Thursday, February 12, 2015

Will Saudi Arabia Keep Locking People Up for Having an Opinion?


When King Salman, Saudi Arabia’s new monarch, issued a general amnesty for Saudi “public rights” prisoners on January 29, Saudi activists and observers felt the first glimmer of hope in some time that the kingdom’s relentless persecution of peaceful dissidents and human rights activists may be nearing its end.

Their hopes evaporated almost immediately, however, when authorities issued the text of the pardon, which excludes those sentenced for a wide variety of charges, most notably “crimes that harm national security.” That category, which is undefined within the Saudi criminal justice system, could apply equally to those convicted of committing violent acts, to a host of imprisoned peaceful activists convicted of vaguely-worded security crimes such as “sowing discord,” “inflaming public opinion,” or “harming public order”largely on account of their peaceful speech and writings.
But what have activists said or written that could reasonably be described as “criminal” or harmful to national security? How do Saudi prosecutors and judges decide what speech is acceptable and what is not?
I reviewed the trial judgment against the liberal activist Raif Badawi, whose case came to international attention over his sentence of 1,000 lashes, as well as prison. The judgment lists a host of allegedly “criminal” statements he made. They include: “The atheist has the right to say what he wants. He has the right to go out among people and with an honest voice say, 'I am an atheist and no one has the right to hold me to account,'”; “The liberal network is a liberal forum that adopts enlightened thought free from the authority of religious thought”; and “Salafis believe that they have a monopoly on truth and the state assists them.”
These assertions, among others, formed the basis of the prosecution’s case against Badawi, and his guilt was assured when he acknowledged making some of them. The main issue at Badawi’s trial was not whether the statements he made actually insulted Islam or religious authorities, but merely whether he had made the statements, which were already assumed to be unquestionably criminal.
Badawi’s case was far from unique or even exceptional, as Saudi Arabia regularly sentences activists to draconian punishments on such spurious grounds, listing examples of “criminal” speech without any serious evaluation of how or why they should be deemed criminal. Much of this is made possible by the absence of a written penal code, which enables prosecutors and judges to conclude that a citizen has uttered public criticism and categorize it as “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “insulting religious authorities,” or some other vague crime, rather than proving that the defendant has committed the elements of a specifically defined crime that is set out in law.
Authorities also abuse a few vaguely worded criminal statutes such as the 2007 anti-cybercrime law to punish peaceful expression. Article six of that law criminalizes “producing something that harms public order, religious values, public morals,”a definition so vague and wide-ranging that it allows prosecutors and judges to send Saudis to jail for almost any form of online expression of which they disapprove.
Waleed Abu al-Khair, a Jeddah-based human rights lawyer, is serving a grotesquely harsh 15-year prison sentence for critical comments he made in interviews and tweets. They included his sadly ironic comment that, “The Saudi judiciary does not emerge from the basis of the nation watching over its rulers because it is not an independent authority… [This is] because the Saudi judiciary is without defined judicial rules in political cases, and because the judiciary violates human rights and devours its advocates.”
Abu al-Khair’s statement was deemed “insulting to the judiciary” by the Saudi court that jailed him. Yet sadly, it is an accurate description of the state of things in Saudi Arabia, where the judiciary serves to ensure a society in which the right to free expression is prohibited and public criticism is harshly punished under the banner of “national security.”
Until King Salman takes stock of the country’s widespread abuse of the right to free expression and orders the unconditional release of all peaceful activists convicted for speech-related crimes, the country will be rightly viewed as a place where exercise of the right to free speech is harshly and arbitrarily punished.

