Tuesday, January 27, 2015

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Putin: Those who rewrite history attempt to hide own disgrace

The Russian president has blasted attempts to rewrite the history of WWII and hide the crimes of Nazism as inadmissible and immoral, adding that people who do this often try to distract attention from their nations’ collaboration with Hitler.
It is hard to imagine that real ‘death factories,’ mass executions and deportations have become a terrible reality of the 20th century, that they were cold-bloodedly and thriftily organized in Europe that seemed to be civilized back then,” Vladimir Putin said as he spoke in the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow at the event dedicated to the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
Direct attempts to silence history, to distort and rewrite history are inadmissible and immoral. Behind these attempts often lies the desire to hide one’s own disgrace, the disgrace of cowardice, hypocrisy and treachery, the intent to justify the direct or indirect collaboration with Nazism,” the Russian leader stated.
In places where they imprint the ideas of ethnic and moral supremacy into people’s heads, where they destroy or scoff at human values, civilization is being quickly and inevitably replaced by barbarity,” Putin noted, adding that the process is often accompanied with war and aggression.
Putin urged the audience to always remember the terrors of the Holocaust, reminding everyone that, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal’s verdict, the Nazi policies killed 6 million Jews. The president said that such crimes have no statute of limitation.
We bow our heads before the heroism of the Red Army soldiers and officers who defeated the Nazi Germany and stopped the fearful extermination machine,” the Russian leader stated.
Putin emphasized that the Russian people bore the greatest weight in the war against Nazism as 70 percent of the Red Army troops were ethnic Russians. However, the president also acknowledged the effort and heroism of other peoples.
We all know the danger and the destructive potential contained in the policy of double standards, indifference and lack of concern about other people’s fate. A typical example is the current situation in the south-east of Ukraine where civilian residents of Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities and towns are being killed for many months by cold-blooded attackers,” Putin noted.
Putin’s speech in the Jewish Museum was made as the world celebrated the 70th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945. The Soviet soldiers saved about 7,500 of the camp’s last surviving inmates and disclosed to the world the blood-chilling details of the Nazi extermination machine. Auschwitz is one of the most infamous Nazi death camps, where over 1 million people were murdered during WWII. Most victims were Jews, but there were also Poles, Soviet Army soldiers and other people considered dangerous by the Nazi regime.
Also Tuesday, State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, currently on a visit to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), laid flowers at the memorial stone to Holocaust victims located near PACE headquarters. After the ceremony, Russia’s top parliamentary official said that he was “unpleasantly shocked” by the fact that the President of the PACE, Anne Brasseur, had failed to mention the fact that it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz in 1945. “The head of the CE’s Parliamentary Assembly could not find two seconds to say that Auschwitz and its inmates were liberated by Red Army units. It sounded as if Auschwitz was liberated by some unknown force and as if the Nazism vanished all by itself,” Interfax news agency quoted Naryshkin as saying.
He also thanked Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jaglandfor correcting this mistake in his speech near the memorial stone in Strasbourg.

ISIS is raping and selling girls and women as sexual slaves, according to freed Yazidis

About 200 members of the Yazidi religious community who were old and sick were released by ISIS militants last weekend. The freed prisoners report that girls and women continue to suffer from horrifying abuses at the hands of the militant group.
According to the Independent, 50,000 Yazidis fled to the Sinjar mountains in early August last year to escape from ISIS, which is bent on wiping out ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Although a large number were able to flee, thousands were not so lucky. Men who were left behind and who were of fighting age were massacred, while girls and women were taken to be raped, sold as slaves, or forcibly married to their captors.
Hamshe, a former Yazidi sex slave who was able to escape from the jihadists with her baby boy, told the Daily Mail, "I can never forget when they separated men and women from each other. It was very painful to witness women and girls being taken as war spoils.
"Each IS fighter was holding the hand of a Yazidi girl and took her for himself. It was harder than facing death."
Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International's Senior Crisis Response Advisor who spoke to more than 40 former ISIS captives and said many of those who are being held as sexual slaves are aged 15 and younger.
Girls this age fetch a price of 150,000 dinars (about £85), according to a document issued by ISIS and obtained by Iraqi News.
The price list also shows that while women who are 40 to 50 years old cost 50,000 dinars (about £28), children who are aged 1 to 9 go for 200,000 dinars (about £113).
To escape from their harrowing existence, there are reports that girls are strangling each other or resorting to suicide.
One of the 300 women who were able to escape from the clutches of ISIS told Amnesty International how a 19-year-old girl named Jilan took her own life.
She said, "We were 21 girls in one room, two of them were very young, 10 to 12 years.
"One day we were given clothes that looked like dancing costumes and were told to bathe and wear these clothes.
"Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself. She was very beautiful. I think she knew she was going to be taken away by a man and that is why she killed herself."
According to Rovera, many of those who survived the sexual abuses of ISIS are still not getting the help they need.
"The Kurdistan Regional Government, UN and other humanitarian organisations who are providing medical and other support services to survivors of sexual violence must step up their efforts," Rovera said.
"They must ensure they are swiftly and proactively reaching out to all those who may need them, and that women and girls are made aware of the support available to them."

