Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Freedom House: Democratic Ideals Under Threat Around Globe

The international rights group Freedom House reports that 2014 saw an overall decline in political rights and civil liberties around the world, concluding that democratic ideals are under the greatest threat in 25 years. The group ranked Syria at the bottom and cited violence in Ukraine.
2014 was marked by an explosion of terrorist violence and brutal tactics, according to the international rights group Freedom House, making it an "exceptionally grim" year.
In its annual report, released Tuesday, the group notes that the decline in democratic ideals spread across the world, with Syria receiving the lowest country score in over a decade. Syria has been caught in civil war and terrorist violence for years.
Tunisia was the one exception, becoming the first Arab country to achieve the group's status of "free" in the past four decades.
Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House, told VOA the most significant declines in freedoms were caused by terrorism.

"One of the most discouraging developments, is this upsurge in terrorism," he said. "We have never seen in the past, ever seen the impact of terrorism on democracy to be as significant as it was in 2014."
Puddington said terrorist attacks have led to thousands of people being uprooted from their homes, women kidnapped or seized as prizes of war, and the massacres of religious minorities in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.
A lack of democratic governance, Freedom House says, created the environment for terrorism to grow.

Political repression
Freedom House says some 2.6 billion people, or about a third of the world's population, live under "not free" conditions, suffering under political repression, indiscriminate violence, gender violence, state surveillance, and curbs on personal movement, expression and communications.
Other examples included Egypt's roll back of the democratic gains of the Arab Spring, with its suppression of the media, human rights organizations and political dissidents. Turkey, too, saw an aggressive campaign against pluralism, as did China.
Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19, a British human rights organization, added that changes by the United States and other Western allies also have had negative implications.
"The other really worrying trend has been that in countries in Europe and North America where we've seen the traditional strong defenders of human rights internationally, because of their encroachment around issues such as mass surveillance, encroachment around human rights related issues, this sets a very negative precedent," said Hughes.
But people at the grass roots level in Ukraine, Hong Kong and Brazil  are pushing back, according to both Freedom House and Hughes.
Hughes said recent U.N. work toward sustainable development goals will help countries on issues such as human rights and freedom of expression.
"Without those standards and without support to grass roots civil society you cannot hold governments, lawmakers, and other power brokers to account," he said.
The biggest mistake democracies can make, says Freedom House, is to accept the proposition that they are impotent in the face of strongmen for whom bullying forms the basis of political exchange. Ordinary citizens, the organization says, have shown their willingness to challenge such rulers.
Rejections of democratic standards
More troubling, Freedom House said, are more explicit rejections of democratic standards, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine, "including the outright seizure and formal annexation of Crimea," which it noted as a "prime example."
Freedom House also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has grown more aggressive about defending disputed maritime territory, and as his anti-corruption sweep has reached deeply into the Communist party, the report said the probe has ignored the principles of due process.
Freedom House named one other possible culprit for the decline in democratic freedoms: the fight against terrorism. It said governments such as Venezuela, Kenya and China have invoked terrorism laws to silence dissent.

Pelosi says Netanyahu speech to U.S. Congress could hurt Iran talks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scheduled speech to the U.S. Congress in March could damage the Obama administration's attempts to broker a deal with Iranon nuclear weapons development, the senior U.S. House of Representatives Democrat said on Wednesday.
"Such a presentation could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance," said Representative Nancy Pelosi during a news conference on the sidelines of an annual retreat for Democratic lawmakers.
But Pelosi stopped short of saying that the invitation to Netanyahu should be withdrawn by House Speaker John Boehner.
Earlier this month Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of the House and Senate and the speech is scheduled for March 3, just two weeks before the Israeli leader stands for re-election on March 17.
Boehner, who did not consult with the White House before extending the invitation, has defended his surprise invitation.
A spokesman for Pelosi said she spoke by telephone on Wednesday with Netanyahu, but he did not provide further details.
"It's a serious big honor that we extend (to Netanyahu). That it should be extended two weeks before an election in the country without collaboration (with) the leaders in Congress and without collaboration with the White House is not appropriate," Pelosi said.
The Obama administration has been involved in protracted talks with Tehran on stemming Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon. It is hoping to wrap up those talks by the end of March.

Members of Congress have been threatening additional sanctions on Iran if a satisfactory deal is not reached.

