Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hillary Clinton to Propose Scrapping Health Law’s ‘Cadillac Tax’

Hillary Rodham Clinton will in the coming days speak out against the so-called Cadillac tax on certain health care plans, a move that is part of a series of reforms she’s suggesting for the Affordable Care Act, according to a union official briefed on her plans.
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign aides informed Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, of her intentions in the last few days, according to a senior official with the labor group. The union made an early endorsement of Mrs. Clinton in July.
Many of the union’s members would be affected by the Cadillac tax, which imposes taxes on pricey employer-based coverage plans whose premiums exceed $10,200 a year for individuals and $27,500 for families. The tax is imposed on employers, who can avoid it by reducing benefits to their workers. Its purpose is to help rein in health care costs over all.
Mrs. Clinton had indicated concerns about the tax in a questionnaire she answered for the union this year ahead of the endorsement.
A campaign official confirmed Ms. Weingarten’s account of Mrs. Clinton’s plans, but declined to elaborate.
Still, Mrs. Clinton has devoted this week and next to focusing on making fixes to President Obama’s signature health care law, which she has described as generally effective but in need of certain tweaks.
Mrs. Clinton’s move could help draw support for her campaign from other unions that have been holding off making an endorsement, in part because of support among organized labor’s rank-and-file for Senator Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont.
Those briefed on her plans said she will have a method of replacing the lost revenue in the Cadillac tax through other means.


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Coalition with participation of Assad is only reasonable way of combating IS — expert

David Speedie, the Director of the Carnegie Council’s program on US Global Engagement called president Putin's proposal a sensible one, indeed the only coherent response to the Islamic State threat.

Building a broad anti-terrorist coalition based on international law, which would interact with the Syrian authorities is the only effective way of countering the Islamic State terrorist group, David Speedie, the Director of the Carnegie Council’s program on US Global Engagement, told TASS, commenting on the initiative of the Russian President Vladimir Putin on this particular issue put forward at the United Nations on Monday.
"Of course President Putin's proposal is a sensible one, indeed the only coherent response to the ISIL threat," he said. "President Rouhani of Iran said basically the same thing at an event in New York yesterday: the first order of business must be eliminating the terrorist threat in Syria," the expert noted.
He added that one of the obstacles to the stabilization of the situation in Syria was Washington’s stance, according to which the Syrian government should be excluded from the peace process, and Assad’s resignation is the condition for the settlement. "The truth is that US-led insistence hitherto on Mr Assad’s departure as a precondition for ending violence has been a major obstacle," the political scientist said.
According to Speedie, "it seems that a priori removal from office would hardly act as an incentive for the Syrian leader to participate" in the negotiation process.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in his speech at the 70th session of the UN general Assembly described as illegitimate any actions of countries in circumvention of the UN Charter. He called for creating a broad anti-terrorist coalition, which would be fighting with Islamic State on the basis of international law and the UN Charter.

UN Says Deadly Saudi-Led Coalition Attack in Yemen Killed Mostly Women and Children

A deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike that hit a wedding in Yemen on Monday predominantly killed women and children, according to UN officials who spoke with VICE News.
Upwards of 130 people reportedly died when the airstrike struck tents full of people in Al-Wahijah, a village near the port of Mokha in the western part of the country. According to some reports, the wedding was for someone associated with the Houthis.
"We can confirm the airstrike struck a wedding party," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN's human rights office, told VICE News. "In Yemen, they separate women and men at parties — the airstrike hit the womens' party, and that's why the majority of victims are women and children."
The coalition denied that an airstrike had taken place in the vicinity of al-Wahijah.
The first accounts of the airstrike emerged as US Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders that the Saudi-led bombing campaign had killed a disproportionate number of Yemen's civilians since it began in late March.
"All sides are showing disregard for human life — but most of the casualties are being caused by airstrikes," Ban told world leaders as he opened this year's general debate. "I call for an end to the bombings, which are also destroying Yemeni cities, infrastructure, and heritage."
UN officials said Ban's language, and an explicit call for an end to air operations targeting Houthi rebels and their allies, expressed a growing frustration with the Saudi coalition, which operates with the blessing of Yemen's president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
Hours later, the Secretary-General's office further condemned the airstrike, saying it may have killed "as many as 135 people."
The UN's outspoken denunciation of what may be the conflict's deadliest single attack also coincided with what appeared to be a shift in position on the part of American officials, who told VICE News on Tuesday that they supported initiatives to establish a human rights mission to investigate crimes committed in Yemen. The US, which provides logistical and targeting support to the coalition — in addition to selling billions of dollars in armaments to Gulf States — wavered for more than a week after the Netherlands introduced a resolution authorizing such a mission at the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva.
On Tuesday, however, a spokesperson for the US mission in Geneva told VICE News, "Yes, we support the Dutch position."
Complicating matters in recent days was a dueling text, introduced by Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, shortly after the Dutch resolution. The alternative resolution did not reference a UN human rights investigation, but gave preference to an existing national inquiry established by the Yemeni government on September 7.
This week, the Netherlands and the Saudis, along with Yemen, tabled new versions of their resolutions. In their first proposal, the Dutch had already toned down certain language, stopping short of calling for a Commission of Inquiry, as was established for Syria. The latest text still requested the UN's human rights office, "together with relevant experts and dedicated support staff, to monitor the situation of human rights to collect and conserve information."
The team, according to the Dutch resolution, would have access to the entire country and "all relevant parties" in order to "establish the facts and circumstances of serious violations and abuses committed by all parties in Yemen since September 2014."
The Saudi counter-proposal, which human rights groups already called laughable, was further watered down in its new form. Not only does it not call for an international, independent investigation, but language addressing the UN Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights' production of a progress report on human rights in Yemen was replaced with a request merely for an update on "implementation of the program of technical assistance and capacity building in the field of human rights in Yemen."
Barring negotiations reaching a unified text, which seems unlikely, a final vote on each proposal is expected at the start of October.
More than 5,000 people have been killed by all sides since the start of the coalition intervention on March 26, according to the UN. Nearly half of them — 2,355 — have been civilians, and an additional 4,862 non-combatants have been wounded. The UN's human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, has called for an independent international human rights inquiry in Yemen that would investigate violations of international law committed by all sides.
On Tuesday, Zeid's office, responding to questions raised by coalition-member Jordan, defended its human rights reporting, which has similarly indicated airstrikes are causing the majority of civilian casualties.
"Members of the High Commissioner's team in Yemen have taken considerable trouble, at great personal risk, to verify as many incidents as they can," said spokesman Rupert Colville.
Colville, quoting a report issued by Zeid earlier this month in which he called for an inquiry, acknowledged that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was "unable to verify the vast majority of allegations of human rights violations and abuses or violations of international law."
"For this reason, among others, the High Commissioner's report recommended that coalition forces and the Government of Yemen ensure prompt, thorough, effective, independent, and impartial investigations," Colville said.

Time to break up with Saudi Arabia

By Nathan Gonzalez
It's hard to keep up with the barbarity the state's leaders keep flaunting: crucifixions, beheadings, institutionalized slavery, sexual repression and other large scale injustices inspired by a dark interpretation of Wahhabi Islam. Of course, I am not talking about the group known as ISIS. I am talking about Saudi Arabia.
Today, Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest recipients of American military hardware, and we continuously refer to them as our partner. But we aren't really partners anymore. We may have hooked up with the Saudis at a time when we were desperate. But now our nation is strong and mature enough to recognize a dysfunctional relationship when it sees one. And if this isn't dysfunction, I don't know what is.
Let's start with Saudis' crimes against humanity, which have earned them Freedom House's label of "worst of the worst" among repressive nations — a distinction shared only with Somalia, North Korea and a handful of other countries. This year alone, Saudi Arabia has decapitated over 100 people for crimes that included sorcery and adultery.
Now the Kingdom is set to outdo itself with the planned crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, a young anti-government activist arrested in 2012 at the age of 17 and tortured into confessing to a litany of crimes. We condemn ISIS for such acts of barbarity. But when Saudis do it, we apparently invite them for dinner at the White House.
Those who argue in favor of keeping our relationship intact are still living in the past. Back in 1945, when President Roosevelt met with King Ibn Saud aboard the USS Quincy, oil was a critical commodity that America needed to safeguard in order to finish the war. But times change. Today we get our oil on the open market, and the Saudis are too addicted to the largesse that fossil fuels have offered them — they aren't going to stop selling oil now.
During the Cold War, the Saudis fought secular communism by offering a conservative vision to the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia even provided many of the foot soldiers to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, helping to precipitate the fall of the USSR. This, of course, came at a cost. Some of those foot soldiers, like Saudi jihadist Osama bin Laden, eventually turned their weapons on America. More worryingly, the extremist version of Islam that the Kingdom has so eagerly exported by building religious institutions around the world is still going strong and is now doing untold damage to in places like Pakistan and Bangladesh. There, the Saudi brand of Wahhabi Islam has at least some responsibility to bear for the continuous waves of violence against religious minorities and women in these countries.
Of course, we have seen some of that jihad friendly ideology play out in Iraq. Back when America was losing thousands of service members and untold billions trying to keep Iraq from collapsing, the largest number of foreign suicide bombers streaming into the country were Saudis. Many of them joined al-Qaida in Iraq, the organization that we now call the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
Today, jihadists and Saudis share some important goals. In Syria, the Saudis are actively funding extremists to topple the government, bankrolling part of the civil war that has led to massive death and displacement long after any chance of rebel success has been lost. In Iraq the Saudis have made it clear in their actions they would rather see a weak Iraq than the Shiite government we have supported. The Saudis and Americans have grown so far apart, they don't even share the same goals for the future.
But even dysfunctional relationships have their upsides. For the U.S.-Saudi partnership, it is information sharing. Today, the Saudis and Americans are sharing troves of intelligence. And yet, much of this information is being used to help Saudi Arabia in their war on Yemen — a humanitarian pummeling that has already cost thousands of lives.
Our relationship with Saudi Arabia has played itself out. It is stale and awkward. It is only surprising that it lasted as long as it did. But all things must come to an end, and now is time to look at the Kingdom in the eye and speak the truth: It's not us, Saudi Arabia, it's you.

