Saturday, February 7, 2015

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Israel - Don’t use Bibi (Netanyahu) as cover for your war-mongering

By-Aliza Becker
Criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress on “the grave threats of radical Islam and Iran” has focused almost exclusively on the opportunism of Israel’s contentious Prime Minister during an Israeli election campaign. Americans, however, should not lose sight of the underhanded use of Netanyahu by Speaker of the House John Boehner and his allies as cover for the real dangers posed by escalating the conflict with Iran.
President Obama is rightfully concerned that congressional bullying could make diplomacy more difficult –possibly killing the talks – and for that reason has threatened to veto any such legislation. Since Iran agreed to an interim arrangement with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany to receive partial sanctions relief in exchange for a short-term freeze on portions of its program, a team of international diplomats has since been working on a long-term agreement.
While some members of Congress claim that imposing new sanctions will pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the actual effect will be to violate the terms of the interim agreement, which will in turn bring negotiations to a screeching halt, reverse the unprecedented level of monitoring now in place and break the resolve of the international sanctions regime.
There are legitimate reasons for Israel, the U.S., and its Arab allies to fear the threat to the region and beyond that a nuclear armed Iran would pose.. But new sanctions could move the U.S. closer to military action and throw the already turbulent Middle East into more chaos.
The alarmist rhetoric for which Netanyahu is known will only obscure the fact that war is a likely option if diplomacy fails. In his speech before Congress, Netanyahu will probably speak of protecting the free world from Islamic extremism and of shielding Israel from a genocidal nuclear attack. Iranians will likely be portrayed as extreme “fanatics” with whom any negotiation is impossible.
Many in the Israeli security establishment have fiercely opposed Netanyahu’s advocacy of more aggressive moves toward Iran. Furthermore, domestic issues and conflicts closer to home have eclipsed most Israelis’ concern over Iran’s nuclear program. This hurts Netanyahu, who excels at fear-mongering. Despite the Prime Minister’s belligerent threats that Israel will unilaterally attack Iran, the fact is that the country would be unable to wage such a war without America’s enormous weapons arsenal and trained personnel.
The internet is full of conspiracy theories of Jews and Israelis behind the Iraq War. Could the invitation to Netanyahu be used in a similar way, much like feudal elites used Jews as a scapegoat during times of crises? Congress members who instigated the war-mongering may find it more politic to use Netanyahu as a scapegoat in the same way. On the one hand, Netanyahu may intimate that members of Congress who don’t support sanctions are anti-Israel, if not outright anti-Semitic. On the other hand, if diplomacy fails and war or terror ensues, Netanyahu could very well be blamed as part of a broader anti-Semitic scheme.
Congress must own up to the weight of its decision and not use Netanyahu as a decoy to derail diplomacy on this most sensitive issue. The current international efforts to peacefully reach a permanent agreement going on right now deserve full public and Congressional support. Congress must not use the controversial views of a single Israeli politician as a cover for cynical political gamesmanship, so that when the game goes awry, they can blame Israel and its Jewish supporters as if Congress itself did not instigate an unwanted war.
Read more: Don't use Bibi as cover for your war-mongering | Aliza Becker | The Blogs | The Times of Israel Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

U.S. - State Department Quietly Releases Fiscal Transparency Report


Fifty out of 140 countries didn't meet the minimum standards for transparency-- but their aid won't be cut off.

