Thursday, March 19, 2015

MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This

Parents, Students Worried About Turkey's Education System

Parents and students in Turkey have taken to the streets to show their alarm over the state of education in the country, and the direction the government has taken to reform it.  
Generally, education has been viewed as a political football in the past decade under Turkey's Islamist-rooted government.
Observers say much of the problem lies in the legacy of military rule during the 1980s.  Under the generals, thousands of teachers considered either having left-leaning or liberal sympathies were purged.  A ruthless disciplinary system was installed that emphasized loyalty to the state over individual thought.  

Last month some students boycotted classes in a nationwide protest of education policy.  One female student, who asked not to be identified, said conditions are getting worse.

Complaining that the classrooms are tiny and that there are no libraries, or laboratories, she asked "How are we supposed to learn?" She added that the mentality of teaching and the schools are in the past.

Away from secularism
The government insists it is committed to education reform, and under the ruling AK Party the education budget has markedly increased. But critics claim education reform has been haphazard and is continually changing.

Criticism of the Islamist-rooted government has grown with its policy of more religion classes, and a massive program of converting secular schools into Islamic schools is underway, leading many parents to pull their children out of state schools.  There has been a massive expansion of private education, which was unknown in Turkey until a few decades ago.
Private schools start at about $10,000 a year, more than Turkey's average income, but as one parent explained on conditions of anonymity, she feels she has little choice.

"You send your child to a state school, you do not know what the child is going to encounter there.  We hear there is going to be more emphasis on religious education, and I believe there will be more strict implementation of such a thing, rather than private schools," she said. "And I don't believe their education policies will be scientific education, for children to feel free for free thinking, to have good self-confidence.  I believe state schools have more of suppressing the children."
Economic downside
The business community and industry are also concerned about the state of education.  Despite economic gains in the past decade, Finans Bank chief economist Inan Demir says Turkey has hit a ceiling, and education is partly to blame.
"Turkey’s labor force is not fully utilized right now.  And even the utilized portion could be utilized even better.  But that would require a different sort of labor force, a much better educated labor force.  But Turkey has not done much on that front.  So I would say getting to the next leg of rapid growth, Turkey most notably needs reforms on the education front," said Demir.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said education's priority should be to bring up a religious generation.  Critics accuse the Islamist-rooted president of seeking social engineering to ensure a loyal electorate.  But the price could be high, says Istanbul Technical University Professor Kerem Cankocak.
"The education system is getting worse and worse.  When I was in high school, which was more than 30 years ago, we were learning evolution.  Now today, none of the children is learning evolution in high school.  You cannot teach genetics, you cannot teach biology without evolution, because there are no other laws.  You cannot run a country without science," said Cankocak.
Education is expected to be a key issue in June’s election, but the ruling AK Party continues to be well ahead of a divided opposition.

