Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Music Video - Kelly Clarkson - Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)

NATO naval drills start in Black Sea

Thousands rally in Kuwait as opposition vows 'new phase of protests'

Opposition activists rally for the release of former MP Mussallam al-Barrak, call for democratic reforms in Kuwait
Thousands of Kuwaiti opposition activists rallied in the capital Monday demanding the release of a prominent leader and calling for democratic reforms in the Gulf state.
The demonstrators called for the release of Mussallam al-Barrak, a former MP who last week started serving a two-year jail term on charges of insulting the ruler.
Several former opposition lawmakers led some 3,000 people, including women, who gathered outside parliament in the largest opposition rally in about nine months.
The gathering passed off peacefully, which was the intended aim, according to former MP Falah al-Sawwagh.
Recordings of previous speeches by Barrak were played during the rally, where he stressed the need for protests to remain peaceful.
"This is the beginning of a new phase of protests. The opposition plans to stage a similar gathering every Monday," former opposition MP Bader al-Dahoum told AFP. 
"Our demands are the release of Barrak and other jailed activists, dissolving parliament and the government, scrapping the electoral law and holding fresh polls," Dahoum said.
Youth activists sang national songs calling for constitutional reforms and describing parliament as a "puppet assembly."
Protesters carried a large banner with portraits of Barrak and several other jailed activists that read: "We will not let you down."

The supreme court on Monday began to study an appeal by Barrak but delayed a decision on whether to release him on bail until next week, his lawyer Thamer al-Jadaei told AFP.
The charges against Barrak relate to a speech he gave to tens of thousands of demonstrators at the same venue in October 2012 against changes to the electoral law that he said would allow the ruling Al-Sabah family to manipulate the outcome of elections.
Barrak was a member of parliament at the time but his nationalist Popular Action Movement (PAM) boycotted December 2012 and July 2013 polls held under the new electoral law.
In July last year, street protests broke out when Barrak was detained for five days on separate charges of insulting the judiciary.
Since the mass demonstrations of 2012 by tens of thousands of people, Kuwaiti authorities have cracked down on the opposition. Dozens have been tried and handed heavy jail terms.
The government revoked the citizenship of several opposition figures including PAM spokesman Saad al-Ajmi last September.
The crackdown has been condemned by human rights groups, who have called for changes to the law to prevent people being jailed for exercising free speech.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/kuwaiti-opposition-vows-new-phase-protests-1713037605#sthash.z3nNWg9K.dpuf

EU criticises Saudi silencing of Swedish minister speech


The European Union expressed regret Tuesday after the Swedish foreign minister accused Saudi Arabia of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem said Riyadh had stopped her from making her opening address to the meeting on Monday due to her stance on human rights.

"We regret that the Swedish foreign minister was not able to deliver her speech," European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told a briefing.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini will speak to Wallstroem and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi "to understand this situation", she added.

Wallstroem had been invited as an honorary guest to the Arab ministers' meeting in praise of her government's decision to recognise Palestine in October.

Her cancelled opening speech -- published by the Swedish foreign ministry -- mentioned neither Saudi Arabia nor Wallstroem's feminist foreign policy agenda but stressed women's and human rights.
On Monday Wallstroem said it was a "shame" that she had been blocked from speaking.
"The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak," she told news agency TT in Cairo.
An Arab diplomat confirmed to AFP that Riyadh had stopped the Swede from making her opening speech.
Wallstroem has rarely commented on Saudi Arabia but in January she slammed the kingdom's treatment of blogger Raef Badawi, who had been sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.

Video - Biden, Clinton weigh in on GOP letter to Iran

Video - President Obama Announces the Student Aid Bill of Rights

President Obama Signs a Presidential Memorandum on College Opportunity

Hillary Clinton blasts U.S. Republicans over Iran nuclear letter

By Will Dunham

47 signatories 'were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy,' says Clinton.

 Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday excoriated Republican senators for their letter warning Iran against a nuclear deal with U.S. President Barack Obama, saying they either were trying to help Tehran or harm the U.S. commander-in-chief.
Monday's open letter to Iran's leaders, signed by 47 Republican senators, sparked a political firestorm.
Vice President Joe Biden also sharply criticized the lawmakers while three potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, threw their support behind the letter.
Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, said the Obama administration is in the midst of intense negotiations for a diplomatic solution to close off Iran's pathway to a nuclear bomb and provide unprecedented access to its nuclear program.
"And one has to ask, what was the purpose of this letter?" Clinton said in an appearance at the United Nations.
"There appear to be two logical answers. Either these senators were trying to be helpful to the Iranians or harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high-stakes international diplomacy. Either answer does discredit to the letters' signatories," Clinton added.
Biden said in a statement on Monday night the letter was "expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations" and was "beneath the dignity" of the Senate.
"This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States," Biden wrote.
Biden said he could not recall another instance in which senators wrote such a letter to advise another country, much less a longtime adversary.
In the letter, the Republicans told Iran's leaders any nuclear deal with Obama could last only while he remains in office.
Senator Tom Cotton, who spearheaded the letter, on Tuesday defended it and questioned Biden's foreign policy wisdom.
"The only thing unprecedented is an American president negotiating a nuclear weapons deal with the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism without seeking congressional approval at the end of that deal," Cotton told CNN.
Jindal said on Twitter that anyone thinking of running for president from either party should sign the letter to make clear Iran is negotiating with a "lame duck" president.
Jindal said Biden owes an apology to Cotton, a first-term senator from Arkansas who served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. "He wore the boots in Iraq. He's earned our attention, not your insults," Jindal said.
Many Republicans contend Obama is so eager for a nuclear deal that he would sign off on an agreement leaving Iran able to easily make a nuclear weapon.
World powers and Iran are trying to reach a framework agreement this month and a final deal by June to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes only.