President Barack Obama released his federal budget this week to much publicity, analysis and politicking. But before the federal budget was the release of the State Department’s annual Fiscal Transparency Report, a document that analyzes budget transparency of governments that receive U.S. assistance — and reveals that certain countries still receive aid from the U.S. even though they don't meet fiscal transparency requirements.
A provision in the Appropriations Bill requires the State Department to produce the report examining all 140 countries that were potential recipients of bilateral allocations in fiscal 2014. The report, quietly released Jan. 14, rated them based upon transparency of budget information and natural resource extraction contracting and licensing.
The State Department and USAID funding for fiscal year 2014 was $46.9 billion. Fifty countries that year did not meet the minimum requirements of fiscal transparency. Thirty-nine of those 50 countries — including Afghanistan, Egypt, Haiti, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia — were found not to have made “significant progress” toward meeting those requirements, but will still continue to receive aid. Cutting them off, experts told U.S. News, could have devastating political and strategic consequences.
Ryan Crocker served as ambassador to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and says understanding why the U.S. gives aid to the country must be considered in context of its history. Since 1919, Afghanistan has relied on foreign assistance to operate, but the country collapsed a few years after the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989. This paved the way for the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
“What we’re giving is a pretty small installment on an insurance policy without which we could see a return to the utter chaos that brought us 9/11,” Crocker says.
Although the U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan ended in 2014, a small number of personnel remain there. Continuing aid to the country is in U.S. interest, Crocker points out, but the Afghan government must do a better job with accountability and transparency.
Egypt receives items, not cash, from the U.S., and continues to do so because it is a vital partner for the U.S. in the volatile Middle East. “The actual physical, geographic location of Egypt is important for U.S. projection of power around the region," explains Amy Hawthorne of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council. It is also one of few Arab countries at peace with Israel, a major U.S. ally, and much of what the U.S. sends to Egypt is dedicated to encouraging that peace.
The U.S. continues to send aid to Haiti, not only to help the tiny island nation rebuild after the 2010 earthquake killed 222,750 people and decimated government buildings, but also because Haiti “was not like other countries,” says Bob Perito, executive director of consulting firm The Perito Group. The Haitian government doesn’t have an education system or health system; it doesn’t provide a sewer system or running water. Perito says that the government has been very corrupt and ineffective, but the U.S. has worked to strengthen it and make it operate even if some of the money isn’t used the way it should be.
“One of the ways that that happens is to pump money through the government system and force the finance ministry to create a budget, to administer its budget and to fund government agencies, and to force those government agencies then to go out and to actually do things that you’d expect the education ministry or the health ministry or the justice ministry to do,” Perito says. “We’re never going to solve the problems of Haiti if Haiti does not have a functioning government.”
Despite the increasing threat posed by terrorist group Boko Haram, the U.S. provides little defense-based aid to Nigeria. Instead, U.S. aid to Nigeria is overwhelmingly earmarked for health, says John Campbell, ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007. Most of it is provided as a part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.
“The point about PEPFAR money is once that you start you can’t stop,” Campbell says. “In other words if you withdraw funding for PEPFAR in a country like Nigeria, what you end up with is soaring deaths from HIV/AIDS.”
Saudi Arabia continues to receive assistance, despite its wealth and lack of fiscal transparency, because it's a secure petroleum exporter and plays a critical role in the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political economic union of Arab states in the Gulf, according to Anthony Cordesman, a chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It's also a key U.S. ally in the Middle East as part of a coalition working to defeat the Islamic State group.
“It’s a key partner in the Gulf, a key partner in terms of overall security issues, in terms of areas like Syria, Iraq, quite a number of other structures,” Cordesman says. The U.S. has sold the Gulf country military equipment and provides training in the use of such weapons, as well as other security-related assistance. New Saudi King Salman, who took office after the death of King Abdullah in January, is likely to continue to closely cooperate with the U.S.
Provisions that required the department to assess transparency and link assistance to those findings has been included in past budgets in various forms, but 2014 was the first year State was required to make the report public. So far, it hasn’t generated the type of attention produced by the annual Human Rights Report, which details human rights conditions in nearly 200 countries and territories.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has long been an advocate for closer examination of foreign assistance funds and is responsible for the provision requiring the fiscal transparency report. Tim Rieser, a foreign policy aide to Leahy, says the senator and other Members of Congress have concerns about foreign governments that misuse their own resources and then ask the U.S. for aid to take care of their people.
“Senator Leahy does not want to give aid to governments whose officials spend public funds to enrich themselves rather than to address the needs of their people, so that was genesis of the law,” Rieser says. “He’s felt that for too long we have been helping countries without insisting that their governments be transparent about how they are spending their own resources. He believes that we should stand for the principle that they should be accountable to their people.”
The State Department Report says transparency is a key element of effective public financial management and can help countries achieve economic sustainability. Still, in the proposed edits in the budget for fiscal year 2016 released Feb. 2, the administration requested the fiscal transparency report requirement be removed. They did the same in fiscal year 2015. The department says this it is standard practice for it not to request imposing reporting requirements on itself. Congress makes them law by including the provisions in the Appropriations Bill.
The report’s purpose is also to “help ensure U.S. taxpayer money is used appropriately,” but failure of a government to be found transparent does not mean funds will be cut off. In the past, many countries that were not found to be transparent received waivers from the secretary of state.
A State Department official told U.S. News on background that a lack of fiscal transparency doesn’t necessarily mean that a government is corrupt.
“It’s more of an enabling factor for corruption, so it’s not necessarily the case that countries that have failings in fiscal transparency are not using U.S. taxpayer money well," the official says. "It’s just the more information that is public about how countries craft their budgets, the better people are able to evaluate how money is being used.”
Vivek Ramkumar directs the Open Budget Initiative at the International Budget Partnership, says waivers issued by the Secretary of State for countries not found to be transparent were previously “grossly misused.” The State Department official said "quite a lot" of countries received waivers.
“Fiscal transparency is seen as an inconvenience here,” Ramkumar says. “So they have found reasons to constantly continue aid to countries, even when my organization conducts fiscal transparency assessments and we don’t agree with their assessment in previous years.”
The Open Budget Index, an independent assessment of budget transparency produced by the International Budget Partnership, found 77 of 100 countries examined did not provide significant budget information to their citizens in 2012.
Ramkumar says that while his organization also has problems with this year’s assessment, one of the benefits of delinking aid with the report findings is that State can give a more honest assessment of foreign government budget transparency in the report as a part of a "naming and shaming."
“We’re finding in fact this is probably a more effective tool in terms of encouraging countries,” the State Department official says. “There seems to be more attention this year from countries we asses than maybe we’ve seen in previous years.”
“Governments like to know where they stand,” Rieser says. “They don’t like being on lists that show them falling short compared to their peers.”
Countries found to be insufficiently transparent but want to improve can benefit from $10 million in funds set aside in the same Appropriations Bill provision. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development coordinate in using the money to support programs and activities aimed at improving public financial management and fiscal transparency standards. The State Department official calls this the “carrot to the stick of the report.”
In fiscal year 2013, the department used $5 million from the fund for 11 projects in Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Malawi, Nicaragua, Niger and Somalia, as well as one regional and one global project.
“If the U.S. is serious about seeking improvements in fiscal transparency in countries around the world then most important thing to do would be to ensure that governments buy into this agenda, that there’s country ownership, and that the agenda for fiscal transparency improvements is not based on a one size fits all,” Rathkumar says.
He says the report should be elevated to the status of the Human Rights Report so countries take the findings more seriously.