Time to boycott Saudi Arabia

By Asra Nomani

The horrific, bloody stampede that killed more than 700 in Saudi Arabia and injured some 900 more last week on the pilgrimage of the Hajj took me back to a moment during my family's pilgrimage in the winter of 2003.
Back then, we found ourselves at the gates of the "Sacred Mosque" of Mecca, just past a Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Sheraton Makkah Hotel and Towers, caught in a frightening crush of pilgrims as they tried to storm into the mosque for a final circumambulation, or tawaaf, around the iconic black cubed building, called the Kaaba.
The pilgrims who died never completed this final ritual.
Neither did my family.
In the hard press of pilgrims against us, my mother held tight to my preteen niece and nephew, their nimble bodies dwarfed in the stampede of men and women, oblivious to the children around them.
My father, meanwhile, burrowed into the crowd like a mole. I passed my son, Shibli, then 3 months old, to a young Muslim convert in our group, because he had stronger footing in the spiritual mosh pit in which we were drowning.
    The crowd pulsed with each step we took closer to the Sacred Mosque.
    But we chose to not complete the requisite circling of the Kaaba because we had a religious epiphany there, in that supposedly sacred space, as we faced near death. The truth is that chasing external rituals, or "orthopraxy," at risk of life and limb, is not only dangerous but also foolish and most certainly not spiritually enlightened.
    Now, I get a new realization as I follow the details of the horrible stampede and listen to callous-sounding Saudi government officials, one of whom blamed the victims as "some pilgrims from African nationalities." Or the Saudi journalist who said on CNN that the pilgrims might have "made a wrong turn" and "defied the order of police."
    I am more certain than ever that Muslims need to boycott the multibillion-dollar industry of the Hajj, its rituals and a Saudi regime that exploits its role as "custodian" of the holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to secure moral immunity. This despite the country's awful human rights record, the denial of the vote for women, deadly stampedes and fires like the Hajj carnage, and the exporting of a violent interpretation of Islam.
    Just this June, for example, a Saudi court reportedly upheld a sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison against a human rights activist and blogger, Raif Badawi, for "apostasy." On September 11, a crane on a project operated by the Saudi Binladin Group, started by Osama bin Laden's father, fell to the marbled floors of the palatial mosque in Mecca, killing more than 100 pilgrims and injuring hundreds of others.
    And just days ago, HBO talk show host Bill Maher posted a widely shared Tweet to advocate for the release of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, an activist from the minority Shia sect, sentenced by a Saudi court to death by, yes, crucifixion. Sadly, around the world, Islamic terrorist groups, from Boko Haram in Nigeria to ISIS in Syria, espouse the Saudi-backed theologies of Islam called Wahhabism and Salafism.
    It's time to boycott Saudi Arabia.
    "(W)hether they execute, crush under cranes, lash or amputate, their association with holy places is their 'get out of jail free' card," says Uzma Yunus, a Pakistani-American physician living in Chicago.
    In the year 630, in the place where hundreds of pilgrims were trampled last week, the prophet Mohammed led 10,000 soldiers on a march to Mecca. The city surrendered without a fight, and the former goat herder destroyed the idols of 360 gods. Later, he reconstructed a shrine to Allah as a monotheistic god.
    Islamic history marked this juncture as the end of the period of Jahiliya, or ignorance. Mohammed died two years later, yet within a century, the empire of his successors stretched from Spain to Afghanistan. It engulfed the armies of the Persians and the Byzantines and reached as far as the gates of Vienna.
    But back in 2003, as we were squeezed from all sides, I couldn't escape one thought: Just like the soldiers who accompanied the prophet Mohammed, we could die in Mecca, in a new age of Jahiliya.
    We learned we could sacrifice a poor lamb if we couldn't finish the circumambulation. My father and I stood, staring at the scrum around the Kaaba, confused. My mother was clear as a bell about whether we should any longer participate in the spiritual heist of the Hajj pilgrimage.
    "Don't do it," she said.
    And we don't.

