Thursday, April 9, 2015

Music Video - Salt-N-Pepa - Push It

Video - President Obama Speaks at a Town Hall With Young Leaders of the Americas in Jamaica

Terrorists kill 2 Iranian signal officers near border with Pakistan

Terrorists have killed two signal officers working for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) near the southeastern border with Pakistan.
A local official confirmed Thursday that the two officers were killed as they were returning from work in the mountainous areas of the Mehrestan, a city located at the southern extreme of the province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
Rashid Parsayi, the governor of Mehrestan which is locally known as Zaboli and is located 335 kilometers south of the provincial capital city of Zahedan, said unidentified gunmen fired at the two officers who were descending Birak Mountain.
The two slain officers have been identified as Morteza Mohammad-Baqeri and Mohammad Mohammadi Soleimani. The pair worked at the telecommunications unit of IRGC in the neighboring Kerman province.
On Monday, terrorists killed eight border guards in a border area in the southeastern town of Negur before fleeing to Pakistan to escape being hunted down by security forces. The incident came after IRGC busted a major terror group in the region earlier in the day.
Sistan-Baluchestan province has seen similar attacks by terrorists who launch hit-and-run attacks and flee to neighboring Pakistan. Iran has repeatedly criticized its eastern neighbor for failing to rein in the terrorists.

UN Accuses Saudi Arabia of Killing Yemeni Civilians

After two weeks of terror-bombing, the UN finally noticed. Special Rapporteur for Internally Displaced Persons Chaloka Beyani accused Saudi Arabia of deliberately killing Yemeni civilians.
Saudi-led warplanes bombed civilian neighborhoods, the Mazraq refugee camp, hospitals, schools and “other civilian buildings,” said Beyani.
Power and water facilities were struck. So were Yemen’s largest food storage and dairy buildings.
Beyani called terror-bombing attacks “a grave violation against some of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable civilians.”
Scores of children were killed. Hundreds of Yemeni civilians were murdered or maimed for life.
Estimates of civilian deaths and injuries are conservative. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated 643 deaths, including 74 children – another 2,226 injured.
The true toll may be double these figures.
Beyani warned the international community “to prepare for massive displacement and humanitarian crisis as conflict torn Yemen further descends into chaos and civilians flee the fighting.”
“The international community must prepare for a worst case scenario,” he said.
“While efforts to reach a diplomatic solution are essential, the picture on the ground is extremely bleak and humanitarian responses must be stepped up as a matter of urgency.”
“Unless rapidly resolved, the crisis could lead to mass displacement in the wake of heavy and ongoing fighting and airstrikes.”
“Those responsible for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, must be held accountable.”
Conflict affects 14 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. Perhaps the entire country will be devastated before it ends.
Over 100,000 are internally or externally displaced so far – in just two weeks of conflict.
If continued for months or years like in other US regional wars, the lives and welfare of millions of Yemenis are at risk.
Obama bears full responsibility for slow-motion genocide in multiple conflict theaters. Endless US direct and proxy wars continue.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani accused Saudi Arabia of committing crimes against humanity in Yemen by bombing civilian areas.
Iran’s Judiciary Chief Sadeq Amoli Larijani warned Saudi officials to stop terror-bombing Yemen or face consequences for its actions.
“Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen is a very regrettable event in the Muslim world which should end as soon as possible through talks and negotiations,” he said.
“Otherwise, this blatant aggression of a government which claims (to be leading) Islam, against the Muslim people of another country who want to decide their fate will not remain unanswered.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad  Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian urged an immediate halt to fighting on all sides.
Crisis conditions must be settled diplomatically, they said.
Meanwhile, Saudi-led terror-bombing continues – with full US support and encouragement.
A devastating humanitarian crisis worsens daily. Yemen’s soul is up for grabs. So are the lives of its 25 million people.