Yazidi girls tell of escape from IS

By Fazel Hawramy
For Ibtisam, a 15-year-old Yazidi girl, the six months after the Islamic State (IS) attacked her hometown could not have been crueler. Her mother and three younger sisters were taken from the village of Tel Qasab, near Sinjar, as spoils of war by the extremists, who control territory across Iraq and Syria. After five months in captivity, each day not knowing if they would live to see the next, Ibtisam was freed along with some 200 other Yazidis, most of them elderly, sick or disabled.

Two of her sisters, however, continued to be held captive. Asked why she thought they had been kept while she was released, Ibtisam lowered her eyes and stared at the floor in embarrassment. She paused for a moment before responding, “They were more attractive.”
Ibtisam and the others who were released are now in Lalish, site of the holiest shrine for Yazidis, whom IS consider to be devil worshippers. Unlike Christianity and Judaism, the Yazidi religion is not acknowledged in the Quran.
Only the Yazidi community can fully comprehend the depth of the tragedy that has befallen them. Hundreds have been massacred, thousands remain in captivity, and the majority of the Yazidi minority has been made homeless by IS.
Around 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Lalish in the city of Duhok, a family has taken in three underage girls who were used by IS members as sex slaves for approximately three months. Erivan Mehdi, whose family is caring for them, said, "They cry a lot, and they are often lost in their own thoughts." One of the girls, Besma, a pseudonym, agreed to be interviewed on the condition her true identity not be revealed. Erivan accompanied her.
Besma, also 15, had been in Sinjar town when IS overran the area on Aug. 3, 2014, and gunned down one of her brothers. Nine years earlier, in the midst of sectarian warfare in Iraq, Besma’s father had disappeared without a trace on his way to Mosul.
When IS attacked, Besma's family had asked one of their Sunni Arab neighbors for help, but instead they were turned over to the militants, who rounded up Besma, her mother and a surviving brother, along with some 500 other Yazidi residents.
They were then loaded onto four buses and transferred to the IS stronghold of Tal Afar, where the militants kept them for two days, feeding them eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes. Besma said they were not mistreated at that time. Yazidi men, however, were separated from the group, and Besma was transferred with her mother and younger brother to a prison, which an older women recognized as Badush, northwest of Mosul.
Besma, who recalled her ordeal in great detail, said the militants served breakfast at 9:00 a.m., later followed by lunch, which typically consisted of cucumbers and tomatoes. After midnight, the captives were given a dinner of grapes and bread.
The militants repeatedly insisted the Yazidis convert to Islam, Besma said. On the ninth day in Badush, coalition airstrikes targeted an area near the prison, shaking the ground beneath them. "Everyone was crying and asking God to finish us off at once, rather than endure the terror," she said.
At different stages, young attractive girls were separated from their mothers and then taken away by the militants. The rest were moved from place to place and forced to convert to Islam and pray. Besma saw foreign, Kurdish and Arab fighters and even some Yazidis helping IS.
Besma was taken to Mosul, where she was eventually separated from her mother and brother and moved to the town of Baaj, near the Syrian border, with around 100 other girls, who had been picked out by IS commanders and fighters. She was one of six girls to be selected and taken to Rambusi village, near Sinjar town.
In Rambusi at night, IS members took turns “bringing the girls back to their residence,” Besma’s euphemism for being raped. She remembers the names of three IS members who systematically raped the girls: Abu Hussein, Abu Ali and Abu Abdullah (whose nickname was Abu Shadad).
One evening, around two weeks after Besma arrived in Rambusi, 15 IS militants, including her captors, gathered in a house on the edge of the village. Besma and another girl, Berivan, decided to make a run for it. “We served them okra stew and rice, and all of them sat down to eat,” Besma said.
While the men ate, Besma and Berivan, an 18-year-old, walked quietly to the front door of the house, grabbed a Samsung mobile phone that one of the fighters had left to recharge and stepped into the darkness outside. Berivan called her brother to ask for his help. Over the next 48 hours, Berivan’s brother and a few other Yazidi fighters guided the two terrified girls to safety.
There were many frightening moments along the way. At one point, one of the militants, Abu Sarhan, called the phone the girls had taken. "Where are you, Berivan?” Besma remembers Abu Sarhan asking. The militant, who had repeatedly raped Berivan, warned the girls they would soon be caught. They switched the phone off and pushed on.
The two girls kept going until they reached Mount Sinjar, where several Yazidi fighters received them. One of the men, Khero, spoke by phone to Al-Monitor, recalling the two exhausted girls walking up the mountain one day in late September.
Besma and Berivan are now safe, but their ordeal is far from over. Besma’s mother and brother remain missing. "Not a day passes without her crying," says Erivan. Besma spends her time watching videos released by IS, listening repeatedly to a Kurdish folk song about a mother and weeping while looking at photographs of her two missing brothers.
Since early December, Kurdish peshmerga forces and Yazidi fighters backed by coalition airstrikes have retaken large parts of Sinjar and the Mosul dam area east and west of the Tigris, some 4,000 square kilometers (15,444 square miles), according to officials from the Kurdistan Region Security Council. With the Kurdish forces gaining ground, there is a possibility that one day the Yazidis might feel confident enough to return to their ancestral homeland.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/01/yazidi-girls-islamic-state-sinjar-mosul.html#ixzz3Q3m4twM9

