Thursday, May 14, 2015

Video - Debt-Ridden Students Protest in Brighton

Video - Death Toll in Train Derailment Rises to 8

Video - Obama: 'My condolences' to families of the victims

Video Report - President Obama's Press Conference at Camp David

Music - Wiz Khalifa - See You Again

Video Report - Hezbollah, Syrian army make big gains in border battle

Amnesty calls for ‘immediate’ release of Bahraini activist

Amnesty International has called on Bahrain to 'immediately' release prominent human rights activist, Nabeel Rajab, after a Bahraini court upheld his six-month jail sentence for posting a Twitter message considered insulting to the ruling Al Khalifa regime.

“Today’s verdict shows once again that Bahrain is brazenly flouting its international obligations,” said Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program Said Boumedouha on Thursday.
“Nabeel Rajab has been sentenced solely for peacefully expressing his opinion. The Bahraini authorities must release him immediately and unconditionally, and ensure his conviction is quashed,” Boumedouha added.
The Bahrain News Agency quoted the attorney general’s office in the kingdom as saying earlier in the day that Rajab had been convicted of “publicly insulting two government bodies,” making a reference to the interior and defense ministries in the Persian Gulf state.
The rights group also deprecated the Bahraini regime for gagging political activists by treating freedom of expression as "crime."
“The Bahraini authorities have expressed outrage at criticism of their human rights record, claiming they have introduced a series of reforms in recent years. However, this case provides further proof that these reforms amount to little more than empty gestures. Bahrain today remains a country where exercising freedom of speech is treated as a crime,” Boumedouha added.
Rajab was sentenced to six months in prison in January for posting tweets deemed critical of the Al Khalifa regime. Known internationally for his peaceful human rights work, Rajab spent two years in prison from mid-2012 to mid-2014.
On May 11, Mohammed al-Jishi, Rajab’s lawyer, said the country’s criminal court has decided to extend the detention pending further investigation. The Bahrain Center for Human Rights also confirmed the news.
Rajab’s family says he was arrested on April 2 for posting comments on Twitter denouncing torture in a regime detention center where activists are held.
Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and a co-founder of the [Persian] Gulf Center for Human Rights, has been critical of Manama’s heavy-handed crackdown on the peaceful anti-regime protests that erupted in the kingdom in 2011.
Scores of Bahrainis have been killed and hundreds of others injured and arrested in the ongoing crackdown on peaceful demonstrations.

