Thursday, October 15, 2015
Over the past 24 hours, Russian warplanes completed 33 sorties in Syria, striking ISIL facilities in the provinces of Idlib, Hama, Damascus, Aleppo, and Deir az-Zor, the Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday.
In the province of Hama Russian warplanes destroyed a professionally camouflaged artillery battery, the Defense Ministry spokesman went on to say. According to him, it was detected by Russian military drones.
Washington’s decision to obstruct Russia’s call for diplomatic engagement on Syria is unconstructive and apparently shows a lack of will to negotiate, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
“I don’t really understand how our American partners can criticize Russia’s counterterrorism effort in Syria while refusing direct dialogue on the all-important issue of political settlement,” Putin explained.
Putin was commenting on the refusal by the Obama administration to receive a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the differences the two nations have on the Syrian crisis. The US said it would not talk unless Russia followed Washington’s lead and stopped helping the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
"I believe this position to be unconstructive. The weakness of this position is apparently based on a lack of agenda. It seems they have nothing to discuss,” Putin said at a meeting with the Kazakhstan president in Astana.
READ MORE: US refuses to receive PM Medvedev’s delegation to coordinate anti-terrorist actions in Syria
He added that by obstructing Russia’s invitation to negotiate the US undermines itself, as it voices criticism of Russia’s actions in Syria, but doesn’t seek ways to resolve its concerns.
Russia this month launched a bombing campaign targeting terrorist forces in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government. The goal is to curb the violence sufficiently for a political dialogue to start in the war-torn country.
Washington wants the Syrian government to fall, hoping that so-called ‘moderate rebels’ will fill in the vacuum. It accuses Russia of bombing those supposed moderate forces instead of hardcore jihadists, an allegation that Moscow denies.
Who is affected: International NGOs (INGOs)
What happened: Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar announced new policy on 1 October requiring INGOs to apply to the Pakistani government in order to operate and raise funds within the country.
Under the Policy for the Regulation of INGOs in Pakistan, any unregistered groups will be banned from functioning inside the country. All INGOs currently working in Pakistan must re-register within 60 days, and the new INGO committee has 60 days to scrutinise the application. They will have sole power over approving registration, and will closely monitor the work of the organisations.
INGOs will then have to submit an annual plan of action, outlining all envisaged projects and budget. Their operations will be restricted to specific issues and certain geographical areas.
What are the implications? INGOs could be disbanded on the grounds of “involvement in any activity inconsistent with Pakistan’s national interests, or contrary to government policy.”
The policy is meant to secure greater accountability for INGOs, after Nisar claimedseveral international organisations have been involved in anti-state activities. But Human Rights Watch has warned it will worsen the “already deteriorating working climate” for these organisations.
Reactions: “Pakistan’s new rules allow the authorities to kick out international groups for anything they might do or say,” says Brad Adams, Asia director atHuman Rights Watch. “The regulations are an invitation to arbitrary use of power and will put at risk any international organisation whose work exposes government failures. This new policy harks back to an era of military rule when the government used phoney claims of threats to national security to muffle critical voices in civil society.”
At the time of publication, the High Commission for Pakistan had not responded to a request for comment on the policy.
By Ashraf Ali
Pakistan's army chief could not have been more blunt.
"Daesh (Islamic State) is a bigger threat than Al Qaeda," General Raheel Sharif declared during his recent address at London's Royal United Services Institute.
He added that "some elements" in Pakistan's capital Islamabad wanted to show allegiance to Islamic State.
The popular general's comments underscore IS's threat to regional security on the sub-continent, and its emerging links to established terror groups.
Militancy has changed its face many times in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region over recent decades — from Mujahid to Mullah, Taliban to Al Qaeda.
Now IS is spreading its message across the region.
"The self-styled Islamic State has expanded the war from physical to virtual spaces which has made the challenge of terrorism even more complex," Afghan security analyst Inayatullah Kakar says.
But IS's emergence in the region has not been without resistance.
The Afghan Taliban has been fighting for every metre of its territory and scores of people have died in the continuing clashes between the two groups.
Haroon Rashid, editor of the BBC in Pakistan, says IS is taking advantage of perceived Taliban weaknesses.
"IS wanted to exploit the situation by capitalising on the internal differences within the top ranking Taliban leadership — first over the long absence and then after the news of the death of its reclusive leader, Mullah Omar," Mr Rashid says.
But, he adds, "the Taliban's recent takeover of the northern Kunduz province and its continuing efforts in the northern Badakhshan, Takhar and Baghlan provinces, as a show of strength with its new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur, was a clear message to the rival group".