Poll: 54 Percent Want Congress to Back Obama's Authorization Against ISIS

A majority of Americans support President Barack Obama's proposed authorization to use force against ISIS, the Islamic State group, according to an exclusive NBC News/Marist poll conducted after Obama sent his authorization to Congress.
But the public is divided when it comes to having confidence in the president's strategy against ISIS, as well as whether Obama will be remembered more for ending a war - like the Iraq war - or starting a new one.
On Wednesday, the president announced that he was asking Congress to vote to allow the use of U.S. military force against ISIS. His proposed authorization would last for three years and would have no geographical limitations.
It also calls for flexibility for limited ground operations by the U.S. military, but rules out a longstanding ground force.
When told these details, 54 percent of Americans say they want their member of Congress to vote for this authorization. This includes a majority of Democrats (60 percent), Republicans (52 percent) and independents (51 percent).
Just 32 percent of all respondents want their member of Congress to vote against such an authorization.
But confidence in Obama's strategy to combat ISIS is mixed - with 45 percent having a "great deal" or a "good amount" of confidence, versus 48 percent who have little to no confidence.
And Americans are divided over whether President Obama will be remembered more for ending a war (40 percent) or starting a new one (44 percent).
These numbers break along party lines, with 59 percent of Democrats saying Obama will be remembered for ending a war, compared with 62 percent of Republicans who say he'll be remembered for starting a new one.
The NBC/Marist poll also finds that:
  • two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) believe the United States and its allies will be able to defeat ISIS;
  • only 40 percent think Obama's proposed authorization will receive bipartisan support in Congress;
  • and a plurality of respondents prefer sending a limited number of U.S. forces to combat ISIS (40 percent), versus a large number (26 percent) or no ground forces at all (26 percent).

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US Burned $20M in Taxpayer Money on Unused Incinerators in Afghanistan

U.S. military bases in Afghanistan spent over $20 million of taxpayer money on incinerators for waste disposal which were never used, according to the final assessment of incinerators and burn pits by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
The report delivered strong criticism of the way Defense Department installations in Afghanistan managed their waste disposal systems -- mistakes which were both expensive and may have exposed U.S. military personnel to significant health risks.
“DOD did not adequately plan for and manage disposal of solid waste at its installations in Afghanistan,” the report reads, calling the approach to waste disposal “haphazard and reactive.”
Throughout its engagement in Afghanistan, U.S. military personnel in the country generated hundreds of tons of solid waste per day, including plastics, food waste, electronic equipment and other products. For years, without proper policies or procedures in place, simple open-air burn pits remained the military’s preferred method for disposing of solid waste.
But the toxic smoke of those open-air burn pits, often contaminated with lead and mercury, posed serious health risks of service members and civilians in their immediate area, SIGAR said. U.S. military personnel returning from Afghanistan complained of health problems, which they said stemmed from exposure to the burn pits on installations.
By August 2010, 251 of these open-air burn pits were in operation on U.S. military bases, according to the SIGAR report.
New regulations from U.S. Central Command ordered long-term military bases to install alternative methods, such as incinerators, to provide a safer way of disposing of waste. The military spent over $81 million to install 23 incinerator systems at nine military installations in Afghanistan.
But the SIGAR report said four military bases—FOB Salerno, FOB Sharana, FOB Ghazni and FOB Maywand—never used their eight incinerators, which cost $20.1 million to build. At one of those bases, FOB Sharana, a design error left the loading area too narrow to even allow forklifts to deposit waste in the 40-ton capacity incinerator. FOB Sharana officials decided to continue using open-air burn pits.
“Given the fact that DOD has been aware for many years of the significant health risks associated with open-air burn pits, it is indefensible that U.S. military personnel, who are already at risk of serious injury and death when fighting the enemy, were put at further risk from the potentially harmful emissions from the use of open-air burn pits,” said John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in an introductory letter to the report.
The report also strongly criticized the management of contracts for the construction and maintenance of the incinerators.
“[W]e found occasions where contractors were paid the full contract amount, even though they failed to perform in accordance with contract requirements,” the report reads.
The report found that incinerators at FOB Salerno and FOB Sharana had major deficiencies when they were transferred to the bases. The report states that in both of those cases, the Defense Department paid the contractors the full amount, approximately $10.4 million, without the deficiencies being corrected.
In a response letter to the report, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) indicated that it was not at fault for the inoperable incinerators, stating that any deficiencies were “minor” and that “all of the incinerators turned over to customers were operational.”
“Two of the incinerator sites were not placed into service because of extenuating circumstances beyond USACE’s control or responsibility,” reads the letter from USACE Col. Richard Heitkamp.
Ultimately, neither facility was used. Those bases continued to operate open-air burn pits, SIGAR said.
“The safety of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Civilians is always our top priority,” Maj. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy commander for support for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, wrote in a response to the SIGAR report. “Although this report clearly identifies areas for improvement, it does not fully account for the difficult and complex operational environment that led commanders to make some very difficult decisions.”
The report did not make new recommendations to resolve these problems but called for “better advance planning” and holding contractors and government contracting officers accountable for the projects.
A spokesperson for the Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pentagon acknowledges ISIS spread to Afghanistan amid US troop drawdown