Hacked to death for unbelief: The rise of atheist persecution
Ruth Gledhill

Atheists and secularists are calling on the international community to act to reverse a growing trend of persecution of the non-religious.
Humanists in the UK are working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK to ensure the issue of the persecution of atheists is high on the agenda.
The problems faced by non-believers in parts of the world were highlighted when a high-profile prominent atheist blogger was hacked to death in Dhaka last month.
The blogger's wife accused police of merely standing by while murderers attacked the couple with machetes.
Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who lost a finger and suffered head injuries in the killing of Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy after the couple were returning from a book fair, called on the Bangladeshi government to do everything possible to bring them to justice.
"While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood by and did not act," she told Reuters. She added that the government should "stop a legal culture of impunity, where writers can be killed without the killers being brought to trial."
The FBI is helping with the investigation into the attack and her claims.
Roy, founder of the Mukto-Mona or "free mind" blog site, had received threats after posts in which he offered secular interpretations on science and social affairs and which were criticised for being anti-Islam.
He was the second Bangladeshi blogger murdered in that last two years. A further two writers have also been attacked in recent years.
Facebook/Free Raif Badawi
Blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes over accusations he insulted Islam.
In Saudi Arabia the blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes over accusations he insulted Islam, is now facing possible trial for apostasy which could lead to a death sentence. Badawi, 31, who founded the website Free Saudi Liberals and is currently in jail for ten years, was so seriously injured after the first 50 lashes that the rest of the floggings were postponed.
Recently in Egypt, the atheist Karim al-Banna was given a three-year jail sentence for "insulting" Islam with his atheism. He has said he would like to live anywhere Egypt.
"All I want now is to leave Egypt. Life is not possible for atheists here," the 23-year-old engineering student told AFP.
And in Turkey, a website belonging to the country's first official atheist association has been judged to be an "insult to religious values" and blocked by a court in Ankara. The ruling cited Turkish Penal law which forbids "provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them."
A recent 540-page report found that most countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers.
The Freedom of Thought report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, published a few weeks ago, found non-religious people are being targeted by "hate campaigns" in countries around the world.
The report found that the "hate speech" against atheists did not come exclusively from reactionary or radical religious leaders, but increasingly from political leaders, including heads of state.
In addition to laws against "apostasy" and "blasphemy", there was in 2014 a big increase in specific targeting of "atheists" and "humanism".
Cases covered included the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who labelled humanism, secularism and liberalism as "deviant" and a threat to Islam and the state itself.
Saudi Arabia was criticised in the report for a new law that equates "atheism" with "terrorism". Saudi's new terror regulations explicitly ban the crime of "calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion."
Egypt was found to target atheists directly in "an organized backlash against young atheists." Thirteen Islamic states have the death penalty for "apostates".
The report cites a survey in 2012 that found that six out of ten people in the world are religious, while 13 per cent are atheist and a further 23 per cent non-religious. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: "In recent years we have seen a growing trend of persecution of the non-religious globally, from Raif Badawi's 1,000 lashes, to the recent murder of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, and it is urgent that the international community takes action to reverse this trend. We have been working increasingly closely with the UK Government's Foreign Office in order to ensure that this issue is high on their agenda, and are proud to be supporting the new End Blasphemy Laws campaign, which aims to repeal blasphemy laws worldwide.
"Even here in the UK, however, the non-religious face discrimination and special privileges are afforded to religious groups. It would be unthinkable for hospitals to be organised along ethnic lines, or for public transport to be segregated by gender, and yet one in six state school places in England first prioritise those of a certain faith, then prioritise those of other faiths, before finally, if space is left, admitting those of no faith. This discrimination has to stop."
Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said that belonging to the "wrong" kind of Islam is potentially life threatening, and religious tolerance in Muslim countries has now almost disappeared, from being relatively widespread 20 or more years ago.
"Wahhabism is certainly more widespread, and well funded. Few, if any, Muslim majority countries uphold people's right to renounce or change their faith. An accusation of blasphemy against someone in Pakistan is likely to lead to death threats and possibly death in prison. The mullahs so intimidate the courts and lawyers and judiciary that obtaining a fair trial is difficult and sometimes impossible. Even worse is that often the charges are baseless, an easy way of eliminating political or business rivals."

French Music Video - Indila - Indila - Dernière Danse

Video - Obama Encourages Caribbean-Cuba Engagement

U.S - Poll: 31 percent of Republicans support Iran nuclear deal

About one-third of Republicans favor a nuclear deal with Iran, according to a new poll.
In a Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2,291 adults, 31 percent of Republicans said they favor a nuclear deal with Iran. Thirty percent opposed a deal, and 40 percent were not sure. As Reuters points out, the public sentiment could create an obstacle for congressional Republicans, who have been strongly opposed to the deal.

Among participants who identify as independents, 33 percent said they support a deal, 21 percent did not, and 45 percent were unsure.
Half of Democrats who participated in the poll supported a deal, while 10 percent opposed it, and 39 percent were unsure.
Last Thursday, the United States and its P5+1 partners announced that they had come to a preliminary agreement with Iran regarding their ability to create nuclear weapons. While the details are due to be finalized by the end of June, President Barack Obama said Iran must commit to intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities, and the deal hopes to ensure that Iran’s nuclear power is used strictly for peaceful purposes.