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Netanyahu’s contempt for President Obama

By Richard Cohen

It would not surprise me if, at the next Republican National Convention, Benjamin Netanyahu took a seat in the delegates-from-abroad section. The Israeli leader has both allied and associated himself with congressional Republicans who differ with President Obama over whether to impose additional sanctions on Iran and who also — let’s not beat around the bush — hate his guts. Their foreign policy is actually a domestic one: to destroy the president.
Whether this is political or personal — or a combination of the two — is beside the point. Whatever the case, when Netanyahu accepted John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress in March, he did so without informing the White House. Boehner, too, bypassed the White House. As a result, Netanyahu will come and go and not meet with the president.
Boehner insists that, as speaker of the House, he has the standing to issue an invitation to a foreign leader on his own. That’s debatable. He is, after all, elected by the Republican caucus, not by the full House and not, significantly, by the American people. He knew what this invitation would look like. This is high school stuff, a stunt unworthy of even Newt Gingrich.
I stand with the president on this sanctions matter. Additional sanctions may drive the Iranians from the table. The Europeans may go with them. Let’s give the talks some more time.
I stand with Netanyahu in worrying about a president who has been awfully twitchy in his foreign policy. His faux threat to take Syria to task if it used chemical weapons in its civil war — the famous “red line” — turned out to be a red-faced embarrassment. It has cost Obama much more than it cost Bashar al-Assad.
But what concerns me most is how Netanyahu threatens to harm the bipartisan understanding and support of Israel. The prime minister has never been able to hide his disdain for Obama. In May 2011, he made Obama squirm before the TV cameras as he lectured him about Middle East matters in the Oval Office. It was, simply, no way to treat the president of the United States.
Accepting Boehner’s invitation sent the same message of contempt. I know Netanyahu sees the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel, but that does not excuse his boorish manners. I am an ardent supporter of Israel, but I am also an American: Do not insult my president!
My feelings, however, are immaterial. What matters above all is the possibility that support of Israel will become a partisan political issue in the United States. It may come as a surprise, but Zionism was once beloved by the American and European left. (The British Labour Party even supported transferring Palestinians out of what is now Israel — a policy that changed once Labour got to govern.) Now, though, the European left has abandoned Israel, adoring the Palestinian cause with a striking naivete.
The American left is not quite as robustly anti-Israel, but the trend is unmistakable. Even some American Jews — especially the younger generation — are either cooler toward Israel or indifferent. The Holocaust has faded as an emotional rallying point, and with both an intermarriage rate well over 50 percent and a declining population, the American Jewish community is both contracting and, inevitably, losing clout. For many young Jews as well as non-Jews, Israel’s right-wing government is hardly attractive. It’s been many years since Harry Belafonte sang “Hava Nagila.”
A generation of Americans who support gay rights, same-sex marriage and reproductive freedom and who fear global warming are going to wonder about an Israeli prime minister who embraces a speaker of the House who personifies all they loathe. Israel should not become yet another right-wing issue, joining such bizarre causes as the right to pollute the atmosphere or to turn millions of immigrants into fugitives.
Going back to the very formation of the state, Israel has enjoyed deep bipartisan support in America — neither a Republican nor Democratic issue. There’s no mystery here. Israel is a democracy, a beleaguered one at that, whose creation is yet another desert miracle. Its cinematic virtues are manifest. It’s a great story.
Now, though, some damage has been done. Netanyahu will come and speak to Congress and make his case — the one he has made time and time again— for additional sanctions on Iran. But if, in the end, action needs to be taken against Iran, Israel will need the support of all Americans. He has, with his impetuousness and contempt, made that harder to get.