Hillary Clinton details her use of private email account

After the press conference, Mrs Clinton's office released a seven-page statement detailing her email habits while in office.
According to the statement, during her four years as America's top diplomat Mrs Clinton only communicated with a single, unnamed official from a foreign government - from the UK - otherwise communicating "in person, through correspondence, and by telephone".
The note also described the method by which Mrs Clinton's lawyers searched all 62,320 emails in her inbox to sift out "anything that might potentially be a federal record" or that could have had a government or work-related connection.
Searches for a ".gov" suffix threw up 27,500 emails, supplemented by searches for a range of officials including her deputies, ambassadors, advisers, aides and personal staff to bring the total to 30,490 emails - or 55,000 printed pages - that were provided to the State Department.
Mrs Clinton, who is the subject of a Republican-led enquiry into her role in the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, also specified that "a number of terms were specifically searched for, including: 'Benghazi' and 'Libya'."
In the long note, Mrs Clinton said that her practice of forwarding emails to the "state.gov" accounts ensured that the "vast majority" of the 55,000 pages of emails she provided was "simply duplicating what was already captured in the Department’s record-keeping system in real time."
Mrs Clinton said that the state department has already provided 300 Libya-related emails to the Select Committee investigating Benghazi, all of which had already been captured by her habit of forwarding them to "state.gov" addresses.
As to the remaining 30,000 or so emails, the statement says that "after her work-related emails were identified and preserved" Mrs Clinton "chose not to keep her private, personal emails that were not federal records".
Her statement in full:
QuoteLike Secretaries of State before her, Secretary Clinton used her own email account when engaging with State Department officials. For work, it was her practice to email them on their “.gov” accounts, with every expectation those emails would be captured and preserved immediately in the Department's system. When the Department asked former Secretaries last year for help ensuring that their work emails were in fact retained, she said yes and provided printed copies of all of her work-related emails.
She has since asked the Department to make the emails she provided available to the public. She is proud of the work that she and the public servants at the Department did during her four years as Secretary of State and looks forward to people being able to see that for themselves.
Why did she use her own email account?
As the Secretary has said publicly, when she got to the Department, she wanted the simplicity of using one device. She opted to use her personal email account as a matter of convenience; it enabled her to reach people quickly and keep in regular touch with her family and friends more easily given her travel schedule. That is the only reason she used her own account. Her usage was widely known to the over 100 Department and U.S. government colleagues she emailed, as her address was visible on every email she sent.
To address requirements to keep records of her work emails, it was her practice to email government officials on their “.gov” accounts. That way, they would be immediately captured and preserved in the Department's system.
Was this allowed?
Yes. The laws and regulations allowed her to use her own email for work. Under the Federal Records Act, records are defined as recorded information, regardless of its form or characteristics, “made or received by a Federal agency under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business.”
In 2009, the National Archives and Record Administration issued guidance reaffirming a prior regulation on the need to preserve work emails. In meeting the record-keeping obligations, it was Secretary Clinton’s practice to email government officials on their “.gov” accounts, so her work emails were immediately captured and preserved.
Was she ever provided guidance about her use of a non-“.gov” email account?
The Department has and did provide guidance regarding the need to preserve federal records, which included her work emails. To address requirements to keep records of her work emails, it was her practice to email government employees on their “.gov” email address. That way, work emails would be immediately captured and preserved in government record-keeping systems.
What did Secretary Clinton provide to the Department?
On December 5, 2014, 30,490 printed copies of work-related emails sent and received by Secretary Clinton from March 18, 2009 to February 1, 2013 were provided to the Department.
This totaled roughly 55,000 pages. About 90% of these emails were already in the Department’s record-keeping system because they were sent to or received by “state.gov” accounts [Before March 18, 2009, Secretary Clinton continued using the email account she had used during her Senate service. Given her practice from the beginning of emailing Department officials on their state.gov accounts, her work-related emails during these initial weeks would have been captured and preserved in the Department's record-keeping system. She, however, no longer had access to these emails once she transitioned from this account.]
Why did the Select Committee announce that she used multiple email addresses during her tenure?
In fairness to the Committee, this was an honest misunderstanding. Secretary Clinton used one email account during her tenure at State (with the exception of her first weeks in office while transitioning from an email account she had previously used). In March 2013, a month after she left the Department, Gawker published the email address she used while Secretary, and so she had to change the address on her account. At the time the printed copies were provided to the Department last year, because it was the same account, the new email address established after she left office appeared on the printed copies as the sender, and not the address she used as Secretary.
In fact, this address on the account did not exist until March 2013. This led to understandable confusion that was cleared up directly with the Committee after its press conference.
Why did the Department ask for assistance? Why did the Department need assistance in further meeting its requirements under the Federal Records Act?
The Department formally requested the assistance of the four previous former Secretaries in a letter to their representatives dated October 28, 2014 to help in furtherance of meeting the Department’s requirements under the Federal Records Act. The letter stated that in September 2013, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued new guidance clarifying records management responsibilities regarding the use of personal email accounts for government business.
While this guidance was issued after all four former Secretaries had departed office, the Department decided to ensure its records were as complete as possible and sought copies of work emails sent or received by the Secretaries on their own accounts.
Why was the Department given printed copies?
That is the requirement. The instructions regarding electronic mail in the Foreign Affairs Manual require that “until technology allowing archival capabilities for long-term electronic storage and retrieval of E-mail messages is available and installed, those messages warranting preservation as records (for periods longer than current E-mail systems routinely maintain them) must be printed out and filed with related records.”
Were any work items deleted in the course of producing the printed copies? No. How many emails were in her account? And how many of those were provided to the Department?
Her email account contained a total of 62,320 sent and received emails from March 2009 to February 2013. Based on the review process described below, 30,490 of these emails were provided to the Department, and the remaining 31,830 were private, personal records.
How and who decided what should be printed and provided to the Department?
The Federal Records Act puts the obligation on the government official to determine what is and is not a federal record.
The State Department Foreign Affairs Manual outlines guidance “designed to help employees determine which of their e-mail messages must be preserved as federal records and which may be deleted without further authorization because they are not Federal record materials.” Following conversations with Department officials and in response to the Department’s October 28, 2014 letter to former Secretaries requesting assistance in meeting the Department’s record-keeping requirements,
Secretary Clinton directed her attorneys to assist by identifying and preserving all emails that could potentially be federal records. This entailed a multi-step process to provide printed copies of the Secretary’s work-related emails to the Department, erring on the side 5 of including anything that might potentially be a federal record.
