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Syrian official: negotiations with US blocked by Saudi Arabia

From his office adjacent to the presidential al-Rawda Palace in the heart of Damascus, a Syrian official goes about his work interpreting the landscape in his country and its surroundings at the military and internal and external political levels. He told Al-Monitor, “The military situation of our armed forces and the situation on the ground is more than good. The fall of the town of Murak to the Syrian army is a major achievement that can even be described as strategic. Control over this critical site guarantees total control of the Hama-Aleppo road. This implies that Aleppo city has almost fallen to the Syrian army militarily.”
It is therefore probably logical that the authorities in Damascus do not agree with the proposal by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to turn the city into a “freeze zone,” as it is being called, to be managed by moderate opposition members and to then talk later with Syrian authorities about restarting the Geneva path for a peaceful solution.
The Syrian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Ghouta is gradually falling to our troops. Douma city, the capital of the revolution and the headquarters of Zahran Alloush, the leader of the so-called Jaysh al-Islam, will be our army’s next target. Moreover, do not rule out the possibility of hearing about surprises on the ground in the coming weeks, of agreements in some areas controlled by gunmen, or of an announcement on reconciliations between armed groups and the Syrian authorities. We have reliable information that the financial blockade imposed by the Western coalition on the terrorists has begun to produce concrete preliminary results, for the first time in more than three years, in addition to the horrific conflicts between armed factions and the terrorists themselves.”
He said, “The situation in regime-controlled areas is almost normal. Any visitor to these areas can clearly see that. It is not an insignificant detail that the opening of the largest mall and hotel in Syria took place in the city of Latakia, for instance, two weeks ago.” Asked whether the opening means that the hotel will actually become operational, he replied, “The operation is waiting for the necessary investment and commercial agreements to be concluded with the operators and interested companies. Yet, the event itself is very significant under these particular circumstances.”
Of more importance is what is going on at the political level the official said. “It is obvious that the current Western coalition against terrorist forces will not totally succeed in achieving its stated goals. After this stage, one can look forward to a serious effort at a solution,” he said. The Syrian told Al-Monitor the content of what he called “indirect negotiations that were conducted months ago between Damascus and Washington.”
“We told the Americans from the first moment that any agreement between you and us cannot lead to a loss for any of the parties. We are aware that the settlement must be good for both sides. Otherwise, there is no chance it can be achieved,” he said. “We were firm on this rule when looking for a framework for a solution.
“From the first moment, they recognized that President Bashar al-Assad will remain in his post. Yet, it does not mean that a solution is possible. Thus, we believe that what is required is to wait for a particular event or a particular development that makes a convergence between Washington and us possible or achievable. This seemed possible with the start of the US, international and regional war against the Islamic State. This war will result in a common enemy between us. Therefore, a comprehensive foundation can consist of a framework for a particular understanding that will be in both parties’ best interest.” The official also said, “The Americans asked for some time to concretize this idea and look into the chances it has of being reaped. But, after a while, they sent us a message saying we are sorry, the idea is unachievable at present because Saudi Arabia has refused it.”
He smiled and continued, “So, our allies and friends declined the idea of participating in the Western coalition against the terrorists. This is because the framework is no longer adequate for a comprehensive solution from this perspective. It is no secret that the Russians and Iranians have decided to work independently to fight terrorism. The framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a potential option. A few days ago, a Russian counterterrorism official visited Tehran. It is a step and an additional sign in this regard. The upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to India will be in the same context. At the end, a parallel, international coalition to fight terrorism will be established. This is while the Western coalition will be failing or facing obstacles in achieving its objectives. At that time, it will be an opportunity to unite efforts and international energies. This will be an introduction for a sound and balanced Syrian solution.”
Asked how such a scenario can preserve the current Syrian authority, the official replied, “Because first, we’re a secular country amid a wave of religious fundamentalism surrounding us. Second, because we are a state that has proved it has an effective army. Consequently, we are the only force in the Levant that is capable of countering radicalism and its terrorism. This situation may not satisfy some in the Gulf. Nevertheless, some countries that are rejecting international solutions may be preoccupied with other priorities at the time and may find themselves required to accept this international solution to the Syrian crisis.”
The time limit on his interpretation is not clear. The official was not decisive. He concluded, saying, “Let's wait until after the US-European-Iranian meeting in Muscat, and then for Nov. 24, in regard to issuing a declaration on the nuclear file between the three mentioned parties. On this occasion, Iranian officials are betting that something positive will be announced. After that, everything will be possible. Let’s wait and see.”
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U.S.-led airstrikes target gathering of ISIS leaders in Iraq

Local residents report that Islamic State's local leader in the western Iraqi province of Anbar and his deputy were killed.
U.S.-led air strikes have targeted a gathering of Islamic State leaders in Iraq in a town near the Syrian border, possibly including the group's top commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Al-Hadath television channel said on Saturday.
Iraqi security officials were not immediately available for comment on the report from the station, part of Saudi-owned al-Arabiya television, but two witnesses told Reuters an air strike targeted a house where senior Islamic State officers were meeting, near the western Iraqi border town of al-Qaim.
They said fighters of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, had evacuated a hospital so that their wounded could be treated. Residents said there were unconfirmed reports that Islamic State's local leader in the western Iraqi province of Anbar and his deputy were killed.
U.S. officials would not confirm or deny if Baghdadi, the group's overall leader, had been targeted.
One U.S. official said that air strikes were carried out against a convoy near the northern city of Mosul and against small Islamic State units elsewhere, but the U.S.-led air strikes had not targeted an Islamic State gathering.
Al-Hadath said dozens of people were killed and wounded in the strike, which it said took place in al-Qaim, and that Baghdadi's fate was unclear.
Al-Qaim and its neighbouring Syrian counterpart Albukamal are on a strategic supply route.
The report came hours after car bombs killed 20 people, including five soldiers, in the Iraqi capital and the city of Ramadi to the west on Saturday, police and medical sources said, in attacks that resembled operations carried out by Islamic State militants.
Two bombs exploded in separate attacks in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Amil district, said a police source.
"A driver parked his car and went to a cigarette stall, then he disappeared. Then his car blew up, killing passers-by," said the police source, describing one of the two attacks in Amil.
In the mostly Shi'ite al-Amin area of Baghdad, another car bomb killed eight people, medical sources said.
The attack by a suicide bomber on a checkpoint in Ramadi in western Anbar province killed five soldiers.
"Before the explosion, the checkpoint was targeted with several mortar rounds. Then the suicide humvee bomber attacked it," said a police official.
"Some troops came to the scene. They were attacked by mortars. A confrontation took place for one hour."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.
The ultra-hardline Sunni Islamic State's drive to create a caliphate in Iraq has helped return sectarian violence to the dark days of 2006-2007, the peak of a civil war.
In the town of Baquba, 65 km northeast of Baghdad, a gunman killed a Shi'ite militiaman, and a car bomb targeting a police officer killed his 10-year-old son, security sources said.
Western and Iraqi officials say U.S.-led air strikes are not enough to defeat the al Qaeda offshoot, which holds parts of Iraq and Syria and is fighting to expand what it calls a caliphate.
Iraq must improve the performance of its army and security forces in order to eliminate the threat from the group, which wants to redraw the map of the Middle East, the officials say.
U.S. President Barack Obama has approved sending up to 1,500 more troops to Iraq, roughly doubling the number of U.S. forces on the ground, to advise and retrain Iraqis in their battle against Islamic State.
The Iraqi prime minister's media office said the additional U.S. trainers were welcome but the move came late, state television reported.
The United States spent $25 billion on the Iraqi military during the U.S. occupation that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, and triggered an insurgency that included al Qaeda.
Washington wants Iraq's Shi'ite-led government to revive an alliance with Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province which helped U.S. Marines defeat al Qaeda.
Such an alliance would face a more formidable enemy in Islamic State, which has more firepower and funding.
Police Colonel Shaaban Barazan al-Ubaidi, commander of a rapid reaction force in Anbar, said security forces retook eight villages. His account could not be immediately confirmed.

