Thursday, October 15, 2015

Video - Russian military combat cam: Jets bomb ISIS command center, fuel depot in Idlib province, Syria

China pledges support for political settlement in Syria at key moment

Beijing believes that political settlement will put an end to the crisis as there is no alternative to cessation of violence and war/
China will support political settlement of the Syrian crisis at the key moment, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a news conference after talks with Bulgarian counterpart Daniel Mitov.
"China understands and supports the states interested in the settlement of the Syrian crisis, as well as all efforts aimed at fight against terrorism and being in line with international law," the top Chinese diplomat said, noting that "international effort in fight against terrorism should go in the same direction".
"We believe that political settlement will put an end to the crisis as there is no alternative to cessation of violence and war," Wang Yi said. "The Chinese side welcomes all political efforts towards the settlement of the Syrian crisis, we believe that the United Nations will become the final authority that will put an end to it".
"I believe that with support and assistance of the international community and the United Nations, all parties will sit down to the negotiating table and reach the final decision on the settlement of the Syrian crisis," Wang Yi said.
"China has always participated in international anti-terrorist cooperation, we will support political settlement for the crisis at the key moment," the foreign minister said.
Wang Yi is in Bulgaria for an official visit. Talks with his Bulgarian counterpart have focused bilateral trade and economic relations.

Russia and US Close to Agreement on Flights Over Syria

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.

Russia and the United States are moving closer to a possible agreement to provide for the safety of their aircraft over Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said Thursday.
"Yesterday, another round of negotiations was held on a possible agreement on ensuring the safety of Russian and US-led coalition flights over Syria. We note that our positions are moving closer on key provisions of the future document," ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters.

In addition, Russian and Israeli aircraft have begun training on safe flights in Syrian airspace.

"Yesterday, the first stage of exercises on preventing dangerous incidents in the sky above the Syrian Arab Republic began between Russia's Aerospace Forces and the Israeli Air Force," Konashenkov said, adding that the second phase of joint exercises will take place later on Thursday.

The spokesman noted that a mutual information mechanism on flights over Syria has been organized between the Russian control center at Syria's Hmaimim airbase and the Israeli Air Force's command post.

Over the past 24 hours, Russian aviation completed 33 sorties in Syria, striking ISIL facilities in the provinces of Idlib, Hama, Damascus, Aleppo, and Deir az-Zor, he added.

“Near the region of East Ghouta in the Damascus Province, an Su-34 destroyed a camouflaged firing position with an Osa missile complex that was earlier captured by militants from the Syrian Armed Forces,” Konashenkov said.

He said a KAB-500 bomb destroyed the complex that was under a concrete enclosure.
In addition, Su-24M bombers smashed an ISIL command post in Qusair al-Ward in the Aleppo province. The facility was destroyed by a direct hit, he said.

 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.

“The methods the enemy used to deploy its artillery shows that Islamic State has professionals with good military training in its ranks,” Konashenkov said.
According to him, after additional reconnaissance and target localization Su-34 bombers and Su-25 attack aircraft carried out a massive airstrike.
The precision airstrikes took out six pieces of artillery, armament, and four high terrain vehicles equipped with mortars, he added.
According to Konashenkov, Islamic State militants have begun to retreat in Syria, as Russian aviation increases reconnaissance to pinpoint new positions.

"The militants are retreating, trying to establish new positions, and changing underway the course of their existing logistics system for the supply of ammunition, weaponry and equipment," ministry spokesman Maj. Gen Igor Konashenkov told reporters.

Russia is recording these actions through reconnaissance, and then analyzes the information, as well as data obtained through the Baghdad information center, according to the spokesman.

"Of course, in order to verify and confirm this information we have increased the intensity of reconnaissance flights by the air force and by unmanned aerial vehicles," he said.

At the same time, Russian forces have eased the intensity of sorties in Syria over the last day, the spokesman stated. "This is due to the fact that the Syrian army's offensive is transforming the contact line with Islamic State terrorist formations."

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Putin: I don't get how US can criticize Russian op in Syria if it refuses dialogue

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.
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.

