Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Hagel under fire, defends swap of Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl

- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended Washington's decision to swap five Taliban leaders to win the release of Army war prisoner Bowe Bergdahl.

President Obama Answers a Question on Gun Violence During a Tumblr Q&A

Angelina Jolie opens sexual violence summit

The day's top showbiz news and headlines including Angelina Jolie opens a summit focused on ending sexual violence in conflict zones, Lupita Nyong'o is named the MTV Africa Music Awards Personality of the Year, and Sigourney Weaver will be included in the ''Avatar'' sequels.

Video: President Barack Obama 'frustrated' by lack of action on gun control

Video: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited JPMC to inquire about the under-treatment injured of Karachi airport attack

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited JPMC to inquire about the under-treatment injured of Karachi airport attack. from Capital TV on Vimeo.

Discarding security advices, Chairman #PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari drove to #JPMC to personally inquire about the injured security personnel and common men injured in the last night’s terrorist attack on #Karachi Airport.

Pakistan summons Afghan ambassador following attack on Karachi airport

The foreign ministry officials said Tuesday that the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan was summoned following militants attack on Karachi airport. Ahmad Shekib Mostaghni, spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan told the Radio Liberty that Janan Mosazai was summoned following the attack on Karachi airport on Sunday night. Mostaghni further added that the Pakistani officials protested and claimed that anti-Pakistan militants have sanctuaries inside the Afghan soil. He said the ministry of foreign affairs of Afghanistan views the attempts by Pakistan to conceal the cross-border violations. Mostaghni also insisted that the government of Afghanistan will not allow anyone to misuse the Afghan soil against it’s neighbors. This comes as the National Security Council of Afghanistan said Monday that the attack on presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah was plotted by foreign intelligence agencies. Afghan officials accused the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba group for carrying out the deadly attack in a bid to disrupt the elections. The group was also accused for attacking the Indian consulate in western Herat province of Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Four killed in drone strike in North Waziristan

The Express Tribune News
At least four people were reportedly killed in a drone strike in North Waziristan on Wednesday, Express News reported.
According to details, at least three people were killed when a predator drone fired two missiles at a house in the Miranshah area of North Waziristan. This is the first drone attack of 2014 with the last drone strike in Pakistan taking place on December 26, 2013, in which four people were killed.

Pakistan: Walkout mars Senate session; opposition rejects budget
The Senate’s session resumed on Tuesday after a symbolic walkout staged by the opposition parties in protest against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government’s “non-serious” attitude over Karachi airport attack and budget, DawnNews reported. The budget for 2014-15 is being discussed in the upper house of Parliament.
Delivering his speech, Senator Raza Rabbani of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) rejected the budget, calling it a budget for industrialists and feudal.
“This budget is against the aspirations of the nation … We reject it,” he said.
Earlier, Senator Rabbani had called for a walk out after he refused to discuss the budget recommendations in the absence of ministers.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Tahir Mashhadi said that the government was restricting them to table the Karachi crises. He said that the government’s attitude towards terrorism is “non-serious”.
Senator Zahid Khan of Awami National Party (ANP) blamed the government for adopting “autocratic” behavior on the issues of national concerns.
PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha said that the prevailing situation in the country would deteriorate even further if the government did not come out with a clear strategy.

Bilawal Bhutto for eliminating Child Labour through social protection
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has stressed for more efforts, including legislation and practical steps, to remove the perils of Child Labour from Pakistan and provide the children with strong social protection. International Labour Organization (ILO), having 185 countries as the member states including Pakistan, is observing World Day Against Child Labour on June 12 this year to “draw attention to the role of social protection in keeping children out of child labour and removing them from it.”
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said children are future of our nation and every parent has the responsibility to save their children from falling into the trap of child labour. “However, it is the responsibility of the state to protect the children and take strong and committed steps to ensure that every child is given adequate chance to education, health, leisure and basic freedoms,” he added. PPP Patron-In-Chief said Peoples Labour Bureau (PLB) has also the responsibility to hold consultations with other stake-holders and formulate recommendations to the government to eliminate Child Labour and devise strategy to deal with this human issue as the largest political party of the country.
He also urged the Sindh government to fully activate its Labour Department to redouble its energies to save the children from poor segments of the society from falling prey to child labour and sustain the campaign until it is completely wiped out.

Roots of Impunity: Pakistan's Endangered Press

Roots of Impunity: Pakistan's Endangered Press from Committee to Protect Journalists on Vimeo.

