Friday, November 21, 2014

Bahrain : Al-Wefaq urges end to Al Khalifa power ‘monopoly’

Bahrain’s main opposition party has called for an end to the power “monopoly” in the country, warning that the ruling Al Khalifa regime’s refusal to relinquish power could cause an “explosion” of violence.
Sheikh Ali Salman, the secretary general of Bahrain’s al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, said on the eve of the elections on Friday that the Manama regime’s failure to reach a political agreement with the opposition could spark an “explosion” of violence in the Persian Gulf Arab kingdom.
Salman added that the opposition could only continue talks with the government if it agreed to implement reforms in line with a strict timetable.
“This has been our strategy in the past, it is our strategy today and will be our strategy tomorrow... in order to reach a consensus that would end the ruling family’s monopoly of all power,” he said.
Al-Wefaq and four other opposition groups have boycotted the legislative and municipal polls slated to be held in Bahrain on Saturday.
Observers and political analysts say the boycott means the polls with whatever outcome will not end the anti-regime protests in the country.
“The number of laws that violate human rights legislated by the existing parliament is more than the laws we had since the independence of Bahrain… So the Bahraini opposition [groups] don’t want to give legitimacy to those laws,” Nabil Rajab, a Bahraini human rights activist, told Press TV.
Since mid-February 2011, thousands of protesters have held numerous demonstrations in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to give up power.
Bahrain has been severely criticized by human rights groups for its harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has claimed the lives of scores of people so far.

Horrorism in the Middle East

You know who agrees with Carrie about the Middle East these days? Everyone. We sit here an ocean away and watch it go from bad to worse. 
There’s New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who wrote this week, “What is unbearable, in fact, is the feeling, 13 years after 9/11, that America has been chasing its tail; that, in some whack-a-mole horror show, the quashing of a jihadi enclave here only spurs the sprouting of another there.”
There’s Tom Friedman, also writing for The Times, who all but threw up his hands in his last two columns. “In sum,” he wrote, “there are so many conflicting dreams and nightmares playing out among our Middle East allies in the war on ISIS that Freud would not have been able to keep them straight.”
There was the estimable Robert Satloff, in Politico: “It will likely take an even more dramatic brand of divine intervention to prevent a slew of worsening Mideast problems — renewed Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Islamic terrorism, Iranian nukes and so on — from landing squarely on the desk of the next U.S. president.”
And former diplomat Aaron David Miller, who wrote this week on, “We’re stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, and where ambiguity and uncertainty will rule over clarity and stability for years to come.”
This week began with the execution of American hostage Peter Kassig, and before it was out, we witnessed the attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, which left (as of press time) five Israelis dead. 
These acts share a brutal, personal, senselessness that “terrorism” doesn’t quite begin to describe. A British journalist coined a better term: “horrorism.”
Horrorism combines terror with the purposeful depiction of as much personal human suffering as possible. Terrorism uses bombs, and airplanes; horrorism uses knives, fists and axes. The ISIS video, the aftermath of the bloody synagogue — there is nothing more frightening than what one pair of human hands can do to a fellow human.
In Israel, after the creation of a strong, vibrant nation state, we are back to Kishinev 1903, and the pogrom that inspired Theodor Herzl to push for a Jewish state. As the poet Hayyim Nahman Bialik wrote back then, “… the hatchet found them there.” And again it finds them, and again we mourn, “A place of sainted graves and martyr-stone.”
And that’s what makes great minds, starting with Carrie Mathison, despair. After all the involvement, money, strategy and grand plans, we are back to the Bronze Age, back to bloodlust and human sacrifice. What’s worse, as the political solutions recede, the religious aspects of these conflicts loom larger and larger. 
In Iraq and Syria, the religious war — a disaster we helped create — now seems entirely predictable. In times of chaos, people gravitate toward what the philosopher Robert Nozick calls “protective associations.” Kurds become more Kurd, Sunnis more Sunni, Shiites more Shiite. If a functioning state can’t offer protection and security, pre-existing identities will.  
“When the state collapsed,” legal and Islamic scholar Noah Feldman writesin “What We Owe Iraq,” “people had little choice but to find some marker of identity that they thought would have some chance of working for them. And these were the identities that were there. We didn’t create these identities —they already existed — it’s that we turned those identities into focal points for self-organization, by virtue of our failure to provide security. And we therefore made these ethnic/denominational identities much more important for Iraqi politics than they otherwise would have been.”
Speaking last month at Harvard Law School, Feldman (who will be a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple Dec. 4-6) said he doesn’t think ISIS will survive three years facing opposition from most of the Arab and Muslim world. But he doesn’t say that what will follow will be any less extreme.
In Israel, there’s a similar dynamic. Secular Palestinian leadership is almost an oxymoron. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas foments revolt and Jew-hatred on the one hand, then condemns, in the weakest possible way, attacks on innocent Israelis. Lacking strong secular leadership, young Palestinians from Gaza to East Jerusalem turn to their “protective associations” — religious leaders, the mosques, Hamas.
The police call them “lone wolf” attacks, but you can only have lone wolves when there is no alpha dog.  
Attacks in Jerusalem, the holy city, carry the import of holy war. Things can so easily spiral out of control, beyond the city limits, beyond Israel and into the rest of the world.
“The religious dimension of the conflict is very dangerous and explosive,” Shin Bet security services chief Yoram Cohen told members of a Knesset committee, according to Ha’aretz, “because it has implications for the Palestinians and for Muslims everywhere in the world. We have to do everything possible to instill calm.”
Instill calm. When he figures out how to do that, he should let the rest of the world know how.