U.S. officials are acknowledging that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has spread into Afghanistan, where President Obama is on track to draw down all but 1,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year.
“The expansion of ISIL into the region is of great concern,” said Pentagon spokesman Marine Corps Maj. Bradlee Avots in an email, using the administration’s preferred acronym for ISIS. “We remain committed to our objectives of ensuring that Afghanistan or Pakistan does not become a safe haven from which violent extremists can attack the U.S. or our allies.”
“We believe this group is nascent, relatively small, but maintains aspirations for the region,” added Army Col. Brian Tribus, a spokesman for the coalition’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“We have also seen a few Taliban rebrand themselves as Daesh, likely in an attempt to garner resources and attention,” Tribus said in an email, using a derogatory Arabic name for ISIS.
The acknowledgment came after the Pentagon confirmed it had conducted a drone strike in Afghanistan’s Helmand province earlier this week, killing former Taliban member and Guantánamo Bay detainee Abdul Rauf, who had become an ISIS leader and recruiter. Seven of his associates were also killed.
Pentagon officials played down ISIS’s presence in Afghanistan, calling it “nascent at best” and “aspirational.” They noted, however, that Rauf and “his associates” were a threat to U.S. forces that needed to be taken out.
“He and his associates were targeted, because we had information that they were planning operations against U.S. and Afghan personnel there in Afghanistan,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. Kirby said on Wednesday.
ISIS’s emergence in Afghanistan comes as the U.S. military is reducing its footprint in the country.
Roughly 10,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan. The Pentagon plans to reduce that number to 5,500 by the end of the year, consolidating operations at two bases.
The number of U.S. forces will then shrink to 1,000 by the end of 2016, mostly stationed in Kabul, leaving less ability to counter ISIS.
Lawmakers say they are worried that ISIS could establish a foothold after U.S. troops leave, which happened in Iraq in 2011.
“In Afghanistan, we see an initial emergence of ISIS,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said at a hearing on Afghanistan on Wednesday.
“The threats are real, and the stakes are high. We cannot let Afghanistan become a sanctuary for al Qaeda or ISIS,” he said.
Lawmakers — mostly Republicans — have expressed worry over Obama’s troop drawdown schedule, and pressed nominee for Defense secretary Ashton Carter recommend modifications if necessary.
“The president has a plan. I support that plan. At the same time, it's a plan. And if I'm confirmed, and I ascertain as the years go by that we need to change that plan, I will recommend those changes to the president,” Carter told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, U.S. commanders say they are keeping a close eye on terrorists in the country, as troops carry out their main mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
“The potential emergence of Daesh in Afghanistan is something we monitor closely. This issue has [top U.S. commander Gen. John] Campbell’s attention and we remain vigilant,” Tribus said.
Although troop numbers have gone down, commanders have left intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, such as spy drones, largely in place.
“We have not brought down the number of ISR orbits commensurate with the number of troops,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, who’s in charge of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Force Structure, Resource and Assessment Directorate, at a recent Pentagon briefing.
“Because even though our troops are inside the wire doing train, advise and assist, and helping them build their force, we're still out there trying to make sure that those troops inside the garrison are safe,” Ramsey said last week.
Officials insist they have the resources they need to go after terrorists in Afghanistan.
But even a former top Obama defense official recently said it’s time to stop and think about what kind of troop presence and intelligence assets are necessary to prevent al Qaeda and associated groups from moving back in.
“We need to re-examine the pace and scope of the drawdown, in light of what we're going to need in the future,” Michèle Flournoy, former undersecretary of Defense for policy during the Obama administration, told lawmakers at an Afghanistan hearing on Wednesday.
“I don't believe a zero posture in Afghanistan is going to serve our interests in the long term, given the continued terrorism threats that we face, given the continued importance of our support,” Flournoy said. 