Key Taliban figures switch allegiance to Islamic State
While IS has had setbacks in Afghanistan, it has been able to attract some influential leaders from the Taliban's Pakistan wing (TTP).
Islamic State's Pakistan opening came when TTP commanders were left disgruntled in the wake of a recent power struggle.
PHOTO: Islamic State's manifesto has been distributed in provinces in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Supplied: Ashraf Ali)
Six TTP commanders, including Hafiz Saeed Khan and spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, switched allegiance to IS early this year.
Hafiz Saeed, who was later appointed as head of IS in Pakistan, and deputies Abdul Rauf Khadim and Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost led the defections.
All three were killed in US drone attacks in Afghanistan, where some Taliban leaders fled following Pakistan's security crackdown earlier this year.
Critics claim Pakistan's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has long been in denial over IS.
In the past few days he has said IS terror attacks in his country were, in fact, planned in Afghanistan.
But the arrest of two IS-affiliated terrorists in Pakistan's Punjab province last week points to a home-grown problem.
Senior counter-terrorism police superintendent Rana Shahid says one of the suspects, Shahid Farooqi, had been assigned to organise IS support.
Police seized a laptop with plans for the group's operations.
Security forces suspect IS involvement in the assassination of Punjab's home minister, Colonel Shuaja Khanzada, in a suicide attack in August. Seventeen people died and 23 were injured.
They believe Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — an anti-Shia terror group — collaborated with IS.
Interior ministry sources said Mr Khanzada was vulnerable following the killing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq in July this year during a security crackdown on sectarian militants.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi agenda perfectly matches the ideological stance of the anti-Shia IS.
In May, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for killing 43 people when its men opened fire on a Karachi bus carrying passengers belonging to a religious minority — the Ismaili community.
English leaflets in the bus declared: "Advent of the Islamic State!" and accused the Ismaili community of "barbaric atrocities in Iraq and Yemen".
In December last year, a video emerged of female students from the Lal Mosque (Lal Masjid), which is linked to the Jamia-e-Hafsa madrassa in Islamabad, expressing their support for IS.
The burqa-clad women were chanting slogans and calling on people to join the ranks of IS to help the movement's goal of a caliphate.
The episode was a major blow to the government's counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation initiatives.
Pro-IS slogans have appeared on walls in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta and Bannu, urging IS's leadership to: "Move forward — we are with you!"
In some areas of Pakistan, pamphlets and stickers have emerged calling on the young to join the movement, while cars decorated with posters and the letters IS or ISIS are seen on the roads.
Concern now runs deep, including among those who have witnessed decades of unrest.
"The environment offers good grounds for disgruntled elements with a jihadi mindset to part ways with the Taliban and swell the ranks of Daesh in the time ahead," says retired Brigadier Said Nazir, a former army officer from the tension-torn tribal areas of Pakistan.
"We can see more defections down the road to IS," he warns.
By DAVID E. SANGER
The Obama administration is exploring a deal with Pakistan that would limit the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, the fastest-growing on earth. The discussions are the first in the decade since one of the founders of its nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was caught selling the country’s nuclear technology around the world.The talks are being held in advance of the arrival of Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Washington next week. They focus on American concern that Pakistan might be on the verge of deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon — explicitly modeled on weapons the United States put in Europe during the Cold War to deter a Soviet invasion — that would be far harder to secure than the country’s arsenal of larger weapons. But outside experts familiar with the discussions, which have echoes of the Obama administration’s first approaches to Iran on its nuclear program three years ago, expressed deep skepticism that Pakistan is ready to put any limitations on a program that is the pride of the nation, and that it regards as its only real defense against India. The discussions are being led by Peter R. Lavoy, a longtime intelligence expert on the Pakistani program who is now on the staff of the National Security Council. White House officials declined to comment on the talks ahead of Mr. Sharif’s visit. But the central element of the proposal, according to other officials and outside experts, would be a relaxation of the strict controls imposed on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a loose affiliation of nations that try to control the proliferation of weapons. “If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has maintained contacts with the Pakistani nuclear establishment. “I think it’s worth a try,” Mr. Perkovich said. “But I have my doubts that the Pakistanis are capable of doing this.” David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, first disclosed the exploratory talks in a column a week ago. Since then, several other officials and outside experts have talked in more detail about the effort, although the White House has refused to comment. The activity of Mr. Khan, who lives in retirement in a comfortable neighborhood in Islamabad after many years of house arrest, prompted more than a decade of American-led punishment of Pakistan’s nuclear enterprises. He ran