Wednesday, June 25, 2014
President Obama shared his own family’s experiences and drew on those of others as part of a resounding call for parental leave, workplace flexibility, and overall improvement in U.S. workplace policies in his remarks at Monday’s White House Summit on Working Families. Obama opened by describing a lunch he had with several summit participants that day at a nearby Chipotle–one of several local field trips he’s made recently, sans motorcade–and said that though each individual hailed from a different geography, industry, and income level, all participants were bound together by “a recognition that work gives us a sense of place and income,” but that “family is also the bedrock of our lives, and we don’t want a society where folks are having to make a choice between those two things.” “Most of our days consist of work, family, and not much else, and those two spheres are constantly interacting with each other,” said Obama, adding that this dynamic holds true even for the President of the United States. The bulk of his remarks focused on paid leave for parents and those who serve as a family member’s caretaker, and workplace flexibility policies that would allow employees to better cope with the demands of parenting and caretaking, provisions which, he said, “are not frills, they are basic needs” that should be “part of our bottom line as a society.” The continued failure of government and employers to address these issues, said, Obama, is holding back families who are “doing everything right” but find themselves unable to get ahead. “These problems are not typically the results of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads,” said Obama, “and they can not just be fixed by working harder or being a better parent. All too often they’re the result of outdated policies and old ways of thinking.” Addressing the gendered nature of some of the conversations surrounding workplace policy, Obama noted that men also face the challenges of parenting and caretaking while holding fulltime employment, but said that their motives are questioned less often than their female counterparts. He shared a conversation of which he had recently been part, in which he was reminded that when a man says he’s leaving the office early to attend a parent/teacher conference, he’s met with remarks of “Oh, isn’t that nice,” while when a woman does the same, coworkers often ask, “Is she committed to the job?” Obama’s remarks were also a plea for the passage of several pieces of work and family-related legislature, including the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and a call for continued support for the Affordable Care Act and raising minimum wage. In a familiar refrain, Obama said that while he couldn’t guarantee Congress would act on any of these issues, he planned to model the workplace values therein with actions at the executive level. “Today I’m going to sign a presidential memorandum,” said Obama, “requiring every federal agency to address flexible work schedules and give employees the right to request flexible work schedules.” He also highlighted companies that have thrived as the result of innovative policies: JetBlue, which allows customer service employees the opportunity to work from home; Google, which increased parental leave to retain female employees who were leaving the company at twice the rate of male; and Cisco, which Obama said saves $275 million each year by allowing employees to telecommute.
In closing, Obama referenced the women who raised him, and the work-lives he envisioned for his daughters. “I want them to be able to have families, and I want them to be able to have careers, and I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them,” said Obama. “I want a society that supports that.”
By David Millward
Unanimous ruling by Supreme Court is victory for campaigners against intrusion
American law enforcement agencies have been banned from searching the contents of mobile phones without a warrant. In what will be seen as a landmark decision the court has upheld the privacy of mobile phone owners – around 90 per cent of the US population. It is estimated that this will have an impact on 12 million people who are arrested in the US every year.
Previously the court had ruled that the police did not require a warrant to demand suspects empty their pockets. But according to the latest decision, this exemption does not apply to mobiles.
In his judgment, Chief Justice John Roberts said mobile phones were central to the everyday life of Americans. He added they were: “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Harking back to the American War of Independence, he said that the rebels had fought against the general warrants enforced by the Crown which allowed unrestricted searches of citizens’ property. He added: “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand.does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the founders fought.” Mobile phones, he said, provided a digital record of all aspects of Americans’ lives. However he accepted that privacy came at a cost with mobile phones also playing a key role in coordinating crime. The case came before the Supreme Court following two appeals. In one case video and photographs found on the phone of a man who had been stopped for driving on a suspended licence were used to convict him of murder. In the other material on the phone of a man arrested for dealing crack cocaine led to a search of his home where police found ammunition, more cocaine, a gun and marijuana.
The current chaos in Iraq is tragic in almost every way. In retrospect, it is easy to conclude Iraq was not nearly ready enough to assume control of its own security situation when the United States made the decision to withdraw forces in December 2011. The wisdom of that decision will long be debated, but having made it, the United States is now understandably reluctant to undo it. Even as the Obama administration sorts through a galaxy of unattractive options, none of which is guaranteed to provide stability, it would be well-advised not to overlook one of the biggest strategic lessons of the Iraqi deterioration. That would be the warning signal it provides for another country headed down the same disturbing path: Afghanistan. While Iraq and Afghanistan are of course vastly different in terms of demographics, history and terrain, the parallels emerging between them in terms of security implications and political process are too important to ignore.