Saudi blogger Raif Badawi awaits new schedule for flogging


By Eye Ali
Since Summer 2014, focus of Pakistan’s security establishment was on Wahhabis-allied Deobandi terrorists, militants, fanatics and their abettors and facilitators. They launched a much-awaited military operation in North Waziristan. After that Operation Zarb-e-Azb, they also focused on Khyber Agency and began Khyber-One there.
Then came Peshawar massacre of army public school’s children and some female teachers and that tragic terrorist attack shook entire world, let alone Pakistan. 150 school children and female teachers were martyred and that angered a vast majority of the silent majority of Pakistan nation. Feeling the heart and amid mounting pressure, civilian leadership and military junta sat together and that brought National Action Plan and under NAP, Provincial Action Plans (PAPs).
Not to forget the fact that from Pakistan’s international geographical borders with Iran and Afghanistan to China and India, all terrorist attacks were perpetrated by Deobandis affiliated with one or another militant outfit that was banned by the State of Pakistan for their terrorist attacks civilians and security officials alike.
But, that has not scared Deobandis because of full support from remnants of General Zia, their godfather who usurped power and sacked democratically elected populist government of Pakistan People’s Party led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. Zia got Bhutto hanged in 1979 and began laying the foundation of turning Pakistan into a Deobandi-Wahhabi State.
Saudi-CIA alliance patronized them and used Deobandis of Pakistan as their proxy to hijack legitimate national resistance of Afghanis to the foreign occupier (then U.S.S.R.). U.S. journalist and author John Cooley narrated all important developments of that era in his book Unholy Wars. Even role of U.S. legislator Charlie Wilson was so prominent that movies and books came to scene with focus on that role.
U.S. diplomat Denis Kux too gave graphic details of the events of marriage of convenience between Saudi Wahhabis/allied-Deobandis and U.S.-led West, a pro-Israel bloc. Deobandis and Wahhabis began marginalizing Shia Muslims and Sunni Bralevis under a well-designed long-term machination. Afghanistan never stabilized since that proxy of Wahhabis-allied Deobandis of pro-Israel Western bloc that was led by United States as per the West’s global counter-communism strategy and that suited the U.S.-led pro-Zionists West altogether.
Surprisingly, neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan prospered in the post-U.S.S.R. world that is also known as “unipolar” world led by U.S. But, Saudis-allied Deobandis emerged as “fortunate sons” of the marriage of convenience between Saudi monarchy and the U.S. Pakistan was sold Deobandi-Wahhabi narrative of strategic depth and under that they pushed this great nation to strategic death.
Deobandis continued proxy role to advance the illegitimate interests of Saudi-U.S. alliance and another fortunate son Taliban was born out of that another marriage of convenience between them. Then, came 9/11 which French research scholar declared The Big Lie and now Zacarias Moussaoui of al-Qaida confirmed Saudi funding for their terrorist activities hence it is quite clear that it was a fixed match in which proxies of U.S.-Saudi alliance and their actual foreign masters would portray them as staunch enemies of each other.
Zacarias Moussaoui confessed his links with Saudi royal family’s princes who held or still hold key positions in Saudi government such as King Salman, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Prince Turki al Faisal. Nexus of Wahhabis and Wahhabis-allied Deobandi outfits are known in Af-Pak region. Deobandis militant outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba aka ASWJ introduced takfiri terrorism hijacking pro-unity Deobandis against Shia Muslims and Sunni Bralevis and also against non-Muslim minorities such as Hindus and Christians.
They provided logistic support to Taliban in Afghanistan and brought a new son they gave birth in Afghanistan and named that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi named after founder of proscribed ASWJ’s original outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba. Security establishment mainly its intelligence agencies alerted the world that these outfits are allies, facilitators and abettors of al-Qaida that was created in pre-Taliban Afghanistan by the U.S.-led West together with the Saudi monarchy. Former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook disclosed that role in the House and also wrote an article published in Guardian.
Renowned Pakistani diplomats Riaz Khan and S Iftikhar Murshed also mentioned that role to some extent in their on Afghanistan-Pakistan and on Taliban Years respectively.
Even Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz hinted in his book at the main organ behind Afghan Policy of Pakistan that caused damage to Pakistan. He also admitted that Deobandi seminaries were established under that U.S.-Saudi Afghan policy.
Coming back to the present critical scenario, one should not forget the fact that Saudi monarchy had paid Nawaz Government $ 1.5 billion and now invited him at Riyadh where un-elected Saudi ruler, a hereditary monarch, dictated the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan what Saudis want to do.
Soon after Saudi dictation, focus of the National Action Plan was shifted from Deobandis to MQM, a Karachi-based secular party led by a Sunni Bralevi politician Altaf Hussain who welcomed accountability as per law. But, Deobandis threatened the State of Pakistan that they would react to due action against the pro-takfiris and pro-terrorists seminaries. They had opposed the National Action Plan and not voted for Constitutional amendment that was needed to approve the decisions of post-massacre meeting of civilian political leadership and military leadership.
Nobody oppose the targeted military action against any criminal, thug or militant be he or she is ethnic nationalists, but these sorts of terrorism is limited to Karachi or Hyderabad as far as MQM is concerned, Jeay Sindh is also limited and Baloch ethnic nationalists were also involved in Balochistan alone. Instead of taking due action against the takfiri Deobandis who infiltrated these ethnic or sub-nationalist organisations and used them to kill innocent people, action has been diverted to those criminals who have not bombed holy shrines of Islamic saints, nor they bombed Wagah or Taftan border nor they bombed Shia mosques and Imam Bargahs nor they bombed Christian churches nor they bombed GHQ, PAF Base Kamra, PNS Mehran and PNS Kamra nor they bombed ISI officials and offices nor they bombed SSG commandoes at Tarbela. Powers that be need to put the NAP-designed operation on right track and in right direction.

IS follows Saudi doctrines

Syed Kamran Hashmi  

We cannot fight a war against radicalism by promoting and exporting radical ideas ourselves either. Experience tells us that people who play with fire ultimately get burnt by it.

