Sunday, August 30, 2015

Video Report - Dozens of civilians killed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen

U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice Condemns Pakistan-Based Militant Attacks in Afghanistan

U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice on Sunday told top civilian and military leaders in Islamabad that attacks in neighboring Afghanistan by Pakistan-based militants were “absolutely unacceptable,” according to a senior American official.
During a one-day stop in Pakistan after a visit to China, Ms. Rice also delivered an invitation for Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in October.
Ms. Rice pressed Pakistan to do more to prevent terrorists from using its territory as a base for attacks on its neighboring states and to improve ties with India and Afghanistan. Islamabad accuses both countries of sponsoring anti-Pakistan militants.
“In Islamabad today, discussed how to deepen coop. to tackle shared priorities. Encouraged Pakistan to advance regional peace & stability,” a post on Ms. Rice’s Twitteraccount said on Sunday. She met Mr. Sharif and the country’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif.
Washington has warned Pakistan that it stands to lose $300 million in U.S. military aid if it doesn’t crack down harder on the Haqqani network, American officials said. U.S. officials have described the Haqqani network as closely tied to Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.
A statement from Mr. Sharif’s office said: “The United States is an important partner of Pakistan in all areas especially the economy, defense and counterterrorism.”
The Afghan government has lashed out at Pakistan over a series of deadly bombings in Kabul in recent weeks that have killed dozens of people—including three Americans—andwhich the Afghan government blames on the Haqqani network, a jihadist group it says is based in Pakistan.
“We share the concern of the Afghan government. This is absolutely unacceptable,” said the American official. Ms. Rice told Pakistani leaders that “terrorist and militant attacks have developed into a key point of regional friction. Addressing this challenge will be imperative for Pakistan’s relations with its neighbors and with Washington,” the official said, though she said U.S.-Pakistani relations were “very good.”
Analysts believe the U.S. wants Islamabad to go after the leadership of the Haqqani network, which Washington says operates freely in Pakistan. The head of the Haqqani network was made deputy leader of the Taliban at a meeting late last month in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, after confirmation of the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, according to the Taliban.
Pakistan denies that leaders of the Taliban or Haqqani network are based in the country, though Islamabad admits they may visit the country. Critics allege Pakistan uses these groups as its proxies in Afghanistan.
A tweet from the official Twitter account of a Pakistan military spokesman said that during the meeting between Ms. Rice and Gen. Raheel, “Both dignitaries also recognized the continued need for close coordination for ensuring peace & stability in [Afghanistan] and the region.”

Video - Russian & Chinese Navy wrap up Joint Sea 2015 drills with parade

Video Report - Gym & BBQ: Putin, Medvedev enjoy healthy Sunday in Sochi

Video Report - Yemen: Cluster Munitions Kill and Wound Civilians

Rice makes surprise visit to Pakistan on peace mission

Amid rising tensions and firing on the Line of Control, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice is in Islamabad for a day-long visit to discuss “regional security issues”, sources in Islamabad said.
Ms. Rice, who was on a scheduled visit to China on Saturday, had not announced the Pakistan stopover before leaving for Washington, giving rise to speculation that she will discuss the India-Pakistan situation, a week after talks between the NSAs were called off.
Ms. Rice is also expected to discuss the U.S.’ decision to hold military funding over Pakistan’s lack of action against the Haqqani network, the suspended talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the U.S. in September. According to officials in Pakistan, Ms. Rice will meet Mr. Sharif, NSA Sartaj Aziz and Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif during what one Pakistani national TV website called an “emergency visit.”
At least 9 civilians, including 3 Indians and 6 Pakistanis, and several people have been injured in the latest escalation of violence on Friday that India blames Pakistan for, while Pakistani Defence Minister Khwaja Asif accused India of conducting a “limited war” on the LoC. The deaths were the single largest toll for a day of LoC tensions since 2013. The U.S. has expressed its disappointment over the cancellation of NSA talks and the increase in the tensions in the past few weeks.
Ms. Rice’s visit also comes a day after U.S. Under Secretary of State Nisha Biswal was in Delhi for talks ahead of the coming Indo-U.S. Commercial and Strategic Dialogue to be held in Washington from September 21 to 23. During her interactions with MEA officials, Ms. Biswal is understood to have discussed the cancellation of talks and the tensions as well.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are expected to lead the C&SD talks ahead of PM Modi’s visit to New York to attend the UNGA special session.
While Mr. Modi and President Obama are expected to meet on the sidelines of a peacekeeping conference on September 28th, officials told The Hindu a structured bilateral meeting is yet to be scheduled.