Support for pursuing both negotiations and military action was high among Republicans, with 50 percent expressing support for this combination option and 42 percent of independents who responded similarly. Thirty-five percent of Democrats supported this combination.
This poll, which was published Wednesday, was conducted April 3-7 and included 893 Democrats, 803 Republicans and 320 independents. It had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

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President Obama Meets with Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller

State Department Review of Cuba’s Status on Terrorism List Is Complete, Obama Says


President Obama said Thursday that the State Department had completed its review of whether to remove Cuba from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism, but he added that he had not yet received a final recommendation and was not ready to announce a decision.
“Our emphasis has been on the facts,” Mr. Obama said of considering Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s terrorism list, where it has remained for more than 30 years. “We want to make sure that given that this is a powerful tool to isolate those countries that genuinely do support terrorism, that when we make those designations, we’ve got strong evidence that, in fact, that’s the case.”
He added, “As circumstances change, then that list will change as well.”
Removing Cuba from the list would clear a major obstacle to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, as the two former political enemies advance toward their closest ties in half a century.
The review was ordered by Mr. Obama in December, when he and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic ties and move toward normal relations. The State Department looked at whether Cuba had engaged in terrorism activity in the last six months — the criteria for designating a country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Speaking after a meeting here with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica, Mr. Obama said that the State Department’s determination was now going through an interagency review that has not yet been finished.
The timing left open the possibility that he could announce a final decision at the Summit of the Americas opening in Panama on Friday, where he hopes to highlight momentum toward the diplomatic opening with Cuba. At the summit, any face-to-face interactions Mr. Obama has with Mr. Castro — the first since the president announced the policy shift — will be scrutinized for their symbolic significance.
“There’s a process involved,” Mr. Obama said. “I won’t make a formal announcement today about what those recommendations are. I’ll wait until I’ve received them.”
Mr. Obama was attending a gathering of Caribbean leaders here on his way to the summit in Panama. It will be Mr. Castro’s first time attending the Summit of the Americas, from which his country had been barred because of Cuba’s 1962 expulsion from the Organization of American States at the United States’ behest. American officials have not ruled out the possibility of a one-on-one meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro.
Cuba’s removal from the list would allow Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro to enter the summit with a significant sign of progress to show for the months of behind-the-scenes negotiations between their governments that have followed the December announcement. It would also mark a crucial milestone in Mr. Obama’s effort to turn the page on a Cold War-era grudge.
In meetings on Thursday, Caribbean leaders praised Mr. Obama for pursuing the normalization of relations with the island nation, a move they said would be beneficial to the entire region. Ms. Simpson Miller told the president: “You’re on the right side of history,” calling the opening “a bold and courageous move.”
Prime Minister Perry G. Christie of the Bahamas, who was leading the Caribbean gathering, also singled out Mr. Obama’s shift in policy toward Cuba in his opening remarks, calling it “a pleasing and welcome development.”

