Monday, March 23, 2015

Video - U.S. to continue funding Afghan Security Forces

Afghan President Says He is Working With US to Repair Relations

In an exclusive interview with Voice of America on Sunday evening shortly after his arrival in Washington, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and what he is doing to set a course to repair relations with the United States.
The interview with Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna was held at Blair House in the Pashto language. What follows is an edited transcript.
Q: Why did you request a change in the troop levels?
Ghani: “We were in a dangerous situation. Our elections went through a complicated process, resulting in the waste of almost eight months. On top of that, (former Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai’s decision not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] has led to a hasty withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and that in part contributed to the weakening of technical assets at our disposal in the country.
“The very issue of funding, equipping and training the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] came under question with the speedy withdrawal of foreign forces. In the past six months, we have managed to survive from a fundamental problem which the enemies had greatly counted on and it was apparently the God forbid, complete overthrow of the Afghan government or the loss of certain provinces to the enemy.
“We have successfully managed to foil that plot. The prevention of this great plot is a victory for the Afghan nation and the Afghan National Security Forces. Initially, we were in defensive mode, but with the grace of God, we have managed to transition to offensive mode.
“In addition to that, when Afghanistan was going through the transfer of security responsibility from NATO to Afghan National Security Forces, I had the honor to lead and facilitate the process. At that time, the situation differed from that of today. The decision to launch a military offensive against militants in North and South Waziristan was not even considered or thought of at the time nor was deliberations given to its impact on Afghanistan.
“Secondly, the threat of Dayesh (ISIS) was not even in the minds of the people. Moreover, from a qualitative perspective, terrorist networks have transformed and they have begun concentrating on us [Afghanistan] through various factors. Our historical name of “Khurassan” has a vital and symbolic significance for the ISIS and you are aware of the fact that many ISIS members have changed their surnames to “Khurasaani”.
“In their philosophy [ISIS’s philosophy], Dajal will emerge from Khurasaan and fight them [ISIS] in the apocalyptic war in Syria. Considering this environment and circumstances and bearing in mind our national interests and global threats, we have had a series of discussions and reached to this common conclusion.”
Q:What have you done to repair relations with the US?
Ghani: “First of all, we have taken the initiative to act. On the very first day of the National Unity Government, we have signed the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] with the United States and the multi-lateral security agreement with NATO. On the second day of the government, we concentrated on the issue of corruption and reopened the Kabul bank case. On the third day of the government, I have assumed the tasks the of commander-in-chief.
“We did not sit idle and rather sought to implement our program step by step. We have launched a series of discussions with them (the United States) premised on rational fundamental issues and free of emotions. In addition to that, we have taken the initiative on regional level as well and did not wait for anyone.
“China was geographically closer to us and we are the first country to have sought closer ties with both the United States and China. We have concentrated on the Arab and the Islamic world as well and have utilized all our five foreign political rings to proceed. We have realized that the United States is our strategic ally and debates amongst allies ought to be premised on principles, mutual interests and rationality.”
Q: What is the most important thing you're going to tell Obama?
Ghani: We have mutual interests and are faced with common threats. Given that, we have to create the type of coordination and cooperation that both ensures Afghanistan’s national interests and secures United States vital interests in the region.
Q: Will the political division of the U.S congress have an impact on the U.S-Afghan relations?
Ghani: “Absolutely not, because with the grace of God, all political leaders in the U.S have come to a common conclusion to agree on Afghanistan. I have spent a lot of time with members of the U.S Congress. Upon assuming the office of the president of Afghanistan, I have talked to them over the phone and have met with U.S Congress delegates in person upon their numerous visits to Afghanistan.
“I have talked to them (members of the U.S Congress) in Munich as well. You know that not every leader gets to talk to the Joint Session of the U.S Congress and I have the honor to address the American people and their respective representatives in the U.S Congress. It’s vital to send the message in my address to the U.S Congress that Afghanistan is collectively and unitedly moving forward and is faced with clear, real and visible threats. And Afghanistan will triumph over these threats. We will appreciate their assistance to Afghanistan.”
Q: Why have national peace talks not taken place?
Ghani: “Peace talks should be conducted directly or else it will create doubts in our society and doubts break our national unity which is essential for us. Enabling the environment for peace was my job and I have done so which created the necessary bedrock to proceed with peace talks.
“However, one has to be very cautious in these circumstances because wrong moves and wrong assumptions bring about dangerous consequences. Mr. Karzai’s administration has put a lot of efforts into the peace talks. President Karzai has travelled 26 times to Pakistan, but it could not enable the environment for peace.
“Now, conditions have changed. The policy that we have been pursuing right now with regards to peace talks, with God’s grace will yield achievements and progress. However, unless and until the environment is ready, I will not be in a position to assure my nation and so long as I am not confident about the environment, remarks about the peace process will be pre-judgment on my part about the peace talks.”
Q: Have you discussed Durand Line border with Pakistan?
Ghani: No. Durand is not an issue in our discussions with Pakistan. The issue of Durand is beyond my authority. That belongs to the Afghan Grand Council (Loya Jirga). Currently we (Afghanistan and Pakistan) are discussing common threats and opportunities that how two independent governments could bring about the type of coordination and cooperation that will yield peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region.”

