Saturday, January 31, 2015

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India, the lucky dog in U.S.-Russia rivalry

U.Spresident Barack Obama has elevated India to "potentially the best partner” of Americain a public speech at the end of a three-day visit that has marked a rapid US rapprochement with India.
Just a month agoduring Russian President Vladimir Putins visit to Indiamore than 20 agreements were signed between the two “traditional allies”.
NowadaysIndia seems to have become the world's "meat and potatoes". It welcomes the U.S.-Russia rivalry as it graciously accepts the advances of both the ardent suitors.
After a first visit to India in 2010, Barack Obama paid a state visit to India again on January 25 to 27, becoming the first sitting U.Spresident to visit India twice.
Obama's trip to India can be described as fruitful-- attending the military parade of the Republic of Indiasigning a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countriesoffering support for India to become a permanent member of the Security Council... Indian Prime Minister Modi also played down any previous rift and the two sides showed unprecedented enthusiasm.
Just a month agoduring Russian President Vladimir Putins visit to Indiamore than 20 agreements were signedcovering spheres such as defense cooperationoil and gasand trade.
With U.S.-  Russia relations deteriorating to Cold War levelsObama hopes to balance Moscow's influence in IndiaCNN reports.
In this regarda week before US President Barack Obama's visit to New DelhiRussian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held his first meeting with new Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikarwhich included discussions on the co-production of the Kamov 226 light utility helicopter and resolving disagreements over the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraftreported Defense News.
In a congratulatory message to the President and the Prime Minister of IndiaRussian President Vladimir Putin re-emphasised that Russia “highly values the relationship of special and privileged strategic partnership” between the two countries on the occasion of the national day of India – the Republic Day.
India and the United States continue the rapprochementand the United States hopes to achieve a breakthrough in the field of nuclear cooperationsaid Jiang JingkuiChairman of the Department of South Asian Studies in Peking UniversityAt the same timethe a major exporter of sophisticated weaponrymeaning that India will no longer have all its military eggs in one basketIn additionthe Modi government also wants help from the U.Sto achieve a four -fold increase in Indian solar power capacity.
Some analysts judge that while India and the United States currently seem to be achievingreconciliationthe two sides still hold differences over the Pakistan issue and transfer of advanced technology.
In a similar veinIndian-Russian relations are also less than perfectAs the Guardian quoted the view of an Indian scholar that some major structural problems exist in the bilateral tiesThe current value of bilateral trade between thee two countries - $10 billion -is "well below the potential".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in no rush to discard Indias long-term foreign policy of nonalignment in favor of a sharper strategic focus,” said Jiang Jingkui.
In the near futureit is most likely to be in India's best interests to take advantage of the current favorable situationseeking a strategic balance between the two great powersand striving to gain as much as possible for itself.

Why Will No One Let the Muslim World Be Secular?