Afghan Pashto Song - Alia


By P. Stobdan
Six months after assuming office, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has finally made his choice of selecting a strategic partner amid questions over what the future holds for Afghanistan given the continuing uncertainty. Following Ghani’s visit to Washington on 23 March 2015, at least the anxieties surrounding the post-drawdown situation seemed to have been put to rest. Ghani fervently pleaded for a slowdown of the withdrawal timeline suggesting that a delay “will pay off the investments over the last 14 years.” His plea seemingly found ready acceptance. President Obama said it is “well worth it” and agreed to prolong the withdrawal timeline until 2017 despite an earlier pledge to cut the currently deployed 9,800 troops by half to 5,500 by the end of this year.
President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah renewed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with the United States and secured more US commitments for stabilizing Afghanistan. This came a week after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2210 (2015) on 16 March 2015, which presented a positive report card of achievements and expressed a “renewed hope” for a stable Afghanistan ahead.
Quite possibly, the “Iraq lesson” and the consequences of prematurely leaving a fragile ally may have weighed in favour of the slowdown in the American withdrawal. In fact, the Taliban described NATO’s departure as an admission of defeat. The Afghan militia, in a sense of victory, launched the deadly spring offensive and showed no let-up in its fresh recruitment drive. This was underscored by the worst ever toll of 10,000 civilian casualties in 2014. Not surprisingly, many Western analysts anticipate a nightmare scenario with Afghanistan once again falling into a vicious cycle of chaos. The report of ISIS spreading its wings in Afghanistan was not good news either.
Interestingly enough, Ashraf Ghani’s advocacy in Washington went beyond the need to sustain peace in Afghanistan. Of course, the best thing was his style of winning the hearts and minds of American lawmakers and think tanks by speaking in a language understood by them. The substance of his speeches and the words chosen for addressing the American strategic elite at the Pentagon, Camp David, Congress and elsewhere unmistakably smacked of a well-thought-out strategy for a long-drawn US presence in Afghanistan. The texts seemed well choreographed, for he also spoke like an American strategist clearly to boost the US agenda.
Ghani’s speeches had a subtle message. Even as he expressed utmost gratitude for America’s efforts to bring stability back to Afghanistan – he cited American sacrifices and loss of life in this regard – he showed a keen desire to reciprocate the US gift in an equally strong manner. Ghani told the Americans “Tragedy brought us together, but interests now unite us.”
That interest had intriguingly featured in an op-ed column in The Washington Post on 20 March titled “The importance of the U.S.-Afghanistan alliance”, penned jointly by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The op-ed tried to define Afghanistan as a hub of opportunity rather than a problem; a potential strategic asset for America and its interests rather than a liability. The duo ingeniously evoked the very vital strategic location of Afghanistan in the ‘heart of Asia’, which they pointed out was both a curse and a blessing. The location curse, according to them, made Afghanistan a victim of the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, meddling by regional actors who fuelled feuding factions thereafter, and followed by the Taliban’s destruction and making the country a safe-haven for al Qaeda terrorists. The write up reminded that it took over a decade for Afghanistan, the US and other nations to get rid of regional terror networks.
As for blessing part of Afghanistan’s location, it can become “the eastern wall standing against the butchery of ISIL or the Islamic State”. The Afghan leaders pressed for a continued security partnership to ensure that “we will be an important ally in the decades to come” and “never again become a launching ground for terrorist attacks”.
The commitment to combating terror apart, they invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and promised to ensure democracy, human rights, justice and peace. The Americans must be surely convinced that Ghani is the person they could work with. Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai, who incidentally compared America to the Taliban, was perhaps too wobbly and perhaps too pro-Indian for the American liking.
This is how America creates long term assets. Hosting Ghani for two decades had finally paid off. He proved his credentials as a pro-America Afghan and John Kerry correctly hedged his bets on Ghani to head the National Unity Government. Abdullah Abdullah too would be given a chance someday. All in all, the US finally has an entirely predictable regime in Kabul that can be employed as its subedar for the region even if that means dumping deceitful Pakistan.
The duo pleaded their case before the US for supporting their “Self-Reliance” project of assuming full responsibility for combat operations and fixing Afghanistan’s economic and political mess. However, the op-ed piece made no mention about talks with the Taliban for which Ghani had keenly sought Pakistani, Saudi and Chinese support. Ghani, in fact, went an extra mile to mend fences with Rawalpindi, made several important overtures even at the cost of ignoring India and at the risk of disappointing sections of Afghans, especially the security establishment.
Instead, Ghani, through the op-ed, asserted that Afghanistan has become immunized against ideologically based challenges after 36 years of conflict. He and Abdullah noted that “there will be setbacks…because we will negotiate peace from a position of strength……we will not surrender the gains that we have made in education, health, democratic development, the media, civil society, and women’s rights.” And they added that if “properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism.”
This poses a rather perplexing question and gives no indication whether the negotiation process with the Taliban, nudged forward by Rawalpindi, is progressing. In fact, except for Pakistan, Qatar and Turkmenistan, no other country is really keen to facilitate talks with the Taliban. Further, the Taliban itself is in a state of disarray, with ranks in the group defecting to the ISIS. Or is it that Ghani has started doubting Pakistan’s sincerity in serving as an impartial mediator? It is obvious that the majority of Afghans continue to nurture lurking apprehensions about the duplicitous moves of Pakistan.
The Ghani-Abdullah op-ed talks about Afghanistan’s plans for building trust and trade, joining free-trade arrangements, and engaging neighbours across Asia “from India to Azerbaijan and beyond.” However, it does not refer to cross-border trade prospects across the Durand Line. Instead, it highlights the new ecology of terror, and external enablers pushing terrorists from across the Pakistan border that “threatens to block not just our (Afghan) prosperity but yours (American) as well.”
Ghani’s appeal for a rethink of US Afghanistan strategy comes at a time when the US is confronted with a host of issues in South and Central Asia. Afghanistan’s strategic utility would come against the backdrop of American’s yet-to-be-settled issues with Iran, heightening faceoff with Russia, recasting its Central Asia policy, challenges of dealing with nuclear-armed Pakistan, and monitoring the unfolding developments in Xinjiang. Afghanistan is also in proximity to Jammu & Kashmir. No wonder, after being relatively relieved from the war efforts in Afghanistan, Washington is now reportedly putting together an interagency policy paper to recast its Central Asia strategy. Washington has been repeatedly showing concern about the ripple effects of the Ukraine crisis in Central Asia. Russia’s renewed political and economic assertion in the region has been quite irksome, with the US recently cautioning Moscow not to “determine unilaterally the political and economic orientation of another country” probably in the context of Russia’s creation of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and its possible designs on a Central Asian state. A shift in US policy would also seem inevitable given China’s aggressive push for its “Silk Route” project in Eurasia.
The US also knows that ISIS has heavily recruited in Central Asia as more and more Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz have joined its ranks. China’s concerns in Xinjiang underscore the gravity of this threat.
All in all, the Afghan President has extended an open invitation to the US for an open-ended military presence in his country. He has virtually expressed a readiness to play the role of a ‘frontline state’ for any future American contingency. Considering the unfolding geopolitical imperatives, it is an offer that the Americans cannot afford to ignore. It would be interesting to observe how Afghanistan and America develop their future strategic partnership. The current balance of advantage seems to indicate that the Americans may have hijacked some of the gains made by India. The new unfolding game on the Afghan front is critical for India to take note of.