what amounted to the world’s most sophisticated black market in the equipment needed to make nuclear fuel, and he did business with Iran, North Korea and Libya. When Libya turned over the equipment it bought, in late 2003, it included a nearly complete design for one of China’s first nuclear weapons. Pakistani officials denied that any of the country’s leaders knew of Mr. Khan’s black market activities, a story American officials did not believe because some of the equipment was shipped on Pakistani Air Force cargo planes. While Mr. Khan is not under formal restrictions today, he has not left Pakistan in years and has been prohibited from talking to most outsiders. Even before entering office, President Obama was interested in addressing the Pakistani nuclear problem, considered by most proliferation experts to be the most dangerous in the world. But until now, most efforts to manage the problem have been covert. During the Bush administration, the United States spent as much as $100 million on a highly classified program to help secure the country’s nuclear arsenal, helping with physical security and the training of Pakistani security personnel. Those efforts continued in the Obama years, with State Department, Energy Department and intelligence officials meeting secretly, in locales around the world, with senior Pakistani officials from the Strategic Plans Division that controls the arsenal. They would use those sessions to argue to the Pakistanis that fielding the small, short-range nuclear weapons, which Pakistan designed to use against an invading Indian ground force, would be highly risky. American officials have told Congress they are increasingly convinced that most of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is under good safeguards, with warheads separated from delivery vehicles and a series of measures in place to guard against unauthorized use. But they fear the smaller weapons are easier to steal, or would be easier to use should they fall into the hands of a rogue commander. “All it takes is one commander with secret radical sympathies, and you have a big problem,” said one former official who dealt with the issue. The message appears to have resonated; an unknown number of the tactical weapons were built, but not deployed. It is that problem that Mr. Lavoy and others are trying to forestall, along with preventing Pakistan from deploying some long-range missiles that could reach well beyond India. But American leverage has been hard to find. Unlike Iran, Pakistan never signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the international agreement that prohibits nations, except for existing declared nuclear states like the United States, from possessing a nuclear arsenal. Pakistan is not alone in that distinction: India and Israel also have not signed. (North Korea left the treaty two decades ago.) Ordinarily, any country’s refusal to sign the treaty would preclude American nuclear cooperation. So Pakistani officials remain angry with the American decision to enter an agreement with India in 2005 allowing India to buy civil nuclear technology, even though it remains outside the treaty and put no limits on its nuclear program. Under that agreement, India’s nuclear infrastructure was split with a civilian program that is under international inspection, and a military program that is not. Pakistani officials have demanded the same arrangement. That does not appear to be on the table. Instead, the United States is exploring ways to relax restrictions on nuclear-related technology to Pakistan, perhaps with a long-term goal of allowing the country to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulates the sale of the technology. That would be largely symbolic: Pakistan manages to import or make what it needs for its nuclear arsenal, and China has already broken ground on a $9.6 billion nuclear power complex in Karachi. Mr. Sharif presided over the ceremony.
A leading Republican Presidential candidate and Senator has called for Pakistan to be designated as a 'Country of Particular Concern' (CPC) after a U.S. State Department report expressed deep concern over the status of religious freedoms in the country.
“Religious freedom must be a bedrock of American foreign policy. The stakes are too high for anything less. We need to redouble our efforts to serve as a beacon for religious freedom around the world and press countries to implement policies that protect religious expression and worship,” Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement after the State Department released its annual report on International Religious Freedom for the year 2014. The State Department does not utilise the tools it has to name and shame violators of religious freedom such as the designation of CPC, he said.
Should be done annually
The administration should re-designate countries every year for their religious freedom violations, Mr. Rubio urged.
“In particular, countries such as Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam should be considered for a CPC designation, as has been repeatedly recommended by the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom,” Mr. Rubio said.
‘Many governments complicit’
Noting that religious communities are under attack in the 21st century, Mr. Rubio said there were many governments that were complicit in religious repression by enforcing oppressive laws against religious minorities or standing idly by while minorities were persecuted for their beliefs.
“In Cuba, where the Ladies in White are beaten on their way to church, to Iran where an American pastor languishes in prison, to China where Christian churches are demolished and pictures of the Dalai Lama are banned, around the world religious freedom is being threatened,” he said.
‘Of concern to U.S.’
“These attacks on religious freedom are both a moral and strategic national security concern for the United States. Sadly this issue has been met with little urgency or vision on the part of the Obama administration — at precisely the time it’s most needed,” Mr. Rubio said.