Thursday, October 2, 2014

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HK protests challenge supreme power organ: People's Daily

The illegal gatherings of the Occupy Central movement are aimed at challenging both China's supreme power organ and Hong Kong citizens' democratic rights, and are doomed to fail, according to a commentary to be carried by Friday's People's Daily.
For several days, some people have been staging protests in Hong Kong in the name of seeking the so-called "real universal suffrage."
They attempt to force the central authorities to change the decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, on Hong Kong's electoral system. Such actions blatantly violate the Basic Law of Hong Kong and the principle of rule of law, according to the opinion piece.
"There is no room to make concessions on issues of important principles," says the commentary on the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China.
The decision made on Aug. 31 granted universal suffrage in the selection of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)'s chief executive on the basis of nomination by a "broadly representative" committee.
The decision possesses unchallengeable legal status and authority. It is "a certain choice and the only choice" to safeguard the decision, according to the commentary.
The NPC decision is in line with the "one country, two systems" policy and the Basic Law. It has fully heeded opinions from all walks of life in Hong Kong, it says.
The core purpose of instigators of illegal activities is to ensure that their representatives, including those in defiance of the central authorities, can become candidates of HKSAR's chief executives, the commentary says. "Such a demand is neither illegal nor reasonable."
As one of China's local administrative regions, Hong Kong is directly under the jurisdiction of the central government rather than a state or an independent political entity, the commentary says.
Once the public opinions were hijacked by a minor group, it would not be conducive to the implementation of "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability as well as realization of universal suffrage, the commentary warns.

US to ‘Roll Back’ Sanctions Against Russia if It Fulfills Minsk Agreement

US ready to lift some of the sanctions against Russia if the ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk is observed, US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland stated.
"When the Minsk agreement is fully implemented, we can and will begin to roll back some sanctions. It is in Russia's hands when that day comes," Nuland said.
US diplomat repeated the US stance that Ukrainian side observes the ceasefire.
"Ukraine is fulfilling its commitments under the September 5 Minsk agreements - it passed amnesty legislation, a special status law for the east, and is working with Russia to demarcate the special status zone," Nuland stressed.
The Ukrainian conflict saw a deterioration of Russia's relations with the West, as western politicians and media continued accusing Russia of providing aid to independence supporters, a claim Moscow repeatedly denied.
Russia, however, played a vital role in the deescalation of the crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a peace plan to resolve the conflict two days before Kiev and the eastern regions of Ukraine reached a ceasefire agreement on September 5 in Belorussian capital Minsk. The European Union and the United States have been hitting Russia with sanctions over Moscow’s alleged role in the Ukrainian crisis. Western sanctions have targeted Russia’s largest banks, energy and defense companies, as well as some individuals.

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Chinese FM calls for non-interference in China's internal affairs

Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs and all countries should respect China's sovereignty, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said here on Wednesday.
Wang said this when he stressed the Chinese government's position on Hong Kong's current situation during his meetings with U.S. leaders at the White House and the State Department.
"This is also a basic principle governing international relations," the Chinese minister said.
The illegal "Occupy Central" movement started off early Sunday morning at the Government Headquarters in Admiralty in downtown Hong Kong, followed by mass protests in Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, leading to serious traffic disruptions and school closures.
"I believe for any country, for any society, no one will allow those illegal acts that violate public order," Wang said.
"We believe that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's government has the capability to properly handle the current situation in accordance with the law," he added.
Hong Kong Chief Executive C Y Leung Tuesday urged "Occupy Central" organizers to end the protests immediately, saying the movement has been affecting Hong Kong people's daily lives.

Cherish Hong Kong's development, maintain long-term prosperity

The illegal gatherings of the Occupy Central movement instigated by some people in Hong Kong do not promote democratic and constitutional development in the special administrative region. Instead, they are ruining it.
Occupy Central has triggered protests in Hong Kong's busiest areas for days since Sept. 28, leading to serious traffic disruption, temporary closures of schools and banks, and a slump in the benchmark Hang Seng Index, impacting the region's economic development and international reputation.
The illegal activities have undermined rule of law, which is Hong Kong's core value and one of its foundations.
The Aug. 31 decision made by the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on Hong Kong's electoral system is in line with the Basic Law and has heeded opinions from all walks of life in Hong Kong, thus carrying unshakable legal status and force.
The decision granted universal suffrage in the selection of the HKSAR's chief executive on the basis of nomination by a "broadly representative" committee.
A commentary carried by Thursday's People's Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said Occupy Central has put the political appeals of a handful of people above the law and hijacked the public opinion of Hong Kong for private ends.
It is understandable that different people may have different ideas about a desirable reform package. The government respects the people's rights to express their views.
The public is encouraged to express its aspirations peacefully, rationally and lawfully, and to respect and accommodate different views in society.
Occupy Central, however, is not a form of communication, but confrontation.
It will not force the central government to back down.
The movement shakes the core values of Hong Kong and its spirit of rule of law, disrupts social order, and hinders the realization of the prospective chief executive election through "one person, one vote" in 2017.
When meeting with a Hong Kong delegation late last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the central government's basic principle and policy toward Hong Kong has not changed and will not change.
The central government will unswervingly implement the policy of "One Country, Two Systems" and the Basic Law, and support the steady development of democracy in Hong Kong, Xi said.
As the "constitutional foundation" for implementing universal suffrage in the chief executive election, the NPC decision complies with Hong Kong's realities and is conducive to safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development and the region's long-term stability and prosperity.
People from all circles in Hong Kong should value the region's steady development and work to support the regional government's efforts to maintain social stability and ensure sound constitutional development.