Three assumptions about the Middle East that are just plain wrong


By Orit Bashkin
 The West’s understanding of the Middle East has often been laden with misconceptions—this has especially been the case in the years following the Arab Spring.
Here are three assumptions about this part of the world that need to be challenged.
Doing so is important as people all over the world often perceive the Middle East as a region in which ancient religious rivalries prevent the emergence of secular democracies. Among other things, this can wrongly inform foreign policy decision-making regarding ongoing crises in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Assumption no. 1: If leaders are secular, sectarianism will disappear.
This view sounds plausible, but is challenged when we take a quick look at the Levant. The Ba’ath regimes in Syria, and previously in Iraq, would have liked us to believe that they were secular—after all, their leaders pronounced their commitment to the ideas of Arab socialism and nationalism, championed the integration of women into the labor market, and labeled their opposition as religious and conservative. Saddam Hussein’s biography does suggest a man following closely the tenants of Islam, to use the understatement of the century.
And yet both regimes were loyal to the interests of the religious groups from which their leaders came. For example, when Bashar al-Assad’s regime began to crumble, he relied on a Syrian-Iranian front to protect him, throwing in the wind his previous strategic alliance with Sunni businessmen and professionals.
Many people in the Middle East, especially members of the generation growing up in the post-colonial era, identify with their religious groups. They might drink, gamble and otherwise view themselves as very secular, and yet strongly identify as Sunni, Shi’ite or Christian, in certain contexts. This is largely due to historical developments, like the Lebanese civil war, the Iran-Iraq war, and the catastrophe that is Syria today. Being “secular” and “modern,” then, does not mean being unsectarian.
Assumption no. 2: All Islamist organizations are the same, the end result is always violent extremism.
While many of the Muslim Brotherhood organizations have platforms which are not fully democratic, there is a world of difference between them and the brutality of the so-called “Islamic State”, also known as The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. These organizations are not the same in the ways they view elections or minority and women’s rights. The more moderate organizations are more than ready to have women play a part in their political organizations. The sights that we see today in northern Iraq, in which Christian and Yazidis are harshly persecuted, are utterly repulsive to the more moderate Muslim political organizations.
Moreover, whereas Islamic State sees itself as an authentic, pre-modern, Islamic state, nothing could further from the truth. Islamic State does not share the ecumenical vision of the early Muslim community during the 7th century and its disdain for the sciences and innovation puts them in polar opposition to the cultural curiosity typical of medieval Islamic court culture.
Joan Cusack once said in the film Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.” The same can be said about Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the caliphate.
Assumption no. 3: Some Middle Eastern countries are ‘Western’ and others aren’t.
We often read in the media about pro-Western Arab regimes. But does pro-Western actually mean secular? And what is Western? Is it simply being pro-American or pro-European?
The regimes in the Gulf can complicate our thinking on these matters. Many of the Gulf monarchies have maintained very good relationships with the United States–the investment portfolios of their leading companies are deeply intertwined with the U.S. and European economies. The U.S. university campuses and Al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha indicate a desire to play a more prominent role on the global stage.
And yet, these regimes are socially conservative and are not, by any means, secular. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Syrian civil war, arming various Sunni rebel and militia groups.
On the other hand, during the 1970s and 1980s, the postcolonial regimes in Syria and Iraq propagated daily critiques of Western colonialism and imperialism, alongside their secularizing and modernizing agendas.
Given these contradicting pictures, it makes little sense that we still use terms like ‘Western.’
Of course, this is not to dismiss all of these categories entirely. Indeed, the terms ‘secular’ and ‘Islamist’ are relevant to the ways in which electoral politics are framed in some countries—such as Tunisia and Egypt. Tunis, in fact, provides a hopeful example of political change through elections.. However, it is wrong to assume that everything in the Middle East is connected to battles whose roots are religious and medieval.
Many of the struggles in the Middle East are the result of regional rivalries between Iran and the Gulf monarchies, and of the civil war in Iraq which have brought unprecedented waves of sectarianism all over the Middle East. And they owe their existence to very modern processes like the oil politics, the failure of nation-states to attend to the needs of ethnic and religious minorities, and global politics.
The powers invested in the Syria conflict these days include China, Russia, and the United States –in its decisions on intervention or and lack thereof. These are not exactly powers formed in 7th century Arabia.
The politics in the Middle East are among the most complex in the world. The nuances in ground realities—so easily lost when we use terms like ‘Islamist’, ‘secular’ and ‘Western’—must be acknowledged if we are to theorize about why the region is the way it is right now and the possibilities of attaining a democratic future, the same future desired by so many young people who initiated the Arab Spring.

President Obama's immigration move is a win

By Maria Cardona
President Obama finally did it. Through an executive order, the President intends to grant up to 5 million undocumented immigrants relief from deportation.
Will the angry bulls rise up? Has the well been poisoned? Will Republicans follow through on their threats of government shutdowns because they consider this an "impeachable offense"?
Republicans, who now have a responsibility to prove that they can govern, should take a step back and see what the President is trying to achieve and then decide whether it's worth expending political capital to battle over. The President's Executive Action on deferring deportations for noncriminal undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for many years and contributed to our society will achieve three major goals:
1. Boost the American economy
Studies show that passing comprehensive immigration reform will increase our economic gain by more than $1.5 trillion over 10 years, decrease our deficit by almost a trillion dollars in the next 20 years, and boost GDP growth by more than 5 percentage points. While the President's action is not the permanent legislative reform we ultimately need to gain all these benefits, starting out by letting a large group of people legally work and holding them accountable by ensuring they pay their fair share of taxes will put us on a more prosperous path. 2. Strengthen our national security
Millions of undocumented immigrants will now be allowed to come out of the shadows, be identified, given background checks and legal work permits. This will help us understand who they are and if any are here to do us harm.
3. Help keep families together
America was built on the labor of generations of immigrants. Our strength as a country comes also from the strength of families. Instead of deporting grandmothers and fathers and children, the President will use our precious resources to deport gang members instead. This priority will reduce the tragic loss that occurs when families are torn apart by senseless deportations.
For a political party that prides itself in standing for a strong economy, strong national security and strong family values, please tell me -- which of these values are Republicans so adamantly against?
The President's detractors say he has no constitutional authority to give relief to so many people. While the courts may ultimately decide this, as someone who has worked in what was formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, I can tell you without question, the President indeed has prosecutorial discretion to decide which limited resources to dedicate to which undocumented immigrants he wants to deport. In fact, immigration officials, district attorneys and other law enforcement personnel exercise prosecutorial discretion every single day. Moreover, Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, each in their own ways, used executive authorities derived from this notion of prosecutorial discretion to grant relief to whole populations of undocumented immigrants for many reasons. Conservatives who oppose the President might also say that an executive order on immigration will poison the well and that he should work with Congress to pass a legitimate and permanent reform the way it should be passed: in Congress.
I would be the first one to advise President Obama to wait in favor of congressional action. And by the way, it is the preferred way to go. There is just one problem. We have already seen this movie and we know how it ends. The President has been trying for years to get Congress on the same page. But Republicans have looked for excuses, continued to move the goalposts and voted several times to deport DREAMers.
Republicans must understand just how ridiculous they sound when they say President Obama should wait until the new Congress is sworn in and work with them to pass real reform. Who in their right minds -- no pun intended -- thinks that with both houses of Congress controlled by more conservative Republicans who ran on a platform to oppose anything President Obama does, we can get a bill out of Congress that the President can sign?
Republicans will point out that the American people are not on the side of the President on the immigration issue by pointing to a recent USA Today poll indicating that 46% preferred waiting for a Republican Congress to take action, while 42% approved of the President taking unilateral action now.
However, perhaps a better reflection is the Washington Post September 2014 poll that asked whether Americans would support presidential action in the absence of any congressional action. Support rose to 52%.
The absence of congressional action is exactly what we have had for the past year and half. As such, the American people cannot now let Republicans off the hook to get comprehensive immigration reform done legislatively, no matter how upset the GOP may be that the President acted. Temper tantrums are not an excuse for no action.
So, the President delivered on his executive action and he, the Democrats and the immigration advocacy community will now have to work diligently to explain to the American people that the well is not poisoned, and that this is the right thing to do for our economy, national security and above all, it is consistent with our American values.
For Republicans, it is not too late. They can make what the President announced moot and irrelevant. How? House Speaker John Boehner could bring the current bipartisan Senate immigration bill to the House floor for a vote on Friday -- and it would pass. Done.
So when the Republicans get it together, if they can get it together to pass something the President can sign, the President's unilateral action would be stopped, the angry bulls will calm down, and showdowns, shutdowns and impeachment hearings can be left for another day. Most importantly, the American people would finally see their elected leaders put politics aside and do what is best for the country.

Video Report - Activist: Obama speech a 'complete relief'

U.S. - Immigration plan draws cheers, criticism across US

Thousands of immigrant-rights activists, families and elected officials cheered across the country as President Barack Obama announced on television his plan for relief from deportations for about 5 million people.
But after the initial burst of emotion Thursday evening at hastily organized watch parties and in living rooms, many said Obama's plan was just the first step in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrant families pointed out the plan would only cover about 5 million of the 11 million without legal status, leaving many families and individuals in limbo.
Republicans slammed the president's action as an overreach, while advocates — including Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and California Gov. Jerry Brown — praised Obama's plan.
Not everyone was happy with Obama's action. A couple of protesters held "no amnesty" signs outside a New York union office where supporters watched the speech.
A snapshot of reactions across the country:
___ "This will definitely help our family no longer live in fear, fear that we will have to drop everything if our parents are deported. But there is still fear, because this is a temporary, and we need something permanent," said Isaura Pena, 20, of Portland, whose father and mother lack legal status.