Quite often, we have to feign our disapproval over the news of beheadings carried out by Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, pretending we truly believe there is no place for such practice in sharia law. “Barbaric, inhuman and un-Islamic,” some of us proclaim aloud to conform to social pressure, while others wear a mask of innocence on their faces, exclaiming: “A ‘true’ Muslim cannot approve of the actions of IS and its rigid interpretation of Islam.” Others may try to make it an individual problem denying its divine spirit altogether. “Who are these people joining hands with the terrorist organisation?” they ask. “They must belong to poor, uneducated or unstable families.”

However, whether we admit it or not, the reality is that we cannot disagree with IS on an ideological basis. The reason? Just next door to the ‘brutal’ regime of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there sits a similar administration in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country in which a Pakistani is decapitated almost every week with the approval of the courts and authorisation from its rulers. Do we not know about this already? Is beheading in Saudi Arabia really news to us? What difference does it make if it is carried out by IS, the Taliban in Afghanistan or the Saudi royals? In the end, all of them claim to follow the same scripture. In fact, we have never protested against their punishment or condemned the practice on religious grounds, nor have we raised our voices to save the lives of our citizens. Instead, as soon as we hear about the court judgment, we forsake our countrymen, letting them die alone with little, if any, community or consulate support.

Even if we keep the barbarity of the procedure aside for a moment, can we trust the quality of investigation in Saudi Arabia, a society infamous for mistreating people from the subcontinent on racial grounds? Based on the attitude of its police and the administration towards us, we can surmise that most, if not all, of us suffer a substandard investigation, get represented by incompetent lawyers and receive conviction in a partial trial through a biased judge, a trial in which all the odds are held high against the poor, non-Arab, non-white man to defend himself.

While a Pakistani loses his life, his compatriots here endorse his execution, declaring it as the reason for the low crime rate in the holy lands, a huge achievement by their standards. On numerous occasions, because of its tight grip on power and its ability to maintain law and order, the Saudi government emerges as a role model for Pakistanis. Now, with Mr Baghdadi following in the same footsteps, how can we be disappointed? We should be proud, celebrating the fact that we do not stand alone in our acknowledgement of the royals; our Iraqi ‘brothers’ are also picking up the lead.

For most religiously inclined Pakistanis though, the real question does not entail the ferocity of execution. That does not bother them. Instead, the real question is if Saudi Arabia or IS can back their decision with the Quran and Sunnah. As a rule, Muslims, other than believing in a single omniscient God and Muhammad (PBUH) as his last messenger, disagree on almost everything else. If we start debating, the definition of every word and every term, including the messenger, would become so confusing and convoluted that all of us would need a PhD in the Arabic language and/or linguistics to understand it. So, without going into further details and disclosing tens of meanings of every phrase, we can conclude that there will always be two points of view on the subject of beheadings: one sect recommending decapitation and the other opposing the punishment, both of whom would quote a verse from the Quran to support their argument. You can find them as well. Just spend a few minutes on Google and you will come across hundreds of related articles along with verses in Surah Muhammad (47:4) and Surat Al-Infal (8:12) presented most often to support the practice.

Realising the complexity of the problem, I do not want to focus on the religious aspect, nor do I want to bash the royals anymore. That will take us nowhere. Rather, my goal is to bring up the hypocrisy of our own attitudes towards it. I believe if we have to criticise the punishment, it must be done across the board, including criticising the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And if we have to approve it, that needs to be approved as a general rule too, including in the areas now being ruled by IS.

Does this mean we should then support IS? Of course not. However, we cannot fight a war against radicalism by promoting and exporting radical ideas ourselves either. Experience tells us that people who play with fire ultimately get burnt by it. It has bitten Pakistan when it used religion to secure foreign policy objectives in neighbouring countries, killing almost 50,000 people in 10 years or less. And, through IS or any other similar organisation in the present or future, Middle Eastern, African or Indian, Saudi Arabia faces the same threat. Labelling it as a terrorist organisation, while it follows the same rules as yours, will not help either because, in that case, we will need to put the elite class of Saudi Arabia in the same category. Are we ready for that?

The only way the House of Saud can wage a real war against the House of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and succeed is by taking on the issue in its homeland first. How? Modernise Saudi society. I think both its clergy and its ruling elite will need to find a way to bring moderation to their interpretation of the religion, a radical change from their current approach. If they do not, extremism will prevail and haunt Saudi Arabia long after IS is defeated in Iraq.