    Indonesia slams Saudi Arabia for slow response to Hajj pilgrimage disaster

    Indonesia complains its diplomats only got full access to its Hajj dead in Mina on Monday night.

    Indonesia criticized Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for its slow response to the hajj pilgrimage disaster in Mina, saying its diplomats only received full access to the dead and injured days after the crush.
    The criticism from Indonesia, the Muslim world’s most populous country, comes as its officials, as well as those in India and Pakistan, say that Saudi officials gave foreign diplomats some 1,100 pictures of those killed in last week’s disaster.
    The Saudi Health Ministry’s latest figures, released Saturday, put the toll at 769 people killed and 934 injured in the stampede. Saudi officials have yet to comment on the discrepancy in the toll as countries around the world struggle to identify their dead.
    Authorities in the kingdom only granted Indonesian diplomats full access to the dead on Monday night, including forensic records like fingerprints, said Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, an official in Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry. He said 46 Indonesian pilgrims died in the Mina crush, while 10 were injured and 90 remain missing.
    Lukman Hakim Saifudin, Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, said in a statement Monday that Indonesians did not have free access to hospitals to search for injured Indonesians.
    “The Saudi Arabian government has its own regulation, tradition, culture and procedures in dealing with such cases,” Saifuddin said from Mecca. “This has not allowed us enough freedom in our effort to identify” the victims.
    Saudi authorities have said that the disaster began when two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road last Thursday during the final days of the annual hajj in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. Survivors say the crowding caused people to suffocate and eventually trample one another in the worst disaster to befall the annual pilgrimage in a quarter-century.
    Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional Shiite archrival, has criticized the Sunni kingdom over the hajj disaster and daily protests have taken place near the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Iranian state media also have suggested that the death toll in the disaster was far higher, without providing any corroboration.
    On Tuesday, Iranian state television quoted deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying Iran will not allow Saudi Arabia to bury Iranian pilgrims in Mecca. The disaster killed at least 228 Iranian pilgrims, while 248 remain missing, state television has said.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who criticized Saudi Arabia for what he called “incompetence and mismanagement” of the hajj at the UN General Assembly on Monday, cancelled his planned events in New York on Tuesday to return to Tehran.
    In Pakistan, the country’s Supreme Court said it received a citizen’s petition asking it to open an investigation into the hajj disaster. So far, no hearing has been set. Meanwhile, its Religious Affairs Ministry said at least 44 Pakistani pilgrims died at Mina, while 35 were injured.
    Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa told the state-run Middle East News Agency that 74 Egyptian citizens are among the dead at Mina, while 98 remain missing.
    The hajj this year drew some 2 million pilgrims from 180 countries, though over the past few years it has drawn more than 3 million without any major incidents. Able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the five-day pilgrimage once in their lifetime, and each year poses a massive logistical challenge for the kingdom.
    This year also marked the first hajj overseen by King Salman, who holds the title of “custodian of the two holy mosques,” which gives the monarchy great religious clout and prestige in the Muslim world.
    But even before the hajj began, disaster struck Mecca as a tower construction crane crashed into the Grand Mosque on Sept. 11, killing at least 111 people.

    SAUDI WAR CRIMES - Yemeni wedding attack: ''135 civilians killed'' - ‘Houthis don’t have fighter jets!’

    Who is to blame for the ongoing bloodshed, humanitarian catastrophe in #Yemen?

    Posted by RT Play on Tuesday, September 29, 2015
    • ‘UN, international community should directly condemn Saudis for attacks’...
    • ‘It’s a massacre, whether we like it or not’...
    • Attack site –‘closest point to the most strategic Red Sea strait’...