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IS recruiting thousands in Pakistan, govt warned in 'secret' report

The provincial government of Balochistan has conveyed a confidential report to the federal government and law enforcement agencies warning of increased footprints of militant organisation Islamic State (IS), also known by the Arabic acronym Daish, in Pakistan.
The ‘secret information report', a copy of which is available with DawnNews, is dated October 31, and states that IS has claimed to have recruited a massive 10 to 12,000 followers from the Hangu and Kurram Agency tribal areas.
"It has been reliably learnt that Daish has offered some elements of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wai Jamat (ASWJ) to join hands in Pakistan. Daish has also formed a ten-member Strategic Planning Wing," the report from the Home and Tribal Affair Department of Balochistan says.
The report states that the IS plans to attack military installations and government buildings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in retaliation to the army-led Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan and also plans to target members of the minority Shia community.
The Balochistan government called for heightened vigilance and security measures in the province as well as the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to prevent and pre-empt such attacks.
It has moreover called for sensitising law enforcement agencies on the issue and an increased monitoring of LeJ members.
The warning comes days after six top commanders of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including its now defunct spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, have announced their allegiance to IS's caliph Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi Al Qureshi Al-Hussaini..
The Taliban spokesman said he, along with TTP chief for Orakzai Agency Saeed Khan, TTP chief for Kurram Agency Daulat Khan, TTP's Khyber Agency chief Fateh Gul Zaman, TTP’s Peshawar chief Mufti Hassan and TTP’s Hangu chief Khalid Mansoor, have announced their allegiance to Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi.
Earlier in the week, Shahidullah Shahid was replaced by Mohammad Khurasani as the new TTP spokesperson

Efforts under way to launch Daish in Pakistan by dawn-news The Islamic State's presence has not been officially established so far.
Perceived threat?
Security expert Dr Ejaz Hussain believes that Pakistan faces a perceived threat from the IS but it can mature into a real threat if they succeed in aligning themselves with the splinter groups of mainstream militants groups, including the TTP.
“If the Pakistan security apparatus fails to check their footprints, it could be a setback for them in future. It appears that the IS wants to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, particularly the time when US forces begin to withdraw from Afghanistan. If not checked, IS will pose a major threat to South Asia and the Persian Gulf,” Hussain told Dawn.
IS, which is led by Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi, is currently based in Iraq and Syria and occupies border areas. It is accused of killing hundreds of Muslims and some American and UK citizens, which include journalists and aid workers.
Wall-chalking has also begun to appear in support of IS in some cities of Pakistan, including Karachi and Khanewal.
Police in Khanewal said it had registered a case against unknown persons for engaging in wall chalking and was also investigating their presence. However, police in Karachi have not registered any case.
Last month, a pamphlet was distributed in Peshawar. Police has not registered a case against anyone and has expressed their ignorance about any such pamphlet.

As Obama visits Asia, old alliances face new strains in face of China's influence

In November 2011, with the Arab Spring uprisings in full tilt and Europe rocked by a debt crisis, President Barack Obama flew to Asia to promote a shift of America’s military, diplomatic and business assets to the region. His then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, declared in the same year that the 21st century would be "America's Pacific century".
Fast-forward to today: as Obama flies to Asia on Sunday, Washington's “pivot” to the region is becoming more visible. It includes deployment of American Marines in Darwin, Australia, stepped up U.S. naval visits to the Philippines and many more joint drills with that nation's armed forces, as well as the lifting of a ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam.
But just as Washington seeks to expand American interests in Asia as a counterpoint to China’s growing influence, some U.S. partners have shown less willingness to challenge Beijing. That may mean China will have a freer hand to assert its authority in the resource-rich South China Sea, where its territorial claims overlap those of Taiwan and four Southeast Asian countries.
The drubbing Obama's Democrats took in this week's mid-term elections, defeats that were blamed by many on his leadership, will hardly strengthen his position in discussions with China or with allies in the region. Obama will have less room for maneuver on foreign policy now he has a Republican-controlled Senate to deal with, and the political focus in Washington is already starting to turn to the 2016 presidential election.
Although several countries, notably the Philippines and Vietnam, have sought closer U.S. ties as a defense against what they see as China's aggression in pursuit of its claims in the South China Sea, other long-established alliances have become less robust.
Beijing's increasing economic influence is a major reason. Southeast Asia's trade with China is up four-fold over the past decade to $350 billion last year and is forecast to reach $1 trillion by 2020.
Indonesia, traditionally a leading voice and strong U.S. ally in Southeast Asia, has signaled a foreign policy shift away from international activism following this year’s election of a populist President Joko Widodo, who said in his election campaign that his focus would be on domestic affairs.
Rizal Sukma, a foreign policy adviser to Widodo, told Reuters there would be a shift in priorities from high-profile diplomacy, though Indonesia would continue to play a role in the South China Sea and support freedom of navigation and trade.
On the South China Sea, Widodo is unlikely to act without a crisis, said Greg Fealy, an Indonesia expert at the Australian National University. "The U.S. may well find it much more difficult to get any leverage,” he said.
In Thailand, a military coup in May has shaken up its relationship with the United States. Since the coup, Washington has scaled back diplomatic contacts and reduced joint military exercises.
And Malaysia, next year’s chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has seen a wave of Chinese trade and investment and is working with Beijing on upgrading an ASEAN-China free-trade agreement.
"I think there is every reason to be concerned,” over whether ASEAN will stand up to China, said Joseph Liow, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington's Brookings Institution think tank.
During his trip, Obama will attend the Nov. 10-11 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing and the Nov. 13 East Asia Summit in Myanmar. Perhaps most importantly, he will hold talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 11-12.
U.S. officials say he plans to press Xi about China's aggressive behavior in pursuit of maritime claims in Asia. "We are going to have to speak very directly and candidly about some of our concerns and our areas of disagreement," a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters.
Washington has had its recent successes in the region. In April, the U.S. and the Philippines signed a new 10-year security pact allowing for a larger U.S. military presence. In July, another U.S. ally, Japan, revised its interpretation of a pacifist postwar constitution to allow Japanese troops to assist a friendly state under attack. And Washington has also agreed to boost defense ties with Australia and agreed with India to negotiate a 10-year extension of a bilateral military cooperation deal.
Perhaps most eye-catching of all, nearly 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States last month partially lifted a long-time ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam to help Hanoi improve maritime security.
That followed tensions between China and Vietnam that flared in May after China's state-run CNOOC oil company parked a deepwater rig off Vietnam’s coast in what Hanoi said was its exclusive economic zone, sparking the worst breakdown in ties between the two since a border war in 1979.
Joint U.S.-Philippine drills and exercises have more than quadrupled in the past two years, the Philippine military said. Its Subic Bay port saw 100 U.S. naval ship visits in the first 10 months of this year, up from 54 in 2011.
The Pentagon says it now has 1,150 Marines in Darwin, in northern Australia, up from an initial 200 in April 2012. It plans to lift that force to 2,500 in two years, pending an agreement with the Australian government.
A vital component of Obama's rebalance - a 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact - has yet to be concluded. Obama has said he wants to see TPP progress as a result of his trip, but U.S. officials say they do not expect a deal given major outstanding issues. China is not one of those negotiating the TPP, but is open to joining one day.
"There's no country in the region, given China's rise ... who isn't essentially a strong supporter of America remaining strategically engaged in the region," said Russell Trood, an adjunct professor of U.S. studies at the University of Sydney.
"And yet when you ask them to stand up and nail their colors to the masthead, as it were, few are prepared to do it to the degree to which Washington would no doubt be reassured."