Afghanistan: US watchdog criticises aid scheme for women's rights

Programme to empower Afghan women lacks transparency, says watchdog, as Amnesty accuses international community of abandoning Afghan women’s rights defenders.

A high-profile US aid scheme in Afghanistan, hailed as the largest ever women’s empowerment programme, has come under criticism for lack of transparency and for failing to consult the women it is supposed to benefit. In another reproach of international aid efforts, an Amnesty International report released on Tuesday details how women’s rights defenders, despite achieving significant gains over the past decade, are being abandoned by the international community.
The US aid scheme Promote, launched in October last year, aims to funnel $416m into programmes to strengthen women’s rights groups and boost women’s role in the economy and national decision-making. However, it is uncertain whether the 75,000 women expected to engage in the programme will actually receive any tangible benefit, says a US watchdog.
In a recent inquiry letter, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), which reports to the US Congress, raises concerns that USAid may not be able to “effectively implement, monitor, and assess the impact of Promote”.
The watchdog quotes Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, warning against falling “into a game of contracting and sub-contracting”, generating a lot of paper certificates without real skill behind them.
Her husband, president Ashraf Ghani, has also previously criticised foreign aid delivery to Afghanistan, claiming that the majority of American aid returns to the US through contracting.
Women’s activists have raised concerns similar to Sigar’s. “I emphasised again and again that the programmes should be designed based on the needs of the women of Afghanistan,” said Hasina Safi, executive director of the Afghan Women’s Network.
Safi was appointed to an advisory committee for one of Promote’s three contractors, Tetra Tech, Inc, which is responsible for training 25,000 participants in “women leadership development”. She said Promote’s beneficiaries are selected too narrowly. “Promote was only designed for literate women, while in Afghanistan there is a big majority of non-educated young women,” Safi said. “They need to have more confidence in the women of Afghanistan, that they really can design a programme based on their needs.”
USAid said the criticism is “unfounded”. According to a USAid official, civil society actors were consulted, “to ask about what the project needs to do”, including women’s leaders in and outside the capital, as well as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
The official added that over 300 “implementers” had submitted 175 questions in a “robust discussion”, and that a procurement document had been made available online for comment in early 2013. “I can very confidently say that the outreach has been significant and taken a lot of time,” the official said, stressing that Promote does not replace USAid’s existing investments in rural education and healthcare.
In its inquiry, Sigar also questions the amount of money Promote claims to oversee. At its inception, USAid committed $216m over a five-year period, while seeking another $200m from other donors. So far, no other donor has offered money, and USAid has awarded only $42m to one contractor.
At a time of transition in Afghanistan, rights advocates worry that the attention of western countries on women’s issues will wane along with their military engagement. In the face of a worsening security situation and a stagnant economy, gender equality is a priority only for a small minority of the country’s power brokers.
Six months after his inauguration, President Ghani is struggling to keep electoral promises to include more women in the country’s higher echelons. His pledge to appoint the first woman to the supreme court seems to be floundering, and his goal of naming at least four female ministers has proved difficult. In late March, Ghani introduced a cabinet for parliamentary approval for the second time, after lawmakers rejected half of his nominees in January, including all three of his female choices.
Amnesty International said that efforts to strengthen women’s rights have been “piecemeal and ad hoc, and much of the aid money is drying up”.
In its report, the organisation echoed Sigar’s criticism of international aid, pointing to “hundreds of millions of dollars” spent on women’s rights since 2001, on projects that have “too often focused on short-term gains, and been implemented without consulting women’s activists themselves”.
Amnesty also said that violence against women’s rights proponents such as lawyers, politicians, journalists and teachers is on the rise in Afghanistan.
On 19 March, an Afghan woman, Farkhunda, was killed by a mob in central Kabulfor speaking out against what she saw as un-Islamic practice by a mullah, who retorted by claiming she had burned the Qur’an, enraging the men around her.
Though more than a dozen alleged perpetrators have been arrested, the incident has become emblematic for the impunity with which men in Afghanistan can abuse and attack women. Farkhunda’s public defiance of a male authority has turned her into an icon for women’s rights defenders.
Amnesty said despite the existence of a hard-won legal framework to protect women, “laws are often badly enforced and remain mere paper promises”.

