Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Music Video - Jennifer Lopez - Goin' In ft. Flo Rida

News Analysis: Can new Afghan gov't solve Taliban problem?

Now that the Afghan election deadlock has been resolved by the two main presidential contenders with last Sunday's signing of an agreement on the formation of a national unity government, the topmost question among Afghans is whether this would signal the end of the Taliban insurgency in the country.
Some observers remain pessimistic, saying that the wily Taliban, far from being silenced, would further create more havoc to disrupt the government machinery that would result from the rapprochement of the two former political enemies.
In fact, the Taliban militants, in a statement sent to media on Monday, rejected the national unity government. It said that" Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and the newly symbolic government won't be acceptable to the people of Afghanistan."
In their statement, the Taliban militants stressed that Afghanistan belongs to Afghans and the mujahideens or holy warriors would continue to fight until the eviction of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. "Since Taliban outfit is a war-mongering group, like in the past years it would continue to fight in future,"retired army brigadier Mohammad Jahangir told Xinhua recently.
Presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai on Sunday signed an agreement on the formation of national unity government with Ghani Ahmadzi as new president and Abdullah as the country's chief executive, a post that is equivalent to prime minister.
Earlier, the Afghan Election Commission declared Ghani Ahmadzai as the winner in the vote audit edging out Abdullah, thus ending the longest electoral exercise in the country's history.
The new government to be led by Ghani Ahmadzai is set to take over from outgoing President Hamid Karzai on Sept. 29.
President-elect Ghani Ahmadzai, in his first speech to the nation on Monday after winning the election, promised to promote national unity and bring about peace, stability, economic development to the strife-torn county.
However, observers believe that convincing Taliban militants to give up fighting and join the mainstream Afghan society would be a difficult task even for the unity government. "The Taliban statement with regard to the new president and new administration virtually demonstrates its resolve for war," Jahangir said, adding that Afghans would experience more conflicts in the months ahead until winter when the insurgents usually take a respite from fighting because of the snowfall.
Meantime, some Afghan political analysts have urged the new president and new government to improve security by signing Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington. "In my opinion, there are few issues that need to be prioritized by the new government and one of them is the BSA,"political analyst Nasrullah Stanikzai said in talks with local media.
He said that the signing of the BSA would pave the way for the continued support by the U.S. and other allied nations to Afghanistan, particularly in its security requirements.
Both Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah had promised during their electoral campaign to sign BSA. Karzai refused to sign the BSA despite Washington's repeated overtures. Under the BSA, the U.S. would be allowed to have a military presence in Afghanistan but on a limited scale. Their main responsibility is to train and support Afghan national security forces, a program that has been utterly disputed by Taliban militants.
According to the Taliban, with the BSA, the Kabul government would continue to be beholden to Washington and would look after the interest of the Americans, not of Afghans.

Russia tops ISIS threat, Ebola worst of all? Lavrov puzzled with Obama’s UN speech

Following the US President’s speech at the UN, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov was puzzled with Barack Obama’s ranking of international threats: deadly Ebola virus top, followed by so-called Russian aggression and ISIS in Syria and Iraq only third?
Gathered at the UN headquarters in New York, the world leaders attending the 69th General Assembly heard Barack Obama highlighting the three most significant global threats today.
“As we gather here, an outbreak of Ebola overwhelms public health systems in West Africa, and threatens to move rapidly across borders. Russian aggression in Europe recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition. The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness,” the US leader said at the beginning of his statement.
Reacting to the speech, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke with astonishment.
“We earned the second place among the threats to international peace and stability,” Lavrov told journalists on the sidelines of the UN assembly.
Not only the ranking of international threats seemed bizarre to Lavrov, especially in the light of the current strikes in Iraq and Syria that bypassed the UN mandate, but also Obama’s certainty that the world has become “freer and safer.”
“I didn't understand whether he was serious or not and whether there was an Orwellian element in it. Because George Orwell invented the Ministry of Truth and it looks like this philosophy is lingering."
The Russian foreign minister assessed Obama’s words at the session as a “speech of a peacemaker – the way it was conceived” which he “failed to deliver if one compares it to real facts”.
The US President presented a US worldview stressing the exceptionality of himself and of his country, the Russian FM said:
“That's the worldview of a country that has spelt out its right to use force arbitrarily regardless of UN Security Council's resolutions or other international legal acts in its national defense doctrine.”
Regarding the sanctions, Lavrov lashed out that it was only the problem of the US which imposed them. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian conflict is a domestic problem that should be solved without US interference, he added.
“Ukrainians met in Minsk several times and signed two documents there. OSCE and Russian officials helped to foster this dialogue. It's all written in the protocol and the memorandum and they must be implemented,” he said. “This is what the Ukrainians themselves have agreed to, and it would be incorrect to dictate any of the implementation parameters to them.”
Moscow seeks to settle conflicts through equal dialogue and not through unilateral accusations, not by “shifting the blame,” Lavrov said adding that he will definitely point this out to US Secretary John Kerry in a meeting between the two later in the day.