Hong Kong must capitalize on "One Country", "Two Systems"

Hong Kong Chief Executive C Y Leung Wednesday said to sustain its development, Hong Kong must capitalize on the combined advantages of "One Country" and "Two Systems", which also fully applies to Hong Kong's constitutional development.
Speaking at the National Day reception, Leung said the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress has adopted a decision on issues relating to the selection of the Chief Executive (CE) by universal suffrage, confirming that the CE can be elected through "one person, one vote" from 2017 onward.
"It is understandable that different people may have different ideas about a desirable reform package. But it is definitely better to have universal suffrage than not. It is definitely better to have the CE elected by five million eligible voters than by 1,200 people," he said.
Leung hoped that all sectors of the community will work with the government in a peaceful, lawful, rational and pragmatic manner to duly complete the subsequent consultation and legislative work, and make a big step forward in our constitutional development.
The chief executive also noted that Under "One Country", Hong Kong has the staunch support of the country for its development, while the huge Mainland market presents the city with numerous career opportunities.
While under "Two Systems", Hong Kong's legal and financial systems are different from that of the Mainland, which are more familiar to overseas businesses and professionals and have attracted many foreign enterprises to set up their businesses here.
Besides economic development, the combined advantages of "One Country" and "Two Systems" also come into play in areas such as culture, arts, education and scientific research, he added.
"Hong Kong and the Mainland are closely linked in their development. We must work hand in hand to make the Chinese dream come true," Leung said, quoting a passage from the Conclusion of the White Paper, which says: "Continuously enriching and developing the practice of 'one country, two systems' in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and maintaining long-term prosperity and stability in the region are an integral part of the Chinese dream. "
"It is also a necessary requirement for improving and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and promoting the modernization of the national governance system and governing capability."
A flag-raising ceremony was also held Wednesday morning at Golden Bauhinia Square to mark the 65th National Day. Leung joined some 2,500 people at the ceremony including invited guest, senior government officials, and members of the public.

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Saudi Arabia, Iran and the (Great Game) in Yemen

It would be an understatement to say that the internal power politics at play in Yemen are among the oldest, most complex and most dynamic in the Middle East.
What heretofore was a struggling and weak Sunni-led central government barely holding onto power while engaged in simultaneous and perpetual conflicts with a myriad of actors, has crumbled as of a week ago. Ongoing tribal disputes with no resolution in sight, secessionist movements in both the north and south, and being in the unfortunate position of serving as home base for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have all fed fuel to the fire. Two of those conflicts, however, one internal and the other external, are closely related, and have come to the forefront of both domestic and regional politics in light of recent events.
The first is the decade-long insurgency fought against the Houthi rebels, a Shia minority in the north who just last week toppled the central government and appear set, at least for now, to assume much greater power. However, many unanswered questions remain as to how the country will ultimately be governed, and by whom. The second, and more significant clash from a geopolitical standpoint involves two external actors, and has potentially far reaching regional repercussions that can alter the balance of power equation in the Middle East for years to come.
Strategic rivalry
Reminiscent of the "Great Game" played out in Afghanistan between Great Britain and Russia more than a hundred years ago, Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in their own decades-long strategic rivalry for power and influence in the Middle East, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf and Arabian Sea. It is built mostly along sectarian and ideological lines - Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, and Iran as the leader of the Shia Muslim world.
While recent high-level discussions between the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers would suggest a possible thawing in their cold relations, the fact of the matter is, too much bad blood exists between them for any meaningful, long-term rapprochement, at least in the near-term. The more likely state of affairs is that they are simply reassessing their strategies, taking into account all the events in the region, and preparing their next moves on the Middle East chessboard.
In playing their Great Game, Saudi Arabia and Iran have engaged in a series of proxy wars to undermine each other, some hot and some cold, throughout the Middle East. In Lebanon, it's the Iran-backed Hezbollah. In Syria, it's the longtime Iran-backed Assad regime. In Iraq, it's an Iran-backed Shia government which was, prior to the US invasion in 2003, solidly in the Sunni camp.
In Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Iran works behind the scenes to undermine those governments through the Shia communities, a threat Saudi Arabia takes so seriously that they sent military forces into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell the Shia uprising there. And then there is Yemen. While it is debatable as to how involved they were in supporting the Houthi uprising, the sudden turn of events on the ground there does play favourably into Iran’s hand. But why?
Iran's long-term strategic interest in Yemen is simple. Located on the southwestern tip of the Gulf peninsula, Yemen is a poorly governed, fractious country straddling Saudi Arabia's southern border, which can be likened to a sieve in terms of ancient smuggling routes still used by those wanting to covertly enter the kingdom. And with a population that is 35 percent Shia, Yemen could serve as a potentially friendly base of operations in Iran's rivalry against Saudi Arabia. For Iran, easier access to Yemen means easier access to Saudi Arabia. But is that really Iran's intent?
Weapons smuggling
In a March 2012 article, The New York Times cited claims by unnamed US military and intelligence officials that the Quds Force, an elite arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IGRC) was smuggling significant quantities of AK-47, rocket propelled grenades, and other arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen. And in January 2013, a cache of weapons seized from a ship off the coast of Yemen was reported by CNN to have Iranian markings. It included surface-to-air missiles, C-4 explosives, and other weapons, all allegedly destined for the Houthis.
For Saudi Arabia, which shares a porous 1,770km southern border with Yemen, the stakes there are high. According to a November 2013 article by Middle East Voices, Saudi intelligence officials consider Yemen to be the weakest security link in the Gulf and "easy prey for Tehran to penetrate and manipulate".
The Saudi-Yemen border also serves as the primary point of infiltration for AQAP, which is still considered the biggest terrorist threat to the kingdom. For both those very reasons, the Saudis have been providing significant financial and military support to Yemen’s central government, and even conducted their own ground and air strikes against the Houthis and AQAP on the Yemen side of the border. The Saudis are still reeling from the loss of their of long time ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced to step down as Yemen's president in 2011. From the Saudi perspective, Yemen has been on a downward spiral ever since.
Last week, a New York Times article on the recent rebel gains in Yemen, quoted Ibrahim Sharqieh, a researcher at the Brookings Institute in Doha, as saying: "In the regional cold war, this has strengthened the position of the Iranians. For the Saudis, the Houthis arriving in Sanaa is definitely not good news."
As an indication of Iran's newfound influence in Yemen, Reuters reported last week that three IRGC and two Lebanese Hezbollah operatives held captive there had been released since the Houthis came to power. And just yesterday, Asharq Al-Awsat reported that IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah operatives are actively engaged with Houthi rebels to boost their control in Yemen's capital city of Sanaa.
Line in the sand
So what does this mean? Is Yemen really that important to Saudi Arabia and Iran? The short answer is yes, and each side seems prepared to draw their proverbial line in the sand. For Saudi Arabia, what happens south of their border is a matter of grave national security, particularly now that the future of Yemen is in question. They cannot allow instability there to give Iran a solid foothold on the peninsula or AQAP free movement northwards.
Iran's line in the sand is Iraq and Syria. Both those countries serve as buffers between Iran and the Sunni Middle East, so having stable and dependable Shia-led governments in each serves as a strategic objective that is non-negotiable for Iran. Which brings up the Yemen card, a strategic bargaining chip that Iran may now be holding vis-a-vis the sudden rise of the Houthis and anticipated domestic chaos that is sure to plague the country for the foreseeable future.
By playing it, Iran would seek to pressure the Saudis to tread lightly in Iraq and Syria or risk a concerted effort to further undermine them from their southern border. The question now is, will the Saudis make their stand in Yemen or blink? And so the Great Game goes on.

