Monday, June 15, 2015

Video - Britney Spears, Iggy Azalea - Pretty Girls

Video - Michelle Obama touches down in UK

Russia faces tough choices on what to do with Syria and ISIS


RD Interview: Russia Direct sat down with Alexei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center’s expert in religion and security, to discuss the significance of the ISIS threat for Russia and the Kremlin’s shifting policy on Syria.
According to recent media reports, Russia is about to change its policy toward Syria andpotentially even turn its back on President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which now appears to be under increasing pressure from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria(ISIS). If the Assad regime falls, however, Russia will have to contend with an expanded ISIS presence near its borders.
And that is especially significant given the increasing signs that ISIS is starting to gain a toehold in the North Caucasus and some states in the post-Soviet space. There are now even reports about a student from Moscow State University running off to join ISIS.
Amidst the background of these events, Russia Direct recently sat down with Alexei Malashenko, an expert on religion and security matters for the Moscow Carnegie Center. Below, Malashenko shares his thoughts on Syria, the threat posed by ISIS, and the opportunities that Russia might have to partner with other nations in the Middle East against radical Islam.
Russia Direct: There are now concerns in the media that President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria will finally fall without Russia’s support. Do you share such concerns?
Alexei Malashenko: I believe that Russia conducted a very smart policy toward Assad from the point of view of its own national interests. Generally, Moscow didn’t face as many losses as initially expected.
Alexei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center
Any change in policy with regard to Assad is not a sign of the flexibility of Russia, but rather a sort of ambivalence. But there is another question: With no support for Assad, who should the Kremlin back? Should Russia support an obscure [opposition] coalition that consists of Islamists or nationalists, some of who are allegedly moderate?
But given the recent events [in the Middle East] and the more active role of the Islamic State, I don’t know who is better. In the end, not only Russia, but also the entire world might face a dilemma: Choosing between a very sinister authoritarian regime and the Islamic State. There is no other choice because all talk about democracy in the Middle East is for little children.
RD: Given the Kremlin’s hesitant position towards supporting Assad’s regime and the ISIS threat, will Moscow and Washington be able to come up with a compromise on Syria?
A.M.: So far, nobody has come up with this compromise and there is no reason to speculate on this issue. But the fact is that the Syrian problem is a specific case of the Middle East. That’s why to assume that coming up with a consensus only on Syria and then dealing with the rest of the problems is not the best way of thinking. In fact, Syria is a complex problem that needs to be resolved in a complex way.
Moreover, it is impossible to resolve it at the level of U.S.-Russia bilateral relations, because the world in the Middle East is indeed multipolar, with interests of America, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia shaping it geopolitical landscape. And without consensus of all these stakeholders, it is impossible to achieve progress. But, so far, there is no sign of consensus.
RD: The second Syrian Peace Talks took place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, while the first one was held in Moscow. How can you account for such a shift?
A.M.: The fact is that Moscow brought together people who don’t have any differences: They didn’t have something to talk about. In Astana, there was a hope that the Syria peace talks would bring together somebody else. But what results did these negotiations lead to finally? I didn’t see real opponents there who could really clash with each other and, then, could agree on the thorniest issues.
RD: But the Astana Peace talks brought together Syria’s opposition, right?
Alexei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center
A.M.: Yes, the opposition that attended these negotiations is monochrome, but not the real opposition, which consists of radicals who believe that they have enough potential [to win the war]. Again, the situation in the Middle East is very complex, with a lot of links subtly intertwined. And the main mistake of Americans and Europeans is that they missed this complexity. Initially, they assumed that as the worst-case scenario the radicals would form a sort of Al-Qaeda, but, in reality, we have seen a qualitatively different phenomenon [ISIS].
RD: ISIS seems to expand its influence beyond the Middle East and attract people from all over the world. Recently, a student from Moscow State University decided to leave her family and join the Islamic State. Do you think it is a specific case or a result of increasing ISIS propaganda?
A.M.: For Russia, it is rather a specific episode, not the trend, even though there are the same examples in other countries, such as France. So far, I haven’t seen girls coming to ISIS on a massive scale. In the case of the Russian student, it is not recruiting, but rather a psychological shift, the desire to find oneself. There is a lot of speculation on these topics and all discussion adds up to the need to increase the patriotic upbringing among young people.
Some naively believe it will prevent them from wearing hijab and going to the Islamic State. But there is no mention [in public debates] that there is a big difference between a hijab and a Kalashnikov rifle. In addition, it is not clear how we are going to nurture patriotism, given the fact there are more than 16 million Muslims in Russia, who are very active in defending their positions. So, it is a heavy-handed and inefficient approach of resolving the problem [the ISIS threat]. Now there is more irrelevant noise than good proposals.           
Alexei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center
Even though Muslim neophytes are very active in Russia, this specific case of the student coming to ISIS is just an episode. There is a version that she went to ISIS to teach Russian. The question is: Whom was she going to teach?
RD: Nevertheless, there are some claims that ISIS propaganda is threatening Russia.
A.M.: So far, it is significantly exaggerated by Russia’s intelligence and security services. But at the same time, we should not forget about ISIS propaganda, which is indeed transmitted in about 23 languages, including Russian. And there have been some results. Totally, there are between 1,700 and 3,000 Russian citizens who have joined the Islamic State.
But having been disappointed, some came back. But thinking that those who returned to Russia from ISIS pose a significant threat is again an exaggeration. But in the case of a worsening economic situation and economic crisis, corruption and the growth of indignation in Northern Caucasus, there might be social unrest, which could, partly, turn into religious radicalism. In this case, those who returned from ISIS, given their military experience, could play a role.
RD: And what is to be done to prevent it?
A.M.: This is the question that should be addressed to Russian Predient Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin missed the moment when it was necessary to do something in the 1990s. Now the third generation of Islamic opposition is fighting [on the side of ISIS].
RD: So, you mean that the authorities whacked the hornet’s nest.
A.M.: Absolutely. They plucked at the hornet’s nest. It is impossible to kill or imprison all radicals. Even though we want to talk, we are not able to foster dialogue with them. The problem is that Islam is not a homogeneous tradition and culture, but it contains a significant number of branches. And this problem will be forever in place.
RD: Recently, ISIS announced its intention to acquire nuclear weapon through Pakistan. Given that such statement is propagandistic in its nature and hardly likely realistic, nevertheless, what are the chances of such a scenario?
A.M.: They won’t get nuclear weapons, but they might get chemical and biological weapons. It is just a matter of time before they get them. They could poison wells. Water is much easier to poison. And it is a very serious problem to prevent these madmen from getting weapons of mass destruction, whether they are chemical or biological.
Alexei Malashenko, Moscow Carnegie Center
And this threat is real. Andthere will always be a madman who will dare to launch it in the Volga, the Rhine, the Moscow River or elsewhere. And this is impossible to predict, like it was impossible to foresee the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Something is bound to happen.              
RD: Yet despite the ISIS threat, Russia hasn't so far joined the coalition to fight ISIS together with the U.S. and other Middle East countries ... .
A.M.: Russia now is like a lonely wanderer. It is looking for its own position. But the fact Russia doesn’t directly participate in the campaign against ISIS, it scores additional points, because the fight against ISIS is perceived by Muslims - even by moderate ones - as the fight against Islam.