Video - President Meets with Prime Minister Al-Abadi of Iraq

Video - President Obama Speaks at U.N. Luncheon

VIDEO - President Obama addresses UN, calls for dismantling IS 'network of death'

Among U.S. partners striking Syria, Turkey is missing

By Adam Taylor
When President Obama spoke Tuesday of the strikes on the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria, he prominently mentioned five partner nations from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, and Qatar. These countries had contributed militarily to the fight against extremists, he said, describing them as a "friends and partners."
The message was clear: This military action was not unilateral. Instead, it was supported by Muslim-majority states, with the coalition against Islamic State so strong it could bring together Persian Gulf states which had previously been at odds.
There was clearly one big name missing, however. Turkey is a major U.S. ally in the Middle East and a NATO member with a strong military. Perhaps even more importantly, it shares a long border with both Syria and Iraq. Despite these factors, there has been no hint of Turkish involvement in the strikes from Washington or Ankara.
That Turkey is not taking part in the strikes will not come as a total surprise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry headed to Turkey earlier this month to rally support for broader strikes against Islamic State, the response was lukewarm. Turkish officials made it clear that they did not want Turkish air bases used for staging any strikes – and they certainly would not be taking part in any attacks themselves.
Turkey had an obvious reason to be cautious. In June, the Islamic State raided the Turkish consulate in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Forty-nine Turkish citizens had been taken hostage and the Turkish government feared what would happen to them if the extremist group was provoked. "Our hands and arms are tied because of the hostages," one unnamed Turkish official told Agence France-Presse news agency as Kerry made his case.
This weekend, however, the situation changed. Turkey secured the release of all 49 hostages. It was a cause for celebration, but circumstances were surprising: Turkey claimed no shots were fired, no ransom was paid, and no prisoners were exchanged.
To many, that just seemed too good to be true: the Islamic State had shown horrific brutality to other hostages and the Turkish citizens would likely hold high value as a bargaining chip. “There are some very legitimate and unanswered questions about how this happened," Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who now chairs the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, told the Associated Press.
Other factors also muddied the water further. As The Post's Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet reported earlier this year, in the first few years of the Syrian war the Turkish government had adopted a somewhat laisse faire attitude to Islamist groups crossing into Syria, which in turn lead to a sizable Islamist presence in Turkish border towns. Turkey has since cracked down, but it may be too late: Numerous reports say that certain neighborhoods in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, have become hotbeds of Islamic State support. Turkish officials now estimate that more than 1,000 Turkish citizens are fighting for the Islamic State.
Turkey also has a small number of troops in Syria guarding the Tomb of Suleyman Shah, an important figure in Ottoman history, at present. The tomb is considered a sovereign exclave of Turkey, yet is situated in Aleppo not far from significant fighting. Ankara may well be concerned that the exclave could be overrun by Islamic State fighters with relative ease. "The situation is a delicate if not impossible one for Ankara," Henri J. Barkey, a professor of International Relations at Lehigh University, wrote recently for Foreign Policy, "as the only way to resupply this small contingent of troops is by reaching some sort of understanding with the jihadist group."
Then there's the intertwined issue of refugees and Kurds. This weekend, some 150,000 Syrian Kurds crossed into Turkey, fleeing the Islamic State. Turkey would appear to have a lot to lose from the Islamic State displacing the Kurds and capturing Syrian land right up to the Turkish border, but Ankara appears to have taken little action: Syrian Kurds say that they are actively preventing Turkish Kurdish fighters from traveling into Syria to help them fight.
Ankara's position has clearly been complicated by its fraught relationship with the Turkish Kurds. The People's Protection Units, known by the acronym YPG, have been one of the strongest forces fighting against Islamic State, yet they are linked to the Kurdistan Worker's Party, or PKK, the separatist guerrilla group that has waged a Kurdish insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. Both Ankarra and Washington consider the PKK a terrorist organization.
Many observers suspect that Ankara finds it easier to tolerate the Islamic State's rampage in Syria than cooperate with Kurdish groups like the PKK or YPG. "Turkey is preventing, not only PKK, but all Kurdish men from entering Syria,” Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesman, told The Post's Rebecca Collard at the weekend. “The reality is that Turkey is siding with ISIS,” he added, using an acronym for an old Islamic State name.
Speaking at a Council of Foreign Relations event in New York City, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit back at claims Turkey supported Islamic State. However, his response may have also revealed his views on cooperation with Turkish Kurdish groups. "Turkey has fought terrorism for many years," he said. "We have paid a heavy price in that process. And we were on our own in that effort, and as such -- as a country, Turkey can never support any terrorist organization."
Turkey may have other reasons for not wanting to join in the airstrikes. The most simple of them all is that it might just not think its a good strategy: Remember, Turkey refused to cooperate during the U.S.-led Invasion of Iraq in 2002. Ankara could well consider that a good decision in hindsight.
For the United States, however, the hope is that Turkey will find a way past these issues and get on board: If nothing else, the use of air bases in Turkey would make strikes far easier. And speaking at a U.N. Global Counterterror meeting on Tuesday, Kerry did seem convinced Turkey could still be counted on to help the "friends and partners" against the Islamic State.
"Turkey is very much part of this coalition, and Turkey will be very engaged on the front lines of this effort," Kerry said. "But clearly, Turkey had an initial challenge with respect to its hostages, and that being resolved now, Turkey is ready to conduct additional efforts along with the rest of us in order to guarantee success. And we’re very grateful to Turkey for that willingness."