Pashto Music - Sardar Ali Takkar - Kala na kala sat da jam kawa


List of Pakistan’s banned terrorist organisations to match UN blacklist
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has directed Secretary Interior Shahid Khan to coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reconcile a ‘national list’ of proscribed terrorist organisations as per the blacklist of the United Nations. Less than a quarter of the total numbers of organisations proscribed by the United Nations are directly or indirectly linked to Pakistan, the world body’s official record shows.

Nisar gave the directive in a meeting at his office in Islamabad held to review progress on the National Action Plan (NAP) for countering militancy and extremism. The meeting was attended by Secretary Interior, National Coordinator NACTA, DG-FIA, Chief Commissioner ICT and IG Islamabad.
An official of the Interior Ministry told a media website that the ministry had already included the Haqqani Network and Hafiz Saeed’s JuD in the list of proscribed outfits but the government was reluctant to formally make an announcement in this regard.
The official said that the total number of proscribed outfits in Pakistan has reached 72 and includes 12 banned organisations, the number of which will increase in the next few weeks.
“The government has also decided to monitor the activities of the banned outfits’ leadership and to restrict their movement within the country,” the official added.
According to the documents available with the media website, the interior ministry has added Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujahi¬deen, Falah-i-Insaniat Foun¬dation, Ummah Tameer-i-Nau, Haji Khairullah Hajji Sattar Money Exchange, Rahat Limited, Roshan Money Exchange, Al Akhtar Trust, Al Rashid Trust, Haqqani network and Jamaat ud Dawa to the list of proscribed organisations.
According to the official, the minister also directed the Interior Ministry and National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) to fine-tune the procedure of proscription to ensure that such organisations do not reemerge with new names and nomenclatures.
It remains to be seen if any sort of action is really taken against the outfits and their leaders who are declared banned or proscribed by the government of Pakistan for their terrorist activities. So, far, Wahhabi takfiris and their allied-Deobandi takfiris enjoy official protocol under the cover of security that is being provided by law enforcement agencies to the officials of the outlawed terrorist oufits! 
Shiite News posts the picture of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba (now proscribed ASWJ)'s leader Muavia Tariq son of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba's leader Azam Tariq with federal interior minister Chuadhry Nisar Ali Khan whose photos with successor of Azam Tariq namely Ahmed Ludhianvi is also available. So, nobody in Pakistan believes in the empty words and hollow pledges of the government officials.

Pakistan- Funding for madressahs

Foreign funding for education is not confined to the religious schools; others too receive foreign aid, assistance and scholarships. The issue of national concern therefore should be whether or not foreign funding reaching the madressahs - its recipients are not many as public perception, wrongly, tends to suggest - is being used to nurture sectarian extremism and anti-state terrorism in Pakistan. The fact must be placed on record also that the existence of madressahs in Pakistan, and for that matter in almost all Muslim countries, predates the ongoing spell of terrorism. So if there are some 30,000 madressahs in Pakistan this should not surprise anyone; these were there much before the advent of Afghan Jihad, and more in number in the tribal areas that had defied colonial footprint and western education more vigorously than the rest. And not necessarily only radicalised families send their children to madressahs. Given the fact that successive governments in Pakistan repeatedly failed to universalise primary education in the country and that public and private schooling remains beyond the reach of the poor families the deeni madressahs plug the gap. The debate therefore ought not to be 'who receives foreign funding and from where', the debate should explore a plausible answer to a pertinent question if the foreign funding is being used to promote terrorism in Pakistan. Also, as to who sends the funding and whether it reaches the recipient madressahs openly through legal channels or clandestine passages. The Senate was informed by the government last week that the madressahs receive funding from five Gulf states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Iran. How much of it is sent by their governments that is no secret, and cannot be - a reality aptly reflected from the Saudi embassy's curt response that the Pakistan Foreign Office has been 'certifying' that the Kingdom's financial support for mosques and madressahs was in public interest. That puts paid to people like Federal Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada who accused the Saudi government of bankrolling terrorism in Pakistan, a claim he didn't take long to take back. 