Video - Hillary Clinton Pushes Quality Childhood Education

Video - President Obama Speaks at the White House Mentorship and Leadership Graduation Ceremony

The South Asia Nuclear Equation

Pakistan Christian Congress Urges Government To Release Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of 5 is facing blasphemy charges since 2010. She was registered without any evidence and has been waiting for her appeal to be heard since then.
It was lately reported that Asia Bibi is facing serious health issues and has been kept in solitary confinement. She is so weak that she can hardly walk and is suffering from intestinal bleeding. Asia has also been coughing up blood in the past few days.
Dr. Nazir Bhatti, Chairman Pakistan Christian Congress issued a statement from the central secretariat of PCC urging the Pakistan government to release Asia Bibi and all other who have been accused under the blasphemy law.
He also demanded the formation of a Joint Investigation Team. Dr. Bhatti said the team should be , “comprising of Inter-Services Intelligence ISI, Military Intelligence MI, Intelligence Bureau of Pakistan IB, Director General Federal Investigation Agency FIA, Secretary Law Division, government of Pakistan, Secretary Interior Division of government of Pakistan, members of Civil Society of Pakistan, representatives of families of victims of blasphemy law under chairmanship of retired or acting justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan to re-investigate all First Information Reports FIR lodged in police stations of Pakistan on blasphemy laws to bring facts on ground and to punish complainant in such case if proved that reports were lodged on hate, business rivalries and petty disputes if Pakistan wish to present its image as enlightened democrat state among International community.”
Immediate release of Asia Bibi considering her failing health and reinvestigation of her case under the joint investigation team has been demanded by Dr. Nazir Bhatti.
- See more at:

Was Save the Children really working against Pakistan?

After shutting down offices of Save the Children due to "anti-state" activities, Pakistan has reversed its decision. But rights activists say the government wants to control civil society to hide its own "shady" actions.
The Pakistani government has made a U-turn and suspended an order it issued closing the office of the international NGO Save the Children in the capital Islamabad, an official said Sunday.
Authorities did not give any reason for the reversal.
Saeed Ahmed, a spokesman for the NGO in Pakistan, was quoted by the AP news agency as saying that they had no word from the government on the decision.
"We would appreciate relevant government authorities to communicate to us officially," Ahmed told the AP.
Save the Children had been on the security agencies' watch list since 2012 when some unsubstantiated reports emerged that the UK-based international aid agency had connections with Dr. Shakil Afridi, an alleged CIA spy.
Pakistani authorities claim that Afridi ran a fake polio vaccination campaign in the northwestern city of Abbottabad to confirm the presence of former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for the American intelligence agency. Save the Children denies the accusations.
In September 2012, the Pakistani government ordered foreign workers of Save the Children to leave the country within two weeks. However, it temporarily suspended its decision a week later.
Local sources say that the foreign staff of the non-governmental organization had already left the country before Pakistan's June 11 decision to close down the group's offices countrywide.
'Anti-state' activities
The government has not given an official explanation for its decision to ban Save the Children, but an official told the AFP news agency that the aid group "was doing something which was against Pakistan's interests."
On Friday, June 12, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar also said that no NGO working against Pakistan's national interest will be allowed to continue its work in the South Asian country.
"We welcome NGOs in Pakistan, but they need to understand our laws and constitution," Nisar told reporters in Islamabad, adding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government wouldn't allow any NGO to work "under the table." He said that some non-governmental civil society groups in Pakistan were working for India and Israel, with whom Islamabad had bitter relations.
Save the Children issued a statement on Friday confirming its office in Islamabad had been sealed by the government.
"Save the Children was not served any notice to this effect. We strongly object to this action and are raising our serious concerns at the highest levels," it said.
The focus of the NGO's work is on children's rights, health, education and food security. It has been active in Pakistan for more than 35 years and has over 1,200 local employees.
A Save the Children official told the Reuters new agency that the government had already been stopping aid shipments entering the country, "blocking aid to millions of children and their families."
Social freedoms under threat
Dr. Mehdi Hasan, former chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told DW that the Pakistani government should tell what kind of proof it had in relation to Save the Children's alleged anti-state activities and links with Afridi.
The veteran activist also said that NGOs should be open about their work and that they should brief the media about their activities on a regular basis.
But many other rights activists say that the government has a history of mistrusting foreign NGOs, and point out that this is not the first time it has accused a rights organization of working for Pakistan's "enemies," which most often includes the country's regional rival India.
"The government and the army don't trust the civil society. Human rights violations are rampant in many parts of the country, and the authorities want to conceal them. That is why they are not only muzzling freedom of press but also other social freedoms. We should look at Save the Children closure from this perspective," a Lahore-based development expert told DW on condition of anonymity.
A lack of accountability
But Usman Qazi, a civil society activist based in Islamabad, is of the view that the NGOs also need to "put their house in order," especially in relation to accountability towards the communities they work with, as well as other segments of the civil society like media, academia, trade associations, and political parties.
"As an activist, I would never support the muzzling of a civil society outfit, especially one that has a positive international reputation. At the same time, my interaction with a cross section of Pakistani society tells me that the NGOs are immensely unpopular and are resented quite widely. They are viewed as supply driven, corrupt, self-serving and unaccountable. This includes all NGOs - national and foreign," Qazi told DW.
"I believe this perception emboldened the authorities to take a bold step like that, knowing that they do not have to fear any reprisal locally against this decision."
What next?
According to journalist Abdul Agha, the accusation against some NGOs that they are involved in "shady" activities applies better to Pakistan's ubiquitous intelligence organization, the ISI.
"Which is a shadier organization than the ISI? What is happening in Balochistan and in the northwestern areas of the country in the name of battle against extremists is not only shady but also dangerous. The army and its agencies are not accountable to anyone," he told DW.
According to reports, there are 19 more NGOs that the government wants banned. The authorities haven't revealed their names yet.
"The civil society is determined to expose human rights violations by the state, and it is not acceptable in Pakistan. The authorities will do their best to silence dissent," Agha added.