Islamic State committing 'staggering' crimes in Iraq: U.N. report

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq have carried out mass executions, abducted women and girls as sex slaves, and used child soldiers in what may amount to systematic war crimes that demand prosecution, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In a report based on 500 interviews with witnesses, also said Iraqi government air strikes on the Sunni Muslim militants had caused "significant civilian deaths" by hitting villages, a school and hospitals in violation of international law.
At least 9,347 civilians had been killed and 17,386 wounded so far this year through September, well over half of them since the Islamist insurgents also known as ISIL and ISIS began seizing large parts of northern Iraq in early June, the report said.
"The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein.
In a statement, he called again for the Baghdad government to join the International Criminal Court, saying the Hague court was set up to prosecute such massive abuses and direct targeting of civilians on the basis of their religious or ethnic group.
Islamist forces have committed gross human rights violations and violence of an "increasing sectarian nature" against groups including Christians, Yazidis and Shi'ite Muslims in a widening conflict that has forced 1.8 million Iraqis to flee their homes, according to the 29-page report by the U.N. Human Rights Office and the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
"These include attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms."
In a single massacre on June 12, the report said, about 1,500 Iraqi soldiers and security officers from the former U.S. Camp Speicher military base in Salahuddin province were captured and killed by Islamic State fighters.
However, the bodies have not been exhumed and the precise toll is not known. No one disputes that Iraqi military recruits were led off the base near Tikrit unarmed and then machinegunned in their hundreds into mass graves by Islamic State, whose fighters boasted of the killings on the Internet.
Women have been treated particularly harshly, the report said: "ISIL (has) attacked and killed female doctors, lawyers, among other professionals."
In August, it said, ISIL took 450-500 women and girls to the Tal Afar citadel in Iraq's Nineveh region where "150 unmarried girls and women, predominantly from the Yazidi and Christian communities, were reportedly transported to Syria, either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as sex slaves".
Islamic State pushed on with its assault on a Syrian border town on Thursday despite coalition air strikes meant to weaken them, sending thousands more Kurdish refugees into Turkey and dragging Ankara deeper into the conflict.
Islamic State and allied groups have attacked and destroyed places of religious and cultural significance in Iraq that do not conform to its "takfiri" doctrine, the U.N. report said, referring to the beliefs of Sunni militants who justify their violence by branding others as apostates.
But the report also voiced deep concern at violations committed by the Baghdad government and allied fighters, including air strikes and shelling that may not have distinguished between military targets and civilian areas.

Iran warns Turkey against aggravating regional tensions

Iran warned neighbouring Turkey Thursday against doing anything that might aggravate tensions in the region, after the parliament in Ankara voted to authorise military intervention in Syria and Iraq.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke by telephone with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, and "criticised the method chosen to fight terrorism, expressing concern about any action that might aggravate the situation," state news agency IRNA reported.
"In the current situation, the countries of the region must act with responsibility and avoid aggravating" matters, he added.
Earlier Thursday, Turkish MPs voted to allow the use of armed forces against jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq, both of which border Turkey.
However, the one-year mandate is very broad in scope and in no way commits Turkey to sending troops into Syria and Iraq.
The government has said it will decide on concrete steps after winning authorisation, with many analysts expecting a cautious approach.
Iran supports President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's more than three-year-old civil war, while Turkey backs rebels seeking to overthrow him.
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EBOLA - How To Protect Yourself Against Ebola

This week saw the first confirmed case of Ebola virus within the United States, the latest development in an outbreak that has already claimed over 3,000 lives. Here are some ways you can protect yourself against this deadly disease:
Boil all bodily fluids before consumption.
Regularly examine your DNA under an electron microscope for any indication that Ebola has attached itself to your cell membranes.
Recognize the symptoms of Ebola, which include fever, chills, and developing symptoms too late to do anything about them.
Cover the nose and mouth of Ebola patients when they sneeze to avoid spreading germs.
Avoid eating bat soup, which is actually pretty sound advice whether there’s an ongoing Ebola outbreak or not.
Ebola can only be spread once patients are symptomatic, so if you believe you’ve been exposed, get all your errands and public trips out of the way before your symptoms start showing.
Be sure to stay up to date on developments by signing up for the official CDC phone tree.
Try being born one of the 15 percent of rural Gabonese citizens with natural immunity to the virus.
Give billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies.
If you see a suspicious-looking filamentous virus particle roughly one micron in length, stay away.
Continue following lifelong plan of avoiding Dallas, TX at all costs.