By Ahmed Benchemsi
We all attach a de facto religiosity to people’s actions in the region that make it impossible to develop secular identities in those states
Here we go again. Each time deranged terrorists invoking Islam strike in the West, alongside the mourning of the victims comes the heated debate over how the world’s Muslims should react to the attack.
Belligerent rightists demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Righteous leftists warn against bigotry and Islamophobia while affirming that Muslims, being overwhelmingly moderate people, have nothing to do with terrorism. And then you have the Bill Maher approach: urging Muslims to prove their overall moderation beyond simply condemning terrorism.
It is a truly bizarre ritual, this rush to assess whether Muslims en masse are moderate or terror-friendly; and, in either case, to what extent.
The absurdity of the exercise begins with the way mainstream western discourse defines “Muslims”: a monolithic compact of 1.6 billion people intensely adhering to a faith by mere virtue of geography. Labeling all North Africans and Middle Easterners pious Muslims is akin to assuming that everyone who lives in America, or Europe, is devoutly Christian. There is a difference between cultural heritage and religious obedience. Why would the notion of a “Christian world” be dubious and debatable, but that of a “Muslim world” never be questioned?
As a liberal Moroccan journalist, it was bad enough to have my state refuse me my freedom of conscience; it’s all the more galling when it is Western liberals who refuse me that right with their blanket paternalistic sentiments about what “those people” are like.
It’s no wonder the West has been quick to give up on, or forget, the liberal, cosmopolitan youth that fueled the Arab Spring of recent years – a demographic that hardly fits into the Western view that everyone in these countries is primarily characterized by religiosity.
Islam is not encoded in anyone’s DNA. Being religious is a personal choice, one that every individual is free to make—or not—as stated in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As it happens, human rights (including freedom of belief) are widely denied to the 1.6 billion persons we’re talking about, by most of the governments they live under—as well as by the prejudices of well-meaning Western liberals who bend over backwards in their politically correct efforts to be understanding of “Muslim countries” and their ways. What well-meaning Westerners need to understand is the wide gap between Islam as it should be—a personal choice—and as it most often is—a set of pervasive constraints enforced by undemocratic States.
In all the countries where Islam is the religion of the State, merely criticizing the faith (let alone leaving it) is a criminal offense. In 2007, as the publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine Nishan, I ran a cover story about popular humor in my country. Because the issue included jokes about Islam (harmless ones at that—the most notable one featured God assigning a deceased Muslim man of virtue to hell, before teasing him: “Smile, it’s the candid camera!”), copies of the magazine were publicly burnt by grimacing extremists, and my colleagues and I received hundreds of death threats. Yet instead of cracking down against the fanatics, the government prosecuted us for “damaging religious morals,” and banned the magazine for 3 months.
It’s not just about mandatory religiosity. In most “Muslim countries,” school curricula include inescapable religious classes at every grade, with disturbing teachings about the role of women (mainly to procreate and stay at home), the duty to “defend Islam” and “fight its enemies,” and so on. Grown-ups are not spared either, with omnipresent state media never losing a chance to hammer into them that Islam is the highest moral norm, and transnational Arab channels like Al-Jazeera engaging in constant “us-versus-them” rhetoric (“us” being Muslims and “them,” Westerns, of course). Even opposition parties (mostly made of Islamist groups) do nothing but double down on religious intransigence, hoping to outdo the—already bigoted—official institutions. In these conditions, the psychological pressure is such that opting out of Islam is unthinkable—or more accurately, unthought-of—for the vast majority of the people.
This is not to say that no one living in the swath of territory from Morocco to Indonesia adheres to Islam out of intimate conviction. Many obviously do. Yet as long as coercion isn’t replaced by freedom of choice, the extent to which these people can be truly identified with the Islamic faith is dubious. Flatly calling 1.6 billion people Muslims—even with the purpose of praising their moderation—only makes you the accomplice of their oppressors.
The same flawed assumptions are taking place in France. As a consequence of the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre perpetrated by local-born-and-bred religious fanatics, “French Muslims” are, once again, in the eye of the storm. Depending on the political sympathies of the commentator, they’re either guilty of moral association with terrorists or misunderstood moderates. But no one is letting them off the hook for their Muslimhood.
All sides of the debate presume that the five million citizens of North- and West-African descent, whose parents immigrated from former French colonies one or two generations ago, are Muslim. Many of these families are certainly religious by choice, but those who’d rather not be are afforded very little space to carry on with their secular lives—especially amidst so many well-meaning efforts to “understand” the immigrant communities’ “Muslim essence.” All this despite the fact that the French republic is supposedly blind to the religious affiliations of its citizens.
Secularism—actually, headscarf-banning laïcité, a more aggressive brand of it—is the cornerstone of modern France’s founding values. Alongside fine wines, exotic cheeses and relaxed sexual mores, its church-bashing culture (of which the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were the proud flag-bearers) is one of France’s main staples. Any French intellectual would gasp in horror at the assertion that 60 millions of his fellow citizens are Christians, yet president François Hollande lumps together the other five million to refer to them as “Muslims” (who should not be conflated with terrorists, yes, we know).
French citizens of North- or West-African origin have attended the same schools as their native countrymen; and they studied Voltaire and the enlightenment age just as much as them. Unless we consider that ethnicity impacts mental processes (the definition of racism) there is no reason to believe that France’s citizens of color are less receptive than others to the proud teachings of the école républicaine laïque. Yet the country’s common discourse singles them out as a religious group. Liberté Egalité Fraternité? Not really.
Westerners are rightly concerned about the danger posed by Islamic radicalism, but anxiously assessing the commitment of more than a billion people to religious moderation doesn’t help in any way. All it does is deepen the—already profound—misunderstanding.
When it comes to Islamic terrorism, the worthy social debate is about the way to drain its breeding ground. My two cents: promoting secular democracy in the so-called Muslim countries (and please, no need to bomb them for that—empowering local liberals is enough) would be a good place to start.

Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabian blogger spared lashing amid global scrutiny

Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger whose punishment has been condemned around the world, was spared another round of flogging today amid speculation that the international attention on his case is having an effect.
Mr Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes, administered at a rate of 50 per week, for criticising Saudi Arabia’s clerics through his liberal website. However, he has not been flogged since the first punishment was carried out on 9 January.
The human rights group Amnesty International, which is campaigning for the 31-year-old’s release, said that his weekly lashings had been postponed for the third time in a row. The reason for the temporary reprieve remained unclear last night.
Previously Mr Badawi’s punishments have been postponed on the advice of doctors, but it is understood that he has not been medically examined since last week – giving freedom-of-speech campaigners hope that the new delay comes as a result of their actions.
“Though we don’t yet know why this week’s lashes were called off, we do know that this ordeal is having a terrible toll on Raif and his long-suffering family,” said Kate Allen, Amnesty’s UK director. “The Saudi authorities need to end this whole sadistic process and definitively announce that Raif will not be subjected to any more lashings and indeed that he’ll be freed from his 10-year jail sentence.”
The group has criticised the British Government for “wearing the Saudi muzzle” over the issue to protect its relationship with the oil-rich kingdom. Yesterday it called on Simon Collis, the new UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to “prioritise” Mr Badawi’s case.
“The UK Government needs to do more to encourage the Saudi government to do the right thing on this case, and we’re asking our new ambassador in Riyadh to ensure that Raif’s case is at the top of his in-tray,” Ms Allen said.
The charity Freedom from Torture has said Mr Badawi is likely to suffer permanent physical and psychological damage if lashings continue.

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Mitt Romney bows out of GOP presidential race over potential for political injury

By Dan Balz and Philip Rucker

Mitt Romney’s exploration of a third presidential campaign ended Friday after three tumultuous weeks of deliberations that led him to conclude that, while he might emerge with the Republican nomination again in 2016, he might be so badly wounded in the process that he would have trouble defeating Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election.
Romney’s sudden decision to declare his interest had been prompted by his concerns over rival Jeb Bush’s aggressive moves to poach from his 2012 coalition, according to intimates. It was fueled further by a mountain of polling data commissioned earlier for one of his donors — suggesting Romney was in the strongest position of any Republican.
But by the end of last weekend, Romney had made the call, according to those familiar with the deliberations. He sat on it for a few days to assure himself that not running was the right thing to do for himself and his party before making his announcement Friday. He bowed out in a call to supporters still convinced he was as well-qualified as anyone in the party to be president.
His decision, he said, was aimed at giving other, lesser-known candidates the opportunity to emerge and eventually prosper. “After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the party the opportunity to become our next nominee,” Romney said.
Romney’s decision spares the Republican Party a potentially bruising battle between its past nominee and its rising stars. It poses an opportunity not only for former Florida governor Bush, but also for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other GOP presidential aspirants.
The past three weeks reminded Romney of just how grueling and potentially damaging another nomination contest could be, confidants said. From the time he announced that he was seriously considering another campaign, he became the target of criticism from inside the GOP, from Democrats and from others.
“It’s been all trained on him, and I think that would continue to be the case for the next year,” said Tagg Romney, the former governor’s eldest son, in an interview. “His hope is that someone else can come out and catch fire.”
Another Mitt Romney adviser said, “He went into it intellectually knowing he would have to earn it again — not that he’d forgotten it. But memory had blurred some of those sharp edges and it came into sharp relief.”
In announcing his decision, Romney told supporters, “I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.”
