Sunday, March 1, 2015

Is John Legend a hypocrite? Human rights activists in Bahrain think so

By Brian Anthony Hernandez

John Legend is under fire from human rights activists for his scheduled performance at Bahrain's government-sponsored Spring of Culture festival, but despite the criticism, the 36-year-old Oscar winner still plans to perform at Monday's event.
"The solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott," Legend, who most recently championed human rights at the Oscars, told The Independent. "Often, the best way to drive progress is to show up and participate in the conversation. Part of my mission in life is to spread love and joy to people all over the world. I intend to do just that in Bahrain, regardless of my disagreements with some of their governments' policies and actions."
Citizens of Bahrain have consistently protested the country's human rights conditions for years, with reports of torture escalating during the start of the uprising in 2011.
Human rights activists had urged Legend to cancel his appearance, to no avail.
"I’d like to tell John Legend that my people, the people of Bahrain, are fighting the same injustice and discrimination African-Americans suffered in the United States," Bahrain Center for Human Rights' vice president Sayed Yousif Almuhafdah told The Independent.
"They’re living under a dictatorship that has stripped them from their most basic human rights, democracy, justice, and freedom of speech," said Almuhafdah. "Bahrainis democracy campaigners are being attacked on daily basis, arrested, tortured, and unjustly detained. The people of Bahrain are paying their lives as a price for their freedom."

After winning Best Original Song for "Glory" from Selma at the Academy Awards in February, Legend advocated for human rights, proclaiming that "Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now" and that "the struggle for freedom and justice is real."

"They’re living under a dictatorship that has stripped them from their most basic human rights, democracy, justice, and freedom of speech," said Almuhafdah. "Bahrainis democracy campaigners are being attacked on daily basis, arrested, tortured, and unjustly detained. The people of Bahrain are paying their lives as a price for their freedom."

Legend's full statement to The Independent came after he consulted with experts:
Some have recently suggested that, due to documented human rights abuses by the government of Bahrain, I should cancel my upcoming concert there. After consulting with human rights experts, I decided to keep my commitment to perform for the people of Bahrain, many of whom I am proud to call my fans, during their annual festival.
I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about human rights, civil rights and other issues of justice, both in the United States and abroad. The solution to every human rights concern is not always to boycott. Most of the time I will choose to engage with the people of the country rather than ignore or abandon my commitments to perform for them.
Often, the best way to drive progress is to show up and participate in the conversation. As we move this work forward, I hope to meet the many people who are peacefully struggling for freedom, justice and accountability, regardless of what country they live in, and tell them directly that I stand with them. Part of my mission in life is to spread love and joy to people all over the world. I intend to do just that in Bahrain, regardless of my disagreements with some of their governments' policies and actions.