So under a sharper focus should be the funding that reaches the madressahs from non-government sources like charities and philanthropist individuals. This amount is anybody's guess - WikiLeaks, quoting a US government diplomatic cable, put the figure at $100 million a year that 'was making way from the Arab Gulf states to an extremist recruitment network in Pakistan's Punjab province'. The Punjab government denies the charge, saying "No news of any madressahs receiving financial and training assistance from Muslim countries has come to our notice". On another occasion, the government admitted some 80 seminaries received funding totalling about Rs 300 million 'from a number of countries, both European and Muslim'. Obviously, the picture as to who received what and from where remains blurred. But what is not blurred and brooks no debate is that the rampant incidence of terrorism as it plays out in Pakistan carries unmistakable sectarian imprint; not too infrequently made known almost instantly by the involved outfits - a shadow image of a wider Shia-Sunni war raging across the Islamic World. Maybe, those at contention in Pakistan are the proxies and receive patronage from abroad. But instead of getting lost in the pros and cons of this complex war we need to turn focus on how it plays out in Pakistan and how to put out of action these proxies. We need to shed generalities; we need to come to grips with the issue of foreign funding by first and foremost identifying the recipients who receive foreign funding and spend it on fomenting sectarianism. The onus of a certain madressah receiving funding to promote extremism should lie with the government, and not with the suspect seminary. Probably, the framers of anti-terrorism National Action Plan could have avoided pinpointing sectarian strife as its exclusive target. 

Pakistan - Credulous fools?

In 2001 the US bungled a chance at peace and this time around it may botch the 13 years of military effort that went into neutralising the Taliban

“Work on, my medicine, work!
Thus credulous fools are caught” — Shakespeare’s Othello.

Two retired Pakistani generals spoke last week pretty much reconfirming what is widely believed about the security establishment’s duplicitous policies in the post-9/11 period. That one of them, General Asad Durrani, served as the Director General (DG) of the Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) in the early 1990s and the other, General Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator in the years preceding and after 9/11, makes them especially interesting revelations. According to the news portal, speaking at an Al-Jazeera forum, “The former spy chief, Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, said it was ‘more probable’ than not that his country’s government knew of the late al Qaeda leader’s location, speculating that ‘the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo.’” General Musharraf told a private television channel that, since 1989, Pakistan has had a policy and strategy to support militancy in Kashmir to force India into negotiations. In response to a question on why his regime signed an agreement in 2006 with the Haqqani network, General Musharraf said that as India was (allegedly) “stabbing” Pakistan in Balochistan and the Frontier through Afghanistan, he decided to find someone who could stab them back. Musharraf said, “Do you know that Jalaluddin Haqqani was a hero for the US...we thought we could bring peace to the region through him.”

Both former generals love to talk but such candid admissions are quite incredible even by their loose lipped standards. Musharraf effectively owned that Pakistan was using jihadist proxies across the Durand Line in the west and the Line of Control (LoC) in the east to achieve its foreign policy objectives. General Durrani’s assertion — more accurately a speculation perhaps — flies in the face of what Pakistani officials, including Musharraf, have been telling the world, i.e. they had absolutely no clue how Osama bin Laden ended up within a stone’s throw of the Pakistan Military Academy, Abbottabad. What is even more incredible is that the security establishment’s medicine seems to be working and the US policymakers are either being played like a fiddle or are willing to play along.