Why Has Pakistan Become So Intolerant?

I was beaten in Pakistan for my religion. I am far from alone.
A Christian couple, parents of three children with a fourth on the way, were accused of blasphemy by a mob and incinerated in a brick kiln at their worksite in Punjab last November.  Suicide bombers blew themselves up at two churches in Lahore in March.  Asia Bibi, a Christian laborer and mother of five, awaits a hearing on her death sentence after being accused of blasphemy in 2009.  In Peshawar 127 worshipers were killed and 160 wounded by suicide bombers at All Saints’ Church in September 2013.  
My getting beaten up by agents of Pakistan’s military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the back cab of a pickup truck on the outskirts of Peshawar last year was mild compared to the discrimination and violence that the country’s religious minorities have experienced since Pakistan was founded in 1947. 
Nevertheless the beating was significant, for it illustrated the extent to which governmental authorities in Pakistan are willing to violate their own constitution’s mandate for religious freedom in order to placate the radicals pressing Pakistan in ever more extreme Islamist directions.   
For starters, I’m a U.S. citizen, not a Pakistani.  I was principal (the south Asian term for president) of one of Pakistan’s oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher education: Edwardes College, established in Peshawar in 1900 by a mission agency of the Church of England and since 1940 an institution of the local church.  And I was being attacked not by the Taliban but by agents of the government’s most powerful intelligence unit. 
The assault on me was not personal but political, and the politics had everything to do with religion.  Edwardes had about 2,800 students and over 100 faculty members – 92% of them Muslim and 7% Christian – and a longstanding reputation for a liberal learning environment that fostered inter-religious understanding.  The campus has both a chapel and a mosque.  
The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was so enthusiastic about our educational innovations that they made an unprecedented grant of Rs. 300 million (over $3 million at the time) to support the college’s effort to award its own degrees and de-affiliate from the University of Peshawar.   
Degree-awarding status required a charter, and this was where conflict arose.  Edwardes has always been a church institution, but its auspices got confused during the nationalization drive of the 1970s, when the local governor illegally installed himself as chair of the board, with a majority of government appointees.  The Church of Pakistan and its Diocese of Peshawar never accepted this shift, but the risk of violent retaliation prompted them, understandably, to muddle along with confused governance rather than actively resist.
Until, that is, the charter issue arose in 2013.  Following the guidelines of the government’s own “Model Charter for Private Universities,” the proposed charter restored a church majority on the board, with the diocesan bishop as chancellor.  Government officials and some Muslim faculty members insisted that the government’s majority be retained, but the church rightly rejected codifying by charter an illegal and dysfunctional governance system.  Without constitution, law or history on its side, the government resorted to threatening Bishop Sarfaraz Peters and me, abusing a Christian administrator, and physically attacking me.  I had to leave the country, and the church is still trying to resolve the situation.  
In addition to mandating that all persons shall have the right to “profess, practice and propagate” their religion, Pakistan’s constitution states that “every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions” (Article 20).  Violations of this institutional protection are less dramatic than individuals being accused of blasphemy or neighborhoods going up in flames, but in the long run they’re just as important because they affect the longterm viability of religious minorities and their contribution to society. 
Several factors feed into the personal, communal and institutional violations of religious freedom in Pakistan today, violations visited on Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, but also Shiite, Ahmadi and Ismaili Muslims.    
An irony in the case of Pakistan is that it achieved nationhood almost 70 years ago, but its 96% Muslim majority still exhibits the siege mentality of the minority status it sought to avoid in India.
One factor is the struggle within Islam about the future of Islam, a struggle that for years, especially since 9/11, has dominated news about North Africa and the Middle East, with ISIS atrocities now occupying center stage.  Muslims are wrestling with Islam’s place in the modern world, especially in relation to democracy, education and freedom as promoted by Western Europe and North America.  
In Pakistan this struggle was aggravated by U.S. and Pakistani support for the mujahedeen as they transformed jihad into a tactic of modern warfare against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Today it is aggravated by the proxy ideological battle being waged between Iranian Shiite Islam and Saudi Wahabi Islam.  Yet as Farahnaz Ispahani argues in her forthcoming book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities, persecution is not a new development, for minorities have been oppressed in Pakistan since shortly after independence in 1947.  
Another factor is the global revival of religious chauvinism across many religions, including both Christianity and Islam but also in Hindu nationalism in India and Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.  As populations increase and governments fail their constituents, religious majorities prey on minorities in competition for resources, especially as local identities have resurfaced since the end of the Cold War.  
An irony in the case of Pakistan is that it achieved nationhood almost 70 years ago, but its 96% Muslim majority still exhibits the siege mentality of the minority status it sought to avoid in India.  Distrust of the different results in efforts to suppress and eradicate the other.   
And then there is terror of the violence that can be meted out to those who oppose extreme views and policies.  The vast majority of Pakistanis are moderate and tolerant in their convictions.  Newspaper columnists regularly condemn radical views, violent incidents and the government’s inaction.  “We were not like this!” a Muslim colleague of mine cried out at news of another outrage.  It was a well- connected Muslim who saved me from being killed by the ISI.  
Yet the assassinations of two prominent government officials in 2011 – Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, and Shabhaz Bhatti, the Christian federal minister of minority affairs – for opposing the nation’s draconian and much abused blasphemy laws illustrated how there is no limit to the radicals’ reach.  The threat of such violence, especially when coupled with the ability of religious political parties to sway voters, intimidates governmental officials into doing little except speechifying after horrifying incidents.  Perpetrators go unpunished, and school textbooks continue to disparage religious minorities.  
At 200 million inhabitants, Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous nation, and it will be fourth by 2050.  So what happens with religious freedom in Pakistan is important for the future of religious freedom globally in the 21st century.  Can religious people in the human family honor one another’s search for the sacred and explore each other’s paths?  Or will religious people disparage, oppress and kill the religious other and thereby defile the divine? 