Turkish military wages war on social media

It was in August 2011 when the general in charge of media and public relations in the headquarters of the Turkish Chief of Staff roared: “I don’t care how you do it. You can call or write to Twitter but my order is clear. Those tweets must be removed.”
The project officer was taken aback. First, he thought of explaining how Twitter is part of social media, how difficult it would be to argue with it and how Twitter advocates a free debate platform and was not likely to comply. But he thought better of it, responded with regulatory “Sir, yes, sir,” and left the room.
Thus began the saga of the project officer. He found out Twitter did not have a phone number for complaints and did not have an office in Turkey. He sent four emails to the Twitter Help Center, which were all rejected. A week later, the same general summoned the officer again and asked whether his order was implemented. The young officer tried to explain all he did but the general was clearly not pleased. The project officer concluded: “Sir, this social media is a brand-new world for us soldiers. Sadly, things don’t move on orders in that world.”
I was that project officer. Not only the Turkish army but modern, highly disciplined and strictly hierarchical armies of the world have yet to fully understand what social media is all about. They are trying to make up their minds whether social media is a threat or an opportunity.
If you had asked me whether the Turkish army’s social media relationship is one of love or hate, I would have categorically said, “A hate relationship for the time being.” If you ask Turkish generals what has been their worst headache over the last four to five years, they would have pointed to social media. The real problem of the Turkish military was Twitter accounts such as TSK_kulis, @GATA_kulis@superdenizciler and @bulutalti. Some of them are no longer active.
With links provided by these accounts, one could see on YouTube and Dailymotion visuals and PowerPoint files on the private lives of Turkey's military personnel, the bad behavior and claims of their ill discipline. With these social media accounts incredible charges on marital infidelity, abuse of authority, ethical weakness and ideological discrimination about hundreds of officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) were shared widely. Some say that all this content is manufactured and that there is a superior strategic brain behind it all.
These people insist that to discredit the Turkish army in the eyes of the people and to form an anti-military public perception, these social media accounts were being leaked by US-based Gulenists who have penetrated the military, then further embellished by an external committee and put on social media.
The Turkish high command took these social media messages seriously between 2009 and 2012. Many officers and NCOs whose names were mentioned in those messages were investigated only because their names appeared. They were denied promotions and all were collectively treated as criminals without a determination having been made as to who was truly involved or not.
A retired officer who once worked in the communications office of the Chief of Staff but did not want to be named told Al-Monitor, “This was a true witch hunt that showed how unprepared the Turkish army was for social media. Generals believed everything they read. Every claim in social media for them was a fact and any name mentioned was guilty." He added, "Yes, there may be some guilty ones among them, but many officers and NCOs were unfairly victimized."
Such unfair, unjust treatment at times had tragic results. In a video posted in January 2010 under the title "Forbidden love story in the navy,” photos that gave the impression the wife of navy Capt. B.E. was having a fling with another officer were circulated. The Turkish military immediately launched an investigation into B.E. Deeply offended, B.E. committed suicide a week later.
Relatives of the dead colonel said that because Twitter refused to give out data about the account holder who spread the rumor, they could not determine the culprits and take them to court.
But the retired officer said, “Generals are slowly understanding what social media means and learn not to take every word shared as the gospel. Yes, now they are careful but still not very clear about it all.”
Another aspect of social media that bothers the generals is the way lower-ranking NCOs and specialist sergeants effectively make use of social media to make themselves heard, especially in personnel affairs. Upper echelons of the military are seriously disturbed by what they see as social media’s infringement on military discipline and hierarchy.
Although the Turkish military seem to have overcome the initial social media trauma of 2009-12, it still seems to consider social media as a threat. In a recent speech, the chief of General Staff, Gen. Necdet Ozel, was quoted as saying the countries now face, instead of military threats, Internet-sourced manipulations that could have serious consequences. 
It is therefore not surprising that the Turkish high command does not tolerate personnel who share photos and contents in social media. For instance, under a new amendment to the military penal code, a soldier who appears uniformed in a picture can be sentenced to a prison term of three months to two years.
Military personnel who spoke to Al-Monitor, as usual on condition of anonymity, said the high command has sent out orders to all units not to share content on social media platforms. Doing so would be punishable as disobedience
A recent report states that a specialist sergeant who used Facebook to insult his company commander who denied him leave was punished with a three-month prison term by military court on charges of insulting a superior.
But then there is the other side of the coin. Social media is a priceless opportunity to reach young males ages 18-25 who meet most of the personnel needs of the Turkish military. An expert noted that the military, which has taken major steps to become a fully professional army, has to use social media effectively to meet its needs for officers, NCOs and professional specialist privates.
Of course, another major benefit of social media would be to use the social media to improve its institutional image, which seems to have lost its glitter of late in Turkish public opinion.
The Chief of Staff’s headquarters last year set up a unit within its Department of Press and Public Relations to regulate its social media affairs. Military officials are now pondering whether they should start their own official Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.
It may only take a couple of minutes for someone to open an account on any of these platforms, but the Turkish military prefers to think longer about it.

Assassination a heavy blow to Russian unity

Former Russian deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in Moscow Friday night, shocking Russia and the international community. Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly condemned the killing and ordered three law enforcement agencies to put together a task force to investigate the shooting and punish the murderers.

When reporting the killing, some mainstream Western media particularly stressed that Nemtsov was a fierce critic of Putin, implying that Putin was behind this murder. This incident has dealt a heavy blow to Russia's national unity and added pressure to the Russian government in dealing with thorny issues.

Political assassination is the most shameful act. It is an outdated strategy and rarely used in the modern and civilized world. Assassination of opposition leaders is especially senseless because the outrage triggered by such an act can only enhance cohesion of the opposition, rather than weakening it.