Bahrain court sentences 8 protesters to 73 years in jail

A Bahraini court has handed down prison sentences totaling 73 years to eight anti-regime protesters, including a child.
Bahrain’s criminal court on Saturday issued 10-year jail terms for seven activists each, while sentencing a minor to three years in prison, according to the website of the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, the country's main opposition party.
Bahrain’s prosecutor general said the eight were convicted on charges of attacking a police officer during a demonstration in March. The attack wounded the policeman while a vehicle belonging to the security forces was also vandalized, the official said. 
According to the court, the activists’ participation in the protests held in Manama’s Bilad al-Qadeem suburb and their use of Molotov cocktails and stones against the security forces was tantamount to committing terrorist acts.
Bahraini courts have sentenced more than 200 activists to long-term prison sentences on charges of involvement in terrorist activities and acting against the national security. At least 70 activists have received life imprisonment since the uprising began in Bahrain in 2011.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch said Bahraini courts have become more active in sustaining repression in the country.
The ruling Al Khalifa regime has launched a heavy-handed crackdown on the peaceful anti-government movement in Bahrain, which started in 2011.
The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom has seen an escalation of protests over the past months after the regime in December arrested Sheikh Ali Salman, a senior cleric and the secretary general of al-Wefaq.

Who is Saudi activist Raif Badawi?

By Saeed Alwahabi

Three weeks ago, 18 Nobel laureates sent a message demanding the release of Saudi blogger-activist Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, a fine equivalent to $267,000 and 10 years in prison. The flogging sentence, which started with 50 lashes in a public square on Jan. 9, stirred a global wave of sympathy.