As the State Department has said, Secretary Clinton was the first to respond to this letter. A search was conducted on Secretary Clinton’s email account for all emails sent and received from 2009 to her last day in office, February 1, 2013. After this universe was determined, a search was conducted for a “.gov” (not just state.gov) in any address field in an email. This produced over 27,500 emails, representing more than 90% of the 30,490 printed copies that were provided to the Department.
To help identify any potential non-“.gov “correspondence that should be included, a search of first and last names of more than 100 State Department and other US government officials was performed. This included all Deputy Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Ambassadors-at-Large, Special Representatives and Envoys, members of the Secretary’s Foreign Policy Advisory Board, and other senior officials to the Secretary, including close aides and staff. Next, to account for non-obvious or non-recognizable email addresses or misspellings or other idiosyncrasies, the emails were sorted and reviewed both by sender and recipient.
Lastly, a number of terms were specifically searched for, including: “Benghazi” and “Libya.” These additional three steps yielded just over another 2,900 emails, including emails from former Administration officials and long-time friends that may not be deemed by the Department to be federal records. And hundreds of these emails actually had already been forwarded onto the state.gov system and captured in realtime.
With respect to materials that the Select Committee has requested, the Department has stated that just under 300 emails related to Libya were provided by the Department to the Select Committee in response to a November 2014 letter, which contained a broader request for materials than prior requests from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Given Secretary Clinton’s practice of emailing Department officials on their state.gov addresses, the Department already had, and had already provided, the Select Committee with emails from Secretary Clinton in August 2014 – prior to requesting and receiving printed copies of her emails.
The review process described above confirmed Secretary Clinton’s practice of emailing Department officials on their .gov address, with the vast majority of the printed copies of work-related emails Secretary Clinton provided to the Department simply duplicating what was already captured in the Department’s record-keeping system in real time.
When the emails provided to the Department are made available, what is an example of what we will see?
You will see everything from the work of government, to emails with State and other Administration colleagues, to LinkedIn invites, to talk about the weather -- essentially what anyone would see in their own email account. Did Secretary Clinton use this account to communicate with foreign officials? During her time at State, she communicated with foreign officials in person, through correspondence, and by telephone. The review of all of her emails revealed only one email with a foreign (UK) official.
Do you think a third party should be allowed to review what was turned over to the Department, as well as the remainder that was not?
The Federal Records Act puts the obligation on the government official, not the agency or a third party, to determine what is and is not a federal record. The State Department Foreign Affairs Manual outlines guidance “designed to help employees determine which of their e-mail messages must be preserved as federal records and which may be deleted without further authorization because they are not Federal record materials.”
Secretary Clinton responded to the Department’s request by providing approximately 55,000 pages of her work-related emails. She has also taken the unprecedented step of asking that those emails be made public.
In doing so, she has sought to support the Department's efforts, fulfill her responsibility of recordkeeping and provide the chance for the public to assess the work she and officials at the Department did during her tenure.
After her work-related emails were identified and preserved, Secretary Clinton chose not to keep her private, personal emails that were not federal records. These were private, personal messages, including emails about her daughter’s wedding plans, her mother’s funeral services, and condolence notes, as well as emails on family vacations, yoga routines, and other items one would typically find in their own email account, such as offers from retailers, spam, etc.
Government officials are granted the privacy of their personal, non-work related emails, including personal emails on .gov accounts. Secretary Clinton exercised her privilege to ensure the continued privacy of her personal, non-work related emails.
Can’t she release the emails she provided to the Department herself?
Because the printed copies of work-related emails she provided to the Department include federal records of the Department, the Department needs to review these emails before they can be made public. She wants them to be made available as soon as possible.
Was classified material sent or received by Secretary Clinton on this email address? No. A separate, closed system was used by the Department for the sole purpose of handling classified communications which was designed to prevent such information from being transmitted anywhere other than within that system, including to outside email accounts.
How did Secretary Clinton receive and consume classified information?
The Secretary’s office is located in a secure area. Classified information was viewed in hard copy by the Secretary while in the office. While on travel, the Department had rigorous protocols for her and traveling staff to receive and transmit information of all types. Where was the server for her email located? The server for her email was physically located on her property, which is protected by U.S. Secret Service.
What level of encryption was employed? Who was the service provider, etc?
The security and integrity of her family’s electronic communications was taken seriously from the onset when it was first set up for President Clinton’s team. While the curiosity in the specifics of this set up is understandable, given what people with ill-intentions can do with such information in this day and age, there are concerns about broadcasting specific technical details about past and current practices. However, suffice it to say, robust protections were put in place and additional upgrades and techniques employed over time as they became available, including consulting and employing third party experts.
Was the server ever hacked? No, there is no evidence there was ever a breach.
Was there ever an unauthorised intrusion into her email or did anyone else have access to it? No. What was done after her email was exposed in February 2013 after the hacker known as “Guccifer” hacked Sid Blumenthal’s account? While this was not a breach of Secretary Clinton’s account, because her email address was exposed, steps were taken at that time to ensure the security and integrity of her electronic communications.
Was the Department able to respond to requests related to FOIA or Congressional requests before they received printed copies of her workrelated emails?
Yes. As the Select Committee has said, the Department provided the Committee with relevant emails it already had on the state.gov system before the Department requested any printed copies from former Secretaries, and four months before the Department received the printed copies. For example, in the well-publicized hack of Sid Blumenthal’s email account, a note he sent Secretary Clinton on September 12, 2012 was posted online. At first blush, one might not think this exchange would be captured on the state.gov system. But in fact, Secretary Clinton forwarded the email, that very same day, onto the state.gov system. And the email was produced by the Department to the Select Committee, and acknowledged by the Select Committee, in August 2014.
This example illustrates: 1) when an email from a non-“.gov” sender had some connection to work or might add to the understanding of Department officials, it was Secretary Clinton’s practice to forward it to officials at their “state.gov” address; and 2) the Department was able to search and produce Secretary Clinton’s emails when needed long before, and unrelated to, receiving the printed copies as they were already captured on state.gov accounts.
When will the emails be released to the public?
Secretary Clinton has asked the Department to make her emails available as soon as possible. She is proud of the work that she and the public servants at the Department did during her four years as Secretary of State and is looking forward to people having the chance to see that for themselves.