Compared with Western countries, opposition forces have less power in Russia. Nemtsov only had limited political achievements when he served as deputy prime minister in the Yeltsin era. He is most known for his pro-Western stance, including his agreement with the West over the Ukraine crisis. While the Russian government kept an eye on him, radical nationalists in the country viewed him as an enemy. Therefore, some anti-Western people claim Western intelligence agencies assassinated Nemtsov and made Putin the scapegoat, and others believe that Russian radicals were responsible. 

If such an opposition leader with limited influence is assassinated out of political purposes, it would be a nightmare for all Russian politicians. This political culture will take away a sense of security from all people and make society hysterical. The murder of Nemtsov runs counter to common political logic and people feel odd about it.

Many countries expressed condemnation of the murder. The international community should support Russian authorities to investigate the case through legal means. In this process, the outside world should not speculate; rather they should respect Russia's investigations.

The assassination is not only a criminal case but also a calamity for Russian culture. At this time, perhaps some forces will make use of it out of political purposes.  

Chinese society is eager to see a stable Russia under Putin's reign and is shocked to see such cruel behavior in Moscow. We hope it is just an isolated case and not as grievous as has been depicted in the Western discourse.

Russia is at a difficult juncture. The US-led West wants to add burdens to it, making the Putin government and Russian society face severe tests. Whether Russia can withstand such a crisis will be determined by the stance of the country's general public.

U.S. and Europe Downplay Likelihood of New Sanctions Despite Ukraine Rebel Gains

The United States and the European Union are unlikely to widen economic sanctions on Russia if a tentative cease-fire emerging in eastern Ukraine takes hold, Western diplomats said on Friday.
Despite repeatedly saying that new U.S. or EU sanctions on Russia as well as U.S. lethal assistance for Ukraine remain on the table, neither Europe nor the United States would be eager to go forward if this week's fragile calm is sustained, they added.
That in effect means Washington and its European allies would overlook last week's defeat of Ukrainian troops by pro-Russian separatists in the strategic town of Debaltseve, which came days after a Feb. 15 cease-fire was due to begin.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telegraphed the stance on Thursday when he suggested there would need to be an event such as a fresh separatist assault on the government-held port of Mariupol to trigger fresh economic sanctions.
"The measurement now is are we on a downward track [in the violence] … or is there now a Mariupol or some other effort that may be taking place which would immediately merit a much more significant response," Kerry told lawmakers.
Ukraine and Western governments have accused Russia of sending troops and weapons to support the separatists, despite a peace deal agreed in the Belarussian capital Minsk on Feb. 12. Moscow has denied this.
In a sign the truce may be taking hold despite new casualties, Ukrainian troops began towing artillery away from the front lines on Thursday.
A Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said continued calm meant new sanctions were unlikely.
"Right now, when there are no civilian casualties, when there is a withdrawal of heavy weaponry, what would be the sense of imposing sanctions?" he said.
Another Western diplomat said some EU nations argued that Russia must pay a price for the fall of Debaltseve.
But assuming continued calm, he said the most harsh response he could envisage when EU leaders meet in March would be to extend existing EU sanctions on Russia through the end of the year.
A senior Obama administration, however, sought to play down the idea that sanctions were growing less likely.
"While the cease-fire appears to be holding and is a good sign, there are many other Minsk violations that are concerning and that we are continually evaluating what the next steps are we might take with our European allies," the official said. 

Russia ready to repel any nuke strike, retaliate – missile forces command chief

Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces are ready to react to any nuclear strike even if it is lightning fast, SMF Central Command chief said. A retaliatory strike would take place in all circumstances, “without hesitation,” he added.
“If there’s a challenge to repel a lightning-fast nuclear in any given conditions – it will be done in fixed time, that’s dead true,” the Strategic Missile Forces Central Command’s chief, Major-General Andrey Burbin, told Russian News Service on Saturday.
Russia’s strategic missile forces are positioned geographically in such a way that no global strike can knock them out completely, Burbin said.
In case an order is given to carry out a nuclear strike, Russian nuclear weapons operators will fulfill it, he added.
“There would be no hesitation, the task would be executed,” he said.
The unavoidability of a retaliatory nuclear strike from Russia is also guaranteed by the fully automatic and constantly modernized ‘Perimeter’ system, also known as “Dead hand.”
The system collects data from various sources, such as radioactivity and seismic sensors scattered throughout Russia, by scanning radio frequencies and communication activities.
If pooled data indicates that Russia has suffered a nuclear strike, the system launches special missiles that travel through national airspace, sending launch signals to all surviving strategic nuclear missile complexes. In this case a retaliatory missile strike is launched without human input.
Burbin also told RSN that rearmament of the Strategic Missile Forces is ongoing as planned and by 2020 up to 98 percent of Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces will be armed with brand new weapons.
Nationwide war games of Strategic Nuclear Missile Forces were conducted in February, with 30 missile regiments training in 12 regions of Russia.
Missilemen performed ultimate combat operational readiness, counteraction to subversive groups and perfected defenses against airborne precision weapons.
On any given day, over 6,000 servicemen are maintaining the operational readiness of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces.