In many ways, Romney’s January roller coaster of conference calls, political outreach and data analysis was as much about Bush as it was about anything else. Bush’s early moves forced Romney’s hand.
Romney was warned this month that, unless he acted to show interest in another campaign, there could be little left of the financial and political network that carried him to the nomination in 2012.
But Romney associates also say that, had Bush sought Romney’s advice and support early on, Romney might never have been stirred to action. Instead, Bush’s aggressive efforts to recruit donors and former staffers from Romney spurred on the former Massachusetts governor.
“It was like poking a bear,” one Romney associate said.
Another Romney adviser said the 2012 nominee was less annoyed by Bush than simply worried that his move might preclude even consideration of another campaign. “Mitt realized that if he was going to consider this, given the acceleration, he needed to move fast,” said the adviser, who along with others declined to be identified in order to speak candidly about internal discussions.
During the deliberations, Romney and Bush met once at Romney’s Utah home on Jan. 22. Romney arrived armed with a mountain of polling data that his team had collected, which seemed to shape his view of the race. Romney shared the information as a way of explaining his motivation to think about running again.
A former Romney campaign donor had commissioned an extraordinarily robust portfolio of private polling data culled from interviews this month with thousands of voters in some 20 states. “The level of support was broad and deep,” a Romney associate said.
According to these accounts, Romney and Bush talked about the race and about some of the relevant issues over lunch. Both camps said it was cordial and mostly social. How it may have shaped Romney’s thinking is unclear.
Tensions had been running high between the Romney and Bush camps for weeks, and in his Friday remarks, Romney offered an assessment of the 2016 race that some saw as an indirect swipe at Bush, who is well-known nationally as the son and brother of former presidents.
“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders — one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started — may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
Bush wrote in a Facebook post on Friday that Romney “has been a leader in our party for many years” and that “there are few people who have worked harder to elect Republicans across the country than he has.”
The Romney camp suffered a major defection this week with the news that David Kochel, Romney’s point person in Iowa, would be joining Bush, likely as national campaign manager.
The Kochel decision shook some in the Romney campaign — and stung as well. According to Romney sources, he was on a number of strategy conference calls with other Romney senior advisers and had encouraged Romney to run again. One Romney associate said the team sees Kochel’s defection as a Benedict Arnold moment.
Kochel, in a telephone interview Friday, said, “It’s incorrect to say I urged him to run and I didn’t say I would not go to work for Gov. Bush. . . . I have tremendous respect and affection for Gov. Romney and his family.” Once he received a direct offer from Bush, Kochel said, he stopped participating in Romney deliberations and personally told Romney of his decision.
Romney openly had been weighing a 2016 run since telling a group of former campaign donors in New York on Jan. 9 that he still wanted to be president.
One issue that seemed to weigh on Romney was the Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris on the Charlie Hebdo publication. Romney talked about the issue with close advisers the night before he declared he would seriously consider running.
“Paris was the biggest of all the factors,” the Romney associate said. “It was a tipping point for him about how dangerous the world had become.”
Romney’s exploration invited a barrage of critical reaction from many Republican leaders, conservative commentators and major donors.
Romney’s advisers had discounted the impact of such criticism, saying Romney was gathering data, speaking to as many people as possible and then weighing the evidence.
The personal toll another race would take on his wife, five sons and daughters-in-law and 23 grandchildren factored into his decision, advisers said.
“As much as you might want to be the candidate, you sometimes realize you can be more effective at helping fulfill a different role,” said longtime Romney adviser Ron Kaufman. “He’s an amazing person and he doesn’t need to have the captain’s seat.”
Another Romney confidant, former Utah governor Michael Leavitt, said Romney wanted to run but concluded it was better for his party and for the country to allow a younger generation of Republicans emerge as leaders.