Zardari, Altaf, Bilawal among others condole Khair Bakhsh Marri’s death

Co-Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and former President Asif Ali Zardari, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Sindh and Balochistan Chief Ministers Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch have expressed their deep grief and sorrow over the sad demise of veteran Baloch politician Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri.
In their condolence messages to the family of Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, they paid rich tributes to the veteran politician for his services for the cause of Balochistan rights. Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri passed away in Karachi today after a protracted illness.
The leaders prayed to Allah Almighty to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage and fortitude to the members of the bereaved family to bear this irreparable loss.

Pakistan’s Latest Crisis

In its increasingly violent effort to destroy the Pakistani state, the Pakistani Taliban have attacked, among other targets, army headquarters in Rawalpindi, a naval base in Karachi, an air base in Kamra and an airport in Peshawar. The brazen assault over the weekend on the international airport in Karachi takes the campaign to a new level, striking at the country’s largest city and one of its most important commercial centers. Though militants and gangs operate freely there, Karachi is home to Pakistan’s central bank, a stock exchange and its hopes for desperately needed economic resurgence.
Will this be the crisis that finally persuades Pakistan’s government and its powerful military to acknowledge the Taliban’s pernicious threat and confront it in a comprehensive way? It should be. The attack is proof that the security is crumbling and the military, the country’s strongest institution, is in danger of losing control.
The siege lasted five hours after 10 gunmen, disguised as security forces and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests, breached checkpoints near an old terminal used mostly for cargo or private flights for senior government officials and business leaders. Paramilitary security guards pinned them down; when the firefight was over, the militants and 19 others were dead.
It was another humiliating security breach for the army and the spy service, and many Pakistanis are rightly wondering why it was not prevented. Only weeks ago, the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be fractured and in disarray. One reason is the military’s long fixation with India. Wedded to an outmoded vision of India as the mortal enemy, the army plays a double-game, taking American aid while supporting and exploiting Taliban groups as a hedge against India and Afghanistan, and ignoring the peril that the militants have come to pose to Pakistan itself. While that attitude has slowly begun to change, the army still has not assigned enough urgency to the Taliban, the real threat.
The result has been a total absence of any sustained, coherent military response to the militants. Torn between fighting and negotiating, the army and government have undertaken episodic military strikes interspersed with peace talks, which invariably fall apart. The collapse of the most recent peace process undertaken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February was followed by a campaign of airstrikes against Taliban strongholds in North Waziristan.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the airport massacre, which a Taliban spokesman said was in retaliation for recent attacks by the government. He said that more such assaults could be expected, meanwhile insisting that the group still wants to revive peace talks.
Which on the face of it seems preposterous — given recent events, one has to assume the militants will stop at nothing until the state is utterly destabilized and they have taken control. Pakistani political and military leaders need to be honest about the militant threat that they and their people are facing, and that time to find a solution is fast running out.