Video - Thousands of Russians march in memory of Kremlin critic Nemstov

Analysis: Netanyahu climbs a tree, Obama happy to see him fall

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuboards his plane on Sunday and heads to Washington to address a joint session of Congress for a third time, he could be forgiven for turning to Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, who will be flying with him, and whispering, “Well this sure didn’t go as planned.”
No, it didn’t.

It was never really clear what Netanyahu’s plan was in accepting an invitation to address Congress that House Speaker John Boehner – embroiled in a nasty partisan spat with President Barack Obama – issued the day after the US president addressed the nation and said he would veto a bill for additional Iran sanctions.

The immediate reflex in much of the media after news of the congressional invite broke on January 21 was that this was another example of that wily Netanyahu manipulating Congress for his election purposes. He wanted nothing less – the initial conventional wisdom held – than the august halls of the US House of Representatives as his campaign prop.

But then, when the dust settled, it increasingly appeared that it was not Netanyahu who was using Boehner for his partisan election purposes, but rather Boehner using Netanyahu as a battering ram against Obama.

In other words, Netanyahu was being played.

But Netanyahu is no one’s sucker.

So the question must be asked how he allowed himself to get into a situation like this in the first place, where his very presence is forcing Democrats to chose between him and their president? How did he allow himself to be used as a political football? To understand that, it is instructive to go back nine years to a speech Netanyahu gave to the United Jewish Federations General Assembly in Los Angeles when he was head of the opposition.

“It’s 1938,” he asserted. “Iran is Germany, and it is racing to acquire nuclear weapons.”

And that, for Netanyahu, is the whole story in a nutshell. Nine years later, it is still 1938, the Iranians are still racing to acquire nuclear weapons, and the world is about to let them do it.

That is the prime minister’s perception of reality. And if, indeed, it is 1938, and Iran is Nazi Germany racing to develop the means to destroy the state of the Jews, then everything is permissible to stop that march – including poking one’s fingers into the eyes of the US president.

When Netanyahu’s office first announced the invitation from Boehner, an invitation that said it was extended “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership of the US House of Representatives and the US Senate,” the office underlined that only one other leader – Winston Churchill – had ever addressed Congress three times.

Ironically, when Churchill went to address Congress for the last time in 1952, ties between London and Washington were also strained, and one of the reasons was Iran.

Iran had just nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil company, as Politico pointed out last month in a piece on the anniversary of that speech, and the British wanted it to be coerced into paying full compensation. Washington, however, was worried about how too much pressure on Iran would impact the Cold War.

Despite differences of opinion in policy toward the Middle East, at the end of Churchill’s visit, which included meetings with president Harry Truman, a statement was issued that – according to the BBC – spoke of a “complete identity of aims” in the Middle East.

Netanyahu can now only dream of a meeting with Obama, let alone such a statement.

Rather than trying to paper over the very real differences that exist between Israel and the US regarding Iran, the administration is going all out to amplify them.

If previous administrations thought it wise to minimize in public any daylight between Israel and the US, the comments emanating from the very top of the administration in recent days shows that their theme song is “Let the Sunshine In.”

Netanyahu, by accepting the invitation the way he did, opened the door, but the result of all that daylight flooding in is not beneficial to the health of either party.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice said this week that Netanyahu’s acceptance of the invitation to address Congress was “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the two countries.

Maybe, but her comments, and those by Secretary of State John Kerry, are only making matters worse.

