Monday, August 25, 2014

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Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.
The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.
A fighter from the Zintan brigade after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a fuel tank in Tripoli earlier this month.Strife in Libya Could Presage Long Civil WarAUG. 24, 2014
The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by old-style Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Arrayed against them and backing the Islamists are the rival states of Turkey and Qatar. American officials said the Egyptians and the Emiratis had teamed up against an Islamist target inside Libya at least once before. In recent months, the officials said, teams of “special forces” operating out of Egypt but possibly composed primarily of Emiratis had also successfully destroyed an Islamist camp near the eastern Libyan city of Derna, an extremist stronghold.
Several officials said in recent days that United States diplomats were fuming about the airstrikes, believing the intervention could further inflame the Libyan conflict as the United Nations and Western powers are seeking to broker a peaceful resolution. Officials said the government of Qatar has already provided weapons and support to the Islamist-aligned forces inside Libya, so the new strikes represent a shift from a battle of proxies to direct involvement. It could also set off an arms race.
“We don’t see this as constructive at all,” said one senior American official. The strikes have also, so far, proved counterproductive. Islamist-aligned militias fighting for control of Tripoli successfully seized its main airport just hours after they were hit with the second round of strikes.
“In every arena — in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Libya, even what happened in Egypt — this regional polarization, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or U.A.E., on one side and Qatar and Turkey on the other, has proved to be a gigantic impediment to international efforts to resolve any of these crisis,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Middle East specialist at the State Department.
Egypt’s role, the American officials said, was to provide bases for the launch of the strikes. The Egyptian president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, and other officials have issued vigorous-sounding but carefully worded public statements denying any direct action by Egyptian forces in Libya.
“There are no Egyptian aircraft or forces in Libya, and no Egyptian aircraft participated in military action inside Libya,” Mr. Sisi said on Sunday, the state news agency reported.
In private, the officials said, the Egyptian denials had been more sweeping.
The officials said the U.A.E. — which boasts one of the most effective air forces in the Arab world, thanks to American equipment and training — provided the pilots, warplanes and aerial refueling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt. It was unclear if the planes or munitions were American-made.
The U.A.E. has not commented directly on the strikes but came close to denying a role. On Monday, an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, calling any claims about an Emirati role in the attacks “a diversion” from the Libyans’ desire for “stability” and rejection of the Islamists. The allegations, he said, came from a group that “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives” and “the people discovered its lies and failures.”
The U.A.E. was once considered a sidekick to Saudi Arabia, a regional heavyweight and the dominant power among the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The Saudi rulers, who draw their own legitimacy from a puritanical understanding of Islam, have long feared the threat of other religious political movements, especially the well-organized and widespread Muslim Brotherhood.
But Western diplomats in the region say the U.A.E. is now far more assertive and aggressive than even the Saudis about the need to eradicate Islamist movements around the region, perhaps because the Emirati rulers perceive a greater domestic threat. The issue has caused a rare schism among the Arab monarchies of the gulf because Qatar has taken the opposite tack. In contrast to its neighbors, it has welcomed Islamist expatriates to its capital, Doha, and supported their factions around the region, including in Libya.
During the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya three years ago, Qatar and the U.A.E. both played active roles, but each favored different clients among the rebels. While Qatar backed certain Islamists, the U.A.E. favored certain tribal or regional militias, including the militias based in the Western mountain town of Zintan, said Frederic Wehrey, another associate at the Carnegie Institute and a former United States military attaché in Libya.
The “proxy competition” between the two gulf states in Libya, he said, goes back to 2011.
Now it has extended to backing different sides in what threatens to become a civil war between rival coalitions of Libyan cities, tribes and militias. Although the ideological lines are blurry, the U.A.E. has backed its Zintani clients in what they describe as a battle against Islamist extremists. Qatar, its Islamist clients and loosely allied regional or tribal groups from the coastal city of Misurata have squared off from the other side; most insist that their fight has nothing to do with political Islam and seek to prevent an Egyptian-style “counterrevolution.”
The first strikes occurred before dawn a week ago, hitting positions in Tripoli controlled by militias on the side of the Islamists. The bombs blew up a small weapons depot, among other targets, and local authorities said they killed six people.
A second set of airstrikes took place south of Tripoli in the early hours on Saturday. The Islamist-allied militias were posed to capture the airport from Zintani militias allied with the U.A.E. who had controlled it since 2011, and the strikes may have been intended to slow the advance.
Striking again before dawn, jets bombed rocket launchers, military vehicles and a warehouse all controlled by Islamist-allied militia. At least a dozen people were killed, local authorities said. But within hours the Islamist-aligned forces had nonetheless taken the airport.
Responsibility for the airstrikes was initially a mystery. In both cases, anti-Islamist forces based in eastern Libya under a renegade former general, Khalifa Heftir, sought to claim responsibility. But the strikes, at night and from a long distance, were beyond the known capabilities of General Heftir’s forces.
The Islamist-allied militias, allied under the banner Libya Dawn, were quick to suspect Egypt and the U.A.E. But they offered no evidence or details.
American officials said after the first strike that signs pointed to the Emiratis. But some American officials found it hard to believe that the U.A.E. would risk a regional backlash. It was unclear how U.A.E. fighters could reach Tripoli without a base in the region, and Egypt denied any role. On Monday, however, American officials said the second set of strikes over the weekend had provided enough evidence to conclude that the Emirates had carried out the strikes and even supplied the refueling ships necessary for fighters to reach Tripoli from Egypt.
Asked about an earlier version of this report posted on The New York Times website, a State Department spokesman declined to comment. “I’m not in a position to provide any additional information on these strikes,” the spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, told reporters at a State Department briefing.