"This is a great day for farmworkers. It's been worth the pain and sacrifice," said Jesus Zuniga, 40, who picks tomatoes in California's Central Valley and watched the speech at a union gathering in Fresno.
___ "Simply stated, you're the only singular person in this entire country that can advance or adopt meaningful immigration reform. By that very definition then, it is your singular failure alone as to why we do not yet have reform, why America continues to be at risk, and new crimes and new victims are mounting each and every day in every single state," said Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, addressing the president directly in a video posted by his office Wednesday on YouTube. Jones vowed to crusade against illegal immigration after the shooting rampage last month by a Mexican man with a long criminal history who was in the country illegally. ___
"They're going to have a chance to be what they want to be and get an education," said Maria Perez, 41, of Fresno, California. She is in the country legally, but she often worries about her nieces, ages 16 and 18, who aren't. With the president's speech, she feels hope that her nieces now can achieve her dreams.
___ "I believe that is a good step forward, but again I look at the other side and I believe he is maybe acting too rash. I don't know why he is doing it without the consent of Congress. ... I think that is creating too much dissension in Congress where it is already, and I don't know if that is necessarily a good thing. I think for a lot of people — especially those who are here undocumented — it is great, but at some point we have to draw the line," said community activist Bob Hernandez of Wichita, Kansas. ___
"I don't think it helps because it's going to create friction with the new Congress that's Republican. While I think it's probably the wrong thing for him to do, there's a possibility it starts a dialogue and pushes the Republicans to move more quickly," board chairman Jonathan Johnson said at his company's Salt Lake City, Utah, headquarters.
___ "I am a mother of Dreamers (the children who benefited from Obama's Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program.) They are not citizens. It was a great disappointment to hear I won't benefit from it. It's bland. He gave us a little taste but it had no taste," said Rosa Mejia, an immigrant in El Paso, Texas, who has been living in the US since 1999. ___
Abel Rodriguez, of Phoenix, said Obama's proposal could mean that he and his wife would be able to visit their family in Mexico without fear of not being able to return to the U.S. or getting separated from their daughters. "I have not seen my family for 10 years. I have two grandsons that I don't see," Rodriguez said.
___ "We have a lot of unemployed Americans right now, and I don't understand why unemployed Americans can't be hired to do the jobs these illegals are doing," said John Wilson, who works in contract management in New York City. ___
"This is not a partisan issue. When the bluest of blue states — like Oregon, for example — vote overwhelmingly to prohibit illegal aliens from obtaining drivers licenses, it speaks volumes about the widespread lack of support for President Obama's immigration policies. The American people have spoken, and time and again they have been ignored," Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said.

Video - Watch President Obama's full immigration reform speech

Video - President Obama's address the nation on immigration

Pashto Music Video - Da sparlee Shpa wa - **Sardar Ali Takkar** (Ghani khan)

Pashto Music Video - Sardar Ali Takkar - Ma wey zama Laila

Pakistan: Balochistan University professor chants 'Go Nawaz Go' at laptop distribution event

A professor of Balochistan University on Friday chanted ‘Go Nawaz Go’ slogan as members of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) distributed laptops to students. 
Introduced by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, the controversial slogan has been reverberating in public gatherings and upper echelons of the government over the past few months, offending many who are a part of and support the PML-N government.
Students in Multan had chanted this slogan against Javed Hashmi, while hecklers irked PML-N MPA Tohfiq Butt in Wazirabad. A student was also shot and injured after a fight broke out between two groups of students for chanting ‘Go Nawaz Go’ in Peshawar’s Islamia College University.
In the latest incident, the professor of the university began chanting “Go Nawaz Go” slogan much to the surprise of Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch who was present at the event. The professor was later escorted outside.

Pakistan: Twenty-two militants killed in Khyber strikes‏

At least twenty-two militants have been killed as targeted aerial strikes struck militants hideouts in various parts of Tirah valley of Khyber Agency.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on Friday confirmed that the jets strikes have destroyed many of the militant’s hideouts.
It says that operation Khyber-1 is going on successfully and that troops have moved into key areas.
The details, however, could not be verified as access for journalists is restricted in the area.
The Pakistan military launched a major offensive called Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan in June and say they have killed more than 1,200 militants so far, with over 100 soldiers losing their lives in the operation.
Later, it shifted focus to Khyber Agency after claiming to have cleared the NWA.
Apart from Zarb-i-Azb, Khyber-1 was launched in October to target Lashkar-i-Islam, a Taliban faction that has strongholds in Khyber Agency.
Khyber is among Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts near the Afghan border, rife with homegrown insurgents and foreign militants. These are also home to religious extremist organisations including Al Qaeda.

Finding Osama in Pakistan proved war on terror was waged against wrong country: Karzai

Continuing with his anti-Pakistan rhetoric, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai on Friday said finding Osama bin Laden in Pakistan proved the war on terror was waged against ‘the wrong country’.

Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in India, Karzai said the death of al Qaeda founder in Pakistan shows that Nato and allied forces were wrong in entering Afghan soil.
Renowned Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, who was chairing Karzai’s talk, tweeted his statements.
According to an NDTV report, a former boss – in an apparent puncture that a fight should have been waged in Pakistan instead - said US should have left to a sanctuaries of terrorism, not Afghanistan. Karzai has been harsh in his critique of Pakistan during his prolonged order and has continued to do so even after stepping down.
Following a Sep 11 attack, US-led infantry intervened pounded Afghanistan to idle al Qaeda and mislay Taliban from energy in a country. The arch of a apprehension network, however, was killed as partial of a highly sly operation in Abbottabad in May 2011, finale a biggest manhunt in history.
“My position opposite certain elements of US and Nato participation was principled,” Karzai, who has mostly pronounced a fight on apprehension should not be opposite Afghanistan, clarified.
“I stood adult opposite a US since we wanted them to scold their poise with Afghanistan.”
Rejecting warnings by his one-time reflection General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, Karzai reiterated Afghanistan would not concede itself to turn a bridgehead in a substitute fight between India and Pakistan after a approaching depart of US-led troops.
“Afghanistan will not concede substitute fight between India and Pakistan on a dirt – and I’m certain India won’t do that,” Karzai pronounced firmly, adding, “India will be there to teach a children, build dams, not to salary a substitute fight opposite Pakistan – so I’ll give a soundness to Musharraf that he did not worry.”
In an talk progressing this week, Musharraf warned that Pakistan would demeanour to use racial Pashtuns to opposite if India tries to grasp a idea of formulating an “anti-Pakistan Afghanistan”. India and Pakistan have prolonged indicted any other of regulating substitute army to try to benefit change in Afghanistan though a former boss deserted a probability of this.
Thanking India for participating in ‘every step’ of rebuilding Afghanistan as it suffered from invasions, unfamiliar interferences and extremism, Karzai said, “a era of forward-looking immature Afghans have emerged and interjection a good understanding to India carrying helped us in this regard.”
Further, commenting on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, Karzai said, “we will rivet with Pakistan as a sovereign, eccentric state conducting a possess unfamiliar process and that will not be compromised.”
Karzai’s matter comes during a essential time after a newly inaugurated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan and as Nato’s fight goal ends in December.
Pakistan was one of usually 3 countries that recognized a Taliban regime that ruled in Kabul before being defeated in late 2001 after a US-led advance in a arise of a Sep 11 attacks. The Taliban’s rain led to Karzai’s designation as Afghan personality and he remained in energy until stepping down as boss progressing this year.