At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, Kerry reached back to 2002 and slammed Netanyahu for, as a private citizen at the time, supporting the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under [president] George W. Bush,” Kerry said. “We all know what happened with that decision.”

This was Kerry’s way of impugning Netanyahu’s credibility on Iran.

Netanyahu did indeed give testimony to Congress in support of invading Iraq, and wrote editorials in US newspapers along the same lines. But Kerry did even more than that, he voted in the Senate for a resolution to authorize use of force against Iraq.

The ham-handed manner in which Netanyahu handled the Boehner invitation, however, has given the administration a perfect opening for these types of attacks, and their purposes seems two-fold.

Perhaps concerned about the impact of Netanyahu’s words to Congress, Kerry seems to be preempting by calling into question the “expert witness.”

But there is something more at work here as well, and it has to do with more than mere pique at being slighted or a breach of protocol.

It is no secret to anyone whom the White House would like to see win the upcoming election, and the speech saga has allowed the administration to enter the fray and let the Israeli public know on the record – and not through salty insults made by anonymous senior officials – the disdain with which they hold its leader.

The White House could have found a way over the last few weeks to extend a ladder to Netanyahu, allowing him to climb down the tree he so clumsily and ill-advisedly ascended. But the administration didn’t extend that ladder, because the White House wants the prime minister to fall off that tree – a tree Netanyahu and Dermer can now blame themselves for scrambling up in the first place.

Kerry tried to dampen fuss over Israeli PM’s speech

 Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday tried to calm tensions with Israel before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s congressional address, yet insisted the Obama administration’s diplomatic record with Iran entitles the U.S. to “the benefit of the doubt” as negotiators work toward a long-term nuclear deal. On a mission to warn of the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, the prime minister arrived in Washington for the speech the White House didn’t want him to give.
Kerry said in an interview broadcast before he arrived in Switzerland for talks with Iran’s foreign minister that Netanyahu was welcome to speak in the U.S. and that the administration did not want the event “turned into some great political football.”
That sentiment was a step back from some of the sharp rhetoric between the allies in recent weeks, and Kerry mentioned that he talked to Netanyahu as recently as Saturday.
But Kerry stressed that Israel was safer as a result of the short-term nuclear pact that world powers and Iran reached in late 2013, and he described that improvement as the “standard we will apply to any agreement” with the Islamic Republic.
Officials have described the United States, Europe, Russia and China as considering a compromise that would see Iran’s nuclear activities severely curtailed for at least a decade, with the restrictions and U.S. and Western economic penalties eased in the final years of a deal.
“We are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to turn to additional measures including the possibility of a military confrontation,” Kerry told ABC’s “This Week.”
“Our hope is that diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success of the interim agreement, we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future.”
Netanyahu will press his opposition to a diplomatic accommodation of Iran’s program in his speech Tuesday to Congress. “We are not here to offend President Obama whom we respect very much,” said a Netanyahu adviser, who was not authorized to be identified. “The prime minister is here to warn, in front of any stage possible, the dangers” of the deal that may be taking shape.
The invitation to speak to Congress extended by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Netanyahu’s acceptance have caused an uproar that has exposed tensions between Israel and the U.S., its most important ally.
By consenting to speak, Netanyahu angered the White House, which was not consulted in advance, and Democrats, who were forced to choose between showing support for Israel and backing the president.''I will do everything in my ability to secure our future,” Netanyahu said before flying to Washington. He described himself as “an emissary” of the Jewish people.
Boehner said Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a threat well beyond the region.
“We’re not going to resolve this issue by sticking our heads in the sand,” Boehner told CBS’ ”Face the Nation.”
He said Netanyahu “can talk about this threat, I believe, better than anyone. And the United States Congress wants to hear from him, and so do the American people.”
The congressional speech also has sparked criticism in Israel, where Netanyahu is seeking re-election on March 17. He also planned to speak Monday at the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
Netanyahu considers unacceptable any deal that does not entirely end Iran’s nuclear program. But President Barack Obama is willing to leave some nuclear activity intact, backed by safeguards that Iran is not trying to develop a weapon. Iran insists its program is solely for peaceful energy and medical research.
The dispute has become more personal of late.
Last week, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, described the timing and partisan manner of Netanyahu’s visit as “destructive” for the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
On Sunday, Kerry painted a more positive picture of continued close cooperation. He said the U.S.-Israeli security partnership was closer than at any point before, and noted the large investment of American money in the Jewish state’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
He said the U.S. government has “intervened on Israel’s behalf in the last two years a couple of hundred” times in more than 75 forums “in order to protect Israel.”