    An airstrike allegedly carried out by Saudi Arabian forces has killed at least 135 people at a wedding party in Yemen. Who is to blame for the ongoing bloodshed and what should be done to stop it?
    The Saudi-led coalition denied it’s responsible for the assault on the wedding celebration and blamed local militia for the firing.

    ‘Nobody is conducting airstrikes but the Saudis..’

    To prevent more civilian deaths, the international community should first of all condemn “the Saudis directly” rather than water down the situation by saying that “all parties are responsible,” political analyst Hisham Omeisy in Sana’a told RT.
    “The Houthis don’t have fighter jets,” he said. “[The Saudis] keep saying that it’s somebody else... the Saudis yesterday, for instance, denied it was them, that it must have been the Houthis. For god sake, the Houthis don’t have fighter jets. Nobody is conducting airstrikes but the Saudis...  The UN and the international community need to directly condemn the Saudis for these attacks, they need to take harder line.”

    Wedding attack – ‘a massacre’

    “Actually, this is a daily routine now that Saudi-led coalition warplanes are bombing civilians in Yemen under the pretext of shelling the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh opposition,” says Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London-based 'al-Quds al-Arabi', an independent pan-Arab daily newspaper.
    “In fact…they bombed the wedding party, regardless who is the groom and who is the bride. It is actually a massacre, whether we like it or not, whether with agree with this coalition or not. Six months of heavy bombardment, definitely the civilian casualties are escalating day after day. This is the silent war. I am surprised nobody is paying attention to this war where civilian are killed.”

    ‘Strategic region was repeatedly attacked’

    The wedding celebration that got hit by an airstrike took place not far from Mokha, a Yemeni port city on the Red Sea coast. The region of Mokha, has so far “witnessed aerial bombardment on many occasions,” said Muhammad Al-Attab, a Yemeni-based journalist.
    “These people got together at the wedding ceremony in the area of Wahija … which is the closest point to the most strategic international strait of Bab-el-Mandeb,” he added. 
    “This region has been bombarded by Saudi warplanes, as many human rights activists are saying,” said Al-Attab. The previous time Mokha got hit by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, he noted, “they said they were not behind such an attack that targeted the residential area for a power station where more than 100 people were killed.” 
    “But this time Saudi Arabia said it has mistakenly targeted this gathering of people, according to the report I read,” the journalist added.

    Repeated attacks on market places in Yemen

    The wedding airstrike has become the deadliest single incident since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen. However, crowded places have come under attacks on a number of occasions, said researcher Belkis Wille from Human Rights Watch.
    There have been many airstrikes since the beginning of this war that led to large civilian casualty numbers. I’ve documented several strikes since the beginning of the war on market places, because market places are going to be crowded. In one strike you see 60-65 people killed all at once, all civilians,” she said. “By the laws of war you can’t target them, especially when there is no military around,” she added.
    Under the laws of war of course there is a key principle of proportionality. So if you got one, let’s say, Houthi fighter going to have lunch at a local restaurant in the middle of the market place, and you, as the Saudi-led coalition decide to bomb the entire market place and kill 65 civilians just to get that Houthi fighter, because he is having his lunch, that doesn’t meet the proportionality requirement...”
    Wille said that HRW representatives will visit the site of the deadly attack on Tuesday and examine what they can find on the ground, including ammunition and the size of the craters to determine whether it was an airstrike or the attack was launched from the ground.

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    Obama tells Pentagon to open channel of communication with Russia on Syria

    A day after an Obama-Putin summit at which the White House said it had reached “clarity” on Russian intentions in Syria, Barack Obama’s defense chief instructed his staff to establish a communication channel with the Kremlin to ensure the safety of US and Russian military operations.
    Ashton Carter, the US defense secretary, seeks to “avoid conflict in the air” between the two militaries, said Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman.
    “The safety of coalition pilots [is] critically important to us. We do not want misjudgment and miscalculation. We do not want an accident to take place,” Cook said.
    Cook said the initial and primary purpose of the channel, agreed to on Monday between Obama and Putin at the United Nations, is to ensure no accident takes place between US and Russian pilots. But he did not rule out the communications line as a potential mechanism for outright cooperation with the Russian military against Islamic State (Isis).
    A senior official advising Obama at the UN summit on Monday said Obama emerged from his meeting with Putin with “clarity” on the objectives of Russia’s dramatic out-of-area deployment of military force in Syria: “to go after Isil and to support the government” of Bashar Assad.

