Sunday, March 29, 2015

‘I’m not paid to be optimistic’ – Lavrov on Iran nuclear deal during meeting with Kerry

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 60 Minutes

Charlie Rose interviews the Syrian dictator as a four-year-old civil war drags on in which his regime has been accused of devastating attacks on civilians.

The following is a script from "Bashar al-Assad" which aired on March 29, 2015. Charlie Rose is the correspondent.
Four years ago, the Obama administration declared that Syria's Bashar al-Assad must go. Today, President Assad is still there, but much of the country has gone. Assad's Syrian government has lost control over significant amounts of its territory -- to either ISIS or Syrian rebel groups. Four million Syrian refugees have fled the country. More than 200,000 have died -- most from Syrian military bombing of territory controlled by his opponents.
With the rise of ISIS in Syria, toppling Assad is no longer the highest priority there for the United States. And last month, Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News, the U.S. is open to negotiating with Syria, something, we discovered, Assad wants.

We traveled to Damascus this past week and met with Assad for an interview, under the conditions that we use Syrian TV technicians and cameras. We began by asking him about American airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.
Charlie Rose: How much of a benefit are you getting from American airstrikes in Syria reducing the power of ISIS?
President Assad: Sometimes you could have local benefit but in general if you want to talk in terms of ISIS actually ISIS has expanded since the beginning of the strikes. Not like some-- American-- wants to sugar coat the situation as the-- to say that it's getting better. As-- ISIS is being defeated and so on. Actually, no, you have more recruits. Some estimates that they have 1,000 recruits every month in Syria. And Iraq-- they are expanding in Libya and many other al Qaeda affiliate organizations have announced their allegiance to ISIS. So that's the situation.
Charlie Rose: How much territory do they control in Syria?
President Assad: Sorry?
Charlie Rose: ISIS. Controls how much territory. 50 percent?

"'s not traditional war. It's not about capturing land and gaining land. It's about winning the hearts and minds of the Syrians. We cannot win the heart and minds of the Syrians while we are killing Syrians."