President Obama: 'Reject Cancer of Violent Extremism'

President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on the world "to join him in an effort to degrade and ultimately destroy" Islamic State militants.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York, he highlighted efforts to build an international coalition to combat the group that has taken over large areas in Syria and Iraq .
“This group has terrorized all who they come across in Iraq and Syria," he said. "Mothers, sisters and daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war. Innocent children have been gunned down. Bodies have been dumped in mass graves. Religious minorities have been starved to death. In the most horrific crimes imaginable, innocent human beings have been beheaded, with videos of the atrocity distributed to shock the conscience of the world.
“In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send U.S. troops to occupy foreign lands," he added, noting that more than 40 nations have offered to join U.S.-led efforts to conduct airstrikes against militant strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
"We will train and equip forces fighting against these terrorists on the ground," he said. "We will work to cut off their financing, and to stop the flow of fighters into and out of the region."
Laying out a broad vision of American leadership in a changing world, the president also emphasized U.S. efforts in areas where he see increasing momentum among allies: containing Ebola; holding forth with sanctions on Russia while supporting efforts to maintain a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine, and executing a broad international vision for combating climate change.
"Each of these problems demands urgent attention," he said. "But they are also symptoms of a broader problem — the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world.
"We have not invested adequately in the public health capacity of developing countries," he said. "Too often, we have failed to enforce international norms when it’s inconvenient to do so. And we have not confronted forcefully enough the intolerance, sectarianism, and hopelessness that feeds violent extremism in too many parts of the globe."
Obama had tough words for Russia.
“Russia’s actions in Ukraine challenge this post-war order,” he said, citing the country's February annexation of Crimea followed by the arrival of Russian arms in Eastern Ukraine, where a violent separatist conflict has killed thousands.
"When a civilian airliner was shot down from areas that these proxies controlled, [pro-Russian separatists] refused to allow access to the crash for days," he said. "When Ukraine started to reassert control over its territory, Russia gave up the pretense of merely supporting the separatists, and moved troops across the border.
“This is a vision of the world in which might makes right — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed,” he said, vowing U.S. support for Kyiv and reinforcements for NATO allies. “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones; that people should be able to choose their own future."
The president also called for concrete steps to fight Ebola in West Africa during his speech, saying the U.S., which has deployed doctors and scientists to curb the outbreak, would continue to mobilize other countries to assist efforts to "enhance global health security in the long-term."
His comments come on the heels of a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report Tuesday that between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa could be infected with the Ebola virus by January 20, 2015.
Based on the assumption that the actual number of Ebola cases has been underreported, the CDC said in a statement that "extensive, immediate actions — such as those already started — can bring the epidemic to a tipping point to start a rapid decline in cases."
The agency's best-case model projects that by getting 70 percent of patients into facilities where the risk for transmission is reduced and burying the dead safely, the epidemic would be "almost ended" by January 20.
Iranian diplomacy; 'Asia pivot'; Gaza
On Iran, the president said his administration is committed to diplomatically resolving the nuclear issue "as part of our commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them."
"This can only happen if Iran takes this historic opportunity,” he said.
Tehran has repeatedly denied charges of developing enriched uranium for military purposes and says its nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.
“My message to Iran’s leaders and people is simple: do not let this opportunity pass," he said. "We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.”
President Obama said too that his “Asia pivot” engagement remains.
“America is and will continue to be a Pacific power, promoting peace, stability, and the free flow of commerce among nations," he said. "But we will insist that all nations abide by the rules of the road, and resolve their territorial disputes peacefully, consistent with international law.”
As for the fight against global poverty, President Obama said the U.S. intends to maintain a key role, referring to a new U.N. development agenda that aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.
The president also touched on the Arab-Israeli peace process, saying "as bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace."
"The violence engulfing the region today has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace. But let’s be clear: the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable," he said. "We cannot afford to turn away from this effort — not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.
"So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region, and the world will be more just with two states living side by side, in peace and security."
Targeting extremist recruitment
Shortly after his speech to the General Assembly, Obama held his first one-on-one meeting with new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi since he took office this month. After emerging from a brief meeting in the U.N. Security Council, Obama praised Abadi, saying he "understands that in order for Iraq to succeed, it’s not just a matter of a military campaign."
"It’s also the need for political outreach to all factions within the country, and I’ve been very impressed with Prime Minister Abadi’s vision," Obama said.
At 3 p.m. Obama chaired a U.N. Security Council meeting where members were expected to adopt a resolution addressing the flow of foreign fighters traveling to join terror groups.
The resolution was unanimously adopted.
The meetings follow the U.S. military's expansion of its air campaign against the Islamic State group from areas in Iraq to airstrikes targeting the militants in Syria.
In opening remarks at the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said human rights are under fire around the world.
"From barrel bombs to beheadings, from the deliberate starvation of civilians to the assault on hospitals, UN shelters and aid convoys, human rights and the rule of law are under attack," Ban said. "We need decisive action to stop atrocity crimes and frank discussions on what created the threat in the first place," the U.N. chief said, citing the "new depths of barbarity" in Syria and Iraq by jihadists.
Overnight strikes
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported new airstrikes overnight in northern Syria, along an area near Turkey where a militant advance last week sent 130,000 people fleeing across the border.
Syrian forces have conducted their own airstrikes against militants and opposition fighters throughout the country's three-year civil war.
The United States said Tuesday it launched the attacks against the Islamic State in Syria because the Syrian government cannot and will not stop the militants from setting up safe havens.