Video - President Obama Delivers a Farewell Tribute to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Make no mistake: Michelle Obama just made a bold political statement in Saudi Arabia


Like the attire of other first ladies, Michelle Obama's clothes have been scrutinized endlessly for what type of messages they convey.
And she gets high marks for her "fashion diplomacy," as she engages with foreign leaders at home and abroad. Her choice to go with a suit rather than a dress for the first time at this year's State of the Union address "was a glimpse of the self-aware, tough-minded, straight-talking lawyer who took a brief hiatus from the public eye," according to Robin Givhan.
So it is with Obama's attire in Saudi Arabia — a country with a very strict dress code for Saudi women, who are not allowed to drive and who live under a system of male guardianship. In a country that demands women adhere to a strict dress code in public (face and hair covered, and long, flowing robes), Obama went with a flowing blue top, black pants and no head covering.
Obama's choice is not without precedent. Laura Bush in a visit with King Abdullah made the same choice in 2006.
But Obama is much more associated with clothes and fashion; she sets trends and boosts brands. And in the age of social media, she has an unparalleled global audience.
On Twitter, her move sparked outrage, as reported by my colleague, Adam Taylor:
More than 1,500 tweets using the hashtag #ميشيل_أوباما_سفور (roughly, #Michelle_Obama_unveiled) were sent Tuesday, many of which criticized the first lady. Some users pointed out that on a recent trip to Indonesia, Michelle had worn a headscarf. Why not in Saudi Arabia?

Keep in mind that Michelle Obama does not make fashion choices lightly, particularly on the world stage. Her fashion choice comes as the late Saudi king Abdullah's legacy on women is considered in light of the ascension of Crown Prince Salman to the throne.
It's also a more social-media-friendly version of political messages delivered overtly by other first ladies.
In 1995, Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience at the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing, "Women's rights are human rights, and human rights are women's rights."
Ten years later, at the World Economic Forum in Jordan in 2005, Laura Bush also emphasized women's rights before a group of Arab leaders. She said: "Freedom, especially freedom for women, is more than the absence of oppression. It's the right to speak and vote and worship freely. Human rights require the rights of women. And human rights are empty promises without human liberty."
The Saudi delegation of leaders walked out before she got to that line, something she notes in her book, "Spoken from the Heart."
Ten years after that, Obama, this time with her fashion, has made a similar statement.
Bush said in 2005 that "women who have not yet won these rights are watching," and Obama, in Saudi Arabia with no headscarf and in slacks, makes the message that much easier to see.

Obama: Netanyahu's visit too close to election for meeting

By Eric Bradner

President Barack Obama says he will not meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March because his trip to Washington comes too close to Israel's upcoming elections.
"I'm declining to meet with him simply because our general policy is, we don't meet with any world leader two weeks before their election," Obama said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "I think that's inappropriate, and that's true with some of our closest allies."
House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver a speech in front of Congress in March. He's expected to use that speech to lobby for tough new sanctions against Iran -- putting him at odds with Obama, who has threatened to veto additional sanctions as he tries to hash out a deal to halt Iran's nuclear program.
The President said the United States and Britain had to quickly to put together a trip to Washington for Prime Minister David Cameron this month for the same reason Obama wasn't meeting with Netanyahu. Cameron didn't want to make it closer to his country's May elections.
"He insisted that if he wants to come -- and it was a very important meeting -- he needs to be far away enough from the election that it doesn't look like in some ways we're meddling or putting our thumbs on the scale," Obama said.
Obama downplayed differences with Israel over his approach to Iran, saying he hasn't heard "a persuasive rebuttal of my argument that we crafted very effective sanctions against Iran specifically to bring them to the negotiations table."
    Israeli intelligence has confirmed that Iran has rolled back its stockpiles of highly enriched uranium, Obama said.
    The President said imposing new sanctions now would give Iran a way out of the talks, an outcome no one wants.
    "For us to undermine diplomacy at this critical time for no good reason is a mistake and that what we need to do is to finish up this round of negotiations, put the pressure on Iran to say yes to what the international community is calling for," he said.
    Obama said he's confident he can successfully lobby Congress to approve a deal once it's struck.
    "I've said before that we will take no deal over a bad deal," Obama said. "But if I can prove that the deal we've put in place assures us through indisputable verification mechanisms that Iran cannot achieve breakout capacity, if I've got a bunch of scientists and nuclear experts saying this assures us that Iran is not on the brink of being a nuclear weapons power, then that's a public debate we should have."
    "And I will then ask every member of Congress to ask why would we reject that deal and prefer a potential military option that would be less effective in constraining Iran's nuclear program and would have extraordinarily ramifications at a time when we've already got too many conflicts in the Middle East," he said. "And I'm pretty confident I can win that argument."



    Music Video - Runa Laila live in PTV

    Pakistan - 15pc children still out of school in Punjab

    Despite announcing emergency and massive school enrollment campaign during 2014 still 15 percent of Punjab’s children aged 6-16 still remain out of school whereas the remaining 85% are enrolled in the 6-16 age bracket, and the percentage has improved since last year (84%).