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New Afghanistan pact means America's longest war will last until at least 2024

Spencer Ackerman
Bilateral security deal ensures that President Obama will pass off the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor.
The longest war in American history will last at least another decade, according to the terms of a garrisoning deal for US forces signed by the new Afghanistan government on Tuesday.
Long awaited and much desired by an anxious US military, the deal guarantees that US and Nato troops will not have to withdraw by year’s end, and permits their stay “until the end of 2024 and beyond.”
The entry into force of the deal ensures that Barack Obama, elected president in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, will pass off both the Afghanistan war and his new war in Iraq and Syria to his successor. In 2010, his vice-president, Joe Biden, publicly vowed the US would be “totally out” of Afghanistan “come hell or high water, by 2014.”
Obama called Tuesday “a historic day” for the US and Afghanistan, as the security pact, which puts US troops beyond the reach of Afghan law, “will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan.”
The primary explicit purpose of the deal, known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, is to permit the US to continue training Afghanistan’s roughly 350,000 security forces, which the US and Nato have built from scratch.
But with domestic US political acrimony swirling over the rise of the Islamic State (Isis) after the 2011 US withdrawal from Iraq, the accord is also a hedge against the resurgence of the Taliban and a recognition that 13 years of bloody, expensive war have failed to vanquish the insurgency.
Any earlier termination of the deal must occur by mutual consent, ensuring a US veto in the event of an about-face by newly inaugurated President Ghani or his successor. Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai, incensed the Obama administration by refusing to sign the basing deal, rebuking the country that installed him as Afghanistan’s leader after the US drove the Taliban from Kabul in 2001.
Ghani also agreed to a garrisoning accord with Nato forces, known as a Status of Forces Agreement. Nato has agreed to fund Afghanistan’s soldiers and police through 2017.
Under the Bilateral Security Agreement’s annexes, the US military will have access to nine major land and airbases, to include the massive airfields at Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar, staging areas not only for air operations in Afghanistan but the US drone strikes that continue across the border in tribal Pakistan.
The additional bases – in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Helmand, Gardez and Shindand – ensure the reach of the US military throughout Afghanistan.
US defense leaders greeted the signing of the accord with enthusiasm.
“These agreements will enable American and coalition troops to continue to help strengthen Afghan forces, counter terrorist threats, and advance regional security,” said Defense secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Our partnership is an important one, and as we prepare to transition to a traditional security cooperation mission in the coming years, we remain committed to providing the necessary support to our Afghan partners and, in particular, to their national security forces,” said General Lloyd Austin, commander of US forces in the Middle East and South Asia.
In May, Obama pledged to reduce the US troop presence to 9,800 through most of 2015, ahead of what he called a “normal embassy presence” by the end of his presidency. Yet he hedged by saying the US will continue to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, a less visible mission than the training of Afghan forces.
Nothing in the bilateral deal prevents a US president from ramping troop levels back up. The accord’s terms “acknowledge that US military operations to defeat al-Qaida and its affiliates may be appropriate in the common fight against terrorism.”
The “intention” of future counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan is to partner US and Afghan forces together, with the goal of placing the Afghans in the lead, similar to the broader training mission. In 2013, Rolling Stone released a video showing Afghan forces that the US relies upon for counter-terrorism torturing a detainee.
In a September 25 letter to Ghani, Human Rights Watch urged the new president to end the “widespread impunity for members of the security forces responsible for serious violations of human rights in Afghanistan.”

Paying Afghanistan’s Bills

By the end of the year, Congress will have appropriated more money for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, when adjusted for inflation, than the United States spent rebuilding 16 European nations after World War II under the Marshall Plan.
A staggering portion of that money — $104 billion — has been mismanaged and stolen. Much of what was built is crumbling or will be unsustainable. Well-connected Afghans smuggled millions of stolen aid money in suitcases that were checked onto Dubai-bound flights. The Afghan government largely turned a blind eye to widespread malfeasance. Even as revelations of fraud and abuse stacked up, the United States continued shoveling money year after year because cutting off the financial spigot was seen as a sure way to doom the war effort.
As the Pentagon winds down its combat mission there at the end of the year, it’s tempting to think of the Afghan war as a chapter that is coming to an end — at least for American taxpayers. But, as things stand, the United States and its allies will continue paying Afghanistan’s bills for the foreseeable future. That commitment was solidified Tuesday as the American ambassador in Kabul and Afghanistan’s security adviser signed a bilateral security agreement that will keep a small contingent of NATO troops there for at least two years.
The United States and NATO partners recently agreed to spend $5.1 billion a year to pay for the army and police, until at least 2017. Western donors are expected to continue to give billions more for reconstruction and other initiatives, recognizing that Afghanistan won’t be weaned off international aid anytime soon. In fact, the government appears to be broke.
A few weeks ago, Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry made an urgent plea to the United States for a $537 million bailout, warning that it would otherwise not be able to make payroll. That’s part of a broader, worrisome trend. The International Monetary Fund estimates that Afghanistan will face a financial gap of roughly $7.7 billion annually between now and 2018.
If the flow of money is to keep going, the Afghan government has to prove that it can be trusted. And, for its part, Congress should not hesitate to cut off the aid if corruption remains unabated.
Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, who took office on Monday, has pledged to stamp out graft. “I am not corrupt, and I am not going to encourage corruption, tolerate it or become the instrument,” the president, a former World Bank executive, told the BBC in an interview.
That will be easier said than done in a country where back-room deals are the norm. Mr. Ghani can show he is serious by appointing and empowering a new attorney general willing to take on unscrupulous officials. His proposal to lead a new procurement board is commendable because it would make him personally accountable.
Of the $104 billion that American lawmakers have appropriated for Afghan reconstruction, nearly $16 billion remains unspent, according to John Sopko, the inspector general who is overseeing the reconstruction effort. As one of the poorest nations on earth, Afghanistan clearly has plenty of needs. But the American agencies tasked with spending the money must do a better job identifying priorities, setting realistic goals and adopting stronger safeguards.
Delivering a speech at Georgetown University recently, Mr. Sopko marveled at the Marshall Plan comparison. “What have we gotten for the investment?” he asked.