“In the cynical world of politics, it is unlikely that anyone will understand the sacrifice that this represents for a man who clearly believes he could run and win and contribute,” Leavitt said.
Romney’s decision to forgo a third run came after a lengthy meeting of Romney’s inner circle in Boston last Friday, during which they evaluated feedback from former campaign donors and activists in key early voting states.
The assessment was realistic — “we were not Pollyannaish,” one adviser said — and included reports from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Romney would have lost some key precinct leaders but still had considerable support.
Many participants left that session convinced that it was all but certain he would run again.
“It’s a very personal decision,” said a senior adviser, who like others interviewed requested anonymity to speak candidly. “All the political metrics were positive. Ultimately, running for president, you just have to feel right about it in your heart. They just didn’t feel it was right. He’s a happy person. He’s not a needy, desperate guy.”
Another adviser said Romney had some regrets about not running again but was certain he made the right decision, adding, “If he hadn’t gone through this difficult three weeks, his regret would have been greater.”

White House Seeks to Limit Health Law’s Tax Troubles


Obama administration officials and other supporters of the Affordable Care Act say they worry that the tax-filing season will generate new anger as uninsured consumers learn that they must pay tax penalties and as many people struggle with complex forms needed to justify tax credits they received in 2014 to pay for health insurance.
The White House has already granted some exemptions and is considering more to avoid a political firestorm.
Mark J. Mazur, the assistant Treasury secretaryfor tax policy, said up to six million taxpayers would have to “pay a fee this year because they made a choice not to obtain health care coverage that they could have afforded.”
But Christine Speidel, a tax lawyer at Vermont Legal Aid, said: “A lot of people do not feel that health insurance plans in the marketplace were affordable to them, even with subsidies. Some went without coverage and will therefore be subject to penalties.”
The penalties, approaching 1 percent of income for some households, are supposed to be paid with income taxes due April 15. In addition, officials said, many people with subsidized coverage purchased through the new public insurance exchanges will need to repay some of the subsidies because they received more than they were entitled to.
More than 6.5 million people had insurance through the exchanges at some point last year, and 85 percent of them qualified for financial assistance, in the form of tax credits, to lower their premiums. Most people chose to have the subsidies paid in advance, based on their projected income for 2014. If their actual income was higher — because they received a raise or found a new job — they will be entitled to a smaller subsidy and must repay the difference, subject to certain limits.
“If the advanced premium tax credit amount is too high, the taxpayer could have an unwelcome surprise and owe money,” said Nina E. Olson, the national taxpayer advocate at the Internal Revenue Service.
Many people awarded insurance subsidies for 2014 did not realize that the amount would be reviewed and recalculated at tax time in 2015.
Consumers are sure to have questions, but cannot expect much help from the tax agency, where officials said customer service had been curtailed because of budget cuts.
The 2015 filing season could be the most difficult in decades, officials said. Ms. Olson said new paperwork resulting from the Affordable Care Act would probably exacerbate problems with customer service, which “has reached unacceptably low levels and is getting worse.”
“The I.R.S. is unlikely to answer even half the telephone calls it receives,” she added. “Taxpayers who manage to get through are expected to wait on hold for 30 minutes on average and considerably longer at peak times.”
Timothy S. Jost, an expert on health law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who supports the Affordable Care Act, said: “It will be very easy to find people who are unhappy with the new tax obligations — people who have to pay a penalty, who have to wait forever to get through to somebody at the I.R.S. or have to pay back a lot of money because of overpayments of premium tax credits.”
Taxpayers normally report income and compute taxes annually. But thehealth care law is different. Consumers may be subject to tax penalties for any month in which they had neither insurance coverage nor an exemption.
The calculations will be relatively simple if all members of a household had coverage for every month of 2014. They can simply check a box on their tax return. But lower-income people often have changes in employment, income and insurance. If any members of a household were uninsured in 2014, they must fill out a work sheet showing coverage month by month, and they may owe penalties.
To claim tax credits, consumers need to fill out I.R.S. Form 8962, which includes a matrix with 12 rows and six columns — a total of 72 boxes, to compute subsidies for each month of the year.
Federal officials have authorized more than 30 types of exemptions from the penalty for not having insurance. One is available to low-income people who live in states that did not expand Medicaid. Another is available to people who would have to pay premiums amounting to more than 8 percent of their household income. The government will also allow a variety of hardship exemptions and in most cases will require taxpayers to send in documents as evidence of hardship.
The open enrollment period, during which people can sign up for health insurance in the public markets, ends on Feb. 15. But many people will not realize that they must have coverage or pay a penalty until they file their tax returns in April.
Obama administration officials said they were considering a “special enrollment period” that would give some people extra time to obtain insurance. But they said consumers could not count on an extension of the Feb. 15 deadline and should not delay signing up.
Health plans are classified in five categories, such as gold, silver and bronze, based on how comprehensive the coverage is. To calculate their tax credits, consumers need to know the cost of their own health insurance policies, but must also know the cost of a benchmark plan, the second-lowest-cost silver plan. To claim an exemption if the available coverage was unaffordable, they also need to know the premium for the lowest-cost bronze plan in the area in 2014.
Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Department of Health and Human Servicessecretary, said the administration was working with nonprofit groups like AARP and tax preparation companies like H & R Block, Jackson Hewitt and Intuit, the maker of TurboTax software, to help people meet their tax obligations under the health care law.

Super Bowl: President Obama advises fans to 'keep it clean'

The NFL's ongoing investigation into "Deflategate" coupled with Marshawn Lynch's ongoing dramas with the media has made for a pretty interesting week heading into Super Bowl XLIX.
So perhaps that is why President Obama felt the need to weigh in on Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.
While appearing at a Democratic retreat in Philadelphia on Thursday, Obama had some advice for fans (and House Democrats) on opposing sides of Sunday's game.
"I want to just remind the New England and Pacific Northwest contingents, this is the City of Brotherly Love," Obama said. "So regardless of what you think about Sunday, I want y'all to keep it clean. I am not taking sides on that one." Obama, a noted Chicago Bears fan, then reacted when one of the lawmakers in his audience yelled, "Bring your own football!" -- an obvious reference to the NFL's probe into whether the Patriots used underinflated footballs during their AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 18.
"Oh, bring your own footballs?" Obama repeated. "Oooh, ooh .... wow."
Super Bowl XLIX will start at 3:30 p.m. PST Sunday on NBC.