Video - Hillary Clinton Answers Questions on Email Controversy


The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Tuesday dismissed a police inquiry into the killing of a Christian couple in Punjab province as ‘biased’ and ‘unsatisfactory.’
Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi, who was pregnant at the time of the attack on Nov. 4 and a mother to three, were reportedly locked inside a brick-making factory for alleged blasphemy before being beaten and thrown on top of a lit furnace by an enraged mob. Their charred bones and discarded shoes were recovered later, sparking protests and outrage across Pakistan.
“A two-member bench of the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction over the police investigation and hinted at pursuing a judicial inquiry,” said Jamshed Khan, a lawyer present at Tuesday’s hearing. “Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, who was leading the bench, said the [police] inquiry was completely biased,” he added.
In their report, the Punjab police have claimed to arrest 90 of 140 accused, and filed cases against 59 of them before an anti-terrorism court. The report also claims that the mobile phone data of one of the police officers at the scene, Abdul Rasheed, proves he was aware of the allegations against the Christian couple but failed to take any action to protect them.
According to lawyer Khan, the bench had questioned why the police had failed to record statements of any of the relatives of the Christian couple, including eyewitnesses, as required under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code. He said the court ruled that the police’s apparent ambivalence was forcing the establishment of a judicial commission. “Justice Dost Muhammad Khan said the court would issue orders to set up a judicial commission during its next hearing [into the case] on March 24,” he said. Once the order is given, the Punjab government will be directed to forward all materials related to the case to a district judge for inquiry, he added.
An official of the Supreme Court, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is not permitted to speak to media, said the two-member bench had claimed the attack on the Christian couple exposed a rise in extremist views within Pakistani society. “If police treat such horrible incidents lightly, they could soon lose all their authority,” they added. He said the court had also rejected as meaningless a police statement claiming two officers had been forcibly retired over their negligence in the case.
“The court has directed the police chief to arrest all the accused and provide complete security to the family of the murdered victims after getting their statements,” he added.


Pakistan has more nukes than India, shows new infographic

 Pakistan had about 120 atomic weapons, 10 more than India, in its nuclear arsenal last year according to a new interactive infographic unveiled by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Designed by the Bulletin, founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the infographic tracks the number and history of nuclear weapons in the nine nuclear weapon states.

The Nuclear Notebook Interactive Infographic provides a visual representation of the Bulletin's famed Nuclear Notebook, which since 1987 has tracked the number and type of the world's nuclear arsenals.

Having reached a peak of over 65,000 in the late 1980s, the number of nuclear warheads has dropped significantly to a little over 10,000, but more countries now possess them, it shows.

(Image source: Nuclear Notebook website)

According to the infographic, the United States and Russia both have about 5,000 weapons each.

France has 300, China 250, the United Kingdom 225 and Israel 80. North Korea has only conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

"I don't think people truly understand just how many of these weapons there are in the world," said Rachel Bronson, executive director of the Bulletin.

"The Interactive is a way to see, immediately, who has nuclear weapons and when they got them, and how those numbers relate to each other. It is a startling experience, looking at those comparisons."

The authors of the Nuclear Notebook are Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, both with the Federation of American Scientists.

In the most recent edition of the Nuclear Notebook, the authors discuss the Notebook's 28 year history and describe how sometimes host countries learned of foreign nuclear weapons on their soil from the Nuclear Notebook.

Over 28 years of weapons analysis, the Nuclear Notebook column has revealed surprise nuclear activity and spot-on arsenal estimates while becoming a daily resource for scholars, activists and journalists.

"We wanted a way to communicate those numbers visually, because the world we live may be data-driven, it's also visual," said John Mecklin, editor of the Bulletin.

"The new infographic makes this vital information even more accessible."

Afghan Peace Efforts Reopen Wounds Over Pakistan

On the surface, much of the Afghan public has lined up behind President Ashraf Ghani in his bid to bring the Taliban to peace talks.
After a year of Taliban gains in multiple battles, even an outside chance of opening a diplomatic channel strikes many officials as a crucial effort. And indications from Afghan officials that an initial meeting could happen within a week or two from now have heartened Mr. Ghani’s supporters.

