Saturday, July 18, 2015


Video - New Horizons Pluto fly-by: Nine years, 5.3b kilometres in the making

Video - Tears, prayers as Chattanooga remembers its fallen

Video - President Obama Meets with America’s Oldest Veteran

President Obama's Weekly Address: A Comprehensive, Long-Term Deal with Iran

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Greets on Eid

“We bow our heads in gratitude to Allah on this day for blessing us with the bounties of the holy month of Ramazan. For the Muslims it is a thanksgiving day and I wish to greet Muslims throughout the world in general and of Pakistan in particular on this occasion.This has been stated by Chairman Pakistan Peoples’ Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his message on the eve of Eid ul Fitr today.A festive occasion like this however has relevance only when festivities and celebrations are genuinely shared with many he said and called for helping the poor and the needy.
“We should reach out to the poor and the needy, the internally displaced persons and all those who have been hit by militancy and violence in one way or the other”.
“On this Eid let us also spare a thought for those members of our armed forces, the police, the law enforcing agencies and civilians who laid down their lives in the fight against militants so that we may truly celebrate Eid in peace.
“May Allah in His infinite mercy grant our supplications and guide us to imbibe the spirit of Ramazan throughout the year and to employ that spirit in rebuilding the lives of the people disrupted by extremists and militants, natural disasters and internal displacements”.

Pakistan - Bilawal Bhutto pays tribute to victims of APS attack

Chairman, Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has paid tribute to the victims of terrorists attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December last.
In his special message issued by the Bilawal House here on Friday, PPP Chairperson said : ” On this Eid day, today, our thoughts especially go out to the martyrs of the APS Peshawar who were brutally gunned down by extremists on December 16 last year as well as to the survivors and to their families.”
” Over one hundred forty students, teachers and staff members should have been celebrating Eid like the rest of the nation had they not been assassinated by the callous enemy.
” We salute these young martyrs. They are our national heroes and heroines. Their courage and supreme sacrifice united the nation as never before in the fight against militancy. We owe it to their memory to take the fight to the door of the enemy and exterminate them from our midst.
” No words are powerful or soothing enough to extricate the parents and guardians of the martyred students from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. The sacrifice of your sons, daughters and wards is etched in the collective memory of nation’s consciousness, never to be erased. The nation’s thoughts and prayers are with you.”