The White House spokesman, Eric Schultz, recently took pains to avoid calling the Afghan Taliban a terrorist outfit. When asked by the ABC news correspondent Jonathan Karl whether he thought that the Taliban is a terrorist group, Mr Schultz said, “I do not think that the Taliban is an armed insurgency. This was the winding down of the war in Afghanistan and that is why this arrangement (release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl) was dealt.” Having vetoed the former Mr Hamid Karzai’s desire to accept the Taliban’s unilateral surrender offer on December 5, 2001 — the day he was chosen as the interim Afghan leader — the US seems to have come a full circle. In 2001 the US bungled a chance at peace and this time around it may botch the 13 years of military effort that went into neutralising the Taliban. The 2001 move would have obviated the need to deal with the Pakistani establishment to broker peace with the Taliban, something that Pakistan eventually used as a massive leverage against both Afghanistan and the US.

Former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Professor Husain Haqqani, notes in his book, Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States and an Epic History of Misunderstanding: “Chester Bowles, the American ambassador to India, offered a plausible explanation for the US decision-making in relation to Pakistan. He attributed American policy toward South Asia as the product of ‘sending important personages to this area who have no knowledge of the forces at work here’. Unfamiliar Americans, Bowles said, “come convinced that all Asians are ‘inscrutable’ products of the ‘inscrutable East’!” Not much seems to have changed since Ambassador Bowles, who served in Delhi under then President Dwight Eisenhower and then under President John F Kennedy, diagnosed the affliction: several US officials deployed to Afghanistan and South Asia were out of their depth.

In his recent memoir Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, the former CIA chief, Mr Leon Panetta, writes, “(General Ahmed Shuja) Pasha was an intriguing, enigmatic figure who carried himself with a military bearing, perhaps the result of having served as a general in the Pakistani military before being handpicked by Ashfaq Kayani, then the chief of army staff and the most powerful man in Pakistan, to run ISI. Pasha understood English perfectly, though his spoken English was often halting and too soft to hear. Like others in the officer corps, he had a whiff of a British accent. I was impressed by his moderation, sense of history and worldliness. During dinner with President Asif Ali Zardari on my first visit to Pakistan, Pasha told me that the problem in western Pakistan stemmed from the replacement of the malik, the secular tribal leader, with the mullah, the religious authority. He inveighed against the number of madrassas in which poor Pakistani youth were being moulded, and yearned to draw his country into the future. Yet for all of Pasha’s charm and sincerity, what I did not know was how much he was willing to take on militants within his own country.” Mr Panetta got it wrong on so many levels. Firstly, General Pasha was not exactly his counterpart as the ISI, unlike the CIA, is not a civilian agency. Secondly, he was an active duty, not former, general and, lastly, he was not about to let the CIA boss in on the fact that over 200 of those maliks were killed just in North Waziristan by the jihadists with whom Musharraf had signed those agreements.

The US, however, has the luxury of being enamoured with local spooks and blundering as it can pack up and leave the region while the Afghans, Indians and, of course, Pakistanis will have to figure out the hard way whether the Taliban and other assorted jihadists are terrorists or mere “insurgents”. Musharraf is right in that the Haqqanis did receive — albeit through Pakistan — US arms and money to fight the Soviets. The CIA, however, did it on someone else’s soil while Musharraf and his ilk do it in Pakistan with an utter disregard for the blood-soaked blowback that inevitably ensues. The Pakistani security establishment may think that its medicine is working and the credulous fools are caught but perhaps the US exit strategy from the region is more a function of its geopolitical expediency than credulity. Unfortunately, the too clever by half gimmicks a la Musharraf portend nothing but more pain for the region.

Pakistan - Zardari holds meetings with several political leaders

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari on Thursday reached Islamabad and held meetings with leaders of different political parties in wake of Senate election.
Moreover, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) has announced to be forming coalition with PPP in Punjab for Senate election.
Leaders of different political parties are holding meetings in connection with the Senate election which will be held on March 3.