Talking to Pakistan in its language
The Lashkar-e-Taiba has blamed India for the Karachi airport attack, the latest of many signs that it may be preparing the ground for terror strikes. Mr. Modi promised to hit back, but can he?
Few Indians would have been up before dawn that morning after 26/11, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sat around his office, watching the images of Mumbai burning. He may have wondered if the country would be at war before it woke. Intelligence Bureau officers who had been listening-in to the attackers’ conversations with their commanders in Karachi, had told the Prime Minister that there was little doubt of Pakistani involvement. Dr. Singh seemed stirred: “the people of India will not forgive us if we do nothing,” an aide recalls him saying.
He chose, however, to ignore his instincts. In a speech delivered on November 27, even as the bodies of victims were still strewn on the ground, the Prime Minister promised upgraded security forces, and aggressive diplomacy — everything, other than punitive action against the perpetrators.
“Listen up,” wrote Haruki Murakami, “there’s no war to end all wars.” Dr. Singh’s generals told him much the same thing, and he heard them. “
They did nothing,” said the man who has become India’s next Prime Minister, in a campaign speech centred on 26/11, “Indians died and they did — nothing.” “Talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language,” he went on, “because it won’t learn lessons until then.”
Looming threats
Ever since that morning, India’s strategic community has discussed what the country ought to do when the next 26/11 happens. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s intelligence services fear, may have to answer that question sooner than most people expect. The Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) staged its first operation against an Indian target since 26/11 just hours before Mr. Modi took office, attacking India’s mission in Herat. Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed blamed Mr. Modi for this week’s attacks on Karachi — and demanded vengeance.
From past evidence, we know these threats aren’t idle. “The only language India understands is that of force,” a press release issued by the Lashkar’s parent organisation, Jamaat-ud-Dawa recorded Mr. Saeed as saying before 26/11, “and that is the language it must be talked to in.”
From files he will have read since taking office, Mr. Modi will have learned why Dr. Singh did nothing. Indian combat jets could hit training camps across the Line of Control (LoC), Air Chief Marshal Fali Major said at a November 29 meeting called for by the Prime Minister, but precise coordinates and adequate imaging weren’t available. Later, General Deepak Kapoor, the chief of Army staff, told Dr. Singh he couldn’t promise special forces’ strikes would be successful either.
No one could guarantee missile strikes wouldn’t escalate into war, or even a nuclear exchange — and no one could guarantee war would compel Pakistan’s military to change course.
Five hard options
Mr. Modi’s advisers know five responses are on the table — but all of them involve great risks. The first is to keep doing nothing. The threat of a major India-Pakistan crisis after 26/11 led the United States to mount intense pressure on Pakistan. In the years since, the LeT hasn’t mounted a single major operation on Indian soil. Its affiliate, the Indian Mujahideen, has had restraint thrust upon it by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate.
Inaction, though, only succeeds if someone else does the hard work. In 2008, fearing its own war in Afghanistan would be undermined by an India-Pakistan war, the U.S. stepped in. Now, as it prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, the country’s appetite for playing global policeman is diminishing. Doing nothing could thus invite even more punishment.
Like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr. Modi’s second choice might be coercion. In 2001, after terrorists attacked Parliament, India mobilised troops. Pakistan was forced to respond — but its smaller economy suffered disproportionately. The stratagem is time-tested. In 1953, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru mobilised troops in Punjab to deter a Pakistani attack into Kashmir.
Mr. Vajpayee’s strategy worked, forcing Pakistan to dramatically scale down the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. It only worked, though, because the U.S. played mediator — much like after 26/11 — and it was hideously expensive, in money and lives.
The third choice is to do what Dr. Singh couldn’t: limited strikes on jihadist training camps across the LoC, using air power or missiles. In the five years since 26/11, India’s ability to conduct such strikes has been significantly enhanced. However, the tactic hasn’t had great success. In August 1998, the United States fired missiles into Afghanistan, seeking to avenge bombings which killed 224 people. In all, 75 missiles, each priced at $1.5 million, killed six minor jihadists. Moreover, Pakistan could hit back, targeting Indian industrial infrastructure, which is much more expensive than tent-and-donkey cart training camps.
Fourth, the Prime Minister could tell Indian troops to target the Pakistan Army along the LoC, using artillery and infantry — a task aided by the fact that its defences along stretches of the Neelam valley have been degraded by troops having to be moved to fight the Tehreek-e-Taliban elsewhere. The fighting that will follow though will make it more difficult to secure the LoC against jihadist infiltration — leading to heightened violence in Kashmir.
Mr. Modi could, finally, authorise the use of covert means, like bomb-for-bomb strikes or targeted assassination of jihadist leaders. Mr. Modi’s intelligence services, though, don’t have this arrow in their quiver — and it will be a while, most experts say, before they can acquire it. Every sane person should hope Mr. Modi will never be required to exercise any of his military options — but thinking through war is just as important as talking peace.
The Army-Islamist axis
Less than a week after the 26/11 strikes, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, briefed a small Pakistani group off the record. He described Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah — the architect of the Karachi strike — as a “true patriot.” Earlier, in April 2004, Taliban commander Nek Muhammad Wazir stood next to XI corps commander Syed Safdar Husain, promising that, in a war with India, he would be “Pakistan’s atomic bomb.” The generals weren’t crazy; for Pakistan’s Army, mired in a losing war against the jihadists it once nurtured, hostilities with India offer the sole hope of repairing its relationship with the jihadists.
Pakistani military commanders know their on-off war against jihadists has no hope of glorious victory: their resources are too thin, and many in their own ranks are sympathetic to the enemy. India is the enemy they need to restore their legitimacy as the Praetorian Guard of the national project. In the face of threats from an existential adversary, their enemies would be compelled to fall in line.
It is no coincidence that the Lashkar was authorised to carry out 26/11 just as Gen. Pervez Kayani became army chief, and set about undoing the damage his predecessor had inflicted by taking on the jihadists. Gen. Raheel Sharif, his reluctant offensive in North Waziristan already flailing, will find a crisis to the east to be a relief.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may wish to build a durable relationship with India, but he is no position to defy the generals. He is beholden, moreover, to Islamists who aided his election.
Less than six weeks before 26/11, it is mostly forgotten, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari imagined “Pakistani cement factories being constructed to provide for India’s huge infrastructure needs, Pakistani textile mills meeting Indian demand for blue jeans, Pakistani ports being used to relieve the congestion at Indian ones.” Even as Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Sharif signed the Lahore Declaration in 1999, we now know, Pakistani troops were being trained to push their way across the LoC.
The truth, as Pakistani defence analyst Ayesha Siddiqa has noted, is that Pakistan’s “democratic transition does not mean the army is ready to surrender its control over security and foreign policies.”
New Delhi has long hoped that engaging Pakistan’s democratic leadership will catalyse that transformation. It has absorbed the blows dished out by the Army, hoping things will eventually change. Doing nothing, though, has proved both politically unsustainable and strategically ineffectual.
From Jawaharlal Nehru on, every Indian Prime Minister has faced this impossible challenge: how to punish the Pakistan Army’s sponsorship of terrorism, but ensure victory doesn’t come at a price the country cannot afford. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ripped Pakistan in two, lost her life to the ISI-backed insurgency in Punjab.
Now that the roseate glow of his inaugural has subsided, Mr. Modi needs to listen to his advisers, and think through the prospects — and costs — of war. The future of a subcontinent will depend on the choices he makes.