But even as early skeptics of the president’s effort are publicly coming around, there is a deep current of distrust and concern among many Afghans over how he has tried to bring his plan to life: by intensively courting Pakistan’s military, which nurtured the Afghan insurgency in its early years, to pressure Taliban leaders to join talks.
In recent weeks, Mr. Ghani has made concessions to the Pakistanis that would have seemed unimaginable under the last administration, including tailoring anti-militant raids to Pakistani requests.It has been an unsettling spectacle for Afghans who firmly see Pakistan as an enemy. Some are asking how the president could ignore so much recent history that has shown Pakistani relations to be, as one former Afghan official put it, “accident prone.”
One critic is the former national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta. Even though he welcomes the idea of talking with the Taliban, he said he thinks Mr. Ghani is giving away too much to Pakistan. Handing over a top Pakistani Taliban commander and going after the Pakistani Taliban on Afghan soil without reciprocal efforts from Pakistan “is absolute appeasement.”
“My advice is to be careful,” Mr. Spanta said in an interview.
On Feb. 15, Abdul Rab Rassoul Sayyaf, a prominent mujahedeen commander, also warned of the perils of getting closer to Pakistan.
And there are those, too, who still question the wisdom of trying to politically engage the Taliban at all. Among them is Amrullah Saleh, a former Afghan spy chief, who noted recently on Twitter that “sharing the state with the Taliban” would not bring peace. “It institutionalizes conflict,” he added.
Despite the warnings, Mr. Ghani has been risking tremendous political capital to do what eluded his predecessor, former President Hamid Karzai, who is skeptical but supportive of his successor’s efforts, according to people close to him. Mr. Karzai spent years trying to persuade the Taliban to negotiate with his government. By some official accounts, there were as many as five instances when the Afghan government felt they were approaching a breakthrough.
“On a number of occasions we were very close,” Mr. Spanta said. “It’s not the first time that Pakistan has made promises and not delivered.”
In June 2011, according to one current and one former Afghan official, the government had paved the way for Pakistan to draw the Taliban into talks. A delegation led by Mr. Karzai met with Pakistan’s top civilian and military leadership, including Yousaf Raza Gilani, then the prime minister, and Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, who promised to urge the insurgent leadership to join talks.
A timeline was set, then shattered. Shortly after the return of the Afghan delegation, Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and the government’s chief peace negotiator, was killed in a Kabul suicide attack that derailed efforts. Many inside and outside the government suspected Pakistani involvement.
To revive the efforts, the Pakistani government agreed to allow a team from the Afghan intelligence service to investigate the origins of the attack, Mr. Spanta said. Salahuddin Rabbani, Mr. Rabbani’s son who replaced him in the job, was dispatched to meet with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former deputy leader, who was in Pakistani custody.
Neither effort panned out. The Afghan investigators were stonewalled, Mr. Spanta said. And Mr. Rabbani, meanwhile, was presented with a near comatose Mullah Baradar. Mr. Rabbani recalled being unable to communicate with him. Mr. Karzai interpreted both events as evidence of Pakistan’s duplicity.
There has been evidence, however, that Pakistan is better disposed toward the new Afghan administration. That is said to be, in part, because China, which was concerned that the militant activity and unrest at its border could spread, has urged a reconciliation. In recent months, Chinese officials have publicly offered to host or facilitate Taliban talks, and was even reported to have hosted an initial Taliban delegation in Beijing.
Another reason cited for Pakistan’s growing engagement is the absence of Mr. Karzai. Like the Americans, the Pakistanis suffered withering criticism from him before he left office. Some see Mr. Ghani’s presence as an opportunity to hit the reset button with the Afghan government.
Mr. Ghani’s election rival, Abdullah Abdullah, is publicly on board with Taliban talks now that he is part of the government. But that was not always the case: In 2011, Mr. Abdullah criticized the failed efforts as “a lesson for all of us that we shouldn’t fool ourselves that this group” is “willing to make peace.”
Beyond politics, there is a pressing desire among Afghans for peace after three decades of conflict. Leaders are leery of looking like they oppose peace. Even Mr. Sayyaf, after calling Mr. Ghani’s policy “dictatorial,” seems to have been mollified. He recently met with Mr. Ghani in the palace as part of the president’s outreach effort to the political elite to shore up support for the peace talks.
“Only those who feel left out will oppose this,” said one former senior government official, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Even those who were opponents of the Taliban, as well as Mr. Ghani, seem to be on board.
Atta Mohammad Noor, a former mujahedeen commander and supporter of Mr. Abdullah, who at one point threatened to form a breakaway government during the contested election if Mr. Ghani was declared the winner, has signed off on the efforts. Mr. Noor is the governor of Balkh, one of the most prosperous provinces in Afghanistan.
In 2011, after Mr. Rabbani’s assassination, Mr. Noor was one of many former mujahedeen leaders who denounced peace talks with the Taliban. Now, reached by phone, Mr. Noor said he was supportive.
“I believe that our interests are not in tension with Pakistan,” he said of the peace talks. “My policy is that we need to improve our relations with Pakistan and the regional countries, so the mistrust is done away with.”
Mr. Noor appears to be the recipient of an evolving strategy by Pakistan to diversify its investment in Afghanistan — and its key leaders. In 2013, Mr. Noor opened a new $18 million engineering school at Balkh University — construction paid for by the government of Pakistan.
He thanked the government for another $3 million in forthcoming investment for two other schools.