Video - Afghan leadership duo visit US to secure troops, aid

Ashraf Ghani: U.S. Critical To Afghanistan's Future

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani tells NPR that most people in his country want a continued U.S. troop presence and that his government is determined to make sure that the self-declared Islamic State does not gain a foothold.
Ghani, on an official visit to the United States, spoke in a wide-ranging interview withMorning Edition host Renee Montagne to be broadcast on Monday.
He says the perception that Afghans are eager for U.S. troops to leave the country is simply untrue. "They see the United States as critical to their future," he says.
Ghani, who came to power in September succeeding longtime President Hamid Karzai, is expected to spend Monday at Camp David, Md., for discussions with Secretary of State John Kerry and to meet with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday. He is also scheduled for talks with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to discuss security and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to talk about the economic challenges faced by Afghanistan.
Asked about ISIS, Ghani expressed concern that "terrorism is morphing into a system. ... It's becoming sophisticated. And more than anything else, it's controlling immense resources."
In Afghanistan, the Islamic State, he says, is "posing a threat, but we are determined to make sure that they do not do the kind of atrocities that they've managed so well in Syria, Iraq, Libya or Yemen."
One of the biggest challenges faced by his six-month-old government is corruption.
"It's a bottomless pit," acknowledges Ghani, a former World Bank official who has lived in the U.S.
"The good news is that it can be overcome. The bad news is that it requires an enormous amount of effort, determination and focus. And there'll be a lot of resistance to it," he tells NPR. Salaries are a main area of concern, as officials skim a take before paying employees. Technology may solve the problem. Paying salaries by phone would "clear the middleman," he says.
He's already gone after the Kabul Bank, "which was notorious," he says.
"It was a case of a fraud. From Day 1, it was established as a Ponzi scheme," Ghani says. An Afghan Supreme Court ruling last week has cleared the way to begin going after corrupt politicians and politically connected people implicated in the scheme "to get the depositors' money and use it for their own," he says. "[All] the books were fake. And we've tackled it," Ghani says.
Despite his reputation as a reformer, however, Ghani has not managed to avoid criticism. Some suggested that he's acting more like a dictator than a president — micromanaging the approval of contracts issued by the government. "I'm not taking power. I'm catalyzing systemic change. First you need to gather it in order to give it away in a credible and effective way," Ghani says.
"I'm too busy thinking about the larger issues to micromanage. All of my colleagues who've worked with me in the ministry of finance or other, they know I delegate," he says.