Amnesty: Afghanistan Turning Its Back on Women’s Rights

The international human rights group Amnesty International says the Afghan government is doing nothing to stop a trend of escalating violence, sexual assaults and assassinations targeting women human rights activists in the country.
“While Taliban are responsible for the majority of attacks against women defenders, government officials or powerful local commanders with the authorities’ backing are increasingly implicated in violence and threats against women,” Amnesty International said in a report titled "Their Lives On The Line", launched in Kabul Tuesday.

Those facing threats and violence range from rights activists, politicians, lawyers, journalists, teachers. Even women in the police force are under threat, where sexual harassment and bullying is rife and almost always goes unpunished, the report says.
Not far enough 

It says that international governments have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into projects supporting women’s rights since 2001 but the approach has not gone far enough.
Amnesty International says its researchers interviewed more than 50 women defenders and their family members across the country and found a consistent pattern of authorities ignoring or refusing to take seriously threats against women.
It went on to assert that few investigations were carried out, while prosecutions and convictions were even rarer. In many cases, women defenders who reported violence or attacks were put at further risk, facing stigmatization or threats simply for speaking out.
“Rights defenders have suffered car bombings, grenade attacks on homes, killing of family members and targeted assassinations. Many continue their work despite suffering multiple attacks, in the full knowledge that no action will be taken against the perpetrators,” the report read.
"It’s outrageous that Afghan authorities are leaving them to fend for themselves, with their situation more dangerous than ever," the report quotes Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, as saying.
“With the [international] troop withdrawal nearly complete, too many in the international community seem happy to sweep Afghanistan under the carpet. We cannot simply abandon this country and those who put their lives on the line for human rights, including women’s rights.”
No concrete measures 

The group’s Afghanistan Researcher, Horia Mosadiq, told VOA they have held meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to inform them of the dangerous situation facing women rights defenders but have yet to see any concrete measures to protect those who have bravely fought for the significant gains Afghanistan has made in recent years.
She said a legal framework to protect women in Afghanistan is in place but a lack of implementation and enforcement has turned these laws into mere paper promises.
Mosadiq fears female activists are likely to face increased violence in the wake of international military withdrawal, increasing Taliban attacks and emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan.
“These are all unfortunately not good signals for the future of Afghanistan and more particularly for the protection of women human rights defenders. We are quite concerned that if concrete steps are not taken the situation may get worse in the coming months and years," she said.