Expanded US role in Iraq? Not without Congress' OK

Congress members returning to Capitol Hill next week will face a debate over President Barack Obama's new $5.6 billion plan to expand the U.S. mission in Iraq and send up to 1,500 more American troops to the war-torn nation.
Obama authorized the deployment of advisory teams and trainers to bolster struggling Iraqi forces across the country, including into Iraq's western Anbar province where fighting with Islamic State militants has been fierce. His decision comes just three days after bruising midterm elections for his Democratic Party.
But the deployments hinge on whether Obama can get the funding approved in Congress' lame-duck session, so that advisers can begin deploying to Iraq, particularly to Anbar where Sunni tribes have persistently requested help.
Obama's plan could boost the total number of American troops in Iraq to 3,100. There are currently about 1,400 U.S. troops there, out of the 1,600 previously authorized.
The Iraqi government, members of Congress and others have called for troops in Anbar in western Iraq, where extremists have been slaughtering men, women and children.
Congress hopes to complete the defense policy bill in the postelection, pre-holiday session and will consider the Iraq funding along with the administration's request for billions more for military operations overseas. Lawmakers are still pressing the White House for additional details on how the money would be spent.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the military will set up several sites across Iraq to train nine Iraqi Army brigades and three peshmerga brigades, which are made up of Iraqi Kurdish forces. The military will also establish two operations centers where small advisory teams can work with Iraqi forces at the headquarters and brigade levels.
Kirby said one of those centers will be in Anbar province, where U.S. troops fought al-Qaida extremists in brutal fighting in 2004 to 2007, costing more than 1,000 American lives and 9,000 Iraqi lives, mainly in the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
He added that the U.S. also is considering training of some of the Sunni tribes. In 2007, Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar joined forces with Americans — in what was called the Anbar Awakening — and dealt a blow against the insurgents that many credit with turning the tide in that conflict.
The new Iraqi leaders have pledged to be more supportive of the Sunni tribes than the previous Shiite government was, although Kirby said it's unclear whether the Baghdad government will provide them with weapons.
Kirby said the expansion was based on a request from the Iraqi officials, the U.S. military's assessment of Iraqi military progress and as part of a campaign plan "to defend key areas and go on the offensive against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," another name for IS.
The U.S. troops will not be in combat roles but will train Iraqi forces in protected locations around the country. Until now, U.S. troops have largely been confined to Baghdad and Irbil, including two operations centers in those cities. Of the 1,500 troops, Kirby said that about 630 would be used for the advisory teams, including support and security forces, and the rest would be for the training mission. Troops could begin deploying as soon as this month, if Congress approves the funding, but it will take a couple months to get the training sites ready, and the actual training will take six to seven months.
The funding request followed a meeting among Obama and congressional leaders on Friday, which included a military briefing. Of the approximately $5 billion for the Pentagon, about $3.4 billion would support ongoing operations and strikes on the Islamic State, and $1.6 billion would support the training and equipping mission for the Iraqis. The remainder is State Department funding to support diplomatic efforts.
Kirby said Iraq and other coalition nations will contribute money, and other countries will also send trainers. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with the Danish Minister of Defense Nicolai Wammen on Friday at the Pentagon, and Kirby said the minister committed to sending up to 120 trainers for Iraqi forces.
The U.S. has been launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants and facilities in Iraq and Syria for months, as part of an effort to give Iraqi forces the time and space to mount a more effective offensive. Early on, the Islamic State group had gained ground across Iraq. Lately, however, with the aid of the U.S. strikes, IS has suffered a number of losses in Iraq, where it is fighting government forces, peshmerga and Shiite militias aided by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah group.
Last week, Iraqi forces recaptured the town of Jurf al-Sakher. IS also lost a string of towns near the Syrian border last month. Besieged Iraqi troops have also managed to maintain control of Iraq's largest oil refinery outside the town of Beiji north of Baghdad, despite numerous attempts by the Islamic State group to capture it.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday that he has "long been concerned that the president has underfunded our combat operations against terrorists."
He said he will give the funding request fair consideration, but added, "I remain concerned that the president's strategy to defeat ISIL is insufficient. I would urge the president to reconsider his strategy and clearly explain how this additional funding supports a new direction. Such clarity is more likely to find swift congressional approval."
ISIL is one of several acronyms for the Islamic State group.

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Afghanistan: President Ghani pledges robust investment on girls education

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani insisted on robust investment on girls education, saying that educating a girl will have it’s impact on the coming five generations.
He was speaking during the inauguration of USAID-funded Promote project which will seek to advance opportunities for thousands of Afghan women to help them become leaders in the political, private, and civil society sectors.
USAID has committed $216 million to fund Promote project, making it the largest women’s empowerment project in the US Government’s history.
President Ghani reaffirmed commitment to make robust investment on women’s education and promised that women will have major role in the judiciary system of the country.
He said the first women’s university will be opened in Afghanistan with the help of foreign allies of Afghanistan.
President Ghani also called on USAID to help the Afghan women in finding international markets for their products, including the US markets. The Promote programs will help 75,000 young Afghan women become leaders in their fields over the course of the five-year program. USAID is providing $216 million to Promote, with other donors possibly contributing an additional $200 million.
According to USAID, the Promote program’s main goal is to strengthen Afghanistan’s development by boosting female participation in the economy, helping women gain business and management skills, supporting women’s rights groups and increasing the number of women in decision making positions within the Afghan government.

Afgh - China: Two Birds with One Afghanistan

Frank Sieren
The newly burgeoning relationship between China and Afghanistan is of mutual benefit, says DW columnist Frank Sieren.
If you want to see who is Afghanistan’s new friend, all you have to do is look at the new president’s travel schedule. Ashraf Ghani had hardly been in office for a month when he took off on his first foreign visit. Where did he go? To China of course - which is, politically and economically, the strongest of Afghanistan’s neighbors. The Chinese leader and Party boss Xi Jinping received the Afghan president in Beijing last week. And not only was it Ghani’s first state visit, his final day in Beijing happened to coincide with the opening day of the Istanbul Process 2014.
This was China’s first time as host for the coming together of 14 Asian states, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzistan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates. China has fostered close ties to Pakistan for decades. Now it is building a friendship with Afghanistan. The country is simply too strategically important for China to ignore. It is indeed of such significance that in the 19th century, the British tried to bring the divided land under their control, followed by the Russians in the 20th century and the Americans and NATO in the 21st.
So Far Unsuccessful
China, however, is not planning to control Afghanistan by military means. Beijing’s strategy is one of economic cooperation. While Western firms have neither the political back-up, the money, nor the economic interest, Chinese companies have no such problems and are slated to move into Afghanistan.
But they do have others. In 2007, Beijing paid $3 billion for a copper mine outside Kabul. This needled the Americans, who then began to support archaeological excavations on the site with millions of US dollars. Lack of infrastructure and Taliban attacks also took their toll on the project. As recently as September, another Chinese delegation came by for a visit. A date for when they can get started with the extraction of copper has yet to be arranged.
Another Chinese raw materials project which has had a bit of a bumpy ride is on the border to Turkmenistan. The Chinese Petro-chemical company CNPC has begun extracting oil in the Amu Darya oil field. Disputes about costs between Afghan authorities and Chinese sub-contractors, as well as antiquated equipment, have led to a standstill here, too. Additionally, China would like to build infrastructure in Afghanistan in order to realize the dream of a new Silk Road. Afghanistan could then be at a crossroads between China and its partners further west including Iran. ‘Could’, though, is the operative word: this project too is more theory than practice.
Shared interest
But there is another reason why Beijing remains so undeterred that it recently even earmarked a further $3 million for investment in the country. On the one hand, China - in time-honored fashion - is attempting to secure access to raw materials. But when it comes to Afghanistan, Beijing is also pursuing other interests. With "Islamic State" militants declaring their intention to liberate the autonomous region of Xinjiang, the urgency of maintaining stability in Afghanistan is greater than ever. Not least because Beijing believes that the terrorists who have been active in Xinjiang in the past hailed from eastern Afghanistan.
Afghanistan itself could also benefit from a closer cooperation with Beijing, which would help it banish the specter of the Taliban. The Chinese have long nurtered a friendship with Pakistan, a bastion of the Taliban. A closer friendship between Kabul and Beijing boost the likelihood of constructive talks between Kabul and Islamabad on how to tackle the threat of the Taliban.