News Analysis: Foreign policy will be one of Hillary Clinton's hurdles in 2016

By Matthew Rusling
Foreign policy is expected to be a major issue in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and that may spell trouble for Hillary Clinton, as critics will view the likely candidate as tainted by the White House's perceived foreign policy missteps.
As a former secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Clinton spurred controversy for what critics billed as not being forthcoming on the details surrounding the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador.
Moreover, with the administration now coming under fire for putting the threat of the Islamic State -- a radical terror group in Iraq and Syria -- on the backburner until the situation boiled over, Clinton could be viewed as lacking foresight on major foreign policy issues.
"Whoever the Democratic nominee is -- which is likely Hillary -- President Obama's ratings on all these issues (including foreign policy) will be an albatross around the neck of Democratic nominees and their chances of winning the presidency," Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.
The Islamic State has in recent weeks been on the move in Iraq, overrunning vast swaths of territory in northern Iraq as its militants go on a killing spree. While Kurdish fighters backed by U.S. air power have had some successes against the Islamic radicals,they remain unchecked in neighboring Syria.
That poses a major problem for the United States, which aims to keep terrorism in check a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The militants' territorial gains have Washington worried that its ultimate nightmare could come true -- that the group could carve out a haven in Iraq or Syria and use it as a staging ground for attacks against the U.S., much like al- Qaida did in Afghanistan.
The Islamic State's threat is unlikely to disappear overnight, and Clinton's opponents will argue that she, as secretary of state, might have helped stop the militants before they gained traction, had she and the administration kept their eyes on Iraq.
"Foreign policy is going to be one of the big three issues in the 2016 presidential election on both sides of the isle," as many Americans will fret over the resurgence of Middle East terror groups and their ability to target the U.S., O'Connell said.
"That's why we see Hillary taking a very hawkish stance," he added. Indeed, in a move meant to widen the space between herself and a president increasingly billed by critics as having ignored Iraq, Clinton blasted Obama's foreign policy slogan of "Don't do stupid stuff."
"Great nations need organizing principles, and 'Don't do stupid stuff 'is not an organizing principle," she told The Atlantic monthly in an interview published earlier this month.
A Gallup poll published last week found that Obama's approval rating for handling foreign affairs stands at a mere 36 percent, and many Americans perceive the president as not being fully engaged on foreign policy.
"Obama's low poll numbers on foreign policy will lead Hillary Clinton to differentiate herself from the president," Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.
"She will stake out distinctive views on foreign policy and present a more hawkish approach to foreign policy. Based on the experiences of the Bill Clinton presidency, she is likely to be more interventionist and tougher abroad," he said.
While the GOP will go after Clinton on Benghazi, those efforts may fall flat, as most Americans have not been engaged on the issue and find it difficult to keep all the details straight.
"Republicans will continue to go after Mrs. Clinton on Benghazi although there is little new to say on that topic," West said. "It will be hard to blame her for Middle East terrorism since that has been going on for decades in both Republican and Democratic presidencies. She will seek to inoculate herself from criticisms of weakness by talking tough on foreign policy."
Additionally, experts say, foreign policy will not be the only factor determining the elections and the possibility of Clinton clinching the White House is strong.
Many voters under 40 years old will associate the former first lady with the massive 1990s economic expansion and with a time when the U.S. went unchallenged by any significant foreign threat. She will get the support of single woman voters and has in her corner former President Bill Clinton -- one of Washington's most talented campaign fundraisers.
"Foreign policy is important, but rarely decisive, in presidential elections," said Christopher Galdieri, assistant professor at Saint Anselm College.
"Other than perhaps 2004, it's tough to think of a recent election where domestic concerns like jobs and the economy weren't more critical to the outcome than foreign policy was," he told Xinhua.

Is Turkey Hamas' new headquarters?

Pinar Tremblay
On Aug. 20, at the Association of Muslim Scholars conference in Istanbul, senior Hamas official Salach al-Aruri accepted the long-denied charges that Hamas had kidnapped the three Israeli teenagers on June 12. Their bodies were found at the end of June. From the very beginning, Israel said that the kidnapping and murders were carried out by Hamas.
All along, Hamas has denied its involvement vehemently. Al-Monitor’s Palestine Pulse reported that many Palestinians believe Israelis “orchestrated the kidnapping and murders” to justify an attack on the Gaza Strip. The same conspiracy theory was widely supported in Turkey, too. It is safe to assume that the majority of Turks do not believe the news of Aruri’s acceptance of involvement despite the video recording. Most Turkish pundits are convinced Hamas had no direct involvement, and that the kidnapping and murders of the three teenagers was nothing but an Israeli conspiracy.
However, speaking from Istanbul, Aruri asserted that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades' mujahedeen carried out the kidnapping to show solidarity with Palestinians on hunger strike in Israeli prisons. In an interview with Yahoo News on Aug. 22, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal did not deny Aruri’s contention, and only emphasized that it was carried out without the knowledge of the political wing. Fars News Agency promptly denied the news about Aruri’s revelations as false.
Given all this, why does Turkey, a NATO member country, host Hamas operatives, have high-level meetings with them and support their rhetoric? Hamas is on the list of terrorist organizations of the United States, the European Union, Canada and several other countries, but not on that of the UN Security Council and it is not considered a terrorist organization in Turkey. Therefore, it is safe to say most, if not all, of Turkey’s Western allies considers Hamas a terror organization.
Max Abrahms, professor of political science at Northeastern University, who specializes in terrorism and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al-Monitor, “Countries do not gain strategically by hosting terrorist groups. My research demonstrates empirically that terrorism is politically counterproductive behavior that erodes popular support for the political cause and results in a backlash from the target country. Hosting terrorist groups is thus a political liability. There is no strategic sense in supporting terrorist groups because the net strategic effect is almost always negative.”
Domestically, not many even ponder upon such questions with mainstream media boasting how Gazans thanked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support. Alptekin Dursunoglu, senior editor of Yakin Dogu Haber, which focuses on news exclusively from the Near East, told Al-Monitor, “I would say even if it may look like Turkey’s heart is with Hamas, its sword is with Abbas. Right now since almost all Palestinian factions appear to act together, I do not see this constituting a risk for Turkey in regard to its relations with the United States.” Dursunoglu explained how difficult it is to convince the Turkish public that Hamas might be planning a plot against the PA; indeed, most in Turkey would not be convinced that Hamas was behind the kidnappings even after a strongly alleged confession from its own senior leader. One of the strongest justifications as to why Turkey is hosting Hamas is because it has payoffs from the majority of the domestic audience. Turkish public opinion strongly sides with the suffering of the Palestinian people, and in the era of the Islamic State (IS) threat on its doorstep, it is not likely to consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
In addition, after multiple attempts at diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, Turkey has accepted that it has failed. It gradually switched its focus to supporting nonstate entities, and thus attempting to make inroads on its neighbors. One diplomat, who is not pro-AKP, told Al-Monitor, “Trying to be a major actor in the Middle East and having felt betrayed multiple times, the Erdogan administration decided we have to be Middle Eastern, which means nonstate entities should be considered as serious actors, partners, enemies and allies. Is there a country in the region that has not taken this road? Is it possible to survive ignoring these nonstate actors?”
This may indeed be the case. Even a few Turkish critics question whether “Turkey is replacing Iran” in being the latest supporter of Hamas. The issue that generates some degree of conflict with rules of engagement is because Turkey is also a member of various Western organizations such as NATO, which was not the case for the former supporters of Hamas, i.e., Syria and Iran. In addition, if the support for Hamas is just a part of “becoming an effective player in the Middle East,” it may be a strategy with mixed blessings as the latest PEW Research Center figures demonstrate that support for Erdogan dropped sharply in four of seven Middle Eastern countries. Interestingly, only in Israel are favorable views of Erdogan on the rise, from 14% to 16% — which is attributed to the Israeli Arabs — while in the Palestinian territories Erdogan’s favorability rating has gone down from 74% to 55%.
Turkey’s support for Hamas — along with Qatar — hampers Israel’s ability to isolate Hamas. The Turkish government has been rather frank and “proud” of its engagement with the organization despite all financial and political repercussions. Whether or not its support for Hamas will provide Turkey more regional influence is yet to be seen, but for now it is fair to assume expansion of Erdogan’s domestic powers would translate into further support for Hamas in the near future.
Read more:

How the Islamic State is turning the Middle East upside down

By Adam Taylor
One remarkable result of the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has been how it seems to be shifting broader conceptions in the Middle East. It sometimes looks like enemies are becoming potential allies – and even old friends are starting to look a little suspicious.
Are we really likely to see any shift in how the United States and Europe views the Middle East? It's hard to say. But things certainly look a little more confused than they did a few years ago. Reassessing our enemies ...
Given the transnational nature of Islamic State, many foreign policy voices are unconvinced that fighting the group only in Iraq will prove effective. On Thursday, for instance, Gen. Martin Dempsey said that Islamic State could not be defeated without addressing “both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border” between Iraq and Syria.
While Dempsey would not predict that additional airstrikes would occur, others were more forceful in their language. "Since they erased the Iraq-Syria border, we should take them up on it," Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, said Wednesday, "and go after them both in Iraq and in Syria. They don't respect the border, but neither should we."
There's an obvious problem with that: By attacking Islamic State in Syria, the U.S. could well end up weakening the Syrian rebels whose plight they once championed, and strengthening Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime. "I am no apologist for the Assad regime," Crocker said. " ... But in terms of our security, ISIS is by far the largest threat."
Some have even suggested working with the Assad regime in a bid to destroy the Islamic State. "Americans are understandably reluctant to help Assad because he is a depraved dictator who responded to the Arab Awakening by turning his military against the Syrian population," Max Abrahms, a Northeastern University professor and terrorist analyst, explains. "But Washington also needs to consider how best to protect the American population."
"Whereas Assad has never posed a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, ISIS is actively scheming to carry out a mass casualty attack against us," Abrahms adds. "From a U.S. national security perspective, ISIS is the more immediate threat."
Such ideas are horrifying to many who remember the brutal methods used by the Assad regime throughout the Syrian Civil War. Aboud Dandachi, a displaced Syrian living in Istanbul, tweeted that Abhrams was a "terrorism expert who loves despots." Iran, another country often at odds with the U.S., is also being reevaluated. Not only is the country's Shia Islamist government clearly opposed to the Islamic State, it holds vital sway among Iraq's Shia political community and provides vital military support to Assad's government and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
Cooperation with Iran, unimaginable in most circumstances, now seems to be on the table. When David Cameron wrote in the Daily Telegraph about Iraq's crises last weekend, for example, he singled out Tehran as a potential ally. "We must work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Turkey against these extremist forces, and perhaps even with Iran, which could choose this moment to engage with the international community against this shared threat," the British prime minister said.
In the United States, the idea of working with Iran has been floating around for months. In June, both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama indicated that they were open to working with Iran to stabilize Iraq and contain the Islamic State. The idea even got limited support from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.).
There are tentative signs that these words could come to fruition. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry said that talks with foreign nations, including Britain, on how to deal with the Islamic State had begun. There were even erroneous reports that Iran had offered to deal with Iraq if sanctions were lifted. While this was eventually found to be a translation error, it seemed remarkably plausible for a moment.
Such ideas are horrifying to many who remember the brutal methods used by the Assad regime throughout the Syrian Civil War. Aboud Dandachi, a displaced Syrian living in Istanbul, tweeted that Abhrams was a "terrorism expert who loves despots."
Iran, another country often at odds with the U.S., is also being reevaluated. Not only is the country's Shia Islamist government clearly opposed to the Islamic State, it holds vital sway among Iraq's Shia political community and provides vital military support to Assad's government and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia.
Cooperation with Iran, unimaginable in most circumstances, now seems to be on the table. When David Cameron wrote in the Daily Telegraph about Iraq's crises last weekend, for example, he singled out Tehran as a potential ally. "We must work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Turkey against these extremist forces, and perhaps even with Iran, which could choose this moment to engage with the international community against this shared threat," the British prime minister said.
In the United States, the idea of working with Iran has been floating around for months. In June, both Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama indicated that they were open to working with Iran to stabilize Iraq and contain the Islamic State. The idea even got limited support from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.).
There are tentative signs that these words could come to fruition. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Iran's foreign ministry said that talks with foreign nations, including Britain, on how to deal with the Islamic State had begun. There were even erroneous reports that Iran had offered to deal with Iraq if sanctions were lifted. While this was eventually found to be a translation error, it seemed remarkably plausible for a moment.
Some of the states that have tacitly supported Islamic State now seem to be turning their back on them. Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, had shown a remarkable tolerance for Islamic State fighters until very recently, allowing fighters to use Turkish towns as way stations for arms and supplies. Turkey is now working with the United States and European governments to crack down on Islamist fighters.
It's also true that there's a conspiracy-theory-like edge to some of the allegations of funding. Hard facts are in short supply, and some of the accusations are countered by other evidence: For example, one document that showed Islamic States' operating budget between 2005-2010 found less than 5 percent came from outside sources, according to a report from McClatchy newspapers.
Even so, Mueller's comments show that the idea that U.S. allies have aided Islamic State is persuasive – and they may be hard to shake. In the future, there may be far more skepticism about their motives, and more concern about how our allies are using their money. It's another example of the remarkably broad impact Islamic State is having on our conceptions of the Middle East.

UN rights chief accuses IS militants of crimes against humanity

'They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation,' UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Monday a ruthless campaign of "ethnic and religious cleansing" by Islamic State militants in Iraq amounted to a crime against humanity.
She said their reign of terror against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims alike involved targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, slavery, sexual abuse, and destruction of holy and cultural sites.
"They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control," Pillay said in a statement.
"Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity," she added.
The militants, who already occupied parts of Syria, launched an offensive in Iraq in June and rapidly seized much of its Sunni heartland.
Previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the militants rebranded themselves as the Islamic State after declaring a "caliphate" in a region straddling the Iraq-Syria border.
"Grave, horrific human rights violations are being committed daily by ISIL and associated armed groups," Pillay said.
Taken into slavery
Minority groups targeted include Christians, Yazidi, Shabaks, Turkomen, Kakae and Sabaeans, she said.
In the Nineveh region of northern Iraq, hundreds of Yazidi were reported killed and some 2,500 kidnapped at the beginning of August.
Those who agreed to convert to Islam were being held under militants' guard. Among those who refused, the men were reportedly executed and the women and children taken into slavery, she said.
In the Sinjar region, the militants killed and abducted hundreds of Yazidi on 15 August, she said, warning that residents of besieged villages remained at serious risk.
At least 13,000 members of the Shia Turkmen community in the Salah al-Din region - among them 10,000 women and children - have been besieged since mid-June, she said.
They face harsh living conditions with severe food and water shortages, and a complete absence of medical care, as fears of a massacre mount.
Pillay also condemned the forced recruitment of boys aged 15 and above, and their reported deployment of such youths as human shields on the front line.
In addition, she said the United Nations had verified reports of a massacre of up to 670 detainees by the militants after they overran a prison in the northern city of Mosul on 10 June. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the militants' onslaught have found a haven in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, whose forces are trying to push back the Islamist fighters.
The United Nations last week launched a massive operation to send desperately needed aid into the region.
Pillay called on local authorities and the international community to "take all necessary measures and spare no effort to protect members of ethnic and religious communities, who are particularly vulnerable, and to secure their return to their places of origin in safety and dignity".