President Assad: Yeah, it's not regular war. We cannot-- you don't have criteria. It's not an army that makes-- it make the incursion. They go to infidels. They try to infiltrate any area when there is no army and we have-- inhibitance. The question, how much incubator they have, that's the question. How much heart and minds they won so far.
Charlie Rose: And how much of that? How do you measure that--
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
President Assad: You cannot measure it but you can tell that the majority of the people who suffered from ISIS, they are supporting the government and, of course, the rest of the Syrian people are afraid from ISIS and I don't think they would-- I think they lost a lot of hearts and minds.
Charlie Rose: They've lost a lot?
President Assad: They have lost. Except the very ideological people who have Wahhabi state of mind and ideology.
Charlie Rose: There is another number that is alarming to me. It is that 90 percent of the civilian casualties, 90 percent come from the Syrian army.
President Assad: How did you get that result?
Charlie Rose: That was a report that was issued in the last six months.
President Assad: OK. As I said earlier, the war, it's not about-- it's not traditional war. It's not about capturing land and gaining land. It's about winning the hearts and minds of the Syrians. We cannot win the heart and minds of the Syrians while we are killing Syrians. We cannot sustain four years in that position as a government. And me as president, while the rest of the world, most of the world, the great powers, the regional power, are against me and my people are against me. That's impossible. I mean this logic has no leg to stand on. So this is not realistic and this is against our interests as government is to kill the people. What do we get? What the benefit of killing the people?
Charlie Rose: Well, the argument is that you-- there are weapons of war that have been used that most people look down on with great-- one is chlorine gas. They believe that has been used here. They said there is evidence of that and they would like to have the right to inspect to see where it's coming from. As you know, barrel bombs have been used. And they come from helicopters. And the only people who have helicopters is the Syrian army. And so those two acts of war, which has-- society looks down on as--
President Assad: Let me fully answer this.
Charlie Rose: --barbaric acts.
President Assad: It's very important. This is part of the malicious propaganda against Syria. First of all, the chlorine gas is not military gas. You can buy it anywhere.
Charlie Rose: But it can be weaponized--
President Assad: No, because it's not very effective it's not used as military gas. That's very self-evident. Traditional arms is more important than chlorine. And if it was very effective the terrorists would have used this on a larger scale. Because it's not effective, it's not used very much.
Charlie Rose: Then why doesn't somebody come in and inspect it and see whether it's been used or not?
President Assad: Well, we-- well, we-- we--
Charlie Rose: You'd be--
President Assad: --we-- we would--
Charlie Rose: --you're happy for that?
President Assad: Of course. We all--we always ask a delegation, impartial delegation to come and investigate. But I mean logically and realistically it cannot be used as a military. This is part of the propaganda because, as you know, in the media when it bleeds it leads. And they always look for something that bleeds, which is the chlorine gas and the barrel bombs.
Charlie Rose: You do use barrel bombs? You're just saying--
President Assad: No, no. There's no such a thing called barrel bombs. We have bombs. And any bomb is about killing.
Charlie Rose: You have often spoken about the danger of a wider war in the Middle East.
President Assad: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: Can you talk about the parties involved? And characterize how you see them. Let me begin with Saudi Arabia.
President Assad: Saudi Arabia is--an (unintel) autocracy. Medieval system that's based on the Wahhabi dark ideology. Actually, say it's a marriage between the Wahhabi and the political system for 200 years now. That's how we look at it.
Charlie Rose: And what is their connection to ISIS?
President Assad: The same ideology. The same background.
Charlie Rose: So ISIS and Saudi Arabia are one and the same?
President Assad: The same ideology. Yes.
Charlie Rose: Same ideology.
President Assad: I don't-- it's Wahhabi ideology. They base the--their ideology is based on the books of the Wahhabi and Saudi Arabia.
Charlie Rose: So you believe that all Wahhabis have the same ideology as ISIS--
President Assad: Exactly. Definitely. And that's by ISIS, by al Qaeda, by al Nusra. It's not something we discover or we try to promote. It's very-- I mean their book-- they use the same books to indoctrinate the people. The Wahhabi books-
Charlie Rose: What about Turkey?
President Assad: Turkey-- let's say it's about Erdogan. His Muslim Brotherhood fanatics.
Charlie Rose: And you--
President Assad: It doesn't mean that he is a member. But he's a fanatic.
Charlie Rose: President Erdogan is--
President Assad: Is a Muslim Brotherhood fanatic. And he's somebody who's suffering from political megalomania. And that he thinks that he is becoming the sultan of the new era of the 21st century.
Charlie Rose: You think he could stop the border if he wanted to?
President Assad: Yeah, of course. Definitely. He doesn't only ignore the terrorists from coming to Syria. He support them, logistically and militarily. Directly. On daily basis.
Charlie Rose: Tell us what the Russians want. They are a strong ally of you.
President Assad: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: What do they want?
President Assad: Definitely they want to have balance in the world. It's not only about Syria. And small country. It's not about having a huge interest in Syria, they could have it anywhere else. So, it's about the future of the world. They want to be a great power that-- have-- their own say in the future of this world.
Charlie Rose: And what do they want for Syria?
President Assad: Stability. They want--
Charlie Rose: Stability.
President Assad: --stability, and political solution.
Charlie Rose: And what does Iran want?
President Assad: The same. The same. Syria, and Iran, and Russia, see eye-to-eye regarding these conflicts.
Charlie Rose: And what is your obligation to both of them?
President Assad: What do you mean obligation?
Charlie Rose: What is your-- what do you owe them?
President Assad: Yeah, I know. But, they didn't ask me for anything. Nothing at all. That's why what I said-- they don't do that for Syria. They do it for the region, and for the world. 'Cause stability is very important for them.
Charlie Rose: You and your father have held power in Syria for how many years?
President Assad: Is it a calculation of years?
Charlie Rose: Yes.
President Assad: Or public support?
Charlie Rose: No, years. How long--
President Assad: There's a big difference. It doesn't matter, how many years, the question--
Charlie Rose: Well, it does matter. I mean--
President Assad: No, what's matter for us, do the Syrians support, these two presidents, doesn't matter is they are father and son. We don't say--W- George W. Bush is the son of George Bush. It's different. He's president, I'm president, he has support from that generation, I have support from this generation now.

"...the West, and especially the United States, don't accept partners. They only accept followers. Even Europe is not partner of the United States. That's to be very frank with you. So, this is their problem with Syria. They need somebody to keep saying yes."

