Thursday, January 29, 2015

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Wife of imprisoned Saudi blogger asks Canada PM to intervene

The wife of an imprisoned Saudi blogger, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes on that he insulted Islam, says her husband can't endure another flogging.
Raif Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar, now a refugee living in Quebec, went Parliament Hill on Thursday and joined lawmakers in urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to intervene personally with the Saudis.
They want the prime minister to push for the release of the 32-year-old Badawi who is set to receive 50 more lashes on Friday.
Badawi was charged with insulting Islam after he urged Saudis to share opinions about the role of religion in the country on his Free Saudi Liberals website.

Read more here:

Moscow's 11 principles for peace in Syria

The four-day Syrian peace talks in Moscow lacked any defining breakthroughs, but the “Moscow Principles” signed by participants on Jan. 29 could help build momentum for a future solution to the Syrian crisis.
The four-day peace talks in Moscow between about 40 representatives of the Syrian opposition and the Syrian government concluded Jan. 29 with uncertain results. Participants signed 11 “Moscow Principles” and agreed to hold another meeting in about two months. The format of the meeting suggests that Moscow and Damascus may be trying to establish a new political coalition inside Syria. 
The highly-touted conference on Syria kicked off in Moscow on Jan. 26, gathering 32 representatives of the Syrian opposition for a four-day meeting and subsequent talks with the representatives of the Bashar al-Assad government. Russia, the initiator and the host of talks, had been laying the groundwork for the meeting for the last four months. 
Starting in October, Russian officials, particularly Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov, had been meeting with prominent Syrian opposition figures as well as government officials to negotiate terms of the Moscow talks. 
After the Geneva II conference spearheaded by the United States had failed to launch a peace process in the country in January 2014, the civil war in Syria took an even more violent turn, with the Islamic State becoming a major threat to stability. 
The Russian initiative, coming exactly one year after Geneva II, was dubbed Moscow I by some experts, although it has little in common with the Geneva format.
Tumultuous run-up to the talks
What Russia proposed was a two-day opposition meeting followed by two days of talks with Syrian government officials with no preconditions for attendees and no prearranged agenda. 
But what caused a lot of suspicion in Syria was the informal format of the gathering, in which opposition members would attend in a personal capacity but not as representatives of parties and coalitions. Several influential figures, particularly Muath al-Khatib and Hadi al-Bahra of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), turned down Moscow’s invitation partly because of this condition. 
The presence of the SNC, the main opposition group currently in exile, in Moscow would have taken the talks to a new level and could have led to a breakthrough.
The fractured opposition that made it to Moscow represented a wide political spectrum. Many, including the National Coalition, doubted the viability of the Moscow talks, calling the attendees the “Assad-tolerated opposition” that could just as well represent the Syrian government. 
These statements are indicative of an underlying problem that went through all previous peace talks: Attendees are not always representative of the Syrian people or specific groups that fight on the ground. 
According to some reports, there are hundreds of militias controlling portions of territory in Syria, who have no permanent gains of land and regularly switch alliances. While the Syrian government controls 45 percent of land, another 45 percent is under control of theIslamic State, the Nusra Front and the Kurds in the north.
The Islamic State and the Nusra Front are the two key groups that do not seek any peaceful process in Syria, but they are the ones that hold the key to it. 
Unlike the terrorist groups, the opposition attending the Moscow meeting hardly has real significance on the ground (a remarkable exception is Saleh Muslim Mohammed representing the Kurds who control the north of Syria). 
In his recent interview with Foreign Affairs, Bashar al-Assad made it clear that in his opinion the opposition has no weight with the people. “You have... personalities who only represent themselves; they don’t represent anyone in Syria. Some of them never lived in Syria, and they know nothing about the country,” he argues.