Pakistan: Bilawal Bhutto strongly condemns killing of Allama Nasir Abbas
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairperson Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has termed the killing of Allama Nasir Abbas in Peshawar as part of conspiracy by the anti-state elements who want to fan sectarianism and disintegrate the Pakistani society.
In a press statement issued here, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that daylight murder of a religious scholar was highly condemnable act and asked the KPK government not to let the culprits go scot-free.
He also expressed condolence with the members of bereaved family and prayed for eternal rest to the departed soul and courage and fortitude to them to bear this irreparable loss.

Opinion: The West must demand changes to Pakistan's blasphemy laws

By - Grahame Lucas
Once again terrible news is coming out of Pakistan. The country's strict blasphemy laws are once more at the focus of attention after yet another spate of recent extra-judicial killings, writes DW's Grahame Lucas.
In the last few days, the continuing abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy law has been there for all to see. Again. A Pakistani policeman, whose job it is to uphold law and order, bludgeoned a man accused of insulting companions of the Prophet Mohammad to death in a holding cell in a police station in the city of Gujrat. By way of an excuse, the police claimed the accused was mentally imbalanced. But there can never be an excuse for such a blatant violation of human rights. A proper judicial investigation into the incident is unlikely to go anywhere.
Just days earlier, another horrific killing made the headlines. After being accused by the local mosque of committing blasphemy, a Christian laborer and his wife were beaten to death by a mob and thrown on a furnace for allegedly desecrating a Koran. The woman was pregnant. The charges were obviously trumped up by local religious leaders and the laborer's employer. Although Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the incident, he clearly has no mandate and certainly no ambition to repeal the controversial blasphemy law. He knows only too well that aspirations of this kind can be fatal in Pakistan. In 2011, the federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, who sought to abolish Blasphemy Law, was murdered by the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws have long been contentious. Introduced originally under British rule, they were tightened up by General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. The times were fortuitous. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan was helping the US to fight the communists, the non-believers, in Afghanistan. Haq, a religious hardliner who had seized power and then had Pakistan's deposed prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto executed, sought to subject public life in Pakistan to Islamic rules. His policies also did much to make the introduction of Shariah fashionable in other Muslim countries. More than anything else, Haq's reforms strengthened the position of religious zealots in Pakistan to the extent that today they are free to whip up public sentiment on any issue that appears to be in their interests.
Ostensibly, blasphemy against any religion is prohibited under Zia's reformed Penal Code. In practice, however, it is open to abuse and is used primarily against anyone deemed to have insulted Islam. Seeing as it only requires one witness for charges to be filed and that information about the evidence cannot be disclosed because that in itself would constitute blasphemy, the process of prosecution is fatally flawed from the outset. Moreover, lawyers shy away from defending the accused. After all, they might be killed too. A fair trial is impossible.
Thus, the present law is an open invitation to religious zealots or simply opportunists to use Islam to attack anyone for the most primitive of reasons. Not surprisingly, most of the cases are, in the view of human rights experts, based on revenge, hatred or the desire to grab someone's property. It comes as no surprise to learn that most of the accused are the weakest members of society - members of religious minorities like Ahmadiyyah-Muslims, Christians or Hindus.
Just recently a Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to hang in 2010, had her final appeal to the Lahore High Court rejected. Her case illustrates just how absurd blasphemy allegations usually are: Bibi was out picking berries with a group of Muslim women who accused her of drinking from the same water bowl. As she was viewed as an "unclean" Christian, this constituted blasphemy. Bibi was then reported to the local Imam who triggered blasphemy charges. A courageous politician, Punjab's former governor Salman Taseer, who intervened on Bisi's behalf, was shot dead in 2011 by a crazed security guard.
What is very obvious from the outside is that Zia-ul-Haq took Pakistan down a road from which no return appears possible at the present time. Extremist religious leaders and fanatics have attained such influence in and over the public domain in the last thirty years that political action to curb their arbitrary abuse of power appears beyond the reach of the present political setup. All western countries can do is to draw attention to the abuse of blasphemy laws at all levels and the damage it is doing to Pakistan's already sullied reputation. They must continue to demand change. Germany now has an opportunity to do this. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives in Berlin at the weekend.

Pakistan: Bhagwandas refuses to take up CEC job
Former judge Justice (retd) Rana Bhagwandas, who emerged as front runner for the position of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), on Saturday refused to assume the job.
According to the sources, Senator and Pakistan People’s Party senior leader Mian Raza Rabbani met Bhagwandas to convince him to take the charge of CEC if political parties reach consensus on his name. Earlier, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Pervaiz Rashid disclosed that consensus has been found among various political parties on name of Bhagwandas for the CEC slot.

Pakistan: Over 250 minority members murdered during Shahbaz Sharif’s reign as CM Punjab