Video Report - Washington Braces for Controversial Netanyahu Address to Congress

Nearly half of Americans disapprove of inviting Netanyahu to address Congress: poll

Nearly half of American voters think that U.S. House Speaker John Boehner should not have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address U.S. Congress without having consulted the White House, according to a new poll released Sunday.
A total of 48 percent of those surveyed believed Boehner's decision to invite Netanyahu without first notifying President Barack Obama was not appropriate, while 30 percent said Republicans should have done so, and another 22 percent said they didn't know enough to answer, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
The results came amid rising tensions between the Israeli leader and President Obama. The White House has said Obama would not meet with Netanyahu during his visit to Washington, D.C., citing that the visit comes in too close proximity to Israeli elections.
Netanyahu, who views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the state of Israel, is expected to reiterate his objections to the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program during his planned speech to U.S. Congress Tuesday. He flew to the United States Sunday.
Susan Rice, Obama's national security advisor, last week called Netanyahu's scheduled speech "destructive" to the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also slammed Netanyahu for his opposition to the ongoing Iran talks.
The poll surveyed 800 registered voters from Feb. 25-28, with a margin error of 3.5 percentage points.

Pashto Music Video - Nelo - Khushbo Laram

U.S. Forces support Afghan-led disaster relief

The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces distributed supplies to Afghan citizens hardest hit from Wednesday’s avalanche in Panjsher Province, with support from U.S. Forces on Friday.
The worst affected districts in the province include Darah, Bazarak, Khinj and Parian. The ANDSF were quick to respond and coordinate rescue and relief efforts in the area.
U.S. Soldiers and Marines, along with Czech Republic and Georgian Soldiers from Task Force Solid, delivered stoves, clothing, blankets, and other supplies to the ANDSF, who then delivered the items to those in need in Panjsher Province.
“This type of natural disaster is not unheard of at this time of year, so our Afghan partners were prepared, and have been working around the clock since the avalanche hit to provide relief to those affected,” said Lt. Col. Zachary Miller, Task Force Solid commander. “We delivered some relief items to them today and stand ready to support further if requested.”
According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 235 people have lost their lives due to avalanches in Afghanistan this week.
Majority of the people have died in the hard-hit areas of northern Panjshir and Parwan provinces of Afghanistan which is about 100 milie north of capital Kabul.
Mohammad Aslam Syas, deputy chief of the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, said 186 people have been confirmed dead alone in the hard-hit Panjshir Province.
At least 21 provinces of Afghanistan have been affected by severe weather and more than 1,000 houses are destroyed and damaged.

Afghanistan's Panjshir valley hit by fresh avalanches

Huge new avalanches have hit Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley, closing off areas that were already difficult to reach, the provincial governor says.
Abdul Rahman Kabiri told the BBC that new avalanches 40m (130ft) high have inundated new areas n the north-eastern province.
President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday that at least 286 people have died throughout the country in recent days.
The fatalities have all been due to snow or flooding, officials say.
Most of the deaths however are in the Panjshir Valley, where it is feared people remain trapped in the snow.
Some progress in the relief effort has been made - a long stretch of road up the Panjshir Valley has been opened by bulldozers and other machinery.
In places the bodies of victims including women and children have been unearthed.
Officials say the worst-hit place, Paryan, remains unreachable.
The air force is dropping food parcels to seven badly-affected villages and have continued to rescue marooned people not just in Panjshir but in several other provinces where there have been casualties.
Afghanistan has begun three days of national mourning for the victims.
President Ghani has cancelled a trip to Iran because of what he described as a national tragedy.
Avalanches are relatively common in northern Afghanistan, with dozens dying in major incidents in 2010 and 2012.
But Panjshir province is reported not to have seen avalanches on this level for three decades.