An extremist militant group rising quickly and taking over large swaths of the country. A government focusing more on retribution and vengeance than reconciliation and governance. And a supposedly well-trained army essentially disintegrating in the face of real conflict. All of these characteristics describe the situation in Iraq, but all may be equally descriptive of Afghanistan in only a few short years. Similar to Iraq, Afghanistan has an ethnic, well-organized and well-funded insurgent group poised to retake significant amounts of territory once U.S. troops leave. There can be no doubt that the Taliban, having seized power once before in Kabul, is only biding its time until it can do so again. Much like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban takes advantage of the limits of federal influence and governs by fear and aggression. It is only a matter of time before the Taliban, newly emboldened by the recent prisoner swap that freed five militants, takes control of southern Afghanistan and challenges Kabul's authority. Compounding this situation is the shaky and corrupted political process under way, which makes Iraq look like a well-functioning democracy. In a variation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's sectarian tendencies, outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai has done little to unite Afghanistan's many tribal factions during his 12 years in office, instead often fomenting discontent. While both of the leading presidential candidates have pledged to focus on unity, there is little reason to believe that either will make it a priority. Ominously, one candidate has already boycotted the electoral process before the results of the June 14 run-off election even being announced. As a result, Afghanistan could become even more politically divided than Iraq is today. Perhaps the biggest wild card in Afghanistan's future is the Afghan National Army. Much like the Iraqi army, the Afghan army will be charged with maintaining the security situation once the United States departs. And much like the Iraqis, the Afghans have been trained by the United States. As we heard in Iraq, the training of the Afghans will be sufficient preparation to defend the country from any threats that may arise. While the Afghans may be courageous soldiers, there have been numerous reports of lackluster performances. So much so that their abilities in actual combat situations remain uncertain. In addition, Afghanistan has never had a real national fighting force, meaning there are few examples and fewer role models for current soldiers to emulate. As a national army, the Afghans came from a much less mature and much less professional starting point than the Iraqis. As illustrated in Iraq, without the right training and leadership, soldiers may not be willing to defend against insurgents, despite an enormous numerical advantage. Given all this, it is not difficult to look at the situation in Iraq and see Afghanistan's future. Indeed, with a resurgent Taliban, political instability in Kabul, an untested army and if the United States continues with its plan to drawdown forces at the end of 2014, especially without an agreement in place for the retention of American security personnel, a future similar to Iraq's may be inevitable.
A UN envoy for Iraq said here Monday that despite sectarian violence in the country continuing, "the situation is grave, but not unsolvable." While the humanitarian situation "remains dire," Nickolay Mladenov, the special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Iraq, told reporters here via teleconference from Baghdad, "Iraq can be saved and the country can be brought together." He placed his hopes on the seating July 1 of a new parliament, following balloting on April 3. He expected an election after July 1 by the Iraqi parliament of a speaker and formation of a government. "These are the constitutionally mandated steps within the Iraqi political process," Mladenov said. "So we hope that they will unfold quickly after July 1." He said the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), which he heads, has been "working intensely with the representatives all political parties" to that end, adding that the representatives are aware that "It is not business as usual, anymore." "There is general agreement across the board that the next government includes substantial representatives of the full Iraqi community and it must be led by a team of people that are able to quickly address the challenges .. as well as bring the various communities together," Mladenov said. "What the composition of that government will be it is up to the democratically elected representatives of this country to decide." The present government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been criticized for being too pro-Shiite, spawning support for the pro-Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which recently swept across vast swaths of Iraq and threatened the capital of Baghdad. However, Mladenov said while he did not expect ISIS to attack the capital, "the view is they are trying to isolate Baghdad." He said there was plenty of military in the city to defend it.
Sixty-six percent of Russian citizens want Vladimir Putin to continue at his presidential post for the next term, the latest opinion poll shows. The respondents especially praised his efforts in foreign policy and in strengthening Russian military. According to the Public Opinion foundation, two thirds of Russians also claimed that Putin’s policies were fully in line with their own interests. The number rose from 36 percent in September 2012 to 66 percent in June this year. Even more Russians agreed that Putin’s work as a president matched the expectations they experienced during the elections two years ago. In addition, 55 percent of those polled hold that during the current term Putin was fulfilling his duties better than during his first and second terms in office. When asked which of Putin’s steps they approved of most, 29 percent of Russian public nominated the accession of Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation, 7 percent mentioned the efforts for political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, 5 percent said it was the successful hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and four percent answered that it was Russian foreign policy in general. Most respondents also pointed out the President’s successes in strengthening the country’s military potential and in defending Russia’s positions in the international politics. In mid-March this year another influential polling agency – the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, VCIOM, released a report claiming that Vladimir Putin’s rating has risen 15 percent since the beginning of 2014 and stands at 75.7 percent – the highest in the last five years. According to VCIOM, most people connected their approval of the president with his good handling of the Ukrainian political crisis and the help extended to the people of Crimea.
By Richard Weitz
Worried about the NATO withdrawal, Russia has adopted several new policies for Central Asia.