Charlie Rose: But the question-- how do you--
President Assad: Doesn't matter how many. It's not-- it's not the family rule, as you want to imply.
Charlie Rose: It's not?
President Assad: No.
Charlie Rose: Why do you think that they-- people in the West, question your legitimacy?
President Assad: This intervention in Syria matters. I don't care about it, to be frank. I never care about it. As long as I have the public support of the Syrian people. That's my legitimacy; legitimacy comes from the inside, but why? I will tell you why. Because the West used to have puppets. Not independent leaders, or officials in any other country. And that the problem with Putin. They demonize Putin because he can say no, and he wants to be independent. Because the West, and especially the United States, don't accept partners. They only accept followers. Even Europe is not partner of the United States. That's to be very frank with you. So, this is their problem with Syria. They need somebody to keep saying yes. Yes-- a puppet. Marionette. And so on.
Charlie Rose: What circumstances would cause you to give up power?
President Assad: When I don't have the public support. When I don't represent the Syrian interests, and values.
Charlie Rose: And how do you determine that?
President Assad: I have daily contact with the-- with the people. How could any--
Charlie Rose: So, you're-- you determine whether they support you?
President Assad: No, no, no. I don't determine. I sense. I feel. I'm in contact with them. I'm a human. How can a human make that expectation of the population? I mean, the war was very important lab for this support. I mean, they could have-- if they don't support you, they could have-- go and support the other side. They didn't. Why? That's very clear. That's very concrete.
Charlie Rose: I came here after Secretary Kerry had made his remarks. My impression once I got here is that when you heard those remarks you were optimistic. The state department backed-- back a little bit, and said we still think there needs to be a new government. But you were optimistic after you heard that. You believe there is a way for your government and the American government to cooperate?
President Assad: Yeah.
Charlie Rose: And coordinate?
President Assad: That's not the main point-- after-- I mean-- regarding that statement. I think-- I think the main point we could have feeling, and we hope that we are right, that American administration started to abandon this policy of isolation. Which is very harmful to them, and to us. Because if you isolate country, isolate yourself, as the United States, from being influential, and effective, and the course of events, unless you are talking about the negative influence, like make embargo, that could kill the people slowly. Or launching war and supporting terrorists that could kill them in a faster way. So, our impression is that we are optimistic, more optimistic, I wouldn't exaggerate. That at least when they're thinking about dialogue, doesn't matter what kind of dialogue, and what the content of the dialogue. And even doesn't matter for the real intentions. But the word dialogue is something we haven't heard from the United States on the global level for a long time.
Charlie Rose: But you just did, from the secretary of state. We need to negotiate.
President Assad: Exactly, that's--
Charlie Rose: That's a dialogue.
President Assad: That's what I said. I mean, that's why I said it's positive. That's what I said, we are more optimistic. I mean, when they abandoned this policy of isolation, things should be better. I mean, when you start the dialogue things will be better.
Charlie Rose: Why don't you reach out to Secretary Kerry and say, "Let's talk."
President Assad: Are they ready to talk?
Charlie Rose: Let's talk.
President Assad: We are always open. We never close our doors. They should be ready for the talk, they should be ready for the negotiation. We didn't make an embargo on the United States. We didn't attack the American population. We didn't support terrorists who did anything in United States. Actually, the United States did. We were always-- we always wanted to have good relation with the United States. We never thought in the other direction. It's a great power. Nobody-- no-- not a wise person think of having bad relation with United States.
Charlie Rose: Yeah, but can you have good relationship with a country that thinks you shouldn't be in power?
President Assad: No, that's not going to be part of the dialogue that I mentioned earlier. This is not their business. We have Syrian citizens, who can decide this. No one else. Whether they want to talk about it or not. This is not something we're going to discuss with anyone.
Charlie Rose: This cannot end militarily. Do you agree with that?
President Assad: Yeah, definitely. Every conflict, even if it's a war, should end with a political solution.

Bahrainis protest Saudi Arabia’s aggression on Yemen

Bahraini protesters have held a rally to condemn the Saudi-led invasion of Yemen while a new lawsuit has been filed against the country’s top opposition figure over his criticism of Bahrain’s contribution to the aggression.
Bahrainis took to the streets on Sunday in the village of Musalla in the al-Daih district near the capital Manama to protest against Saudi Arabia’s invasions of Yemen. They carried banners reading, “Stop the war on Yemen."
The protesters also criticized the Arab countries, including the Manama regime, for joining the Saudi onslaught against the Yemeni people.
Salman charged over Saudi invasion
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s prosecutor general has filed a new lawsuit against the country’s top opposition figure Sehikh Ali Salman after he issued a statement condemning Manama’s assistance to the Saudi aggression on Yemen.
On Sunday, the Bahrain News Agency quoted Advocate General Wael Boalley as saying that an investigation into a statement by Salman on the issue had been completed. The report said that a deputy for Salman, who is the secretary general of the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, has also been questioned over his role in preparing the statement.
The report said the statement has led to new charges against Salman, and he is now accused of “deliberately disseminating lies, spreading rumors and propaganda that may harm the military operations of the armed forces, and defaming foreign countries publicly.”
Salman was arrested in December 2014 on charges of seeking to overthrow the regime. His remand has been extended three times and he is expected to go to trial on April 22.
Scores arrested in Sitra
In a separate development, 18 citizens were arrested in a massive raid on tens of houses by regime forces in Bahrain’s Sitra Island.
According to al-Wefaq’s Arabic-language website, the people were arrested in Sitra’s Bani Jamra district, south of Manama, early Sunday. Regime forces also assaulted a seminary school in the Abu Saiba neighborhood.  
Bahrain has been witnessing almost daily protests against the ruling Al Khalifa regime since early 2011, when an uprising began in the kingdom. Since then, thousands of protesters have held numerous rallies in the streets of Bahrain, calling for the Al Khalifa royal family to relinquish power.
The Manama regime has been severely criticized by human rights groups for its harsh crackdown on anti-government protesters, which has claimed the lives of scores of people so far.