Assad emphasized that the meeting in Moscow “is not negotiations about the solution; it’s only preparations for the conference.” The Russian side upheld this position, with Foreign Minister Lavrov saying that no documents were to be signed at the meeting, but a clear understanding and contact between the government and opposition delegations was to be developed. 
Modest progress
The Moscow meeting saw signs of change as to how the opposition views the basics of the Syrian peace process, namely the 2012 Geneva I Communiqué that establishes a road map for ending violence in Syria. 
Reports on Jan. 28 suggested that the opposition had withdrawn the demand for immediate establishment of a transitional government, as outlined in the Geneva Communiqué, and Assad’s departure from power. The leader of the People’s Will PartyQadri Jamil was quoted as saying that the Communiqué had gaps and needed to be updated because in summer 2012 when it was agreed upon, terrorism was not a clear threat to everybody.
A similar position was expressed by the UN envoy to Syria at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Staffan de Mistura argued that the Geneva Communiqué is not up-to-date and should not necessarily serve as the basis of every discussion. “We didn’t have ISIS at the time of the Geneva Communiqué. It needs to be interpreted according to reality,” he was quoted as saying. The U.S. approach to the Syrian crisis may also be shifting as is reflected in President Barack Obama’s softer rhetoric on Assad recently. 
The actual talks between the opposition and the government that began on Jan. 28 saw some modest progress. The opposition prepared a ten-point plan aiming at defusing the crisis in Syria that it later presented to the government delegation. The document cited the need for release of political prisoners and the possibility to deliver humanitarian aid to all affected areas of the country
Damascus reportedly agreed to establish a Human Rights Committee in Syria as per the plan and requested a list of prisoners to be considered for release, but these clauses didn’t make it into the final Communiqué of the Moscow meeting. Assad critics, however, immediately doubted his ability to implement these steps in earnest given an unprecedented level of human rights violation in Syria.
The Moscow I Communiqué
At the final press conference on Jan. 29, the moderator of the meeting, prominent Middle East expert and Russia Direct contributor Vitaly Naumkin presented a paper the participants agreed to call “The Moscow Principles.” The document, proposed by Russia but amended by the delegations, contains 11 points and outlines their common position. 
“The Moscow Principles” specifically include mention of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, political settlement of the crisis in accordance with the Geneva Communiqué, the principle of non-interference of outside powers, and the continuity of the functioning of state institutions. 
Of particular interest is the 10th principle that calls for the end of Israel’s occupation of theGolan Heights, a clause that the government delegation insisted on including.
Additionally, one more document was presented to the public that Naumkin claims had been composed by all 39 participants of the meeting. The so-called “Appeal to the International Community” consists of four points and calls upon world powers to boost international humanitarian aid to Syria as well as to ease sanctions against Damascus
The document also condemns what it calls Israel’s attacks against Syria and Lebanon, and condemns international interference in Syria.
Prospects for future talks
Participants of the talks in Moscow agreed to hold another meeting in the “Moscow format,” possibly as soon as in two months, but with a fixed agenda this time. Other opposition groups, including the Syrian National Coalition, will be invited to attend, yet they will not be required to recognize the 11 “Moscow Principles.” Asked about the prospect of foreign powers’ participation in future meetings, Naumkin explained that it is unlikely, as it would clash with the established “Geneva format.”
The format of the meeting whereby opposition figures attend in a personal capacity suggests that Moscow and Damascus may be trying to break existing affiliations of some opposition figures and establish a new political coalition inside Syria. 
The nominal opposition tolerant to the idea of Assad staying in power could become the core of this body. Damascus, Moscow and Tehran could recognize it as a legitimate opposition group and demand its participation as a unified front in any further peace talks.
As of now, the results of the meeting in Moscow are too vague to be talking about the re-launching of the Syrian peace process. 
As Qadri Jamil noted, the goal of this informal meeting was “to agree on how to get to Geneva once more.” The parties reached a preliminary agreement to continue talks in the “Moscow format” but the process will require recognition of its legitimacy by a multitude of parties involved in the Syrian crisis.