America, Turkey and Saudi Arabia Are Pouring Fuel on the Fire in Syria


Politically, the Republic of Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could not be less alike. Turkey was founded 90 years ago on the basis of modern, secular, republican values, while Saudi Arabia is one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in today's world. And yet, the two powers have found common cause on many issues in the Middle East: Yemen, Bahrain and above all, Syria. Turkey supports the Saudi-led military operations against Yemen's Houthi rebels; it has also turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia's heavy-handed suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain -- a Shiite-majority country ruled with an iron fist by its Sunni monarchy. (On a 2013 visit to Bahrain, then-Foreign Minister Davutoğlu described the tiny island nation as "a good example of sectarian harmony.")
Both Riyadh and Ankara support the Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) in Syria, which comprises numerous insurgent groups including al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise, the al-Nusra Front, which the U.S. and others have designated a terrorist organization. The Army of Conquest has stated that its aim is to overthrow al-Assad with the support of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Over the past few weeks, it has captured the strategic Idlib region on the border with Turkey.
To make sense of this unlikely alliance between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, let's travel back in time to 2011. Amidst the turmoil of the Arab Uprisings, Erdoğan was counting on the overthrow of the dictatorships of al-Assad, Qaddafi, Mubarak and others, fondly imagining that Muslim Brotherhood parties would then come to power across the Middle East. This was the "Islamic order" of which Erdoğan and his colleagues dreamed, an order which was to be led by Turkey. In an apparent homage to the Ottoman sultans' tradition of performing their prayers in a newly-conquered capital, Erdoğan declared that he would soon be praying in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. However, Erdoğan has been unable to make good on this promise.
Erdoğan's Syrian venture -- the most ambitious such undertaking in the entire 90-year history of the Turkish Republic -- has also proved to be the undoing of Turkey's foreign policy. Intent on overthrowing al-Assad from the very beginning, Erdoğan is one of those responsible for the devastation in Syria today, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States. A March 24, 2013 report in the New York Times stated that 120 cargo flights from Qatar and Saudi Arabia had carried military supplies to Turkey destined for the rebels in Syria. This weaponry was then delivered to the rebels in trucks alleged to belong to Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MİT). In January 2014, gendarmes in one of Turkey's border regions, acting on information from public prosecutors, tried to search some of the trucks, leading to a major political scandal for Erdoğan. A number of those who ordered the search, including four public prosecutors and one colonel, are now under arrest on charges of espionage. Moreover, all of the shipments are known to have taken place with the knowledge of the C.I.A.
Since 2012, the city of Adana, just 60 miles from the Syrian border, has been home to a "nerve center" set up in order to provide assistance to the Syrian rebels and staffed by intelligence operatives from Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. In fact, U.S. support for the Syrian opposition is hardly a secret. Senator John McCain courted controversy by his 2013 trip (via Turkey) to Syria, where he posed for photographs with the Syrian rebels, describing them in a tweet as "brave fighters in Syria who are risking their lives for freedom and need our help."
On May 12, top senior U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlovewe -- the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations and head of the U.S. European Command -- also came to Turkey. Breedlove visited a training center in the city of Kırşehir, near Ankara, which was recently created in order to train the Syrian rebels. Here, under U.S. and Turkish supervision, weapons training will be provided to a total of 15 thousand Syrian rebels over a three-year period. The U.S. and Turkey refer to these individuals as the "moderate opposition." Just what that term means in the context of Syria -- currently the destination of choice for jihadis from all parts of the globe -- is unclear.
In fact, Turkey's foreign policy has failed not only in Syria but throughout the Middle East. Turkey currently has no ambassadorssh in five Middle Eastern countries: Syria, Egypt, Israel, Yemen and Libya. The 2010 Mavi Marmara crisis with Israel was the first indication of the diplomatic troubles in store for Turkey, followed two years later by the downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria. Just this week, Libya shelled aTurkish cargo ship off the coast of Tobruk, leading to the death of a crew member. In a less tragic but equally significant development, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece recently excluded Turkey from their newly-formed partnership to extract gas from the Eastern Mediterranean. As Turkey becomes more and more isolated in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia remains its only real ally in the region. However, it is the Saudis -- not Turkey -- who make the rules in this alliance.
The 2011 Arab Uprisings, which overthrew Qaddafi and Mubarak and created havoc for al-Assad, have become a nightmare for Saudi Arabia as well. The emergence of democratically-elected governments in the Middle East could be the death blow to the Saudi monarchy, which is unconcerned with popular opinion. The same applies to the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, such as Kuwait and the U.A.E., which also fear the tidal wave of change that toppled the military dictatorships of Libya and Egypt. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. backed the 2013 military coup by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi; the two countries are regarded as el-Sisi's staunchest allies.
Saudi Arabia's other nightmare is Iran's growing influence in the Middle East. It is not totally accurate to view the Saudi-Iranian rivalry merely through the lens of Shiite versus Sunni. During the 1990s, Shiite Iran was the biggest supporter of the (Sunni) Islamic groups fighting in Bosnia as well as those vying for power in Algeria. Iran has also been one of the main allies of Hamas -- a Sunni organization -- in the Palestinian Territories. It was Iran, as well, that incited the demonstrations against Salman Rushdie that raged across the Muslim world in 1989. In short, contrary to popular belief, Iran has often succeeded in transcending the Sunni-Shiite divide in the Muslim world. Though one would hesitate to describe Iran as a democracy, its elections and parliamentary system -- as well as its revolutionary, anti-Israel, anti-Western discourse -- make it far more appealing to Muslims worldwide than U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. The recent nuclear negotiations between Tehran and the West have created the real possibility of lifting the sanctions on Iran and integrating it into the global economy -- all of which would spell catastrophe for Saudi Arabia.
Even a sanction-crippled Iran is a redoubtable opponent for Saudi Arabia in Syria, Yemen and Iraq; if its economy is resuscitated, Iran might very well unseat Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Middle East. Accordingly, Saudi Arabia is attempting to secure the support of the Middle East's Sunni majority against Iran by portraying this conflict as a Sunni-Shiite rivalry. Saudi Arabia is also the main party responsible forconverting what were initially peaceful demonstrations in Syria into a Sunni revolt against the Alawite regime of al-Assad -- and then into an all-out sectarian war.
Due to the failure of Turkey's over-ambitious foreign policy, it has had no choice but to join a broader Sunni alliance under Saudi Arabia's leadership -- especially given Turkey's need for Saudi and other Gulf state capital in order to prop up its own faltering economy. Four years ago, Turkey sought to make the rules in the Middle East; it is now forced to take a backseat to Saudi Arabia. There are currently two million Syrian refugees in Turkey. A large amount of territory across the border in Syria is under the control of ISIS, and jihadi groups are gathering recruits from all over the world (including Turkey) for the ongoing war in Syria. In June 2014, the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Iraq was raided by ISIS, which abducted 49 Turkish citizens (consisting of diplomats and other staff), only releasing them after a secret deal with the Turkish government. For four years, all of Erdoğan's predictions about the Middle East have turned out wrong. In his mind, ousting al-Assad is the only way to redeem himself and his country. But given the dire state of Iraq after Saddam's overthrow, and of Libya after Qaddafi's, no one has the slightest idea what a post-Assad Syria would look like.
During the 1980s, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. armed thousands of international jihadis -- the mujahideen -- who were flocking to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union; Reagan even met with a group of their leaders in the Oval Office in 1983. Just two decades later, however, it became clear that the U.S. had been playing a dangerous game in backing these "freedom fighters." Unfortunately, the very same scenario is now being repeated in Syria -- with Turkey assuming the role of Pakistan. The U.S., Turkey and Saudi Arabia have effectively created a new Afghanistan on the shores of the Mediterranean. And yet, instead of trying to extinguish the conflagration in Syria, they continue to pour fuel on the fire.