On Jan. 20, eight US senators sent a letter to the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, urging him to end the punishment of Badawi and warning that this is set to endanger Saudi-US ties. By merely searching for the name Raif Badawi, one can find several reports and articles published by human rights organizations. One can also find links to awards that Badawi has received thanks to his activism and imprisonment, such as the PEN Canada One Humanity Award and the 2014 Netizen Prize by Reporters Without Borders. However, nothing personal can be found on him.
I have personally known Badawi for about six years now, and I know that his social connections were limited. The people who know him are either afraid to speak up, or they believe that he is not important enough to be the focus of an article or an interview. No one knows exactly who Raif Badawi is.
I met Badawi for the first time in the summer of 2009. Like all activists and bloggers, I had known him by name and ideas, but it was not until that summer that we met. He was famous but not very socially active. Badawi is a good listener. We talked about the electronic Lar newspaper project that he started with author Saad al-Salem. The newspaper closed after 1½ years.
Badawi asked me to write for them at the time, but I was more into printed press and I believed — and still do — that printed newspapers are the most respected and readable. We stayed in touch since that meeting. He hosted me at his house with his wife, Insaf Haidar, and I met him later at cultural events between Jeddah and Dammam.
Badawi was not an avid reader. He never read the books popular among the youth interested in religious criticism, such as those written by Mohammed Abed al-Jabri, Georges Tarabichi or Mohammed Shahrour. The books that Badawi would read are strange books that are not available in local libraries. He used to tell me about religious culture books and pen names that hold daring ideas. He talked about his forum, “The Free Saudi Liberals,” which was shut down upon the Saudi court’s ruling. There were also two important sites that he constantly followed: Al-Hiwar al-Moutamadden (Modern Discussion) and Al-Awan. These two websites publish articles and reports about politics, secularism, human rights, freedom and culture.
In his home library in Jeddah, Badawi had two photos on the wall — one of Saudi writer Abdullah al-Qasimi (1907-96) and the other of liberal Saudi activist Mohammed Said Tayeb. Badawi would sometimes quote Qasimi during our chats, although my opinion of Qasimi always irritated him. Qasimi is an excellent author and his books are very useful for beginners who are seeking to enrich their writing — not intellectual — skills.
Badawi was clearly influenced by Qasimi, and this was obvious in his weekly articles published in the cultural supplement of the Saudi Al Jazirah newspaper, for which he kept writing until his arrest in mid-2012. Qasimi’s ideas revolve around God, the universe, Islam and the deterioration of the Arabs’ situation versus the West’s interest in science.
Qasimi had a modern viewpoint, but now he is just an ordinary author. People who admire Qasimi’s thoughts — and Badawi is one of them — are attracted by his rebellious character, not his rebellious ideas. People admire how he moved from defending Wahhabism in one book to atheism in two other books. Albeit less sharply, Badawi’s rebellion was inspired from there.
Badawi maintained relationships with Arab authors, including a close relationship with Moroccan thinker Saeed Nasheed. I don't know how this relationship developed, but Nasheed showed interest in Badawi and wrote about him. I also remember that we held a kind of memorial service during a discussion on Egyptian thinker Hamid Abu Zaid following his death in 2010.
Badawi also had a strong relationship with a prominent journalist in Saudi Arabia, who used to visit him at his home on a weekly basis. I don't want to disclose his name, but he is seen as one of the pioneers of the modernist movement in Saudi Arabia, which started in the mid-1980s to break the literary inertia in poetry and literature. This had pushed society toward liberalism. Moreover, this Saudi journalist is one of the most-read journalists. He discussed with Badawi issues on ideologies and literature in particular.
Badawi was developing a project aimed at teaching women English and training them to use the computer. The project came to a halt as the authorities were tracking him down, and disrupted his bank accounts, only a few months before his arrest.
In all our discussions, he seemed a man with great integrity, never asking for money or speaking ill of women.
My relationship with Badawi turned into a friendship, which I had sought, because as a journalist and writer, I was keen on expanding my network of contacts and acquaintances. In my opinion, the importance of Badawi does not lie in his ideology but in the fact that he represented a small hidden segment of Saudi society. However, with all the harassment Badawi had to endure, this small group of people emerged to the surface, including young men and women, businessmen, society figures, journalists, activists and state officials. They all shared the same extreme liberal ideas as Badawi, but no one dared to discuss them in public.
Badawi communicated a transparent opinion. He demanded the closure of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), which takes an extremist stance within Saudi society; Badawi believed in reforming the committee and disciplining the behavior of its members rather than disbanding it. There is almost consensus on reforms to be made within the CPVPV, which many writers and officials in Saudi society also demand. However, Badawi’s opinion on this issue is vocal and public — an audacity that cannot be endured in Saudi Arabia.
Badawi used to believe in liberalism. Declaring to be a “Saudi liberal” is professional suicide in Saudi Arabia. He believed that Saudi Arabia had a different side — one that is more liberal and more civil, which pushed him to voice his ideas so as to help this emerge to the surface.
As part of traditional Saudi politics, political prisoners are set free with the advent of a new king. Thus, today in Badawi’s case, Saudi Arabia finds itself at a crossroad. During the years before the Arab Spring, the late King Abdullah himself used to grant amnesty to prisoners of conscience, as was the case with the woman from Qatif and the flogging of journalist Rosanna al-Yami. Some believe that any amnesty granted to Badawi would open the door for the foreign media and human rights organizations to meddle in internal Saudi affairs. In other words, such amnesty would threaten the position of the judiciary.
In a bold step, Abdallah Yahya al-Mouallimi, the Saudi ambassador to the UN, published an article in Saudi newspaper Al Madina, criticizing flogging, and describing it as “a humiliating sentence that is in direct conflict with customs and international conventions.”
In the same vein, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who's close to the Saudi authorities, said that the issue of Badawi “has undermined the reputation of Saudi Arabia, and is not worthy of all the hype that was caused in the beginning.” He hopes that Badawi will be released, which would be one of the most challenging issues the new Saudi government would have to deal with.

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US Plans To Work With Pakistan For Regional Peace

A new US national security strategy, which President Barack Obama sent to Congress on Friday, underlines two key areas for engagement with Pakistan, bringing stability to Afghanistan and maintaining peace in South Asia.

“We will … work with the countries of the region, including Pakistan, to mitigate the threat from terrorism and to support a viable peace and reconciliation process to end the violence in Afghanistan and improve regional stability,” he said.
“We will continue to work with both India and Pakistan to promote strategic stability, combat terrorism, and advance regional economic integration in South and Central Asia.”