US Secretary of State May Visit Moscow on February 4-5

United States Secretary of State John Kerry may meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in the beginning of February.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry may visit Moscow on February 4-5 to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Kommersant newspaper said Thursday.

"Russian and US sides have been working on the possibility of US Secretary of State's visit to Moscow for several days. The visit is preliminary scheduled for February 4-5, but is not finally confirmed. If the sides agree on everything, it will be the first visit of US diplomacy head to Moscow since May 2013," the newspaper said.
It is expected that the foreign ministers will discuss a number of acute problems in bilateral relations, including the arrest of Russian banker Evgeny Buryakov accused of working for Russian intelligence in the United States.
The sides may also discuss Arab-Israeli conflict, Iranian nuclear program, situation in Syria and international fight against the Islamic State.
Relations between Russia and the West significantly deteriorated in 2014 over the Ukrainian crisis. The United States, the European Union and their allies did not recognize Crimea's reunification with Russia, and later accused the Kremlin of interfering in the conflict in the eastern Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations and has repeatedly urged parties involved in the Ukrainian conflict to establish direct dialogue.

Obama: Record Shows Middle-Class Economics Works

U.S.-Cuba Travel Could Happen 'Within the Year'

A bipartisan group of senators said open travel to Cuba will help both Americans and Cubans.

A bipartisan group of senators took a small but symbolic step toward normalizing relations with Cuba, introducing a bill Thursday that would allow U.S. citizens to travel freely to the island for the first time in more than half a century.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., the lead sponsor of the measure and a strong proponent for opening Cuba, described the move as one that would not only improve Cuban society but would remove an unfair and unnecessary prohibition on Americans’ freedom to travel.
“We’re simply saying that Americans should be allowed to have the right to travel wherever they would like to unless there’s compelling national security reason,” Flake said.
Three other Republicans and four Democrats have cosponsored the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, and Flake said he expects “many more” to sign on as the bill moves through regular order in the Senate.
Under current law, U.S. citizens of Cuban origin and a limited number of other Americans are able to travel to the island under a license. The new measure would do away with the restrictions altogether, allowing unrestricted travel unless the U.S. and Cuba go to war or imminent danger emerges.
Invoking similar language to what President Barack Obama used when he announced in December a change in U.S. policy toward normalization of relations with the communist country, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said 50 years of isolation had failed.
“We tried it for 50 years. We said if we closed the door on Cuba, Cuba would change,” Durbin said. “We did not succeed in that policy. It’s time for a new policy, a policy we know is proven to work.”
Durbin pointed to other countries with whom the U.S. formerly lacked normal relations, including the Soviet Union, which “disintegrated because the Warsaw Pact nations and many other Soviet republics took a look outside and said there’s a better world to the west.”
Flake said Americans could be able to go online and book a flight to Cuba “within a year,” once civil aviation agreements are in place, as a number of airlines have expressed interest in adding routes there.
But the senators, who have all traveled to the island in recent months, said the policy change is already having an impact.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., described meeting a shop owner in Havana who stopped him as he walked down the street. The man asked if Leahy and his wife were American and then pointed to an American flag in his store’s window.
“That’s never happened before,” Leahy said.
“Now, there’s no guarantees this will bring democracy this year or next, but I think it’s far more likely to set conditions where democracy will come sooner,” Flake said.
Opponents to normalizing relations, many of whom are Cuban, argue allowing Americans to come to Cuba – and bring their tourism dollars – will be counterproductive to efforts to make Cuban society more open.
“We should not aspire to help the Castro regime fill the coffers of its military monopolies with the dollars of American tourists while the Cuban people still struggle to make ends meet and are forced to labor under the oppressive conditions dictated by their government,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a vocal opponent of normalization, in an emailed statement.
Menendez said the U.S. must press for concessions from the Cuban government, including a free press and the release of political prisoners, before the U.S. relaxes its stance. He also demanded compensation for property claims and the return of fugitives who have taken refuge in Cuba.
Meanwhile, Cuban President Raúl Castro had demands of his own, insisting the U.S. embargo be lifted, the base at Guantánamo Bay be restored to Cuban sovereignty and compensations be paid for “human and economic damage” before his government will agree to normalize relations with the U.S.
While Flake said the lifting of the embargo is his ultimate goal, he said removing the travel ban was separate.
“Some will say we ought to receive something in exchange for this; if we’re giving something, we ought to get some concessions from the Cuban government,” he said. “I think we all need to remember this is a sanction on Americans, not Cubans."