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White House: US 'to reevaluate' backing for Israel at UN

Despite PM's attempt to backtrack from Palestinian state opposition, Washington says it is clear Netanyahu walked back from previous commitment to two-state approach.
Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempts to backtrack from hard-line statements against the establishment of a Palestinian state, the White House on Thursday pointedly raised the prospect of withdrawing crucial diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations.
Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu denied he had abandoned his commitment to creating a Palestinian state, but said current political conditions made that possibility more remote.

"I don't want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change," Netanyahu said in an interview on MSNBC, appearing to back away from comments he made during the Israeli election campaign that drew heavy US criticism.
"Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome, said spokesman Josh Earnest.

"Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution. That means we need to reevaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters it is clear that Netanyahu during his campaign walked back from his previous commitment to a two-state solution with Palestinians.

Earnest said, however, that the US remains committed to continuing cooperation on military intelligence and security with Israel.

In the interview, Netanyahu said: "I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."

The prime minister also pointed to the presence of hostile Islamic groups across the region and said that any captured territory handed over to Abbas would be taken over by militants. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, shortly after Israeli withdrew.
A day before the election Netanyahu told the nrg news website that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch because of the current climate in the region.

"Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time," he said in the video interview. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied, "Indeed."

In another signal that the US administration is looking to turn up the heat on Netanyahu, the White House is sending Obama's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to address the liberal pro-Israel U.S.-based group J Street on Monday. The group, a proponent of two states side by side, opposed Netanyahu in the election campaign.

"US-Israel ties remain strong"

The prime minister made attempts to affirm his country's strong ties with the United States on Thursday after tensions in the run-up to his election victory, saying Israel has "no greater ally."

"There are so many areas where we must work together with the United States," Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC. "America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States."

Netanyahu won a bitterly contested Israeli election this week after shifting to the right in the final days of campaigning.

"We can have differences, but we have so many things that unite us. We have a situation in the Middle East that is very dangerous, that presents a common challenge," Netanyahu told the network.
In the NBC interview, Netanyahu dismissed allegations he was racist, after he said during Election Day that the high Arab voter turnout was endangering his right wing party's dominance.

"I'm not," he said.

Netanyahu said he had not yet spoken to US President Barack Obama, but he was sure they would speak soon, according to NBC.

Secretary of State John Kerry called Netanyahu on Wednesday to congratulate him. Obama will follow suit "in coming days," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. He said that after previous elections Obama had waited a similar amount of time, holding off until Netanyahu was formally given the go-ahead to form a coalition.

Netanyahu’s insistence that there will be no Palestinian state while he holds office, seen as a maneuver to mobilize his right-wing base, angered the Palestinians and drew criticism from the United Nations and European governments. Chances for restarting long-stalled peace moves already had been low.

US lawmakers were divided on Netanyahu's hardened stance.

"It was remarkable to back-track so significantly on a two-state solution," said Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy, adding it could make Washington's effort to mediate more difficult.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he hoped the United States and Israel would see the election as "an opportunity to start over." But he said: "A two-state solution is impossible as long as Hamas exists and runs Gaza."