ANALYSIS: #YemenCrisis - Petrodollars behind Senegal's support for Saudi in Yemen

''Critics have pointed to a hint of 'mercenary motive' behind Senegal sending troops to support Saudi in Yemen''.
Senegal says it is sending troops to Saudi Arabia in an act of "solidarity" for the kingdom's Yemen operation, but critics say the support has more to do with cold, hard cash.
Unlike the other African countries that have offered back-up, Senegal is not in the Arab League, and its only military experience in the region was a deployment to the Gulf after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 25 years ago.
The Institute for Security Studies think tank pointed in a recent analysis to a strong hint of a "mercenary motive" in Dakar's support, and similar offers of help by Morocco and Sudan.
Senegal has rejected the suggestion, however, pointing to its contribution to United Nations peacekeeping forces elsewhere.
"Did we go into Mali for petrodollars?" government spokesman Oumar Youm said in a statement to AFP reacting to the accusation.
A Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against Iran-backed Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies on 26 March after they seized control of large parts of Yemen and advanced on the main southern city of Aden.
Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye announced last week the country was sending 2,100 soldiers to join the force at the request of Saudi King Salman.
He did not specify when the troops would be deployed, but remarked that Riyadh had asked Dakar to contribute to the coalition at the beginning of April.
A collective of activist groups in Dakar had planned to march on Wednesday against the deployment but organisers say the demonstration was banned.
Malick Noel Seck, one of the campaigners, accused the government of "making Senegalese soldiers play the same role as the tirailleurs" - a term for infantry conscripted in the French colonies in the 19th and 20th centuries.

'Suitcases stuffed with cash' 

Critics have suggested that the government might be acting in the hope of financial reciprocation from oil-rich Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the Middle East. 
Observers say President Macky Sall, elected in 2012 and hoping for a second term, is banking on the success of his Emerging Senegal Plan (ESP) - a raft of infrastructure, agriculture, tourism and education improvements.
But the head of state is under growing pressure to come up with funding for the project, which is expected to cost $16.8 billion (14.8 billion euros) by its completion in 2035.
Fadel Barro, a leader of the pro-democracy movement "Enough Is Enough", said the government was aware that it needed to get hold of "money that does not stink" - or funding untainted by its origins.
"Saudi Arabia is one of the few places in the world you can go to and return with suitcases stuffed with cash," political analyst Babacar Justin Ndiay told AFP.
Western institutions and countries approached to fund the ESP have shown themselves to be "meticulous and finicky" when it comes to disbursing cash, said Ndiaye.
Underlining the problem, the International Monetary Fund has urged Dakar to take better control of its public wage bill and broaden its tax base to fund the ESP.
Sall first raised the prospect of sending troops to Saudi Arabia, a country high on the list of donors to the ESP, in April, according to government documents viewed by AFP.