    These findings were made public in the report ASER Survey 2014 launched on Tuesday. Minister for Education Punjab Rana Mashood, Chairperson Idara Taleem o Agahi (ITA) Dr Narmeen Hameed, General Secretary Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) I.A Rehman, Chairman Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) Dr. Nizam u din were present on occasion. The ASER 2014 survey has been conducted by 10,000 volunteers managed by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) along with many key civil society /semi autonomous that include the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD), NRSP and several civil society organizations across Punjab.

    The ASER survey rural findings have been based on the information of 54,365 children of age 3 to 16 years (including 44 per cent girls) by 10,000 volunteer citizens, who personally visited 19,888 households in 997 villages. For the year 2014, the ASER rural survey has been conducted in 35 rural districts and 7 urban administrative areas in the Punjab, wherein 5-16 year age cohort 39,107 children were tested for English, Language (Urdu), and Arithmetic competencies.

    The report states that the private sector is performing better than the government sector as far as the learning levels of children are concerned. The survey reveals a clear- urban-rural divide, whereby urban areas perform better in terms of access (92% children in schools vs. 85% in rural areas) and infrastructure facilities. This year ASER surveyed, 7 urban districts across Punjab including Lahore, Multan, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi. An interesting trend has been observed this year as reflected by ASER Findings.

    ASER Punjab 2014 results illustrate a considerable number of children going to non-state schools this year compared to public schools. 37% children of age 6-16 are enrolled in non-state schools in 2014 while last year the percentage was 36%.

    According to the report, student competencies in learning English, Arithmetic, and Language are deplorable i.e. 37% of the children from Class V cannot read Class II level text in Urdu. In English, only 57% of the surveyed Class V students could read sentences which should ideally be read by students from the second grade. A similar trend has been observed in Arithmetic capabilities of children where only 51% of class V children were able do a two-digit division respectively, something that is expected in second grade curriculum.

    The ASER Survey also has identified that children enrolled in private schools are performing better compared to those studying in government schools; 68% children enrolled in Class-V in private schools were able to read a story in Urdu compared to 60% Class V students studying at government schools.

    The difference in learning levels is starker for English, where 63% Grade V could read English Class II level sentences compared to only 54% public sector students! For arithmetic, 55% children enrolled in class V and going to private school can do 2-digit division as compared to 48% government school children enrolled in class V.

    Further, the survey explains that boys are outperforming girls in literacy and numeracy skills in rural Punjab. As many as 55% of boys were found able to read at least sentences in Urdu as compared to 52% girls. For Arithmetic, 54% of Class V boys were able to do Class II level subtraction as compared to only 50% Class V girls. In addition to the assessment of children, the report also highlights school functioning across every district in Punjab. The ASER rural survey informs that over all teachers’ attendance in government schools and private schools both stood at 93% on the day of the survey. Government teachers were reported to have better qualifications at graduate levels; for example, 58% teachers in private schools are graduates in comparison to 74% in government schools, however the reverse is the case for MA/MSc or post graduate qualifications, whereby larger percentage of public sector teachers have a higher qualification than private sector counterparts. But then do qualifications matter more than attitudes and pedagogies?

    The trends in multi-grade teaching across schools are also mixed. ASER 2014 Punjab rural findings have found 32% of government and 26% of private schools imparting multi-grade teaching at Class II level. On the contrary, at the Class VIII level, multi-grade teaching is more prevalent in the private sector 24% vs. 8% in government schools.

    Despite of the fact that only 6% private primary schools receive funds from the government (as compared to 62% public primary schools), the private sector has been reported to be better at school facilities. For example, 90% private primary schools had boundary-walls as compared to 86% government primary schools.

    Similarly, with regard to availability of functional toilets, it has been found that the facility was still not available in 8% public and private primary schools in rural Punjab! Nevertheless, if compared with other provinces, Punjab is surely performing better than Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in terms of all indicators, enrolment, learning levels etc.