Video Report : India creates history, becomes first country to enter Mars orbit in maiden attempt

India triumphs in maiden Mars mission, sets record in space race

India's low-cost mission to Mars successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday, crowning what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was a "near impossible" push to become the only country to complete the trip on its maiden attempt.
The Mars Orbiter Mission was achieved on a budget of $74 million, almost 10 times less than the amount the U.S. space agency NASA spent on sending the Maven spacecraft to Mars.
"History has been created today," said Modi, who burst into applause along with hundreds of scientists at the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) when it was announced the mission had been accomplished.
"We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible," said Modi, wearing a red waistcoat at the space command center in the southern city of Bangalore.
India joins the United States, Russia and Europe in successfully sending probes to orbit or land on Mars.
The mission also makes India the first country in Asia to reach Mars, after an attempt by regional rival China failed to leave Earth's orbit in 2011.
ISRO successfully ignited the main 440 Newton liquid engine and eight small thrusters that fired for 24-minutes and trimmed the speed of the craft to allow smooth orbit. A confirmation of orbit entry was received at around 8 a.m. India time (10:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday).
After completing the 666 million km (414 million miles) journey in more than 10 months, the spacecraft called Mangalyaan meaning Mars craft in Hindi - will now study the red planet's surface and scan its atmosphere for chemical methane. It will not land on Mars.
ISRO scientists will operate five scientific instruments on the spacecraft to gather data, the space agency's scientific secretary V. Koteswara Rao told Reuters.
The expected life of the craft is six months, after which it will run out of fuel and the agency will not be able to maintain its orbit.
Modi has said he wants to expand the country's five-decade-old space program. The technological triumph is fortuitously timed for him - he will be able to flaunt the achievement on a trip to the United States starting on Friday.
Modi also holds the additional charge as India's minister of space, and has endorsed the low-cost of the project, saying it cost even less than the budget of 'Gravity'. The Hollywood blockbuster cost about $100 million to make.
NASA, which helped India with communications on the mission, congratulated ISRO. The Mangalyaan and the NASA's Maven, built at a cost of $671 million, are simultaneously orbiting the red planet.
India's space program was launched in the early 1960s and the country developed its own rocket technology after Western powers imposed sanctions for a nuclear weapons test in 1974.
Still, the country remains a small player in the global space industry that grew to $314 billion in revenues and government budgets in 2013, according to Colorado-based Space Foundation.
Experts say Mars mission success can help change that.
"ISRO will now hopefully attract a lot of business," said Mayank N. Vahia, a scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. "We will now attract more international attention and international trade for satellites."
Two-thirds of the craft's parts were made by Indian companies such as Larsen & Toubro LART.NS and Godrej & Boyce.
With 30 Indian and 40 foreign satellite launches so far, its nearest cheap competition would be China, which is armed with bigger space launchers. ISRO signed an agreement with China National Space Administration on Friday to cooperate in research and development of various satellites.
Despite its success, India faces criticism for spending on space research as millions go hungry.
(In this corrected version, reference in paragraph five to no previous maiden Mars mission having succeeded has been deleted, as a multinational European craft did enter orbit successfully in 2003; and in paragraph two, 'nearly a tenth of' has been changed to 'almost 10 times less than')