The Camp David of Pakistan

Peace talks in Murree, Pakistan between Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban may be a first tentative step, but they are the only step that can lead towards peace in Afghanistan.
Camp David has hosted and resolved many crucial episodes of political and security significance. Pakistan may now have found its own equivalent in Murree, a hill station and summer retreat in Pakistan.
After a decade-long insurgency, dozens of back channel efforts, and informal meetings, Murree hosted the first formal meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban, which could actually prove to be the breakthrough this region desperately needs. After years of futile diplomatic efforts and wasted brute military force, militancy has mushroomed in Afghanistan and peace has become a dream. And Pakistan — shattered with its own militant dilemma — has often been blasted with allegations of supporting the very elements that have induced mayhem in Afghanistan.
In contrast to all the traditional cynicism, the meet up in Murree, if followed through carefully, has potential for paving a way for lasting peace in Afghanistan. There are four major factors for why this meeting was not just another shallow reunion, dipped in secrecy, but an actual breakthrough.
First, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s growing mutual realization of the persistent militant threat to their internal security have brought them (read: forced them) together — despite numerous looming odds. Changes in leadership and deteriorating security situations in both countries have also added to this convergence.
Moreover, with the Taliban stepping up their summer offensive — a major attack on the Afghan Parliament in June followed by two coordinated attacks on NATO forces only a few weeks later — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has grown desperate for peace. Ghani’s efforts to shore up Pakistan’s support to rein in the Afghan Taliban have largely been met with despair. Pakistan, on its part, has cautioned Afghanistan of its limited influence over the Afghan Taliban. Special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister, Tariq Fatemi, wasnoted as saying: “We are not in a position to pick up people and take them to the conference table and say that ‘you sign the dotted line.’”
After years of fraught relations between both countries, Ghani’s reconciliation policy towards Pakistan has continually invited strong opposition from the Afghan bureaucracy, largely comprised of the Northern Alliance, which has historically remained critical of Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan. The Afghan unity government has failed to build any workable agreement on how to tackle serious issues related to terrorism and a defense minister has yet to be elected with Parliament rejecting two presidential nominees already. Moreover, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency openly accused its Pakistani counterpart of involvement in the Kabul parliament attack and in yet another cross-border firing incident, six Pakistani soldiers were injured while one Afghan policeman died.
Despite personal frustration and strong opposition, Ghani’s warn and charm policy towards Pakistan has remained unchanged. The current leadership of both countries recognizes that they cannot afford another breakdown of this slowly developing rapprochement and peace process. Pakistan may not have very significant influence on the entire Taliban leadership but in absence of Pakistan’s support, direct or indirect, any chance of peace in Afghanistan would simple diminish.
Second, the Northern Alliance’s seeming willingness to accept Pakistan’s facilitation is also encouraging. Hekmat Khalil Karzai, deputy minister of foreign affairs and a cousin of former President Hamid Karzai, led the Murree delegation while Mohammed Asem, the governor of Parwan province, participated as a representative of CEO Abdullah Abdullah. Furthermore, Hamid Karzai, who has traditionally objected to any of Pakistani facilitation regarding Afghanistan’s peace process, also welcomed the talks.
Historically, as far as the Afghan conflict is concerned, both Pakistan and the Northern Alliance have supported dissimilar domestic and international interests, which over the years have created a deep distrust between the both. This apparent acceptance of the Pakistani role has two possible dimensions: one, that the Northern Alliance believes (or at least is willing to give it a chance) that Pakistan’s current counterterrorism efforts, designed to tackle militancy not just in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan, are sincere and credible; and two, amidst convoluted terror threats from the Taliban and the Islamic State, there is an understanding that any sort of peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without Pakistan’s support.
Third, the presence of the Haqqani Network’s representative at the Murree talks is an optimistic sign. Haji Ibrahim, who participated on behalf of the group, is a senior member and brother of the group’s chief, Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani Network, which is deemed one of the most sophisticated and deadliest insurgent groups fighting in Afghanistan, has never been part of any major peace talks. Hajji Din Mohammad, a senior member of the Afghan delegation, after returning from the talks said: “It was important to talk to [the] Haqqani Network because they have actively been engaged in fighting our government too.” Moreover, the Haqqani Network’s presence adds further credibility and weight to the talks and also highlights Pakistan’s robust peace efforts, as Pakistan was known for having close relations with the group. (The group, based in North Waziristan, was one of the most commonly cited reasons for Pakistan’s delayed military operation in the North Waziristan which has since targeted the Haqqani Network.)
Fourth, the Islamic State’s reported inroads in Afghanistan have put everyone on alert, particularly the Afghan Taliban. Arguably, the threat posed by the Islamic State is one of the reasons the Taliban agreed to hold these talks without any major stipulations like they have made in the past.
With the more radical and largely sidelined Taliban (or other militants) elements joining the Islamic State, cracks among the Taliban ranks have become more evident. The relatively moderate Taliban leadership, while acutely concerned with the Islamic State’s growing influence, has remained divided on the question of authority. The Qatar political office is asserting its legitimacy and contesting the mandate of the Taliban present at Murree while the returning Afghan official delegation has stressed that the Taliban representative they met had complete mandate from the group’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar.
Perhaps with the emerging Islamic State threat, the Afghan and Pakistani policy is to draw lines between the moderate and radical elements of the Taliban and force the moderates towards accommodation. Hassan Askari Rizvi, a historian and security analyst has said: “Already the Taliban are divided between fighting and talking. Those who believe in fighting will defect, which may force some groups for talk and go for an accommodation.”
The Islamic State factor in Afghanistan may prove a regional cohesion factor in preparation of durable peace efforts. Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Central Asian leaders during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last week spoke out in concern over the growing Islamic State presence in Afghanistan. Even China, which has its own militancy problem in Xinjiang province, has offered military assistance and training to Afghanistan.
All of the representatives who attended Murree have agreed to meet again in near future. It’s too early to speculate about the nature of any prospective peace plan. However, whatever any reconciliation agreement may look like, it will not transform Afghanistan into a fairyland. It’s going to be a tough, arduous, and long-term process. While this meeting may be a first tentative step, it’s the only step which can lead towards any peace in Afghanistan.