'Threat to Islamic holy sites'

The files show that ESP funding requests to Riyadh will reach $216 million this year while Sall revealed that the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank "holds the largest portfolio of commitments to the ESP", without elaborating.
In a message read to parliament on 4 May, Sall described the deployment as an "act of solidarity and gratitude to a friendly country".
Riyadh is a long-time ally and a traditional donor in Senegal, where the Saudi Development Fund (SDF) has paid for numerous projects, including roads, hotels, health and agriculture.
Dakar's new airport, funded by the state and foreign donors including the IDB and the SDF and scheduled to open late this year, is being built by the Saudi Bin Laden Group.
But Sall emphasised in his message the religious dimension of Senegal's support, "to deal with the threat to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic holy sites to which the kingdom is home".
Meanwhile Mbaye Niang, an Islamic cleric and lawmaker, said the Senegalese did not need to fear they were about to see a rise in Wahhabism, a fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam prevalent in Saudi society. 
"Wahhabism doesn't have a strong influence in Senegal because of the brotherhood of Islam. And the Saudis are not putting Wahhabism front and centre in our relations."
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Video Report - Saudi Arabia prepares to hang opposition Shia cleric amid large protests

Shia Genocide - ‘In Pakistan, anyone and everyone can be a target’


Around 1,000 Shia citizens killed in two years.

Pakistan is a country of ghosts. They are everywhere, the victims and the perpetrators both. On Wednesday morning, six gunmen wearing police uniforms stopped an Al Azhar Garden bus carrying 60 Ismaili Muslims in Karachi. The bus picked up Ismailies from the housing society dedicated to their community on the outskirts of the city and drove them to work. It was a journey the passengers made every day.
The gunmen boarded the bus. Sub ko mar dalo, one of them is reported to have said. Kill them all. By the time the gunmen got back on their motorcycles and fled, they had murdered 43 people.
Who were the dead?
Ismailis, a peaceful community of Muslims, share a closeness with the country’s Shia minority and are thus victimised. Seventy per cent of Pakistan’s Muslims are Sunni. And in this predominantly Muslim country, it is no longer Hindus or Christians who face the largest threat of violence from orthodox and radicalised groups but Shias.
They call it a Shia Genocide now; around 1,000 Shia citizens of Pakistan have been killed in the last two years, according to some estimates. (But to those who use the word ‘genocide’ comes the reply: but they kill Sunnis too. What about them? This is the answer to so many questions now. What about the others? So many groups are in danger now, it is impossible to count them all.)
Mosques attacked

In January, a blast ripped through a Shia mosque in Shikarpur district of Sindh and killed 60 people. In February, a Shia mosque in Peshawar was attacked with grenades. Another 20 people were killed there. In the spring, there were target killings and assassinations — successful Shia professionals, doctors and religious leaders, activists, anyone, everyone. And now this.
A country of ghosts
We cannot look at the dead too long — only long enough to check that what ended their lives will not end our own. Fatal lists swing wildly from the specific to general. Are you Hazara? Are you Shia? Are you an Ahmedi? Any of the above will get you killed.
Are you a nationalist — a cloak provincialists wear — Sindhi or Baloch perhaps? Are you an apologist? For America? For our neighbours? For the War on Terror? Are you a non-Muslim (minus extra points if polytheist)?
Maybe, then. Fifty-fifty chance.
But then there are the wild cards. Are you a schoolchild at an Army public school? Are you a poor man or woman — overheard saying something not quite right, something that maybe someone might consider blasphemous? Are you a woman who talks too much? Or an activist who is, well, active?
Anything possible
Anything is possible in Pakistan today. And those who are violent and powerful, we know from history, can hurt anyone.
Soon, are you a liberal? Supporters of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf party, young Pakistanis living inside and outside the country, already troll the Internet attacking anyone vaguely critical of their values. ‘Libido’ — they call liberals, like that’s a bad word. Every journalist that criticises their party is a ‘lifafa journo’, implying the only reason to raise a bad word against them would be money, rather than common sense.
Soon, like in Bangladesh, you will be asked: Are you a writer?
There is violence everywhere here — in threats and in action. Everywhere.
But who is to blame? Those are the other ghosts.
Every province that suffers horrendous attacks suffers amnesia too. Sindh’s phenomenally corrupt government mounted a defence against its sin of not protecting the 43 dead — terror happens all over the country, the Chief Minister said, it happens in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa and Punjab too.
The media fought over who exactly was the worst, reducing politics to the level of maturity found in graffiti. “The PM craves for food while Karachi bleeds!” a TV channel tweeted, noting that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not cut his day short to fly to Karachi and attended a lunch meeting instead. (The Chief of Army Staff, Raheel Sharif — literally everyone has pointed out — did cancel his plans and was in Karachi by evening.)
State above fault
But the government — local and national — are never to blame, not really. The police are not to blame. The state is above fault. Of course, a commission will be called and an inquiry made. What more do you want?
Pakistan ended its moratorium on the death penalty in December. In the last six months, it has hanged over 100 people on death row. (Of the 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, more than 1,000 have exhausted all their appeals.) This was the response after the brutal Peshawar school attack: kill death row convicts and we will be safer. But since then, we have only had more blood.
Who is to blame? Terrorists and radical groups take credit and disappear.
Don’t say their names. It’s not safe. But we don’t have to say their names, they’ve already vanished.
And don’t discount foreign hands. They are everywhere. Every nefarious country on earth has their hands here, on Pakistan. On its people, on its soil.
But don’t say any of this, we are told. Don’t think of the ghosts, let them be.
Focus on the positives.
All of us will learn to speak with muzzles on. We have already learned to think in code. All of us will learn to stop seeing the visible and invisible, we will have to. Until then, only sorrow can be seen in Pakistan. Only sorrow and shame.