President Obama Protects a Valued Wilderness

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covers only a small part of Alaska. Smaller still is the coastal plain of the refuge, a narrow, 1.5 million-acre strip flanking the Beaufort Sea. The plain is an ecological and biological wonder, the hunting grounds for Alaskan natives and home to caribou, polar bears, all manner of marine life and countless bird species. It may also contain one of the biggest unexploited oil fields in America.
For all these reasons, the plain has been the subject of a bitter tug of war between politicians and oil companies that covet its commercial resources, on one side, and conservationists who think that opening it would be a calamity — “the equivalent,” the former secretary of the interior Bruce Babbitt once said, “of offering Yellowstone National Park for geothermal drilling, or calling for bids to construct hydropower dams in the Grand Canyon.”
President Obama has now come down emphatically on the side of conservation. At the recommendation of Sally Jewell, his secretary of the interior, and John Podesta, his senior counselor, Mr. Obama proposed on Sunday to set aside more than 12 million acres of the refuge as permanent wilderness, including the 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain. Wilderness designation is the highest level of protection the government can confer on public land. It would bar commercial development of any kind, including, crucially, oil-and-gas exploration.
The proposal is the latest instance of the president’s use of his executive authority, which he has deployed in an effort to circumvent a hostile Congress on issues like immigration and climate change. While Congress must put the final stamp of approval on any wilderness proposal, under law the areas so designated by a president will receive full wilderness protections until Congress acts. Mr. Obama’s action also stirred echoes of former President Bill Clinton, who used his last two years in office to protect millions of acres of land from commercial exploitation.
From the perspective of the nation’s energy needs, Mr. Obama’s timing was just right. Estimates of the oil under the coastal plain have varied wildly over the years, but while extracting the oil never seemed worth the devastation it would cause, it seems less so now that major new oil deposits have been discovered in the lower 48 states and consumption is dwindling along with America’s reliance on imports.
Other measures to protect the Arctic are likely to emerge in the days ahead. A new five-year leasing plan in the works at the Interior Department reportedly includes restrictions on new oil leases in the Arctic Ocean, where existing leases owned by Shell and other companies are already controversial. The Obama administration is also considering whether to further limit oil-and-gas production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, half of which was placed off limits to drilling by Ken Salazar, a former interior secretary, shortly before he left office in 2013.
None of this, obviously, pleases Senator Lisa Murkowski and many other Alaskans, who have been complaining of federal land grabs for decades. “A stunning attack on our sovereignty,” is the way Ms. Murkowski put it, echoing her father, a former Alaska senator and governor, Frank Murkowski, who worked tirelessly to open up the refuge for drilling. That his daughter has been no more successful is cause for cheer.


USAID suspends IRD, its largest nonprofit contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan


The U.S. Agency for International Development announced Monday that it has suspended one of its largest nonprofit contractors from federal work after investigators found “serious misconduct” in the nonprofit’s performance and management of taxpayer money.
For years, International Relief and Development, headquartered in Arlington, Va., served as one of USAID’s key contractors, undertaking ambitious humanitarian projects in some of the most dangerous places in the world.
The suspension comes after months of internal USAID reviews of IRD’s performance in the field and reports from the agency’s inspector general that the nonprofit allegedly mischarged millions of dollars in overhead costs. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and the FBI are also investigating the organization.
“The Agency’s review revealed serious misconduct in IRD’s performance, management, internal controls and present responsibility,” USAID said in a statement Monday. “USAID has a zero tolerance policy for mismanagement of American taxpayer funds and will take every measure at our disposal to recover these funds.”
Since 2007, USAID has awarded more than $2.4 billion in contracts and cooperative agreements to IRD, much of it to fund stabilization and community-development projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several of those projects have been the subjects of investigations following allegations of waste and fraud.
IRD also has been criticized for providing lavish salaries and millions in bonuses to its employees, including the husband-and-wife team who ran the organization, as well as their family members. Many of the allegations were contained in a Washington Post investigation published last May.
The suspension takes effect immediately, blocking IRD from new federal contracts. The nonprofit will be permitted to complete projects that are underway.
“It is what it is, and we have to deal with it,” said Roger Ervin, who took over IRD as president six weeks ago. “I take this as an opportunity to make some changes, and many of them are already underway. I think we can show in short order that we can demonstrate that we are a good service provider for USAID, and I think we can address this pretty quickly.”
Ervin said he and other senior managers are restructuring the organization and cooperating with USAID and federal investigators. “The only way we’re going to satisfy the government is to be as transparent as possible,” he said.
Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to USAID questioning why IRD and another contractor continued to receive federal work in the face of the allegations.
“It is difficult to understand why USAID continues to put U.S. tax dollars and national security objectives at risk by doing business with organizations that consistently fail to meet their obligations and engage in potentially illegal and unethical activities,” Corker wrote to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.
A Post analysis of federal tax forms and contracting data shows that IRD has relied on USAID for much of its funding.
Between 2007 and 2013, IRD reported revenue of a little more than $3 billion — 76 percent of it coming from USAID. At the height of its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in 2010, IRD reported $706 million in revenue, 83 percent of it from USAID.
Of the more than $2.4 billion in USAID funding that IRD has received since 2007, 82 percent has gone toward projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those projects were designed to rebuild war-wrecked cities and towns and construct vast networks of roads.
But the projects were difficult to execute in the field, and workers said in interviews with The Post that vast sums of money were being squandered.
IRD was founded in 1998 by Arthur B. Keys, an ordained minister, and his wife, Jasna Basaric-Keys, who is from Bosnia-Herzegovina. As the nonprofit won more federal work, salaries and bonuses at IRD began to soar.
Together, Keys and his wife earned more than $5.9 million in compensation between 2008 and 2012. Their daughter and Basaric-Keys’s brother received more than $1.3 million during that time.
In 2013, Keys was slated to receive $690,000 in compensation, plus a $900,000 contribution to his retirement account. His wife, chief of IRD’s operations, received $1.1 million in compensation, which included a $289,273 bonus.