President Obama's Weekly Address: A Path Towards a Thriving Middle Class

Language Politics Back in the Spotlight in Afghanistan

By Abdulfattoh Shafiev

Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan's new minister of foreign affairs and son of the country's murdered former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, is facing a barrage of criticism for beginning his pre-approval speech to the Afghan parliament in Pashto. The fiercest criticism is coming from Rabbani's Dari-speaking ethnic kin, who feel betrayed that he chose to speak in a language that is not his native tongue.
Pashto and Dari are the two official languages of Afghanistan according to the constitution. While all but two of Afghanistan's rulers for the last two centuries — Habibullah Kalakani and Burhanuddin Rabbani — were ethnic Pashtuns, Dari, a local name for Farsi, is more widely used in written form than Pashto. Dari is also the preferred language of several of the country's non-Pashtun ethnic groups, including the large Tajik minority Rabbani hails from.*
Shortly after the speech on January 27, Abdullatif Pedram, the leader of the National Congress Party of Afghanistan and an ethnic Tajik, wrote a widely circulated Facebook post criticizing the new coalition government of Afghanistan and calling it “illegal” and “anti-constitutional”. Salahuddin Rabbani had “betrayed [his] native language and Farsi culture,” Pedram added.
When Salahuddin starts the first part of his speech in Pashto, it means that Pashto is the first language in this land. Based on this, representatives of foreign countries will also come to the same conclusion. This is an infidelity to [his] native language and rich Farsi culture… I respect and love all languages in my country, including Pashto. But the issue is one of justice. Farsi is the language of the majority (in Afghanistan).
Many expressed their agreement with him:
Dear Dr. You are right. What else you can expect from those who trade their identity?
Others accused Pedram of nationalism. Ahmad Wali Hakimi chastised:
Mr. Pedram, it is pity you are spending your education and priceless life (discussing) useless things. You have betrayed the nation, you are sick…
Another discussant, Fazl Azizi, pointed out the dual nationality of the new minister of foreign affairs, a factor that held up his appointment:
He would be better off speaking English as he has British citizenship.
In actual fact Afghan media reported that the country's lower house had approved the cancellation of Rabbani's British citizenship on January 26, paving the way for him to be approved as foreign minister January 27. Afghanistan's parliament has still yet to agree over half of President Ashraf Ghani's ministerial nominees, many of whom are also citizens of two countries. 
Both Ghani, who identifies as an ethnic Pashtun, and his erstwhile rivals for the presidency, took steps to build ethnically diverse coalitions in the run up to the vote earlier this year. Ghani, for instance, included Ahmad Zia Massoud, a Tajik and the brother of the legendary Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in his presidential team. Many ethnic Tajiks criticised Ahmad Zia Massoud for siding with Ghani rather than his presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah, a half-Pashtun-half-Tajik who was one of the Ahmad Shah Massoud's closest friends before the latter's assassination in 2001. 
Rabbani, who was Afghanistan's Ambassador to Turkey in 2011, is foreign educated and viewed as technocrat, despite having strong Tajik tribal connections through his late father. By beginning his speech in Pashto, he may have sought to smooth the ethnic and linguistic divides in the country. Instead, he seems to have aggravated them further.

Iran Condemns Terrorist Attack in Pakistan

Spokeswoman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Marziyeh Afkham strongly condemned the recent terrorist attack against Shiite worshippers in Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Afkham condoled with the bereaved families of victims, saying the Islamic Republic of Iran condemns terrorist attacks targeting the innocent people of Pakistan, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
“Such acts of terror are against the teachings of Islam and run counter to human values,” she added, emphasizing the need for the unity among regional countries in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
Earlier on Friday, over 60 people were killed and dozens more severely injured in a bomb attack on a Shiite mosque and religious center in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh.
Local security officials said the attack occurred when people were performing Friday Prayers in the town of Shikarpur, around 470 kilometers (300 miles) north of the port city of Karachi.
Targeted killings against Shiite Muslims in Pakistan have drawn international outrage, with rights groups and regional countries expressing concern over the growing deadly violence.
Shiites are seen as a minority group in Pakistan. They make up about a fifth of the country's population of over 180 million.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide - Strong resolve

