Tuesday, September 23, 2014
This weekend, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key secured his third term in power after his center-right party won an increased majority in parliament. Key, a popular premier credited with steering the country through the global financial crisis, withstood the challenges of a slew of parties, including an eye-catching intervention by controversial Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, who beamed in via video link Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden at an Auckland event last week. New Zealand, instead, opted for more of the same. But that doesn't necessarily mean big changes aren't on the way. Key suggested Monday that he wants to hold a referendum next year on the design of the country's flag. The current design, which has been in use since the 19th century, has four stars on a blue field — the Southern Cross constellation — with a Union Jack in its canton. It's a symbol shared with Australia, a fellow Commonwealth nation that also keeps the British Queen as head of state. "I want to get on with it. To me, I'd like to do it in 2015," said Key, referring to the project of remaking the country's flag. "I'd like to complete the whole process next year. I don't think it's one of those things we should hang around with forever." The "thing" Key refers to is a mark of a colonial identity. News of Key's mooted flag referendum comes just days after Scotland staged a vote on the question of its independence from Britain. The "No" camp won, but the angst surrounding the waning allure of British identity -- which is also wrapped up in Britain's imperial legacy -- remains. What would a new New Zealand flag look like? The New Zealand Herald features a range of user-submitted designs. Popular choices include the silver fern on a black field identified with the country's sports teams, as well as designs that take into account the insignia of New Zealand's indigenous Maori tribes. The issue of flag change engendered debate this year. But only a minority of Kiwis, according to a February poll, want to see their national flag change.
In recent months the fortunes and allegiances of Pakistan's militants have proved mercurial. Formerly united fronts fractured while the army drove others out of their strongholds. Then al-Qaeda said it would take the initiative in South Asia proving, as the BBC's M Ilyas Khan reports, that the insurgents are still a potent force.The claim by al-Qaeda that it carried out the 13 September attack on the Pakistan Navy's dockyard in Karachi city yet again shows the militants' ability to strike deep in Pakistan despite recent setbacks. In a statement placed on one of its web portals, al-Qaeda claimed the operatives of its recently launched wing - al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) - seized control of a Pakistani frigate in order to attack some nearby American vessels. Few will believe that - not only because Pakistani forces have been able to contain similar attacks in the past, but also because the present one comes when a major offensive by the military has disrupted the militants' command centres in Miranshah, North Waziristan. The Pakistani navy said it repelled the attack, killing two militants and capturing four others. It said it thwarted what looked like the militants' attempt to carry out an attack along the lines of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. 'Soft' militant policy Both al-Qaeda and the Pakistani government said the attack was carried out with inside help. This admission comes as a stark reminder of the lingering concerns about the ability of jihadi militants to penetrate Pakistan's security installations. But could a group whose formation was only announced on 4 September mount such an audacious attack just days later? It would seem unlikely, unless one considers the Pakistani military's alleged "soft" policy towards militants in the past, and al-Qaeda's local links that go back more than two decades. The military exposed its lower and middle ranks to a wave of radicalisation that came with the Afghan war of the 1980s. Its adoption of jihad as one of its three mottoes (the others being faith in God, and fear of God) created sympathy in its ranks for militancy and the Afghan jihad, and led to its subsequent anti-Americanism in the post-9/11 period. During the Afghan war, and later the 1989-2003 "jihad" in Indian-administered Kashmir, Pakistan's ISI intelligence service was widely accused of having worked closely with militant groups, training and arming them and underwriting their operations. Due to the Saudi origins of its leadership, al-Qaeda emerged as the "holiest", and also the wealthiest of militant groups in the South Asian region. Same old leaders The organisation was formed in the city of Peshawar in late 1980s, and a number of top Pakistani militant leaders played a role in shaping its training, planning, operational and propaganda arms. The recently appointed chief of al-Qaeda in South Asia, Asim Umar, is a Pakistani militant who has spent years with al-Qaeda leaders in North Waziristan where he moved in the early 2000s and set up his own group. Prior to that, he worked with such Kashmir-focused groups as Harkatul Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad. So neither the AQIS nor its leaders are new to the region or the task at hand. Over the years, militants trained in North Waziristan have proved their ability to strike pretty much any target in Pakistan, irrespective of which group claims the responsibility. The same is the case now. Since the Pakistani military offensive, which started in