11th-Hour Push for Iranian Nuclear Deal Two Days Before the Deadline


Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers continued Sunday, and it remains unclear whether both sides would be able to reach a potentially historic agreement to curb Tehran’s nuclear program with just two days left before an end-of-the-month deadline.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a return trip to the United States and remained in Lausanne, Switzerland, in an eleventh-hour push to close a deal after 18 months of intense negotiations. Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were racing to meet  a self-imposed March 31 deadline to agree on a framework for an agreement — the details of which would be settled later this summer. Also in Lausanne are the foreign ministers of France, Russia, China, and Germany. The European Union’s foreign policy chief is also there.
Reports from Lausanne indicate both sides are still negotiating the number of centrifuges Iran would be allowed to operate, as well as the possibility of limited uranium enrichment for medical purposes. Reuters reported Tehran was willing to cut its number of centrifuges — which are used to enrich uranium — to fewer than 6,000 and that negotiators are closing in on a brief document summarizing a preliminary deal. It’s not clear whether that document would be released publicly.
Highly enriched uranium is a necessary ingredient for a nuclear bomb — which is the root of global fears over Tehran’s nuclear program. Tehran insists it is not planning to build a bomb with its enriched uranium, and says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Even though no accord has been reached, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned Sunday that Iran was attempting to “conquer the entire Middle East.”
“This deal, as it appears to be emerging, bears out all of our fears, and even more than that,” Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday. “The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is also opposed to a deal, threatened new economic punishment if no agreement is struck. “The sanctions are going to come, and they’re going to come quick,” Boehner toldCNN Sunday.
In 2010 and again in 2012, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Iran for violating international standards on its nuclear program. The European Union and the United Nations have also imposed tough sanctions against Iran. Together, the sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and, in effect, forced Tehran into serious negotiations for the first time in years in hopes of easing the economic penalties.
Boehner is set to travel to Israel this week as the deadline looms in Lausanne.
Republicans have told U.S. President Barack Obama — and, in a letter, warned Iranian politicians — that any deal requires congressional approval. Some Democrats also want to sign off on a potential deal before it is ratified with Iran.
Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel al-Jubeir said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” he backed any deal that would have to close Iran’s path to nuclear weapons, “but we really will not know until we see the details and I don’t believe the details have been worked out yet.”
This round of negotiations between the United States, its allies — United Kingdom, Russia, China, France, and Germany — and Iran have been marked by a series of deadline extensions, which have allowed critics of the deal to rally opposition.
“We’ve been negotiating for more than a year and ultimately its time for the Iranians to send a clear signal to the international community about whether or not they are willing to make the serious commitments required and basically live up to their rhetoric that they are not trying to acquire a nuclear weapon,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on ABC’s “This Week.”
The negotiations have pushed ties between Washington and Jerusalem tohistoric lows. Netanyahu used a March address to Congress to lobby against the deal. Obama was so upset over the speech organized by Boehner — who did not consult with the White House before inviting the prime minister —  that he refused to meet with Netanyahu during the visit. Since then, Israeli officials have circled the globe arguing against any agreement that would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Israel, which is widely believed to have their own stash of nuclear weapons, is concerned about a wider arms race in the Middle East. Officials say Iranian hardliners would not abide by the terms of any deal. In the past, Jerusalem has hinted at the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms.

Michelle Obama declares 'Black Girls Rock!'

