Monday, February 9, 2015

Music Video - Madonna - Living For Love

Video - Smith wins four Grammys, "Boyhood" takes the top BAFTA

Video Report - Landmark Visit: Putin arrives in Cairo for first time in decade

Saudi Arabia fools Westerners again

By Tim Shank

David Ignatius wrote in his Feb. 4 op-ed column, “A new Saudi order,” that he sees the beginning of serious reform in Saudi Arabia. He cited organizational changes and the ascension of pro-American leaders in certain positions. 
It’s amazing how easily the House of Saud fools Westerners. The Saudis have been talking reform at least since I was a student of Middle East affairs in the 1960s. Yet it still is the epicenter of inequality, human rights violations and gratuitous state-sponsored violence.
The wheels of alleged reform in that country are perpetually spinning but going nowhere. The rulers continue to steal the oil revenue that belongs to the people; civil liberties and personal rights are repressed; beheadings, stonings and whippings for nonviolent offenses continue unabated; and people such as Mr. Ignatius still crow about how the regime is a force for change.
We should support regimes that promote tolerance, nonviolence and progress. And the support should be concrete, not just rhetorical. Right now U.S. policy in the Middle East is feckless and morally repugnant. We need to do better. The place to begin is by recognizing reality. Saying there is a new order in Saudi Arabia is not recognizing reality. Moving a few boxes around in an organizational chart is not evidence of serious reform or even of an intention to make serious reforms. 

U.S. - Don’t Speak to Congress, Mr. Netanyahu

By Shmuel Rosner 

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is correct, if the leaks are to be believed, the Obama administration is edging toward an agreement with Iran that would temporarily restrict, but not eliminate, Iran’s capacity to eventually produce nuclear weapons. The government of Israel finds these terms dangerous.
The speaker of the House, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, rightly contends that Mr. Netanyahu, after spending much of his political life thinking about such issues, is more qualified than most world leaders to, as Mr. Boehner put it, “talk about the threat of radical terrorism” and “the threat that the Iranians pose.” So Mr. Boehner invited Mr. Netanyahu to discuss the question of Iran before the United States Congress on March 3.
For the sake of Israel, that speech had better not take place.
The point of the address, in the eyes of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Boehner, was to bolster the position of legislators from both the Republican and the Democratic parties who think that the Obama administration is about to give up more than it will gain and that a better deal could be reached if more pressure were applied on Tehran. The speech was supposed to prompt Congress to impose more sanctions against Iran and demand that any framework agreement proposed by the president be subject to congressional approval.
However well intentioned, Mr. Boehner’s move backfired. Inviting a foreign leader without the president’s blessing is a breach of protocol, and the Obama administration has shrewdly hyped up its indignation to pre-emptively spoil the effects of Mr. Netanyahu’s visit. Democratic legislators felt compelled to take sides, and predictably chose Mr. Obama’s. That turned a policy tide: Shortly after Mr. Boehner extended the invitation, 10 Democratic senators agreed to postpone a vote on an Iran sanctions bill that just days before they were claiming to support.
Some Democrats, as well as Israeli politicians, have urged Mr. Netanyahu to cancel his address: Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has announced hewill not be attending the congressional session that day, and Democratic legislators are threatening to do the same.
How embarrassing. In Israel Mr. Netanyahu’s rivals and pundits from the unsympathetic left claim this is just deserts for his self-serving motivations: The prime minister is running for re-election in mid-March. The accusation is unfair. Mr. Netanyahu’s position on Iran — that Iran must not be allowed to become a “threshold” nuclear state — has been so consistent for so long there is no reason to doubt it is genuine.
But speaking up next month before the United States Congress would not serve Israel’s interests. Instead of being an opportunity to seriously address the risks of Iran’s nuclear program, such a speech would scuttle the discussion. Already, by accepting Mr. Boehner’s ill-advised invitation, Mr. Netanyahu has further alienated a White House in which he has few fans and embarrassed Democrats in Congress, pushing away even those who are sympathetic to his concerns about Iran. And he has turned Israel into a political football.
For many years and through many crises, Israel has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. The House of Representatives passed major Israel-related laws, like the Israel Qualitative Military Edge Enhancement Act and the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, by crushing majorities or unanimity. Now Mr. Boehner’s invitation has fissured that common front.On Monday, there were some reports — reliability unclear — that Mr. Netanyahu was considering alternatives to the speech. Better late than never. Of course, canceling the speech would be somewhat humiliating, not just for him but also for United States Republicans: Some lame excuse would have to be found, a smug response from the White House would have to be endured. But it’s a blow that Republicans could, and hopefully would, be ready to absorb. After all, they have long claimed that they and their constituents make fairer friends than their Democratic counterparts, and what better way to prove that than to take a hit for Israel?