Scottish Politicians Hold Final TV Debate Before Independence Vote

Two of Scotland's leading politicians began a final TV debate on Monday night, just weeks before a historic independence referendum, with secessionists looking for a game-changing performance to catch up in the polls.
As the Sept. 18 vote nears, polls show the campaign to sever Scotland's 307-year union with England and leave the United Kingdom is trailing in support, as it has been from the start.
Several recent polls have shown support for independence climbing a few points, but the most recent “poll of polls,” on Aug. 15, which is based on an average of the last six polls and excludes undecided respondents, found support for a breakaway stands at 43 percent against 57 percent for staying in the UK.
But expectations were riding high for the second of two live TV debates with Alex Salmond, 59, leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), enjoying a reputation as a canny campaigner who has unexpectedly won elections in the past.
“This is our time, our moment. Let us do it now,” Salmond told the audience in an emotional opening statement, urging Scots to vote for full independence.
The TV debate is expected to center on three issues: if and how an independent Scotland could keep the pound, how many barrels of oil are left in the North Sea, and whether Scotland's publicly-funded health service would be better off in a breakaway state.
Salmond unexpectedly failed to dominate the first debate on Aug. 5, in which Alistair Darling, the leader of the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign, put him on the spot over the issue of currency in an independent Scotland.
Fundamental Question
Darling told voters on Monday night that choosing full independence and taking Salmond at his word was too risky a prospect.
“He's asking us to take his word for it. Well, I'm sorry I can't,” said Darling.
Darling criticized Salmond for failing to spell out a “plan B” if the British government refused to formally share the pound in a currency union, the nationalists' preferred option.
All three major U.K.-wide parties have ruled out such a union, but Salmond predicts their position will change if there's a “yes” vote in September .
Bookmaker Ladbrokes has Salmond as the favorite again before Monday's debate, but he is less heavily touted this time.
A spokesman for the pro-independence “Yes Scotland” campaign said the debates were important because they reached a large audience but emphasized the breadth of the movement's grassroots campaign, which he said gave it an edge.
Douglas Alexander, the Labor party's foreign affairs spokesman and an opponent of independence, said the nationalist campaign was in trouble with just weeks to the vote.
“For them to be in a position with just days to go until postal ballots drop where they cannot answer the most fundamental question in relation to what currency Scotland would use ... is genuinely not where they expected to be,” he said.
The debate, being held in an art gallery in Glasgow, was shown live on the BBC.

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Pakistan: Zardari phones Imran,Rashid, Siraj to discuss situation

Former President and co-chairman of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari telephoned PTI chief Imran Khan, AML chief Sheikh Rashid and JI amir Sirajul Haq on Monday.
According to the details, Former President Asif Ali Zardari spoke with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan on the telephone.
Both the leaders discussed the current political situation in the country. They discussed the ongoing sit-ins in Islamabad and demands of the protesters.
Zardari informed them about formation of two committees of the PPP for holding talks with PTI and PAT leadership for resolving the current political crisis.
Imran Khan was informed that Qamar Zaman Kaira led committee of the PPP would negotiate with the PTI leadership.
The former president also telephoned Sheikh Rashid and discussed current political crisis in the country. He asked him to speak with Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to defuse the crisis. Rahseed said he informed the former president that it was now too late.
Earlier, former president Asif Ali Zardari had also telephoned PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.
Meanwhile, opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah would head the committee for talks with Dr Tahirul Qadri. The former president has met numerous political leaders in an effort to defuse the political crisis caused in the country in the backdrop of the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad.
The former president telephoned the political leaders after a meeting of the central executive committee of the PPP.
The former president met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and emphasized his support for the democratic system. Mr. Zardari has categorically stated that a political solution is the only way forward.

Michael Kugelman Interview:- Pakistan anti-govt protests

By Shannon Tiezzi
Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Islamabad to protest against the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with some even demanding his resignation. Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center talks with The Diplomat on why the protests are happening now, who’s behind them, and what the implications are for Pakistan.

Pakistan: Meeting of the CEC, PPPP held at Bilawal House Karachi
A meeting of the CEC, PPPP, was held on 25th August, 2014, at 1:00 pm at Bilawal House, Karachi. The meeting was jointly presided by the Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and the Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari. The meeting asked the following resolutions:
It recalled the relentless struggle and sacrifices of the Pakistani nation for democracy, federalism, provincial autonomy, the constitution 1973, Parliamentary form of government, Independent Judiciary, and rule of law.
It acknowledged the democratic forces and in particular the PPP for being in the vanguard of this arduous and bitter struggle with saw thousands of political workers jailed, tortured, lashed and killed by Pakistan’s ruling elite.
It paid homage to Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for leading from the front and in the process made the supreme sacrifice of their life along with their workers in the fight against military dictatorship, the ruling elite, internal reactionaries, terrorism, poverty and imperialism.
It observed that the present political situation is pregnant with ingredient that can destabilize and dismantle the democratic process.
It called upon all the three parties that is PTI, PAT and PMLN to be patient, exercise restraint and engage in a meaningful result oriented dialogues, because that is the only way of ending an emphases in a democratic system.
It further called upon the three parties to shun egoism, show accommodation and work for a solution within the constitution.
It cautioned that the responsibility of any derailment of the democratic system due to such policies shall be the responsibility of PTI, PAT and PMLN.
It warned any adventurer that a dismantling of a democratic process, any abrasion of the constitution or any deviation from the constitutional path in any form or manifestation shall not be tolerated or allowed.
It further warned that this time a derailment of the democratic system shall not only affect the constitution but the federation will be at stake.
It supported operation Zarb-e-Azb and called upon the nation to support the displaced persons who are victims in the fight to eliminate terrorism which has been corroding Pakistan and paved a way for peace, prosperity and well-being of the people. It prayed for the Shohda to sacrifice their life in the operation and all those innocent Pakistanis who were martyred in terrorist attacks.
It believes that the right to peaceful protests, assemblies and gatherings are the fundamental rights guaranteed by law and constitution. The freedom of expression and diversity of thought is essential for democratic growth and should not be curbed by the state apparatus or other means. It resolved that the allegation of rigged election of 2013 must be addressed and investigated by superior judiciary.
It feels that the electoral reforms are necessary as the May, 2013, general elections were not transparent and same be done within a specified time frame.
It firmly believes that rule of law mandates a measure registration of a FIR in respect of the 17 June, 2014, incident at Model Town Lahore to pave the way for a free, impartial and independent investigation. It believes that the government has failed to re-address the core issues confronting the country and the people continue to suffer load-shedding, sky-rocketing prices, inflation, bad health care facilities, lack of educational facilities, unemployment, massive corruption and in general bad governance.
It reposed full confidence in the leadership of the party.
It pledged to the peoples of Pakistan that through dialogue a party will play a role to defuse the present political situation to save democracy. In case democracy is made a victim of adventurism the party will be the vanguard of the struggle against it.