    Russia has sent more than two dozen military jets – including the Sukhoi Su-24 bomber; the Su-25 close air support “Frogfoot”; and surveillance drones – to Assad’s western Latakia air base, the site of heavy Russian expansion during September. The US conducts daily airstrikes against Isis forces, mostly in the Syrian east that the jihadist army has wrested from Assad’s control.
    Observers have interpreted the Russian buildup as a play to bolster Assad, a Putin client, and to ensure Russian influence over any post-Assad government as a fallback, with attacking Isis as a distant priority.
    It raises questions about whether the Russians will use their air presence to attack the few anti-Assad forces whom the US is training to battle Isis – a program that has come under review after it has failed to produce the ground army the US administration promised last year would roll back Isis gains – much as the new “deconfliction” channel raises the prospect of Russian attempts to stop US flights on behalf of Assad’s enemies.
    Cook warned Russia against any moves against anti-Assad forces under US sponsorship.
    “Anything that undermines their effectiveness would be something of concern,” Cook said.

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    Afghanistan - Why the Taliban takeover of Kunduz is a big deal

    By Jethro Mullen

    The loss of the major city of Kunduz to the Taliban is a stunning reversal for the Afghan government, deepening worries about the ability of its security forces to take the fight to the Islamic militants.
    Afghan officials vowed to quickly drive the Taliban back out again from the northern provincial capital where the insurgents freed hundreds of inmates from a prison and raised their white flag at points around town.
    On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry reported some areas had already been reclaimed and promised "a big military operation" to come. The United States also appeared to join the fray, carrying out an airstrike in Kunduz province.
    As the world watches, the embattled Afghan government can't afford to let the Taliban hang on to a key population center.
    Here are the main reasons why the fall of Kunduz is a big deal:

    It's the biggest Taliban victory since 2001

    A U.S.-led coalition helped local Afghan forces drive the Taliban out of Kabul, the capital, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. But stamping out the Taliban across the rest of the country proved to be an elusive goal.
      The militants no longer held sway in the main cities but remained a deadly foe, clashing with foreign troops over Afghanistan's rugged terrain and launching frequent suicide attacks in population centers. After 13 years and the deaths of thousands of its service members, the international coalition ended its combat mission last year, leaving Afghan forces at the forefront of the fight.
      The loss of Kunduz, even if the Afghan government manages to take it back soon, is an ominous sign. It's Afghanistan's fifth largest city and the capital of the province of the same name.
      "This is the biggest town they've been able to take since 2001," said Nic Robertson, CNN's international diplomatic editor. "This is a significant target and prize for the Taliban."

      It highlights the weakness of Afghanistan's NATO-trained forces

      The U.S. government has tried to portray the handover of combat duties to Afghan troops as a step forward.
      "Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we've trained their security forces, who've now taken the lead," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address in January.
      But analysts have expressed concern about issues like corruption, poor recruitment and problematic coordination among the different branches of the Afghan security forces: the army, police and local militias.
      The Taliban's intent to try to take Kunduz was well flagged, and yet Afghan forces were unable to hold the city despite outnumbering the attackers. "Since about April this year, the Taliban increased their strength in the countryside to the north of Kunduz and have essentially had it in their sights since then," Robertson said.

      It complicates the next move for the U.S.

      The fall of Kunduz comes at an awkward time for U.S. officials as they debate what kind of military presence they want to have in Afghanistan in the coming years. Gen. John Campbell, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is due to testify before a U.S. Senate committee about the situation in Afghanistan next week.
      The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Campbell had sent five different proposals to the Pentagon and NATO officials on what to do with the roughly 10,000 U.S. troops currently in the country, most of whom are there to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.
      The recommendations range from keeping U.S. troops at their current level or sticking to the current plan to cut them dramatically to a small force by the end of next year, the report said. In a fresh indication of the Afghans' continued reliance on American backup, the U.S. military said it carried out an airstrike in Kunduz province on Tuesday.

      It shows the Taliban remain a force to be reckoned with

      The militant group hasn't had the easiest year. ISIS has been reported to be eating into its recruitment efforts in Afghanistan, and internal divisions in the Taliban were laid bare after the admission that longtime leader Mullah Omar had died more than two years ago.
      But despite initial questions over whether the group would fall apart, new leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour appears to have overcome the bumpy start and can now point to big blow against the Afghan government in Kunduz.
      The Taliban appear to have made the most of the first summer fighting season since NATO troops took a step back. But there are still doubts about the militant group's ability to hold onto large areas of territory.
      "It can destabilize far more than it can control," said a report in May by the Brookings Institution.