Pakistan set to record highest number of polio cases

Health officials in Pakistan on Thursday said the country was set to break its record for the highest number of polio cases in a year, as Islamist militants continue to prevent vaccination efforts.
“The number of polio cases, recorded this year has reached 187 and if it reaches 200, we will cross our own record of 199 in year 2000,” Rana Muhammad Safdar, a senior official at the Pakistan National Institute of Health told AFP.
A senior official of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Islamabad confirmed the new number of polio cases, adding the figure was likely to cross 200 by year-end.
Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, but efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit in recent years by attacks on immunisation teams.
Some 59 people including health workers and police providing security have been killed in militant attacks on polio vaccination teams since December 2012.
Safdar, who also heads the federal Expanded Programme on Immunisation, said 130 of the cases reported were from the troubled northwestern tribal areas that border Afghanistan and are home to Taliban and al-Qa’eda militants. The militants allege polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or Western-conspiracy to sterilise Muslims. The WHO official said the Pakistani strain of the virus had spread to neighbouring Afghan provinces. Afghanistan has recorded a total of seven cases this year.
Polio cases reached a low of 28 in 2005, but rose to 198 in 2011. In 2012, Pakistan had 58 cases while 72 were recorded in 2013. Officials have said tens of thousands of children were missing a polio eradication campaign every year “because of the law and order situation,” in tribal areas as well as family and parents unwilling or afraid to vaccinate.
As Pakistan moves into its post-monsoon period, officials fear the final figure could rise as high as 250. Militant opposition to vaccination has increased after Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi attempted to help the CIA track down al-Qa’eda terror chief Osama bin Laden through a fake vaccine project.

Pakistan struggling to cope with surge in polio cases

Once on track for polio eradication, Pakistan now faces a setback as a result of inaccessibility, violence and misinformation
Pakistan is heading for one of its worst years for polio in recent times. According to figures from the global polio eradication initiative (GPEI), 166 cases of polio have been verified this year, compared with 28 at the same time last year.
This puts the country at significant risk of crossing the 199-mark officially recorded in 2000, or the 198 seen in 2011. It is a major setback for a country that as recently as 2005 saw only 28 cases in total, with everything seemingly on track for polio eradication. Last year there were 93 cases in the country, according to the GPEI.
The worst-affected areas, according to the state minister for the national health service, Saira Afzal Tarar, are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP), where militants often prevent vaccination.
“Pakistan presents one of the most complex polio eradication environments in the world,” said Ban Khalid al-Dhayi, spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef). “In the areas that remain with poliovirus, there is inaccessibility, violence, misconceptions and misinformation that circulates every day, along with intricate tribal and cultural norms and systems.”
“Massive daily population movements” were also described as a major problem by Unicef.
Dhayi said the recent movement of more than 1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) following the military operation in North Waziristan Agency had raised fears of the virus spreading to areas that had not previously seen infections. More than 400,000 children were vaccinated at transit points as they moved out of the conflict zone in Fata and settled in host communities in KP, Punjab and Sindh. IDPs who settled in parts of Punjab due to floods could also increase risks.
While KP health officials based at the provincial polio control room (PPCR) in Peshawar agree that the IDP influx poses a polio risk, they disagree, according to media reports, that refusals (those refusing to be vaccinated) are declining, and blame UN communications authorities for this.
According to PPCR data, the number of refusals increased from 4,200 during the polio vaccination drive carried out between 6-8 June, to 12,043 during the vaccination campaign run from 23-25 June. Unicef, however, says they have separately seen a sharp fall in the rate of refusals, and claim successes for social mobilisation and awareness raising.
IDPs themselves appear keen to receive the drops: “I was desperate for my three young children to get them, and queued up with many others when vaccinators got here,” said Aziz Dawar, who fled North Waziristan in mid-June. His three children, aged between two and eight, had previously received no vaccinations.
Weak prevention systems
On 1 June, Pakistan enforced a World Health Organisation recommendation – seen as draconian by some – that anyone travelling overseas from Pakistan had to produce certification to show they had received polio drops, to prevent exporting the virus.
Before this move, the emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, Elias Durry, explained, Pakistan had “informally been labelled” as an “exporter of polio” when strains of the virus originating from the country were found in China, Syria, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. “There needs to be no more import-export of polio virus for at least six months,” Durry said.
While officially polio teams are set up at airports to administer vaccination drops, in reality implementation has been reportedly patchy, with travellers saying they had been able to travel without receiving the drops.
“It’s all just on paper. No one really bothers with drops or certificates in reality,” said an official from Lahore airport, who asked not to be named. Shortages of vaccines have also held back campaigns.
Responding to this, Saira Afzal Tarar said: “A loan from the Islamic Development Bank that I had been campaigning for has now been obtained, so we should be able to deliver drops more efficiently.” The minister said the precise loan details, including the amount, were still being finalised.
Wrong approach?
“Our approach is not right,” said Anita Zaidi, head of paediatrics at Karachi’s Aga Khan hospital. She said the lone focus on polio had had a negative effect, and that the vaccine should be given alongside others. At ground level, the message is still struggling to be heard.
“Why don’t we do something to stop our children from being crippled by this terrible disease?” asked Azra Bibi in Bannu. Her cousin’s infant son caught polio five years ago and can now barely walk. “We keep hearing of more and more cases.” She said she had to battle her parents-in-law to get her two daughters vaccinated.
“They said the drops would make them sterile, but I spoke to doctors and also schoolteachers who are educated, and I know this is a lie,” said Azra Bibi, who now visits an IDP camp to encourage mothers to vaccinate against polio. “I want to keep our children safe,” she said.