Pashto Music Video


By Vikram Sood
The Baloch have more than one problem. They are just too few to matter in the calculus of Pakistan’s national politics, even though their province is 45 per cent of strategically vital territory. Despite being resource-rich, they are the poorest and most deprived in Pakistan. Islamabad and Rawalpindi are interested only in the enormous natural resources that the Baloch possess but are not allowed to reap the benefits of this bounty.
Baloch have dreamt and steadily struggled for independence ever since August 1947, and have been suppressed brutally. Successive Pakistani regimes have kept the province subjugated, deprived and isolated, their voices stifled in an echo chamber. Foreigners, especially journalists, are persona non grata in Balochistan. Declan Walsh, then from The Guardian, was expelled for his ‘Pakistan’s Dirty War’ a graphic reminder of how gruesome the situation was in Balochistan. The Italian journalist Francesca Marino’s article ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ would not have endeared her to the Pakistan authorities and she was refused entry.
More than that, several thousand Baloch men and women nationalists are known to have gone missing, and, as usual, the authorities have unleashed sectarian terrorists in Balochistan to discredit the nationalists by injecting their reliable hit men from the ASWJ, the successors to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. They have repeatedly killed Hazara Shias in Balochistan.
The 2014 annual report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch refers to the crimes against humanity by the Pakistan Army in Balochistan since 1948. The report says that these acts include indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations, arbitrary arrests, extra-judicial abduction of Baloch activists and political prisoners, and targeted killing of most learned and educated members of Baloch society. Since 2010, authorities have pursued a policy of abduct, kill and dump. Enforced disappearances happen with impunity. Exactly a year ago, Zahid Baloch, chairperson of the Balochistan Student Organisation-Azad, was picked up by the Frontier Corps and his safety and whereabouts have remained unknown since then.
There was continued concern with encouragement to fundamentalists and groups like Ansar-ul-Islam, Al-Furqan, Lashkar-e-Islam and others to create cleavages between the Baloch and others who live in the province including Shias, Hindus, Sikhs and Zikris. A website reproduced an interview that Wendy Johnson had with Dr Allah Nazar, of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), in 2011. Dr Nazar referred to the battle in Dasht, Balochistan the BLF had with an ISIS front, Lashkar-e-Khurasan, that year and mentioned that the ISIS already had four camps in Balochistan.
There are other complications for the nationalists in Balochistan. The province is now on the high road of heroin smuggling from Afghanistan to Balochistan to the rest of the world. Heroin dons like Imam Bheel Bizenjo have been useful to the State by eliminating prominent Baloch activists. A BLF attempt to assassinate Bheel’s son, Yakub, in 2009 failed. But next year, they succeeded in killing Haji Lal Baksh, the second most powerful drug baron in Balochistan. Imam Bheel remains quite the Godfather under official protection, and when he murdered the Gwadar Deputy Commissioner Abdul Rehman Dashti in his house, not a soul stirred. Last year, in October, Baloch Sarmachars attacked and seized arms belonging to Imam Bheel. The nationalists are thus waging a multi-pronged battle against military forces, the air force, paramilitary forces, the political-criminal-military nexus and the religious extremist-intelligence agencies network.
There is also the China factor. Gwadar has been developed by the Chinese not as a luxury resort. It is part of a grand infrastructure project that links Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar via the Karakoram Highway. The original road was to be west of the Indus running through Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, but the Punjabi lobby prevailed and the proposed road will run through Punjab with obvious economic advantages. Both the Chinese and the Pakistanis are interested in keeping Balochistan under control.
The character of the Baloch revolt is changing. Mahvish Ahmed, in his detailed essay in The Caravan, New Delhi, brings this out. The traditional centres of opposition in the North East, led by Baloch Sardars like Marris and Bugtis most of whom have died, were eliminated or are in exile was now being replaced by a more urban middle-class leadership from the south.
Meanwhile, the Baloch carry on their campaign on the Internet and the social media, which may have some appeal outside but there is not enough global attention to their plight. Their struggle remains forlorn.