    Mumtaz Qadri Appeal Case: Will Justice Be Done? Court Adjourned Till February 3

    The High Court in Islamabad held its first hearing yesterday, January 27, in the appeal of Mumtaz Qadri, the murder of Salman Taseer. Qadri, himself confessed killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, which occurred on January 4, 2011. He admitted his guilt and said he killed Taseer because of his support for a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been charged with blasphemy. However, the hearing has been adjourned to February 3. Mumtaz Qadri, was a serving constable in the Punjab Police and member of its elite force, when he shot the then Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. Qadri had filed an appeal before the court on 6 October, 2011, whereas the judge who sentenced him to death was harassed to such an extent that he had to flee the country after receiving serious death threats.
    On the other hand, there have been nationwide protests in favour of Mumtaz Qadri where protestors chant slogans in his strong favour. The protestors blatantly demand Qadri’s release as they warn the Government for dire consequences if Qadri is not released. He is considered a “hero” of Islam by protestors. Reportedly, hundreds of supporters and members of Islamic groups were present outside the court and chanted slogans in favour of Mumtaz Qadri during the court proceedings. Due to the seriousness of the issue, strict security arrangements were ensured and the road to High court was blocked with barricades. Moreover, a large number of police and special force personnel were deployed at buildings in the surrounding areas.
    A Christian Advocate, and rights activist said that the Human Rights Defenders had great concern regarding the appeal case of Qadri because “if Qadri were be acquitted from Salman murder case then the fear of insecurity of life would be increased among them. The fueling to religious intolerance and violence will be stopped by condemning such elements of society who take law in their hands to harass peace workers”.
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    Pakistani-Afghan Cooperation Viewed as Key to Anti-Drug Efforts

    Increasing counterterrorism and border security cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan has raised hopes for more effective anti-drug regional efforts.
    Despite significant international investment to counter illicit drug production in Afghanistan, a recent U.N. survey found that the country had seen a surge in areas used for poppy cultivation for a third consecutive year.
    Pakistani authorities said the increase in Afghan drugs coupled with the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO forces from the war-shattered country posed even a bigger challenge to their counternarcotics efforts.
    Major General Khawar Hanif, head of the Pakistan Anti-Narcotics Force, told a U.N.-sponsored international conference in Islamabad that continued international involvement was needed to tackle the Afghan drug problem.
    "Thankfully, the commitment of the present Afghan government with respect to border control arrangements and counternarcotic efforts is quite palpable," he said.
    "But we believe that unless there is a wholehearted support from the international community proportionate to the drug problem, the region is going to remain in the same crisis," he said. "Abandoning our Afghan colleagues to deal with this overwhelming poppy cultivation and drug production is not an option at all."
    Pakistan shares a 2,500-kilometer, mostly porous border with Afghanistan. Hanif said the terrain added difficulty to the country's fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
    "A lot of divided villages on the borders facilitate movement across the border both ways - actually, you enter into a village from one country and get out in the other," he said. "There are up to 200 unfrequented routes in which practically there are no law enforcement agencies present."
    Pakistan and Afghanistan have exchanged high-level military delegations as part of joint efforts to enhance security and deal with militants involved in attacks on both sides of the border. A delegation of Afghan Border Police is in Pakistan for talks with senior security officials.
    Cesar Guedes, a representative of the U.N. anti-drug office in Pakistan, said the alarming drug situation in the region required enhanced joint efforts.
    "I think that is the key element for success in combating drug trafficking in this part of the world," he said. "The main producing country plus the main transit country need to strengthen their efforts effectively, very professionally and with all the sectors in both countries joining efforts to tackle this regional problem."
    Guedes said the preferred market of Afghan narcotics is Europe, and Pakistan serves as the main transit route.
    "It is approximately 45 to 50 percent of the opiates produced in Afghanistan that use Pakistan as a preferred steppingstone onward to international markets," he said. "Then, about 30 percent goes via the Islamic Republic of Iran and the balance ... via the central Asian republics onward to Russia and Europe."
    Pakistani officials said the proliferation of Afghan drugs had also led to an increase in drug addiction in Pakistan.