4 reasons the Pakistani Taliban is winning

On Sunday night, Pakistani security forces waged an hours-long firefight with militants who assaulted the main airport in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. At least 28 people were killed, according to the BBC, including all 10 assailants. Armed with machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers and suicide vests, the attackers infiltrated a part of the airport used both for cargo as well as a terminal for VIP dignitaries. They fought over the course of the night with airport security, police and later Pakistani special forces.
Pakistani authorities claimed that the heroism of their security personnel prevented further carnage and even the destruction of passenger aircraft. But the militants appear undeterred. On Monday, the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attack. A spokesman for the group, also known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told a Pakistani newspaper that the assault was in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike in November that killed Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. "This is just the beginning," the spokesman warned. Here's why the Pakistani Taliban has reason to be confident.
A many-headed hydra
The Pakistani Taliban is in reality an umbrella organization that brought together dozens of militant factions and armed gangs in 2007. It's distinct from the Afghan Taliban, which was more directly the creation of Pakistan's military in the shadow of the Cold War. The Pakistani Taliban rejects Pakistan's constitution, calls for the institution of sharia law in the country and targets institutions of the state as well as civilians, including religious minorities.
What began as a low-level militancy in Pakistan's tribal belt along the porous border with Afghanistan has now metastasized into a sprawling insurgency that has tapped into nationwide networks of criminal syndicates and other terrorist organizations. The Pakistani Taliban's profile in Karachi has grown in recent years, highlighted by a spate of brazen attacks, including the 17-hour siege of a Pakistani naval base near the airport in 2011.
Despite its effectiveness, the Pakistani Taliban operates in a fashion that is "not as hierarchical as one terrorist group may be," says Hassan Abbas, author of the new book "The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier." Pakistan's government, Abbas says, has struggled to adjust to the threat posed by the militants, who have claimed thousands of lives. "The Pakistani Taliban are as dangerous as al-Qaeda once was," he says. "People think they're just Pashtun tribals. But it has become a much more complicated crisis."
Chaos and fear
Although the Pakistani Taliban did not wreak as much havoc in the Karachi airport as it may have intended, the raid can still be framed as a success. Karachi is a global megacity and the hub of much of Pakistan's economic activity. That its main airport — one of the most fortified places in the city — could still be prone to this kind of shocking combat underscores the larger insecurity gripping the country. "They wanted very clearly to create a general sense of terror for ordinary people," Abbas says. "If it can happen in Karachi airport, it can happen anywhere."
That hardly inspires confidence among foreign investors, whom the government in Islamabad is desperate to woo. Pakistani Taliban militants have also targeted tourists, killing 10 foreign trekkers in a raid up in the Himalayas last summer. "The TTP again appears to be at the center of a terrorist pattern that ostensibly aims to hurt the country's economic interests and isolate it internationally," writes Imtiaz Gul, head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.
During Pakistan's election cycle last year, Taliban bombings and death threats made it virtually impossible for candidates from secular or left-of-center parties to campaign in certain parts of the country. The government that came in, led by the conservative three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, entered a complex political landscape and in a controversial move decided to start talks with factions of the Pakistani Taliban.
Crisis in leadership
Part of the problem has been the "incoherence" — as Abbas puts it — of the government's counterterrorism policies. As its armed forces wage a limited counter-insurgency in the tribal areas, it has continued its efforts to dialogue with the Taliban even as the militants wage all sorts of violence across the country. Despite the volumes of Pakistani blood on the Taliban's hands, public opinion isn't firmly in favor of a ruthless crackdown. One of Sharif's main political rivals, the Movement for Justice, led by the charismatic ex-cricketer Imran Khan, made rapprochement with the militants one of the major planks of its platform. Sharif's desire not to lose future votes, rather than perhaps larger strategic considerations, spurred the start of talks.
For a long time, the military, elements of whose notorious intelligence agency, the ISI, had links to al-Qaeda and a host of shadowy terror networks, has been seen as the main problem. But reports suggest that its top brass is sanguine about the scale of the domestic threat. The civilian leadership is walking a trickier line.
The talks with the Pakistani Taliban gave legitimacy to a host of fringe Islamist figures affiliated with the militants, some of whom now appear on mainstream media. Islamabad points to its recent success in pulling a powerful faction within the Taliban away from the larger group. But the attack in Karachi shows that such a schism means little to a constellation of Taliban-linked groups that, despite their differences, will collaborate and share logistical resources in their struggle against the state. "The government has not only been fooled," Abbas says. "It is standing in the middle, looking clueless."
The specter of Afghanistan
While the bodies were still being counted, government spokesmen were already pointing the finger at "outside forces." Numerous Pakistani officials have described the assailants as Uzbek, though little clear evidence confirming their identity has been produced. Fighters from Central Asia, sometimes in the employ of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, have been known to operate in Pakistan's rugged border region for the past decade. That they could be in the ranks of Pakistani Taliban units would not be a surprise.
But, Abbas says, the impulse of Pakistani officialdom to look elsewhere for its enemies is part of "a very well-entrenched problem of denial."
In previous stints in power, Sharif turned a blind eye to powerful terrorist groups operating in his home state of Punjab, most of which were arrayed against archrival India. Pakistan — the ISI, in particular — incubated the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s largely for "strategic depth" in the region, eager to fend off the influence of India, Iran and others in Afghanistan. In a sense, those chickens have come home to roost.
The Pakistani Taliban justifies its airport attack by pointing to Islamabad's collusion with the U.S. war on terror, a complaint that finds a lot of traction among the wider Pakistani public. But there has not been a single U.S. drone strike in Pakistan for at least half a year. Eventually, Pakistan's leadership will have to face a grim reckoning and make tough political decisions. If not, it will have only itself to blame.