Muslim landlord prohibits Christian tenant to offer family prayers in Pakistan

Under nose of Prime Minister of Pakistan and other national and international human right organizations in capital city of Pakistan, a Muslim landlord interfered in family prayers of his Christian tenant and threatened him to stop Christian prayers in his property.

A prominent Christian journalist and human right activist and his family members were offering prayers on death anniversary of his mother when his Muslim landlord thundered on door and instructed him not to sing Christian religious hymns and recitation of Holy Bible in his property and urged him to offer prayers in Church instead of home in future.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC has expressed grave concern on interference of Muslim landlord in prayers of Christian tenant.

The 98% of Christians in Pakistan are living under poverty line residing in slums of every city of Pakistan because they have not been given due share in housing projects by government and to buy land to build homes in private housing schemes is out of their reach.

The middle class Christians are also facing problems to buy homes in housing schemes and are forced to rent homes which are owned by Muslims.

The sad incident which is very alarming for national and international human rights and religious freedom organizations in Pakistan that Christian tenants will be barred to offer family prayers then on which direction Pakistan is heading? 

Here we are posting loud cry of Christian journalist Shamim Masih who faced this incident: “On the third death anniversary of my mother, we arranged a prayer meeting in our house, where only our family member participated. As we were praying, somebody knocked at the door like he wants to break it up at once. I went outside and found that our landlord was there, at once, he started shouting, why are you people praying at home, it is not church etc, etc. I humbly clarify him that I know it is not church and we didn’t invited other people to pray, it’s our family prayer meeting as it is my mother’s death anniversary. So we gathered to tribute her. He strictly cautioned me not to do this again in the house. All the services should be performed in the Churches. This is just one example, there are many like this. Restriction on building new churches, registering new church based organization etc. even in Islamabad; there are only two properly constructed churches, while there thousands of the mosques and midrsas (seminary). Reportedly, it is mentioned in the map of Islamabad, there should one church in each sector of the capital. But CDA don’t allow you build church in the capital.

 Despite the first democratic transfer of the power in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another the exceedingly poor religious freedom environment worsened. Recent and previous rulers engaged in and tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief. Despite democratic institutions, Pakistan’s legal environment is particularly repressive due to its blasphemy laws and other religiously discriminatory legislation and constitutional provisions. Authorities failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from the sectarian and religiously –motivated violence and courts have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence. 

There are many examples to it; I will just quote one, two years past when hundreds of the Christian houses in Joseph Colony were burnt. During this particular case, only Sawan Masih was sentenced to death but rest of the perpetrators were set free to go for others. Unfortunately Pakistani religious minorities are facing the worst situation in the world for religious freedom. In the past few years, conditions hit an all time low due to chronic sectarian violence targeting not only Shia’s Muslims but also Christians, Ahmadis and Hindus.

 Pakistan’s repressive blasphemy laws and anti-Ahmdi laws are widely used to violate the religious freedoms and foster a climate of impunity. During 2014, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCRIF) again recommends that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern” (CPC). Muslims not only from Pakistan but from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria and everywhere else have done enough to deserve hatred. They have been killing innocent children, attacked schools, burnt Christian villages, torn down Hindu temples, mutilated journalists, shunned scientific laws and flogged enough bloggers for free thinking to deserve this acrimony all around the world. Many of them claim that version of Islam is peaceful, a version that promotes brotherhood and peace. Unfortunately, that version of Islam is only found in books now. Pakistani Christians live under the fear of religion, our churches, our kids and our lives are not secure. Converting to another religion is out of the question. Honestly speaking, at this very moment, Pakistan is not fit for Shia Muslim or non-Muslims alike. We are not against Islam but against this Mullasim (Islamophobia)”


On the one hand, Pakistani interior minister is trying to cover-up the threat from Deobandis-allied Salafi-Wahhabi terrorist outfit ISIL or Daish (ISIS) in Pakistan, the head of Canada’s spy agency warned that the said takfiri terrorist outfit is spreading to Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, CBC News reported.

Speaking to the members of Senate Defence Committee, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) chief Michael Coulombe said although focus has now turned to ISIL, we must not forget longer-running groups such as the (similar Wahhabi-Salafi terrorist outfit) al-Qaeda.
“ISIS started in Iraq and Syria, but what we’re seeing now, and you’ve seen it in media, it’s spreading in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan,” Coulombe said adding that ”Boko Haram just pledged allegiance to ISIS; so there’s also this phenomenon of ISIS spreading.”
Canada’s top security officials appeared before the Senate defence committee, Monday, over the government’s plans to extend the reach of CSIS overseas.
Coulombe and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney presided over the meeting while other top security officials, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien and former CSIS assistant director of intelligence Ray Boisvert were also present.