Music Video - Mujhe Naulakha Manga De Re

Urdu Music - Noor Jahan - Mujhse Pehli Si Mohabbat


Video - Obama: U.S. to delay troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

Kunduz: A Political And Strategic Failure – OpEd


The recent besiege and takeover of Kunduz from Afghan forces showed a political victory over the Afghan and ISAF forces in fact it was seen as an indication of strategic failure at their part though it happened in a period of less than one year of the drawdown of U.S and allies’ forces.
Most alarming is the fact that only 500 Taliban fighters drove over 7,000 Afghan National Security Forces out of the Kunduz in a very short period of less than a day without any sturdy resistance. This in a broader spectrum raises questions about the success of the U.S and Afghan forces in the coming future and many analysts believe that the fall of Kunduz has unveiled many lies about the promises of delivering stability, security and an inclusive peace process.
This also proved that the Taliban are still highly effervescent that they can easily capture many other major cities. The northern province Kunduz has always a remained a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban. The Kunduz incident dramatically erupted at the time when the US military strategists were exploring variety of options about keeping the troops’ presence beyond the withdrawal deadline of 2016. However, the Afghan security officials claim that the Taliban insurgents have been pushed forward and the parts of Kunduz city have been cleared.
The Northern Kunduz Police Chief Quasim Jangal Bagh, claimed that the clearing operations is still underway and the Taliban are pushed forward to the Takhar –Kunduz highway and in the Dasht-e-Archi district of Kunduz.
The First Vice President of the Afghanistan General Abdul Rashid Dostum, also claimed that the government was aware of the plans of the Taliban attacks on Kunduz, Faryab, Helmand and Kunar provinces and he further claimed that the people in these areas should not think that we are careless and obviously we are ready to prevent their further penetration in other areas in the coming future.
During his recent visit to Russia, General Dostum emphasized that the Russia should help them by proving military equipment such as attack helicopters and long-range mortars and other latest weapons to the Afghan Security Forces in order to counter the Daesh and the Taliban militants.
Previously, the Taliban insurgents had assaulted on a prison of Ghazni province and released more than 350 most wanted Taliban insurgents and commanders and as a consequence it further has aggravated the situation and has brought serious concerns about the prevalent impulsive security situation in the country.
For some reasons, the partial failure of the Afghan strategy is also because of the U.S and its allies had been largely relying on their alignments with the corrupt warlord, drug-lords and corrupt politicians whereas, the current Unity Government under President Ashraf Ghani is still divided on many issues.
The matter of peace in Afghanistan in the near future seems obscure because of the breakthrough in the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and the Taliban demands of a complete withdrawal and the revoking all military and security accords with the foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The other side of speculation is also based on the hypothesis that the U.S and its allies are not that serious about the complete withdrawal of the ISAF forces and therefore, the ‘dragging-on’ policy will hardly bring complete peace in Afghanistan. Most importantly, the Afghan government and the Taliban had been engaged in a process of peace talks this summer and another round of talks under mediation of Pakistan was also expected whereby it was strongly believed that the two sides would reach at a consensus about seize fire and develop confidence building measures (CBMs) but unluckily the process was also halted with the revelation of the news about the death of Supreme Taliban leader and consequently the leadership crisis among Afghan Taliban.
It is worthwhile to note here that a over-delayed peace process between the two parties would further fuel the ongoing tension in the Country and ofcourse, at a point it will encourage some other militant groups to make their place in the Country. As an immediate neighbor, for Pakistan it is also the need of hour to play its effective role to revive the stalled peace process.

US troops to stay in Afghanistan in policy shift

President Barack Obama has confirmed plans to extend the US military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016, in a shift in policy.
Speaking at the White House, he said the US would keep 5,500 troops in the country when he leaves office in 2017.
Originally all but a small embassy-based force were due to leave by the end of next year.
But the US military says more troops will be needed to help Afghan forces counter a growing Taliban threat.
There are currently 9,800 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. Last week, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Campbell, said the US must consider extending its military presence there beyond 2016.
The US forces will be stationed in four locations - in Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
The slowing of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan means that President Obama will not be able to bring home all US forces before his presidency ends.
A US review of its troop presence there has been under way for some months and is not directly linked to the Taliban's recent success in briefly seizing the town of Kunduz.
But that episode illustrated the continuing need for the US training and mentoring of Afghan forces.
With al-Qaeda again operating in Afghanistan and the so-called Islamic State gaining a foothold, Washington is also eager to retain a small number of bases from which it can mount counter-terrorist operations.
Whatever the hopes of a full US withdrawal, it now looks as though Washington is set to have a continuing military commitment to Afghanistan, where US air power in particular plays an essential role.
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President Obama had previously planned to reduce the number of troops left in Afghanistan to about 1,000 by the time he left office in January 2017.
A statement from the US National Security Council said the change in policy was the "result of an extensive, months-long review", and after Mr Obama had consulted "with his full national security team and our Afghan partners".
"This announcement in no way changes the fact that our combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, and we will continue to undertake only two narrow missions: counterterrorism and training, advising, and assisting our Afghan partners," the statement went on.
A Nato soldier stands guard under the wing of a C-130 Hercules aircraft that belongs to the Afghan National Army, in Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015Image copyrightAP
Image captionMore troops are needed, officials say, to counter a growing Taliban threat
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is expected to publicly welcome the move, as he had been pushing for a slower withdrawal of US troops to allow Afghan forces to be better trained and equipped.
US Gen John Campbell expressed concern last week over the "tenuous security situation" and said an enhanced military presence would be necessary if the Taliban were to be repelled.
He was speaking days after the Taliban briefly seized the northern city of Kunduz - their most spectacular military gain since being ousted from power in 2001.
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Map of major insurgent attacks in Afghanistan June-September 2015
Read more on Afghanistan:
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After the Taliban's surprise attack on Kunduz, Afghan government forces managed to retake control of key areas of the city with the aid of Nato special forces and US air strikes.
But the city's brief capture was seen as a setback for the Afghan authorities under pressure to show they can keep the country secure without the backing of international forces.
The south-eastern city of Ghazni has also seen fierce clashes between Taliban insurgents and US-trained Afghan troops in recent days.
Militant violence has increased across Afghanistan since Nato ended its combat mission there in December 2014, leaving a residual force - mainly US troops - used for training and counter-terrorism operations.
The shift in policy comes at the same time as three separate investigations - by the US, Nato and Afghan authorities - into a US air attack on an MSF-run hospital in Kunduz that killed 22 people.
The US said the bombing was a mistake, and President Obama later apologised.