Deadly Siege Of Afghan Court Complex Ends

Afghan officials say at least 10 people were killed when Taliban militants wearing military uniforms mounted a six-hour siege on a court complex on April 9.
The attack took place in Mazar-i Sharif, the capital of the relatively peaceful province of Balkh in the country's north.
Police and eyewitnesses said four militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons entered the complex, blowing up the compound entrance with a hand grenade and killing a security guard. 
Police quickly called in reinforcements, who besieged the compound and started exchanging gunfire with the attackers, a police spokesman said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Hospital officials said five members of security forces and five civilians were killed in the raid, and more than 60 people, including women and children were injured. 
The head of the provincial appeals court, several officials, and police officers were also injured in the attack, local media reported. 
Police said all the assailants were killed.
The compound includes a provincial appeals court, the provincial office of the attorney general, and other government offices.
Officials said provincial governor Ata Muhammad Noor was at the site and led the military operation against the militants. 
The U.S. embassy in Kabul condemned the raid in Mazar-i Sharif as a "horrific attack."
It "reminds us of the risks that police, prosecutors, and judges face in going about their daily work pursuing impartial justice and rule of law in Afghanistan," the embassy said in a statement.
Bike Bomb
In a separate incident on April 9, at least 10 people were injured when a bomb placed on a bicycle went off in the eastern province of Khost, the Interior Ministry said.
Afghanistan's security forces are battling the Taliban largely alone following the withdrawal of foreign combat troops last year.
The new NATO-led mission, Resolute Support -- launched on January 1 -- is focused on training of the Afghan security forces.
The mission involves some 12,000 troops, including 9,800 U.S. soldiers.
President Barack Obama has said the United States will keep the current level of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2015, and that the last American troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016.
The Taliban has warned the announcement would damage any prospects of peace talks. 

Pakistani Christians face relentless inequality and abuse

The wounds of the horrific suicide blasts in two churches of Youhanabad are still fresh. Christ Church Reverend Irshad Ashknaz says Christians in Pakistan are a constant target of hate and inequality.
“We deal with discrimination on a daily basis,” Ashknaz said.
Ashknaz said that Christians in Pakistan are discriminated on the basis of their religion and hence are denied jobs all over the country.
“Hate is spread against us. When people are faced with relentless inequality and abuse, they finally let their emotions go. That is probably what took over the mob on the day of the attacks,” he said.
Meerab, the 15-year-old girl whose father bravely gave his life while attempting to stop the suicide bomber to enter into the church said that she was extremely proud of him.
“It’s really strange to be at church without him,” she said.
“I’m proud of him because he saved a lot of lives, but I miss him every day,” she added.
A 21-year-old Christian girl, Sataish Samuel from the Christian community in Lahore said that she loves Pakistan but is unsure about her future here.
“I love my country, and I want to be a part of its prosperity, but I don’t think that will be possible,” Sataish said.

Pakistan far from meeting Unesco’s millennium education goals

UN gives a third of the world’s countries a passing grade for efforts to provide universal basic education
Pakistan, one of 164 countries that pledged in 2000 to provide universal basic education, has failed on the pledge made 15 years ago.
The UN gave a third of the world’s countries a passing grade Thursday for efforts to provide universal basic education, but said most governments had failed on the pledge.
In 2000, 164 countries agreed at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) World Education Forum to ensure basic education for all by 2015. But in its latest annual report, the UN body said that only a minority had passed the test.
Several European countries as well as Cuba, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia are among those who managed to meet the education goal, said the report.
Along with Pakistan, Yemen and several countries in sub-Saharan Africa were nowhere close to meeting their targets.
Only around half of the 164 countries have succeeded in providing universal primary education, the report said.
In 15 years, “the world has made significant progress,” the director general of Unesco, Irina Bokova, said. “Millions more children are in school than would have been had the trends of the 1990s persisted. “But governments need to “prioritise the poorest — especially girls”, she added.
The world’s poorest children are four times less likely to go to school than the richest, the report said. Around 58 million children are still out of school globally and 100 million children fail to complete primary education. Gender parity at the primary and secondary levels has improved but girls’ education is often hindered by “early marriages and pregnancies”, said the report.
The 2000 Dakar education summit had also hoped to halve the number of illiterate adults. But the rate of global illiteracy has dropped only slightly ─ from 18 percent in 2000 to an estimated 14 percent in 2015. Of the 781 million illiterate adults worldwide, two thirds are women, says Unesco.
The report comes a month ahead of Unesco’s World Education Forum in Incheon, South Korea which will set new education targets for 2030.
The UN agency said funding remained the main obstacle to expanding education and that the international community must find an additional $22 billion (20 billion euros) to meet the education-for-all targets by 2030. The report recommended that governments devote 15 to 20 percent of their national budgets to education, and that donors increase their contributions fourfold. Unesco also wants governments to mandate at least one year of free pre-primary education for all children.