Video Report - Keystone XL bill passes in Senate, faces Obama veto

Inconvenient Truths in Afghanistan

In late December, as they do every few months, American military officials in Kabul sent a trove of data to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction for its quarterly report. Over the years, such figures have told an often dispiriting story about Washington’s enormous investment in the country’s security forces, laying out their size, readiness, attrition level and the state of their infrastructure.
Five days later, military officials followed up with an unusual request. Commanders in Afghanistan informed the inspector general’s office that they had decided to classify the bulk of that data. The decision came after the military, late last year, classified a periodic report that the inspector general has used over the years as the primary source to assess the state of Afghan forces. The stated reason? It could give the enemy the upper hand.
“With lives literally on the line, I am sure that you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks,” Gen. John Campbell, the American commander in Afghanistan, wrote to the inspector general, John Sopko, on Jan. 18.
The threats that Afghan and American troops face in Afghanistan remain all too real. But it strains credulity to believe that insurgents would become more proficient fighters by poring over lengthy inspector general reports about an increasingly forgotten war. Classifying that information unreasonably prevents American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions about the returns on a $107.5 billion reconstruction investment that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan.
Mr. Sopko, a former prosecutor who takes great pleasure in needling bureaucrats, has at times gone overboard in his protests over the state of reconstruction projects. On this issue, however, he’s rightfully outraged.
“The decision leaves SIGAR for the first time in six years unable to publicly report on most of the U.S. taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip and sustain” Afghan forces, the agency wrote, using its acronym, in its latest quarterly report, which was issued Thursday. Mr. Sopko last year had protested the decision to restrict dissemination of a more limited set of data that would have otherwise been included in the October report. He said there was no evidence that aggregate nationwide data on Afghan military capabilities could give militants an edge.
“Its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion,” Mr. Sopko wrote in the October report.
Under the new classification guidelines, the military is not publicly reporting how many Afghan policemen and soldiers are employed, how much Washington is spending on their salaries, the state of corruption in Afghan ministries or the results of an effort to recruit more women in the army. Washington’s war in Afghanistan nominally ended at the turn of the year, when a campaign called Operation Enduring Freedom folded and a new mission, called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, began. While it’s tempting to think that Americans troops and taxpayer dollars are no longer at war in Afghanistan, they very much are. More than 10,000 American troops are there training and supporting the Afghans.
The Obama administration has pledged to continue spending billions to keep the Afghan government afloat for years. Americans are entitled to the unvarnished truth about that daunting effort.


Another proof of pro-takfiri agenda of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik Insaf has come to surface with the fact that beardless secular Khan announced more funds for Deobandi takfiri seminaries but the government schools in Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province where his PTI rules along with coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami, lacked security and even teaching non-teaching staff.

To the dismay of the PTI’s liberals and progressives who are champions of social media propaganda, a school in Peshawar’s Hayatabad suburb is mocking Imran Khan’s PTI government in Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa for its empty claims about security arrangements in schools as students are working as security guards to protect their alma mater.

Dressed as guards with a cane in hand, two students of the Government Primary School Hayatabad are checking every student entering the school premises due to the non-availability of security guards in their institution.

An exclusive report by a news channel shows the miserable condition of the school which claims to educate 400 pupils.

One of the young ‘guards’ tells the reporter that his school had no watchman, no guard so he and his colleagues have to hold canes and check students as a watchman while a female student went to the extent that our school lacked teacher, has no Principal and lacks teachers.

It must be noted that recently KPK chief minister Pervez Khattak said it was difficult to provide security to all the schools unless the borders were sealed to prevent terrorist ingression.

Schools and other educational institutions were warned about security threats in the province which recently braced a deadly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 149 people mostly children.

Pakistan: Is the house that Dr Abdus Salam called home, really a national heritage?

Since 1981, a small 400-square foot house comprising two rooms in Mohalla Dawood Nagar in Jhang tehsil has been designated a ‘national monument’. This is the house where Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate in Physics Dr Mohammad Abdus Salam was born in 1926.

Today marks what would have been Dr Salam’s 89th birthday. However, the house will remain quiet today as its former resident’s birth anniversary will pass by unnoticed by many in the country. “There have never been any commemorative ceremonies for Dr Salam at this house as long as I have lived here,” said one neighbour Nadeem. A signboard outside the house informs that it is a protected property under the Antiquities Act 1975.

Nadeem says the outer wall of the house fell in some time ago, and was repaired by neighbours before the Archaeology Department took the property into its custody and deputed a caretaker for the site. The keys to the house remain with another neighbour, Yasir, who opens the house for the occasional visitor. The caretaker reportedly visits once or twice a month.

“We do not have any plans for repairs or maintenance works for the house in the near future,” Archeology Department Deputy Director Maqsood Ahmed told The Express Tribune. He said the government has deputed two caretakers.

Dr Abdus Salam’s father was an official in the Department of Education in this farming district. According to the Nobel Prize committee, when Dr Salam “cycled home from Lahore, at the age of 14, after gaining the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination at the University of Punjab, the whole town turned out to welcome him.”