Pakistan: Shahbaz should resign over Model Town clashes
Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Punjab chapter president Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo said on Sunday Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should resign over the June 17 clashes in Model Town.
An FIR should be registered against those responsible for the violence in Model Town in which 14 people were killed, Wattoo said in a statement.
He praised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan’s struggle for electoral reforms.
“Social development and transparency go side by side,” Wattoo said in a statement. He said, however, that use of unparliamentarily language by Imran Khan in his speeches was unfortunate.
“Khan is a national leader. He should respect other leaders as well. His behaviour these days does not become a national leader.” Wattoo said Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, too, had used foul language in his previous term.
He asked the government to consider PTI’s demand that prime minister should resign for a month so that an independent inquiry could be launched into rigging claims.
“If rigging is not proved, he [Nawaz Sharif] should become prime minister again,” he said. The PPP leader said the stock market had crashed and foreign reserves decreased due to the current political situation. He said rupee had depreciated against the dollar. He said the situation had damaged the country’s image.
“Rigging negates the purpose of the constitution and democracy. It is regrettable that most elections in the country were rigged… the PPP has been a victim.”

Pakistan: ANP stands by Constitution, Parliament: Asfandyar
President Awami National Party says government has accepted all the basic demands of the protesting parties.
President of Awami National Party Asfandyar Wali Khan has said his party stands by Constitution, Parliament and democracy. Addressing a news conference in Peshawar on Monday, he said the government has accepted all the basic demands of the protesting parties except the resignation of the Prime Minister.
He said there is no justification for resignation of PTI from the National Assembly.
He strongly denounced the PTI for announcing the civil disobedience movement saying the protesting parties are setting wrong precedents.

Ahmad Faraz’s death anniversary today-Video Ghazals

The poet was awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz and other numerous national and international awards in recognition of his literary achievements.
Sixth death anniversary of progressive Urdu poet Ahmed Faraz is being observed today (Monday). Faraz was considered one of the greatest modern Urdu poets of the last century.
His real name was Syed Ahmad Shah.
He was awarded Hilal-e-Imtiaz and other numerous national and international awards in recognition of his literary achievements. His poetry has been translated into English, French, Russian and German.
His several ghazals also shot to prominence in films during 1970's including "Ranjish Hi Sahi Dil Hi Dukhanay Ke Liye Aa" and "Ab Ke Hum Bicchray To Shayed Kabhi Khawabon Mein Milen".
Ahmed Faraz died from kidney failure on this day in 2008.

Putin may have been right about Syria all along

Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration that Assad must go
What a difference a year makes. Around this time last year, the West was gearing up for military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was accused of carrying out chemical weapons attacks on his own people. That intervention never came to pass, not least because domestic public opinion in countries such as Britain and the US was opposed to further entanglements in the Middle East.
Now, the US is contemplating extending air strikes on Isis militants operating in Iraq and Syria – fighters belonging to a terrorist organisation that is leading the war against Assad. Isis’s territorial gains in Iraq and the continued repression and slaughter of religious minorities there and in Syria have rightly triggered global condemnation.
The irony of the moment is tragic. But to some, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Many cautioned against the earlier insistence of the Obama administration (as well as other governments) that Assad must go, fearing what would take hold in the vacuum. One of those critics happened to be Russian President Vladimir Putin, who warned against US intervention in Syria in a New York Times op-ed last September.
He wrote: “A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilise the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
Some of the crises Putin catalogued have worsened anyway, but his insistence was couched in a reading of the conflict in Syria that is more cold-blooded than the view initially held by some in Washington. “Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country,” he wrote, suggesting that the nominally secular Assad regime, despite its misdeeds, was a stabilising force preferable to what could possibly replace it.
Putin decried the growing Islamist cadres in the Syrian rebels’ ranks: “Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?” That is a concern publicly shared now by US and European officials, who are alarmed by the considerable presence of European nationals among Isis forces. A British jihadist who spoke with a London accent is believed to have carried out the shocking execution of American journalist James Foley.
That western attention has shifted so dramatically from the murders carried out by the Assad regime to those carried out by the militants fighting it is a sign of the overwhelming complexity of the war, which is collapsing borders and shaking up politics across the Middle East.
Nor is it necessarily vindication for Putin. His solemnizing over the integrity of international systems is hard to take seriously considering his controversial annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory in March and continued obstruction of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in the UN Security Council.
In March 2011, Syrian protesters took to the streets. Their largely peaceful demonstrations were met by violent crackdowns by state security forces. Eventually, the upheaval turned into a full-blown sectarian civil war that has claimed the lives of at least 191,000, according to the UN last week.
Some in Washington argue that if only Obama had started arming and empowering the “moderate” Syrian opposition sooner, the extremist forces now in the news would not wield such influence and power. But it’s hard to imagine any scenario where more direct US involvement in the Syrian conflict, aimed at toppling Assad, would not somehow also play into the hands of the Islamist factions.
But it’s worth considering what Putin’s government insisted not long after the violence began. In his op-ed, he reminded readers that from “the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future”. That “plan for the future”, the Russians insisted, had to involve talks between the government and the opposition, something the opposition rejected totally at the time.

Video: CrossTalk: Russia's Worldview

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Video Report: 'Ukraine's economy on verge of death spiral'