The longer the Ukraine crisis lasts, the more war becomes inevitable

A diplomatic solution to the Ukrainian crisis is looking increasingly unlikely, even after weekend negotiations in Munich and Moscow. Both sides in the conflict – and their great power patrons – have little or no reason to make concessions now.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov looks out from the meeting room as he awaits Secretary of State before their bilateral meeting at the 51st Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. Photo: AP
The first impression from the Munich Security Conference is that relations between Russia and the West are beginning to resemble a game of chicken. It is as if two automobiles are rushing towards each other head on, and both drivers refuse to deviate from their planned route. The only way for one side to win is for his opponent to lose.
It is a virtually impossible task to make concessions or for both opponents to turn away at once. After all, both crews fundamentally distrust each other. Let’s say we turn away. What if they don’t? As a result, both sides are pursuing a full-frontal attack with enviable persistence. Fight to the death, but never turn away.
Civil war-torn Ukraine is the focal point of this game. The Kiev authorities and the rebels from Donetsk and Luhansk are at the forefront of the attack. The confrontation between them has gone so far as to become a self-sufficient system. Almost no one is interested in a change of course. It would be a major risk for all sides in the short-term to put an end to the war. However, it would be fatal to continue the war in the long-term.
Paradoxically, considerations of the short-term gains are outweighing fears of a long-term plan. The behavior of all the parties involved is reminiscent of a patient who would prefer to die from a deadly disease rather than endure an injection. 
For the Ukrainian leadership, to cease military operations would mean serious concessions and, more importantly, it would mean bringing tens of thousands of soldiers and combatants home. These people are a serious force that will be extremely difficult to control. It will become harder to attribute the economic decline and sharp deterioration in quality of life to the war, and it will be difficult to consolidate society in the face of an external threat.
Another revolution in a country flooded with weapons is a very real outcome. The higher Ukraine’s political losses due to withdrawal from the war, the greater are the odds of such a revolution.
For the rebels, the war is a means of political survival. It will be much more difficult for them to establish a peaceful life in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions than it will be for the Ukrainian authorities in the rest of the country. The economies of the regions have been largely destroyed by the war, and the working-age population has either fled or taken up arms. The regions cannot expect to recover on their own even in the far future, and Ukraine is unlikely to take that job upon itself. The political regime will inevitably be harsher and therefore less appealing.

It is clear that the war will drive the region into an even deeper abyss. However, if the war does end, the very principle of how the breakaway republics function will have to be fundamentally restructured. That is also a huge risk for the leaders of those republics.
Even if they do manage to reach an agreement, both parties will inevitably suspect each other of deception. In the eyes of the rebels, the only purpose of peaceful respites is for the Ukrainian armed forces to regroup and resume the war. This risk is perceived in a similar way in Kiev, which thinks any respites in the fighting will give the rebels time to create a full-fledged army, which will pose major complications for officials in Kiev. This is what happened with the Minsk agreements.
Both the Ukrainian authorities and the rebels are looking with hope to their patrons and expecting full support, sometimes even provoking them into providing that support. Give us weapons! Give us money! Give us your support!
The difference is that the big players in this situation (Russia, the European Union, and the United States) can afford the luxury of a long game. Yes, the Russian economy has been compromised by the economic crisis. But the remaining margin of safety is very concretely expressed in the Russian leadership’s political will for a long struggle.
Yes, the EU is suffering from its loss of the Russian market, as well as its loss of the Ukrainian market, which has been destroyed by the war. But the EU will survive without them, which means it can also tolerate a long struggle.
Yes, the U.S. would prefer to have a calm front in Eastern Europe and Russia – it has enough problems in other parts of the world. But it has more than enough resources to provide at least minimal support for Ukraine and to contain Russia.
It would appear that such an alignment makes a smoldering war inevitable, if it were not for one thing. If the war continues to escalate and the parties continue to adopt a tit-for-tat approach, they could lose control over the situation. With each swing of the pendulum of war, its trajectory will grow ever wider. Political leaders will become hostages to their own military and bureaucratic machines, and even to social forces, which are already aligned towards conflict. It will be impossible to stop them.