India's Modi meets China's Xi amid warming ties; visit marked by rare personal diplomacy

President Xi Jinping praised China's warming ties with India during a meeting Thursday between the leaders of Asia's rising powers and rivals, which included a rare touch of personal diplomacy for a Chinese leader.
Xi met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a sprawling government guest house in Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, from which the president's family hails. China-India relations "are experiencing stable development and facing broad prospects," Xi was quoted as telling Modi by China's official Xinhua News Agency.
The exchanges highlight warming ties between the two powers — the world's most populous nations with a combined 2.6 billion people — despite their continuing rivalry and contrasting political systems. That trend has gained momentum by the personal authority enjoyed by the two men, who are widely seen as their countries' strongest leaders in years.
Modi's visit will "push forward the bilateral strategic partnership to achieve new progress, which has potential for greater development," Xi said.
Clad in traditional Indian dress, Modi earlier visited the museum dedicated to China's famed Terra Cotta Warriors and a Buddhist temple housing works translated from Sanskrit — a reminder of the ancient cultural links between the two Asian gians.
Amid heavy security, large crowds turned out to greet his motorcade, prompting the prime minister to tweet: "Am very glad to see the enthusiasm among the people of China. People-to-people ties are always special."
The visit to the central Chinese city marks the first time Xi has hosted a visiting foreign leader in his ancestral home, a conscious display of hospitality underscoring his intention to build a strong personal relationship with Modi.
Xi is reciprocating the Indian leader's invitation to his own hometown of Ahmedabad during a visit to India last year. Chinese leaders almost never receive their foreign counterparts in anything other than formal settings in Beijing.
Xi said his September to India visit resulted in "an important consensus on promoting the bilateral strategic partnership of cooperation and forging a closer partnership of development," according to Xinhua.
China is looking to India as a market for its increasingly high-tech goods, from high-speed trains to nuclear power plants, while India is keen to attract Chinese investment in manufacturing and infrastructure. With a slowing economy, excess production capacity and nearly $4 trillion in foreign currency reserves, China is ready to satisfy India's estimated $1 trillion in demand for infrastructure projects such as airports, roads, ports and railways.
Modi's top priority in China is finding ways to reduce India's $48 billion trade deficit with its neighbor through greater market access for Indian goods and services and by convincing Chinese companies to manufacture in India.
Indian and Chinese officials have said the sides plan to sign investment deals and trade agreements during Modi's visit worth about $10 billion, the official China Daily newspaper reported Thursday.
Xi and Modi are also expected to discuss efforts to end a border dispute that sparked a bloody monthlong conflict in 1962. No resolution is expected soon, although the sides have been in close contact to avoid flare-ups.
India has also grown increasingly concerned about forays by Chinese naval vessels, including submarines, into what New Delhi considers its strategic backyard. China's navy is active in the Gulf of Aden as part of anti-piracy patrols, and Beijing has heavy invests in port facilities in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Another divisive issue is China's deep ties with Pakistan, India's archrival, where Xi received a lavish reception last month. China has committed to invest up to $46 billion in Pakistani power generation and other projects.
Meanwhile, the presence of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in India rankles Beijing, although New Delhi has avoided using him as a diplomatic foil. China reviles the Buddhist cleric, who fled to India in 1959, as a separatist.
Beijing is also concerned about India's improving relations with Japan and the U.S. — China's chief rivals for influence in Asia. Xi's desire to build a strong personal bond with Modi can be seen as an attempt to ensure China ranks high in his affections and improve coordination on regional and international issues.
Both countries are members of the BRICS grouping of emerging economies, which is now establishing a formal lending arm, the New Development Bank, to be based in China's financial hub of Shanghai and headed by a senior Indian banker.
India was also a founding member of the embryonic China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which seeks to emulate institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Modi will talk with officials including Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Friday before going to Shanghai for activities focusing on trade relations.