Few will have been watching the troubled Afghan presidential elections with greater attention than Russia. Although Moscow has not shown a strong preference for either candidate, and has managed to develop a good working relationship with outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian policymakers have been seeing nightmares in Kabul for years. Now the Iraq breakdown, coming after the years of civil strife in Syria, has deepened Russian anxieties about social and economic chaos along its vulnerable southern front at a time when relations with NATO remain strained over Ukraine. Despite its public complaints, Russians have viewed the Obama administration’s initial surge into Afghanistan and its subsequent military drawdown with unease. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin acquiesced to the U.S. and then NATO interventions in Afghanistan, he did so reluctantly, with a fearful eye on potential threats to Russia’s regional influence. An initial Russian fear was that the United States planned to established permanent bases in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to dilute Moscow’s primacy in a region of vital Russian interest. Moscow likely encouraged Uzbekistan to order the Pentagon to stop using its territory in 2005. Putin later claimed that the United States had provoked Tashkent by acting as “a bull in a China shop.” For years, Russian representatives encouraged the Kyrgyz government to end the Pentagon’s lease at its other major base in Central Asia, at Manas International Airport near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. More recently, Russian leaders have expressed growing anxiety that NATO was withdrawing prematurely from the region, dumping a massive regional security vacuum into Moscow’s unwelcoming arms. Russia still exercises military primacy in Central Asia but is threatened already by religious militants in the North Caucasus and other Russian regions with large Muslim populations. Russian officials expressed dissatisfaction with NATO’s decision to remove most if not all its forces from Afghanistan while the Taliban insurgency remains severe, believing the withdrawal would contribute to terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and instability throughout Central Asia. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov has said that ISAF “has been too hasty about making the final decision to pull out.” In response to the sharp drawdown in the Western military presence in Afghanistan and neighboring countries in recent years, and the expectation that most if not all NATO forces will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, Moscow has adopted several policies as its Afghan endgame. First, Russia has been increasing its economic and military ties with Afghanistan, such as by helping reconstruct or re-launch some projects that were started during the Soviet military occupation. As the withdrawal has proceeded over the past two years, Russians have resumed large-scale investments in Afghanistan by modernizing factories, rebuilding cultural centers, and restoring other vestiges of the Soviet occupation era. With their memories of that painful period increasingly overshadowed by more recent tragedies, Afghans have generally welcomed the assistance. Meanwhile, the Russians have stressed their support for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and joined Karzai and other Afghan officials in denouncing NATO whenever the alliance was seen as violating it. For example, although persistently skeptical of the inter-Afghan peace talks, Russian diplomats backed an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, in which Western governments would play a subordinate supporting role. Russians’ growing influence in Kabul has already brought dividends; Karzai’s government was one of the few to support Moscow’s Crimean annexation. Second, the Russian armed forces have been expanding their bases in Central Asia and been providing Central Asian militaries with subsidized training and equipment. In September 2013, Russia negotiated a 15-year extension of the lease to its base at Kant in Kyrgyzstan to 2032. The Russian military has announced plans to approximately double the number of planes based there, which in early 2014 had at least two Mi-8 transport helicopters and eight Su-25 ground-attack planes. The Russian military also retains a seismic station in southern Kyrgyzstan and a communications post and a torpedo testing range in northern part of the country. Russia is also providing Kyrgyzstan with a billion-dollar military aid package and is modernizing the equipment at its military bases in Tajikistan and providing that country’s armed forces with substantial aid to fortify its border with Afghanistan. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu explained that “In the atmosphere when the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan is planned for 2014, we must do everything to assure maximum security of our allies, our partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.” Russia sells weapons to Kazakhstan, which has more wealth than Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, at subsidized prices. Many Central Asian leaders have joined Russian officials in expressing alarm that the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan could increase the threat from Islamist militants to their own countries. With the exception of Uzbekistan, whose leaders do not welcome a Russian military presence in their region and have sought to balance defense ties with Russia with military exchanges with China and the West, most recently by opening a NATO liaison office in Tashkent, these Central Asian leaders have generally welcomed an increased Russian military presence in their region. Third, Russia has also taken the lead in constructing a regional military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and has worked with China to develop a regional economic and security structure in the form of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Since 2003, the intelligence, law enforcement, and defense agencies of the member governments have jointly conducted annual “Kanal” (“Channel”) operations to intercept drug shipments from Afghanistan through the region’s porous borders to markets in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe. In recent years, observers from Iran, Ukraine, the United States, and several European countries have attended these exercises. The CSTO has also established a working group on Afghanistan and has initiated several programs to strengthen the Afghan government’s law enforcement and counter-narcotics agencies. CSTO officials, strongly supported by the Russian government, have tried to establish formal cooperative programs with NATO to manage regional security issues, especially narcoterrorism. Thus far, NATO officials have been reluctant to agree to formalize relations with the CSTO as an institution. The NATO staff and member governments generally perceive the CSTO as a Moscow-dominated institution and worry about reinforcing Russian preeminence in Central Asia by strengthening the CSTO through formal dialogue. They believe that Russian policymakers are trying to establish formal ties between the two organizations to enhance the CSTO’s international legitimacy by equating it with a more powerful regional security organization. As a result, NATO officials have continued to deal with the member governments directly rather than through the CSTO. Moscow backed the SCO’s decision to grant Afghanistan “observer” status at its June 2012 summit in