At least 54 people were killed and 60 others injured in an explosion inside a central imambargah (mosque affiliated with Shia Muslims) in Sindh province’s Shikarpur district on Friday. Civil Hospital Shikarpur had issued a list of 49 victims out of whom 46 bodies had been identified whereas the identity of 3 others was yet to be confirmed. It was the second major attack on an imambargah in the country since the beginning of 2015; the first being an attack on Rawalpindi’s Imambargah Aun Mohammad Rizvi in the garrison city’s Chatian Hatian area. According to media reports, Jandullah, a Taliban wing has accepted the responsibility did the attack. What a sad news for the entire country and of course the pain of those who lost their dear ones can not be comprehended. It has been long since the Shia community is being targeted all around the country. They are not only being targeted individually but they are also being killed in collective manner as in the incident of Shikarpur.
Sindh government should first accept their failure in providing security to the Imambargarh. Every Friday there is a large prayer being held in all the major mosques and Imambargarhs around the country, then why not the police and other security agencies are on high alert? Why can our government not formulate a strategy that whannever there is big religious gathering, an extra badge of security and intelligence personnel are dispatched to make sure that Pakistanis can perform their rituals in a peaceful manner? How come the blood of ordinary Pakistani has become so easy to be shed whenever and wherever the terrorists like?
The federal government must be aware that National Action Plan can not be implemented in a few days or a few months. It is a job which will take many years to deliver the desired results and the reason why it will take time is because the terrorists have planted their deep roots in our soil and these roots are in abundance all over the country.
In order to destroy these deep roots of terrorists the federal government along with all the provincial governments must share intelligence and other related reports with each other. They must also share a common resolve and determination. And above all they all must spend each and every penny of the government towards the betterment of the people of this country. Instead of spending money on their own comfort and security, both the federal and provincial governments should spend the most available resources on purchasing the latest technology which is used around the world for protection of human lives and properties. All the major mosques, Imambargarhs, churches, temples and other religious places should be equipped with the latest technology including jammers, scanners and presence of security forces should be ensured.
Instead of scattered gatherings at religious places, a secured and large place should be designated on such occasions, especially for the Friday and Sunday prayers. At the same time those injured in terrorist activities should be provided with free medical treatment and those who lost lives, their families should be compensated in the best manner possible. The resolve of this nation and it’s security forces should not be deterred by the activities of terrorists and with each passing day their determination should be further enhanced and strengthened. In a related issue the authorities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday referred a list of terror suspects to the federal government for trial by military courts. The 45-page report contains 423 cases of terror suspects for trial by military courts, which also includes the name of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah and Sufi Muhammed. Peshawar has the highest number of cases — 116 — to be tried by military courts, whereas the remaining 307 cases are from other areas of the province. Most of the terror suspects were charged for attacks on security forces, government buildings, state installations and killing of civilians.
The federal government should lend utmost support to all the provinces but especially to those provinces which are being hit the most in last few years by the terrorists, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Balochistan province. Military courts should work day and night to decide the date of these cases and terrorists should be seen at gallows at the earliest. The sooner the network of terrorists is destroyed the earlier the Pakistan and it’s citizens can be at peace.
The whole world is looking at Pakistsn now a days and just like every country, Pakistan has good and bad neighbours as well. Many countries want to see Pakistan as a shattered nation and there are many countries which sees coexistence related to Pakistan. For the friendly countries of Pakistan, this is the time to show support to Pakistan. Pakistan can not fight the international terrorists and their network alone. It is also the job of the friends of Pakistan to lend support in every field possible with the aim to bring peace and tranquility in this country, otherwise the flames of terrorisms will spread and engulf many of them along Pakistan. Pakistani nation and it’s government should not be demoralised by the activities of terrorists. Their resolve to fight the menace of terrorism should be enhanced and no stone should be left unturned to bring peace in Pakistan.

Pakistan - Banned terrorist outfits trying to establish network in Interior Sindh

On Friday, Shikarpur district was rocked with a powerful blast inside the Imam Bargah Karbala-e-Mualla of Lakkhi Dar. So far 61 people have lost their lives while 50 are injured.

Some critically injured were shifted to Karachi in a private hospital. Among those admitted in Karachi, two breathe their last on Friday night. The recent Shikarpur massacre was the third biggest incident in the history of terrorism in Sindh province.

On June 6, 1963 an Ashura procession was attacked in Therhi area of Khairpur. 118 people including innocent children were brutally slaughtered. Khairpur is the adjoining district of Shikarpur.

The second attack was carried out, when Chairperson of Pakistan Peoples’ Party Benazir Bhutto landed in Karachi on October 18, 2007. She was targeted when her cavalcade reached at Karsaz Shahra-e-Faisal. Reportedly in the suicide attack, 144 people were killed and more than 400 were injured.

Talking to Geo News, former Senior Superintendent of Police [SSP] Shikarpur said that after Karachi, Shikarpur is the only district of Sindh province which is facing the menace of terrorism. History proves it too.

On December 21, 2009 a suicide bomber tried to enter in Ashura procession of Ibrahim Jatoi area. He was intercepted and was gunned down by security guards. His suicide vest was exploded and four policemen were injured. The Dargah Ghulam Shah Ghazi in the village of Maari was targeted in bomb attack on February 25, 2013. Six people including the Gaddi Nasheen [Custodian] of the Dargah Syed Hajan Shah, his two children and three women were injured in the attack. Syed Hajan Shah succumbed to injuries after eight days.