Not Fit to Print: An Insider Account of Pakistani Censorship

Imran [Khan], [Tahir ul] Qadri, and the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] are our best friends," our weekly editorial meeting at Pakistan's Express Tribune was (jokingly) told on Aug. 13, 2014, a day before the two political leaders began their separate long marches from Lahore to Islamabad, and plunged the country into crisis. "We know it's not easy, but that's the way it is -- at least for now. I promise to make things better soon," said the editor, who had called the meeting to inform us about the media group's editorial policy during the sit-ins and protests that would eventually, momentarily paralyze the Pakistani government.
The senior editorial staff, myself included, reluctantly agreed to the orders, which came from the CEO, because our jobs were on the line. Media groups in Pakistan are family-owned and make all decisions unilaterally -- regardless of whether they concern marketing and finance or editorial content and policy -- advancing their personal agendas through the influential mainstream outlets at their disposal. A majority of the CEOs and media house owners are businessmen, with no background (or interest) in the ethics of journalism. The owners and publishers make it very clear to their newsrooms and staff -- including the editor -- that any tilt or gloss they proscribe is non-negotiable. As a result, serious concerns persist about violence against and the intimidation of members of the media. In fact, Pakistan ranks 158 out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.
Yet there is also a more elusive problem within the country's press landscape: the collusion of Pakistan's powerful military and the nation's media outlets. I experienced this first-hand while I worked as a journalist at the Express Tribune during the recent protests led by Khan, the populist cricketer-turned-politician, and Qadri, a Pakistani-Canadian cleric and soapbox orator.
During this time, the owners of Pakistani media powerhouses -- namely ARY News, the Express Media Group, and Dunya News -- received instructions from the military establishment to support the "dissenting" leaders and their sit-ins. The military was using the media to add muscle and might to the anti-government movement in an attempt to cut Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif down to size.
The media obliged.
At the Express Media Group, anything related to Khan and Qadri were inexorably the lead stories on the front page or the hourly news bulletin. I witnessed polls showing support for Sharif being censored, while news stories on the misconduct of the protesters, along with any evidence that support among the protestors for Khan and Qadri was dwindling, were axed. While the BBC was publishing stories about how Qadri's protesters were allegedly being paid and Dawn, the leading English-language Pakistani newspaper -- and the Express Tribune's main competitor -- was writing powerful editorials about the military's role in the political crisis, we were making sure nothing negative about them went to print. Day after day, my national editor told me about how he received frantic telephone calls late in the evening about what the lead story should be for the next day and what angle the article should take. First, we were told to focus on Khan. "Take this as Imran's top quote," "This should be in the headline," "Take a bigger picture of him" were the specific directives given by the CEO. Shortly after, the news group's owner was agitated that the newspaper had not been focusing enough on Qadri. We later found out that the military establishment was supporting the two leaders equally and the media was expected to do the same.
In their professional capacities, the editor and desk editors tried to put up a fight: they allowed some columns against the protests slip through; they did not extend the restrictions to publish against Khan and Qadri to the Web version of the newspaper; and they encouraged reporters to focus on the paper's strengths, such as investigative and research-based reports. However, it was difficult for the staff to keep its spirits high with the CEO's interference and his readiness to abide by the establishment's instructions. To be sure, the dictates were never given to the senior editorial staff, of which I was a part, directly. They were instead relayed to the editor or the national editor (who heads the main National Desk) via the CEO and then forwarded to us.
People often speculate about the media-military collusion in Pakistan, but in the instance of the current political standoff in the federal capital, as well as the Geo News controversy -- where the establishment was seen resorting to extreme methods, such as forcing cable operators to suspend Geo's transmission and impelling competing media houses to publish news stories against Geo, to curtail the broadcast of the largest and most-watched television channel for accusing then-ISI chief Zaheer-ul-Islam of being behind the gun attack on Hamid Mir, its most-popular anchor -- the media and the military worked hand-in-hand.
In most cases, it is common knowledge that the heavyweight broadcast anchors have strong ties to members of the military establishment, and they personally take direct instructions that are then conveyed to the owners of their respective media groups. This bias is often reflected in their coverage.
The anchors not only indulge in inaccurate reporting, but also shape political discourse against the democratically elected government and even the efficacy of democracy itself. Former Pakistani government officials have corroborated this by narrating their experience. One senior official told me: "Television anchors receive funds from the military establishment, if not the civilian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Today, all the Pakistani intelligence agencies and the military have media departments that ostensibly only disseminate background information and press briefings, but are actually guiding and managing discourses and the national narrative."
And this narrative is pro-army. Consider one example in particular.
On Aug. 31, when Khan's and Qadri's protesters had stormed the Parliament's gates, Mubasher Lucman, a television anchor for ARY News -- now the most-watched TV channel in Pakistan after Geo's transmission was illegally suspended -- saluted the army during a live broadcast and invited the military to take over "and save the protesters and the country." Earlier on Aug. 25, he welcomed the "sound of boots" (a reference to the military), as he had no sympathy for corrupt politicians who looted the country.
As if this was not enough, Lucman and his fellow anchors at ARY, some of whom are known to have strong ties to the army and the ISI, also made unverified claims on live television that seven protesters had been killed by riot police in the ensuing clash. (It was reported by other news outlets that three people had died, one by accident.) Moreover, when Javed Hashmi, the estranged president of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, came out in public on Sep. 1 to reveal how Khan was banking on the military and the judiciary to end Sharif's government, Lucman slammed Hashmi, while his fellow anchor, Fawad Chaudhry, insisted that Hashmi had been "planted in [the] PTI" by the prime minister's closest aides.
Hashmi, who is known for his principled politics and who has been tortured and imprisoned by the military over the years, made the claims about Khan in a press conference where he revealed that: "Imran Khan said we cannot move forward without the army...He told us that he has settled all the matters; there will be elections in September."
Soon after this, we at the Express Tribune were instructed by the military to highlight statements released by the army's Inter-Services Public Relations office about how it was not a party to the crisis. When the military was on the defensive, issuing rebuttals to Hashmi's "revelations," we saw the instructions lessen and the powerful institution backing off. Yet media discourse throughout Pakistan's history has been influenced by the military, the most powerful institution in the country, or, in a few cases, has been strong-armed and intimidated by civilian heads of state until they were ousted by the military. There is a structural bias against democratic institutions and elected officials in Pakistan, and such a discourse has the not-unintentional effect of making the military seem like a better alternative, thereby reinforcing the notion that democracy does not work.
Media owners seem to "choose" the military establishment as it has been the most potent force and the only constant in Pakistan's polity. The institutional context of the country's power structure and patronage politics compels organizations and individuals to be a part of the system, which begins and ends with the military and its premier intelligence agency, the ISI. Abiding by the system without asking questions is rewarded. But even in a country with a deeply problematic history, the intensity of the recent interference is shocking.
Before the current political standoff, the establishment was dictating headlines and editorial policies during Sharif's trip to India for the inauguration of his counterpart, Narendra Modi, on May 26. While working at the Express Tribune, I was instructed to change the lead story on the Sharif-Modi meeting to give it a negative tint, concentrating on how the Indian prime minister was not welcoming as he focused on security issues. The phrase "show-cause" had to be inserted in the headline, which was a direct order from the CEO, who was getting instructions from the military.
To be sure, the Express Media Group and its staff have been attacked several times during the past year for raising sensitive issues. And here too it tried to balance the military-sponsored anti-government slant by giving room to other opinions in the form of editorials and separate stories. But it also had to survive in a system where the military dominates every aspect of public life. It is a tough choice as the military refuses to protect the country's journalists, even as the media continues to safeguard the military's image and ostensible apolitical status.