Islamic State claws are in Afghanistan soil, warns former US and NATO forces commander


FORMER supreme allied commander of US and NATO forces Admiral James Stavridis has warned against a withdrawal from Afghanistan, claiming the war-torn country is at risk of again becoming a global magnet for terrorism.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Telegraph, the four-star admiral, regarded as one of the world’s leading military strategists, said coalition countries including Australia had to remain engaged in Afghanistan as Islamic State tried to spread its reign of terror.
His calls for the US to remain engaged despite a 2016 deadline for withdrawal of forces echoed Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s support yesterday, revealed in The Telegraph, for a longer Australian deployment.
“We are seeing co-operation between the Taliban and IS,” Admiral Stavridis said. “It is extremely worrying. It underscores the need for constant surveillance especially electronic surveillance.
‘‘What is concerning is that the different groups are also competing. We have to stay engaged in Afghanistan. We don’t need to send 10,000 allied forces back in there but we have to maintain a strong mentoring and training and assistance in the country.
“We cannot takes our eyes off ­Afghanistan. We have to still be ­engaged there.”
Admiral Stavridis said the US needed to also maintain its strong intelligence network in the troubled nation, which it shared with Australia through the ‘‘five eyes’’ network.
He praised Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani and moves to begin counter terrorism intelligence co-operation with Pakistan after decades of suspicion between the neighbours.
Ms Bishop, who flew into the capital Kabul on Monday to meet the new Afghan leadership, has ramped up pressure on the US to stay in Afghanistan after President Obama issued a 2016 deadline for withdrawing. Ms Bishop confirmed there were intelligence concerns that IS was now trying to expand its sphere of influence into Afghanistan and posed a new existential threat.
She also confirmed the US would be asked to reconsider the 2016 deadline for full withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“(President Ghani) has made the case that the time frame may need to be adjusted depending on the opportunities and challenges that present over the next two years,” Ms Bishop said after visiting the 400 Australian troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan - Electricity Conspiracy

Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif ruled out speculations that the power shortage was a result of the oil crisis while saying that the outage was due to sabotage. However, people have been loath to believe this, because whether it’s from circular debt to massive line losses, the bureaucratic inefficiency of the sector is an open secret. Asif said that Pakistan State Oil has booked 12 orders, which means that it is not a question of there being no furnace oil to run plants. But the PSO is heavily indebted and no bank wants to give it a loan. Thus it is hard to believe the Minister’s explanation.
The facts speak volumes about the mess we are in. When a new project was proposed to add 10,000 megawatts to the existing system, it also meant more payments, more government guarantees and, when the output goes through a network with 25-30 per cent theft and losses, it means more circular debt. Privatisation hasn’t worked for the sector either as unionisation and strikes have made sure that inefficient staff cannot be rid. In Punjab, the union has often been accused of siding with corrupt workers in the event of inquiries. The only ray of hope has actually come from USAID. It is giving metre readers new handheld units that scan metres and automatically record readings. Any attempt to alter the readings will cause an automatic server enforced shutdown. USAID is on an extensive energy sector investment drive at the moment and one of the biggest investments is in Multan. The project has been offered to all distribution companies but some like LESCO haven’t accepted the offer. They don’t want interference; they want direct investment into the company.
One must remember that though corruption exists from the lineman up to the board of directors, the problem is less of corruption and more of inefficiency. The inhuman workload involved for many of the employees and engineers is also troublesome.
The PM has ordered an inquiry but forming inquiries, committees and commissions is an exercise in futility. Seeing as this government has a habit of leaving difficult problems to the army, it might surprise no one if the PMLN admits defeat on this one as well.