Video - Camera Spray before Meetings with Afghanistan Leaders at Camp David

With Military Parade, Pakistan Sends Message to India, Taliban

Today, Pakistan held its first military parade after a seven-year suspension due to “security concerns” amidst an escalating conflict with the Pakistani Taliban. The last parade was held on March 23, 2008 and reviewed by then-President Pervez Musharraf.
March 23 holds special importance in Pakistan. On that date in 1940, the All-India Muslim league adopted a resolution for the creation of “independent states” for Muslims in northwestern and eastern British India. The resolution was later interpreted to have been a specific call for the creation of Pakistan.
The March 23 parade is meant to illustrate Islamabad’s resolve, sending messages to both its nuclear-armed neighbor India and to Taliban extremists. “Pakistan is resolved to redeem its pledge given to its founding fathers that it will protect the homeland,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif emphasized in a statement.
This year, personnel from all three service branches, the Army, Navy, and Air Force, participated in the parade — including the army’s strategic command force, which administers Islamabad’s land-based nuclear weapons arsenal.
The parade featured nuclear-capable and conventional missiles, including Nasr, Shaheen, Ghauri, Babur, and Ghaznavi weapons systems, indigenously manufactured tanks  (such as the Al-Zarar,  and  Al-Khalid models), and  a squadron of JF-17 Thunder fighter jets, a multi-role combat aircraft jointly developed by China and Pakistan.
Next to the regular army, air force, and navy units defiling past Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain, army chief Raheel Sharif and other dignitaries, paramilitary forces (including the Frontier Corps and Pakistan Rangers) and the police also marched on the new Parade Ground, specifically built for this occasion near the Shakarparian hills in Islamabad.
A particular highlight was the flyover of Pakistan’s first locally manufactured armed UAV – the Burraq droneequipped with the laser-guided Barq missile, which was successfully tested for the first time on March 13, 2015.
The drone “will enormously help in the campaign against militants,” a government official said. Almost a third of Pakistan’s military is engaged in fighting Taliban extremists in the Af-Pak border region.
“I believe the Chinese helped Pakistan manufacture these drones, which fits into the pattern of this relationship,” a Western defense official notes in recent a Financial Times article.
However, notably absent from the parade ground was China’s President Xi Jinping, who officially had been invited in January this year. Many observers perceived that invitation to be Pakistan’s direct response to Barack Obama’s presence as “chief guest” at India’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi at the beginning of 2015.
Islamabad cited security reasons for  China’s declining the invitation. But even though Xi did not put in an appearance, “there will be plenty of China to see,” as the Western defense official put it.
Between 2010 to 2014, Pakistan was China’s top customers in military hardware. According to the Financial Times, Chinese defense technology constitutes the “ the bulk of Pakistan’s military arsenal.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a conciliatory response to the recent display of Pakistan’s military prowess on Twitter: “It is my firm conviction that all outstanding issues can be resolved through bilateral dialogue in an atmosphere free from terror and violence.”
In an interview with The DiplomatPakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Jalil Abbas Jilani, emphasized the importance of “trust building through continued dialogue and engagement,” including in Pakistan-India relations. Jilani also warned of the dangers of a “growing military imbalance in a region beset with long standing territorial conflicts.”

Pakistan: Ahmadi Muslim youth leader gunned down in Karachi was target of hateful wall-chalking

30 years old Ahmadi man reported killed in Karachi today was a reputable youth leader who may have been the target of a death threats campaign incited through wall-chalking in Model Colony in Malir Town.

A man very popular among his peers for his big heart and bravery, Noman Najam was the local president of the Rafa Ama chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (Majlis Khuddam-ul Ahmadiyya) in Malir town, Karachi.

Calling Najam "the source of our hope and living," his friends say he was a true Quranic representation of a 'legend'.

Najam was shot by unknown assailants who pumped 5 bullets into his chest while he worked at his place of business on Saturday evening (March 21) around 8:00 PM. Najam had died on the spot, it was reported.

It surfaced in the social media after the murder that a banned Islamist extremist group had reportedly sought the murder of Noman Najam on account of his Ahmadi Muslim faith.

Anti-Ahmadi wall-chalking and pamphleteering for inciting Ahmadi's murders is very common in many parts of Pakistan. Majlis Tahafuz Kham-e Nubuwwat (MTKN), a sanctuary for Islamists who are otherwise underground members of the banned Islamist outfits, leads in publishing anti-Ahmadi hate materials including hit-lists for targeting Ahmadis.

MTKN, which some claim operates like a mafia enterprise, is patronized by many religious, political and pseudo-academic personalities and groups.

Most recently, former judges, lawyers, and religio-political leaders associated with MTKN mafia have been at the forefront of defending Mumtaz Qadri, convicted killer of Punjab's governor, Sulmaan Taseer.

At their last conference in Lahore, MTKN mafia issued a warning to Ahmadis to 'abandon their faith or face consequences,' it was reported in Pakistani media.

According to a report published by The Express Tribune last month, a provincial lawmaker (MPA) from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz group, Muhammad Ilyas Chinioti, was joined by 'three retired judges of superior courts including former Lahore High Court chief justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, former LHC judge Nazir Ahmed Ghazi (both counsel for Mumtaz Qadri) and former judge of the Federal Shariat Court Khalid Mahmood,' when the 'convert, or else' warnings were issues to the Ahmadis.