Afghan President Ghani set to embark on key US visit

  • Author Gabriel Domínguez, Masood Saifullah

As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani prepares for his first official US visit, a host of key issues will be on the agenda, including the US troop exit, prospective Taliban peace talks, and the Afghan economy. DW examines.
US President Barack Obama will host Ghani and his Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah, when they visit the United States from March 22-25, as Washington considers whether to cut the number of US troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 by the year's end.
According to the White House, the two presidents will discuss a range of issues including security, economic development, and US support to the Afghan-led reconciliation process in what is set to be Ghani's first visit to the country following the disputed 2014 presidential poll. While in Washington, the Afghan president and his delegation will also engage in a "high-level strategic dialogue" hosted by Secretary Kerry at Camp David.
But experts agree that the scheduled US troop drawdown will be the most important issue on the agenda, as Ghani - who is seen as a leader willing to work with Washington, unlike his predecessor Hamid Karzai - has repeatedly urged the US might "re-examine" its timetable for removing the remaining 10,000 US military personnel by the end of 2016.
Improved ties
Ghani's US trip comes at a time when US-Afghan relations are on an upward trajectory, after the relationship reached a low point under Karzai. "Ghani has been saying and doing things that are music to Washington's ears: He signed the bilateral security agreement that Karzai refused to sign; he removed the ban on night raids that Karzai had put in place; and he has been pushing hard for a deeper US role that Karzai very much wanted to eschew," said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, from left, speaks as Afghan presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah listen during a joint press conference in Kabul
(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
US-Afghan relations are on an upward trajectory
"In fact, one reason why President Obama has been willing to reconsider his drawdown schedule is because of his realization that bilateral relations are doing so well, and that Ghani is a man that he can certainly do business with," he added.
Jason Campbell, an international security expert at the US-based RAND Corporation, says that one of Ghani and Abdullah's top priorities will likely be to assure the US that Afghanistan's long term stability and prosperity is in everyone's interest, and that they are capable of implementing the necessary changes that will ensure Afghanistan is making the most out of the international support it receives.
"Ghani and Abdullah understand that Washington sets the tone when it comes to much of the international backing dedicated to Afghanistan and securing long term commitments of support will be their primary goal," Campbell told DW.
A slower drawdown?
Under the current exit plan, Washington wants to gradually wind down the level of troops to a "normal" US Embassy presence by the end of 2016, when President Barack Obama leaves office.
But over the past few weeks, doubts have also been raised by Republicans in Congress and other US officials, who argue that such a strategy would jeopardize the gains made over the past 13 years, especially in the face of an increased threat by "Islamic State" (IS) and an emboldened Taliban insurgency.
This is why analysts believe the US administration will likely scrap the current plan. "We should expect President Obama to announce that he will be phasing out the remaining US troops much more slowly than originally planned," said Kugelman. In effect, most, if not all, of the troops expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year will likely be staying well into next year, he added.
This would potentially mean that bases in places such as Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Bagram could be kept open longer than originally planned and that the coalition could maintain more of a regional footprint as opposed to becoming exclusively Kabul-focused, according to Campbell.
However, this does not necessarily mean that troops will to stay in the country beyond 2016. "President Obama is at the point of his presidency where legacy-crafting is important, and he wants to cement his legacy as an anti-war president who removed all US troops from Afghanistan under his watch. By allowing US troops to outstay his presidency, he would effectively be undercutting his legacy," said Kugelman.
Volatile security situation
In the meantime, a series of recent UN reports have outlined the fragile security situation in Afghanistan. In February, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) revealed that nearly 3,700 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict-stricken country last year, the highest rate of civilian casualties since the UN body started collecting data five years ago.
Moreover, UNAMA chief Nicholas Haysom said that the threat posed by IS should not be taken lightly. "Recent reports have indicated that the Islamic State of Iraq, or DAISH as it's called in the region, has established a foothold in Afghanistan. It is UNAMA's assessment that the group's presence is of concern but that IS' significance is not so much a function of its intrinsic capacities in the region, but of its potential to offer an alternative flagpole to which otherwise isolated insurgent splinter groups can rally," said Haysom.
Although some 13,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan, their key objective is to advise and train the still-fledgling national forces, and to provide limited counterterrorism support. But by and large, this is a non-combat force that is not in Afghanistan to fight a war. It is in the country to help the 350,000 Afghan troops - who now have full responsibility for security - to fight the war against the insurgents.
Rallying support
The volatile security situation explains why peace and reconciliation with the Taliban are a top priority for President Ghani. And it also sheds light on why Ghani's trip to Washington comes only after visits to Pakistan and China, countries which many view as being in a good position to help Kabul bring about that objective.
In fact, Ajmal Obaid Abidy, Ghani's spokesperson, told DW that the president "wanted to visit the US after achieving a consensus in the region and the Islamic world that Afghanistan's stability is crucial to security in the region. We have worked hard to achieve this goal and therefore the president will be visiting US with a clear message."
Following his election, one of President Ghani's priorities was to solidify Afghanistan's bilateral relationships with key states and jumpstart a peace process with the Taliban that was overlooked by Karzai.
"In making Pakistan his first official visit, Ghani signaled that he wanted to mend a relationship that had reached a low point under Karzai and impress upon Islamabad the importance of their cooperation in engaging the Afghan Taliban in substantive peace talks," said Campbell.
As for China, the country is another key regional ally for Kabul that can be both a significant investor in the Afghan economy and a third party interlocutor with the Taliban. At the same time, Beijing is a key partner for Islamabad and could play a productive role in obtaining and maintaining Pakistani cooperation for such talks.
"From Ghani's perspective, visiting these two countries prior to visiting the United States was an added way of impressing upon them the importance they can play in a stable and prosperous Afghanistan," said Campbell.
An elusive peace
And these efforts seem to have yielded first positive results. Beijing recently said it was ready to support Kabul in facilitating reconciliation discussions with militant Islamic groups, while Islamabad appears to have taken a new, more resolute stance against extremism, particularly following the tragic attack in Peshawar last December.
International Security Assistance Force Joint Command (IJC), Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, left, folds the flag of IJC during a flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014
(AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
Washington wants to gradually wind down the level of troops to a "normal" US Embassy presence by the end of 2016
However, there is still a lot of contradictory information coming from Kabul and the Taliban regarding the prospective peace talks. While the Afghan government is pushing full-speed ahead for reconciliation, the insurgents remain hesitant and vague.
"Some factions of the Taliban have agreed to pursue talks, but we have no indication that the Taliban leadership - including Mullah Omar - has given its blessing. And until that happens, we can't assume that Taliban commitments to pursue peace are credible," said Kugelman.
Moreover, with the next fighting season not far off, there could be a resumption of accusations between Kabul and Islamabad that the other side is not doing enough to stem the flow of fighters.
Additionally, as Campbell pointed out, while Ghani and Abdullah have expressed their interest in engaging in talks, the degree to which there is consensus among the political elite in Kabul as to negotiating points and red lines is questionable at best. "Overall, the general tenor surrounding peace talks is as positive as it has been in a while but productive discussions will take time," said the analyst.