Pakistan - Curiosity about Saudi invitation to Sharif

Coming in the backdrop of anger in Saudi Arabia over its criticism in Pakistan, the surprise ‘invitation’ for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from Riyadh has left many wondering about the agenda of the trip.
The Prime Minister’s Office had in a late night announcement on Friday said: “The newly crowned King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, has sent a special invitation to the Prime Minister to visit the Kingdom in the first week of March.”
The Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, told Dawn that bilateral cooperation would be discussed during the trip, which would be the first after the completion of succession in Saudi Arabia following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. Mr Sharif’s last visit to Saudi Arabia in January was for the funeral of the king.
No dates for the upcoming trip have been decided as yet even though the Saudi invitation asked Mr Sharif to come over in the first week of March.
The Saudis haven’t indicated the issues that they would like to discuss during the meeting with Mr Sharif.
But answers, diplomats and foreign policy observers say, could be found in the context. Saudis have been extremely disturbed over allegations in Pakistan about funding from the Kingdom for extremist and terrorist groups.
The Saudi embassy had, in an unprecedented move, tried to clarify its position a fortnight ago. But instead of ending the row, it led to a low-key spat between the embassy and the Foreign Office.
In a veiled rebuttal to embassy’s claim that Kingdom’s funding of seminaries was cleared by the Foreign Office, the spokesperson of the Foreign Office had said that only, “Offers of economic assistance and project based assistance by Saudi Arabia are processed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in consultation with the relevant departments and agencies of the Government of Pakistan.”
Some claim that the delay in the arrival of Abdullah Zahrani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador-designate to Pakistan, was also because of the underlying tensions in the relationship.
Ambassador Zahrani, according to the source, was expected some eight weeks ago.
There has been no Saudi ambassador in Pakistan for about eight months now. Amb Ali Saeed Asseri was earlier named for a second stint in Pakistan, but his nomination was later withdrawn because of developments in Middle East.
Amb Zahrani is an Asseri protégé having served as his deputy both in Islamabad and Beirut.
Besides the controversy over terrorism funding, Riyadh, a keen follower of Pak-Saudi relations said, was unhappy over Islamabad not fulfilling its part of the commitment of the deal under which it was given $1.5 billion assistance.
The assistance was announced during King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Pakistan last year as the crown prince.
Though Pakistan had been denying that the money was given for some specific objective, the source said it was meant for safeguarding Riyadh’s regional interests.
With the March 31 deadline for a political framework for deal on Iran’s nuclear programme nearing, Riyadh is getting increasingly anxious.
A diplomatic source familiar with the thinking in Riyadh says that KSA needs Pakistan’s help for containing Iran, more than ever and wants to remind Islamabad about its commitment.
Saudi Arabia has been briefed by the US on the progress in the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme.
Mr Sharif’s trip to Riyadh would most likely coincide with the meeting between Iran and the six world powers (known as the P5+1: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China) for finalising the outline for the final accord.
A deal or no deal, Riyadh has its work cut out.
A successfully concluded deal would have strategic implications for Saudi Arabia compelling it to challenge the diplomatic breakthrough. But, failure to conclude an accord would mean that KSA would be required by the West to ratchet up pressure on Tehran.
In both scenarios, the source said, Riyadh would expect Islamabad to side with it.
Mr Sharif, who has investments in Saudi Arabia, is likely to get a different treatment this time. The new set-up in KSA may not be viewing Pakistan as sympathetically as the late King Abdullah did.

#Bangladesh - #AvijitRoy - Blogger Murdered

Atheist blogger Avijit Roy, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death in Dhaka by machete-wielding militants allegedly affiliated with the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist terrorist organization. His wife, Rafida Ahmad, who is also a blogger, was seriously injured in the attack. Recent years have seen a rise in attacks by Islamists against writers who advocate secular ideals and challenge religious extremism. Similar attacks have been recorded across continents against writers, publishers and intellectuals in the name of religion. Be it Bangladesh, Japan, Pakistan or France – it is the same ideology at work. The fact is that religious doctrines can never stand up to science, reason or morality based on humanist ideals. Therefore, people of faith often have to rely on violence to make up for their intellectual inferiority and the vulnerability and shallowness of the ideals they hold sacred. As we’ve witnessed in numerous incidents that have occurred through the course of history, people are willing to commit grave crimes against humanity if they feel that they are carrying out the will of their God.
The government of Bangladesh would do well to ensure that the perpetrators are not allowed to escape justice. Regardless of whether one or all interpretations of scripture proscribe death for atheists, inhumane laws should not govern the lives of human beings. Non-state actors especially cannot be allowed to mete out punishments against perceived offences. Islamic fundamentalism has emerged as a serious threat to global peace and universal ideals, most importantly, free speech. It doesn’t allow for any debate or disagreement and seeks to forcibly impose restrictions on speech, actions, even thoughts, if it could manage. Of course poverty, culture, international politics and disputes may have an impact on the behavior of individuals who are part of groups such as ISIS, but it would be in error to downplay the fundamental role of the ideology that they subscribe to. Religious extremism cannot be fought solely with guns. As long as free thinkers like Avijit Roy continue to raise their voice against ignorance and oppression, there is hope.