Associated Press 

First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the beauty, power and tenacity of black women while spreading her own message of education for girls at Black Girls Rock!, an annual event honoring trailblazing women of color from all walks of life.
"No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful," Obama told the crowd, which included many young black girls.
"I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so proud of you," she added. "We have so much hope and dreams for you."
Obama was not among the honorees at Saturday night's festivities, held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. That distinction went to actress Jada Pinkett Smith, singer Erykah Badu, actress Cicely Tyson, "Selma" director Ava DuVernay, educator Nadia Lopez and Dr. Helene D. Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, a humanitarian organization.
However, Obama was the most celebrated participant. Wearing a form-fitting white dress, she jammed to performances from the likes of Badu, Fantasia, Sheila E!, Estelle and others and applauded the honorees.
Obama got arguably the night's loudest ovation as she came on stage and declared "Black girls rock!" — the slogan and name of the organization founded by Beverly Bond. It is designed to uplift young black girls, a group that often has difficulty finding positive and reaffirming images of themselves in the world.
Obama acknowledged as much in her speech to celebrate three young honorees.
"I know there are voices that you are not good enough," she said, acknowledging that she often lacked self-confidence growing up despite encouraging parents.
"Each of those doubts was like a test," she said, "that I either shrink away from or rise to meet. And I decided to rise."
Obama, who recently completed a trip to Japan and Cambodia as part of her worldwide push for better educational opportunities for girls, lauded the young honorees for excelling in their studies.
"There is nothing more important than being serious about your education," the Ivy League-educated Obama said. "That's why I am able to stand here tonight. ... I want every one of our black girls do to the same, and our black boys."
Obama's speech was just one of many highlights of the nearly four-hour event, which will be shown Sunday, April 5, on BET.
Will Smith gave an emotional tribute to his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who received the Star Power award. Smith alluded to persistent rumors that the couple's marriage was in trouble.
He said when one rumor got out of control, he had a chance for reflection.
"In that brief moment my heart jumped for a second and I started to imagine what my life would have been like without that woman," he said as the couple's daughter, Willow, beamed from the audience.
When Pinkett Smith accepted the honor, she alluded to recent slights of black girls and women — including a college baseball player's slur against Little League pitcher Mo'ne Davis — as reasons why Black Girls Rock! is necessary.
She also implored black women to celebrate and be aware of their own strength.
"I need you to understand that we are the women who marched from cotton fields into fields of medicine ... politics ... entertainment," she said. "We have found a way to march into the White House."
Tyson also spoke to the resiliency of black women as she accepted her legacy award from hosts actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King.
"The moment anyone tries to demean or degrade you in any way, you have to know how great you are," Tyson said. "Nobody would bother to beat you down if you were not a threat."
DuVernay, whose civil rights drama "Selma" received an Academy Award nomination, making her the first black woman to notch such an achievement, name-checked a host of other black filmmakers in her speech as she accepted her Shot Caller award, and implored women to "figure out what you need to do to be the heroine of your own story."
The show peppered songs from entertainers like Jill Scott, Estelle and others with inspiring stories from the award winners. One of the members of the group Sister Sledge sang the song "We Are Family," with the refrain "I've got all my sisters with me," as the audience grooved along.
And sisterhood was the spirit of the evening, evident when Obama came on stage to close the show with all the honorees. When an embarrassed King flubbed a line, Obama gave her a hug and then jokingly rubbed her back.
The actress and director then shouted with glee, "I've got Mrs. Obama pumping me up!"

Pakistan - Army’s colonel shot dead in Peshawar

A serving colonel of the Pakistan Army was shot dead by unknown armed men in Peshawar on Sunday, ARY News reported.
According to police, unknown assailants opened fire at Colonel Tahir Azeem in Hayatabad Phase-III, while he was on his way back home after offering Namaz.
As a consequence, the military official was killed on the spot.
Police took his body into custody and shifted it to Hayatabad Medical Complex.
Colonel Tahir Azeem was posted in Rawalpindi and had arrived in Peshawar to meet his family.

Tahir’s brothers Waqas and Shakil were also killed by terrorists in two different incidents, a few years ago.


Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah has said that participation in the Saudi-led war coalition against Yemen would turn the country into ashes.
Shah, a Sunni Muslim Parliamentarian of Pakistan People’s Party, advised the pro-Saudi PMLN government that Pakistan should realize that it would have to play an effective role in narrowing down the divergences between the Muslim countries rather than expanding them. He proposed that the government should call a joint session of both the houses of parliament and take parliament into confidence before sending troops to Saudi Arabia.

“Zarb-e-Azab operation is continuing in the country,” he said and added, “Twenty percent Shiite population is living in the country. We should not take part in Yemen war. We will have to say to Saudi Arabia to maintain peace and bring all the Muslims under one banner. Pakistan should not become part of Yemen war. This war will spill into our streets like Afghan war. We should learn lesson from the past”, he underlined.

He said that Pakistan should play constructive role. Leadership should visit the Muslim countries and play role in forging unity in their ranks. It should make it clear on them why the Muslims are fighting every where and why they are being pitted against each other. Why there is dissension among them. We are supportive of humanity. He went on to say, “The Middle East situation has become complicated within a few days. Pakistan is joining the Middle East war. If Pakistan participates in this war, this house should be taken into confidence.

“When some problem arises, political leadership gets united. Opposition had sided with government in the political crisis in the past. We want to save Parliament. Government should go for consultation process with the opposition with respect to foreign policy. Politicians will have to author foreign policy together. Parliament stands with government in all wretched hours”, he underscored.