Pakistan - PML-N of neglecting South Punjab in Senate polls

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah on Thursday blamed the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) for depriving Southern Punjab of representation in the Senate.
Speaking to the media, he said Senator Jaffar Iqbal is the only member of the upper house of Parliament from what he termed the marginalized region.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stalwart said that money should not be used to lure candidates in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has already warned his party’s candidates in KP against accepting bribes in the upcoming Senate polls.
Commenting over formation of judicial commission to probe into alleged rigging in the 2013 general election, Shah said that he held a meeting with Finance Minster Isahq Dar over the matter and would meet PTI leader Jahangir Tareen soon.
He was hopeful that the issue of formation of the judicial commission would be resolved before the Senate elections, scheduled for March 5.
The opposition leader urged the Parliamentarians to respect the sanctity of ballot during the polls. He suggested that the elections for the upper house should be held as direct polls like general elections, adding that getting elected unopposed does not set good precedents.

Commenting over repatriation of Uzair Baloch from United Arab Emirates (UAE), he said that the federal government would bring back the suspect of Lyari gang war. “How can the Sindh government stop Uzair Baloch’s return to the country?” he questioned.

Pakistan - Chairman Senate will be from PPP, allies

President Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Punjab Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo has claimed that the new chairman of the senate will be from PPP and its allies. Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) also on Thursday announced formally to support four PPP candidates in Punjab, Dunya News reported.
Election strategy of PML-Q and PPP was reviewed at Muslim League House in Lahore in a joint session of the two parties. General Secretary PML-Q Punjab Chaudhry Zaheeruddin announced on this occasion that the party will contest the senate elections in alliance with PPP and will vote for PPP candidate Nadeem Afzal Chan.
PPP leadership was of the view that the results of the senate elections will be shocking. They believed that other parties and leaguers will also vote for them. Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo claimed that the new Chairman Senate will be from PPP and its allies.
PPP announced to award its ticket on general seat to Nadeem Afzal Chan and Sarwat Khaliq on women’s seat. It also announced to award the ticket to Nausher Langarial on technocrats’ seat so that none of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) candidates gets elected to senate without contest.

Twelve Taliban involved in Peshawar school attack arrested, Pakistan says

Pakistan announced the arrest of 12 members of the Pakistani Taliban militant group over their alleged involvement in a deadly attack on a Pakistani school, an army spokesman said Thursday.
Another nine members of what is believed to be a 27-member cell have already been killed, Major-General Asim Saleem Bajwa told a media briefing.
Bajwa credited the co-operation by neighbouring Afghanistan – where six of the men were arrested based on tips from Pakistani intelligence.
“Our co-operation is growing,” Bajwa said – particularly since the Dec. 16 assault on an army-run school in the city of Peshawar that killed 150 people, mostly schoolchildren.
In the wake of that attack, both Pakistan and Afghanistan mutually pledged to work together more directly on counterterrorism issues. Previously the two neighbours routinely traded accusations that each was harbouring the other’s militant fugitives in lawless tribal areas along their mutual border.
The Taliban are a loose umbrella of dozens of local militant groups bent on toppling the Pakistani government and installing their own harsh brand of Islamic governance. Taliban attacks have killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis in the past decade.
Bajwa, the army spokesman, said Pakistan has also been working closely in the Afghan government over the hunt for Pakistani Taliban chief Mullah Fazlullah – who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan. He showed taped confessions from two of the arrested militants, who said Fazlullah ordered the attack and assigned commanders. He also identified a mosque prayer leader who sheltered the attackers the night before they stormed the school.
Bajwa claimed that an ongoing Pakistani army offensive launched last June against militants in the North Waziristan tribal region was progressing well, saying that the insurgents had been squeezed into a corner.
But he sought international community support for the ongoing fight against the militants.
“I want to say that this is time for the world to do more for Pakistan,” Bajwa said.

America’s Pakistan Dilemma