Pakistan Proxy War: No end to LoC firing

Afshan Zebi- Muree Di Mein Seer Karan

Afghanistan's Moment of Truth

Jan Eliasson
On 12 July, the two candidates in Afghanistan's presidential race -- Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani -- agreed to resolve their contest through a complete audit of votes cast in the June run-off elections. The purpose of the audit -- secured with the assistance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry -- is simple and essential: to weed out fraudulent ballots and determine the will of the millions of Afghans who braved Taliban threats to make their voices heard.
The two candidates committed to accept the results of this audit regardless of the outcome. They resolved to form a government of national unity. Both candidates, together with the United Nations, asked President Hamid Karzai to postpone the inauguration of his successor until the audit was complete.
This was a powerful -- and necessary -- act of statesmanship by all three leaders to help ensure the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan's history.
The audit process continues apace in a way that is unprecedented in scale, depth of scrutiny and levels of oversight.
More than 22,000 ballot boxes from across Afghanistan's 34 provinces were transported to Kabul by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United Nations, coordinated with Afghan security forces and accompanied at all times by the Independent Elections Commission (IEC) and representatives of each campaign.
Hundreds of Afghan observers, candidate agents, international observers and UN electoral experts from around the world have been mobilized to scrutinize the ballot boxes.
Professional electoral personnel from the European Union, U.S. non-governmental organizations and the Asian Network for Free Elections have joined Afghan observers as the IEC opened, examined and, if needed, recounted ballot boxes in their presence. Transparency is labour and time-intensive: the audit has taken place in five warehouses, in two shifts, seven days a week.
The candidates and their teams have been involved in every stage of the process. At their request, the United Nations provided expert advice on procedures and criteria for the invalidation of votes.
Joint oversight ensured that candidate inputs and concerns were addressed. As new information came to light, the process was continually refined through special scrutiny, by which each candidate could select up to 3000 ballots for further review and recounting.
The audit is now nearing the finish line with the review of more than 50 percent of the ballots. But its completion will depend on more than technical measures. Ultimately, the process rests on the willingness of the candidates to respect the results.
The future of Afghanistan's political transition -- as well as international support for the Afghan army and police -- hangs in the balance. Economic stability in the war-ravaged and aid-dependent country is at risk. So, too, is the Afghan people's trust in democratic institutions and their political leaders.
Afghanistan's leaders have a responsibility to honor the faith that voters have placed in democracy and to avoid the divisive ethnic strife that has marked so much of its history.
Now is the time to count the ballots, make good on commitments, respect the results, and turn the page to a new era of opportunity and hope that the Afghan people so need and deserve.

Model Town tragedy: Case to be filed against Shahbaz Sharif and Rana Sanaullah

The Joint Investigation Team formed to probe Model Town Tragedy, has prepared its report over the gory incident after the lapse of two months.
The report recommended filing of a case against Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and principal secretary to Punjab CM Tauqeer Shah for their involvement in Model Town killings.
The JIT also suggested forming another JIT after the murder case has been registered against the people mentioned in the JIT report. It should be mentioned here that the sources said the government completed preparations to transfer outside Lahore the police officials, who were involved in June 17 Carnage in Model Town at the residence of Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri and Minhaj-ul-Quran International secretariat.

Video Report: The Debate - Pakistan Politics

Pakistan: Narrative of a counter-revolution

By Daniele Grassi
The concept of revolution generally implies the overthrow of a political-institutional system and the emergence of a new balance of power. The ongoing anti-government protests in Pakistan do not share a similar goal, despite the proclamations of the two leaders of the popular uprising, Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri. On the contrary, despite the likely genuineness of the feelings of some of the protesters, the so-called "revolutionary march" has as its main objective to weaken the government led by Nawaz Sharif, allowing the military to reaffirm their undisputed leadership on the national political scene and to resume full control of the most important dossier of domestic and foreign policy.
The relationship between the current head of the government and the armed forces has always been stormy. Sharif's victory in the May 2013 elections was preceded by a pact signed with the military, with which the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) undertook to keep the action of his government within certain limits, particularly as the management of relations with India and the preservation of the role of the armed forces were concerned. However, the strong popular support which sealed the victory for the PML-N chief has prompted the government to question that covenant, in an attempt to gradually weaken the military, relying on their desire not to directly meddle in the political arena.
The participation of Sharif to the swearing-in ceremony of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was greeted by many observers as an event of historic significance, as it had never occurred until then. However, it was an alarming wake-up call for the military, which has always opposed the hypothesis of a real and sincere rapprochement to the historic enemy of India. The failure to grant New Delhi the status of "most favored nation" derives from the opposition of the armed forces, fearful that any normalization of relations with India would deprive them of one of their main raison d'etre.
The current political crisis has also been determined by the effort made by Nawaz Sharif to damage the image of the armed forces. From the point of view of the military, the current process against Pervez Musharraf is an intolerable act of aggression on the part of civilian authorities. Several times the two sides have seemed close to an agreement, broken by last-minute changes of mind on the part of the government that has until now prevented Musharraf to leave Pakistan.
Further tensions were fueled in April by a case relating to the allegations made by the broadcaster GeoTV to Pakistani intelligence (Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI), in the aftermath of the attack suffered by one of its most popular conductor. On that occasion, Nawaz Sharif tried to take advantage of the criticism of the military to create space for his own government. Without any appreciable result. GeoTV, in fact, later retracted, thus avoiding the definitive removal of the channel from the national programming.
The military operations launched in June against the "Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan" (TTP) had already shown that the attempt to Nawaz Sharif to weaken the armed forces had failed. Among the main points of the PML-N electoral campaign, the dialogue with TTP was prominent. On the contrary, the military had never hidden their opposition to peace talks and had repeatedly asked permission to intervene militarily in border areas with Afghanistan. The terrorist attack carried out on June 8 against the International Airport of Karachi provided the armed forces with a pretext for intervention, despite the persistent opposition of the government.
Therefore, the political crisis that is crippling the capital Islamabad goes far beyond the allegations of fraud made by Imran Khan and the revolutionary proclamations of Tahir ul-Qadri, whose real goal is to gain prominence at a political level. The security forces will be the real beneficiary of the current events. The Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif looks now politically isolated. The weakness of his government has already resulted in the abrupt halt of the normalization process of relations with India. In recent days, the government in New Delhi has cancelled a meeting scheduled for August 25, accusing the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, to have previously consulted a Kashmiri separatist leader (a practice tolerated by the previous Indian governments ). In addition to confirming the hard line adopted by Modi towards Pakistan, it is possible that the Indian leader considers it of no use to talk to a government so weak and has therefore decided to take advantage of this opportunity to gain support at home, compensating for the poor results so far obtained in its efforts to reform the economy and the Indian bureaucracy.
The most likely outcomes of the current political crisis are two: 1) the armed forces will mediate between the government and the leaders of popular protests. In this case, Sharif would remain at the helm of government, albeit in the guise of "leader halved", hostage to the dictates of the military; 2) the parliament is dissolved and early elections are called. In this case, a coalition government supported by the armed forces is likely to be formed, with the participation of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of former President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, as well as other minor parties. The possibility of a military coup appears, at present, unlikely, although escalating protests might make it more concrete.
Regardless of the outcome it will produce, the ongoing political crisis is a blow to the democratic maturation process of Pakistan and is likely to have a significant impact on the regional context, removing all hope about possible changes to the policy conducted so far by Pakistan against India and Afghanistan. In view of the imminent withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and in the light of the difficulties of forming a coalition government between the two main candidates in the last elections in Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the risk of a rapid advance of the Taliban appears, therefore, more and more concrete. This would be a major failure for the new American foreign policy. A real tombstone for any remaining ambition for the Democrats to win the next election.