The Dangers in Afghanistan’s Political Deal

By Sanjay Kumar
Afghanistan is about to make a tryst with destiny. For the first time in its history, the war-torn country will see a transfer of power between two governments without bloodshed. With the signing of a power sharing deal between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan has avoided bloodshed. Thus opens a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan.
The power sharing deal represents a novel experiment in governance in Afghanistan. The U.S.-brokered deal allows Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to become the new president of Afghanistan while the defeated candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, will be appointed the country’s chief executive. This will allow for a coalition government consisting of multiple ethnic groups at a time when international forces are preparing to withdraw from the country. The deal thus comes as a relief for the people of Afghanistan, who were getting frustrated with their country’s protracted political uncertainty.
Although the new arrangement has resolved Afghanistan’s political crisis for the time being, it has also undercut democracy. It is an attempt to change the constitutional arrangements of Afghanistan. The backroom deal is a huge disappointment for those who came out in large numbers, often at the risk of their own lives, to participate in the democratic process.
“If they wanted to establish a national unity government, why did they take six months’ time? Why did people vote and lose their fingers? What is the meaning of elections in the country?” asks Noor Agha, a business manager in Kabul. The deal will cause people to question democracy in Afghanistan. Will people trust the democratic process again in five years when the country holds its next presidential elections?
I was a witness to the first round of elections in Afghanistan this April. It was bliss to see the enthusiasm of the people and their determination to change the fate of their nation through the ballot box. They defied the Taliban and came out to vote. However, the slow resolution of the crisis that followed the election has led to a feeling of resignation rather than enthusiasm in Afghanistan. “They took a long time in coming to the agreement and lots of bitterness has seeped into both of the camps. Both candidates represent strong coalitions and it has to be seen whether the new government works for the country or for strengthening their constituencies,” says Haroon Mir, a Kabul based political analyst.
However, not all Afghans are so glum. “It is a relief that a new government is going to be formed. I hope they will work for the country and solve our problems. It is better than constant uncertainty,” says Amir Akbari, a Kabul based journalist.
Nonetheless, I believe that democracy demands an opposition. The unity government undercuts the basic premise of democracy. The new political arrangement allows the Taliban to virtually become the sole opposition in Afghanistan. The Taliban will use the unity deal between Afghanistan’s two presidential candidates to attack the system yet again. The Taliban will be able to argue that the unity government in Afghanistan came about through American negotiations, and is thus not representative of Afghanistan’s interests. The success of the elections undermined the Taliban’s credibility but any failure of Afghanistan’s new government will strengthen their hand.
Afghanistan’s new government may or may not be workable. How its rival figures will share power and reconcile their ambitions will decide the future of the government. Ghani and Abdullah seemed cold to each other during the signing of the agreement last Sunday, demonstrating tension in their alliance. There is no clarity on how the two candidates will share power. This is troublesome. If the unity government fails, it will seriously undermine Afghanistan’s democracy, which has already been undermined to permit such a government in the first place.
So why did the United States precipitate a unity government at the cost of strict adherence to the established procedures for a democratic transition in Afghanistan? Perhaps the United States believed that quickly establishing a stable government would prevent the Taliban from taking advantage of the situation. However, the new political arrangement in Kabul raises the question of legitimacy. How representative and legitimate is a government which is a byproduct of a deal brokered by America? The United States ought to have used its influence to bring greater transparency to Afghanistan’s vote counting process. The very fact that Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission has not officially released the results of the election brings into question the legitimacy of the whole electoral process.
The new government’s challenge will not only be to sustain the aspirations of the new Afghanistan but also to strengthen democratic institutions and win back the trust of the people. Afghanistan teeters on the brink of both hope and disaster.