Beijing. In May 2013, Putin called on the SCO to assume a greater role in defending its members from the extremist violence emanating from Afghanistan. At their summit meeting in Bishkek later that year, the SCO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to stabilize Afghanistan. Karzai said that continued support from SCO member states for his country would be vital as NATO downsizes its military presence in Afghanistan. In terms of concrete action, however, the SCO governments merely decided to convene another international conference on Afghanistan, in Bishkek in October 2013. Thus far, the SCO’s activities regarding Afghanistan have been limited essentially to issuing joint declarations and sharing information about drug trafficking and Afghan terrorists. Not only are its collective security institutions weak, but the members are divided in how they aim to manage Afghanistan, which presents a problem given the organization’s consensus decision-making principle. Fourth, Russia is working with the other great powers to manage Afghan-related events. This policy has yielded mixed results. Relations with the United States and NATO remain strained over Ukraine and other issues. Although NATO leaders have tried to compartmentalize Afghan-related issues, the U.S. regional commanders have indicated that the Pentagon will rely less on Russian logistical help in the future and, due to cost considerations, aim to remove most U.S. equipment from Afghanistan via Pakistan rather than through Russian territory. Despite the Pentagon’s wishes, the U.S. Congress has demanded that the U.S. government stop buying Russian helicopters for the Afghan air force after the current contracts expire. China has resisted efforts by Russia, the West, and the Afghan government to encourage Beijing to provide greater assistance to the Kabul government. China has only recently begun training a few hundred Afghan police officers inside China, and has declined U.S. and Afghan requests to allow ISAF members to send supplies to their military contingents in Afghanistan through its territory. Beijing’s stance is partly due to a desire to not antagonize Muslim militants, but it may also reflect Beijing’s calculations that China might be able to work out a deal with the Taliban, in which the insurgents would avoid attacking Chinese workers or assets in Afghanistan, or support anti-Beijing terrorists in Xinjiang or elsewhere, in return for revenue from these projects as well as Beijing’s tacit acceptance of any Taliban-led regime in Kabul. Like Western governments, Russia has been encouraging China to provide economic and other help to Afghanistan, but the growing Chinese investment in the country that occurred a few years ago has since subsided as Beijing, like everyone else, has balanced exploiting Afghanistan’s great economic potential with the country’s persistent security dangers. India has proven a more receptive partner to Moscow’s overtures. The two countries recently reached a new arms transfer arrangement that will see India buying weapons from Russia that Moscow will send to the Afghan military. The announced plan is to start with small arms and ammunition, but there have been indications that the parties may soon consider shipping heavier weapons, such as infantry vehicles and helicopters. Russia and India also agreed to share the costs of restoring Afghanistan’s Soviet-built arms industry. The new deal provides benefits to both countries. India can purchase new weapons for Afghanistan rather than draw on its own limited supplies, arrange for Russia to transport the arms directly to Afghanistan, and follow a practice already established by NATO, which has paid Russia to provide helicopters and training to Afghanistan government forces. Meanwhile, Moscow can substitute Indian support for weapons deliveries now that NATO is reducing its purchases due to the Crimea annexation. Russia also benefits from renewing its regional security ties with New Delhi at a time when other countries are shunning Moscow over Ukraine. Yet, the recent Russian decision to resume selling weapons to Pakistan could antagonize New Delhi, which still buys most of its arms from Russia. Russia’s decision to provide Pakistan with Mi-25 helicopter gunships designed to kill insurgents is another manifestation of Moscow’s policy of strengthening the capacity of Afghanistan’s neighbors to fight local militants that could also threaten Russian interests. More broadly, in all these engagement efforts, Moscow has proved unable to overcome divisions among these foreign governments regarding how best to deal with Afghanistan, even among its closest allies. For example, while Russia is trying to beef up its CSTO alliance, Uzbekistan has quit that organization and is promoting a distinct 6+3 plan based on an expanded U.N. role. Meanwhile, China is hedging its bets by preparing to deal with the Taliban through the mediation of its close ally Pakistan. Even though each Central Asian state shares a deep history of political, economic, social, and cultural ties with Kabul (including a multitude of co-ethnics within the nations’ borders), each Central Asian government handles its relationship with Afghanistan primarily bilaterally, and often by pursuing diverging policies. India and Pakistan both treat Afghanistan as an arena in which to compete for regional influence against the other. Iran, which partnered with Russia and India in the 1990s to strengthen the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, has also stood aloof from more recent Russian and other joint foreign initiatives in dealing with Afghanistan. Finally, Russian officials are prudently hedging against a failure of these strategies by developing options to support the re-creation of ethnically based mini-states in northern Afghanistan designed, as in the 1990s, to serve as a buffer between the Taliban, whose strength is in the Pashtun regions of southern Afghanistan, and neighboring Central Asian countries. For example, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has suggested creating “territorial formations” within Afghanistan to bolster CSTO border security. In May 2014, Igor Sergun, director of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, has said that the Russian military estimates the possibility of Afghanistan breaking up into ethnic enclaves backed by foreign powers at 31 percent. Russian officials have responded skeptically to President Barack Obama’s decision, announced last month, to request that almost 10,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and 5,000 the following year, with perhaps half as many NATO troops accompanying them. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, has complained that the new withdrawal timetable was schedule- rather than conditions-based, with U.S. forces ending their Afghan mission in 2015 regardless of the situation on the ground. Yet Russian officials have called on Afghan politicians to renew their Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States so that American troops can remain in Afghanistan after this year. At the May 23- 24 Moscow International Security Conference, the Russian speakers criticized the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan but also reluctantly wanted the Western military campaign against the Taliban to continue beyond 2014. Perhaps the Kremlin is waiting to see whether the next Afghan president will sign the BSA, and whether the Obama administration will actually carry through on its troop proposal or, as with Syria and Iran, dilute it in the face of Afghan or congressional resistance.