Imagine the political losses that any leader would incur if he were to make concessions even at this point. He would be tarred and feathered by public opinion, all after being raked over the coals by propaganda. And of course, he would not even be supported by his own generals and bureaucrats.
Here is the bottom line: The longer the crisis lasts, the more it will be sucked into its own vortex and the fewer opportunities particular leaders will have to influence the situation. Until finally, one of the parties will be so depleted that it has to raise the white flag.
Meanwhile, everyone will think that ‘they’ – those on the other side of the front – are about to fall apart and surrender, so in the meantime ‘we’ need to hold on until the bitter end. That ‘bitter end’ will not come for years. In the end, everyone loses. The saddest part is that not a single one of Ukraine’s problems will be solved.
It is time to break the self-sustaining system of conflict. The formula to find a solution is negotiable. Whether it be the ‘Chechen scenario,’ the ‘Transnistrian scenario,’ or some other scenario is of tactical importance. It is strategically necessary to launch the process of de-escalation and maintain control over the situation while there is still the political will to solve anything and while a dialogue is possible in at least some format.
It seems that only those who spend every day under bombing and gunfire from both sides have a vested interest in peace. But sooner or later, the fate of all passengers in the automobiles rushing headlong at each other will be at stake. It is time for the drivers to take that into consideration. Shuttle diplomacy exercised by European leaders gives us a phantom of a chance that we must not overlook.

Putin Says Kiev on 'Dead End Track' With Policy in Eastern Ukraine


Russian President Vladimir Putin said Kiev must stop its military operation in east Ukraine and cease exerting economic pressure on rebel-held regions, warning that it was on a "dead-end track fraught with … catastrophe."
In a newspaper interview before a planned summit with the leaders of France and Germany in Minsk on Wednesday, Putin showed no sign of softening his stance over the Ukraine crisis.
"The most important condition for the stabilization of the situation is immediate cease-fire and ending of the so-called 'anti-terrorist', but in fact punitive, operation in the south-east of Ukraine," Putin told Egyptian state newspaper Al-Ahram on the eve of a two-day trip to Cairo, according to an English transcript provided by the Kremlin.
"Kiev's attempts to exert economic pressure on Donbas [region of east Ukraine] and disrupt its daily life only aggravate the situation. This is a dead-end track, fraught with a big catastrophe," he said.
The West says Moscow is driving the rebellion, providing weapons and well-trained troops. Moscow says Russians fighting Kiev troops in east Ukraine are volunteers and denies arming the rebels.
In his interview, Putin reiterated Moscow's line that the violence in east Ukraine was a reaction to a Western-supported "coup" in which protesters overthrew Moscow-ally Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency in Kiev last year.
"The ultranationalists who seized the power using military force put the country on the edge of disruption and started the fratricidal war," he said.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin will travel to Berlin on Monday and representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the rebels and the OSCE security watchdog are due to meet in Minsk on Tuesday before the leaders' summit the next day.
Putin has said the summit on Wednesday would take place "if by then we have managed to agree our positions."

Video Report - EU delays sanctions amid push for Ukraine peace

Video report - 'US plan to send weapons may undermine Ukraine peace talks'