The November 4 chilling episode of mob violence at Kot Radha Kishan where a Christian couple was beaten and burned alive after being thrown into the kiln where they worked, has further tainted the already dismal record of the PML-N government which has generally failed to shield the members of the minority communities from the wrath of extremists, writes Amir Mir.
Like in the previous such cases of Aasia Bibi and Ramsha Masih, who had been accused of committing blasphemy, the most recent episode also revolves around a cleric who told his community through loudspeakers of his mosque to punish the Christian couple for burning pages of the Holy Quran.
A mob subsequently gathered outside the house of Shehzad Masih, 32, and his wife Shama, in her 20s, dragged them out and beat them to death, before setting their bodies on fire in a brick kiln where they worked.
The incident took place in the tiny village of Chak 59 near Kot Radha Kishan town, which is 60 kilometers from Lahore. As usual, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Chief Minister brother Shahbaz Sharif have ordered an inquiry, as had been done after the July 31, 2009 and the March 9, 2013 anti-Christian riots in Gojra and Lahore respectively where hundreds houses and shops of the Christians’ were ransacked, looted and finally set ablaze by religiously motivated fanatics.
According to careful estimates, under his six and a half years chief minister ship in Punjab (between 2008 till 2014), over 250 Christians, Shias and Ahmedis have been killed so far in Punjab in hate-driven assaults, with some of the horrendous attacks targeting the minority communities happening in Lahore. Shahbaz Sharif is the longest serving Chief Minister of Punjab (having already served for over a decade) by holding the same office twice before between 1997 till 1999 and 2008 till 2013. But his government’s ‘history sheet’ is simply murky to say the least, keeping in view the number of non-stop incidents of mob violence and terrorism in Punjab against members of the minority communities, especially Christians and Ahmedis.
Hardly 18 months ago, a violent mob forced 170 Christian families of Lahore to flee the Joseph Colony [on March 9, 2013] before setting ablaze their houses over allegations that a Christian resident of the area had committed blasphemy. A day after the riots, several Christian leaders including Bishop Akram Gill, the Bishop of Pakistan and Dr Nazir Bhatti, the president of Christians National Congress, had accused Malik Riaz (PML-N MNA from NA-118 Lahore) of leading the anti-Christian rally in the Joseph Colony along with hundreds of the PML-N and SSP workers. A subsequent probe gave broad hints that the Joseph Colony riots were possibly an attempt by an influential political figure of the area to get hold of the lucrative property of the Christians Colony which spreads over more than 20 kanals in the heart of Lahore. The Colony was attacked despite the fact that the alleged blasphemer, Sawan Masih, had already been arrested by the Badami Bagh police.
In an almost similar incident, hundreds of activists belonging to the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) had attacked a Christians’ locality in Punjab’s Gojra city on July 31, 2009 and burnt alive eight members of a family besides setting ablaze more than 100 houses. The anti-Christian riots in Gojra were actually triggered by reports of desecration of the Holy Quran by some Christians which eventually proved false. The failure of the Punjab government to prosecute any of the 70 accused held responsible for the gory incident had compelled the surviving head of the family to leave Pakistan after the Punjab police failed to arrest the culprits who had been hurling death threats to him for pursuing the murder case of eight family members. Five of those who had been burnt alive by the attackers were women and children who could not run to save their lives when their house was attacked by the SSP men.
A total of 72 people were nominated in the Gojra attacks’ FIR who were set free one by one because the complainant in the murder case, Almas Hameed Masih, a resident of the Christian Colony, decided against pursuing the case and left Pakistan to save his life. Almas had actually nominated the president of the Toba Tek Singh chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in the FIR as one of the accused who was held responsible for the July 2010 incident along with the local leadership of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan which has already been renamed as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Those nominated in the case registered under section-7 of the Anti Terrorism Act, included Abdul Qadir Awan of PML-N and Maulana Abdul Khaliq, Qari Abidur Rehman Shah and Hafiz Mohammad Imran of the ASWJ.
Ten months after the Gojra tragedy, two fidayeen squads of the Punjabi Taliban targeted two Ahmedi worship places in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore and killed over 100 people who were offering Friday prayers. Claiming responsibility for the May 28, 2010 twin terrorist attacks, Mansoor Maawia, a spokesperson for the Punjabi Taliban had said, “No Ahmedi would live in peace in Pakistan. Our war against them will continue till their total elimination as they are as worst infidels as Jews are.”
It later transpired during investigations that the master planner of the twin attacks was in fact a doctor of the Jinnah Hospital, Dr Ali Abdullah, who was also the president of Jamaatul Daawa Medical Wing. He told his interrogators that while pursuing his medical degree at Allama Iqbal medical college, he had received armed training in Azad Kashmir at a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba training camp being run by Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatul Daawa (JuD). His arrest showed for the first time that the Lashkar-e- Tayyaba was a part of the Punjabi Taliban who had let loose a reign of terror across Pakistan, especially targeting the minority communities. However, none of the accused in the twin attacks targeting the Ahmedi worship places has so far been taken to task.
Seven months later [on January 4, 2011], Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in the federal capital by Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a fanatic body guard from the Elite Force of the Punjab Police. The killer later explained that he had assassinated Taseer because of his criticism of the blasphemy law and his efforts to secure a presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman already condemned to death by a Pakistani Anti Terrorism Court for having committed blasphemy.
However, quite ironically, the jailed killer of the former Punjab Governor seems to be enjoying a free hand at the Adiala Jail Rawalpindi to indoctrinate those around him and incite them into killing blasphemy accused and convicts even in their prison cells. An inquiry report into the September 25, 2014 murder attempt on Mohammad Asghar, an elderly British schizophrenic who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges last year and shot by one of prison guards at Adiala Jail has revealed that the guard had been provoked to do so by Taseer’s jailed assassin, Malik Mumtaz Qadri.
Two months after Taseer’s assassination, [on March 2, 2011], Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, was shot dead on a busy road in the federal capital Islamabad. The responsibility for the assassination was placed on the Punjabi Taliban because of a pamphlet found at the place where he was killed. Written in Urdu, the leaflet claimed that Bhatti had been killed because of his opposition to the blasphemy law. His killers have already been arrested but none of them has been convicted so far.
The next in line to be killed by the Punjabi Taliban was Bargeeta Almby, a 72-year old female Christian charity worker from Sweden, who was shot in the Model Town area of Lahore on December 3, 2012 for allegedly backing two Christian priests who had been accused of committing blasphemy. Bargeeta, the managing director of the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), a church fellowship founded in the United States with congregations worldwide, was returning home from her Kot Lakhpat office when two unidentified motorcyclists shot her in the Model Town area of Lahore where she had been living since long. She was shifted to Sweden but she could not survive.
The day Bargeeta was targeted in Model Town, another significant incident took place in the Model Town area of Lahore where a dozen masked men carrying arms and digging tools, had vandalised the tombstones of 100-plus graves at an Ahmadi cemetery. In fact, Model Town also houses a huge office of the Jamaatul Daawa, which is located quite close to one of the Ahmedi worship places which had been attacked on May 28, 2010. And Model Town is the same area from where Warren Weinstein, a 71-year old Jewish American US Aid official, was abducted on August 13, 2011 by armed men who had eventually sold him to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Pakistan: ‘Blasphemy’ murders: Relatives of slain Christian couple object to FIR

By Rana Yasif
A Kasur additional district and sessions judge on Thursday sought comments from Kot Radha Kishan police on a petition seeking the court’s directive to change the complainant of the FIR registered after the killing of a Christian couple accused of blasphemy. Mukhtar Masih, father of Saima alias Shama, filed the petition objecting to Sub-Inspector Muhammad Ali being named as complainant. He requested the court that the incident be investigated fairly and thoroughly.
Press conference
The Masiha Millat Party said on Thursday kiln owner Muhammad Yousuf Gujjar, Munshi Shakeel and Munshi Afzal had illegally detained Sajjad Masih and his wife Shama for three days before throwing them into a brick kiln. Party’s founder Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra, Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan secretary general Naseeb Anjum, Father Samson Dilawar Pastor Benjamin and Fayyaz Shaukat were also present at the press conference. Sahotra said Gujjar had paid Rs500,000 to hire the couple. He said Sajjad had told Ramazan, a driver of Gujjar, that he wanted to quit the job. He said Gujjar had detained Sajjad in a room after Ramazan told him that he wanted to leave. Gujjar also demanded that Sajjad return him the money, Sahotra said. He said the kiln owner later instigated a mob against the couple accusing them of blasphemy. He said the authorities, including police, had tried to hush up the matter. He said Provincial Assembly Member Anees Qureshi, Regional Police Officer Abu Bakar and District Police Officer Jawad Qamar had forcibly buried the deceased at midnight. Sahotra said his party had pressed for burial to be held at 10am on Wednesday. He demanded that the government act against the kiln owner and his accomplices.
The Masiha Millat Party also staged a protest demonstration in front of Lahore Press Club. Some relatives of the slain couple also attended the demonstration and demanded that the government protect minority citizens.

Pakistan People’s Party condemns Wagah blast, Christian couple’s killing

The executive committee of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab chapter in a meeting on Friday passed two resolutions, condemning bomb blast at Wagha border and the lynching of a Christian couple in Kasur District.
PPP Punjab President Mian Manzoor Wattoo chaired the meeting attended by Tanvir Ashraf Kaira, Samina Gurkhi, Raja Raiz, Mushtaq Awan, Azizur Rehman Chan, Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Ghulam Farid Kathia, Dewan Mohyuddin, Suhail Milk, Mian Abdul Waheed, Main Ayub, Chaudhry Manzoor and Abdul Qadir Shaheen.
In the first resolution, the party resolved that terrorists would not succeed in weakening the determination of the Pakistani nation to defeat the menace of terrorism. The party appreciated the successes of Pakistan Army against terrorists in military operations and said that it stood firmly behind the army to eliminate terrorists. The resolution praised the services of Gurkhi Teaching Hospital for providing prompt and excellent treatment facilities to victims of the blast. The services of other hospitals in this regard were also recognised.
In the second resolution, the committee condemned the lynching of a Christian couple in a Kot Radha Kishan village. The resolution stated that the incident had brought heap of ignominy for Pakistan in the international community. The PPP expressed the resolve to protect the life and property of religious minorities because they were equal citizens of Pakistan besides expressing the resolve to help out the victim family by extending legal services. The resolution also said that financial assistance would also be extended to the victim family.
In the meeting, various proposals were also discussed in connection with party’s foundation day to be observed on November 30 when Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will visit the provincial capital to meet the party rank and file.
Talking to the media after the meeting, Wattoo said that the PPP was ready to contest midterm elections because it was the biggest political force in the country. He expressed his confidence that the PPP would perform well in fair, free and impartial elections.
To a question, the former chief minister said that scores of PTI parliamentarians did not want to resign and that their conduct was mature enough to move the political system in the right direction.
He pointed out that the PTI had decided to resign from the National Assembly and other provincial assemblies except for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, adding that it was the manifestation of double standard. He further said that the PPP was not supporting the government but that it was supporting democracy for which the PPP had rendered countless sacrifices. There was zero tolerance in the party for any potential hazard to democracy, he added.