Pakistan - Asfandyar concerned about political polarisation in country

Awami National Party president Asfandyar Wali Khan has expressed concern over what he calls unjustifiable artificial political polarisation in the country.
In a statement issued here on Saturday, he raised the question as to whether the country could afford new political fault lines in its fractured polity at a time when it was faced with multiple formidable challenges.
“We all know that terrorism in the country is down, but not out. The recent tragic murder of Punjab home minister Shuja Khanzada has clearly demonstrated that terrorists are still capable of hitting high profile targets,” the statement quoted him as saying.
Mr Khan said that Zarb-i-Azb operation had entered its toughest stage of clearing the terrorist-infested areas of Shawal and Datakhel in North Waziristan while Balochistan was still boiling. He said that peace process in Afghanistan was at the verge of collapse which had the potential of serious fallout for Pakistan.

Says Imran wants to gain political power by hatching conspiracies against system

The ANP chief said that Pakistan’s relationship with India had gone from bad to worse with the cancellation of the meeting between the NSAs of the two countries. He said that growing shelling on LOC and the Pakistani response to it reflected the deteriorating situation.
“How can the country overcome such formidable challenges if it remains a divided house,” Mr Khan said. Another pertinent question, he said, was about the present state pressure on those political parties that had been continuously targeted by terrorists.
“Is it a coincidence that the progressive political parties with clear anti-terrorist narrative have to bear the brunt of the pressure,” Mr Khan questioned. He said that it was quite intriguing to see Imran Khan preparing for another sit-in.
The ANP chief said that in 2014 Imran had staged a sit-in on the pretext that the judiciary was not providing him with relief in the cases of alleged election rigging. But mysteriously he threatened a sit-in at a time when the election tribunals had de-seated some high profile MNAs of the ruling party, he added.
By now it was pretty clear that he (Imran) wanted to gain political power by hatching conspiracies against the constitutional system, he said.
Mr Khan expressed concern over deplorable condition of displaced people and said that last year the government had promised to arrange dignified return of the North Waziristan IDPs on urgent basis. But the promise had not been fulfilled while another winter was not far away, he said.
“It is very disappointing to see that the government has totally forgotten around one hundred thousand IDPs who had crossed the Durand Line and gone to Afghanistan,” he stated.
Mr Khan said that ANP would not tolerate negligence and indifference of the government towards the IDPs. He demanded of Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif to take Parliament and all the political parties into confidence about the fresh political polarisation and fragmentation that has the potential of endangering the very existence of the federation.