Pakistan - Darkness all around

Pakistanis have not just got used to the constant cycle of crises and breakdowns of all sorts, from electricity and gas and now to petrol, they have also become familiar with the distinct ineptness of this government in being able to handle pretty much every aspect of governance. The massive power breakdown on Saturday night plunged as much as 80 percent of the country into darkness for as long as 20 hours in some areas. The government was caught scratching its head and the public demanded straight answers. However, true to form, the PML-N has nothing to show in the way of sorting out the matter; it has resorted to its usual game of throwing excuses about to deflect blame. The mega electricity breakdown has been attributed to insurgents in Balochistan who the government is accusing of blowing up two transmission towers in Sibi. This, they say, overpowered the national grid causing it to malfunction so devastatingly. That is mighty convenient, blaming ‘insurgents’ in a province far away, who are hardly in a position to be asked about their doings. How about the PML-N call the nationwide ‘lights out’ catastrophe just what it is: a complete supply chain breakdown of the system due to the irresponsibility of the government in paying dues to Pakistan State Oil (PSO), the main importer of furnace oil. How about some minister or government higher up taking responsibility for the abject failure in sorting out the power crisis, which has become so pathetic that schedulised load shedding seems like a luxury in the face of such debilitating power outages?

The PML-N government is only good at one thing: denial. Nothing can ever be the government’s fault when oil-marketing companies do not keep adequate stock, when the people buy mercifully cheap petrol and put pressure on the system and when the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) is not ‘doing its job’. These are just some of the excuses we heard when we suffered the alarming petrol shortage. Now it seems the government’s incompetence in providing furnace oil, which is the basic fuel for electricity generation, to the supply chain to power the IPPs has taken on the form of mischief-makers in another province. There is a pattern here where the PML-N government is concerned: mess everything up, whether gas, electricity or petrol, and insist that it is not to blame no matter what the facts on the ground say. There is no planning and no contingency on the part of the PML-N government in fixing anything. Getting on top of things does not seem to be a priority of this incompetent lot lurching from crisis to crisis almost on a daily basis.

Pakistan - Former President Zardari condoled the death of Kalsoom Saifullah Khan


Former President Asif Ali Zardari has condoled the death of Begum Kulsoom Saifullah Khan former MNA, federal minister and mother of former MNA Humayun Saifullah Khan and Saifullah brothers. 
In a condolence message the former President paid glowing tributes to Begum Kulsoom Saifullah describing her as a “great humanist, patriot, philanthropist and social worker who touched the lives of innumerable people from across the political and social divide”. An accomplished woman of great elegance and grace and a born humanist with a deeply compassionate heart she left a deep imprint on anyone who came in contact with her.  The ease with which she mixed with the royalty and national and international leaders on the one hand and the poor and dispossessed on the other was a remarkable facet of her life that endeared her to everyone.  After the death of her husband she brought up her children in a way that is a role model for many. The void created by her passing away will not be filled for a long time. May Allah rest her soul in eternal peace and grant strength to members of bereaved family to bear the loss with equanimity, the former President prayed.

What is driving Pakistan's fuel crisis?