By Rana Banerji
On September 22, Gen Raheel Sharif announced the much awaited re-shuffle of three-star Generals in the Pakistan Army, promoting six Major Generals. They will replace five retiring Lieutenants General, including two of his peers – Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Corps Commander, I Corps, Mangla and Lt Gen Zahirul Islam, Director General, Inter-Services Intellgence (ISI).
This is Raheel Sharif’s first re-shuffle done on his own steam and bears his distinctive stamp.
Minor changes affecting some other Generals did occur in December, 2013, shortly after Raheel’s own ascension as Army Chief. Under this chain, Adjutant General, Lt Gen Javed Iqbal went to Bahawalpur as Corps Commander, XXXV Corps while Lt Gen Zamirul Hassan replaced him. Ikramul Haq, erstwhile VCGS went as Inspector General, Training & Evaluation (vacated by Raheel). Lt Gen Zahid Latif became GoC, Air Defence Command.
Two other important changes were made, replacing Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Kidwai with a serving Lt Gen, Zubair Hayat as Head of the Strategic Plans Directorate (SPD) and bringing in Lt Gen Obaidullah Khattak as GOC, Strategic Forces Command. These changes may have reflected influence of other senior Generals in the collegiate leadership and accommodated some of former Chief, Gen (rtd) Kayani’s blue-eyed boys.
Among the changes made this time, appointment of the new DG, ISI is easily the most important. This needs the Prime Minister’s approval. The coveted slot, often deemed the second most powerful in the Army has gone to Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar, a professionally well regarded officer of the Frontier Force regiment (Piffers), the Chief’s own arm. Rizwan was previously DG, Pak Rangers, Sindh and has done stints as GOC, 9 Div, Kohat and as a Brigadier in South Waziristan. His place in Pak Rangers, Sindh is taken by Maj Gen Bilal Akbar (Arty) who was GOC, 11 Div, Lahore.
After the current agitations of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri in Islamabad, a politically weakened Nawaz Sharif seems to have quietly fallen in line to approve this selection.
Rizwan Akhtar’s choice obviously reflects the Chief’s comfort level at a moment when Imran Khan changes tack from the politics of dharnas limited to Islamabad to wider scale protests in other major cities. Raheel Sharif would want a trusted man at the helm in ISI, to keep tab on these political shenanigans.
Much has been said about views of the new DG, ISI Rizwan Akhtar’s views about the need to improve relations with India, articulated in a US Army War College paper in 2008. We need to remember, this is regurgitation of the known Pakistani line touted in the context of improving US-Pak relations, that US pressure on India would help resolve the Kashmir issue in Pakistan’s favour. It should not generate undue enthusiasm that ISI would be ready to give up its strategy of using non-state asymmetrical options against India just yet.
Promotions to the top in the Army are skewed and the current selection supersedes 15 Major Generals, including two within the ISI – Maj Gen Naveed Ahmed, Sector Commander, Sindh and Maj Gen Sohail Abbas Zaidi, DG Technical. They may have to be shifted elsewhere, considering their peers have been slotted into supervisory positions. Among those left out are Maj Gen Iqbal Asi, GoC 19 Div currently deployed in anti-terror operations in Swat, Maj Gen Shahid, Inspector General, Frontier Corps, Baluchistan and Maj Gen Tariq Ghafoor, GoC, 14Div, Okara, who also had Intelligence experience.
Among the Major Generals promoted, Lt Gen Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain (Arty) replaces Lt Gen Tariq Khan as GOC, I Corps, Mangla, Lt Gen Hidayat ur Rehman goes in place of Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani as GOC, XI Corps, Peshawar, Lt Gen Ghayur Mahmood takes over from Lt Gen Salim Nawaz as GOC, XXX Corps, Gujranwala and Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar (AC), who was Deputy DG, Counter Terrorism in ISI becomes GOC, V Corps, Karachi in place of Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani. Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt (FFR), who was Commandant, Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul goes as DG, Communications & IT.
As in any other professional Army, these promotions conform to the pattern followed by previous Chiefs, of balancing the 27 posts of three-star Generals between the main service arms – Infantry (13), Artillery (6), Armoured Corps – AC (3), Engineers(2), Air Defence (2), AMC (1). Again, Raheel has shown a common enough proclivity, to favour his own Piffers (FFR) regiment in recent promotions.
Though no hard and fast rules can be postulated in such promotions, sending out of newly promoted Generals as Corps Commanders is a shift of sorts from the practice followed during Kayani’s tenure. PTI politician, Javed Hashmi recently claimed Imran had bragged about some support in top military echelons for conspiracies to oust the democratically elected leadership. This departure could have some import if these reports of differences within the senior collegiate leadership of Generals over handling of the recent political impasse are to be given any credence.
These appointments ensconce Raheel Sharif firmly in control as the Army Chief. This could well presage a more harmonious civil-military relationship for a while, though Nawaz Sharif has had a tendency to shoot himself in the foot in the past.