Dr Salam won a scholarship to Government College, University of Punjab, and took his MA in 1946. He was then awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge University, where he excelled in mathematics and physics, awarded by Cambridge University in 1950 for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He obtained a PhD in theoretical physics and his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation.

Dr Salam returned to Pakistan from England in 1951, to teach mathematics at Government College, Lahore. In 1952, he was appointed head of the Mathematics Department of Punjab University. He left Pakistan for Europe in protest against state-sanctioned discrimination and in 1979, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking research in theoretical physics. Subsequently, Dr Salam’s work was celebrated as an estimated 42 honorary doctorates were bestowed upon him by institutions across the world.

When Dr Salam travelled to Pakistan in December 1979, he was received in Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad by the military secretaries to the governors and president at the time Ziaul Haq. When protestors from a politico-religious party threatened to disrupt a commemorative event at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University, the institution was compelled to shift the event to the National Assembly Hall. Similarly, protests disrupted an event at Punjab University, while Dr Salam’s alma mater Government College Lahore chose not to invite him to the institution.

Dr Salam passed away in 1996 and was buried in Rabwah, without a state funeral. The epitaph at his grave reads, ‘First Nobel Laureate’, as the word ‘Muslim’ has been deleted under court orders.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2015.

Obama’s Indian courtship leaves Pakistan feeling snubbed by US

US President Barack Obama's high-profile visit to India was something of a surprise. First, he was meeting a prime minister, Narendra Modi, who, before his election, was barred from entering the US due to his involvement in the infamous Gujarat anti-Muslim riots. 

And this visit sends a negative message to Islamabad. With US forces soon withdrawing from Afghanistan and Pakistan currently bearing the brunt of the War on Terror, ignoring Pakistan indicates a new regional focus for Washington in New Delhi.

Pakistan would have hoped Obama to raise the issue of Line of Control violations from the Indian side, but instead, Obama gave a wrist slap to Islamabad for ineffective efforts on counter-terrorism.

Pakistan is currently in the middle of a major military offensive, Zarb-e-Azb, which has also caused a major backlash in the form of the brutal Peshawar school attack in December. Defense analysts in Pakistan believe that the operation, considered a major success of sorts, was primarily started on Washington's insistence, even though Pakistan's stricken economy could barely afford it at that time. 

Unfortunately, Pakistan and India barely talk nowadays.

In this situation, even a small rogue attack on either side of the border could spark major tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors. 

With a long-due civil nuclear agreement between India and the US finally pinned down, and Obama's promise of an Indian place in the UN Security Council, eyebrows are bound to be raised in Pakistan. 

The Indian media and nationalist leaders have already started boasting of Obama's visit as a victory for India and defeat for Pakistan. 

What concerns the Pakistani policymakers is the fact that even the bans on Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, two notorious militant outfits allegedly involved in anti-Indian activities, have drawn little appreciation or praise from the Indian side. 

Furthermore, while pursuing his reconciliation strategy with India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan has time and again advised the Pakistani military to show restraint against any form of Indian violations on the Line of Control border in the disputed Kashmir territory. 

Although this strategy has not gone across well with nationalist and right-wing parties, many believe that any form of aggression from Pakistan would only worsen the matters. 

In contrast, Modi's narrative and policy of offensive defense against Pakistan has further added to the skepticism of those hoping for better ties among the neighbors. 

But it seems that all is not lost for Pakistan. Even with the hot and cold relationship with the US and tense ties with India, Pakistan is looking to China as its ever reliable partner, neighbor and friend. 

General Raheel Sharif's visit to China, where he met with his Chinese counterpart Qi Jianguo, provided some respite for Pakistani officialdom and politicians. Both the military chiefs reiterated their decades-long friendship, where China, calling it as an irreplaceable friend, reassured Pakistan of its strategic support to ensure peace and stability in the region. 

Since September last year, both Modi and Obama have met four times for various official purposes. Had both of them met the Pakistani leadership on such a frequent basis, things would have taken a positive turn in the region.  

Not only could better Indo-Pak ties ensure regional security, but the same could help improve regional economic disparity. 

Obama is walking a fine line here as his actions, if they alienate Pakistan, could hamper the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Obama would not like Afghanistan to become another Iraq, and thus leave a legacy behind him marred by failure. 