By Sheikh Qayoom Would the Pakistani Army’s Zab-e-Azb operations against Islamist militants in North Waziristan impact the security situation in India’s Jammu and Kashmir? Most locals believe it could, though others say it is far-fetched. As reports of jehadi fighters getting killed in targeted operations by the Pakistani Army pour in, locals wonder whether such fighters would head for “safer havens” once Pakistan and its tribal areas become “too hot for them”. “There is no armed militant group in Jammu and Kashmir that does not have a dominant component of foreign fighters now. In fact, it is these foreign fighters who call the shots in the militant groups in the state,” a top intelligence officer told IANS, adding that not more than 30 such hardened foreign fighters are at present on the radar of the security forces. “There is no doubt that the Pakistani army can fight the jehadis very well. In fact, they are the ones who created them,” a senior military officer told IANS on condition of anonymity. Apprehensions about jehadis trying to find a foothold in Kashmir gained credence when Guardian.com recently carried a story about the Al Qaeda asking Kashmiris to join the pan-Islamist jehad. Most separatist leaders here allay fears that Islamic warriors like the Al Qaeda and the Taliban would head for Kashmir. “Ours is not essentially a religious struggle. It is about the political aspirations of a people who have been denied their legitimate rights. “Yes, we are Muslims, but so are the people of Palestine. Does anyone say theirs is a religious struggle,” a senior separatist leader asked while speaking to IANS. Having been through the worst violence for the last 23 years, the common Kashmiri believes in political solutions to political issues. “Why should anyone come and fight my struggle if I have a genuine cause? Militancy has not led us anywhere although I cannot blame the youths who joined the militant ranks. They did so when all doors of peaceful assertions of their rights were closed on them”, Abdul Gani, 54, a resident of Srinagar’s old quarters, told IANS. Many locals believe the jehadi mindset cannot be fought with guns and grenades; the world needs to ideologically address the breeding ground of such a mindset. “It is a mindset and, howsoever mighty an army might be, one cannot fight a mindset. It is, therefore, imperative that this mindset is fought at an ideological level. “Why should we lose sleep because things are happening elsewhere over which we have no control? We lose sleep here because ours has become a fertile ground for violence due to political uncertainty”, Gowhar, 52, a local businessman here, told IANS. Whether one likes it or not, the Kashmiri’s concern about developments in North Waziristan, as also in Afghanistan and Iraq, is for real. People here know what turmoil and bloodshed means; they have already paid a heavy price.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leaders and workers donated around 28,300 blood bags in three-day blood donation campaign held to mark Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s 61st birthday anniversary, said Focal Person of Blood Donation Campaign Dr Sabir Memon. To mark the 61st birthday of the slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, blood camps were set up across Sindh province by the party from 21 to 23 June 2014. The camps were also organized at major hospitals of Karachi, the Peoples Secretariat and other places, where party members donated blood for needy patients. Dr Sabir Memon said Mirpurkhas district took lead from all other districts of province in blood donation campaign. He informed 8,834 blood bags collected on first day of drive, 8,272 on second and 6,235 on third day, while Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority and blood banks also contributed 4,959 blood bags during the drive. The blood would be donated to Thalassaemia, poor patients and soldiers fighting war against terrorists.
During the operation ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, at least 15 terrorists were killed as Pakistan jet fighters bombed and destroyed 6 hideouts in Khyber Agency, Aaj News reported on Tuesday. According to the reports, the security forces with the help of jet fighter pounded suspected hideouts of the terrorists at Raj Gull area of Tehsil Jamrud on Tuesday morning that killed 15 terrorists by destroying 6 hideouts during the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb operation. On the other hand, military continued aerial surveillance, vigorous patrolling and cordon around area in North Waziristan where nearly half a million people have left their houses.
Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has constituted a relief committee for the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to be headed by leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah. The committee will look after the needs of the IDPs and provide all possible help to them including their rehabilitation. Its members are: Khanzada Khan, president of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PPP (focal person of the committee from KP); Manzoor Wattoo, president of the Punjab PPP, Sadiq Umrani, president of the Balochistan PPP; Zamurd Khan, ex-MNA (focal person of the committee from Punjab); Sindh Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Sikandar Mandharo, Senator Usman Saifullah Khan, Senator Rubina Khalid and Nawazish Pirzada (president of the PYO, south Punjab). A notification in this regard was issued on Tuesday by Hasham Riaz Sheikh, chief of the staff to the PPP chairman. Mr Zardari-Bhutto advised Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah to support the committee in ensuring best possible relief and rehabilitation to the IDPs.Meanwhile, Mr Bhutto-Zardari after consultation with senior party leaders announced that all senators and lawmakers of the PPP would donate one-month salary for the IDPs. He requested all party office-bearers and workers to assist IDPs. “The IDPs are our heroes who are undergoing untold sufferings and miseries in the nation’s drive against militants and they must not be left alone in their hour of need,” he said, asking other political parties to join hands for the stability and protection of country.
Both government and media should focus on their plight
Such is the electronic media’ fascination with the sensational that Tahirul Qadri gets more prime time coverage than the IDPs of North Waziristan. The people of the Agency are being required to pay for the sins of the Musharraf establishment which allowed militants to set up strongholds in the area. Subsequently the Agency became a special target for drone attacks. The tribesmen are making a great sacrifice by leaving their homes to help the troops rid the area of the terrorists who have been conducting attacks all over the country. Unlike the Swat IDPs in 2008, who elicited far greater public sympathy due to TV coverage, the electronic media’s neglect of the North Waziristan IDPs has led to public apathy towards the latter’s plight. The way these IDPs are being treated is not conducive to creating goodwill. To start with, the administration failed to provide them transport which was promised at the initiation of the aerial strikes. At the end of the three-day long shoot-at-sight curfew, the entire non-combatant population left their towns and villages in panic for fear of starvation. Some could not even take their belongings with them. Those who could afford to hire private transport, had to pay extraordinarily inflated fares. Those who couldn’t had to walk for 60 plus kilometres on foot. Rents in Bannu have doubled as everyone is out to make a fast buck. Not all IDPs have relatives in Pakistan to provide them shelter. Sindh and Balochistan have expressed unwillingness to host the new IDPs. With temperatures sometimes touching 47 degrees, many have been forced to seek shelter in camps which lack electricity and running water. The least one expects is that the IDPs are treated with respect and their needs looked after in the camps. The recurrent reports of mismanagement leading to violent protests by the IDPs, need, therefore, to be looked into. To keep the militants permanently out of NW, there is a need to win the hearts and minds of the IDPs.
Tahirul Qadri’s return to Pakistan on Monday was an exercise in paradox. The most underwhelming political figure in the country has been turned into a genuine force by a government seemingly convinced that he poses a genuine threat to their rule. By reacting as they have they have unwittingly turned him into precisely the force they were afraid of confronting. Even today, in the wake of his controversial and very public landing in Lahore, Dr Qadri does not pose a political threat to the PML-N within the current democratic framework, which has led many to wonder if he poses a threat to the democratic framework itself and consequently to the ruling party. However it appears that the greatest threat to the democratic government’s legitimacy is its own short-sighted and tactically imbecilic decisions. Tracing the sequence of events since last Tuesday’s massacre in Lahore, it seems that the PML-N is looking to commit political suicide. First there was the incident in Model Town itself, which began when police forcibly tried to remove some innocuous barriers from outside the Minhajul Quran office and then violently turned on protestors who were trying to stop them, killing 11 and injuring more than 80. Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif insisted he knew nothing about the lead-up to the incident and reluctantly removed Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah from his post. But instead of firing Sanaullah with a sharp reprimand, he focused on his friendship with the minister and highlighted their close relationship, effectively taking the heat off Sanaullah and bringing it onto himself. His fortunes are tied closely to his brother the Prime Minister (PM), and when calls for the CM’s resignation began, the PM should have had the perspicacity to recognise that his own standing would be affected if he did not cut his errant brother loose. Instead the federal government ordered Qadri’s flight diverted from Islamabad to Lahore, ostensibly for security reasons, with reports saying the order came from the PM himself. Diverting international flights is no small matter, and now the PM is as caught in this game as his brother was. Pakistani Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers stormed the barricades in Islamabad and beat up police officers, and Lahore airport saw similar pandemonium when Qadri’s flight finally landed. The airport was closed half the day and dozens of flights were delayed while Qadri refused to disembark without a military escort, making it plain where he believes power in the country lies and who he hopes to woo in order to get it. He finally left at the urging of the Punjab Governor, who met him on the tarmac and escorted him into the city. The military, unsurprisingly, wants nothing to do with this affair since it is busy fighting a battle in the tribal areas, and is probably looking at the antics of the civilian government with apprehension for the future, when this battle is taken to the streets and neighbourhoods of our cities. Mr Qadri’s presence is not only a distraction from the military action upon which so much hinges, it is also dangerously divisive and puts undue pressure on a state mechanism that needs to be geared towards defeating terrorism. Instead, police arrested PAT workers around Punjab, 53 were remanded in Islamabad yesterday, and 1,300 more were booked on terrorism charges. Dr Qadri has received publicity that he could not have dreamt of through the government’s actions, while the government has given ammunition to its detractors. With all the sensational news it is easy to forget where this began, i.e. Lahore last week. The government cannot hope to stem the tide of Tahir-ul-Qadri’s 15 minutes of fame, but it can and must investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. It may be that the PM will have to sacrifice his brother to the demands of justice, but difficult choices are a part of politics. In this case, after making its own bed of thorns by handling Tahir-ul-Qadri so badly, the government must now lie in it.