India’s tango with the great powers


Geopolitical and economic factors and the re-energised relationship between the U.S. and India are the drivers of change in the trilateral relationship between India, Russia and China. The cumulative impact of these two trends points to a new, emerging configuration of the triangular relationship

The latest trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China was held on shifting strategic sands. It would be no exaggeration to say that the triangular relationship between these countries is entering a new phase — one that differs significantly from the past. India’s ability to navigate this unfolding terrain will not only impinge on its relationships with Russia and China, but also on its wider, international objectives and choices.
The drivers of change in this trilateral relationship are primarily geopolitical and economic. The civil war in Ukraine shows no sign of abating, nor indeed does Russia’s involvement in the conflict. The resurgence of the fighting in eastern Ukraine has left the peace talks in tatters. And Russian support for the rebels has ensured that the Ukrainian forces cannot gain the upper hand. Indeed, the Ukrainians have suffered heavily in the recent fighting. This has led to a chorus of calls in the West to arm the Ukrainian forces. Although U.S. President Barack Obama has demurred against this, several influential voices — including Mr. Obama’s nominee for Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter — have come out in favour of providing heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Any such move will lead Russian President Vladimir Putin to dig in his heels still deeper. Russia already faces a raft of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and the U.S. The Russian economy is apparently wilting under the one-two punch of these sanctions and the free-fall in oil prices. The projected slowdown in growth, the depleting foreign exchange reserves, the rising inflation, the downgrading of Russia’s credit rating to junk status: all point to a serious economic crunch. The economic sanctions have already led Russia to tilt closer towards China. The talk of providing weapons to Ukraine or imposing further sanctions will accentuate this shift.
The second driver of change is the re-energised relationship between the U.S. and India. The U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision put out during Mr. Obama’s visit not only singles out the South China Sea dispute but also commits India and the U.S. to work together with other democracies in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region. The wisdom of issuing such a statement is debatable. Are we staking our credibility before creating capabilities? Does it needlessly restrict our room for diplomatic manoeuvre in the event of a crisis in the South China Sea? New Delhi insists that a strategic embrace of the U.S. need not limit its relations with China. While this may be true in some generic sense, we should not forget that every move on the chessboard of international politics will invite countermoves. We do not yet live in a world that is free of consequences.
India-Russia relationship

The cumulative impact of these two trends points to a new, emerging configuration of the triangular relationship between India, Russia and China. Going forward, Russia-China ties might become the strongest side of the triangle. From India’s standpoint, this is historically unprecedented. New Delhi’s strategic ties with Moscow first took shape in the late 1950s. The backcloth to the blossoming of this relationship was provided by India’s deteriorating relationship with China owing to the disputed boundary. At the same time, ideological and strategic ties between Moscow and Beijing were coming apart. Although the Russians played an ambivalent role during the war of 1962, Indo-Soviet ties, especially in defence, continued to tighten.
The clashes between Soviet and Chinese forces in 1969 led Moscow to propose a treaty of friendship with India. The treaty was eventually consummated at the height of the Bangladesh crisis of 1971. This crisis also saw the American opening towards Maoist China, which subsequently led to a strategic nexus aimed at the Soviet Union. While New Delhi and Moscow were pulled together by their shared concerns about Beijing, India found its choices being circumscribed in other areas as well. For instance, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, India publicly supported the Russians, while the Americans and the Chinese covertly assisted Pakistan and the Mujahideen against the Red Army.
By the time the Cold War drew to an end, there was a rapprochement between Russia and China. The collapse of the Soviet Union also led India to look more towards the West. Yet, at no point, was there a possibility of a Russia-China entente of the kind that is now crystallising. Nor did the normalisation of the Russia-China relationship outweigh Indo-Russian ties. Most importantly, the developing relationship between Moscow and Beijing did not impact on New Delhi’s immediate interests.
All this appears to be changing. In June 2014, Russia announced the lifting of its long-standing embargo on arms sales to Pakistan. In November, Russia and Pakistan signed their first ever military cooperation agreement. The Russians argue that if India can buy defence equipment from the U.S., why couldn’t they sell to Pakistan. The problem for India, of course, is the strategic import of such moves by Russia. Then again, we must realise that our growing proximity to the U.S. reduces our leverage over Russia. As does Russia’s increasing tilt towards China. As always, a bit of history can be useful.
Russia-China ties might become the strongest side of the triangle. From India’s standpoint, this is historically unprecedented.
Back in the 1960s, the Russians first mooted the idea of selling military equipment to Pakistan. The Indian response was swift and sharp. In a meeting with Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi bluntly said that “nothing should be done from which it could be inferred that the Soviet Union treated India at par with Pakistan.” India, she added, was “especially worried with regard to Soviet help [to Pakistan], as such help might neutralise what we have obtained from the Soviet Union.” Moscow promptly backed off. The Russians did so because they needed Indian support in their own problems with China. Moreover, India — unlike Pakistan — was not an American ally.
Security architecture