    Poppy Cultivation Funds Terrorism In Afghanistan

    Although billions dollars were invested by the world community and the Afghan government in the last thirteen years for eradication of poppy cultivation but still Afghanistan is one of the biggest opium producers in the world. Why the efforts of the government and the global community in the last thirteen years were not effective? What was the reason behind increase of addicts’ number? Why alternative should be given to farmers? And additional numbers of questions were discussed in a free Jirga with government authorities, lawmakers, experts and representatives of 34 provinces. Deen Mohammad Mubarez Rashidi former acting minister of counter narcotics who was one of the participants of this free Jirga said, “Despite the efforts of the Afghan government and the world community in the last thirteen years, Afghanistan is still among the drug producers in the world. I believe in the first step, rule of law should be implemented for prevention of poppy cultivation and drug production. According to constitution and the law on war on drugs, all departments of the Afghan government have to fight drugs. Because drug cultivation, production and trafficking is crime.
    Talking on this issue that why poppy alternative should be given to farmers, Rashidi said, “Based on law, if alternative is given or not given, no one is allowed to cultivate poppy, produce or consume drug and traffic it. If only for the help of farmers, alternative is given to farmers, it is good if the government afford it. Since thirteen years that the Afghan government has been fighting poppy cultivation, the alternative livelihood has been one of the four cases of war on drugs. But the government should improve agriculture, so there would be no more excuse to farmers to cultivate poppy. Talking on the relations between farmers’ economic situation and poppy cultivation Rashidi went on to say, “If we don’t care alternative livelihood in Afghanistan, and say that if the farmers don’t cultivate poppy, what they should eat this in fact itself is an excuse for increase of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, because the alternative livelihood undertaken by the Afghan government and the world community for the farmers only will be meeting their ten percent needs and the rest will remain.
    Mentioning the fifteen province in which poppy is not cultivated Rashidi said, “This is not true if we say that if the farmers don’t cultivate poppy, what to eat. And the fifteen other provinces should also cultivate poppy. Therefore it could be an excuse for poppy cultivation. Those farmers who cultivate poppy, violate the constitution, they are a threat to security, shed the people blood and bring misfortune to our youth.
    What solution would be followed by the upcoming administration for prevention of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, Rashidi said, “The only solution that can rescue the country from misfortune is enforcing and implementation of law, having firm political determination, acceptance of Islamic values, tackling the farmer’s problems, creation of coordination among responsible bodies in the direction of prevention of poppy cultivation and sincere cooperation of the world community. Nasima Niazi a female lawmaker from Helmand while considering lack of government attention to improve farmers living condition as one of the reasons behind increase of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan despite huge investments  said, “In the last thirteen years the government unfortunately has not provided better living conditions for our youth and farmers, has not implemented public utility projects.
    So, unemployment and poverty are the reasons behind increase of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. While poppy cultivation brings more benefit to international mafia and less advantage to farmers. Helmand is one of the provinces that unfortunately have been hunted by this sinister phenomenon. Insecurity and lack of government attention have caused increase of poppy cultivation. She also considers alternative livelihood to farmers as one of the solutions that could be effective for prevention of poppy cultivation. Ms. Niazi added, “If job opportunities be available to our youth, they will not resort to drugs. Bordering with neighboring countries and migration of Afghans to these countries have caused large number of Afghans be addicted to drugs. So the government should put creation of employment at the top of its priorities and should have firm determination for elimination of this nasty phenomenon and the international community should also act seriously. Former MoCN Gen. Khodaidad considering alternative livelihood as one of the effective means for prevention of poppy cultivation, said, “Unfortunately the government has failed in the last thirteen years to implement the farmers opinions for alternative livelihood and opium replacement, properly. There was no suitable coordination between the MoCN and the world community. In the provinces lack of coordination between governors and security authorities have caused increase of poppy cultivation and number of addicts.
    Considering illegal the poppy cultivation, production and trafficking according to Islam religion and the constitution, he emphasizes that opium funds terrorism war in Afghanistan. If the Afghan government doesn’t implement serious measures for elimination of this phenomenon, until 2016, its control will be out of authority of the government.
    Hashim Alokozai a senator from Helmand province and a local tribal elder said, “If in the last thirteen years attention was focused for improvement of agriculture and the farmers living condition, today no one, no farmer would have been planted poppy in no province of Afghanistan. Helmand is a province is that grows the best cotton and marketing grounds should have been paved for this product. Lack of attention to farmers’ requirement has caused increase of poppy cultivation. He added, In order Afghanistan regain its proper position among the world countries and the Afghan people not to be considered as the biggest opium producers, all government bodies  including provincial governors, district governors, and security authorities should establish coordination among themselves for implementation of the rule of law. Suraya Raiszada