Pakistan - Police implicate journalists, lawyers in fake terror cases

The Islamabad Police has allegedly started implicating the reputed personalities of the society including lawyers and journalists in fake cases out of personal vendetta in the garb of ongoing drive against the terrorist.
Strangely, the names of even those reputed journalists are included in the list of the so-called ‘terrorists who are professional reporters and are well known to the community. In one such instance, Syed Tabassum Abbas Shah, a senior journalist who has worked at senior positions in several media organisations, has become the fresh victim of police’s wrath.
The Press Council of Pakistan (PCP) has expressed its serious reservations over the false implication of Shah in schedule four in police record on personal grudge and demanded of the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to take the culprits to task.
In a written letter to the deputy commissioner Islamabad, the PCP registrar wrote that a senior journalist was implicated in schedule four in the name of national security without any evidence and Islamabad Police failed to given any substantiation the involvement of the senior journalist with any banned organisation.
A similar letter has been written by the president and the chief coordinator Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) to the chief commissioner Islamabad to end the exploitation of the reputed journalist.
They have demanded action against those who falsely implicate journalist out of personal vendetta. He said that a particular journalist wrongly accused of schedule four however still police not given any evidence. He had also declared that while it is important to have a code of conduct, it would be wrong to clamp down on the media persons without any solid evidence.
They also showed reservations over the accusation that a senior journalist Syed Tabbasum Abbas Shah was wrongly accused of the member of a banned organisation and that this act is beyond the limitations of the Islamabad Police.
It is also noted that Islamabad High Court taking the serious notice of the senior lawyer implication in schedule four ordered to Islamabad Police to prove the lawyer association with banned organisation however police failed to provide any evidence and later on police put-off the name of lawyer subsequent to apologizing the court.

Pakistan - Mumbai attacks 'mastermind': Lakhvi lives a life of 'luxury' in Adiala jail

As the case for the suspension of his detention order is being fought in courts, the alleged mastermind of 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi lives a life of ‘luxury’ in Adiala jail, Rawalpindi.
With lax laws for the suspect in place, Lakhvi and his six comrades have several rooms at their disposal next to the jailer’s office, BBC reported.
But their luxuries in prison don’t end there. In what may seem unthinkable for most prisons and suspects, Lakhvi and his comrades have been granted access to a television, mobile phones, internet and dozens of visitors a day.
Surprisingly, the visits require no special permission and visitors don’t even have to identify themselves to jail authorities.
“He [Lakhvi] can receive any number of guests, any time of day or night, seven days a week,” said one jail official.
Although, following his arrest, the affairs of Lashkar-e-Taiba are said to being looked after by an acting chief, Ahmed, a jail official said Lakhvi is still the group’s operation chief and is in contact with the outfit through his open access to visitors, mobile phone and the internet.
“On an average, he receives about 100 visitors every day; they are escorted to his private quarters where they can meet him without the watch of jail guards, and can stay for as long as they like,” a jail official said.
The LeT commander, accused of planning, financing and executing the attacks on Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, was arrested four days after Indian officials named him as one of the major suspects in the case.
At least 160 people were killed in the attacks on two hotels, a train station, a hospital, a Jewish cultural centre and other targets.
Last month, the Islamabad Capital Territory administration extended the detention order of Lakhvi for another 30 days. The move came after an anti-terrorism court trying him for the Mumbai attacks ordered his release on bail.
Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Mujahid Sherdil issued a notification extending the detention of Lakhvi for another 30 days under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) in Adiala jail.
The prime objective of the extension was to prevent Lakhvi from attending any public meeting and potentially regrouping, said an official close to the development.
However, with lax laws and access to the outside world, there does not seem to be much preventing that.