The strategic picture now is rather different. Discussions in the recent trilateral meeting underscored the complexities that will confront India. The joint statement issued in Beijing makes the usual noises about the desirability of a multipolar world. Yet, several points need to be unpacked. The statement calls for a security architecture in Asia that must be “open, inclusive, indivisible and transparent”. The use of “indivisible” is interesting. This refers to the American “pivot” and attempts at rallying its allies. By contrast, the India-U.S. statement supports — at least rhetorically — the U.S.-led efforts. The Chinese and Russians have clearly taken note.
Things would be easy for India if it confronted stark choices between the U.S. and China. Consider the position taken by the three countries on climate change. The statement hopes that in 2015, a legally-binding instrument would be arrived at on the basis of “equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” This fits with India’s negotiating position so far. But the fact is that the U.S. and China have already agreed upon a plan that effectively carves out an exceptional space for themselves and leaves little for countries like India to work with. This is a nice example of the “G2” solutions for which India will have to watch out.
Another instance of this might be in international trade. The joint statement affirms that the World Trade Organization (WTO) must remain the “preeminent global forum trade”. This reflects their concern about U.S. efforts to create new regional trading blocs in Europe and Asia. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated by the Obama administration aims to bring into force a very different kind of Free Trade Agreements (FTA) in Asia-Pacific, which will bring on to the trade agenda a new set of norms and standards. The Chinese have been explicitly kept out of it by the Americans — in the hope that China will eventually have to come to terms with this trade agenda. Indeed, as the TPP negotiations near completion, the Chinese have informally conveyed to the U.S. their desire to get on board. As in climate change, a U.S.-China convergence on this issue will hurt Indian interests.
Then again, there are issues where the three countries’ interests seem closely aligned — and in opposition to the U.S. They have agreed to support a U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) resolution prohibiting intervention and “forced regime change”. This cuts against the idea of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was introduced by the western powers through the UNGA and sought to be built up as a norm governing interventions.
India’s relations with the great powers, then, are entering a period of unprecedented complexity. There are no pat solutions or simple trade-offs. And every move we make will be consequential.