Anti-Ismaili attack spotlights Pakistan's intensifying sectarian violence

Gunmen in Karachi have opened fire on a bus carrying religious minorities killing scores of people. DW examines the reasons behind sectarian violence in the South Asian nation and how to eliminate it.
At least 43 people were killed and more than a dozen others injured on Wednesday, May 13 when armed men fired at a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community - a minority Shiite Muslim sect - near Safoora Chowk in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi. It was the worst anti-Shiite assault in Pakistan since January 30, when a suicide attack in a mosque in the southern Shikarpur district claimed 61 lives.
"Six terrorists came on three motorcycles; they entered the bus and began firing indiscriminately. They used 9 millimeter pistols and all those killed and injured were hit by the 9mm pistols," Ghulam Hyder Jamali, police chief of Sindh province, told journalists.
The Jundullah group, affiliated to the Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. "These killed people were Ismaili and we consider them kafir [heretics]. We had four attackers. In the coming days we will attack Ismailis, Shiites and Christians," Reuters news agency quoted Jundullah spokesman Ahmed Marwat as saying.
DW's Karachi correspondent, Rafat Saeed, however said the Pakistani authorities did not confirm that Jundullah carried out the attack: "I spoke to the Sindh province's Inspector General of Police, Ghulam Haider Jamali, and he told me that a banned militant group was behind the attacks. He did not name the group," Saeed said.
Over the past several years, conflicts between the Islamic Republic's Sunni Deobandi and Shiite Muslim groups have increased in brutality, frequency and mortality. Shiites make up around 20 percent of the country's predominantly Muslim population.
Pakistan Bombenanschlag auf eine Moschee in Shikarpur Protest 30.01.2015
Sectarian violence has claimed thousands of lives in the Islamic Republic in the past decade
Sectarian violence has claimed the lives of approximately 2,300 people in the country's four main provinces and some 1,500 people in the tribal area of the Kurram Agency since 2007, according to a recent report by the Middle East Institute (MEI).
Sectarian conflict
A number of analysts trace the origins of sectarian violence in Pakistan to the Afghan War of the 1980s. They say that Pakistan's former military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq made it a state policy to fund and arm extremist Wahhabi groups in the 1980s, using these organizations against the Shiites to curb Iran's support in Pakistan and to increase Islamabad's influence in Afghanistan.
Experts say the latest round of sectarian violence in the country is merely a continuation of the targeting of Shiite Muslims by various militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, who are mainly from the Wahhabi sub-sect known as the Deobandis.
"It's therefore important that we identify this as not a Sunni-Shiite conflict, but a conflict between Sunni Deobandi and Shiite Muslims - with Shiite civilians bearing the brunt of the violence," said Arif Rafiq, Pakistan expert and president of Vizier Consulting, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues.
Sectarian violence in Pakistan is also not limited to any particular region or community. In recent years, prominent members of both the Sunni and Shiite groups have fallen victim to the violence in nearly every province and main city in Pakistan.
Hundreds of Shiites have lost their lives in a wave of terror attacks targeting them in the country's restive Balochistan province since 2010.
Analysts point out that although the lives of Shiite Muslims are under threat all over Pakistan, those living in Balochistan and the northwestern Gilgit-Baltistan region face a systematic onslaught by the Taliban and other militant groups.
Government's failure
Human rights groups say the Pakistani government has largely failed to stem the tide of sectarian violence, despite its efforts to prevent the killings of Shiites.
The federal and provincial security forces provide security for Shiite processions, close off the border to prevent attacks during Shiite holy days, and have killed and arrested LeJ terrorists, analyst Rafiq told DW. "But at the same time, as one hand of the Pakistani state fights the terrorists, the other hand engages in deals with their political affiliates, such as the Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ) group," he added.
Some activists also accuse the country's powerful security establishment of backing Sunni militants and failing to protect the minority groups.
"The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which allegedly receives support from units of Pakistani intelligence agencies, has accepted responsibility for most attacks on Shiites in the recent past," said Malik Siraj Akbar, a Balochistan expert in Washington.
"The organization is closely connected to the Afghan Taliban and has renewed connections with Jundullah, the anti-Iran Sunni militant group. All these groups share abhorrence for the Shiites," he said.
Reversing the tide
While sectarianism has become mainstreamed in nearly all regions of Pakistan, the country is far from being divided on sectarian lines in the way Iraq and Syria have been, experts stress, noting that by confronting the ideas and networks behind sectarian violence, the Pakistani state has the capacity to reverse its tide.
They call on provincial and local officials to enforce existing laws that empower them to curb hate speech and incitement, and limit the movement of individuals on terrorist watch lists. The political leadership at the federal and provincial levels also has to bring radical Sunni Deobandi and Shiite leaders together, getting them to agree to a code of conduct, said analyst Rafiq.
Furthermore, the military as well as civilian politicians need to ease out of partnerships with groups that foment hate toward Shiites and other minorities in the country, he underlined. "The longer Pakistan's leaders continue to directly or indirectly aid hate groups, the longer it will be struggling to put out the fires started with its own hands."
London-based Pakistani journalist and scholar Amin Mughal said that the policy of supporting Islamist groups had backfired and that the Pakistani state was no longer in a position to control the situation.
"It is a logical consequence of state policies which are based on religion," Mughal told DW, adding that the only way out of the crisis was for "true secular parties" to come to power and change the course of state affairs.