Pakistan's blasphemy law - Crime Or Terrorism

The Islamabad High Court on Monday upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri – the murderer of former Punjab Governor Salman Taseer – under section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and declared the conviction under the Anti-Terrorism Act as null and void. What this means is that the judges agree that Qadri unlawfully killed Taseer, which is why they’ve upheld the death sentence, but they do not view the murder as an act of terrorism. This has at least one clear implication. The death sentence under the PPC is compoundable unlike under ATA, which means that the family is allowed to pardon the culprit. The court has done no favours to Taseer’s family by putting them in a position where they may be blackmailed and pressurised to strike a bargain. Regardless, they shouldn’t have any power to decide Qadri’s fate. Only the direct victim should have the right to forgive, and in his regrettable absence, the killer cannot be allowed to escape punishment under any circumstances.
It appears that the IHC considered more than just law to decide the outcome of the case. It is rather disappointing that a man being shot 32 times in broad daylight by a lunatic in the name of religion doesn’t qualify as terrorism in the infinite wisdom of the honourable judges. Did they not find evidence of people being terrorised by Qadri’s actions? Some context may prove helpful. Salman Taseer was killed for raising his voice against the misuse of blasphemy laws. It is extremely difficult for everyone in Pakistan, be it a common man or a sitting governor or the entire parliament, to remove, revise or even discuss the controversial blasphemy laws. Why is that? Is it because of lack of sound arguments? Is it because there is a consensus over such laws? How is it that despite so many victims and varying opinions, there is no debate in the parliament or the mainstream media? It is primarily because of fear that stems for the very real threat of violence by zealots like Qadri and other religious personalities and groups that justify Taseer’s murder. Salman Taseer overcame fear, ignored threats and spoke up, hoping to secure justice for a hapless Christian woman. What did Qadri do in response? He shot him dead, shutting the debate before it could start, instilling fear in those who share Taseer’s views. The message was clear for everyone: shut up or get killed. Blasphemy laws are not protected by reasoning or common sense. More than anything, they are shielded by fear and terror. Any action, which serves to reinforce fear and sustain terror, ought to be regarded as an act of terrorism. Is that not what happened here? Who would dare to hold another press conference for a victim of blasphemy laws? Why would it be a daring act bordering on suicide? There’s your answer.

Pakistan's extremist groups - Government’s confusion

THE struggle over producing a list of banned outfits shows that the government is not clear about who should be on the list and who shouldn’t.
Clarity on religious extremist groups means more than going on about ‘zero tolerance’ policies and promising an end to the distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.
Clarity means being able to, at the very least, name all known religiously-motivated militant organisations operating in the country, telling the public why many of them have been banned, and what action is being taken to shut down their operations and apprehend their activists and leaders.
None of this appears to be happening. Putting up one list on a government website, only to take it down a few days later, clearly indicates confusion about the enemy to be pursued.
The failure to create actionable guidelines for the identification of assets and funding lines connected with these organisations shows lack of, or worse still fear of, resolute action.
The Senate has been struggling to get a simple list from the Punjab police of madressahs known to have militant links; yet three hearings later it is no closer to obtaining one than it was at the start.
Yet we are told that 19,000 suspected militants have already been apprehended. This claim strains credulity. If it were true, we would be hearing far more noise than we are at the moment.
The religious parties, after protesting vigorously that their seminaries should not be caught up in the dragnet, have gone quiet and those with a presence in politics have returned to business as usual, a clear enough sign that their apprehensions have been assuaged.
How has this silence come about? Have they been given an assurance that their networks will not be touched in the course of fighting terror? And if so, will this assurance weaken the fight or strengthen it?
Without clarity of mind, the ongoing operation will amount to little more than the myriad operations that have come before it. What exactly is stopping the government and the security agencies from defining a terrorist?
What stops them from naming madressahs that are known to be linked to militant organisations? What prevents them from pursuing the assets and funding lines that are known to function within the country’s formal financial system?
The fact that answers are needed almost three months after the awful tragedy in Peshawar and 40 days after the blast in Shikarpur, begs an even more fundamental question: what will it take to realise that wars cannot be won without clarity of mind?
If we have resolved to uproot terrorism in the country, surely the first step in this direction is to be clear on who is a terrorist and who isn’t. How can we claim to be fighting an enemy that we are afraid to even name?