Pakistan - Former President Zardari - Country has benefited from Operation Zarb-e-Azb

Former President Asif Ali Zardari said on Monday the country had benefited from Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Addressing the Elite Force passing out ceremony at Razak police station, Asif Ali Zardari said the country’s enemies were using new ways and technology stressing innovation was required in the police force.

During the same ceremony, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah congratulated Army Chief General Raheel Sharif on the completion of one year of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Shah said extortion, kidnapping for ransom and target killing and decreased in Karachi.

One year after it went to war, Pakistan is safer but doubts persist

By Tim Craig

 One year after Pakistan’s army launched its offensive in the country’s northwestern tribal belt, Pakistani deaths from terrorist attacks are at an eight-year low but U.S. officials say more work is needed before the country can reverse its reputation as a top incubator of Islamist militancy.
After a decade of bloodshed that killed more than 50,000 civilians and soldiers, Pakistan’s military finally became fed up last June when a homegrown militant group, the Pakistan Taliban, attacked Karachi’s international airport. In response, Pakistan’s air force and army beganpounding North Waziristan, destroying two cities there while also ordering the evacuation of more than a million residents.
Since then, the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has plunged as the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda appear to have fewer havens.
During the first five months of this year, 500 civilians died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan compared with 787 during the same period last year and 1,536 in 2013, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which monitors violence in the region. The last time the start of a year was so peaceful was in 2007 — before the Pakistan Taliban emerged as a serious threat to domestic security.
But analysts caution Pakistan still remains vulnerable to major terrorist attacks similar to the Taliban assault on the school in Peshawar in December that killed about 150 teachers and students. And whatever gains the Pakistan army has made are clouded by the perception that it simply shifted much of the problem across the border into Afghanistan — but the militants who are now there could easily migrate back into Pakistan with time.
“Some people were displaced, but we should not be misled,” said Ijaz Khan Khattak, former chairman of the International Relations Department at the University of Peshawar. “This is a long war, and in long wars, lulls do happen. This is just a small lull.”
Though U.S. officials credit Pakistan for making serious gains against both the Pakistan Taliban and al Qaeda, there is less optimism about its efforts in combating groups such as the Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban, which focus attacks on Afghanistan.
And with tensions between Pakistan and neighboring India once again rising, few analysts expect Pakistani leaders to now follow through on their promise to also crack down on militant groups that have a decades-long history of carrying out attacks in India. There are also concerns that Pakistan still isn’t taking the threat posed by the Islamic State, which is trying to gain a foothold in the region, seriously.
“We think the operation has absolutely eliminated the safe havens in Miranshah and Mir Ali [in North Waziristan], which were real fundamental concerns for us, the Afghans, and also Pakistanis in recent years,” said one U.S. official, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the matter. “The focus for us as we move forward: First, some of these militants have dispersed around Pakistan and continue to plan attacks against not only Pakistanis, but also against Afghans, Americans and others inside Afghanistan.”
The official added, “And it’s is going to take a sustained effort to make sure these groups don’t reconstitute in the cleared areas.”
For many Pakistanis, however, there is little doubt that the year-long operation is starting to show signs of real success.
In Peshawar, which had been a center of violence, ambulance drivers say they are finally starting to relax because they are no longer being called out every other day to respond to attacks. In the capital of Islamabad, which has not experienced a major terrorist attack in more than a year , some Westerners are again visiting shopping malls and cafes. And foreign leadersbusiness executives and sports teams are slowly trickling back into Pakistan for official visits.