Stoltenberg: NATO, Afghanistan Agree Civilian-Led Mission

NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance and Afghan leaders have agreed on a framework for a future joint military-civilian presence in Afghanistan when the bloc's current mission ends.
Stoltenberg made the announcement on May 13 after a session of the NATO foreign ministers meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.
He said that, while the new mission would have a military component, it would be led by a civilian. 
NATO is currently leading the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan to train Afghan security forces after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) wound up at the end of last year.

Stoltenberg said NATO offices had been tasked with working out a plan for the new mission by the autumn. 
It is not yet immediately clear when the Resolute Support mission will end and the new mission would start.
Stoltenberg said the numbers of a future mission would be smaller than the present number of personnel, which comprises around 12,500 troops.

The Man Who Keeps Tabs On U.S. Money Spent In Afghanistan

By David Welna 

John Sopko, the man whose job is to watch over U.S. government spending in Afghanistan, says it's not his job to be a cheerleader — it's to speak truth to power.

"I am often the bringer of bad news to people. Or at least that's what some people think," he says.

Addressing a crowd of Afghanistan analysts and contractors in Washington, Sopko says he's had just one objective since President Obama appointed him three years ago to be the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction:

"To seek facts and aggressively protect the U.S. taxpayer's enormous investment in Afghanistan."

Congress is voting this week on more funding for Afghanistan's security forces and that raises the question of how well they are performing in their fight against the Taliban.

After U.S. forces pulled out of Iraq, the self-styled Islamic State fighters moved in and Iraq's security forces all but collapsed. Those watching Afghanistan warn the same could happen there unless the U.S. keeps a small force and carries on with its work to build up the Afghan troops.

In addition to all the American money spent fighting in Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent $110 billion for the country's reconstruction, with the largest portion — more than $60 billion — going to build the Afghan security forces, known collectively as the ANDSF.

Even when adjusted for inflation, that $110 billion is more than the U.S. contributed to the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II.

Chronic Management Problems

And yet Sopko says his quarterly audits strongly suggest "that Afghanistan still lacks the capacity — financial, technical, managerial or otherwise — to maintain, support, and execute much of what has been built or established during the more than 13 years of international assistance."

Sopko says the Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by high attrition rates and low self-sufficiency.

"News reports from Afghanistan as recent as this week are noting record casualty levels in the ANDSF," he says. "We have heard of Afghan army units clearing areas of insurgents, handing it over to the local police or the national police, who then find that they cannot stand up to insurgents on their own."

The U.S. ended combat operations in Afghanistan last year. Close to 10,000 U.S. troops remain to advise and assist the Afghan forces, though they're scheduled to by the end of next year. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, says that will only lead to disaster.

"It'll be the same movie we saw in Iraq: complete withdrawal without a residual force to provide them with the capabilities they don't have. They will lose," McCaain says.

McCain sees no reason to reduce U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan any further.

"Just keep doing what we're doing," he says, referring to the small U.S. force that remains. "Our casualties in Afghanistan now are at a real minimum, but we leave, we lose. It's not complicated."

No Easy Exit

However, former University of Alabama political scientist Donald Snow, who has written extensively on other wars the U.S. has found hard to exit, says it's not that simple.

"What we're doing is trying to put lipstick on a kind of an ugly pig and try to get out with with some saving grace of appearing to support what we really know is a battle that we can't resolve," he says.

Snow says no other country has ever prevailed in Afghanistan, a reference to the Soviets, the British and others who waged military campaigns in Afghanistan that ultimately failed.

Meanwhile, enthusiasm of many U.S. lawmakers is wearing thin. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, says, "My goodness, we've already spent what, two and a half trillion? I can't go home in West Virginia and justify that."

Manchin's figure is higher than most estimates. Sopko says nobody's really sure how much has been spent in Afghanistan.