Pakistan: Faltering security strategy

TWO days on, the country is still reeling in the aftermath of Sunday night’s assault on Karachi airport. Just as nerves were beginning to stop jangling, as bodies were being lowered into the ground and the costs started being counted, came a second, though less deadly, attack on the Airport Security Force’s Camp # 2, adjacent to the same airport. The attackers in the second incident managed to flee, unlike the ones in the earlier attack who were killed. This, if the state is to be believed, constitutes a great victory — these particular militants’ ability to wreak further havoc has been cut short. The government’s attempt to put a positive spin on the incident notwithstanding, nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact that must be faced is that what happened at the airport on Sunday night constituted a massive failure of the state, an indictment of the country’s security strategy. First, and most obviously, there is little to celebrate in eliminating men who had never expected to walk away alive. Second, more damningly, we had forewarnings. Similar assaults on similarly sensitive installations have taken place before, from the siege laid to the GHQ in Rawalpindi in 2009, to the attack on the PNS Mehran base in Karachi in 2012, to the PAF Minhas airbase at Kamra a year later. In any country where efforts to counter the situation are genuine, these incidents would have been more than enough to prompt a full rethink of the national security strategy in the face of the internal and escalating nature of the threat. Given the scale of the militants’ assault on Pakistan’s state and society over the past decade, our security and intelligence personnel should have been amongst the world’s best-trained, most well prepared and highly efficient. Instead, once again, we find the security and intelligence machinery helpless in the face of an implacable enemy, demonstrating a preposterous level of ineptitude — just as we saw in the context of a range of assaults such as the D.I. Khan jailbreak last year.
Do we need further evidence that an overhaul of the country’s security systems and personnel is urgently needed? Must more dead bodies pile up before we see anyone being galvanised into determined action? There are hard questions, and Pakistanis — as well as the rest of the world that is increasingly becoming convinced that this is a battle the state is not up to fighting — need answers. For instance, it is indeed remarkable that the militants somehow managed to slip into a secure airport area a large number of weapons that would have been impossible for the 10 attackers to carry. But all the federal interior minister — whose job it is to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen — could do was to express his shock and amazement in parliament. Clearly, if Pakistan is going to succeed, far more seriousness of purpose is needed.