Merkel, Obama reaffirm partnership, vow path of diplomacy in Ukraine

German Chancellor Merkel and US President Obama have emphasized they both support pursuing all paths of diplomacy in the Ukraine crisis. But while Merkel doesn't want to send arms to Kyiv, Obama remains undecided.
On her latest leg of a crisis diplomacy tour, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Washington on Monday to hold talks with US President Barack Obama, where the two leaders discussed a number of security issues. The conflict in Ukraine dominated their talks and a press conference that took place shortly after Chancellor Merkel's arrival.
Merkel and her cabinet, along with other EU leaders have repeatedly emphasized that they do not want a war on European soil and, therefore, will pursue peaceful negotiations for as long as possible.
She defended this view in Washington on Monday by pointing to the effectiveness of sanctions in hurting the Russian economy .
"In my view, it's right that we've continued to raise the costs [of Russia's actions]," Merkel said. "I stand by this path 100 percent."
Earlier in the day, EU finance ministers in Brussels agreed on a new round of sanctions that will be levied on Russia after the next round of talks in Minsk. Negotiations are to continue in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday, where both sides hope to implement a September agreement signed there but never brought into full force. Representatives from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are to attend the latest round of talks.
According to a survey conducted in Germany last week, 70 percent of those surveyed were afraid of an escalation in the conflict between Russia and the west. Sixty-five percent reportedly supported the current sanctions against Russia, while nearly 50 percent also expressed understanding for Russia's feeling "threatened."
Washington, Berlin stand united
Both the German and US leaders underscored that they would remain united in their stance on Ukraine, even if small disagreements emerged.
"There is no doubt that if diplomacy fails this week, there will be a strong, unified response between the US and Europe," Obama said.
While Germany has led the EU in its efforts toward restoring peace in Ukraine, President Obama's opinion on how to proceed against Russia is of interest to both EU and US lawmakers. Thus far, he has appeared cautious to arm Ukrainian government troops.
On Monday, he confirmed that no decision had been made and that his administration would wait on the outcome of Wednesday's four-nation talks in Minsk before considering other options.
'Germany's story gives us hope'
Obama also underlined the lessons which Germany, which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of reunification and the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, itself can offer to the current crisis, not only in Ukraine but across the globe.
"At a time when conflicts around the world seem intractable…Germany's story gives us hope [and reminds us that] we can end wars, countries can rebuild, adversaries can become allies, walls can come down," he said.
Merkel added to this sentiment, saying that it showed how important it was to "uphold one's (diplomatic) values and not to give up."
Negotiation outcome 'uncertain'
Merkel did note during her visit in Washington, however, that a positive outcome in Minsk this week "was everything but certain."
The comments followed just days after she and French President Francois Hollande visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Hollande later described the discussion as "substantial and constructive."
On Monday, President Putin resumed accusations against the West, telling Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that "a number of EU member states" and the US had supported the "coup d'etat" last February in Kyiv, which paved the way to the current armed conflict.
Fighting in Ukraine is showing no sign of relenting with close to 20 deaths, including soldiers and civilians, reported on Monday. Kyiv and the West have repeatedly accused Moscow of supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied those allegations.


Afghan President Warns Against Shifting Focus From His Country

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani urged the international community not to shift focus from his war-torn nation, warning it remains the meeting point of global terrorist networks, including Islamic State.
"The threat of this ecology [of terror] is global, but Afghanistan is the meeting ground of this global ecology. Lest we forget this and take our eyes elsewhere there will be consequences," Ghani told the Munich Security Conference in Germany Sunday.
He cautioned that the Islamic State group is quickly moving to a stage in Afghanistan where it is able to organize, orient, decide and take actions.
The Afghan leader assured the conference his country is working to deal with internal challenges, including terrorism, but it will need continued global support.
"And it is very important not to isolate the events from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya from what is unfolding in Afghanistan," he said.
Ghani spoke three days after NATO's defense ministers gathered in Brussels on Thursday and for the first time in 13 years the conflict in Afghanistan was not on the meeting agenda, a development raising concerns in Kabul.
Without naming any country, Ghani said that states in his region have been deliberately sponsoring "non-state" actors to undermine security and hoped "those days are over."
Afghanistan has long alleged that neighboring Pakistan has been sheltering leaders of the Afghan Taliban and has demanded the neighboring country end the practice.
Pakistan has recently undertaken counterinsurgency operations in and around the volatile North Waziristan territory near the Afghan border to address Kabul's concerns. The region is known for harboring the Haqqani terror network, an ally of the Afghan Taliban, and other Islamist outfits staging attacks on both sides of the border.
American and Afghan officials acknowledge the recent Pakistani offensive has disrupted the terror infrastructure in the border area. But speaking Sunday, Ghani warned of new security challenges for his country.
"Pakistan's operations in North and South Waziristan have had a displacement effect where the center of gravity has shifted to Afghanistan," Ghani said, adding he has initiated an intense and comprehensive engagement with Pakistan to enhance joint counterterrorism efforts and hopes the interaction with the neighboring country will produce results.