But for all the problems that country presents, he does say he believes it's still worth spending the $8 billion dollars a year to keep U.S. officials on the ground there.

The U.S. forces are "insuring that we can kind of oversee what's going on, because that's the insurance policy for the entire trillion dollars and all those troops we lost and all those civilians we lost," he says.

Bangladesh - Another blogger

Freedom of expression suffered yet another deathly blow on Tuesday when Bangladeshi blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was hacked to death on his way to work on the streets of the northeastern city of Sylhet. Four masked men came at him with cleavers and machetes, their signature weapons in their war against secular opinion. Ananta Das was a secular blogger who contributed to Mukto Mona (free thinkers), a blog founded by another secular blogger, Avijit Roy, who was murdered in the same manner in February on the streets of Dhaka. His wife was also attacked but she survived the horrific ordeal. In March, Washiqur Rahman was also hacked to death by those who cannot bear anyone taking down their draconian, oppressive version of religion. These Islamists — the people behind the deaths of these three bloggers in almost as many months — have made it their agenda to go after anyone championing the liberal cause, doing it so savagely and brutally that one is left numb by the butchery these beasts are perpetrating in the name of Islam.

With so many free thinkers being murdered in such a grisly manner, one would think that the government in Bangladesh would be on its toes trying to bring to justice those who commit daylight atrocities such as these. However, it seems people like Bangladeshi Prime Minister (PM) Sheikh Hasina are averse to sticking their necks out for people of principle because these rabid Islamists might just come after them (according to reports, Sheikh Hasina’s son was assailed by folk in the US wanting to know why nothing is being done to protect Bangladeshi intellectuals, and he cited fear of Islamist repercussions as the reason). This will not do; if the government is unable to protect its citizens who are being killed with impunity, it has no right being in power.

The entire Muslim world is in turmoil when it comes to accepting rationality and opinions based on science, logic and secularism. Those who have hijacked Islam have made all Muslim countries convulse with the kind of terrorism that leaves society devoid of its thinkers, poets, writers and opinion-makers. Bangladesh is not alone in this malaise but the kind of savagery on display is on a whole different level. Governments and people need to come together in solidarity and confront this monster whilst there are still some moderate and sane voices left. Otherwise there will be no one left to question the validity of these Islamists and their doctrine of hate and bloodshed.

Pakistan - The extremism within

THE country has an extremism problem. To state that is to suggest the obvious. But the state appears to be either in denial of Pakistan’s extremism problem or afraid of its true dimensions. After each new, grotesque low in the militants’ war on Pakistan, the state responds in the same manner. Emergency meetings, long huddles, promises to double down on the existing militarised security strategy — and some vague promises about doing something about the peddlers of hate. Then, unsurprisingly, as the media gaze turns to the next scandal or atrocity and the memory of the previous attack recedes, nothing of substance is done to crack down on extremism. That is a fundamental problem because there is an extremism continuum: from the doctrines of intolerance and hate on the non-violent end of the spectrum to the armed militants who perpetrate atrocities such as the Peshawar school attack and the Karachi bus attack. Simply eliminating armed militants will lead to little long-term success when there is still in existence a vast network of extremism busily indoctrinating the next generation of jihadis.
Consider the basic indoctrination that may have led to the murder of some 50 Ismailis in Karachi on Wednesday. At some point, the killers would have been taught to believe that the victims were deserving of death for their religious beliefs. Perhaps that indoctrination came within the narrow confines of life as an Islamist militant: the physical and psychological training of the killers done directly by the group responsible for the attack. But it is easy for the seeds of that indoctrination to have been laid in any number of ways by the vast extremist mosque-madressah-social welfare network that blankets this country. Even the largest, seemingly benign alleged centres of learning routinely spew hate against other sects, other religions and even peaceable followers of the same sect deemed too soft on others. Pore over the literature, listen to the speeches, scan the online message boards and forums where minority sects in Islam are routinely declared non-Muslims, and it will become apparent where the seeds of mistrust that can lead to violent hate are sown. Can the intelligence set-up be truly unaware of this? Militancy does not exist in a vacuum — it never has and it never will. It was possible for men to fire bullets into peaceful citizens on Wednesday because there exists a milieu that allows hate to masquerade as religion.
Surely, the answers to the extremism problem cannot be the same as the strategy to fight militancy. The first approach is essentially preventive in nature; the latter, curative. Prevention is more difficult — the extremism-fuelling narrative and infrastructure are far more diffuse than militant groups. And it requires greater will — a willingness to reach into the heart of society and re-engineer it. If it is not fought, however, the country may find itself winning the battle, but losing the war.