mid-June, militant attacks virtually ceased in Pakistan, suggesting significant disruption to militant networks. Internal divisions in the militants also came to the fore as the main umbrella group of Pakistani Taliban, the TTP, split into at least three regional factions. But in the past couple of weeks, there have been signs the insurgents might be coming back to life. Last month, militants said to be affiliated with a Mehsud faction of TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) launched a synchronized attack on two air bases in the south-western city of Quetta. More than 10 of them died in the fighting that broke out. Foreign fighters There have also been a couple of suicide attacks on police in the northwest, and a raid on a Pakistani border post from Afghan territory - claimed by another break-away faction of the TTP which calls itself Jamiat-e-Ahrar. Not to be left behind, the central TTP franchise led by Mullah Fazlullah claimed the naval dockyard attack. In hindsight, one would imagine they are happy to share the accolades with AQIS as they never contradicted the latter's claim. As the army's offensive in North Waziristan rumbles on, there certainly seems to be a race among the various militant factions to show that they are still alive and kicking. For al-Qaeda, it may well be a signal to the Iraq-based Islamic State (IS) that it's still in charge in the South Asian region. While it may struggle to mount attacks in India, it has plenty of followers in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives, some of whose citizens have been training in North Waziristan. In addition, there has been a strong presence of militants from Central Asia, north-west China, Middle East, the Caucasus region and the Far East. Traditionally, most of the foreign groups have tended to gravitate towards al-Qaeda and its TTP allies. Sources say the AQIS is now planning to consolidate these groups into a new force, separate from the Afghan Taliban who, according to sources, are seen by the al-Qaeda leadership as "indigenous" both in terms of ethnicity and ideological aims.
Gunmen in Mirpurkhas's Mali Colony area shot dead a doctor from Ahmadi community, police and members of the community said Tuesday, in the latest attack on one of the country's most persecuted groups.The assailants stormed Mubashar Ahmad Khosa's clinic on Monday evening. “He was attending to patients at his clinic when two unknown assailants came in and fired at him repeatedly before fleeing on a motorbike,” a statement by a community group said. Zafarullah Dharejo, a senior local police official, added that a third attacker kept watch outside. Khosa, who was a well-known in the area, succumbed to his injuries on his way to hospital. Dharejo said, “The doctor got a text message half an hour before the murder asking him to come out of his clinic.” Locals of Mali Colony told Dawn that Khosa was a resident of Satellite Town and has been working in their area for a long time. Khosa's body was taken to Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas for postmortem. However, no First Information Report (FIR) was registered. The police officer said that in 2008, another Ahmadi doctor was gunned down in a similar way in the same city. Earlier in July, at least three female members of the Ahmadi community, including two minors, had been killed in Gujranwala's People's Colony when a mob attacked and burnt five houses, a storage building and several vehicles over alleged blasphemy. Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) of the People's Colony Circle had said that the trouble started with an allegedly blasphemous post on Facebook by an Ahmadi youth. Pakistan is believed to be home for the largest population of Ahmadis, however their standing in the nation has been questioned from the very start. Ahmadis have been arrested in Pakistan for reading the Holy Quran, holding religious celebrations and having Quranic verses on rings or wedding cards. Four years ago, 86 Ahmadis were killed in two simultaneous attacks in Lahore. In early 1953s the country was surrounded in a whirl of rumours that Ahmadis were manipulating Muslims to convert, especially the influential individuals and the ones which held official positions.
At least three people have been killed in a bomb attack in Peshawar in north-west Pakistan, officials say.Nine others were injured in the blast which took place in the morning near the city's railway station. Officials said a convoy of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) was the apparent target.Peshawar has borne the brunt of militant attacks in recent years but violence has dropped dramatically since a military offensive in June. If the convoy is confirmed as the target it would be the first major attack on the military in Peshawar since the assault was launched against militants in their stronghold of North Waziristan. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says grenade attacks and targeted killings have already resumed in the city.Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan told the media that 45kg of explosives had been packed in a vehicle which was remotely exploded.Mushtaq Ghani, information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of which Peshawar is the capital, said a woman was among the three dead in the blast.Television pictures showed the charred and twisted frame of an Frontier Corps vehicle which was still on fire.Reports said one FC soldier was among those killed.The dead woman was said to be travelling in an auto-rickshaw which was also hit by the explosion, and parts of its engine were strewn across the road.