Red Cross Warns Situation Getting Worse For Afghan Civilians

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says 2015 has brought "no reprieve to civilians suffering the effects of intensifying armed conflict" in Afghanistan.
In a February 9 statement, the ICRC said the Afghan population continues to face "countless hardships, including large-scale indiscriminate attacks and increasing difficulties reaching health care."
“With no end in sight to the violence, there are fears conditions could get even worse this year," it added, resulting in rising humanitarian needs.
The Red Cross said civilians were frequently caught up in the fighting but that 2014 saw an 18 percent decline in patients accessing medical services due to the worsening security situation.
The United Nations has said that at least 3,188 Afghan civilians were killed in the intensifying war with the Taliban in 2014, making it the deadliest year on record for noncombatants.

Police Force in Afghanistan Is Studied for Ties to Taliban

When Mullah Mujahid, a Taliban commander in Kunduz Province, was arrested last month, there was little reason to think it would have much consequence, either for him or for the government ofAfghanistan.
On two previous occasions that Mullah Mujahid had been arrested, tribal elders had intervened and gotten him released. But this time it turned out differently.
Under interrogation, Mullah Mujahid began describing how police officers helped Taliban fighters, sometimes selling them ammunition, other times tipping them off to impending police operations, a member of Parliament from Kunduz, Abdul Wadud Paiman, said in a telephone interview.
Then the captured Taliban leader began naming names, Mr. Paiman said.
That prompted the nation’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security, to undertake a major investigation into the police force in Kunduz, a northern province that has fallen prey to criminal gangs, unaccountable militias and a resurgent Taliban.
So far at least 32 police officers have come under suspicion, Mr. Paiman and other officials said Sunday. Of those, more than a dozen police officers have been arrested, including several senior commanders, a spokesman for the governor, Wasi Basil, said. Others have been fired or suspended.
The number of officers involved makes it one of the most significant corruption investigations within the national police force in years. Although the police force in Afghanistan has a reputation for corruption, charges of any kind are rare.
Not all of the allegations relate to spying for the Taliban. The deputy governor of Kunduz, Hamdullah Danishi, said that some of the officers caught up in the investigation are believed to be involved in a kidnapping ring that seized two children in late January. Kidnappings for ransom have been on the rise, officials said, a symptom of the proliferation of armed groups in Kunduz City and across the province.
Security in the province, which shares a border with Tajikistan, has worsened in recent years. A growing Taliban presence led to the mobilization of various pro-government militias, which quickly developed a reputation for reprisal killings and extortion. In one case in 2012, a man who worked for an American-trained Afghan Local Police unit was arrested on charges of abducting and raping an 18-year-old shepherd’s daughter.
By some estimates, Kunduz has about 3,000 armed militiamen.
By late last year, with most foreign troops departed, the Taliban effectively controlled two of the districts in Kunduz. President Ashraf Ghani has declared Kunduz a priority and appointed a new governor and security officials for the province. The army sent in troop reinforcements from a neighboring province.
It is not entirely clear why the most recent arrest of Mullah Mujahid, in mid-January, turned out so differently from the previous times, said Mr. Paiman, the member of Parliament.
Mullah Mujahid, who is 30 years old and whose actual name is Anwar ul Haq, remains in custody, Mr. Paiman said. He added, “Mullah Mujahid confessed in the interrogation and named who helped them from within the police.”
For the moment, it is not entirely clear whether investigators believe Mullah Mujahid’s allegations are wholly credible. But the accusations against the officers go beyond selling ammunition, a not uncommon form of corruption, officials said.
Some have been accused of “sending information to the militants so that the Taliban could plan their attacks or ambushes,” Mr. Basil, the governor’s spokesman, said.

11 Pakistani Ahmadi Muslims murdered for their faith in 2014, report says

A report issued by the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in London today says that extremists in Pakistan murdered eleven Ahmadi Muslims in faith-based attacks during 2014, bringing the total to 143 Ahmadi murders since 2000.

The three most lethal years for Ahmadi Muslims living in Pakistan since 2000 have come in 2010, 2012, and 2014 shows a clear upward trend in fatal anti-Ahmadiyya over the last five years, the report asserts.

In one incident, the reports says, a mob of 150 attacked an Ahmadi Muslim neighbourhood in Gujranwala and locked a group of Ahmadi Muslims in a house before setting it alight, killing one lady, two children and an unborn child.

Other attacks included police taking an Ahmadi Muslim man into custody for practicing his ‘blasphemous’ faith, before allowing a local boy access to his cell, where he shot the prisoner of conscience dead.