Pakistan: Pupils chant ‘Go Police Go’ in Islamabad

College and school students Wednesday protested against Islamabad authorities’ failure to vacate nearly a dozen education institutions from police, Samaa reported.
On Friday, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration to get schools vacated from cops till September 23 and submit a report in this regard.
However, the Islamabad administration has failed to obey the orders.
According to Samaa correspondent, the police have ridiculed court orders by reoccupying five education institutions, a day after vacating the buildings. Eleven out of 19 schools and colleges are still occupied by police.
Thousands of police personnel have been called in Islamabad from Punjab and Kashmir to perform security duties in the federal capital where PTI and PAT protestors have been camping since August 14.
According to a document obtained by Samaa, the Islamabad administration has hoodwinked the court by claiming that all institutions have been vacated.
Today, students of the closed colleges gathered outside their institutions and staged a protest against the government move and chanted slogans against Islamabad authorities calling for early reopening of colleges.
“This closure is severely affecting our education. Government is responsible for this,” a female student spoke to Samaa correspondent in the protest.

Veena Malik gives birth to baby boy, names Abram

Pakistani actress Veena Malik gave birth to a baby boy in Virginia and named him Abram Khan Khattak.
Family sources of the actress said that Veena and the baby boy were in good health, however, they would remain in the hospital for couple of days until the complete recovery of the mother.
The family further told that Abram was named after consulting the renowned Islamic scholar Maulana Tariq Jamil.
Speaking after the birth of her baby boy Abram Khan Khattak, the Pakistani actress said it seemed like her life was now complete.
Veena said thousands of her fans congratulated her on the birth of her son. The actress announced that she would be returning to Pakistan soon and would teach her son all the languages of the country.
It may be mentioned that Veena Malik married the singer and businessman Asad Bashir Khan on December 25, 2013. The couple is now settled in the US and planning to return to Pakistan soon.

Five new polio cases surfaced in Pakistan

Five new polio cases have been confirmed across Pakistan, raising the number of victims this year to 171. According to reports, the new polio cases have been reported in Karachi, Quetta, Tank, Razmuk and Khyber Agency. With the new victim in Karachi, the number of polio cases in Sindh has reached to 15. According to World Health Organization report, presented in the United Nations, 9 out of 10 polio victim children hails from Pakistan.

Pakistan: Early Wednesday airstrikes target terrorist sanctuaries in Khyber Agency

Wednesday morning airstrikes by Pakistan Military jets on terrorist hideouts killed at least six terrorists,a private news channel quoted security sources.
Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is yet to issue an official statement on today’s aerial strikes.
According to the report, terrorist hideouts in various parts of Kokikhel area of Khyber Agency’s Tirah Valley were targeted early Wednesday morning.
The airstrikes are part of ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ launced in mid-June in the tribal belt to oust local and foreign militant groups.
Over 1200 militants have been killed in operation in the three months of operation, according to the ISPR. The claims cannot be identified independently as media access in the tribal areas is restricted.
Khyber Agency, bordering Afghanistan, is one of the seven semi-autonomous zones of the country which are governed by tribal laws. It is considered to be a stronghold of Al- Qaeda and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and their linked groups(TTP).

Pakistan - Editorial - Javed Hashmi Suspended

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) suspended Javed Hashmi from the position of party president and member on Monday. For this purpose, a notice was issued to Javed Hashmi asking him to appear before the disciplinary committee on 29th September and clarify his position. According to PTI’s constitution, there are two ways through which an office-bearer can be removed: “a vote of no-confidence can be passed against other office bearers by a majority of the total membership of the National Council,” or, the Chairman can exercise his “power to suspend any office bearer at the national and provincial levels pending disciplinary action.” In this instance, it was the Chairman who took the decision as mentioned in the notification.
It is interesting to note that this entirely undermines Imran Khan’s oft-repeated claims that even he does not hold the power to remove an elected office-bearer. Apparently, he does. Even a cursory look over the party’s constitution, which is available on its website, makes it abundantly clear that the Chairman wields extraordinary powers, which contradict other clauses added to ensure democracy within the PTI. For example, Chairman Imran Khan “shall have all other powers which have not been specifically stated including the power of interpretation of the party constitution for successful functioning of the organization.” Imran ought to know that this is really not how the Labour party or the Conservative party do it in the UK. It is clear that the PTI and Javed Hashmi have parted ways, and these are just procedural formalities being carried out towards a definitive conclusion.
There is also considerable weight in Javed Hashmi’s claim that the party’s Secretary General, Jahangir Tareen, had been appointed illegally. The party’s constitution states clearly that the Secretary General will have to be elected. There are no clauses which allow Imran to appoint his favourite, and that is exactly what has happened since Jahangir did not even contest the intra-party elections. Shah Mehmood Qureshi was indeed elected but he ran unopposed like the Chairman himself. And the public is expected to skim over the details of the party’s own constitution, picking and choosing the ones they’d like, because surely, both Imran and Jahangir mean well? It’s not about being “good men,”— it’s about legal measures employed to reach legal ends.