Talking tough with Pakistan

Over the last six months, the Indian security establishment has been signalling a new policy of robust response, the kind the country has not witnessed in the recent past.
This week’s India-Pakistan tension climaxed with Pakistan shooting down a Chinese-built drone on the Line of Control (LoC). Earlier, a great deal of chest-thumping greeted the Indian Army’s recent raid on terrorists on the India-Myanmar border, and it was accompanied by salutary warnings to neighbouring countries, including Pakistan, not to mess with India. Islamabad dismissed the operation as an inaugural attempt by an Army that had to hitherto take permission from New Delhi to return fire across the LoC. Then there was the recent book by A.S. Dulat and Aditya Sinha, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, which reopened the wounds of the Kandahar hijacking ignominy, when India failed to immobilise the aircraft at Amritsar. New Delhi’s tepid response to Mumbai’s 26/11 and the subsequent beheadings and killings of Indian soldiers on the LoC have only served to highlight India’s conventional deterrence policy in poor light. Something had to be done to alter India’s image as a soft state.
A response doctorine
Over the last six months, the security establishment has been signalling a new policy of robust response, the kind the country has not witnessed in the recent past. The one time it was successfully attempted was in 1965 when Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri warned Islamabad during its Rann of Kutch offensive not to test New Delhi’s patience. He told Parliament on April 20, “If Pakistan continues to disregard reason and persists in aggressive activities, our Army will defend the country and it will decide its own strategy...” Army commanders were surprised — and so was Pakistan — when he ordered crossing the international border opposite Lahore and the start of the 1965 war, in response to Operation Gibraltar, which was Pakistan’s second variant of cross-border terrorism, its first having been made by tribal raiders in 1947 to capture Srinagar valley.
Both Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval have been sending messages to Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism. The Indian response to brazen attacks — such as those on its Parliament in 2001 and on Mumbai in 2008 — was varied. From coercive diplomacy and attempts to persuade Pakistan, the response moved to not allowing the use of territory under its control to supporting terrorism to virtually no action, barring the traditional politico-diplomatic demarche after Mumbai.
Following the attack on Parliament, the Americans extracted from Gen. Pervez Musharraf, not once but twice, pledges that Pakistan would end terrorism permanently, irreversibly, visibly, and to the satisfaction of India. These pledges were followed by the January 6, 2004 joint statement by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Gen. Musharraf to the same effect. As long as Gen. Musharraf was around, the commitments held; once he was eased out, the cycle of violence recommenced, culminating in Mumbai.
After Mumbai, the United Progressive Alliance government continued to warn Pakistan that there would be consequences to another big attack but it had no punitive response strategy in hand. With the new National Democratic Alliance government, one thing is clearly emerging: there will be a response. It will not, however, be from the vintage list of surgical strikes on terrorist camps inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a reverse Kargil to secure real estate, or, least of all, any Cold Start offensive with integrated battle groups across the international border.
So, what signal exactly are Mr. Doval and Mr. Parrikar sending to Islamabad? Mr. Doval said in January this year, “We want to deal with Pakistan in a way that is fair, correct and transparent.” He spoke of not bending to pressure tactics or blackmail on the assumption that the nuclear threshold leaves India with no option but to accept covert war. Three months later, he remarked: “We would like to solve problems with Pakistan through negotiations... But, on the other hand, India would like to have an effective deterrent to deal with terrorism”. And his most potent and direct comment was: “If you do one Mumbai [26/11], you may lose Balochistan”.
Mr. Parrikar has been more nuanced. Speaking at a public meeting, he lamented that some former Prime Ministers had compromised India’s “deep assets”, alluding to RAW’s (Research and Analysis Wing) intelligence infrastructure inside Pakistan that had been ordered closed by Prime Minister I.K. Gujral. Rolling back strategic assets was a cardinal sin that virtually wiped out the country’s undercover capabilities. On another occasion, Mr. Parrikar referred to taking out ‘terrorists with terrorists’. The coupling of hired assassins with deep assets is both a tactical and strategic deterrence.
The joint message is that India will be prepared to employ covert means in PoK and Balochistan to deter and punish cross-border terrorism. Pakistan TV has been airing Mr. Doval’s threat on Balochistan and Mr. Parrikar’s advocacy of terrorism. For long, Islamabad has accused India of fomenting unrest in Balochistan, through which the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will pass, linking Kashgar in Xinjiang with Gwadar and Balochistan. This will be the biggest economic endowment from China to Pakistan, making their all-weather relationship even sweeter. India could put a spoke in this wheel.
Reacting to Mr. Parrikar’s ‘neutralise terrorists with terrorists’ remark, Pakistan has said it reflects New Delhi’s support of terrorism against peace-loving Pakistan. Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations, in the latest issue of its in-house magazine Hilal, highlights Mr. Parrikar’s comments. So does Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz: “This confirms our apprehensions of India’s involvement of terrorism in Pakistan”.
The recent leak of two documents alleging India’s support to Pakistan’s MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) are being linked to Mr. Parrikar’s comments. The alleged funding of MQM by RAW has led to Pakistan threatening to take India to the United Nations for ‘interference’ in its internal affairs. Pakistan is making much of Mr. Parrikar’s remarks to counter the image that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism, and to reinforce its victimhood status.
Pakistan is of the opinion that cross-border terrorism is working in Jammu and Kashmir, where Islamabad claims that India has been compelled to deploy one-third of its Army as well as State and central armed police forces since the early 1990s. New Delhi claims that its counter-insurgency grid and fencing of the LoC has been effective in foiling infiltration as well as reducing terrorists from 3,000 fighters in 2002 to roughly 300 today.
Counter-infiltration moves
The infiltration figure till May-end this year, obtained from the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), is an incredible zero, inclusive of attempted infiltrators, those killed, and those who returned. It would appear that New Delhi’s counter-infiltration moves have blunted Islamabad’s moves in Jammu and Kashmir.
Breaking the 13-month stalemate in dialogue at Ufa in Russia this month, the NSAs of both India and Pakistan agreed to meet to discuss “all forms of terrorism”. This will lead nowhere, as Islamabad has now moved itself out of the category of terrorism sponsor to victim. The Parrikar-Doval threats have threaded the needle of a new response centred on covert action. This slow-burn strategy is calibrated for escalation when required. Given the nuclear overhang, any response to another big terrorist attack from Pakistan will be decisive. Only when the Pakistan Army realises that this Indian government will respond, and respond meaningfully, will it decommission its terrorism network. That the new needle is sharp is apparent from the chorus of Pakistani protests. At last, India has found its voice, to end terrorism sourced from Pakistan.

Modi’s Worrying Pakistan Policy