Pakistan: Youth uneasy about political impasse

By Sadia Qasim Shah
‘Her time aik he tension, Azadi march kamyab hoga kay nahi,’ tweets a teenager.
‘Iss Azadi march ki tension say mainay hospital chalay jana hay… agar aisi he news milti rahen tu…,’ says a message posted another youngster on Twitter.
These tweets are enough to suggest how worried our young people are about the country’s political situation in light of the prolonged anti-government sit-ins in Islamabad.
Mostly at night when things hot up outside parliament house, they turn to private TV channels for updates on the Azadi and Inqilab marches, which had turned into separate sit-ins last Tuesday night.
The TV channels have regularly been covering the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek protests against the Pakistan Muslim-League-Nawaz-led federal government besides giving analysis on ‘what is going to happen next.’
Everyday, they wake up with a worry and urgency to know if something had happened after they went to bed.
The first thing many youths, who are in a fever about the political crisis, do in the morning is that they check their Twitter accounts as they don’t want to miss anything on what they declare the late-night show full of sound and fury.
In the morning, all they see on TV channels is that either PTI leader Imran Khan either strolls on his container outside parliament holding a strawberry milkshake in his hand or he issues threats against the prime minister.
On the contrary, PAT leader Tahirul Qadri doesn’t make any appearance in the morning by and large.
However, his supporters stay put under the sun though exhausted yet full of expectations.
Though the excessive watching of TV is causing headache, anxiety and exhaustion, the people keep themselves tuned in hoping for the best.
Even the regular viewers of Mera Sultan, a drama full of intrigues to get the throne, can’t keep up with the show having many twists and turns.
The PTI and PAT leaders as well as PTI sympathisers take the time out and go to the sit-in venue in the evening. However, there is no respite for the TV viewers as they keep glued to the box out of curiosity about political developments.
There is unrest though one may not be directly participating in sit-ins. Many viewers are agitated as they want end to the ‘drama’ on political scene.
A member of Twitterati summarises the entire Islamabad events as ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ the famous lines of Shakespearian tragic hero, Macbeth.
Though people want early end to the crisis, one can’t be very hopeful in light of the government’s political moves in the past. Even then, it is high time that the government hold meaningful dialogue with PAT and PTI to the relief of sit-in participants, a victim of the inflated egos of the leaders of the two parties.

Pak-India: Fishermen Cross an Imperceptible Line Into Enemy Waters

Fishermen bustled through a ramshackle harbor, a knot of narrow streets and one-room houses on the edge of Karachi, as they prepared to set out to sea for the summer fishing season. But one man was going nowhere. As other fishermen mended their nets in a field, Abdul Shakoor hunched outside his front door, weaving a rug.
After 15 years on the boats, Shakoor said, he was seeking a new profession - a decision his wife, Zahida, heartily endorsed. "He's getting into a boat again over my dead body," she said firmly. "I won't let him go."
Shakoor, 34, returned to Karachi recently after a two-year spell in an Indian jail. He is one of several thousand fishermen, both Pakistani and Indian, who have been arrested at sea in recent years by the opposing countries' navies. The fishermen are accused of crossing a border they cannot see and whose exact location is in dispute.
The quarrel goes back to the 1960s, when Pakistan and India first disagreed on the status of Sir Creek, a channel that separates Sindh province in Pakistan from the Indian state of Gujarat. Since then, the argument has broadened into a wider dispute over how the land borders should extend into the Arabian Sea.
Over the years, in a bid to break the impasse, the two governments have commissioned surveys, held talks and proposed compromises. When Gen. Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan, he claimed to have come close to a settlement during secretive talks with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh. But Musharraf was ousted in 2008, and, like so much between India and Pakistan, Sir Creek remains unresolved.
Today, the two governments cannot even agree on which map to use when discussing their sea borders, lawyers say. And where diplomats have failed, fishermen are paying the price.
Every year, dozens of fishing boats from both countries are detained by the Indian or Pakistani governments on charges of trespassing into enemy waters. Flung into jail, the fishermen often languish there for years, only to be released as part of the spasmodic peace process between the two countries. Currently, 249 Indian fishermen are being held in Pakistani jails, while 131 Pakistanis are being held in India, according to the Pakistani foreign ministry. A spokesman for India's Ministry of External Affairs said that comparable figures were not readily available.
Although treated as criminals, the fishermen are better described as victims of history and geography, unfairly penalized for having to ply their trade on a map without borders, their advocates say.
"The purpose of the arrests is to demonstrate the governments' authority, and to make a symbolic protest that the other state has allowed its fishermen into their water," said Ahmer Bilal Soofi, a Pakistani lawyer who has worked on the Sir Creek dispute. "But it is the fishermen who suffer unnecessarily."
In the fishing village of Ibrahim Hyderi, boats painted in the floral style of Pakistani trucks crowded the harbor one morning recently, their flags fluttering in the breeze. On the "Mamoon," a goat sat quietly amid the commotion. Crew members said they would slaughter the animal once they set sail and smear its blood on the bow. "To ward off the evil eye," explained Shahid, a 16-year-old deckhand.
When it comes to the India border at sea, however, more than luck is required. A half-submerged shipwreck, known locally as "kaajal," is used by Pakistani fishermen as a marker; a handful of well-off boats use GPS devices. Even so, arrests are frequent.
Shakoor said that his boat was near the shipwreck when it was impounded by the Indian navy in 2012. Five other boats were captured that day and escorted to a port in Gujarat, which was then led by Narendra Modi, now the country's prime minister.
The Indian authorities booked the six ship captains, Shakoor said, and threw their crews in prison. There, they met other Pakistanis, one of whom told Shakoor that he had been behind bars for 20 years.
Conditions in the prison were miserable, Shakoor said, and a Pakistani diplomat visited just once during his two-year incarceration. All the time, Shakoor worried about the plight of his family back in Pakistan. "I would think about the terrible condition they must be in," he said.
His worries were well-founded: The wives of other men, still in jail, described a life of penury and struggle.
"My children are crying for clothes and food," said Laila, a mother of nine, whose husband has been in an Indian jail for two years and whose children crowded around her as she spoke. "My tears are running this house."
A fisherman's life used to be less threatening. As recently as 10 years ago, several of them said, Indian boats were able to work freely off Manora Island, a small peninsula just south of Karachi. But in recent years, the fishermen have become pawns in a bigger diplomatic game.
Both governments use them as political leverage at critical points. This May, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan released 151 Indian fishermen before he flew to New Delhi for the inauguration of his Indian counterpart, Modi. India released 353 Pakistani fishermen from 2008 to 2013, according to the Pakistani Interior Ministry, compared with 2,079 releases by Pakistan in the same period. (Pakistan appears to have arrested a greater number of Indian fishermen, which partly explains the discrepancy.)
The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, an advocacy group, says the arrests violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which both Pakistan and India have signed. Soofi, the lawyer, said the legal situation was murky, but noted that the rival governments could protest by issuing formal warnings to the trespassing vessels instead of arresting their crews.
But for Pakistan and India - neighbors who have fought three wars and amassed large nuclear arsenals - the fishermen are just the latest expression of an old fight. "Old enmities are played out through us," said Kamal Shah, a spokesman for the Fisherfolk Forum.
The fishing season was well underway by Independence Day celebrations, which fell in Pakistan on Aug. 14 and in India a day later. But the border is not the only challenge facing the fishermen.
At Ibrahim Hyderi, where fishing crews transferred large blocks of ice onto their boats and stocked up on vegetables for trips of up to a month, fishermen explained the steep odds of their trade. In a good season, a haul of pomfret and prawns might earn each crew member $240. But in a bad season, it could be $20.
Still, Shakoor, weaving his rug, said he yearned to return to the sea.
"He doesn't know anything else," said Shah of the Fisherfolk Forum, sitting with the Shakoor family. "What will he do, become a thief?"
But Shakoor's wife, Zahida, stood firm. "At least he'll still be here," she said, recalling the day he returned from the Indian jail, a bedraggled figure in filthy pants. "I won't even let my son become a fisherman when he grows up."

