over and die. Continuing to ignore or patronise extremist groups could then lead the country into a bloodbath in which no one will be the winner. The incompetent strategic thinking that has led to this policy needs re-evaluation and action needs to be taken against all sectarian groups, particularly the aggressive and openly operational ones that are trying to commit genocide on Pakistani soil.