    Afghanistan at the Crossroads

    NATO forces led by the U.S. completed their combat mission in Afghanistan on December 31, 2014 as planned. The new role for the U.S. will involve support and training within the framework of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Realizing the significance of BSA for his government, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was quick to ink the BSA and SOFA, doing so on his second day in office.
    Last year was both a difficult and eventful one for Afghanistan. Successful security and political transitions were the major developments. The country had started receiving economic shocks well before 2014, partly because of the uncertainty surrounding the political dynamics and partly due to the very real impacts of the dwindling financial resources resulting from the drawdown of international forces. According to the World Bank annual GDP growth dropped from around 12 percent in 2012 to around 3 percent in 2013, remaining at about that level in 2014. With a new government in place, and a recently announced cabinet set to be endorsed by the Parliament, there is a growing sense of optimism that the economy will gradually improve.
    Unemployment across the country has been held down by the large number of Afghans engaged in international aid operations. With foreign troops and aid workers leaving the country, an economic impact in inevitable. Yet the repercussions of the NATO pull-out are not all negative. It also means Afghan ownership of the development process and a first step towards efforts for self-reliance, provided that the new National Unity Government is able to fulfill expectations.
    For the past 12 years, Afghan economy has been virtually dependent on foreign aid. According to the Ministry of Finance, almost 100 percent of its development budget and 45 percent of its operating budget is externally financed, with the U.S. being our major donor. National revenues struggle to fund even a small share of the national budget. Since 2002, with the new government in power after the collapse of the Taliban, the Afghan economy enjoyed reasonably steady growth. GDP increased from $3 billion in 2002 to $20 billion in 2012. In the absence of a viable economic base, however, there are no grounds for concluding that the reported economic growth was sustainable. With an unstable political environment and deteriorating security, the government never managed to build viable institutions that could have paved the way for sustainable economic growth by tapping the country’s vast natural resources.
    Afghanistan also struggled to attract any notable domestic and foreign investment, hamstrung by political uncertainties, excessive bureaucratic procedures, the lack of an adequate legal and regulatory framework, and systemic corruption within the government machinery. The associated risks prevented potential national and international investors from becoming involved in major business ventures. The construction industry was the only sector where significant growth was witnessed, mainly because of the availability of generous foreign funding for infrastructure development where the business community could receive quick and highly profitable returns. In fact, construction thrived, with thousands of construction firms issued licenses by the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA). The Agency encouraged construction investors with simple registration procedures. But in the absence of strong institutional and enforcement framework, the government was unable to collect taxes from an industry that otherwise could have contributed significantly to national revenues. Construction has been rife with tax evasion, mainly because of rampant corruption and the powerful political players with a stake in the industry.
    In sharp contrast to construction, the manufacturing and service sectors have seen negligible growth due to a lack of infrastructure and energy supply, insufficient institutional capacity, not enough support from the government, and longer payback periods with associated risks. Agriculture development is another unhappy story. In the absence of any strategic and integrated approach towards developing the farm sector, most foreign assistance ended up financing micro level projects, building capacity, or paying international consultants to produce reports as bulky as they were unnecessary.
    A substantial portion of the aid money that flowed into Afghanistan over the past decade ended up in private hands, in the form of bribes, kickbacks and embezzlements. That money now appears in the form of high-rise buildings, huge foreign bank balances, and lucrative private businesses owned by the few, both within the country and abroad. It is true that ordinary Afghans have benefited from billions of dollars of international assistance during the past decade. But since the foreign aid has not created sustainable economic growth in the country, the departure of the international community is a major blow to ordinary Afghans, given unemployment and the economic implications.
    As a key advisor to Ghani when he was chairman of the security transition commission, I am well aware of the overall framework of the transition process. From the very beginning, it was envisaged that the security transition must promote development, the rule of law, and good governance – considered to be three pillars of transition. Yet the civilian aspects of the transition received little attention from the ISAF and Afghan government as security overshadowed the entire process. It is noteworthy, though, that Ghani was unhappy at the Afghan government’s performance and its lack of proper attention the reforms that could have helped improve the security environment by increasing government credibility.
    Now that the international community in general and NATO countries in particular are entering into new partnerships with Afghanistan, it is time to redefine the relationship in more credible terms based on realistic benchmarks and results-based indicators. The next decade following NATO’s completion of its combat mission and the peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan has long been termed the decade of transformation. This decade can only bring transformation if genuine efforts are made. It is now up to the national unity government to fulfill expectations and achieve that vision.
    In spite of all the challenges, Afghanistan commands a strategic location as gateway to Central Asia as well as a land bridge between Central and South Asia. As such, the country offers enormous opportunities for both national and international investors in sectors ranging from natural resources and infrastructure development to the service industry and tourism. Preliminary investigations suggest Afghanistan has mineral resources worth around $3 trillion. Yet without sustainable security, strong economic and political institutions, and international technical support, the mineral wealth cannot be utilized and will remain a cause of international rivalry rather than a source of economic growth and prosperity.

    Pakistan - PML-N’s style of governance

    Totally unfit for democracy

    Despite being in power for the third time, Nawaz Sharif has yet to realise that a country with 190 million population cannot be run like a small family business concern. If a PM ruling a modern state was to follow the micromanagement based model of a small enterprise, run with the help of handpicked and pliant relatives by an arrogant family elder whose directives must not be challenged, disasters would not be not far behind.
    The confrontation with the PTI and PAT had resulted from this highly personalised and arrogant style of running the country. Imran Khan’s original demand of reopening the four constituencies was rejected out of hand. Tahirul Qadri who had a considerable following received the kind of treatment that characterises military rule than democracy. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, who were endowed with similar inflated egos, turned out to be the government’s nemesis.
    It was arrogance that led Nawaz Sharif to remain absent from Parliament for months. What was the need to listen to noisy speeches when a docile Cabinet was willing to do the PM’s bidding? It was only after the PTI and PAT, seemingly in collusion with the offstage players, threatened to drag Nawaz Shrif out of the Prime Minister House that he sought the Parliament’s support. The PM and his copycats in the Cabinet attended several consecutive National Assembly sittings from beginning to the end, having an earful of the critical comments from the Opposition.
    Once the crisis was over, it was again business as usual.
    The style of governance led to the petrol crisis followed by an unprecedented power breakdown. In both cases the government found scapegoats. A storm is again gathering. Pakistan Bar Council has announced a countrywide strike against the 21stamendment. There is a likelihood of the religious parties also chiming in. The military courts were accepted by many legislators under duress. With no judicial commission in sight, Imran Khan too might use the situation to give another jolt to the government. The PML-N, it appears, will face crisis after crisis till the end of its tenure.