Relatives of a Christian couple that were lynched to death over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan’s Punjab province earlier this month have called for government protection, saying they are under pressure to drop their case against the alleged killers.
“We are receiving threats on phone to take back our case”, Shahbaz Masih, brother of the victim Shehzad Masih, told a press conference in Islamabad. “We have been offered money and land as compensation in return for withdrawal of the case against the accused”.
Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, bonded laborers, were attacked by a mob of villagers and then thrown into a lit kiln after announcements were made over a mosque loudspeaker saying the couple had committed blasphemy by burning and throwing out pages of the Qur’an. Police arrested 43 suspects after the attack in the Kasur district, including the brick kiln owner and mosque prayer leader.
“We only want justice through fair investigations”, said Masih, adding that a judicial commission and joint investigation team should be formed to carry out the probe.
Shahbaz and his wife Parveen Bibi said that members of religious minorities should be included in the commission. The Pakistan Interfaith League (PIL), a group of clerics and rights activists promoting religious co-existence, urged “harsh punishments” for those involved to dissuade others from misusing religion as an excuse to settle personal feuds in the future.
In regard, Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC expressed grave concern on remarks of a leader of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) in a live TV Show about Christians calling them “infidels” or “Kafir” in commenting the assassination of the Christian couple.
There was uproar and anger among millions of Christians on remarks of Ali Mohammad MNA of the PTI and an open apology was demanded by them for Ali Mohammad and PTI Chief Imran Khan. But neither Imran Khan nor Ali Mohammad have apologized, forcing Christians to decide to quit their memberships of PTI.

Pak-Afghan - The Search for a Missing Peace in Islamabad

By Ali Reza Sarwar
Afghanistan and Pakistan’s past may have to be ignored if they are to have a future.
In his third foreign visit after trips Saudi Arabia and China, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani traveled to Pakistan on November 14 to talk about the peace that Afghanistan desperately needs. Ghani’s visit came two days after the new director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. General Riwzwan Akhtar was in Kabul for talks on the same topic.
There is a prevailing assumption in Afghanistan that when Pakistan’s army chief and ISI director-general talk about peace in Afghanistan, they simply do not mean it. This suspicion derives from the Pakistan Army and intelligence community’s decades of destabilizing engagement in Afghanistan. Ghani seems of a similar view, because in addition to meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he rushed to Army HQ in Rawalpindi to meet the powerful Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, who himself was in Kabul on October 6.
Ghani understands that the ultimate fate and success of his presidency rests on restoring basic peace and security to Afghanistan, and that the key to those issues certainly lies somewhere with Akhtar and his boss, Sharif.
At a press conference, both Ghani and Sharif promised to join together in the fight against terrorism, but the reality is much more difficult. As former President Hamid Karzai, who visited Pakistan 20 times during his 13 year presidency, noted during his farewell speech, “No peace will arrive unless the U.S. or Pakistan want it.”
Will Pakistan Work for Peace?
There are hard realities, serious doubts, and pressing questions surrounding the answer to this single question. No Afghan leader in modern history pushed as aggressively for a political settlement with Pakistan as Karzai did. Living in Pakistan as a refugee and political activist supporting the anti-Soviet Mujahideen forces since 1980, Karzai was uniquely informed of the real nexus of power in Pakistan and its crucial role in destabilizing or heralding a sustainable peace in his homeland. Karzai did what he could as president of a war-torn country to achieve that goal. In October 2011, he said that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if the U.S. – Afghanistan’s principle donor and ally in the post-Taliban era – ever went to war against Pakistan. Karzai’s statement could have reflected a realistic belief that even if appeasing Pakistan cost Kabul its biggest partner, Afghanistan should still accept this in order to secure its long-term peace and survival.
The irony is that the passion for peace remains unabated in the heart of all major statements and initiatives that both countries have released and undertaken in the last few years. For instance, in October 2006, Karzai and Pakistan’s former President General Pervez Musharraf attended a tripartite meeting in Washington hosted by U.S. president George W. Bush at which they agreed to convene a traditional loya jirga to unblock the peace process. The jirga was held on August 2007 with 700 influential participants from both countries, and categorically concluded that sustainable peace was in the interest of both countries and that a single cohesive strategy should be adopted to fight the notorious triangle of militancy, the Taliban, and the drug trade across their porous borders. Karzai missed no chance to ask other powerful states including Turkey and China to mediate the peace talks, but success remained elusive.
Reluctant Pakistan
There is a simple saying that “if you live next to a poor neighbor, think about your safety twice.” Pakistan has lived next to Afghanistan and watched it undergo three decades of utter turmoil and one and a half decades of serious political transformation – and still prefers to live with a troubled rather than a peaceful neighbor. It is an oversimplification to assume that Pakistan’s intelligence and military leaders are not mindful of the threats that an unstable Afghanistan could pose to Pakistan in the long-term. Therefore, the behavior of Pakistan should be investigated by actors other than biased and often politicized media outlets, including those of Afghanistan. Pakistan is a nuclear power, but it is not in a position to pursue a hegemonic role in the region given its own poor economic situation, the precarious growth of its militancy and sectarian violence, and the ubiquitous presence of a powerful antagonist in the form of India. Pakistan is not even like Iran, promoting a theological version of Shia orthodoxy with the ideological goal of proselytizing beyond its borders. Pakistan is simply a country that has struggled to survive since its birth in 1947. In this context, there is palpable evidence of Pakistan’s long-held destructive involvement in Afghanistan, and its reluctance to engage in a genuine peace agreement.
India in Pakistan’s Backyard
Since the fall of the Afghan monarchy in 1973 and the subsequent Soviet invasion of 1979, Pakistan has remained a major player in Afghanistan, harboring, training and channeling U.S. aid to Afghan Mujahideen and later the Taliban, who came to power in 1996. The post-Taliban development changed the game. Pakistan is becoming infuriated by the growing role of India in Afghanistan. With $2 billion pledged in aid, India is one of the six major donors to Afghanistan with a growing presence in Afghanistan’s economy, infrastructure building, and natural resource development. In October 2011, India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership allowing India to train Afghanistan’s security forces and invest in its key energy sector. In addition to economic and security ties, India is now the most favored and affordable destination for education and medical tourism for a large number of Afghans.
The Line of Hate
Afghanistan and Pakistan have been embroiled in a protracted and legally complicated territorial conflict over the Durand Line, demarcated by the U.K. in 1892 which divided Pashtun into two parts in Pakistan and Afghanistan. To date, Afghan rulers have not only refused to recognize the Durand Line as a legitimate border between the two countries; they have repeatedly announced their support for an independent Pashtunistan that could unite Pashtuns of both countries in a single country. Despite his diplomatic zeal for peace with Pakistan in 13 years, Karzai strongly rejected any deal or negotiation on recognition of the Durand Line. The territorial conflict reached its peak in 1963 when Mohammad Daoud Khan, the last Durrani ruler of Afghanistan, ordered the Afghan Army and tribal men to invade Pakistan. Daoud continued to push for Pashtunistan after he was sacked by King Mohammad Zahir Shah and returned to power a decade later in 1973.
In the decade since Daoud first declared support for Pashtunistan and Afghanistan became engulfed in the Soviet invasion and civil war, Pakistani rulers, particularly intelligence and military leaders, have positioned a Pashtun resurgence and nationalism as an existential threat. After years of interference in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s leaders have learned that handling militancy and terrorist groups like the Taliban is easier than dealing with a strong Pashtun-led government in Afghanistan, capable of mobilizing Pashtun nationalism for a historical dream of reunion.
A Break From History
It is famously said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, forgetting history may be the best solution to repairing their critically damaged relationship. Both countries are embroiled in terrorism. There is hardly a single day in Pakistan or Afghanistan without violence and terrorist attacks. As an example, on November 3 a terrorist attack later claimed by the Tahrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) killed 60, including 10 women and seven children, while injuring 110. One day after Ghani’s return from Islamabad, a powerful suicide attack occurred close to Afghanistan’s parliament, killing three and injuring 32 people, including a prominent female member of parliament, Shukria Barakzai. Earlier on November 10, at least 10 policemen were killed in Afghanistan in two separate episodes.
The full minutes of what were discussed behind the closed diplomatic doors have yet to be released, but there are already some conclusions. Ghani will continue to pay his visits to Islamabad, but the ultimate success will come only if the troubling South Asian neighbors demonstrate the courage to break from history, and instead create their own.