In another instance, an American Ahmadi Muslim cardiac surgeon traveled to Pakistan on a three-week humanitarian mission, before being brutally murdered for his faith. Extremists show no respect to those who serve Pakistan; a retired member of the Pakistan Air Force, Lateef Alam Butt, was murdered for his faith in his hometown.

Despite the continued persecution, Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and around the world respond only through prayer, patience and law-abiding means, the report proclaimed.

Pakistan - Saudi Royal on Houbara bustard hunting spree in Balochistan

A Saudi prince is on a hunting spree for rare birds in Balochistan despite a court-imposed ban and the government’s insistence that the foreign delegation is only on a diplomatic mission, senior officials said Monday.
The annual hunt has sparked controversy in recent years because of the Houbara bustard’s dwindling numbers, with the issue also shining a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the bird on its ‘red list’ of threatened species, estimating there are fewer than 97,000 left globally.
A provincial High Court in Balochistan in November last year cancelled all permits for hunting in the province before the arrival of the Saudi prince and his companions, but since reaching Pakistan last week the party has been allowed to hunt unimpeded, three officials have confirmed to AFP.
The provincial government has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the ban to seek a formal permission for the Royal guests to hunt, but the hearing has not been fixed.
A senior provincial government official said that the Saudi governor and his companions “had arrived Dalbandin (district) for hunting Houbara bustard and it is confirmed that these dignitaries started hunting on Thursday”.
A second official in the paramilitary Balochistan Levies and an official at the forest department also confirmed that they were aware of the hunting.
“Arab dignitaries are engaged in hunting Houbara bustard but our staff are not allowed to have access to their camp or accompany the hunting party. There is no knowledge that how many birds have been hunted,” the official said.
The government for its part has denied that the Saudi party is engaged in hunting, saying that they had come to oversee development activities.
“They have other kind of activities like inspecting Arab-funded development schemes and meeting tribal elders of the area as part of good will”, minister for forest and wildlife Obaidullah Babat, told reporters last week.
The issue has stirred controversy on social media and among youth activists in the restive province, where a separatist insurgency has been simmering since 2004 and many are critical of the government’s policies, including its ties to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.
Up to 40 youth activists from Chaghi district protested in front of Quetta Press Club against the hunting of Houbara Bastard on Friday.
They chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded the expulsion of the Arab hunting parties from the province.

#PeshawarAttack - Sidelining APS

We are almost two months on from the Dec. 16th attack on the Army Public School Peshawar, and the collective understanding is that the incident heralded the change in political and civil society we needed to root out extremism. Since then, the moratorium on death penalties has been lifted, the National Action Plan has been set into motion, some funding to religious seminaries has come under inspection, extremist sermonisers have been pinpointed and over 10, 000 arrests made. Most of all, a national debate has begun with the sort of fearlessness that was unseen before. The massacre was enough to push many right and left wingers off the edge. At least on the face of it, and at least for the sake of the political mood they have been largely saying the right things. No to terror apologists, no to cover-up charity organisations controlled by terrorist outfits, no to good Taliban. Most people choose to believe they are involved in an important moment of moral awakening. And all of this might be true at least for the time being. However, going backwards, going back to Dec. 16th and the attack that haunts the memories of hundreds of mothers, which led to the ravaging of so many families, it is entirely possible that the APS case itself has been sidelined for the greater national narrative. The fact of the matter is that though the gunmen who pulled their triggers on the 132 schoolchildren died in the immediate aftermath, their handlers, their operational heads, the inside-men, their helpers, planners and their supply chain of horror leading to Dec. 16th is still intact.
On Saturday, a large group of protestors including the parents of the massacred schoolchildren, held gut wrenching photographs of their beloved sons and took to the streets of Peshawar. It was a tearful and heartbreaking protest to express their dissatisfaction regarding the APS investigation. The delay in the probe, the dearth of convicts and of any real answers is puzzling. Saddam Jan, a small-time leader of the TTP was declared the mastermind of the school carnage and killed. Though he was an important fighter for the outfit, did he have the kind of authority to plan and order an attack of this severity? Umar Mansoor, the man following the direct orders of Mullah Fazlullah is still at large, as are the people directly involved in the planning of the attack. On the National Action Plan agenda, the accountability of the Peshawar attackers must be priority number one. The government must not forget the APS case in favour of the bigger picture; until every man who helped in carrying out that attack is behind bars, justice will not have been served.