Don’t Let Pakistan's Military Hijack Democracy

By Haider Ali Hussein Mullick
It may be messy, but Pakistan’s democracy is worth saving.
As Washington mulls the Islamic State’s advances and Putin’s aggression in Ukraine, Pakistan’s democratically elected government is facing massive protests backed by some in the military and intelligence community. Led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, thousands of protesters are demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a year after his victory in an imperfect but nationally and internationally accepted election. With covert military support, Khan is also demanding new elections and Qadri a utopian political system overhaul.
Pakistani democracy is messy but military dictatorship – direct or indirect – is not the answer. So the protesters should stop currying favor with the army, and Prime Minister Sharif should work with the protestors to find a constitutional solution that covers electoral and governance reforms.
Washington should support democracy so nuclear-armed Pakistan, next door to Afghanistan, can focus on combating Al Qaeda and its partners. In the last 12 years the likes of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban, sectarian terrorists and violent separatists have killed nearly 20,000 Pakistani civilians and 6,000 security personnel. Civilian leadership over the Pakistani military will decrease provocative policies towards India like supporting insurgents today only to fight them tomorrow. Moreover, a stable South Asia needs more democracy, not less. Democracies are less likely to go to war with other democracies.
The current showdown between the protestors and the government is due to last year’s national elections, the prime minister’s attempt to reign in the generals by supporting peace with India, and the trial of former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. Indeed, Javed Hashmi, Khan’s number two, who was recently fired, said that Khan and Qadri plotted with the Army and its intelligence agency, ISI, to oust Prime Minister Sharif. Demanding Sharif’s resignation is the military’s attempt to regain lost power.
Last May, defying Pakistani Taliban threats, millions of Pakistanis voted for their country’s first democratic transition. With an historic turnout of 55 percent, nearly 15 million voted for the current Sharif administration and 8 million for Khan. Qadri did not even participate.
The European Union’s Election Observation Mission report called the 2013 elections the “first national elections held under legal obligations of the treaty [UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights]“. The report noted “no grave violations of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s Code of Conduct for Political Parties and Candidates,” and stated “most of the polling booths observed were rated as satisfactory or good.”
Observers from the National Democratic Institute and Asian Network for Free Elections noted that the “administration of elections was much better than in the past and that both officials and the public were better informed.” Based on directly observing over 38,000 polling stations, Pakistan’s Free and Fair Election Network reported that 1 percent of polling stations were physically captured and 3 percent had incidents of ballot stuffing.
That said, these election observers also highlighted serious problems, including religious, sectarian and gender discrimination of candidates, and the lack of oversight of temporarily appointed vote counters by the Supreme Court. The election commission did not have the authority or resources to actively oversee vote counters or provide swift remedies.
Even after the elections were largely accepted, the Sharif administration showed poor judgment and impeded Khan’s demands for investigating voter fraud, which galvanized support against the government. Soon after, Sharif’s brother ordered the police to harass Qadri’s supporters in Punjab, and the ensuing clash left 11 dead and over 100 injured. The relatives of dead were not permitted to file a police complaint for over two months.
Certainly, the protestors have a legitimate gripe: electoral reform. Most Pakistani political parties agree on decreasing future voter fraud, but they don’t support Khan and Qadri’s solution: force the prime minister to resign, replace the Sharif administration with military-approved caretakers, and then hold new elections.
The constitutional solution lies in the halls of the parliament, not military headquarters. Sharif’s offer to facilitate an independent judicial inquiry and strengthen the parliamentary committee tasked to investigate electoral fraud are steps in the right direction. The prime minister must also support constitutional amendments to devolve power by creating new provinces, so the largest province and Sharif’s stronghold, Punjab, does not always get the lion’s share of revenues and parliamentary seats. This will go a long way in placating the legitimate discrimination against smaller provinces such as Balochistan, which is inflamed by violent separatists.
Sharif must also decrease cronyism, starting by inviting Khan and Qadri to join his cabinet, which today is dominated by Sharif’s relatives and business partners. Finally budget, foreign policy, and defense-related parliamentary committees should be strengthened to improve the civil-military balance and encourage bipartisan legislation.
Washington can help by using its leverage. Most of Pakistan’s military is armed with American weapon systems and platforms such as the F/16 fighter jets, cobra gunships, and naval surveillance platforms. Of the $28 billion in aid America gave to Pakistan over the last 12 years, $11 billion was in direct support of combating terrorists and insurgents. While the Pakistani military did go after armed groups directly threatening its existence, it has yet to eradicate groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network, which have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan and India.
For years the United States gave billions to Pakistani generals to gain security for Washington and stability in Islamabad; today there is little of both. Besides putting pressure on Pakistani generals to go after the entire Al Qaeda conglomerate, Washington should continue to make its aid conditional on the existence and stability of Pakistani democracy.
Pakistan has a plethora of problems: economic decline, ubiquitous terrorism, government inefficacy and corruption and the ultimate failure of creating an inclusive nation state. But Pakistan today has a few silver linings. In the last three weeks, leaders of 11 political parties spoke in favor of constitutional democracy, urging the prime minister not to resign under pressure from protestors. The current chief of the army, General Raheel Sharif, seems to have backed off from overtly supporting the protesters, and many in the media are openly criticizing the retired generals and spy chiefs involved in supporting Khan and Qadri.
At the same time, many parliamentarians are chiding the Sharif administration for slow economic growth and cronyism. This is the beginning of constitutional democracy – when political winners and losers resolve differences in the parliament without colluding with generals or inciting violence. To encourage this trend, Washington should reinforce conditions for foreign aid to Pakistan, including those related to strengthening democracy and combating terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Haqqani Network.
Democracy is messy; just look at the aftermath of the Arab spring and the current crisis in Iraq. Still, if democracy is consolidated with inclusive politics, it outlives and outperforms any dictatorship.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide : At least three die in Gilgit bus explosion