      It's a fresh blow for the Afghan government

      The Kunduz defeat is an embarrassing setback for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who's had a troubled first year in office. He took power after a lengthy political standoff with his main rival that paralyzed government. Problems have continued since then, including the inability to find a nominee for the key role of defense minister whom lawmakers will approve.
      "The country's deep and broad political divisions and wounds, exacerbated by the presidential election, have not begun to heal," the Brookings report said.
      The Taliban resurgence and the increasingly apparent shortcomings of the Afghan security forces are likely to do further damage to Ghani's leadership credentials.
      "The army by its retreat yesterday, and the police by their retreat as well, have really shown that there are question marks over the government's ability to impose its writ in Kunduz, at least in the short term," Robertson said.

      Video Report - Afghan forces battle Talbian to retake Kunduz

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      Pakistani Christians condemns government’s systemic discrimination

      Pakistani Christians have condemned a job advertisement published on September 16, 2015 by the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. It said that only non-Muslim males and females will be appointed as sanitary workers (sweepers), whereas the jobs of security guard, maids or ward boy did not indicate any religious specification. 

      CLAAS believes that such adverts are discriminatory and the government must take action against those who have been involved in the framing of such controversial policy against non-Muslims in Punjab, because such policies and statements are against equality and could promote hatred against non-Muslims who are already indigenous and vulnerable groups and suffering because of government’s’ discriminatory policies.

      CLAAS also believes that all humans are made equal and non-Muslims should not be considered inferior on basis of religion and singled out for particularly menial jobs. Though non-Muslims are a minority, they have been doing a great job since the partition of the Pakistan and have contributed in various fields such as education, healthcare, defense, human rights, the entertainment industry and other developmental sectors. 

      The young people from the non-Muslim community despite of less opportunity are ready to compete in public sector employment with their highly qualified academics. There is a very long list of the bureaucrats, generals, presidents and prime ministers who have studied in non-Muslim schools and colleges and have a lot of respect for those communities and institutions. 

      The Government of Pakistan has already agreed to achieve sustainable development goals (SDG) goals by 2030. In the light of SDG goals, individuals will be provided with decent jobs without any inequality. The above mentioned job advertisement is a clear indication of religious discrimination, in which, non-Muslims are stigmatised and treated as inferior to Muslims, violating their human rights. 

      CLAAS has demanded that the Punjab Institute of Cardiology should withdraw the respective advertisement, submit an apology and take necessary steps to ensure that this mistake is not repeated. The human rights commission of Pakistan and The Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, should also take notice of the situation where Pakistan’s name can be maligned because of a few people’s own ideas, and ask them for clarification. - See more at: http://www.pakistanchristianpost.com/detail.php?hnewsid=5620#sthash.Ivbvuu73.dpuf

      Pakistan - More than 70% federal government jobs allocated for minorities lying vacant

      Despite a fixed legitimate quota reserved for minorities in government jobs, more than 70% of the seats reserved for the minorities in the government sector are still vacant
      According to details, recent figures and facts about jobs vacancies available in Federal government sector and the recruitment for those vacant situations were presented before the Parliament just recently. The report plainly highlighted that about 8,126 job posts allocated for minorities under the quota system are currently vacant.
      These job positions are available in government sector including various ministries, divisions, associated departments and autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies of the government.
      The report made plain that at present only 2,447 non-Muslims are employed in various departments under the administration of Federal government. “An estimated 11,573 posts can be sanctioned under the 5% quota reserved for non-Muslims,” the report stated.
      The total number of jobs sanctioned for Federal government sector are 390,278. Out of these, about 2,447 are occupied by non-Muslims and further 8,126 allocated for the non-Muslims are vacant.The Establishment Division, which is the main government body dealing with job posts under Federal Government declared that about 7,866 general posts which vary from Grade 1 till Grade 22 in a variety of ministries, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, divisions and various other government authorities are yet to be filled by the minorities.
      Seeing the sluggishness of government in not recruiting minorities to their allocated seats various political parties and Members of the Parliament condemned the government for inaction over the issue of ignoring minorities. They urged the government to take substantial steps to fill in thousands of positions allocated for minorities lying vacant since years.
      Pakistan People’s Party leader Farhatullah Baber urged the Chairman of Senate Raza Rabbani to take effective steps for the recruiting minorities to their allocated seats as he said these “communities are already facing discrimination.” Awami National Party’s Amar Jeet criticized the government of “breaking its social contract with the minority communities.” Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s Talha Mahmood stated that government officials are taking bribes and filling in the job positions. He urged a thorough investigation be carried out over ignorance of minorities on part of the government.

      - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/islamabad-more-than-70-federal-government-jobs-allocated-for-minorities-lying-vacant/#sthash.mNbLEXTr.dpuf

      Families of Pakistani Hajj victims blast Islamabad’s dishonesty over Mina massacre

      The families of the Pakistani victims and the missing Hajj pilgrims of the tragic incident of Mina, Mecca, gathered in front of the country’s major airports, including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to show their protest at Islamabad’s poor performance in dealing with the disaster.
      The Pakistani protesters called on Islamabad to state true figures when announcing the death toll among the country’s pilgrims killed during the stampede in Mina on Thursday.
      A victim’s family member said that Pakistani officials should take action to specify the real number of the victims and show honesty in this regard.
      The Pakistani government has not provided the real death toll of its Hajj pilgrims killed in the Mina incident.
      A stampede during one of the last rituals of the Hajj season killed more than 2,000 people and left 2,000 wounded.
      The stampede occurred during the ritual known as “stoning the devil” in the tent city of Mina, about two miles from Mecca.
      Pakistan is among those nations who have lost the largest number of nationals in the Thursday stampede, and Islamabad’s leniency towards Saudi Arabia over the Mina crush has angered the Pakistani people.
      Reports from Pakistani media and journalists on Monday revealed that the country’s intelligence body, ISI, has issued serious warnings to all the country’s media outlets to avoid conducting interviews with pilgrims and their families about the lethal incidents in Mecca this year or releasing figures of those who have lost their lives or gone missing in the stampede.
      A senior Pakistani religious leader on Monday called on Islamabad to declare the real number of the Hajj pilgrims killed during the Hajj stampede in Mina.
      “The secrecy concerning the true number of victims of Mina incident not only does not solve anything, but is also make the situation more complicated; therefore the Pakistani government should announce the exact number of Pakistani pilgrims killed in Hajj rituals in Mina,” Sahibzada Abu-al-Khair Muhammad Zubair, President of Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), told FNA.
      A Pakistani citizen has also filed a complaint against the Islamabad government for not declaring true figures of the Pakistani nationals who have died or gone missing in the Thursday stampede in Mina near Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
      Mahmoud Akhtar Naghavi has sued 14 senior Pakistani officials, including prime minister and religious affairs minister, for not providing accurate information on the number of the Pakistanis killed in Mina, the Urdu-language Express newspaper reported on Monday.
      “The (Pakistani) government is duty-bound to publish a list of the names and the real number of the victims and the missing Hajj pilgrims in order to remove concerns among the families of the pilgrims,” the daily quoted Naghavi as saying.
      Muhammad Zubair voiced regret over the prevailing situation in Mecca, and said, “This is very regretting that the Hajj pilgrims lost their lives for the presence of a Saudi royal family member; if this is true. The Saudi royal family is assassin of the Hajj pilgrims.”
      Sources revealed on Thursday that the convoy of Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud caused panic among millions of pilgrims and started the stampede.
      “The large convoy of Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud, the King’s son and deputy crown prince, that was escorted by over 3,50 security forces, including 200 army men and 150 policemen, sped up the road to go through the pilgrims that were moving towards the site of the ‘Stoning the Devil’ ritual, causing panic among millions of pilgrims who were on the move from the opposite direction and caused the stampede,” several Arab papers, including the Arabic language al-Dyar newspaper, disclosed on Thursday evening.
      “That’s why the ruler of Mecca has distanced himself from the case, stressing that the issue should be studied and decided by the King,” it added.
      Eye witnesses said earlier that the Saudi police and security forces had closed two of the few roads to the stone column that were to be used by millions of pilgrims to do the ‘Stoning the Devil’ ritual today.
      Saeed Ohadi, the head of Iran’s Hajj organization, accused Saudi Arabia of safety errors and mismanagement.
      He said for “unknown reasons” the paths had been closed off near the scene of the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual where the accident later took place.
      “This caused this tragic incident,” he told the Iranian state television.
      Eyewitness accounts said that even after incident the Saudi security and military forces closed all paths leading to the scene and the bodies of pilgrims have piled up on each other.