“When the army takes part in any war, the house is taken into confidence. This house is sovereign and is public representative. We have longstanding affinity with Saudi Arabia. Pakistan should realize that it will have to play an effective role in narrowing down the divergences between the Muslim countries rather than expanding them,” he remarked.
“The government should not take any decision in closed door. Elected representatives should take the decision on the forum of parliament. Our participation in the war in Yemen will give rise to religious chaos in the country,” he said while speaking on a point of order in the National Assembly (NA) on Friday.

Pakistan - Imran's Phone Conversation - '' Taped ''

It appears that, for all his talk of a ‘new’ Pakistan and a new political culture, Imran Khan has a lot to improve. The leaked telephonic conversation between him and PTI leader Dr Arif Alvi will makes many question a man who has built his political career on the idea that he is a straightforward, dedicated politician different from the others on the national scene. The embarrassing conversation leaked to the media has Imran using abusive language he has become known for, directed against the prime minister of the country. Imran, on being informed by Dr Alvi last year during the PTI’s prolonged sit-in in Islamabad that the PTV headquarters had been violently broken into, is heard saying ‘this is good’. He also expresses the hope that this will lead the prime minister to resign and abuses him as he does so. The remarks make it plain that Imran’s insistent denials that his party workers had nothing to do with the attack on PTV, which resulted in transmissions being disrupted and considerable damage caused to equipment, were in stark contrast to the facts. 

Where, we must ask, is the new culture that Imran has said he wishes to introduce in politics? Basic common sense and maturity are qualities any politician requires and there is nothing that can exempt Imran from these traits. The tone we hear in the conversation from Dr Alvi, a man of considerable personal standing, indicates too that the sycophancy that is the curse of our political culture has invaded the PTI too. Imran appears to run the party like a kind of demigod. This is an unhealthy tendency that opportunistic sycophancy can only worsen. The PTI has made only feeble attempts to explain the leaked conversation. Its stance that it is unethical to tape such matters holds little moral weight given that the party voiced no objections when Saulat Mirza’s video-taped confession was leaked and took no time in unleashing an attack on Altaf Hussain and his party. Dr Alvi’s stance that the audio recording was somehow tampered with is also not believable given his strange notion that words have been placed out of context. This does not appear to be the case when one hears the tape. Imran Khan, unable to defend what becomes obvious in the tape, tried nonsensically to attack Altaf Hussain and the MQM. Altaf has rightly objected to that and – people are not fools either. Now that Imran is apparently getting ready to fill the vacuum he hopes will be created in Karachi as he sees the MQM retreating, he needs instead to sit back and reflect on his own politics and the direction it has been taking. 

Pakistan - Political Leaks

First came a confessional video of Saulat Mirza, an MQM worker on death row convicted of murder, and now an audio tape of a conversation between PTI Chairman Imran Khan and MNA Dr Arif Alvi has been leaked on social media. Legal experts largely agree that both these tapes are inadmissible in court and in all likelihood, illegal. In that case, what purpose are they supposed to serve? Why have they been leaked to mainstream media in one instance and social media in the other? Since these tapes do not carry any direct legal consequences, they can only be aimed at achieving some political objective. In Mirza’s case, it is clear that the aim to sway public opinion against the MQM and exert pressure on MQM Chief Altaf Hussain. It might also prove helpful to deter other MQM workers involved in criminal activities who are under the impression that their party would somehow manage to keep them secure.
The Khan-Alvi audio tape is an attempt to expose the PTI Chief’s duplicitous stance on the attack on PTV office during the PTI-PAT sit-ins in Islamabad. In public, Mr Khan disowned and condemned the attack whereas in the recorded conversation, he is heard rejoicing as Dr Alvi delivers the troubling news. It also reveals the party’s attempts towards securing support from the MQM to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It is important to remember that these are illegal activities most likely being undertaken by state-institutions to achieve political goals, which is unacceptable. These aren’t works of whistleblowers exposing corruption and crime at the highest level of secret government. This is being done by powerful government agencies on behest of the biggest players in the country. If the idea is to share facts deemed to be of public interest, then there is a need to put a transparent mechanism in place that makes that call after careful deliberation and releases information before the public in an orderly and unbiased fashion. Intelligence agencies, be it the ISI or the IB, must be reigned in. They cannot be allowed to violate the privacy of individuals or groups in contradiction of the law. This dirty exercise cannot be endorsed no matter how sensational and groundbreaking the content.