At least three Shia Muslims Killed By ASWJ Bombing on bus in Gilgit
The explosion took place near Aalim Bridge outside Gilgit.According to Rescue sources, five people were injured in the explosion.
The dead and injured were shifted to a local hospital.

Pakistan : Threatening women online

Worrying accounts of online abuse faced by women in Pakistan have been revealed by human rights organisation and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) think tank Bytes For All. According to them the threat against women being made prey to online stalkers and blackmailers is real and very dangerous. They have given examples ranging from online campaigns targeting women and instigating rape and murder to blackmail online, forcing women to succumb to gang rape and torture in reality. Deceitful boyfriends threaten young girls with damning video evidence of ‘immoral’ behaviour if they do not submit to such vile acts of abuse. Bytes For All is critical of the way online social media sites have handled such situations by not removing objectionable material and male users fast enough to resolve the plights faced by female users. The threats are grave and the fear many women face in a society horribly stifling is enough to make them give in to the threats posed by such monsters online.
However, while this kind of abuse and cyber bullying can be found all around the world, especially against women and children, this issue takes on added depth here in Pakistan where women have been suppressed and silenced, where their ‘honour’ makes their every move suspicious, and their status that of mere sexual objects. The online world allows many women in our part of the world a form of release where they can break down socially constructed taboos and barriers. However, with all the pros online connectivity can provide, there is a dark side too, one that is prowled by men looking to exploit female online users because they do not know any other way to treat them. Men in Pakistan are conditioned to treat women like cattle, good for only one thing. That is why much of the abuse and blackmail levelled against women in the cyber world is of a sexual nature. Society here has suffocated both genders, where mixing of the sexes is considered unacceptable by a large section of the public. This has resulted in a sizeable part of the male population ending up in a frustrated state. Unhealthy misogynist attitudes result and men know no other way than to debase women they find to be ‘dishonourable’ enough to have a persona online.
Whilst the work being done by Bytes For All is commendable, we still have a long way to go before our primal attitudes towards women change.

Pakistan : Bilawal to walk with PPP workers, not to sit in container

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah Tuesday said that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will walk with PPP workers and supporters on October 18 and not to sit in container. Briefing to journalists after a meeting of PPP Sindh Council at CM House, Qaim said that the workers in the meeting would participate in large number in public gathering at Mazar-e-Quaid.
CM said that when BB returned to home ending her self-exile a newspaper reported a sea of thirty lac people who participated in the that rally. Qaim said that he could not compare the gathering being organized on October 18 to Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto (BB)’s gatherings but it would be a big one too.
PPP is introducing a young and new leader and his start would take place from October 18. Adding that Bilawal Bhutto wanted to walk on the path of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and BB, he further added. About seven years had been passed to the martyrdom of BB but still people remember her, he said.
Bilawal Bhutto would address the gathering and present his program before the people, Qaim said. Replying to a question on Karsaz case he said that it had been spoiled badly. The spot of the incident was washed before finding the facts, he added. Answering another question on Imran Khan’s gatherings in the province, he said firstly they should see back to Peshawar, Mardan etc. What kind of claim he could make even when he had not shown any responsibility to the people of this province.

Pakistan's Jihadi-Wahabi Text Books - ''The 'halal' curriculum''