It is important also to note that the Karachi Ahmadi victim of Saturday's attack, Noman Najam, comes from a family where several men have been killed for their faith. His grandfather and two uncles were murdered in Gujranwala, Punjab, during the 1974 anti-Ahmadi riots which culminated in outlawing of the Ahmadi Muslim community to appease the extremists.

Pakistan - The Worst Form Of Terrorism

Following the Youhanabad blasts in Lahore and the lynching of two men by a group of angry street protestors in the immediate aftermath, Chaudhry Nisar peeped his head out of from a window of the interior ministry’s ivory tower to declare that lynching was the worst form of terrorism, and that the perpetrators would be caught and punished. 

A short walk down the news cycle takes one to the November 4th lynching of a Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan, where a young man and woman were burned in a kiln by an entire enraged community in an act of premeditated murder involving clerics, mosque loundspeakers, false charges, the blasphemy law and general intrigue. In classic form, after the painstakingly slow reactions from the notoriously lethargic Punjab Police, the Supreme Court in a March 9th hearing, expressed shock at the lack of results and hinted at a judicial inquiry to probe police inaction. A fortnight later, and the Punjab Police has come back with a fresh Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to look into the matter, and investigate the incident. A police report says that the new head of the JIT has been asked to ensure “good quality investigations.”
However, here is the thing: how can a police institution, suspected to be in tandem with (or at least protective of) the perpetrators and one so historically fraught with corruption, be expected to investigate an incident that involves many of its own? Why is the Supreme Court only threatening to, but not actually forming a judicial inquiry into the investigations, which have so far yielded nothing in terms of real results. Perhaps the sordid art of this crime has been the involvement of the sheer number of people, with 101 currently under arrest. It becomes difficult to sort through the web of suspects to get to the actual instigators. There are layers of crime here, from the man who raised the first accusation to the policeman who didn’t fire his gun into the air to force the crowd to disperse. The Punjab police is simply not equipped to handle a case of such severity and deliver justice, especially not on its own.

Pakistan - Campaign against ‘radical’ seminaries going nowhere


Three months after the unveiling of the National Action Plan (NAP) and more than two months after Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s disclosure that perhaps 10 per cent of all madressahs were involved in terrorism, it appears that no government agency is ready to own the drive to identify these seminaries.
While the relevant officials in National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) and the interior ministry declined to comment on the issue officially, a senior Nacta official told Dawn off the record that the Ministry of Religious Affairs was the lead coordination agency for this effort.
Similarly, an official from the interior ministry, who too was only willing to comment on condition of anonymity, said that the interior secretary had asked the religious affairs secretary to coordinate with seminaries over three matters.

Religious affairs ministry reluctant to take the lead; seminary boards resisting attempts at regulation