ISIS Making Deadly Inroads in Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan

By Paul D. Shinkman
Grisly execution videos, new foreign headquarters serve as only the beginning for the true dangers that will soon unfold.
The Islamic State group and its leadership have become masters of grabbing attention. This week alone, the extremist network, also known as ISIS or ISIL, reportedly seized control of a coastal town in Libya, and released a grisly video of its fighters brandishing the severed head of a former Army Ranger turned aid worker Peter Kassig, along with those of dozens of captured Kurdish fighters.
Western news consumers are not the only ones who pay attention to these stories, nor are they the most important recipients of their intended lesson: The Islamic State group is here to stay and it’s not wasting time like al-Qaida did before.
“The message they’re trying to convey is they are brutal to their enemies, and they are righteous in their cause,” says Karl Kaltenthaler, an expert on the rise of Islamic extremism and professor at the University of Akron. “If you mess with them, you’re going to pay a high price, and they will stop at nothing to achieve the triumph of their vision for Islam.”
Al-Qaida’s original plan under founding leader Osama bin Laden involved knocking the U.S. and Western influence out of predominantly Muslim countries, collapsing those states, creating Islamic alternatives and ultimately establishing a so-called hard-liner caliphate. The Islamic State group has thrown that plan out the window, and has achieved on the ground what al-Qaida could only dream of a decade or more ago.
The results of their summer offensive also come at a time when most groups are unwilling to take the risks necessary to engage such a ruthless enemy. The Kurdish populations in Iraq and Syria likely won’t want to operate far beyond the havens of Kurdistan, and the effective Shiite militias are already hated in the Sunni communities on which the Islamic State group has preyed. President Barack Obama has said repeatedly the U.S. will not directly involve itself in another war, calling on Iraq’s fledgling government to take the lead in defending itself.
As such, the distinctive black flag of the Islamic State group now flies above the city of Darna as radicals throughout the city swore allegiance to the group. Reports of insurgent activity there began in early November.
It’s irrelevant – for now – whether the expanding presence of the Islamic State group is at the explicit direction of its reclusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, or if regional “lone wolf” insurgents are branding themselves as such. What matters is that average citizens from Libya to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and perhaps even farther – believe now more than ever this murderous firebrand could show up at their front doors.
The Pakistani government has consistently denied any presence of the Islamic State group within its borders, or in neighboring Afghanistan.
“ISIS is a matter of concern for anyone, use as much as anyone else,” said Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, a spokesman for the Pakistani military. “There have been speculative reports of some kind of leadership of ISIS coming there, but there hasn’t been any evidence.”
But sources on the ground there say the government is hiding what has become a pernicious problem in the region. Six prominent members including a chief spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban, ​said in a statement in October they supported the Islamic State group. They were later fired by their top commander, likely out of confusion about which extremist groups the Tehreek-e-Taliban wishes to ally itself.
Bajwa outlined a new Pakistani military offensive designed to root out “any terrorist, without discrimination” in the lawless and underdeveloped northern reaches of his country, while speaking with a group of reporters last week. The offensive has claimed the lives of more than 100 Pakistani soldiers, and drawn more than 170,000 of its 500,000-strong army to the western front, in an attempt to stop Islamic extremists from crossing into neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan’s mission has uncovered more than 132 tons of explosives – enough, Bajwa says, for insurgents to deploy two improvised explosive devices every day for many years and to kill as many as 70,000 people.
These efforts to contain the problem are, however, in vain. Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan, which after 13 years of war now finds itself on the brink of all NATO combat forces withdrawing, ahead of a full troop drawdown in 2016. The vacuum created by their departure has lead to a re-establishment of Taliban strongholds outside the capital city of Kabul, which is still home to insurgent attacks. The country, now technically a U.S. ally, serves a juicy target for the Islamic State group, known there by the Arabic acronym “Daish.”
“We’ve seen signs of Daish in Pakistan and maybe even here in Afghanistan,” says RAND Corporation analyst Jason Campbell, who recently returned from Afghanistan where he met with top officials. “That’s becoming an increasing part of the narrative. The undertones there are, if you leave: Daish.”
Security problems in Afghanistan have roiled amid a sweeping and endemic culture of corruption, particularly at border crossings. Most directly, illegal trade and black markets may account for as much as two-thirds of Afghanistan’s economy, according to the watchdog office the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. But it also allows for fighters to move in and out of the country with ease.
“It’s getting worse,” said John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction​, of the corruption during a meeting with reporters this week. “I would think significantly worse.”
​Newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani​ has publicly denounced corruption in his country, and has been lauded by Western observers for reopening an investigation into corruption at the centralized Kabul Bank.
"The time for action has come and, as we pledged, the fight against corruption will be done in a thorough and systematic way,” he said in October, according to a BBC report​.
But it will be a leviathan task, particularly as he works through a new arrangement with Abdullah Abdullah​, his political rival who was awarded the No. 2 government position after a tense runoff election. The pair now split making appointments in the presidential cabinet.
The looming deadline of the allied forces’ withdrawal is also prompting all those involved in the country’s illicit system of patronage to take advantage of it while they still can. Many paid thousands of dollars to buy positions on the border, or in Afghan government oversight committees, knowing they could make that back many times over.
“You imagine a guy like that when he figures, ‘Whoops, the gravy train may end,’” said Sopko. “He’s going to snatch and grab as much as he can.”
The task forces established by former Central Command chiefs Army Gen. David Petraeus or Marine Gen. John Allen that used to help keep this culture in check are all gone, Sopko said, offering a foreboding conclusion: “We’re the largest law enforcement and oversight presence in Afghanistan. And I only have 40 people.”
An Islamic State group presence in Central Asia would be a big public relations coup for the extremist network, particularly in Pakistan – a nuclear state – and Afghanistan – ground zero for a supposed U.S. war victory – and will only further establish its brand name.
“There’s a lot of growth potential for ISIL among the jihadis in Pakistan, and also in Afghanistan,” says Kaltenthaler, who has written extensively on the subject. “And al-Qaida is not going quietly into the night.”
He points to what will become the seminal problem for the Islamic State group’s enemies in the coming months. Other groups such as al-Qaida in Pakistan, Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, along with the Taliban in Afghanistan loyal to its historic leader Mohammed Omar, now feel the pressure to answer back in a big way for fear of becoming irrelevant.
“The thing I see coming out of this is competition between al-Qaida and ISIL for the hearts and minds of jihadis in Southeast Asia. It becomes more of an outbidding problem,” he says. “I’m more worried about the terrorism from al-Qaida in Southeast Asia more than ISIL, because al-Qaida really has nothing to lose.”
Expect to see some proverbial “Hail Mary” activities from ISIL’s precursor, Kaltenthaler warns, as it desperately seeks to maintain attention.