Pakistan's blasphemy law - ''Time for repeal''

Pakistan is being subjected to one horror after another every other day. Close on the heels of the brutal, barbaric torture and burning of a Christian couple and their unborn child in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan, comes the report of a policeman hacking a prisoner to death in a police station in Gujrat who had been detained for alleged blasphemous utterings. As usual in such cases, there are contradictory versions of the events leading up to the bloody murder. According to the murderer, ASI Faraz Naveed, the detainee, Syed Tufail Haider, had been saying blasphemous things continually since he was brought in, and finally, the police officer could not control his emotions and axed him to death. Gujrat District Police Officer Rai Ijaz Ahmed however, revealed that the detainee had used swear words, which infuriated the murdering police officer. The victim had been picked up by police after a scuffle with some people who alleged that he had uttered blasphemous words. It also transpires that the police were aware of the presence of the victim in Gujrat much earlier as he had been found using expletives at various points on the city streets, was briefly detained on more than one occasion, and finally freed on the grounds that he appeared mentally unstable. The question this case therefore boils down to is whether Haider was killed for blasphemy or using foul language, and whether he was fully in control of his senses. The fact that the murderer claimed blasphemy after the act reminds one of how the blasphemy law has been misused and abused in so many cases that on deeper examination are based on settling scores or gaining some material advantage. The Christian brick kiln workers mentioned above had a monetary dispute with the owner of the kiln where they worked and may have been eliminated for alleged blasphemy when the real reason was more materialistic and therefore even more sordid.
The blasphemy law provisions have emerged as a convenient catchall justification for literally murder. All one has to do to eliminate a rival or someone from whom some material benefit can be derived is to accuse them of blasphemy, mobilise a vigilante mob with the help of some local frothing-at-the-mouth cleric, and the deed is done. Why such witch-hunts and lynchings are becoming ‘popular’ and more and more frequent is because the courts have proved incapable of punishing false accusers and murderers in this context. Take the case of Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court (whose judge had to flee the country for fear of his life), he languishes reportedly in comfort and with the freedom to proselytise and instigate prison staff to commit similar atrocities because the Islamabad High Court in its wisdom is still sitting on his appeal against the death sentence. Justice delayed is justice denied, the old saying goes, but in this case this is not the only tragedy. Mumtaz Qadri has proved himself a threat to society by instigating another jail official to shoot dead one blasphemy accused and wound another inside Adiala Jail. Failure to punish murderers using the blasphemy cover for their heinous objectives has encouraged others to utilise this loophole and the inability of the judicial system to provide justice. In the climate that is abroad in the country, the mere accusation of blasphemy, true or false, often seals the fate of the accused.
Our descent into fanatical barbarism is accompanied by our inability to face up to the challenge. Civil society’s protests and condemnations fail to create a critical mass of opinion that could change things. Political society’s response too is lip service to condemnation without lifting a finger to alter the state of affairs. Even one of the largest parties in the country, the PPP, failed to come to the aid and support of its own Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was literally thrown to the wolves by his party’s pusillanimous leadership and torn apart by religious fanatics and right wing opinion makers even before he was brutally gunned down in a cowardly attack by his security guard. All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing to combat it. This is where we stand today as a society. It is time to revisit the blasphemy law with a renewed vision that even fresh legislation to provide safeguards against false blasphemy accusations will not do since the accused is likely to be killed anyway. The blasphemy law must simply be repealed. The time has come. Neither Allah nor his Prophet (PBUH) need our puny and misguided efforts to defend them.

Thousands of Pakistani NICs issued to foreigners in Balochistan

In violation of rules and regulations, National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) officials have issued thousands of National Identity Cards (NIC) to foreigners especially Afghan nationals in Balochistan.
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has arrested two officers who were involved in issuing fake NICs.
"We have arrested two officers for issuance of NICs to foreigners," Syed Khalid Iqbal, the Director General NAB Balochistan told via telephone.
However, he stated that it was the responsibly of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to probe into the issuance of NICs to foreigners.
"We are investigating into the issuance of 1000 NICs," Assistant Director FIA, Sultan Afridi told
Most of the NICs were issued from Quetta, Mastung, Noshki and Dhadar, Afridi informed.
"We have written a letter to Nadra regarding the involvement of three of its officers," he said.
The FIA will take action against the officers after getting permission from Nadra as per the law, which forbids the agency from taking action without the authority's consent.
Mounting public pressure and an investigation by anti-corruption institutions prompted Nadra to block thousands of suspicious NICs in Balochistan.
An officer in Nadra, who requested anonymity, told that currently the authority has blocked 31,000 NICs over suspicion of being fake.
"We have blocked the NICs since we have suspicion that they were issued to foreigners," he said.
The government has established a committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner Quetta, Abdul Latif Kakar for verification of blocked NICs.
"So far we have verified over 1,000 blocked NICs," Kakar said. He further emphasised that all efforts were being made to block NICs of foreigners.
Many people in Balochistan complain that locals go through a long verification process and suffer difficulties in acquisition of NICs.
On the other hand, foreigners in general and Afghans in particular, manage to get the cards by paying money.
"Grease the palm of Nadra officials and then get the card," says Shams Mandokhail, a human rights activist.
Sources in Nadra told, that per card was being issued from Rs50,000 to Rs2 lakh in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan.
They acknowledged that Nadra officials were involved in the issuance of fake NICs.
"Without the consent of Nadra no one can get the card," they added.

Pakistan: blasphemy allegation - Senseless bloodletting

It will take us some time to absorb the full horror of the recent mob-murder of a young Christian couple at a brick kiln not far from Lahore.
The murkiness of the blasphemy allegation, the suspicion that the incident was sparked by a financial dispute, and the chilling manner of the couple’s death make the criminal deed all the more horrific, especially as it involved a frightening herd instinct.
Just days after the murder, we witnessed a similar episode of shame and sorrow: on Thursday, in Gujrat, an assistant sub-inspector killed a detainee with an axe at his police station, later saying that the victim had uttered blasphemous words.
The police say there is no evidence of this claim, and that their colleague was enraged at the insults hurled at him by the murdered man who was said to be mentally unsound.
Yet that makes the underlying point all the more significant: increasingly, suspicions of blasphemy are not only creating dangerous and frequently deadly flashpoints of violence, the charge itself can be, and is, easily misused to mask other motives.
If ASI Faraz Naveed from Gujrat felt that the law and his colleagues might view his crime in a more lenient light if he cited blasphemy as the motive behind the murder, it is only because all too often that has proved to be the case.
Pakistan has witnessed assault after assault on this count, each one eventually brushed under the carpet — even in those cases where it is evident that the charge was falsely used to cover up other, more ulterior, motives.
The law itself is problematic; its existence has emboldened individuals or mobs to take the law into their own hands and set out to slaughter. And when this happens, fear spreads through entire communities, often forcing them to leave their homes and flee en masse.
It is essential to find some way to stop the violence and bloodletting that follows blasphemy accusations.
Such a pass has been reached that lawyers and judges involved in blasphemy cases find themselves a target, and let it not be forgotten that Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, was in the news recently because he incited a prison guard to attack another detainee.
Correcting the path is, no doubt, a daunting task; yet, it must be done if Pakistan has any aspirations at all of being counted amongst the world’s more progressive nations.

Pakistan: Power outage escalates as shortfall reaches 5,000 MW

Urban areas face loadshedding for 16 hours whereas those residing in rural areas suffer power cut off for 20 hours as power shortfall mounts to 5,000 megawatt.
Pakistan State Oil (PSO) has minimized fuel supply to power plants in the wake of non-payments in addition to cutting the gas supply.
Hydroelectric power generation has declined to a meager 30% due to reduced water flow, which has significantly shrunk the electricity production.
Total production of electricity has trimmed down to 8,360 megawatt whereas the demand rests at 13,760 megawatt.
Spokesperson Energy and Water said that fuel supply to power plants is continued as per routine whereas loadshedding across country is carried out according to the schedule.

What Will Happen to Aasia Bibi?