Two months later, in another incident, a candidate of National Peoples’ Party NA-202 Ibrahim Jatoi's vehicle was attacked on May 1, 2013. Fortunately, he survived the attack. Last year on November 12, a religious scholar Mulana Shahfqat Abbas Mutaheri was gunned down in Khanpur area of the same district. Police arrested two assailants of banned outfit.

On the condition of anonymity, the former SSP of Shikarpur disclosed “banned outfits are trying to establish and strengthening their network in Interior Sindh, for that matter, they are targeting everyone who stands and is against their thoughts”.

A senior intelligence official who has served in nearby area of Shikarpur said that elements who are involved in terrorist activities in Balochistan, regularly visit Shikarpur and trying to embolden its foothold.

“Selecting easier targets, now they are soften up the border areas of Sindh to archive their goals,” he revealed.

“The timing is very important when the Prime Minster of Pakistan was present in Karachi, the capital of Sindh province”.

Resignation of Punjab Governor - Idealism and reality

The ‘sudden’ resignation of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar did not come as a complete surprise. Reports had been circulating for many months about the Governor’s unhappiness. Some of that ‘dirt’ came out during his press conference on Thursday in which he delineated his reasons for quitting. The Governor said he felt powerless and helpless to do any of the things that had motivated him to accept the gubernatorial appointment in the first place. Amongst these things he mentioned his desire to bring about an end to inequality, barbarism, inflation, lawlessness, the power of the land mafia who he said were more powerful than any Governor, and contribute to education (he mentioned that 23 million children were still out of school in Punjab alone), health, clean drinking water, equal rights and the rule of law. Quite a menu, and for anyone familiar with the ground realities of the country, a well-intentioned but virtually impossible agenda from the platform of Governor of a province. Mr Sarwar had perhaps himself arrived at that conclusion after a few months in office since he confessed during an interview on television that perhaps his decision to accept the office of Governor was a mistake. Chaudhry Sarwar according to reports had difficulties working with Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, who not only has a reputation as a hands-on head of the provincial government, but also guards his turf assiduously. So much so that even an initiative by Chaudhry Sarwar to set up a clean drinking water project with the help of expatriate friends was perceived by the chief minister as stealing his thunder. He therefore sabotaged that initiative by starting a government project along the same lines, which put paid to the private initiative. The fact that Shahbaz Sharif started that project is not a bad thing from the perspective of the citizens of the province, but the timing and motivation indicate that it was not done for the most altruistic of motives. Shahbaz Sharif reportedly was not happy with ex-Governor Sarwar’s role in mediating with Tahirul Qadri at the latter’s insistence during the diversion of Qadri's flight to Lahore drama. Nor did Sarwar’s meeting with Altaf Hussain in London without the prime minister’s consent go down well. Contradictions and conflict between the Governor and chief minister have also been reported on, for example, running Aitcheson College and other issues. These differences reportedly led to the Governor’s powers and wings being clipped. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the criticism by Governor Sarwar of the failure of the government’s foreign policy reflected in US President Obama’s visit to India while ignoring Pakistan. In principle, such comments did not fall within the Governor’s purview, but this may have been partly frustration on his part and partly intended to provide the exit he seemed to have decided on.

The episode of Chaudhry Sarwar’s induction and departure by the leadership of the PML-N points to certain lessons. Sarwar had been kind to the Sharifs in exile, which may have won him their favour. However, what Sarwar was perhaps not fully cognizant of or sensitive to was the Sharifs’ proven record of demanding loyalty above all else. Dissidence, and that too publicly, is a no-no in the Sharifs’ playbook. The fact that Sarwar played a role in getting Pakistan the coveted GSP Plus by using his contacts in the European parliament proved insufficient when weighed against his ‘sins’ in the Sharifs’ eyes. If proof of this assertion of the Sharifs’ rule that loyalty counts above all else is needed, one only has to glance at the contrast between the treatment of the Governor and certain blue-eyed federal ministers. Whereas the former may have been guilty in the Sharifs’ eyes of not being sufficiently loyal and docile, the latter have literally got away with blue murder in the energy and petrol crises and are still being protected.

Chaudhry Sarwar’s future is now up for grabs. If he chooses to enter the political fray (for which the rules say he will have to wait before being able to seek elected office), an inclination he has mutedly indicated, there are at least two parties that are takers waiting in the wings: PPP and PTI. The only problem is whether, if Chaudhry Sarwar still carries the flame of the reforms dear to his heart within his breast, such parties can provide the enabling platform he seeks.