“These three matters are source of financing and especially foreign funding, madressah registration and monitoring,” he added.
Whether or not the government is willing to acknowledge this officially, it cannot be denied that on the face of it, the only government department which has been involved in negotiating with the seminaries publicly is the religious affairs department.
Just a religious matter?
Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousuf said that his ministry was focused on reforming the religious sector, streamlining madressah registration and facilitating the seminaries.
Officially, there is no news of the interior ministry or any of its departments having met representatives from the madressahs.
This means that government efforts vis-à-vis the seminaries are no different from past measures.
“We have held the meeting of the Madressah Education Board after 11 years and there is a proposal to establish an Islamic Education Commission on the lines of the HEC,” the minister said, adding, “These steps will correct the flaws in madressahs.”
Though the minister refused to explain what exactly he meant by “flaws”, he was adamant that the Ministry of Religious Affairs had nothing to do with terrorism or checking foreign funding to seminaries.
In his media statement on December 21, 2014 the interior minister had said, “Some 90 per cent of madressahs have no connection to terrorism – based on intelligence reports.”
By saying so, he implied that at least 10 per cent did have such links, which is the reason madressah reform was a major objective in the 20-point NAP.
A month later, on January 18, 2015, he reiterated, “The religious institutions are requested to cooperate with the government to identify potential terrorists.”
He also said that if there is any indication of any terrorist activity at a madressah, stern action will be taken immediately.
His words had the seminarians bristling, who threatened to launch a mass movement in case of a crackdown.
Subsequently, the interior ministry invited the five prominent Wafaq and the Jamaat-i-Islami to discuss the issue on December 30, 2014. However, at the last minute, the gathered clergy was told that the meeting would be chaired by the minister for Religious Affairs instead of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
Since then, dialogue between the two sides has been no different from what happened under former president Pervez Musharraf and the PPP – bridging the gap between mainstream education and the madressah system.
But even this discussion has lost urgency as the frequency of meetings has decreased and the seminarians’ rhetoric about the consequences of these efforts has also reduced. In fact, the boards have already boycotted two meetings.
Financial questions?
It seems that like the interior ministry, the State Bank too is not interested in the nitty-gritty of shady transactions to the seminaries.
“The registration of seminaries will streamline all these issues as all madressahs will be required to have bank accounts and then, funding sources would be easy to trace,” a bank official said.
“There are two modes of legal money transfer – banking and exchange companies,” the official said, adding that the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) of the finance ministry is responsible for checking any abnormal transfers. Following the announcement of NAP, the FMU is said to be working closely with the interior ministry.
But chances are that seminary donations do not use traditional banking methods to receive money – it is said that their donations come via ‘hundi/hawala’ or in cash, even from abroad.
The hundi/hawala cases come under the domain of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which is also supposed to check the possible presence of money in the baggage of travellers at the airport, along with the Customs department.
There is little information of any special attention being paid to seminaries by these departments. The only ‘action’ being taken is the negotiation between the religious affairs ministry and a resentful body of madaris.
“We have said it before and we have said it now to this government too – we are not responsible for any terrorist, criminal or anti-social act of any individual affiliated with madressahs that are attached to us,” said Maulana Abdul Qudus, spokesperson for the Wafaqul Madaris al Arbia, the umbrella organisation that oversees most seminaries of the Deobandi sect in Pakistan.
“But people have even been booked for installing three loudspeakers, this is wrong.”
Similarly, Maulana Abdul Mustafa Hazarvi, Central Nazim-i-Aala, Tanzeemul Madaris Ahle Sunnat Pakistan – a Barelvi alliance – said that more than 7,000 clerics or mosque committee members had been arrested in Punjab on charges of reciting ‘Durood’ and ‘Salam’ before and after Azaan.
“After all this, the Punjab government on March 9 allowed the recitation of ‘durood’ and ‘salam’ along with Azaan,” he said, adding, “But no one took action against the terrorists – even the renegade cleric who has occupied a government mosque in Islamabad and continues to enjoy more rights compared to us, who have never been involved in any anti-state activity.”
Similar views were expressed by the office-bearers of Wafaqul Madaris al Shia, and Jamaat-i-Islami, who have repeatedly asked the interior minister to specify the names of madressahs involved in terrorism.
But the government has maintained silence.
It is hard to believe that the government has no proof. For instance, a report prepared by the special branch of Islamabad and Rawalpindi police identified seminaries that had close links with the TTP and could be used as bases for attacks.
But no action has ever been taken on basis of this report, which said that “well-trained terrorists, their leaders and commanders can also slip out of their hideouts in Fata and take shelter in the hilly areas of Abbotabad, Kakul, Nathia Gali, Murree, Aliot and Phagwari (Murree)”.
“It seems that the threat perception of the government is different,” said Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, adding that “there is no clarity over the issue”.
And unfortunately, the dialogue over curriculum and new registration forms for the seminaries is also going nowhere.
This is because the unified forum of five prominent boards representing seminaries affiliated with Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi and the Ahle Hadith sects and one board attached with madressahs run by the Jamaat-i-Islami have many reservations about the government’s suggestions, including the establishment of the Madrassah Education Board – a semi-autonomous body under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
“The Wafaq does not trust the government,” said Khalid Rehman, director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), adding that “if anything serious is not done, nothing will change.”

Pakistan Blocks Wordpress

 has been temporarily blocked in Pakistan. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)has reportedly asked the Internet Service Providers across the nation to disable access to the site.
The reason for blocking the site hasn't been confirmed. However, a report in TechCrunch noted that when a Wordpress site is accessed in Pakistan, an error message saying "the content is prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan" pops up.
The country is known for its strict censorship of online content and sites, including Facebook, Flickr, IMDb, Twitter, and Wikipedia. Pakistan's ban on YouTube still exists. The reason cited for temporarily blocking or banning these sites is that the content these sources carry are blasphemous and inflammatory in nature.

    Local news sources in Pakistan have stated that the temporary ban on Wordpress could be lifted in a few days.