Gabriel Domínguez
Pakistan's latest energy crisis, a weeks-long petrol shortage, has brought parts of the nation to a standstill. Economist Daniel Martin speaks to DW about what's causing the shortage and what Islamabad can do about it.
The shortage of imported oil began some two weeks ago, with affected areas almost grinding to a halt. Across the country, many buses have been taken off the streets, and scuffles have broken out at gas stations where people wait in long queues for fuel. Although the situation has eased slightly, the crisis prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to pull out of last week's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.
Pakistan has to deal with chronic power cuts, and tackling the energy issue was one of Sharif's main campaign pledges ahead of the 2013 general election. The situation was recently exacerbated by an apparent rebel attack on a key power line which plunged around 80 percent of the South Asian country into darkness over the weekend.
The energy crisis may even have further consequences as global rating agency Moody's was recently quoted a saying that increasing energy imports without addressing structural issues that create so-called circular debt "will further strain Pakistan's budget and balance of payments, a credit negative."
In an interview with DW, Daniel Martin, a senior Asia economist at Capital Economics, says the short-term solution is for the government to find a way to solve the State Oil Company's financial problems, either through direct recapitalization or by coaxing the State Oil Company's debtors to pay up. However, he adds the structural issues will take much longer to resolve.
DW: What are the main reasons behind the fuel shortage crisis?
Daniel Martin: The main issue is that Pakistan State Oil, which supplies around 80 percent of the country's fuel, has run out of money and banks have refused to extend it any more credit. It has had no choice but to slash imports, leaving it unable to meet local demand. However, the roots of the problem are more complicated.
The government's price controls make it impossible for many firms in the energy and utilities sector to break even, especially since their customers often fail to pay their bills. These firms then struggle to pay their own suppliers, such as Pakistan State Oil.
In this latest case, the Power and Water Ministry has failed to pay Pakistan State Oil an outstanding debt of 171 billion rupees, which would have been enough for about two months of oil imports.
Why is Pakistan so dependent on energy imports?
Pakistan could be producing more oil and gas, but investment in the sector has been low. Aside from the usual problems around security, the legal environment and infrastructure, there is little incentive for firms to develop oil and gas plants to sell to the domestic market, given that the large state-owned companies that would be the most important potential buyers are always struggling to meet their obligations, as the current crisis illustrates.
Meanwhile, the artificially low prices the consumers pay serve to push up demand. The result is large net imports.
How is the shortage affecting sectors of the Pakistani economy, such as industry and transport?
The current crisis has hit the transport sector hard, making it very difficult for firms in other sectors to move their goods around. There have also been electricity shortages, which have been added to by the failure of a power transmission line that cut power to 80 percent of the country over the weekend.
But the fact is that Pakistan's power network consistently falls short of the country's needs. It isn't a short term problem. Firms in Pakistan suffer bigger losses from electricity shortages than in any other major economy in Asia.
The IMF granted a 6.6 billion USD loan to Pakistan in September 2013 on the condition that it carry out extensive economic reforms. Have these reforms been carried out?
In some areas, Pakistan has done well in meeting the targets agreed with the IMF, most notably in bringing down the fiscal deficit and rebuilding foreign exchange reserves.
But the government has come up short in some important areas. Most notably, it has failed to carry out agreed reforms is in the energy sector. Electricity prices were supposed to have been raised by seven percent on July 1, 2014, but the government decided to hold off, given that it was under severe pressure from protestors at the time.
Raising electricity prices would have added to its unpopularity. It did raise prices by 2.5 percent on October 1 and has plans to hikes them further, but all the time the power sector continues to make losses, and ultimately the government will need to pick up the bill.
How long do you think the energy crisis will last and what will it take to tackle the issue?
The short-term solution is for the government to find a way to solve the State Oil Company's financial problems, either through direct recapitalization or by coaxing the State Oil Company's debtors to pay up. But the structural issues, those related to the government's price controls and the consistent failure of energy customers to pay up, will take longer to resolve.
One positive is that the drop in oil prices should help electricity companies to break even. Of course, it is one of the ironies of this latest crisis that it has all come to a head just a time when the collapse in global prices should be easing some the strains.