While Obama has made two official visits to India, not visiting Pakistan has not only peeved politicians, but also raised doubts over the US commitment toward the country. 

Obama, who considers both India and Pakistan as allies, could play a major role in restarting the Indo-Pak peace process and dialogue. Without such an intervention, peace will always remain an elusive dream and fantasy. 

Operations in Pakistan force militants into Afghanistan: WSJ report

Operations being conducted by Pakistan’s military in North Waziristan Agency and Khyber Agency have forced al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to move into Afghanistan, a Wall Street Journal report quotes Afghan officials and locals as saying.
At least 400 IMU and al Qaeda-affiliated families crossed into Afghanistan last month, who now live in the homes of locals in lawless parts of the country, Afghan officials say.
Haji Abdul Azizi, a tribal elder from Helmand province’s Sangin district, tell WSJ that he hosted a family of Arabic speakers for a night who claimed to be IS loyalists.
“They were six men, seven women and two children, some of whom spoke Pashto”, according to Azizi, who added that the “women of the group were armed and took turns keeping watch on each other during the night”.
The newcomers try to enforce their own brand of Islam which clashes with local traditions, he added.
Afghan officials said that the armed outsiders, traveling with families, have settled in Ghazni, Zabul and Farah provinces. They attributed the influx of militants on the operation being conducted by Pakistan’s military across the border.
Tribal elders say that the migrating militants have occupied houses, which were previously vacant, with the assistance of the local Taliban.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb: 15 terrorists killed in jet planes attack|
A senior Afghan security official said the central government is monitoring the presence of these groups, while a spokesman for international forces in Kabul said that while they had no firsthand knowledge of foreign militants’ activities in Zabul or Ghazni,
The militants who moved in Farah province, and are said to be wealthy, have rebranded themselves under the banner of the IS and have also set up training centres in the locality, Khak-e Safid district’s governor Abdul Khaliq Noorzai said.
 “They haven’t fought against Taliban or government yet, but they are actively busy with training,” Gul Ahmad Azimi, a Senator from Farah, told the WSJ.
The US military maintains a limited presence in Afghanistan, US and coalition officials say they have limited visibility into militant activity in the country’s hinterlands after the withdrawal of combat troops.

Video Report - Suspected ISIS leader in Pakistan admits receiving funds via US

As Obama visits India, Pakistan looks to Russia for military, economic assistance