Pakistan - Imran's Phone conversation - Murky waters

WHEN a secretly recorded conversation between a national politician and one of his advisers is leaked to the media and public, the temptation is to examine the substance of the conversation and explore the gap between public positions and private exultations. But that temptation must be resisted. There is one and only one issue that ought to matter in this rather unfortunate instance of an alleged conversation between PTI chief Imran Khan and PTI MNA Arif Alvi being leaked to the media: who did it, why did they do it, and did they have any legal authority to do so? Unhappily, the PML-N government appears neither to comprehend nor be particularly interested in the fundamental issue here, preferring instead to gloat over the embarrassment caused to the PTI and seeking to add to it in any way can.
The PML-N reaction has raised suspicions that the federal government itself may have authorised the secret recording and leaked it now to put the PTI on the defensive. Certainly, the Intelligence Bureau, which reports directly to the prime minister and whose director general is serving on an extension in duty at the prime minister’s personal intervention, has the capabilities to tap local mobile phones. As for motive, the PML-N’s continuing struggles with the PTI, with Imran Khan again warning of taking to street agitation if the judicial commission to investigate allegations of rigging in the May 2013 election is not convened by the government as promised, give it a surfeit of motives. However, the PML-N, via the IB, is by no means the only possible culprit. It is entirely possible that the most usual of suspects and the oldest of culprits in such matters are once again involved: the intelligence wings of the military establishment.
That there is no parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, that there are no clear statutory limits on what intelligence agencies can do, and that military-run intelligence agencies report only to the army leadership and regard the civilian side of the state with historical mistrust is well known. What is not known at all is the scope of the intelligence agencies’ snooping on civilian politicians, and to what end. In the Khan-Alvi recording, there can be discerned only political purposes, with the PTI being made to look duplicitous and untruthful. Consider that in recent days the MQM, PPP and now the PTI have all been undermined by sudden revelations amidst a media frenzy. There is no clear or obvious reason why the military-run intelligence wings, pre-occupied as they must be with the fight against militancy, would try to muddy the waters for the PTI too at this moment. But there is enough happening on several fronts now for both the federal government and the military to determine who is behind the PTI leak and put an end to these dangerous shenanigans immediately.

Pakistan - Going To War

Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen conflict, and the subsequent Saudi announcement of a coalition against Houthi rebels, involving Pakistan, has drawn a mixed reaction at home. On one hand the Prime Minister emphatically stated that “any threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity would evoke a strong response from Pakistan.” While Khwaja Asif, the Federal Defence Minister watered down the zeal and treated matters more circumspectly, saying “no decision has been taken yet” and “Pakistan will not exacerbate divide in the Muslim world”. As it stands, the decision to participate is still under discussion. If one considers the government’s special relationship with the Kingdom, Pakistan’s history of military support to the Saudis, the religious leaning of most of the ruling party and the fact that the Kingdom has economically propped up Pakistan several times, one might be able to reasonably discern the direction the government might be leaning towards. But is that direction the correct one?
It is a completely separate thing to rush to the aid of a valued ally who is in danger, and a separate one to facilitate an ally in playing the ‘great game’ in another country – like in Afghanistan. The question is: Do the Houthis present a tangible threat to the Saudis? Even if we ignore the justifiability of the cause itself, our country’s domestic condition should give the government pause. Pakistan is in the middle of an extensive –and a hard fought – war against militancy; Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Kyber One are still in progress and the military has just begun targeting militants in urban centres. Furthermore, our eastern border still witnesses sporadic cross-border violations. How can we spare troops or resources to send to Yemen? We will be dividing the military’s focus and weakening its capacity; jeopardizing the success of war in which we have already lost so much. Much more important is the socio-political fallout of such an action. Saudi Arabia – and for its part, Iran – has painted this conflict as a Sunni-Shia one. If the government rushes to the aid of an orthodox Sunni state against Shia rebels in another country, it would exacerbate the already serious sectarian violence in the country. The state is already seen as a biased institution when it comes to prosecuting sectarian groups, especially those following the Wahabi tradition. If Pakistan decides to participate in the war, it would reinforce such notions and deepen social fault lines. Furthermore, such a decision would anger Iran, which remains an important neighbour and a potential trade and economic partner.
Unlike the operation against the Taliban – which despite being a full-scale assault remains a domestic law enforcement operation – this decision needs to be made by the parliament, not the executive. Only the people’s representatives can make the decision to go to war.

Pakistan - Not our war in Yemen

By - Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari

Since the 1970s the one thing that has changed the rabid religious landscape that Pakistan now finds itself in has been the pouring of Saudi funds into the bellies of clerics
Pakistanis turn vicious when forced to conform to the diktat of the US. They call any such attempt to alter Pakistan’s foreign or domestic policy imperialist and hegemonic. Yet strangely, replace the US with Saudi Arabia and it almost reads like it is supremely ordained by a power that is both respectable and honourable. Historically, Pakistan has been heavily influenced by both countries, yet the resentment for the violation of what Pakistanis refer to as national sovereignty has only been towards one and not the other. Whereas the negative effects of US military cooperation have been exaggerated, those of the Saudis are in stealth mode, presented only in academic studies hardly anyone dares to fund.