    Pakistan sacked 'some people' to keep N-programme safe: Report

    Pakistani authorities sacked some people having "negative tendencies" working with the country's sensitive nuclear programme to keep it safe, according to a report. 

    "We filtered out people having negative tendencies that could have affected national security," said Brig (retd.) Tahir Raza Naqvi, who works for strategic plans division, the administering body for the nuclear programme. 

    Those sacked were the "incorrigible" ones, he said, and quickly added: "Our checks are very solid." 

    The sacked nuclear workers could not clear the personnel reliability programme that was started in mid-2003/04 to screen the employees working on the sensitive programme, Naqvi was quoted as saying by the Dawn. 

    He was addressing a seminar on Wednesday on 'Future security outlook of South Asia: Trends and challenges' organised by an Islamabad-based thinktank, Centre for International Strategic Studies, and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung of Germany. 

    Naqvi said all employees of the nuclear programme are periodically checked for family background, education, political affiliation and religious inclinations. 

    He would not say how many were sacked over the years or why they failed to clear the screening. 

    At least 12 people linked to disgraced nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan were removed when the proliferation scandal surfaced in 2003. But those firings took place before personnel reliability programme was instituted. 

    Prof Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University said Pakistan had real security concerns and its perceived need for a robust strategic deterrent was now recognised by the West. 

    However, he said that concerns remained about the increase in fissile material production and development of diverse delivery systems (missiles). 

    He said Pakistan must keep its nuclear weapons, material and know-how under strict government control. 

    "Safety and security is paramount to manage nuclear enterprise," he maintained, adding that safety and security was "not a destination, but a journey and the first line against nuclear terrorism". 

    Pakistan is believed to be sitting on something like 120 nuclear warheads and has recently brought into play two new heavy water plants that will enable them to produce about 24 nuclear warheads a year. 

    The West fears Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could be vulnerable to penetration by militant groups.

    Pakistan - Former President Zardari stresses priority to education

    Former President Asif Ali Zardari has called upon the provincial government of Sindh to give high priority to education as mandated in the 18th constitutional amendment which recognizes right to education as a fundamental right of the citizens.
    He said this while presiding over a meeting today at Bilawal House Karachi on education.
    Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, education minister Nisar Khoro and Sindh Cabinet ministers Mir Hazar Khan Bajarani and Murad Ali Shah, Chief Secretary Sindh Siddique Memon, Secretary Education and other high officials were in attendance. Pakistan People’s Party Parliamentarians Vice President Sherry Rehman was also present on the occasion.
    The former President said that larger increase in the transfer of resources to provincial governments under the 7th NFC Award had raised the expectations of the people and also increased the responsibilities of the provincial governments to reflect this increase in transfer of resources in a matching increase in expenditure on education.
    Priority should be given to girls’ education and providing the missing facilities like drinking water, electricity and wash rooms in the existing schools, he said.
    The PPP manifesto lays great stress on education he said adding that keeping in view the state of education in the country it would be appropriate to declare an education emergency.
    He asked the provincial government to fulfill the promises made to people in the party manifesto particularly with regard to education.
    Mr Asif Ali Zardari also stressed the need for merit based appointment of teachers and ensuring in service training for the teachers.
    Taking notice of lack of basic facilities in schools directed Sindh government to immediately undertake measures for addressing this issue. He underlined the need to focus on girl’s education and to appoint lady police officials for the security of girl’s educational.