The unjust laws of Pakistan

By Zeeba T. Hashmi

The purpose of laws is to guide and streamline the society within the limits guided by moral judgment and to guard against the miscreants and criminals.  This may work sometimes, but in most cases, laws have failed or have the loopholes for others to take advantage to frame others of crime for their own vested interests.  The laws can be faulty in dispensing justice which is either based on the principle of revenge in most cases, circling those involved who are handed over the verdict, sometimes wrongfully with no recourse for the accused to counter the judgment.  The laws are ever being evolved to make them better and well suited for the sufferers, but it can never be perfect, for the fault lines are much graver when it comes to punishment, and the punishment bestowed with a lack of evidence is hellish.
It is true that not all sentences carried out are wrong, but there is little to the defense of those accused. For example, the Diyat and Qasas laws, the Islamic jurisprudence that allows for the murderer to pay the blood money to the family of the victim and he can go scot free. This law is suitable for the well to do families but this facility is not for those who cannot afford the blood money to be paid to the family of the victim. This law is faulty in the sense that it allows for the murderer to go scot free without any repercussion. This has been observed in the cases of honorkilling of the girls and women  whose killers are pardoned within the family for an amount of money they receive from the killers who are usually their own close relatives. This is a case of faulty justice as it serves only the rich and influential while punishes those who cannot pay the blood money. The justice system should be such that it punishes the culprit, if proven, for whatever the crime he or she has committed. 
Another example that remains fresh in our memory is Raymond Davis who was set free after the Government of the USA paid the blood money to the family of the murdered.  Where was the cry of the Mullahs and clergy who kept silent after the blood money was paid? Was the justice, in true sense carried out? But there was no criticism after it. 
The law in Pakistan should be based on equality and equity, because human life is important and every life should be answerable to the law of the land, sans preference.  A case can be cited of Shahrukh Jatoi and Shahzeb, who was killed by the former in grudge for stopping him from teasing his sister.  The case went for a long time until the time blood money was accepted by the aggrieved party whereas Shahrikh Jatoi left without any persecution for murder he committed.
The controversial Qisas and Diyat laws were introduced in 1980s during Zia’s Islamization as a way to appease the clergy.  Under the law, the case of honor killing is considered as a civil offence, not as a criminal activity, thus patronizing and justifying the killing over alleged adultery.  It is because of these laws, it is estimated, that the crime of murder has risen manifold rather than controlling it.  It is estimated that the conviction rate has dropped dramatically and out of court settlements have increased, meaning justice is not served to the murderers who can go scot free after paying blood money.This law works unfavorably for women who remain helpless in seeking justice, even in death. 
The cases of compromise have been so high that it is not possible to keep a track of statistics of the cases of compromise where the family members pardoned the perpetrators, who are usually the member of the same household.  However, in cases where the families do not want to pardon the murderers of the family can register a complaint in the anti-terror court where the murderer can be indicted.  But such cases are very few in Pakistan.  There is a crying need for the review of the law to ensure justice for the victims who were murdered in cold blood to settle for the scores.
The other most heinous law that needs to be reviewed is the Blasphemy Law.  Introduced again during the time of Ziaul Haq, this law carries its weight merely on the hearsay of the people against those accused of blasphemy.  This law was first introduced in 1860 which was amended further in 1927 during the British period to avert the mob justice and carried sentences for the crime of blasphemy.  But this law was further hardened during Ziaul Haq’s time that carried death sentences for the crimes of blasphemy.  The major defect of the law is that anyone can be accused of the crime at a mere hearsay and no investigation ever takes place to get to the truth.  Worse still, the accuser, who can easily frame others of blasphemy to settle their scores or to cleanse the society of non-Muslims living within the vicinity, as has been the case with Rimsha Massih, against whom the evidence was fabricated.  Luckily the fabrication of the evidence was proved and Rimsha Massih was acquitted, but she had to flee the country with her family for security reasons as the behavior of the clerical mobs cannot be predicted.  What is noteworthy in this case is that the cleric who was found to be fabricating the evidence is scot free as no action has been taken against him.
The laws against witchcraft which was practiced in the USA centuries ago is a stark reminder of how the invisible crime carried sentences of death.  Just mere hearsay was enough to send the men and women to gallows.   This law has long gone, with tales and fables told how horrid and dark laws were such.  This is somewhat synonymous to what we witness today: the blasphemy laws, that strip the accused of any defenses to protect himself from the sentence. The laws have been defined to protect the powerful and punish the poor who do not have the resources to rescue those accused.
Same is the case of Blasphemy Laws here, which present a precedent for the mob aggression to punish those who are considered to have committed blasphemy without any concrete proof.  The most horrid example is that of the incident in Kot Radha Krishen where a brick kiln worker couple were tortured and thrown into the burning furnace without the interference of the police.  It was only later that the incident was condemned and those accused were arrested for committing this crime, but this action comes as no surprise, as we have witnessed the same in Joseph Colony and Gojra incident in Toba Tek Singh.
Those blasphemy accused acquitted by the judges have been threatened or killed by the clerics, thus instilling fear in the judges who are dealing with the cases of blasphemy.  Same is true with Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman and mother of five who has been accused of blasphemy over a brawl when she drank water from a bowl of water. She was sentenced to death by the court and has been reaffirmed of the sentence in October. She has appealed to the President Mamnoon Hussein for mercy as she denies the charge of blasphemy as has been levied against her. 
This is the law where the wrongfully accused are sentenced for no crime of theirs while the accusers face no repercussions for the accusations they face on others.  Any talk of the review of the law has created more trouble as it has claimed the lives of Salmaan Taseer, the former Governor of Punjab and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. No one dares to talk about amending the law as it is akin to blasphemy for calling it for a review, yet the stark injustice is visible to all, but there is not a voice raised against this law.
The Qisas and Diyat Laws and Blasphemy Laws need great introspection and review as they are the major sources of injustice that create a disharmony and resentment in the society.  Unless the laws are repealed and replaced by the more secular laws, justice can be rightly served with equality and rightfulness.  Take the case of Hudood Ordinances, which did not give distinction between rape and adultery.  This law has been gradually softened by the Women Protection Bill, though it is not perfect, but it guaranteed protection to the women and is the step in the right direction. Same should be introduced for other unjust laws that have snatched the safeguard of the poor and vulnerable under the laws that we know as draconian laws.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide - Shia Muslims shot martyred in Parachinar

Notorious Deobandi takfiri terrorists of banned ASWJ/TTP shot martyred a Shia Muslim in the slums of Kurrum Agency’s Shia majority area of Parachinar.
Habib Hussain, a Shia Muslim of Daulat Khel was ambushed in Boshehra area near Parachinar. He embraced martyrdom due to firing of Wahhabis-allied Deobandi takfiri terrorists of ASWJ (Sipah-e-Sahaba) that work together with allied Taliban.
Shia parties and leaders have condemned the takfiri terrorists for continued genocide against Shia Muslims. They demanded elimination of takfiris in Kurrum Agency and Orakzai Agency as well. They asked the armed forces to cleanse entire FATA under ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-I.

Music - Bring Me The Horizon - Drown

Video - New satellite warns of solar storms

Western Nations Split on Arming Kiev

Differences within the Western alliance over whether to send defensive arms to Ukraine were thrust into the open on Saturday whenAngela Merkel, the German chancellor, bluntly opposed providing lethal military support to Kiev and called instead for continued efforts to persuade Russia and separatist forces to cease fire.