Pakistan - Military trials

The National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism seems to have finally begun. The first 12 cases to be turned over to the military courts will be heard in the coming week. This is the first step in the actual implementation of NAP and will be a test case in how effective the government and military’s resolve is in tackling what has become Pakistan’s most serious issue. According to reports, these cases are mainly concerned with the Peshawar massacre in December and suicide bombing in Wagah in November 2014. Military courts have been established after much controversy but, for the next two years at least, it seems they will be the only recourse for justice in terror-related cases.

The overall response of the country immediately after the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar massacre was swift and determined. We saw the moratorium on the death penalty lifted and several hangings take place, mostly of those individuals accused of the assassination attempts on former General Pervez Musharraf’s life. Now the next phase of this plan seems to be the referral of terror cases to the military courts. Given the heated debate that surrounded the establishment of these courts, the overarching necessity for them given our inadequate justice system and the flaws in the process of such military tribunals, we will just have to see how they pan out. However, no one can argue with the fact that the yawning gaps in our legal system have made it necessary for us to give way to the military dispensation of justice. However, now it also seems that one of our responses to the terror situation is to take a long hard swipe at the Afghan refugees, people we have been sheltering and taking in for many decades. Many of them have become naturalised citizens by now and, for the most part, have nothing to do with the terrorists. Yes, there are some Afghans in our midst who are part of the Taliban but to turn on the refugees after so many years is akin to France ousting its Muslim population because a couple of terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Afghanistan has lamented that too many Afghans are suddenly being kicked out of Pakistan.

In its lacklustre approach on NAP, the government has been trudging from one meeting to the next, stumbling and confused about what concrete course of action it ought to take next. Peshawar was supposed to be our turning point but its momentum has faded. We cannot allow that to happen.

Pakistan - YouTube: a calcified issue

THE outrage is over, the perceived hurt has healed and the piece of mischief that caused the furore in the first place has taken its place in the dustbin of history.
The world has moved on — except for Pakistan, which stubbornly refuses to come to terms with the realities of the age of information, and in doing so, continues to deprive its citizenry of internet freedoms.
We refer, of course, to the blockade on access to the file-sharing site YouTube. Imposed on Sept 12, 2012, this was originally an ill-thought-out fire-fighting measure, but more than two years later, matters stand exactly where they did that September.
If anything, the issue has calcified: the site cannot generally be accessed from this country; those with the ability have found means of bypassing the ban; and the government is still casting about for ways and means to block content it considers blasphemous on the site.
Most recently, on Friday, Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman told the Senate that as a result of the Supreme Court ordering the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block all offending material, the matter had been reviewed several times but there was no way to do this other than by imposing a blanket ban on the site.
The irony here is that it was Ms Rehman who, soon after taking office, promised the restoration of the site.
Leave aside the issue of offensive content, what this sorry story speaks volumes for is the state’s attitude towards citizens’ right to attain information — apparently, it really could not care less. In trying to ensure that access to selective content is restricted, it has completely shut down a site that is the gateway to information and entertainment for millions of people.
While other nations factor in and meet the challenges thrown up by the internet and a globalised world — including Muslim countries — Pakistan penalises its citizens under the pretext of protecting them from material they might — might — find offensive. Today it is YouTube; tomorrow it might be the internet in its entirety. And, the acerbic would argue, why stop here?
This piece of absurdity has to come to an end. Of the various potential solutions that have been thrown up during these two years, the most feasible might be the one suggested by Google itself but which the government does not seem to have pondered over much: the display of interstitial warnings on pages that contain objectionable material.
This, as the Lahore High Court observed last year while hearing a petition on the issue, would pin liability on the user who “consciously and deliberately ignore[d] the warning page” before accessing content that is offensive or in contravention of local laws.
The approach Pakistan has taken so far is not just laughably ineffective, it is indicative of just how out of touch the state is with technological realities.

Pakistan - Airstrikes kill 12 militants in Khyber Agency

At least 12 terrorists were killed Monday as security forces' jets pounded militant hideouts in Khyber Agency's Tirah valley.
Sources said security forces targeted terrorist hideouts in Kukikhel area of Tirah valley. 12 militants were killed in the airstrikes, while 15 others were injured.

Seven militant hideouts were always destroyed in the aerial strikes.