    Professor Christine Fair’s lecture on Deobandi ideological roots of terrorism in Pakistan

    by Abdul Nishapuri

    The following lecture on the common Deobandi identity of Pakistani terrorist outfits including Taliban (TTP), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP aka ASWJ), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Jundallah, Ahrar etc was delivered by renowned American scholar Professor C. Christine Fair. Here’s a transcript of her talk: The most recent militant group to serve in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s behalf is the Afghan Taliban, they certainly are the most recent but they are not the only one part of that. There is a whole fleet of other organizations that propped up. So that’s in Afghanistan. Now bear with me for a minute because it’s really important to get these groups straight. In Islam, just like there are in Christianity and Judaism, there are many interpretive traditions. Most of the militant that we are talking about come from one and that is called Deobandi and it is important to know this because all of the groups of Deobandis have a common ideological infrastructure eg mosques, madrassas and religious scholars who issue Fatwas to justify what they do and these also become really important recruiting networks, and they also have ties to Deobandi political parties. So, the vast majority of groups that we see operating certainly against our interest in the region are Deobandis. This is important because in 2001 when we forced the Pakistanis to support our war in Afghanistan, many of Taliban’s Deobandis allies turned against the Pakistani State even though the State had been their patron. And think about this for a second. In some sense, these follows were training with the Talibans they were in their camp. In 1988, when we sent cruise missiles to go after Al- Qaida in Khost, we actually killed some of Pakistani militant organizations so they felt that Taliban had finally achieved a Sharia under their ideological umbrella and the State was being forced by Americans undermine this amazing accomplishment. So these Deobandi organizations, some of them stayed loyal to ISI many of them did not, and those groups began targeting the Pakistani State and began doing this actually at end of 2001 and early 2002. And this begins the emergence of what started to operate in 2007 under the banner of Pakistani Taliban. Now Pakistani Taliban, think about them as this is as a kaleidoscope, this is an example I give in my class you got little plastic fletch you look at it you flick it you look at it again, you see some thing else . In any give and take with ISI what they are doing they are negotiating they trying to buy off some of these Deobandi elements. Can you please stop killing us and go kill Afghans and go kill Americans. So some time they ate successful and some time they are not, some time they buy off commanders and some time they can’t . Now the other Jihad that ties into these Pakistani Talibans is the Jihad in India. Again Pakistan has cultivated a zoo of militants exclusively to kill Indians, some of these are Deobandis. So going back to the Pakistani strategy of saying how come you are saying that we are supporting terror we are the victims of terror, while their strategy about TTP and other Deobandi militant groups is like a lumpy soup and then take a part of that soup and say: please, can you go and please kill American in Afghan, and some of them say yes sir, we will, just give us some money and we are on our way. The other part of the strategy is to take these groups that used to be more focused on India and say that any thing we can get you to kill Indians, and one of the primary vehicle for these Deobandi groups is called’ Jaish-e- Mohammad’ and this ties is into shelling in the folk because they use to shelling to insert these terrorists. When Pakistan talk about their own Taliban, they are often simply call them Taliban to deliberately confuse you. So you need to understand these are different organizations they have overlapping membership, they have overlapping Deobandi ideology but they are in many ways distinct in terms of what their goals are and what their areas of operations are.

    A Muslim woman can kill 3 Christians and injure 11 in Pakistan and walk free

    Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC has expressed surprised on granting bail before arrest by District Session Courts of Lahore to one Muslim lady teacher who ran over his car on Christian protestors of Youhanabad killing 3 Christian youth and injuring 11 others.

    Moreover that Muslim lady named Mariam Safdar, a teacher by profession was so influential that police lodged her complained registering FIR against 30 Christian protestors that they harassed her on whom she sped her car which caused killing of 3 protestors and injuring others.

    “It is Islamic Republic of Pakistan and Islamic justice where a Muslim can walk free on streets with pride after getting bail before arrest from a Muslim judge after killing 3 Christians but to safe your skin from legal action can file FIR against Christian whom you kill and injure” said Nazir S Bhatti in a statement issued from Central Secretariat of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC

    According to sources of Pakistan Christian Post it is learnt that one of Christian injured is in critical condition in hospital that was ran over by speedy car of Muslim woman Mariam Safdar.

    On March 15, 2015, twin suicide bombers attacked St. John’s Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad killing 15 and injuring more than 80 Christian worshipers on which anger spread among Christian youth of this locality who blocked Ferozpur Road as a protest.

    Police in large number was present on scene and other administration officers were watching the law and order situation.

    It was duty of police to prevent entering public vehicles in the area where protester were lodging their protest against bombing of their Churches and killing of worshipers the how Muslim woman Mariam Safdar was allowed to take her car to drive through protestors.

    Dr. Nazir Bhatti urged Mian Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab to immediately arrest Muslim woman Mariam Safdar on killing 3 Christians and injuring 11 other Christians.

    PCC Chief said that do not force Christians of Punjab to wall but treat them as equal citizen and ensure justice towards them because Christian life is also precious.