Pakistan : War on minorities

IT should have been just another Sunday service at the All Saints Church in Peshawar a year ago. As it turned out, it was the prelude to a massacre, the worst attack against the Christian community in Pakistan, when twin suicide bombings at the end of the service claimed around 90 lives and injured over 100 people.
The carnage sparked a wave of revulsion among Pakistanis, and expressions of solidarity with the community were swift in coming. Although attacks on such scale along religious lines have not occurred since then, the war on minorities in this country grinds on relentlessly.
In fact, it could be said that it is expanding, claiming yet more victims and also from communities hitherto left comparatively unscathed by religious extremism.
In Peshawar itself, the small Sikh community has been repeatedly targeted this year. Five Sikhs have been killed in as many months, with two fatalities in the first week of September alone. In a remote corner of Balochistan, armed men attacked a group of Zikris in their place of worship, killing six and injuring several others. Although persecution of the Zikris — a little-known Islamic sect — had surfaced during Gen Zia’s time, when religious extremism was actively harnessed and patronised to further strategic objectives, this was the first direct attack in more than two decades on their lives.
Meanwhile, a reprehensible conspiracy of silence by the state surrounds the murder of Ahmadis — whose persecution is institutionalised in Pakistan — even when a woman and two girls from that community were killed in a ghastly mob attack in July.
The crux of the problem is the state’s refusal to take proactive steps to control the menace of religious extremism: banned/extremist organisations extend their influence to areas so far untouched by communal strife; hate speech is freely disseminated; the blasphemy law is used as a tool of persecution; school curricula contain derogatory references to minority communities. While the government continues in a state of torpor, this fire has begun to consume the very foundations of the country.

Pakistan: Drone strike in North Waziristan kills at least eight

At least eight people were killed and several others injured in a US drone strike in the Dattakhel tehsil of North Waziristan Agency, security sources said Wednesday.
Intelligence sources said that the US drone fired four missiles and completely destroyed a compound and a vehicle in the Alwara Mandi area of Dattakhel, about 60 kilometres from the main town of Miramshah.
There were varying reports as to the exact number of people killed in the drone strike.
“There are two Uzbeks among the dead militants identified so far,” news agency AFP quoted a senior security official. He said the vehicle was near the compound when missiles hit it around 3:30 am.
AFP put the death toll at eight, while AP said as many as 10 suspected militants were killed in the drone strike.
The area is off-limits to journalists, making it impossible to verify the exact number and identity the dead independently.
A military operation Zarb-i-Azb is also in progress by the Pakistan Army in the area.
More than 1,000 militants and 86 soldiers have been killed in the assault so far, according to the military.
The operation was initiated on June 15 following a brazen militant attack on Karachi's international airport and failure of peace talks between the government and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) negotiators.

Pakistan: ECP ‘report’ confirms PPP’s reservations on 2013 polls
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo has said that reservations raised by the PPP leadership regarding the dubious role of returning officers (ROs) during the 2013 general elections have been confirmed by a “report” released recently by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
In a statement on Tuesday, Wattoo said that the ECP report had damaged the credibility of entire process of the last general elections. The PML-N would now lose its legal and moral authority of having mandate of the people, he added.
He observed that the ECP had listed in the report multiple factors responsible for “electoral mess created by the ROs.” He further said that the system for tabulation of election results was out of order, ballot papers were not received on time, staff was not trained for the use of magnetic ink and above all the ROs changed the polling staff in the nick of time.
Wattoo observed that legitimacy of the government was in jeopardy as a consequence that could only be addressed by seeking fresh mandate from the electorate. He said that PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto would also unfold the extent of rigging in 2013 general elections from Karachi to Khyber on October 18 when he would address a party meeting at Karsaz, Karachi, the day when terrorists tried to assassinate Benazir Bhutto when she was leading a mammoth procession after arrival in Karachi from Dubai seven yeas ago on October 18, 2007.
He recalled that during a meeting with TV anchorpersons in Karachi a few days after the 2013 elections, the then president and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari said that ‘ROs were responsible for the electoral debacle inflicted on the PPP, adding how it is possible that the support of the party evaporated with the start of borders of south Punjab up to Attock and returned with the commencement of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa frontiers.’
He said that the PPP leadership decided to accept the results only for the sake of continuity of democracy in the country because party leaders and its workers had rendered ultimate sacrifices for the cause of constitution and democracy. After the ECP report has been made public, he said, the party would reconsider its position, as stand of the party on May 2013 elections would become exceedingly difficult to defend in the future.