With Obama in India, China Hosts Pakistan’s Army Chief

While U.S. President Barack Obama watched India’s Republic Day parade as the chief guest, China welcomed Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to Beijing for talks. While in the Chinese capital, Sharif met with General Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of the PLA General Staff, General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China’s central Military Commission, and Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
The main focus of the visit was on Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts. Pakistan launched a major counter-terrorism operation, code-named “Zarb-e-Azb”, last summer. The military offensive has reportedly killed in part targeted terrorists affiliated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a radical group that seeks to create an independent state out of China’s Xinjiang province. China, which grew increasingly worried about Pakistan’s security situation as terrorist attacks on Chinese soil escalated last year, applauded the operation. However, concerns about Pakistani security continue to dog China, both due to worries about stability in Xinjiang and because of the way instability hinders bilateral economic cooperation, including plans for a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
In the wake of a deadly attack at a Peshawar school, Pakistan’s government promised to double down on its efforts to eradicate terrorism within its borders. During his trip to China, Sharif was expected to brief his Chinese counterparts on Islamabad’s progress in that respect, according to Pakistani media. Sharif was also set to discuss general security and defense cooperation issues with China.
The director-general of Pakistan’s ISPR summarized Sharif’s trip in a series of tweets sent on Monday. According to the tweets, Gen. Fan was highly complimentary of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts, calling Operation Zarb-e-Azb “decisive, bold, [a] hard blow [for] terrorists, [and] indiscriminate.” Pakistan has come under fire by some critics for continuing to employ a double-standard when it comes to fighting against terrorism, despite promises from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan will not draw a distinction “between good and bad Taliban.” Fan’s description of Zarb-e-Azb as “indiscriminate” will be much appreciated by Pakistan’s military.
During Sharif’s stay, his Chinese counterparts uniformly offered China’s full support for Pakistan anti-terrorism operations. “China will, as always, give firm support to Pakistan’s efforts to combat terrorism,” Xinhua quotedFan as saying. In particular, ISPR said Sharif and his Chinese counterparts decided to enhance long-term defense collaboration, security and counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing, and training exchanges. All of Sharif’s meetings also emphasized the close, lasting friendship between China and Pakistan, with officials employing the usual rhetoric that the two countries are “iron brothers” and “all-weather friends.”
The symbolism of China and Pakistan renewing their friendship while India and the U.S. enjoyed a love-fest was not lost on outsider observers. China’s close historical relationship with Pakistan has long been a stumbling block for closer China-India ties. With Modi injecting new energy into the India-U.S. relationship, China may have been reminding India that Beijing also has other friends active in the region.
Yet Chinese media tried to downplay any sense that it felt threatened by Obama’s visit to India. “It is hoped that the development of U.S.-India relations will help promote mutual trust and cooperation among countries in the region, and safeguard peace, stability and prosperity of the region as well,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in Monday’s press conference. A Xinhua article confidently argued that the Obama-Modi meeting “is not expected to significantly impact the longstanding China-India relations.”
An op-ed in Global Times rejected the very idea that India and China are at odds. “This fixed pattern of thinking was created and hyped up by the West, which, with ulterior motives, regards the ‘Chinese dragon’ and the ‘Indian elephant’ as natural rivals,” the piece argued. Still, the commentary also warned that India “is sliding into” the Western trap of a “zero-sum game” between China and India.  Both Xinhua and Global Timespointedly argued that India needs China to complete its own development goals. China’s embrace of Pakistan may be a subtle reminder that India should take care not to distance itself too far from Beijing.

Video - US President Barack Obama's full speech at a Delhi townhall

President Obama Talks Religion, Race in India Farewell

On his final day in India, President Obama declared U.S. relations with the world’s largest democracy "one of the defining partnerships of this century," while nudging his Indian counterpart, Narenda Modi, to pursue greater economic equality, women’s rights, and religious tolerance.

In a speech to New Delhi youth, Obama sought to leverage three days of back-slapping and bonhomie into a subtle challenge to the right-wing, Hindu nationalist government of his host. One Indian media outlet went so far to describe Obama’s words as a "snub."

"India will succeed as long as it’s not splintered along religious lines," Obama declared, a message some viewed as direct reference to the anti-Muslim policies of Modi’s ruling party and their efforts to constrain Muslim and Christian groups that do evangelization and religious conversion.
"In our lives, Michelle and I have been strengthened by our Christian faith. Still, as you may know, my faith has at times been questioned — by people who don’t know me — or they’ve said that I adhere to a different religion, as if that were somehow a bad thing," he said. "Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear."

Obama called for celebration of racial diversity, invoking Michelle Obama’s ancestral ties to "slaves and slave owners" and occasions when he was "treated differently because the color of my skin."

He also upheld Mrs. Obama as a model women's rights, calling her a "very strong and talented" wife who "frequently" tells him he’s wrong.

"I'm surrounded by smart women," the president said. "Every woman should be able to go about her day — to walk the street, or ride the bus — and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity."
The president, who was greeted by the crowd of 1,500 at Delhi's Siri Fort Auditorium with chants of "Obama! Obama!," leaves India after three days on an upbeat note. He was the first American president to visit twice and the first to be honored as chief guest on Republic Day.
"I am the first American president to come to your country twice. But I predict I will not be the last. Because, as Americans, we believe in the promise of India," he said.
Ahead of the speech, the Obamas met with three Indian youth who were rescued from child slavery and Kailash Satyarthi, the 2014 Nobel peace prize winner who shared the award withMalala Yousafzai.
Satyarthi is a leading anti-child slavery advocate. He was overheard telling Mr. Obama that there are still 5 million child slaves around the world. "Thanks to your administration in America the number of child slaves has gone down," he said.
Mrs. Obama kept her arms around 12-year-old Payal Jangid the entire time.
President Obama now turns to a much different alliance, making a rare and impromptu visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on his way home.
The president will pay his respects to the Saudi royal family after Friday's death of Kind Abdullah, mark the transition to King Salman, and discuss the fight against ISIS and the situation in Yemen, White House officials said.
Obama brings with him more than two dozen top dignitaries, including Republican Sen. John McCain, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and former George W. Bush Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Obama is due back on U.S. soil on Wednesday.