By Tim Craig

As the United States forges closer ties to India, neighboring Pakistan is looking for some new friends. Officials hope they have found one in Russia — a budding partnership that could eventually shift historic alliances in South Asia.
In recent months, Pakistani military and political leaders have reached out to Moscow, seeking to warm ties that have been frosty since the Cold War. In November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Islamabad and signed a military cooperation agreement with Pakistani generals. Pakistan is now hoping to finalize plans to buy three dozen Russian Mi-35 helicopters and more closely coordinate efforts to counter terrorism and narcotics. Pakistan also wants Russian assistance to stabilize chronic energy shortages.
The moves come as Pakistani leaders grow increasingly nervous that their traditional alliances could erode, if not crumble, in the coming years. For much of its history, Pakistan has been an ally of the United States, while Russia had stronger ties to India, even backing it during that country’s 1971 war with Pakistan. But now that most NATO troops have left next-door Afghanistan — and the Pakistani army is straining to overcome Islamist militants on its western border — officials here fear that the United States’ regional interest is tilting toward India, Pakistan’s eastern neighbor and archrival.
“Of course we are concerned,” said one senior Pakistani military leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The balance of power is being tipped toward India, and that is not good, and it’s been done with the help of the Western World. That is why we are looking at various markets, because conventional [military] parity is the only recipe for peace and stability.”
Pakistan’s efforts to kindle ties with Moscow come as relations between the West and Russia continue to worsen, which may prompt it to look for new trading partners in Asia. Pakistanis are also worried the Indian army is moving toward dominance in the conventional arms race.
Those concerns were magnified this week, when President Obama met in New Delhi with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Obama and Modi vowed to strengthen cooperation on defense and energy matters, and they announced a deal that they said should smooth the way for American companies to invest in Indian civilian nuclear plants.
Since Pakistan was partitioned from India in 1947, the two nuclear-armedcountries have fought three major wars. So when Obama was the guest of honor at an elaborate military parade in New Delhi this week, it was viewed with skepticism on this side of the border.
“To be very honest, we think Obama has gone one step too far,” said Maria Sultan, chairwoman of the Islamabad-based South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, an organization with close links to Pakistani military and intelligence.
In another sign of the unease, Pakistan’s powerful army chief, Raheel Sharif, traveled to China last weekend to solidify long-standing military and economic ties between the two countries. China is Pakistan’s largest arms supplier, having sold or transferred it nearly $4 billion in weapons since 2006, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which monitors arms sales.
The United States, with about $2.5 billion in arms sales to Pakistan over the past nine years, is the country’s second-largest arms supplier. In December, Congress also authorized $1 billion in additional funds to Pakistan for its continued support of counter-terrorism operations. But it is unclear how much American aid will flow to Pakistan in the coming years.
Tasnim Aslam, spokeswoman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Pakistan doesn’t want to “put all of its eggs in one basket.”
“It’s a multi-polar world, and its in our interest to engage all the poles and forge relationships,” said Aslam, who earlier this month led a high-level Pakistani delegation to Moscow to discuss future ties.
Noting Secretary of State John F. Kerry had a productive visit to Islamabad two weeks ago, Aslam said Washington shouldn’t read too much into Pakistan’s outreach to Putin. But some Pakistani lawmakers offered a more pointed view of Pakistan’s rapprochement with Russia.
“Pakistan’s historical mistake after its inception was to establish close ties with the United States but to ignore the Russians,” said Haji Muhammad Adeel, a lawmaker who chairs the Pakistani Senate’s foreign relations committee. “We went to war with Russia in Afghanistan, and that brought us gifts of terrorism, extremism and drugs. Now Pakistan is trying to forge friendly ties with Russia to correct the mistakes of past.”
Despite that outreach, it remains unclear whether Pakistan’s efforts to bolster ties with Russia will pay off.
Russian diplomats in Islamabad declined to comment on the two countries’ relations. But Russia is India’s largest arms supplier, with $18 billion in sales since 2006, according to SIPRI.
Yury Barmin, a Russian foreign policy expert based in the United Arab Emirates, said he doubts Russia would risk its relationship with India by also selling arms to Pakistan. He said he suspects Putin, who visited New Delhi in December, is using Pakistan as leverage over the Indian government so it doesn’t get too close to the United States.
“It’s the way Russian diplomacy works,” Barmin said. “They find a pressure point, but then they go to India and release the pressure and say, ‘Hey, we are not developing that relationship anymore.’ ”
But Rifaat Hussain, an Islamabad-based defense expert, said the West should not underestimate the potential for a realignment of strategic ties in Asia.
“There is now a visible strain with Moscow’s relationship with the United States, and Moscow has moved much closer to China, which I think facilitates Pakistan’s relationship with Russia,” Hussain said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - Guns and pens

Along with their books, files and pens, school and college teachers across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be carrying an unusual item into their classrooms: guns. The latest phase in a programme begun last week to train teachers in the use of firearms started on Tuesday, with female teachers among those receiving lessons from police. Schoolchildren then will be staring constantly at guns while they pore over their notebooks or at least be aware of the presence of arms close by. Perhaps this will ensure better behaviour. But on a less frivolous note, we must question the sense – or lack of it – behind the policy adopted. As the Private School Teachers Association in KP has already emphatically stated, pens and guns do not mix. The classroom is no place for weapons, notably in a society already as brutalised as ours. We need to protect our children from further trauma, and the strategy adopted will not help. 

The notion of armed teachers is simply not a pleasant one. Indeed it is unacceptable and very possibly completely unsafe. Potentially lethal firearms in the hands of inadequately trained personnel are dangerous, and a two-day training course is insufficient. This policy will not make schools safer. It is also true that the task of school teachers is to educate children – not act as guards. The argument given by the KP government, that every teacher who wishes to carry a gun will be allowed to do so because there are not enough policemen available to guard the province’s 35,000 or so schools, is simply ludicrous. If they are not available more security personnel need to be hired. The task cannot simply be handed over to teachers who have crucial duties of their own to perform. The idea of guns in classrooms is an unpleasant one. Our children, and our teachers, should not be made to suffer this simply because the government has opted to abdicate responsibility rather than performing its key duty of finding ways to protect citizens. The terrible Peshawar school massacre is a reminder of how important it is to perform this task well.