    Pakistan - US drone strike kills six in North Waziristan

    A US drone strike on Wednesday killed at least six militants in Shawal.
    “A US drone fired two missiles at a compound and vehicle in Shawal area of North Waziristan, killing six terrorists,” a senior security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The strike targeted a Taliban compound in North Waziristan, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal districts that border Afghanistan and a hub for al Qaeda and Taliban militants since the early 2000s.
    The compound was razed to grounds whereas a vehicle inside the compound was blown into pieces. Since a drone was hovering in air for around half an hour, rescue activities started late.
    Another security official confirmed the strike and casualties, saying three among the killed were foreigners whereas four of them local.
    Exact identity of the killed foreigners is yet to be confirmed but officials believe them to be Central Asians.
    Two militants were injured as well who were shifted to local clinics.
    Recent drone attacks by the US have raised speculation that Washington and Islamabad are coordinating their military efforts.

    Pakistan's Polio Crisis - Behind Times

    The fight against polio was always going to be a formidable one; that much was common knowledge before the recent drive began. The state, the departments and the personnel involved were all aware of the inherent risk and undertook their work knowing that some sacrifices needed to be made. Yet, the fact that you are beset by occupational hazards should not mean one should resign themselves to them, which is exactly what the police department in Karachi is doing. On Monday, a policeman was gunned down Nazimabad, Karachi, while escorting a polio team. The incident itself would have been unremarkable in Pakistan’s tragic news cycle, had the police official not been a 20 year old trainee tasked to guard a team of two polio workers all by himself, when barely a week ago another policeman was shot in orange town while escorting polio workers.
    As the details filter through, the police department’s actions look increasingly questionable. Why was a trainee given a job which perhaps ranks amongst the most dangerous in Pakistan right now? In a duty that envisages tactical progression through urban landscape, requires experience and excellent marksmanship, why was a person chosen who had not even passed the academy? Furthermore, a single policeman is absolutely useless for this job; a single person cannot even guard both ends of a single road, let alone the multiple attack avenues available in an urban environment, such as rooftops, windows and street corners. While the policeman was wearing a bulletproof vest, he lacked basic protective gear such as a helmet; and was therefore shot in the head. The police had deployed multiple polio teams in the area all guarded by a few constables each, when a singular team, comprising of a heavy police contingent would have been safer – slower, yet safer. The superior officer who ordered this deployment not only sent the young constable to his death, but also endangered the lives of the polio workers – who fortunately managed to escape the attackers in this instance.
    Such negligent actions by the police department, in the light of recent attacks on polio teams and the militant threat of reprisal is nothing short of criminal and should be pursued accordingly. Police methods seem ill-thought out and behind the times. As the military is flushing out militants from their tribal strongholds, urban metropolises like Karachi are destined to be the new hotbeds of extremism, and to some extent they already are. The Karachi police needs to reorganize, learn urban warfare, utilise modern surveillance technology and establish special militarized police squads. While all this may be in the future, for now, what the severely undermanned Karachi police isn’t short of, is the capacity think and plan contingencies- doing which would have prevented this horrible tragedy.

    Pakistan - Our state of denial: our biggest enemy

    By  Syed Kashif Ali

    Disgruntled former Taliban commanders have formed the so-called Khorasan chapter, an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries

    While Pakistan’s honourable  interior minister Chaudry Nisar is busy being vigilant of tandoors (cylindrical clay ovens) and the number of rotis (loaves) being taken from there, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, hereinafter referred to as IS) has reached Pakistan. In October 2014, a group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commanders pledged allegiance to IS Chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The leaders included five commanders of the TTP in Pakistan’s tribal areas, including Orakzai, Kurram, Khyber and Peshawar, as well as senior Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. Despite the TTP leaders’ open declaration and allegiance of support to IS, Chaudhry Nisar outrightly rejected the presence of IS by saying only some terrorist groups were using the IS name, which should not be a cause of concern for anybody. Mr Nisar is not alone in this state of denial; he may find many more around him in the likes of Punjab’s former law minister, Rana Sanullah, who had consistently been denying the presence of the Punjabi Taliban until they wrought havoc upon innocents in Pakistan. Later, the existence of Punjabi Taliban was not only admitted but also a deal was struck with them allowing Asmatullah Muawiya — the head of the banned Punjabi Taliban — to roam freely in the cities and towns of Pakistan.