By Murtaza Haider
Radicalised middle-aged men will again determine the curriculum of primary schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
These men are not informed by training in early childhood education or children psychology, but instead are motivated by their rural-religious beliefs, which they would like to impose on the entire society.
The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in KP has prevailed over the provincial government to alter the primary school curriculum.
The JI finds pictures of minor girls without headscarves objectionable.
It is offended by the greeting, “Good morning.” It wants Assalam-o-Alaikum instead.
Furthermore, the JI wants the primary school curriculum to mention religious and political personalities that the Jamaat admires. Obviously, Baacha Khan does not make the cut.
The fact that the PTI’s government willingly yielded to the Jamaat’s demand is troubling.
Instead of asking the Jamaat and others to send their primary education experts for a meaningful dialogue on how best to tailor the curriculum, the middle-aged men from Jamaat and the PTI agreed on changing the curriculum to induct misogynist doctrines in the curriculum for young children.
Learning outcomes in Pakistan have steadily deteriorated in public schools since General Zia’s radical transformation of the curriculum that began in the late 70s. He accomplished this task by staffing the textbook boards with religious zealots.
A disproportionately large number of members of textbook boards were either JI members or its sympathisers, who altered a curriculum that helped radicalise the society in Pakistan. Long after General Zia’s demise, the same forces are busy radicalising the future generations of Pakistan.
Already, a split has occurred in Pakistan. The affluent households send their children to private schools, which are not bound by the dictates of the textbook boards. Students attending private schools outperform those from public schools in securing admissions to professional institutions and universities. The gulf widens even further in the labour markets where those who attended private schools report significantly higher earnings than those who attended public schools.
The public school curriculum and pedagogy is partly to blame for the poor long-term outcomes for alums of public schools.
The Jamaat has always subscribed to a doctored version of the region’s history and an imagined religious past that hardly resembled reality. The Jamaat’s leadership in the past few decades have largely comprised of those who grew up in rural or small-town environments. This further radicalised the Jamaat’s outlook on socio-political matters as the leadership inculcated values that were out-of-step with the rapidly urbanising Pakistan.
The Jamaat has always believed in expanding its political base by altering the curriculum. It is not motivated by improving pedagogy or the learning outcomes for the five-to-10 year old children, which would require experts in early childhood education that the Jamaat has either failed to produce or attract to its fold.
The primary school curriculum in Pakistan has to be designed for the learning needs and capacities of children as young as five.
Already, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s photograph is on bills and billboards. These children are too young to understand what Jinnah stood for. Furthermore, the Jamaat is certainly not interested in advising the children that Jinnah favoured a secular Pakistan or that he envisioned friendly relations with India with post-partition plans to spend considerable time at his residence in Bombay.
The primary school children are too young to understand the nuances of the partition, and what Jinnah had hoped to accomplish with the new State. However, if the Jamaat were to have its way, it would hide such ‘inconvenient’ facts from students and scholars at any age.
The Jamaat’s insistence on values that it holds dear and its attempts to impose those on others should be resisted.
The Pakistan I grew up in did not force five-year-old girls to wear headscarves. This deliberate objectifying of very young girls is not healthy and robs them of their innocence at a very young age. Even more importantly, these decisions are best left to parents. The State should not be in the business of enforcing headscarves or skullcaps.
The Jamaat confuses culture with religion and tries to enforce its ignorance on the rest.
Take its insistence on having the greeting ‘Good morning’ removed and replaced with Assalam-o-Alaikum. If Pakistanis were Arabs, and spoke Arabic, this suggestion would have some merit. But that is not the case.
In KP, people greet in Pushto, not in Urdu or Arabic. What happened to ‘starhay mashey, khwar mashey’ or ‘pakher raghley’? Should we give up our rich cultural heritage because it does not fit the curriculum designs of the Jamaat?
For those who have visited Arab states in North Africa know very well that the Arabs do not necessarily greet with Assalam-o-Alaikum. Depending upon where you are in Morocco, Algiers, Egypt, Libya or Lebanon, the greetings differ. However, that does not matter to the Jamaat, which is more concerned with raising its future voters by doctoring the primary curriculum.
The primary school curriculum in Pakistan definitely needs improvements. There is a need for more civic education in the curriculum. Teaching children not to litter on streets, to wait at the intersection for their turn, and to keep the neighbourhood clean are the values that young children need to learn.
Their young minds can appreciate contemporary heroes like Malala Yusufzai and Siffat Ghayoor. They need not to be taught maps of the entire country, but of their cities. It is not the Indian-administered Kashmir that the children need to learn about, but Gor Gathri and Masjid Mahabat Khan in Peshawar. The children should be taught the preventive measures against hepatitis rather than the emblem on ambulances.
Feeding lies to children about an imagined past or a utopian future will not do well.
The Jamaat is, and has always been, out-of-step with the rest of the nation. Its sustained failure at the ballot box over the past several decades speaks volumes of the peoples’ indifference to the values it holds dear. The Jamaat knows that changing the curriculum today will give it a better shot at the ballot box in the future.
This should be resisted by the progressive forces in KP.

Pakistan : Seven killed, 11 injured in Peshawar bus explosion

At least seven people were killed and eleven others were injured on Thursday due to an explosion in a passenger coach in Peshawar's Bazid Khel area on Kohat Road.
Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital's (LRH) media spokesperson Jamil Shah confirmed Dawn that seven people were killed and eleven others were injured in the explosion. Some of the injured were said to be in critical condition.
The casualties were immediately shifted to LRH while rescue workers and the fire brigade staff were trying to control the fire.
The driver of the vehicle Shahidur Rehman said that they were heading towards Upper Kurram Agency from Peshawar and a man with an old bag was sitting at the back seat.
"The man got off the vehicle at Bazid Khel stop to get his relatives and as he stepped out, the explosion occurred," he said.
Police has also recorded Rehman's statement during investigation. Some sources said that the incident may be a targeted attack.
According to police, bomb disposal squad and experts were dispatched to the site of incident to assess the nature of the blast.
Earlier, a Rescue 1122 source had told Dawn that the blast occurred due to the explosion of the coach's gas kit. Police later said the van was hit by a bomb.
Additional Inspector General (AIG) bomb disposal squad Shafqat Malik said that five kilograms of explosive was used in the blast.
The explosion came hours after an attack in the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa killing Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Asif Mehmood near the Yakatoot police station.
Today’s attacks come days after a suicide blast targeted high-ranking military official Brigadier Khalid Bajwa in Peshawar. Javed narrowly escaped the explosion and the attack was claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Peshawar has seen scores of attacks on civilians as well as law enforcement personnel in the past. The city is also the home to the XI Corps, an administrative corp of the Pakistan Army which manages all military activity in KP and is currently engaged in the army offensive in North Waziristan.