Pakistan Courts Both US and Russia on Defense

By Ankit Panda
As Russia’s defense minister visits Pakistan, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff visits Washington.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan for a day-long visit on Thursday. During his visit to Islamabad, Shoigu met Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the two addressed several issues related to security and defense cooperation between Russia and Pakistan. The two countries will sign an important memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation that will form the foundation of their growing defense partnership. Although Russia is a major arms exporter to Pakistan’s rival India, it is looking to shore up its involvement in Pakistan amid that country’s growing appetite for Russian hardware. Most recently, Pakistan concluded a deal to purchased MI-35 Hind helicopters from Russia.
According to Dawn, Russia’s decision to court Pakistan as a defense customer was in part spurred by growing ties between the United States and India. Although Russia has been major military supplier for India — providing up to 75 percent of Indian military hardware needs in certain years — the United States has been steadily growing its defense partnership with India. With a government less committed to Indian ideals of non-alignment in charge in New Delhi, India has grown closer to the United States on a series of defense matters. In 2014, India became the largest foreign buyer of U.S. weapons, importing $1.9 billion in military hardware from the United States. In August, reports emerged that the U.S. had overtaken Russia as India’s top arms supplier over the past three years. Sensing an opportunity on the other side of the security dilemma on the subcontinent, Russia has chosen to focus its efforts on courting Pakistan.
A factor limiting Russia-Pakistan cooperation on defense matters is Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally. Although the U.S.-Pakistan alliance has grown increasingly dysfunctional, particularly since 2011, the two countries continue to cooperate on a range of security issues. Shoigu’s visit to Pakistan comes at time when Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif (no relation to the prime minister) is in the United States for a series of meetings with U.S. defense and national security officials. As the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, it values Pakistan’s cooperation. The success of Pakistan’s ongoing campaign — Operation Zarb-e-Azb — against militants in the country’s western tribal regions, on the Afghan border, will be an important determinant of Afghanistan’s security post-2014.
While in Washington, Gen. Sharif took the opportunity to clarify a statement made earlier by Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan would ignore militant groups that do not “pose a threat to the state” — a statement that drew considerable criticism in the United States and political rivals in Pakistan. Gen. Sharif, serving as an ambassador for Pakistan’s defense establishment, told his interlocutors in Washington that the Pakistani military will not discriminate in its campaign against militants. “Zarb-e-Azb is not just a military offensive but is a concept to defeat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The anti-terror campaign is not restricted to Waziristan and Khyber tribal areas but covers the whole country,” he said. Gen. Sharif added that he would not allow the emergence of anything like the Islamic State in Pakistan. Sharif, who took over as Chief of Army Staff in late 2013, specializes in counter-insurgency.

Eavesdropping on Pakistani official led to Robin Raphel probe: report

The probe into Robin L. Raphel began after US investigators intercepted a conversation in which a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat, the New York Times quoted officials as saying.
The conversation set off an espionage investigation that has caused a flurry in US diplomatic circles.
In the wake of the conversation, months of secret surveillance was carried out on former diplomat Robin L. Raphel along with an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raid last month at her home, where agents discovered secret information, officials said.
Ms Raphel, 67, who served as an envoy to Tunisia and as an assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs during the Clinton administration, became one of the highest-ranking female diplomats and a fixture in foreign policy circles. The investigation proved to be an unexpected turn in a career that has spanned four decades.
Raphel is considered one of the leading American experts on Pakistan. She was stripped of her security clearances last month and no longer has access to the State Department building.
At a time when Pakistan was one of the closest allies of the US and a safeguard against the Soviet Union, many diplomats, including Raphel, rose through the ranks of the State Department.
After Raphel retired from the government in 2005, she lobbied on behalf of the Pakistani government before accepting a contract to work as a State Department adviser.

Pakistan: Asma Jahangir hopeful of blasphemy change
Condemnations by the country’s top clerics and right-wing parties against the misuse of blasphemy laws could help reverse a rising tide of mob killings, according to one of the country’s leading rights activist, Asma Jahangir.
Shama and Shehzad, a Christian couple accused of allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran were beaten to death by a mob of 1,500 and their bodies thrown in a furnace this month in the latest in a spate of lynchings in the country.
A day later, a policeman hacked a man who had been accused of blasphemy to death with an axe while he was in custody.
Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws can include the death penalty for insulting Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), but critics say they are often used to settle personal disputes.
While there have been no civilian executions for any crime since 2008, anyone convicted, or even accused, of insulting Islam risks a bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
Such incidents have been met with general condemnation in the past, but little action has been taken against either the perpetrators or instigators — a factor, say activists, driving a rise in such crimes.
But for lawyer Asma Jahangir, recently given France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel prize for her decades of rights work, the response to the Christian couple’s killing offers hope for change.
“There is a positive development, that religious scholars and parties including Jamaat-e-Islami went there and came forward against the incident, which is a good omen,” she told AFP at her offices in the eastern city of Lahore.
“I think it is a very big change and we should appreciate and welcome it.”
Jahangir said the mounting number of gruesome vigilante cases was now forcing even those who had traditionally been the law’s most vocal supporters to pause.
The All Pakistan Ulema Council, a leading clerical body, has chastised the government for failing to act and pledged that in the case of the Christian couple, justice for the victims must be served.
It may sound like wishful thinking, but few Pakistani rights activists have achieved the credibility of Jahangir, a lawyer and daughter of a left-wing politician.
The former UN special rapporteur on religion has braved death threats, beatings and prison time to win landmark human rights cases and stand up to dictatorship.
Pakistan still suffers terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded labourers, but Jahangir insists human rights causes have made greater strides than it may appear.
“There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country. Then prisoners’ rights became an issue,” she said.
“Women’s rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights — political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it.”
Jahangir can count a number of victories, from winning freedom for bonded labourers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.
She has also been an outspoken critic of the military establishment, including during her stint as the first ever female leader of Pakistan’s bar association.
The 62-year-old was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and two years ago claimed her life was in danger from the country’s feared ISI spy agency.
She recently engaged in a war of words with Imran Khan, whose anti-government protest movement she says is backed by the military — a claim his party has denied.
Khan’s push to unseat Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has lost momentum since peaking in late August, but he plans a mass rally in Islamabad on November 30.
Jahangir said it was clear that Khan and Tahirul Qadri, who led a parallel protest, were being aided by the military.
“I have lived in politics, I was born in a political house, it runs in my blood — so I know when certain faces are coming out, where they are coming from,” she said.

Pakistan - Economic targets: PMLN Govt has failed to deliver on most of its promises