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto calls for FATA reforms, announces intra party elections in KhyberPakhtunkhuwa

Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari  has called for mainstreaming FATA by giving its fundamental rights and local self governments in the tribal Agencies.
This he said during meetings with representatives of Peoples Youth Organization PYO and Peoples Students Federation in Zardari House Saturdayevening.
Today was the sixth day of Chairman Bilawal’s meetings with party cadres from different parts of Punjab, KPK and FATA.
Chairman PPP also declared holding of intra party elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in a phased manner to serve as model for intra party elections not only in the province but throughout the country.
Talking about FATA he recalled that Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has also addressed recently a letter to the Prime Minister on this subject and directed the party parliamentarians to pursue the issue of FATA reforms in the Parliament.
He said it was strange that while the Constitution declared that FATA to be part of Pakistan its people were denied basic rights as guaranteed to the people of other parts of the country because the Constitution barred the superior courts from exercising jurisdiction in the tribal areas.
If we want peace in tribal areas we have to give strategic importance to the people and empower its people.  Empowerment is linked to sense of justice and sense of participation of the people in their own affairs, he said.
Bilawla Bhutto said that a governing structure that is not based on the will of the people cannot resist the militants. Had there been people participation in FATA the area would not have been taken over by others so easily.
He said that political reforms and empowering people in tribal areas will strengthen and not weaken national security.
Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also called for devising a mechanism for holding elections to local self governments in each Agency in the tribal areas. The mechanism should be based on adult franchise, transparency, and duly empowered local government bodies, he said.
He also called for separating judicial functions and authorities from the executive authorities and functions in the tribal areas and said that the local Agency governments should have a say in the formation of tribal Jirgas as alternate dispute resolution mechanism.
About the intra party elections in KPK Bilawal Bhutto said that the organizing committees for holding these elections will be set up on the basis of broad based consultations and its members will not be allowed to contest election to any party office to ensure neutrality and impartiality. He said that initially intra party electiosn will be held in four districts of KPK.
The KPK meeting was attended by Barrister Masood Kausar, Lal Khan, Abdul Akbar Khan, Tariq Khattak, Azam Afridi, Yawar Naseer, Tahir Abbas, Mian Muzaffar Shah besides others.  Ms Faryal Talpur, Sherry Rehman and Jameel Soomoro. Also attended the meeting.

Pakistan - #PPP will not contest by-elections if #ECP members do not resign

PPP will not take part in forthcoming by-elections if controversial members of Election Commission of Pakistan do not resign, declared Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, President Punjab PPP, while talking to media in Islamabad today outside Zardari House.
He added that there was no moral or legal or moral basisof these members of ECP to remain in position and they should better voluntarily tender their resignations and go home with degree of honor and dignity.
While responding to media questions, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo said that the PPP, Punjab, had recommended to the top Party leadership of giving up the policy of reconciliation because it had cost dearly to the Party adding it could not afford the same any more.
He said that the PPP would contest the forthcoming local bodies’ elections and was confident to show good results. The PPP will also go for seat adjustment with the opposition parties keeping in view the dynamics of local politics, he added.
He strongly condemned the arrest of PPP leader, Dr. Asim Hussain, which was a sheer political victimization because he was arrested without investigations.
He regretted that the issuance of arrest warrants by the Karachi Court of former Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and Mr. Amin Fahim, top leader of the Party. All these activities are manifestations of witch hunting that will not accrue well for the country and the democracy, he observed.
He maintained that the PPP was against corruption, but the observance of due process of law was the condition precedent to deal with such cases. Arrests of senior leaders of the PPP without the due process of law are sheer political victimization that would be resisted by the Party, he asserted.