    After the TTP leaders’ pledge of allegiance to IS, IS flags and propaganda material emerged in a few cities of Pakistan but the government, other than removing flags and confiscating material, did not take any serious measures to infiltrate the ranks of IS’s potential network. The girls of the Lal Masjid-run Jamia Hafsa (a girls’ religious seminary) expressed their support for IS in a video message and invited them to come to Pakistan but the government remained asleep. Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head of the Red Mosque, and the likes of Orya Maqbool Jan, a columnist, publicly showed their sympathy and support for IS on the mainstream national media but still there was deep silence from the government and no questions were asked. If, from penetrating through the ranks of terrorists to arresting, convicting and executing them, from internal security to launching Operation Zarb-e-Azab and thwarting external threats and from providing support in natural calamities to settling the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are all the responsibility of the armed forces of Pakistan, then what is the role and job of the elected government? Such negligence and ostrich mentality of the government poses a serious question to its ability and the will to fight extremism and terrorism. The question in case of IS too is: is the government waiting for IS to commit a big massacre before it admits their presence?

    Now, let us move to the IS presence in Pakistan and in the region at large. On January 19, 2015, Pakistan’s local media reported with reference to Reuters that the Bangladeshi police had arrested four suspected members of IS in Dhaka, including a regional coordinator for the militant group, who told police they had been trained in Pakistan. Two days later, Reuters claimed that the Pakistani security forces had arrested a man, Yousaf al-Salafi, a Pakistani Syrian they believe is the commander of IS in the country as well as two accomplices involved in recruiting and sending fighters to Syria. Yousaf al-Salafi was arrested in the eastern city of Lahore and confessed during interrogation that he represented IS in Pakistan. “Al-Salafi reached Pakistan through Turkey five months ago,” the source told Reuters. “He crossed into Turkey from Syria and was caught there. Somehow he managed to escape and reached Pakistan to establish IS.” The source told Reuters that one of his accomplices, Hafiz Tayyab, was a prayer leader in Lahore and was involved in recruiting Pakistanis and sending them to fight alongside IS in Syria, charging IS about $ 600 per person. Disgruntled former Taliban commanders have formed the so-called Khorasan chapter, an umbrella IS group covering Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries, in recent months but have not been involved in any fighting. Their leader, Hafiz Saeed Khan Orakzai, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, appeared in a video address this month urging people in the region to join the group.

    Dr Methew Dearing, an assistant professor at National Defence University in the US, made some stunning revelations in his January 22 piece for Foreign Policy magazine. According to him, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and a mid-level Taliban commander, who served as shadow governor of Uruzgan from 2007 to at least 2009, has established a new base of operations for IS in northern Helmand. Recently, his militia clashed with northern Helmand shadow governor Mullah Ahmad Shah. According to an Afghan army general in Helmand, Rauf is planting IS cells throughout numerous Helmand districts; another general insists they have spread into neighbouring Herat and Farah provinces, while two senators in the Afghan parliament assert IS operates in the northern Faryab and eastern Ghazni provinces. A tribal leader told members of the media that Rauf is replacing Taliban white flags with IS black flags, likely a symbol to residents of the evolving power dynamics.

    How was Mullah Abdul Rauf allowed to plant IS cells in Afghanistan? This, in spite of the fact that he was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 after reaching an understanding with the US, the suspicious release of al-Safi from Turkey, the unchecked movement of terrorist recruits from Pakistan to Syria, US weapon airdrops apparently intended for Kurds reaching IS hands and the treatment of wounded ‘Syrians’ in Israeli hospitals, though the opponents claim these are IS fighters, raises some serious questions and doubts about the role, seriousness and the commitment of nations claiming to fight terrorism. However, for now, let us leave it here for some other appropriate time to further elaborate and ponder upon these questions.

    It is clear from the chronology of recent events that IS territorial motivations extend well beyond Syria and Iraq. The formation of the IS Khorasan chapter and the rivalry between global jihadi groups for honour and terrorist recruits is a reality, and to claim honour, groups like IS or al Qaeda could commit a big massacre anytime anywhere. The IS is eying Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially the Pak-Afghan border areas, as their potential stronghold, with an ideal jihadi milieu. The TTP militants on the run due to Zarb-e-Azb also seem to be in search of their new master with a potentially much more lucrative offer. The emergence of IS on the South Asian scene is a great threat to regional peace and security, and could seriously jeopardise the current efforts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US for regional peace and security, especially after complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan. As for Pakistan, the IS operative’s arrest should be a wakeup call to shun its ostrich mentality and to prepare for an eminent threat as already deeply plunged in terrorism Pakistan can ill-afford any more complacency.