In its first year, the PML-N government could not achieve all but one of the economic targets it promised to deliver in its election manifesto and prospects for the current year also remain uncertain, shows the findings of an independent think tank.
Reduction in budget deficit was the only target the PML-N delivered in its first year in power, said Dr Hafiz Pasha, a renowned economist and a former finance minister, while sharing findings of the Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR).
In its elections manifesto, the PML-N outlined 14 economic targets out of which nine were related to macroeconomics, two in the power sector and three in the social sector.
Dr Pasha said there was some improvement on three goals but progress remained below the desired results. He added that the situation remained the same in five areas while it deteriorated in the case of five critical sectors.
The IPR noticed improvements in areas of tax-to-GDP ratio and though collection fell short of the target, there was slight improvement in public debt to GDP ratio and increase in health spending as percentage of GDP.
The tax-to-GDP ratio improved from 9% to 9.3% but fell short of the target of 10.2%. The public debt-to-GDP ratio slightly improved but was still in violation of statutory limit.
Most sectors remained almost at a standstill. In the case of Large Scale Manufacturing (LSM) growth, technical and line losses remained at 17.5%, spending on education as percentage of GDP was still at 2.1% and social protection spending was 1.1% of the GDP.
However, there was marked deterioration in the case of economic growth, inflation, investment, non salary expenses and recovery of electricity bills. The electricity bills recovery ratio fell to 90% from the level of 94% in the last year of the PPP government.
The PML-N manifesto is an impressive document but what is required is the implementation of the promised reforms, said Dr Pasha. Dr Pasha said there was clear success in reducing the fiscal deficit to the targeted level but the work of “creative accounting cannot be ruled out”.
He said heavy reliance on foreign borrowing remained the hallmark of the previous year and the PML-N government added $5 billion to the country’s external debt. He suggested the government to focus on the revival of the economy.
Dr Pasha said the most worrisome aspect was that the economic growth rate did not improve. He said although the government did not officially release the revised GDP growth rate figure, the IPR’s assessment, which is based on official data, suggests that the growth was in the trajectory of 3.3% to 3.5% last year.
“The economy seems to be locked in a slow growth trap and underlying economic weaknesses persist,” said Humayun Akhtar Khan, former minister for commerce and chairman of IPR Board. He said with the decline in both public and private investment, people do not know from where the driver of growth will come.
Future prospects
“The new fiscal year has not started very well and there is a reversal of few positive developments that took place in the last fiscal year,” said Dr Pasha. He said the 4.9% fiscal deficit target will be missed, development budget is expected to be cut due to shortfall in tax revenues, investment will not pick up and economic growth rate will remain at best at 4% due to uncertainty, floods and persistent load shedding.
He urged the finance minister to improve coordination with other economic ministers.
Dr Pasha said the government slashed Rs65 billion in federal development spending during the first three months. He said prices of wheat, palm oil, cotton and crude oil fell significantly in the international market in the first quarter but there was no benefit to domestic consumers.
Dr Pasha said despite slight improvement in fuel mix, which warrants reduction in fuel price adjustment, the electricity prices were increased through power equalisation surcharge.

Pakistan - PMLN GOVT - On the same page? There is no page

Ayaz Amir
The army is running its affairs its own way, the way it thinks best. The political government is informed, in a broad sort of way; it is not consulted. It has no input on what’s going on in the security domain. The army, with the air force by its side, is doing the fighting in the north-west. If Indian shelling along the Line of Control or the Working Boundary requires a response, the army decides what to do. If a missile has to be test-fired, it is the decision of the army command.
This is the reality. The rest is bluff…or call it optics. A joint secretary in the ministry of defence is more relevant to the working of the ministry than the Minister of Defence.
When the newly-installed Afghan president visits Pakistan, eschewing protocol he heads straight for General Headquarters. When the Americans want to discuss the serious stuff they talk to the army chief. They lay out the red carpet for him during his week-long visit to the United States. Contrast this with the sorry figure the prime minister cut when he addressed the UN General Assembly.
Who says the dharnas achieved nothing? They have served their purpose. To use the Urdu expression, they have shown the PM and the civilian order their ‘auqaat’ – their standing. While the army chief is not only the army chief but also effectively the defence and foreign minister, the government has its hands full with Imran Khan’s threatened march on Islamabad on November 30.
The scales may be tilted against the political order. But the government does itself no favours when it pays scant regard to its own dignity. Should the PM have gone to New York to address a near-empty General Assembly? The German chancellor at least had the courtesy to host a lunch in his honour. But should the PM have gone on from Berlin to London where all he was able to meet was the British foreign secretary? PM Cameron simply had no time for him.
And what to make of this? The former British foreign secretary, David Miliband, visits Islamabad and gets to meet not just the PM but finds all key government figures lined up in dutiful attendance – Dar, Nisar, Fatemi, principal secretary to the PM, etc. Was this necessary? Miliband would have been delighted, not to say surprised. The PM represents us. When he appears in an unflattering light it touches us all.
The army chief should look embattled. After all, the army is engaged in a bitter, no-holds-barred conflict in North Waziristan and other agencies. It must also keep a wary eye on the eastern border. But it is the other way round. The civilian order looks embattled while the army chief goes about his business in a calm, almost serene, manner.
The army carries more weight in the ongoing scheme of things…true. But political inadequacy, to put it no stronger than this, is also part of the equation…as are the effects of the dharnas. They have not toppled the government – as they were not likely to without military intervention – but they have damaged the government and further compromised its already limited effectiveness.
Gas management seems too much for the government, every day a fresh announcement contradicting the previous announcement, the government laboriously making and then unmaking its mind, worried about the political repercussions of every alternative. This is the effect of the dharnas. Before them, before the so-called long marches, the government took its own MNAs and MPAs for granted. It had no time for them. Now it must calculate every move lest the PTI take advantage of anything.
Given this situation, one can only wonder at what prompted the adviser on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, to make the remarks he did to the BBC. He basically said there was no reason for Pakistan to take on elements or outfits that were no direct threat to it…this right at the time when the army chief was in the US taking pains to stress that Pakistan was committed wholly to fighting all militant elements, without any distinction between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Taliban. The exquisite timing of this is what takes the cake.
The Adviser to the PM on National Security and Foreign Affairs holds a grandiloquent title but he is a nominal figure with no real authority. He can’t move a sepoy in or out of the tribal areas. It is not for him to decide whom the army should take on and whom it should spare, or give a seat of honour to. He has nothing to do with security policy. A circumspect man with much experience behind him, he more than anyone else should have known how to choose his words carefully. In fact there was no need for him to talk to the BBC. Through it what great or subtle message was he hoping to deliver?
There has been some fuss about this statement in the American media but it is uncalled for. This was an unfortunate slip and, given the power equation in Pakistan, it really means nothing. From Raymond Davis to the Haqqanis and beyond, it is the army which calls the shots. If the political government can’t get David Miliband right, its ability to get the proper measure of things may be more problematic than we think.
There is therefore no ‘page’ on which the government and the army should be together. The scripts are different, the concerns are different, and the world-view is different. When it comes to taxation measures the government is very sensitive about the mood on Brandreth Road, Hall Road, in Liberty Market, etc. Take gas loadshedding…the government is sensitive about how it plays. By the same token, shouldn’t the concerns of the military be consulted on questions of ‘national security’ – say, with regard to relations with India? This is not weakness or kowtowing, just everyday prudence, incidental to the way any government functions …here or elsewhere.
This is where Pakistani democracy falters. Political leaders either flex their muscles in a way likely to raise military eyebrows – like Benazir Bhutto appointing a retired general, Gen Kallue, to head the ISI or president Zardari toying with the idea of putting the ISI under the interior ministry’s wings, or Nawaz Sharif doing the wrong map-reading in Gen Musharraf’s treason trial; or, when pushed into a corner, they abdicate responsibility completely, as happened with Zardari who washed his hands off security issues, and is happening now with Nawaz Sharif whose government has been reduced to the defence of Islamabad’s Red Zone.
Whether by design or accident the dharnas have reduced the space of the political template. There is a view in political circles that after surviving the dharnas the government will become more arrogant. This is a mistaken view. Bluster apart – and who is not entitled to this luxury? – the government’s confidence has been badly shaken. From now until the next elections, whenever they come, the best it can hope for is to limp along. The roar of the lion has gone.
(By the way, is there any other world capital with names such as Blue Area and Red Zone?) For the government the top-most priority: the defence of the Red Zone. The threat of Imran Khan will remain a dagger pointed at its breast.
A chicken plucked of its feathers, half-sighted ambition far outstripping understanding…or any ability to deliver. The miracle Pakistan most stands in need of: the political class somehow able to rise above its limitations.