On March 26, 2015, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif said that any attack on Saudi Arabia is akin to an attack on Pakistan. Pakistan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced, will be part of a coalition against Yemen. This comes at the same time the Pakistan foreign office reports that it is only now considering the request by the Saudis to join the effort. One would have thought that for a decision of such national importance, parliament's opinion would have been sought and, by extension, would have been representative of the country’s desire to participate in a war against another Muslim country. Sending troops to attack Yemen has great repercussions against our good ties with Iran. Can it afford another precarious border? Whoever is thinking geopolitics needs to reconsider taking Pakistan down the path of meddling in another country’s local wars. We all know how these end. In fact, no one should know this better than us.

Sending our troops, engaged as they are in staving off the attacks on Pakistani soil by the Taliban, to fight a war that will need a new sales pitch is utterly disastrous no matter how well you spin it. It calls into question our loyalty to the victims of the Peshawar attack, the Youhanabad church bombings and the most recent attack targeting a police bus in Karachi claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Why are we being asked to spread ourselves so thin to fight an ego war miles away? Do the $ 1.5 billion the Saudis contributed to the Pakistan Development Fund last year have anything to do with it?

The war in Yemen already unnerves the Shias worldwide and it especially demoralises the Shias in Pakistan who are being preyed upon with growing intensity by both sectarian and militant organisations. Pakistan, by entering in this war, possibly even directly is signalling a united Sunni front, whereas these times call for a more modern all-encompassing Muslim identity.

Since the 1970s the one thing that has changed the rabid religious landscape that Pakistan now finds itself in has been the pouring of Saudi funds into the bellies of clerics. The fattening up of the most bigoted and the most callous towards human rights has been ongoing since then. The sufferers: non-Sunni Muslims, the women and the children who are brainwashed in these seminaries, where crooked versions of thinking are drilled into their young minds. For a nation that is so deathly afraid of its women that it grants them no mobility in a car or to travel without a guardian, Saudi Arabia chest thumps and sabre-rattles with so much machismo. With a transition economy that needs all the women it can get in the workforce, can Pakistan really dive in so emotionally to support a country whose ethos on women can only bring it economic disaster? Only 17 to 20 percent of women participate in the workforce in Pakistan. If we look over at India and Bangladesh, this number is at 40 percent. They are Muslim too, for the record. Political relationships, if not ideologically aligned, are fickle.

As Saudi bombing starts in Yemen, families upon families of civilians have been wiped out in the collateral damage. As a country that is haemorrhaging in the loss of its vital children, its poor and its dearest, Pakistan cannot be part of something that is so violent to another country. It makes no intuitive sense. It makes no resource sense. Above all, it makes no humanitarian sense.

Pakistan engages with the comity of nations with honour and the independent views of its people are not negotiable. Just like the people of even the strongest nations, the people of Pakistan want an end to war. They do not want to be standing at the beginning of a war so far removed that it demands only one question: does this serve to preserve the message of peace that Islam brought to the world?

Pakistan ranks 6th among high TB affected countries

Pakistan ranks sixth among the 22 high tuberculosis (TB) affected countries, and has 43 per cent share of its patients in the Eastern-Mediterranean region of World Health Organization (WHO).
According to available data, the incidence of tuberculosis (TB) per 100,000 populations in Pakistan is 181; case notification per 100,000 per year is 150 while the treatment success rate is 85 per cent. Tuberculosis (TB) currently infects an estimated one-third of the world’s population. The WHO is working on a plan to reduce TB prevalence rate and deaths by half by 2015.
An official of the National TB Control Programme said that over 700,000 TB patients have been treated free of cost and 100 percent latest treatment methodology of DOTS coverage has been achieved in the country. He said training and health education material has been developed and all health care providers concerned have been trained.
He further said 982 microscopy centres have been set up from public resources for free of cost diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB). External quality assurance for sputum microscopy had been implemented in 40 districts of the country while five reference laboratories had also been established, including one at the federal level and one each at provincial levels, he said.
Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Dr Wasim Khawaja said that tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious bacterial disease caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis, which most commonly affects the lungs. He was of the view that the disease is transmitted from person to person via droplets from throat and lungs of people with the active respiratory disease.
In healthy people, infection with mycobacterium tuberculosis often causes no symptoms because their immune system acts to wall off the bacteria. He further said the symptoms of active TB of the lung are coughing, sometimes with sputum or blood, chest pains, weakness, weight loss, fever and night sweats. 

Pakistan: More than 100 Christians arrested following riots and death of 2 men