“The politicians from this province were always facing a serious threat, but now those political leaders are roaming freely without any fear,” said Shah Farman, a lawmaker in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where police report a 50 percent drop in attacks.
Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, chief spokesman for the Pakistan military, said so far 2,763 terrorists have been killed in tribal areas during the first year of the operation while another 218 have been killed in Pakistani cities. Thousands of other have been detained, Bajwa said.
In December, Pakistani forces killed al Qaeda’s global operation’s chief,Adnan el Shukrijumah, who had been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Earlier this spring, Pakistan also arrested another top al Qaeda operative, Muhanad Mahmoud al Farekh, and handed him over to U.S. authorities.
Ashraf Ali, former president of the FATA Research Center, said many high-value targets simply fled North Waziristan as the Pakistan military moved in. As a result, security has steadily worsened in Afghanistan, which is experiencing record numbers of troop and civilian casualties this year.
“According to unconfirmed reports, 70,000 to 80,000 fighters may have just crossed the border,” Ali said.
The challenge of cross-border movement has been one of the enduring struggles of the 13-year-old war in Afghanistan. When the operation began last June, Pakistani leaders say they asked former Afghan President Hamid Karzai to deploy more forces to that side of the border.
Karzai, who is deeply skeptical of Pakistan’s motives, refused, they say.
Since Afghan President Ashraf Ghani succeeded Karzai in September, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have improved dramatically, according to U.S. officials and government leaders in both countries.
But Ghani is staking his political reputation on Pakistan being able to nudge the Afghan Taliban, which has historical ties to Pakistan’s military and intelligence outfit, into peace talks. Pakistan so far has been unable to accomplish that.
And both Afghan and U.S. officials remain frustrated that Pakistan’s operation has not seriously disrupted the Haqqani Network, which they blame for some of bloodiest attacks in Afghanistan. Many Haqqani Network commanders are believed to have resettled in Peshawar, Karachi or in South Waziristan, according to local tribal officials.
Last month, the group carried out an assault on a guest house in Kabul, which killed 10 foreigners including one American. The attack was planned from Peshawar, according to Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS).
Ali Mohammad, a Kabul-based political and security researcher, said such attacks demonstrate that elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence hierarchy still can’t be trusted to follow through on pledges from Pakistani leaders that they are targeting all terrorist groups.
“We are seeing very strong statements from the Pakistan military leadership, but the big question is, what is going on in the local army units, in the local ISI offices, where they often have local agreements with these groups?” said Ali Mohammad, who was referring to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).
But Saad Muhammad, Pakistan’s defense attaché to Kabul from 2003 to 2006, predicted peace talks between Afghan Taliban and Ghani’s government would begin soon, perhaps immediately after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan ends in mid-July.
“Ashraf Ghani has put all of his eggs in Pakistan’s basket, so if something doesn’t happen, he becomes a weakened man, and that would be disastrous for Pakistan,” said Muhammad, who still maintains informal contact with some elements of the Afghan Taliban’s leadership. “Pakistan will not break contact with the [Afghan Taliban], but it will begin pressure after pressure. You can put some people under arrest. You can harass them. You can break up their meetings.”
Still, other analysts and Pakistani leaders note that the weakening of groups such as the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban is opening up other security concerns,including the potential rise of the Islamic State in the region.
As they’ve lost the ability to route money and resources through North Waziristan, and perhaps eventually Quetta, where much of the Afghan Taliban leadership resides, analysts say branches of the militant groups increasingly will turn to the Middle East based Islamic State for support. Of particular concern is that the conflict may then become even more sectarian in nature, similar to Islamic State’s offensive in Iraq.
Even if Islamic State emerges as the top threat to Pakistan, though, that in itself would be a sign that the military operation has worked, said Muhammad Amir Rana, an Islamabad-based security analyst.
“We are now no more a special case,” Rana said. “Now, we just have the same kind of problems that other Muslim countries are facing.”