Mehr Tarar
On October 23, 2014, Aasia Bibi -- the most prominent blasphemy case death-sentence prisoner in the history of one of Pakistan's most controversial laws -- had her appeal for retraction of her punishment met with rejection at the Lahore High Court. Her lawyers will move the appeal to the Supreme Court, which seems like an exercise in futility since the Court's backlog of cases will not allow the hearing of this controversial (read: unimportant) case until 2017. And Aasia Bibi, languishing in jail on a case full of holes, will go on suffering one endless day at a time, dying inwardly, while waiting, silently, without hope, for that final moment when she would become the first woman in the history of Pakistan to be hanged for "desecration" of the faith Pakistan was created to "safeguard." Ostensibly.
Human rights organizations in Pakistan and globally have erupted in outrage vis-à-vis the upholding of Aasia Bibi's death sentence. A case that had Pope Benedict XVI appeal to then Pakistan government for clemency has unleashed the Pandora's box of how one law in a Muslim state has been misused not just to persecute its dangerously dwindled minorities, but also many from its main religion: Islam. The word "minorities" is abhorrent to me, but I'm forced to use it for purposes of simplification for all who are unfortunate to be citizens of a country that has convoluted into such a bigoted, fanatic "fortress" of the faith of its almost 96% population that many of those who are not Muslim wish they were anywhere but here. I read the reports of international groups and activists who expressing anger and dismay at Aasia Bibi's appeal-rejection intend to put pressure on Pakistan government to overturn the sentence. I also read statements of many Christian groups in Pakistan whose years' long fights to have Aasia Bibi's unjust sentence revoked in a court of law remain fruitless. I, as a practicing Muslim, hear these very brave, very resilient voices echo in a well, cyclically, in the asphyxiating, verging-on-blind bigotry of the confines of that hallowed institution called the court of law in a Muslim country called Pakistan.
What is the real issue here? The alleged desecration of the religion of the majority? Or the blatant desecration of the religion of the "minorities"? Since Allah decrees clearly in the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), what is it that the adherents of one of Allah's religions are attempting to establish here? The obeisance to faith by the blade of a sword is neither sanctioned nor viable in the world that reverberates of many beliefs and multiple narratives. Acceptance and respect come from within, from the soul, and no amount of forced declarations would prove to be sufficient to establish the superiority of one faith over the other. The divides are becoming wider with the lines delineated in blood, and the blood congealing in distorted shapes only to await more persecuted bodies thrown in the circle without any armor of protection.
Blasphemy law, created in 1927 by the British in then united Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, was a penal code for "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religious belief." The law emphasized that there would no discrimination in religions, and it would be applicable to all. After General Ziaul Haq, the military dictator who ruled Pakistan from 1977 to 1988, made multiple additions to the blasphemy law, which included life imprisonment for the defiling or desecrating of the Holy Quran. In 1986, the death penalty was the harshest addition to the law for anyone found guilty of desecration or defaming of Islam.
Since then, although no death sentence has been carried out in a blasphemy case, there have been more than 4,000 cases (since 1927), and many lives have been ruined. Without even elaborating the importance of tenets of forgiveness and mercy of a religion of whose holy book has 113 of its 114 surahs begin with "In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, the legality of a penal code is a discussion that merits its own space. Settling of scores, elimination of personal rivals, persecution of weaker individuals and groups, terrorizing the population... name it, and you would find the application of blasphemy law to camouflage a nefarious motive. That is the most blatant distortion of a law created to safeguard religious sensibilities that does not find much credence or even mention anywhere in a highly fragile balance of what goes for personal, legal and religious domains of lives in Pakistan today.
The story of Aasia Bibi is not about disrespect of Islam. The story of Aasia Bibi is that of the persecution of a Christian woman by the allegation of that one thing that is unbearable to Muslims: desecration of their Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). To me, and all Muslims, there is no person more important, more sacred than our Prophet (PBUH). And to me, any disrespect shown to him is a matter of great personal distress. The acceptance and respect of all prophets mentioned in the Quran, and even the non-Abrahamic religions is ingrained in my consciousness, and the plurality of faiths is something I acknowledge as a part of my mortal existence. And in my entire life -- except for myriad, very unpleasant, experiences on Twitter, I have never encountered a single instance of disrespect to my faith, its tenets, and most importantly, to its Messenger from any person who does not share my faith. I grew up with Christians as my neighbors and friends; I studied with many, and I interacted with countless. And to date, I am unable to think of a singular derogatory word from anyone of those around me about Islam and its icons. Any Muslim that I ask -- of any age, belief and background -- has the same testimonial about the people of other faiths they have interacted with, personally and otherwise. Therefore, the idea of a poor, Christian woman rotting in jail for years is a matter of great concern to me. To me it is very simple because I believe justice is not just delayed in her case, but is blind due to fear of bigoted backlash.
As per Aasia Bibi's lawyers, most of her fellow villagers, and some well-known political and feudal names -- people unrelated to the case -- who hail from Nankana (her hometown), the story is about a fight between a poor woman and some people who had a problem with the mere existence of people of her faith. The fight was turned into a non-discussable issue once the word "blasphemy" was thrown in. The hearsay became words etched in stone. Testimonies of unreliable so-called witnesses became irrefutable facts. Altered statements of the prosecuting side become the last word in reliable evidence. And the system of appeal becomes convoluted before the request was even read. This is a case where the accused was declared guilty before the trial even reached a court, and the trial in court merely ended up becoming a repetition of the trial outside the court.
I don't write to have my outrage quoted in some international publication. I don't write to have my article Favorited/Retweeted by those who live in other countries or practice other faiths. I don't write to be praised for my "bravery" to speak up about a "taboo" subject. The SOLE reason why I write about Aasia Bibi is because to me she is that one more person who has been jailed for being: a) poor b) a woman c) Christian, and d) a poor, Christian, woman who dared to fight with those who claim to have the copyright to morality -- ethical and religious: Muslims. As Aasia Bibi spends most of her time in solitary confinement (since June 2009), her children and husband, forced to move five times, hiding their identities in fear of persecution, the big questions remain unanswered. As expected.
How did the Blasphemy Law, which as per many leading Islamic scholars including Dr Javed Ghamidi, has no basis in the Quran, and which came into existence because of the "divide-and-rule" wiles of the imperialistic British in the Subcontinent, have become a "forbidden" topic in Pakistan? How has the Blasphemy Law become that one subject whose very mention makes you a pariah in society, in media? How has a man-made law been exploited to enforce respect of a divine religion and its icons? How has the law been used to settle scores, persecute the "undesirables" of all faiths (including Islam) without any fear of reprisal? How did the flaky testimony of two Muslim women who started the fight, insulted Aasia Bibi's faith (blasphemous as per Section 295-A & 298 of the Blasphemy Law), and called her "untouchable," made Aasia Bibi worthy of a death sentence while those two "pious" women remained free of any reprimand? How did the demeaning of one of Allah's most revered prophets, Jesus-Isa (PBUH) become so inconsequential that no one even mentioned it? And how in the world, a case based on hearsay, on words -- NOT anything that involved blasphemous acts insulting Islam or spreading hatred against it -- uttered in a personal fight -- became a legal -- forget about religious and ethical grounds here -- justification for sentencing a poor, Christian woman to death?