“The progress that Ukraine needs cannot be achieved by more weapons,” she told a security conference here. Instead, she spoke of how Western values and persistence won the Cold War.
Ms. Merkel’s position was challenged by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican of Tennessee who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who noted that there was growing support in the American Congress for arming Ukraine.
Malcolm Rifkind, the former British foreign secretary and Conservative politician, said it was unlikely a peace agreement could be reached unless there was a combination of military assistance and diplomacy, so that the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine faced tougher Ukrainian resistance.
The pointed exchanges laid bare the divisions within the West’s ranks and did not provide a sense of how the United States and its European allies hoped to fashion a common strategy that might persuade PresidentVladimir V. Putin of Russia to honor an agreement negotiated in Minsk, Belarus, in September. The agreement called for a cease-fire and the removal of Russian weapons and forces from eastern Ukraine.
Ms. Merkel did not say if she had made any headway in her talks in Moscow on Friday with Mr. Putin and the French president, François Hollande, who has also opposed arming the Ukrainians but is eager to fulfill an existing contract to sell warships to Russia if the crisis eases.
Ms. Merkel drew parallels to the containment policy that brought an end to the Cold War and suggested that a prolonged period of economic sanctions was the best strategy, though one, she acknowledged, that might not work in the end.
“We have no guarantees that President Putin will do what we expect him to do,” she said, conceding that Russian violations of the Minsk agreement had been “very disillusioning, very disappointing.” But given the imbalance in forces between Russia and Ukraine, she said, “I do think that military means will lead to more victims” and not produce the West’s desired outcome.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has argued forcefully for weapons deliveries to Ukraine, summed up his reaction to Ms. Merkel’s speech with one word: “Foolishness.”
Mr. McCain said that unless the West beefed up its support to Ukraine, Mr. Putin could next seize the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine with a view to building a land bridge from Russia proper to Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed last March. “I can assure you that he will not stop until he has to pay a much higher price,” Mr. McCain said.
After her appearance, Ms. Merkel met with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine. Mr. McCain, after meeting Mr. Poroshenko, said, “It’s safe to say that he’s not overly optimistic about this negotiation. 
Mr. Biden said in his speech that while he had appeared before the conference six years before to urge that American-Russian relations be “reset,” that period was over; the West was now being tested by Russia’s actions and needed to change its focus.
“The Ukrainian people have a right to defend themselves,” said Mr. Biden, who stopped short of saying that the United States would provide lethal weapons.
Mr. Poroshenko appealed in his speech for military assistance, arguing that it would encourage Russia to accept a political solution. “The stronger our defense, the more convincing is our diplomatic voice.” And he strongly rejected the idea that additional territory concessions should be made in return for a new agreement.
He said Ukraine wanted defensive weapons to counter Russian artillery and radar, not offensive weapons, including communications equipment, and counter-battery radars.
Economic sanctions have so far failed to dissuade the Russians from intervening in Ukraine. Since the Minsk agreement, the separatists have gained 500 square miles and taken the airport at Donetsk.
Germany, France and Britain believe that economic sanctions need more time.
The incoming defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, has said he is inclined to provide arms to the Ukrainians. And Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the NATO commander, told the conference on Friday that the delivery of defensive weapons to Ukraine should not be ruled out if economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts failed to persuade the Russians to honor the Minsk agreement.
The White House has been much more cautious, and President Obama is waiting until Ms. Merkel visits Washington on Monday before deciding.
So far, the Obama administration has committed itself to providing $118 million for training and nonlethal equipment for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, State Border Guard Service and National Guard. The United States is also preparing plans for $120 million in additional nonlethal training and equipment.
But faced with continued gains by Russian-backed separatists, the Obama administration has begun to weigh whether to send antitank missiles, reconnaissance drones, counter-battery radar and other defensive arms and equipment to Ukraine.
The new German and French initiative emerged in response to reports that lethal assistance was now on the table in Washington. Ms. Merkel called Mr. Putin about the crisis, and the he sent a letter to the German and French leaders with his ideas.
Western officials said Mr. Putin’s plan was a nonstarter, because it reportedly set new, more expansionary boundary lines for separatist-held eastern Ukraine and proposed legal autonomy for those regions. One aspect of the current negotiations involves establishing a wide demilitarized zone, Mr. Hollande told French television on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France called Secretary of State John Kerry to let him know that Germany and France were preparing a counterproposal. The Americans insisted that the Europeans discuss their ideas with Kiev, and on Friday, after meeting with Mr. Poroshenko, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande flew to Moscow to see Mr. Putin.
The Germans and French have said little about their initiative and how it relates to the Minsk agreement.
One German official, who asked not to be identified, said the Minsk agreement would be an “anchor point” but also stressed the need to be realistic about the military situation, hinting that the separatists might need to be allotted more territory than was envisioned under the agreement.
Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he expected the discussions Mr. Putin had with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Hollande to continue and that there were “good grounds for optimism.”
But he said little to suggest how common ground might be found. He accused the United States of turning a “blind eye to Ukrainian abuses” and complained that the West had supported an “anti-constitutional coup d’état.”