Fahim Zaman KhanIt has been over a week since Karachi Airport was attacked.
Security, we are told, has been beefed up and authorities plan to 'construct a wall' between the perimeter fence north of the airport and Bhitaiabad, closing down the road connecting Shar-e-Faisal with Pehlwan Goth. More than 100 CCTV cameras will be installed around Jinnah Terminal along with many other benign measures. Police have also detained 20 suspected Afghan nationals near Sohrab Goth for questioning. The attacks may have triggered the long-awaited military operation in North Waziristan. The ISPR now claims that airstrikes have killed many foreign militants including Abu Abdul Rehan Al Maani — Commander of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the alleged mastermind of Karachi attack. Let's take some time out to examine the attack and see if ISPR's claim is satisfying enough to assure the June 8 attacks won't be happening again.
The most sensitive area of any airport is considered to be its restricted ‘Airside’. The perpetrators of June 8 attacks were obviously aware that the essential aviation services at the airport were at least a kilometre inside the fences of the well-lit and heavily fortified ‘Karachi Airport Airside’ with flat earth in between. It is also protected by a large and well-trained airport security force. Any attempt to enter through these fences was sure to encounter massive and lethal resistance. Terrorists attempting to enter through the ‘Fokker Gate’ at PIA Engineering & nearby customs ‘air freight unit’ (ICG gate) indicates that the perpetrators were aware of the fact that both facilities were manned by lightly-armed ASF guards with no picket or barricades on the apron side (the area where aircraft are parked, unloaded or refueled). According to eyewitnesses, as the graveyard shift started, there was a single ASF guard at the Fokker Gate and two working ASF guards at the scanner just inside. Terrorists dressed in ASF uniforms coming from the Pehlwan Goth side easily killed the guard outside and the two ASF men at the scanner. But the fourth guard behind the open grill returned fire and held his ground against the heavily armed militants until he finally lost his life.
Pandemonium, however, alerted the ASF men on the apron. Attackers appeared oblivious of the fact that just outside, PIA wide-body ‘Ispahani Hangar’ was merely 300 meters on the left and the crucial ‘Air Traffic Control Tower’ 200 meters on the right. Militants continued their killing rampage until they were finally killed by the security forces before they came out of PIA Engineering. Meanwhile the second lot of the terrorists struck the ICG gate. The lone, unarmed customs guard ran to save his life along with horrified importers. The two unsuspecting ASF guards at the apron were quickly mowed down but the third guard positioned behind the wooden post fought back. According to eyewitnesses, he too, died fighting till the last moment. That allowed the terrorists to move across into the apron near the aircraft night parking area. As the militants came out, they were forced to retreat back inside the private cargo sheds on the eastern side of the ICG due to overwhelming ASF fire. The indiscriminate firing by the terrorists damaged a Boeing-747, Airbus-310 grounded for maintenance and at least a cargo plane sitting duck at ‘night parking area’. Over two dozen lives were lost, part of a cargo terminal burnt and international confidence lost in the nation’s financial hub being a safe place to travel. If the terrorists had come out and turned right, barely 150 meters away they would have found the ‘Jet fuel’ storage facility. A single hit over those gigantic fuel tanks could have resulted in a cataclysm at the airport. As demonstrated by their poor execution, it was obvious these racing-to-die 'Uzbek' attackers were not the ones who planned the attack. All attackers were killed that night, leaving us with the question, 'who were the planners and where did they go?'