Balochistan: Panjgur schools losing students due to threats

According to a News report published in Express Tribune schools in Panjgur are losing students due to terror spread by a religious militant organization.
There are 23 private schools and English language centers and each has lost over 100 students, said Major Hussain, Principal of Oasis High School.
In the month of May, an unknown militant organization, Tanzeem-ul-Islam-ul-Furqan threatened to attack the Private girl’s school. On 13th May, the terrorists of the militant organization attacked a van carrying students of a private school. This led to closure of private schools in Panjgur for three months. On 7th August Schools were reopened in Panjgur after assurances of security by provincial government.
After reopening of schools, the attendance of students reduced to 40%. 400 out of 1025 students turn up in Oasis High School, according to its Principal, Major Hussain.
Despite assurances of provision of security by provincial government, the threats coming from Tanzeem-ul-Islam-ul-Furqan continued unabated. The group sends us daily messages warning us that we will not be spared, added Major Hussain.

Pakistan: 30 Sunni Parties Condemn Nawaz Govt For Using Takfiri Terrorists As Proxy
More than 30 Sunni parties and groups have condemned the PMLN government for its use of banned Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorist group against the peaceful Revolution March of Shia-allied Sunni parties.
Officials of following parties and groups attended a hurriedly called meeting to discuss course of action against the Nawaz Sharif government: Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (Niazi), Sunni Ittehad Council, Sunni Tehrik, Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat Mahaz, Tehrik-e-Minhaj ul Quran, Sunni Ulema Board, Mustafai Tehrik, Anjuman Talba-e-Islam, Anjuman Naujawanan-e-Islam, Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqh-e-Hanafia, Pakistan Falah Party, National Mashaikh Council, Anjuman Talba-e-Madaris-e-Arabia, Markazi Majlis-e-Chishtia, Mahaz-e-Islami, Difa-e-Islam Mahaz, Anjuman Khuddam al Auliya, Bazm-e-Mohaddis-e-Azam, Janisaran-e-Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, and other groups
They said that banned terrorist groups were trying to spark-off sectarian clashed by provocative actions and words. They warned that character assassination of Allama Dr Tahir ul Qadri would not be tolerated. They urged the government to ponder upon the legitimate demands of the Revolution March and accept them instead of prolonging the crisis.

Pakistan: Zardari tells Qadri to show flexibility

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari Sunday rang up Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Tahirul Qadri and discussed his demands.
According to sources, Zardari told Qadri that he is engaged in talks with the government regarding Qadri’s demands and requested the latter to demonstrate flexibility on his stance to end the political impasse.
“The nation is looking up to you,” he reportedly told Qadri.
Separately, a meeting of PPP-backed Sindh Cabinet ministers was held at Bilawal House Karachi and presided over jointly by PPP Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Co-chairman Zardari. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and Sindh chief secretary also attended the meeting.
Issues pertaining to overall development and law and order were discussed in detail. Zardari directed all ministers to focus on development projects which are important for the people. He also instructed the ministers to enhance contact with the people. He said that people have mandated them and it is their prime responsibility to work for the people. Ultimately all public representatives are accountable to the people, he said.
The PPP co-chairman also briefed the members about his meetings with political leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Saturday.
He said PPP has expressed its resolve to defend democracy at all costs as its leaders have sacrificed their lives for democracy in the country. PPP will continue to support democratic forces and institutions in the country.
The meeting congratulated Zardari on his successful meetings with political leaders in Lahore yesterday and reposed full confidence on leadership of the party.
Ministers who attended meeting include Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, Manzoor Wassan, Murad Ali Shah, Sharjeel Memon, Mukesh Kumar, Jam Khan Shoro, Mumtaz Jakhrani, Jam Mehtab Dehr. Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani and Deputy Speaker Shela Raza were also present.

Pakistan's former chief justice CJ Iftikhar Choudhry was involved in election rigging

Former additional secretary of the Election commission of Pakistan Muhammad Afzal Khan has alleged that the general elections in May 2013 were rigged and that the people’s mandate was ‘stolen’.
He said that former chief justices Iftikhar Chaudhry was involved in rigging the vote.
He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not win the elections in a free and fair manner.
He said that there were hundred punctures in election not only 35.
He said that the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had shut his eyes on the rigging.
The former additional secretary said that the Election Commission had been put under tremendous pressure during the alleged rigging.

People's mandate stolen in 2013 elections, says ex-ECP additional secretary

Former additional secretary of the Election commission of Pakistan Muhammad Afzal Khan has alleged that the general elections in May 2013 were rigged and that the people's mandate was ‘stolen’.
He said that former chief justices Iftikhar Chaudhry and Tassadduq Jillani were also involved in rigging the vote.
Khan made the allegation during an interview on a private television channel, in which he said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not win the elections in a free and fair manner.
He said during the interview that the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had shut his eyes on the rigging.
The former additional secretary said that the Election Commission had been put under tremendous pressure during the alleged rigging.
Khan said that judges were also involved in fixing the vote and that hearings of voter fraud was deliberately delayed.
Reacting to the interview, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran khan commended Afzal Khan and said that the former additional secretary's remarks vindicates the stand that he has been taking.
Imran Khan said that Afzal Khan's statements show that the position for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was untenable and again reiterated his demand that the premier resign.

Pakistan: Corruption Not To Be Tolerated In Sindh, Zardari Tells PPP Ministers

Meeting of Pakistan People’s Party Sindh Cabinet with ex-president Asif Zardari in chair on Sunday decided that corruption will not be tolerated in the province at all cost.
Held at the Bilawal House, provincial issues concerning governance and law and order were discussed in the meeting.
According to sources, Zardari expressed anger on performance of some provincial ministers.
Matters including supply of arms and ammunition to Sindh Police, and the appointment of a permanent IGP also came under consideration.
Opposition to any action against democracy in the country was also decided in the session.
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Pakistan: Former President Zardari telephoned to PAT Chief
Former President Asif Ali Zardari had a telephonic conversation with Pakistan Awami Tahtreek Chief Tahirul Qadri a short while ago and spoke about the current situation.