Pakistani Women - Second Class Citizens

In times of conflict we tend to forget the suffering of vulnerable groups, most often women and children as they have less voice and less access. The International Crisis Group has published a report on Wednesday, looking at the case of gender discrimination in Pakistan. The report found that the Pakistani state as been absolutely inadequate in acknowledging repression and cruelty towards women, what to talk of taking actual steps to protect women.
In 2006, civil society successfully lobbied parliament to pass the Protection of Women Act (PWA), returning rape from those ordinances to the Penal Code. The act separates zina from zina-bil-jabr, and thus prevents rape charges from being converted into charges of extramarital sexual intercourse. Filing a complaint against rape was no longer risky. However, the amended Hudood Ordinances still retained religious extremism and discrimination by still criminalising zina and allowing testimony only by Muslim males in Hadd cases reinforcing the impression that women and non-Muslims are inferior citizens. This is one observation made by the report among many. What stands out is that there has been no initiative on the part of the sitting government and there is none expected by the PMLN at all. What has worked in the past has been civil society gaining momentum, women’s rights groups, and such. But these groups have not been able to be consistent with their lobbying efforts.

Our legal framework has institutionalised discrimination and helped fuel religious intolerance and violence against women. The criminal justice system is dysfunctional and has failed to protect them and emboldened extremists. Even three decades on, we continue to lament the Hudood Ordinance. The report has detailed description of legislation that discriminates against women. It is now in the hand of the Parliament, a body unwilling to repeal or even reform discriminatory laws. There does not exist a national domestic violence law in Pakistan. The statistics are alarming. One in ten women has experienced violence during pregnancy and 52 per cent of women who experience violence kept it secret. While the parliament is sleeping on the job as usual, we must remember that it is a societal problem as well. We teach our young girls that suffering is a way of life, education is what destroys minds and marriages, that it is a man world, that domestic abuse is normal, and that there is no such thing as emotional abuse.
One wonders how many women reading this have tried to advocate on behalf of their sisters, or joined a rights group to change the status quo? And how many of the men reading this would let them?

Pakistan - No resolution on Yemen expected in parliament

The government is convinced that it will not get parliamentary backing for its Yemen policy. And this is why it is unlikely to bring a resolution in the joint sitting of parliament which has been debating how to respond to Riyadh’s request for Pakistan’s troops, fighter jets and naval frigates to join the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebellion.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will wind up the parliamentary debate on the crisis in the Arabian Peninsula — most probably on Thursday, in the evening session. The government’s spokesman confirmed that no resolution was expected in the session. “The sentiments of the house on the Yemen conflict have become known to the government,” Senator Pervaiz Rashid, the federal information minister, told The Express Tribune.
He went on to add that the prime minister would take an ‘appropriate decision’ in keeping with the sentiments of the house. “There is no need for a parliamentary resolution,” he said, adding that the prime minister might spell out his government’s viewpoint on the matter in his Thursday’s speech.
About the reports of an in-camera briefing to political leaders at an all-party conference (APC), Rashid said the government was willing to brief the political leadership in camera as soon as the Iranian foreign minister concluded his visit to Islamabad.
Sources said the civil-military leadership has agreed to shorten the ongoing joint session of parliament as it could be counter-productive if it lingered on.
Almost all parliamentary parties have opposed the idea of militarily intervening in a ‘distant war’. Not only that, some parliamentarians delivered speeches fraught with diplomatic implications prompting the prime minister to advise caution on the ‘sensitive matter’. Sources said the cynical response of the parliamentary parties has forced the government to change its mind and decide the matter outside parliament.
Sources further said that the civil-military leadership wanted to delay Pakistan’s response to the Saudi wish-list, though Riyadh wants Islamabad to reply within a week. The government, instead, is working on cobbling together a group or committee having representation from Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and other Islamic states in order to find a political solution to the Yemen issue.
On Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed at a joint news conference in Tehran that “instability, insecurity and war should stop in the entire region”. However, Pakistani sources said Tehran was trying to buy time by responding positively to peace initiatives.
“Tehran wants suspension of the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes on Houthi positions for at least five months, so that it could reinforce the Houthi rebels,” one source added. The Saudis are amenable to negotiations – but on their own terms which includes reinstatement of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi – a condition apparently not acceptable to Tehran. Sources said Riyadh wanted Islamabad and Ankara to endorse its Yemen mission instead of pushing for a diplomatic solution.
Sources said Pakistan wanted the Saudi-led coalition’s air campaign to prolong so that there was no need for sending ground troops into Yemen. Riyadh would prefer to weaken the Houthi rebels as much as it could until it had the edge in the Yemen conflict.