Pandemonium, however, alerted the ASF men on the apron. Attackers appeared oblivious of the fact that just outside, PIA wide-body ‘Ispahani Hangar’ was merely 300 meters on the left and the crucial ‘Air Traffic Control Tower’ 200 meters on the right. Militants continued their killing rampage until they were finally killed by the security forces before they came out of PIA Engineering. Meanwhile the second lot of the terrorists struck the ICG gate. The lone, unarmed customs guard ran to save his life along with horrified importers. The two unsuspecting ASF guards at the apron were quickly mowed down but the third guard positioned behind the wooden post fought back. According to eyewitnesses, he too, died fighting till the last moment. That allowed the terrorists to move across into the apron near the aircraft night parking area. As the militants came out, they were forced to retreat back inside the private cargo sheds on the eastern side of the ICG due to overwhelming ASF fire. The indiscriminate firing by the terrorists damaged a Boeing-747, Airbus-310 grounded for maintenance and at least a cargo plane sitting duck at ‘night parking area’. Over two dozen lives were lost, part of a cargo terminal burnt and international confidence lost in the nation’s financial hub being a safe place to travel. If the terrorists had come out and turned right, barely 150 meters away they would have found the ‘Jet fuel’ storage facility. A single hit over those gigantic fuel tanks could have resulted in a cataclysm at the airport. As demonstrated by their poor execution, it was obvious these racing-to-die 'Uzbek' attackers were not the ones who planned the attack. All attackers were killed that night, leaving us with the question, 'who were the planners and where did they go?'The point I'm trying to make is that there's a need to appreciate that a very powerful nexus exists between militants, certain religious parties and groups in the country, which is probably more lethal than any bunch of ragtag militants in some faraway mountain ranges.
While the beefed up security and other measures announced by the authorities could protect Karachi Airport from future attacks by militants, hoping that such actions could dissuade motivated militants who may still be working inside the airport is flawed thinking.
LOST amidst the hysteria and hyperbole of domestic events are often the real, ugly stories. The case of more than 1,500 Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka and nearly 300 refugees in Sri Lanka recognised by the UNHCR is one such story that is playing out at the moment and underlining the callousness of both the Pakistani and the Sri Lankan governments. A round-up of Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka that began earlier this month has so far netted around some 140 individuals who are now in detention camps in Sri Lanka and may be deported soon. While the official reasons for the detention of the Pakistani asylum seekers are predictably murky, the Sri Lankan media has claimed that it is being done at the request of the Indian government following a meeting between the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which Mr Modi allegedly claimed that militants of Pakistani origin in Sri Lanka were planning terrorist acts inside India. Yet, the UNHCR’s bland details tell a different story: of the Pakistanis detained so far, most are Ahmadis while some Christians and Shia Hazaras are also included. In the ethnic and religious identity of the detained Pakistanis in Sri Lanka perhaps lies the real story of Pakistanis facing persecution at home, escaping to another country only to be rounded up after being caught in the vortex of regional politics. That is a story with tragedy woven into it at every stage. Worse yet is the dismissive reaction of the Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam (“These people obtained asylum in Sri Lanka by badmouthing Pakistan.”) that betrays a callous disregard of Pakistanis who are being doubly failed by the state here: first in not being protected from violence inside Pakistan and then all but being disowned while facing trouble in a third country. Unhappily, the tale of the Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka is part of a wider tale of a state increasingly failing its citizens here. Where once asylum seekers from Pakistan were largely political in nature, the trend has now switched to those fleeing religious and ethnic persecution. Surely, though, the Sri Lankan government must also bear some of the blame for targeting asylum seekers who are protected under international law. If the Sri Lankan media claims are accurate, deporting Pakistanis simply to satisfy a third country’s political leadership are all the more deplorable. While the rule of law and the judicial system in Pakistan itself leave much to be desired, it should surely be underlined that the Sri Lankan government does have obligations under international law that the government there appears to be ignoring altogether. By all means, those breaking the law can and must face the consequences — but are the Ahmadis, Christians and Shia Hazaras really undermining Sri Lankan security and neighbourly relations?
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Mr. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has constituted Party’s Committee for Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs) to be headed by Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah. The Committee will look after the needs and provide all possible help for the relief and rehabilitation of the IDPs. The Committee members include Khanzada Khan, President PPP Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (Focal Person of committee from KPK), Manzoor Wattoo, President PPP Punjab, Sadiq Umrani, President PPP Baluchistan, Zamrud Khan Ex-MNA (Focal Person of the committee from Punjab), Dr. Sikandar Mandharo Sindh Parliamentary affairs Minister, Senator Usman Saifullah Khan, Senator Rubina Khalid, Nawazish Pirzada (President PYO South Punjab). An official notification in this regard was issued today by Hasham Riaz Sheikh, Chief of Staff to PPP Chairman following his approval. Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also advised Prime Minister Azad Jammu & Kashmir Chaudhry Abdul Majeed and Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltitstan Syed Mehdi Shah to support the Committee in ensuring best possible relief and rehabilitation for the IDPs.