Horror in Pakistan: Christians Burned Alive
November 4, a Muslim mob in Pakistan burned to death a young Christian couple, including a pregnant mother of four children. Their alleged crime? Blasphemy.
At the ACLJ we’re still learning the details, but here’s the on-the-ground report from our European Centre for Law and Justice affiliate in Pakistan:
Shahzad, his wife, Shama, and parents had been working and living at the brick kiln of Yousaf Gujjar for the last thirteen years. On November 3, 2014, while cleaning the house, Shama found some papers that belonged to her father-in-law who had died a week prior to this incident. She gathered all those papers; some of the papers were printed in Arabic. Shama was illiterate and did not know whether those papers were from the Qur’an. She burnt all of them together (a common way of disposing of papers).
Her Muslim neighbors, Shakoor and Inayat saw her burning the papers. They informed Khawar Yousaf, son of Yousaf Gujjar (owner of the brick kiln) that Shama burnt the Qur’an. Khawar called Shama and Shahzad to his office, locked them inside and beat them.
One of the brick kiln laborers told our legal team that a fruit vendor named Muhammad Ramzan used to come to the brick kiln. On November 3, 2014, he passed by the garbage corner where he also saw some partially burnt pages that had Arabic written on them. He found out that a Christian couple had burnt the Qur’an and they were in the custody of the brick kiln owner.
Outraged, Ramazan went to his village’s mosque and told the cleric Maulvi Muhammad Hussain that the Qur’an had been desecrated. Muhammad Hussain sent out a message to the adjacent villages’ mosques and also made an announcement at his own mosque. All told, about six to seven villages were informed that a Christian couple had burned the Qur’an.
On November 4, 2014 at about 6:30 a.m., an enraged mob of about four thousand Muslims attacked at the brick kiln. They attacked the office where the couple was detained. The mob beat the couple with clubs. Soon the couple fell unconscious; the mob took them on top of the brick kiln and lay them down on the openings from where coal is thrown to increase the fire. The Muslims also put an iron sheet on them which was about 7 feet long and 3 feet wide to press them in order to keep them from moving.
While the couple was being burnt, the Muslims were chanting slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (Allah is great). They remained there until the couple was completely burnt. During the visit at the brick kiln, our legal team learned from a police officials that the police received the information and arrived at the site but due to the huge number of people they could not intervene. However, the police registered the crime report and about 50 people have been arrested so far.
The Christian eyewitnesses told that the Muslims also burnt the Bible and threatened the Christians that they would burn the Christian houses and church in the village. They also said that Khawar Yousaf had demanded 150,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly $1471) from the couple to let them escape from the village. But the poor couple was unable to pay.
During our meeting with the family of Shahzad, the family informed our team that Shama was in the second trimester of her pregnancy.
At the ACLJ, we’ll continue to monitor developments. Pakistan is one of the top recipients of American foreign aid.

Pakistan: Murder of Christian couple 'worst hate crime in country's history'

By: John Newton and Joop Koopman
A senior Dominican in Pakistan condemned the murder of a man and his pregnant wife for blasphemy as the worst religiously motivated hate crime in the country’s history. Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Fr James Channan OP said: “The barbaric act by fanatic Pakistani Muslims of burning alive a poor Christian couple is a crime against humanity. It is the worst crime in the history of Pakistan committed in the name of religion.”
On Tuesday 4 November, a mob killed Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih, accusing them of burning pages of the Qur’an. After beating the couple they incinerated their bodies in a brick kiln. Reports state that Shahbaz Masih was still alive, although badly wounded, when he was thrown into the kiln.
The couple were bonded labourers at the brick factory where they were killed near Kot Radha Kishan village, Punjab province, 28 miles south of Lahore.
Fr Channan, the former Vice-Provincial of the Dominican order in Pakistan and the country’s coordinator for the United Religions Initiative, told ACN that the problem was Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He said: “Muslims and Christians alike are victimised by controversial blasphemy laws that stipulate life imprisonment for desecrating the Qur’an and the death sentence for defaming or insulting the Prophet of Islam.
“The problem with these laws is that most often they are used to settle personal scores, such [as] business disputes. In any case, who in their sound mind would burn pages of the Qur’an or insult the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed?”
The blasphemy laws – sections 295 and 298 of the criminal code – impose severe penalties for offences against Islam. According to section 298, deliberately “wounding the religious feelings of any person” is an offence that can warrant imprisonment or a fine.
Fr Channan said: “Most problematic is that these laws are very vague – plus most Pakistanis are illiterate – hence, the application of the law is very easily abused, with people taking matters into their own hands, as happened in Kot Radha Kishan.”
As the Dominican priest pointed out, while all religious minorities are affected by these laws – including Muslims from the Shi‘a minority – Christians are frequently subjected to violence following blasphemy accusations.
He said: “The Christian community is most vulnerable, since an accusation levelled against a single individual can provoke violence aimed at his or her family as well as the entire local community. Homes are attached, churches are burned down and people are killed.”
In the case of the Masihs’ deaths police figures describe the mob as being 2,000 strong – although some reports suggest up to 4,000 people were involved.
Fr Channan highlighted the problem of extra-judicial vengeance following blasphemy accusations. He said “These laws are so dangerous that once a person is accused his or her life in Pakistan has become impossible. Even if the courts eventually declare an individual innocent, radical Muslims may still murder the person, which is considered an act worthy of praise.”
The Dominican called on the international community to exert pressure on the government of Pakistan.
“The UN should get involved and condemn such crimes against humanity, while appointing fact-finding commissions to investigate matters on the ground. These are but some of the measures that may help to put an end to such barbaric acts as the cruel killing of the Christian couple and their unborn child.”

F.B.I. Is Investigating Retired U.S. Diplomat, a Pakistan Expert, Officials Say

F.B.I. counterintelligence agents are investigating a veteran American diplomat suspected of taking classified information home from the State Department, and have searched her house and office for evidence, government officials said Friday.
The diplomat, Robin L. Raphel, is a retired ambassador and an expert on Pakistan who until recently was an adviser to the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The officials said that after the F.B.I. searches, Ms. Raphel was put on leave and her contract was allowed to expire.
The nature of the investigation is unclear, but officials said the F.B.I. was trying to determine why Ms. Raphel apparently brought classified information home, and whether she had passed, or was planning to pass, the information to a foreign government.
F.B.I. counterintelligence agents have a broad mandate — including tracking foreign spies inside the United States, investigating American citizens suspected of spying for other nations, and examining the mishandling of classified information.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation, did not give details about why they were examining Ms. Raphel’s activities. Nor did they say whether she was officially a target of the investigation.
It is extremely rare for the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into such a prominent Washington figure. Any decision by the Justice Department to open the inquiry would have had to take into account that an investigation — whatever its outcome — will have a lasting impact on Ms. Raphel’s ability in the future to operate within American diplomatic circles. One official said on Friday that Ms. Raphel had been stripped of her security clearances as part of the investigation.
Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that the department was “cooperating with our law enforcement colleagues on this matter.”
“Ms. Raphel’s appointment expired,” Ms. Psaki said. “She is no longer a department employee.”
Andrew Rice, a spokesman for Ms. Raphel, said that she had not been informed whether she was a target of the investigation, adding that “her nearly 40 years of public service at the highest levels of U.S. diplomacy speak for themselves.”
“I’m confident this will be resolved,” Mr. Rice said.
The Washington Post first reported the investigation on its website Thursday night.
Ms. Raphel, 67, is a fixture in Washington foreign policy circles and is one of the State Department’s highest-ranking female diplomats. She served as ambassador to Tunisia and as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration. The 9/11 Commission interviewed Ms. Raphel about her experiences dealing with Pakistan’s government and about her official meetings with the Afghan Taliban.
According to the commission’s report, Ms. Raphel “noted how Washington used one ideology, radical Islam, to defeat another, communism, in Afghanistan.”
“This, she cautioned, while successful in the short run, came back to haunt the U.S.,” the report said. “As a result, policy makers should consider the dangers when working with highly ideological movements.” Ms. Raphel retired from the Foreign Service in 2005 and joined Cassidy & Associates, a firm that has done lobbying work for the government of Pakistan.
In 2009, the American Embassy in Pakistan hired her to help administer billions of dollars of development aid to the country. She returned to Washington in 2011 as a senior adviser on Pakistan issues for the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In 1988, Ms. Raphel’s former husband, Arnold L. Raphel, then the American ambassador to Pakistan, was killed in a mysterious plane crash with Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the president of Pakistan. There are numerous theories about the cause of the crash, including that it was an assassination and that nerve gas in a canister hidden in a crate of mangoes was dispersed in the plane’s air-conditioning system.
News of the investigation into Ms. Raphel was greeted with apprehension in Islamabad, where she is viewed by many as one of the few American officials sympathetic toward Pakistan’s government, which has had a turbulent relationship with Washington since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. There was even speculation that Pakistan’s adversaries — whether Indian officials or powerful Indian-Americans living in the United States — had played a part in helping to open the investigation.
Najam Sethi, a political analyst and talk-show host on GEO TV, said Ms. Raphel “was friendly toward Pakistan, a reason she was disliked in India.”
“This is not a good development for Pakistan,” he said.