NGO alert: international organisations in Pakistan under greater scrutiny

Where: Pakistan
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.

Islamic State in Pakistan: Terror group takes on Taliban for supremacy in battle of the militants

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.
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.

U.S. Exploring Deal to Limit Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal


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.

Religious freedoms under threat in Pakistan: U.S. Senator

Marco Rubio wants that country to be designated as a 'Country of Particular Concern.'

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.

#HajjStempede - Saudi defiance

Predictably, Saudi Arabia has responded to an unprecedented chorus from Islamic countries calling for a more collaborative management of Hajj after the Mina tragedy with typical disregard and nonchalance. A high ranking prince, Turki al-Faisal, was the first to break the official silence on the growing condemnation of Saudi Arabia’s fatal mismanagement, saying that Riyadh considers management of Hajj a matter of sovereignty. The Saudi regime derives its legitimacy from being the self-proclaimed “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques” and the prince was adamant that the country believes this to be a matter of privilege and that after spending billions of dollars to improve the conditions of Hajj, it was not going to give up that privilege to anyone else. Later, Saudi King Salman himself weighed in on the issue and dismissed the mounting criticism as merely “political exploitation” of the incident by “irresponsible” elements. The King further professed that the Saudi Arabian regime was ‘the servant of God’ and it would employ all of its capabilities to “provide the guests of God with comfort, security and safety”. He reaffirmed the statements of his relative and defied any possibility that the organisation of the immensely profitable Hajj would be taken away from Saudi Arabia.

For all the nice sounding talk of serving the “guests of God”, the aftermath of the Mina tragedy proves that talk to be distinctly hollow. The callousness with which victims and grieving families have been dealt; the lack of transparency about the alleged investigations being done about the incident; the failure to update the body count or release a breakdown of the casualties according to nationalities to facilitate information sharing; the mass burial of dead bodies; the disregard for missing people — there is an endless list of Saudi transgressions and a crushing lack of humanity that bellies any claims of feeling privilege at serving the “guests of God”. The Saudi regime is bereft of humility or conscience. Under the guise of purist Islam, it is a greedy capitalist enterprise at its worst. which sees no qualms in profiting off a holy event attended by millions from around the world even if it leads to horrific deaths of thousands. The “sovereign” right it claims over managing the Hajj is but an accident of geography and a consequence of colonial powers dividing up Middle Eastern countries and parcelling them out to their favoured stooges in the 1920s and 30s. The so-called holy regime has ever since its inception been propped up by western powers and has no innate right to monopolise governance over one of the key sites of Islam. Alas, despite the resounding criticism, the Muslim countries hardly have enough of a clout to pressurise the Saudi regime to cede ground. It can only be hoped that Saudi Arabia, despite its public defiance, learns lessons and ensures there is no repeat of Mina. 

Pakistan - PTI’s bankruptcy

The NA-122 by-election was advertised as many things in its run-up by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI): a referendum on the governance of Nawaz Sharif’s third tenure as Prime Minister, a vindication of Imran Khan’s constant campaigning against alleged rigging of the 2013 general elections, a battle for the future direction of politics in Punjab (and by extension Pakistan) and, as with all things PTI, a harbinger of change. However, outside of the frenzied supporters of the two duelling parties who treated the by-election as an existential matter, no one was really convinced that squabbling over a paltry single seat of parliament was worth all the hype. For many a PML-N victory in its historically strong constituency was a foregone conclusion, and even if PTI pulled off a favourable result, as it nearly did, one additional seat does not a government make. But if there was a hope attached to this by-election by concerned observers, it was that this election — conducted under stringent watch (except of course in the crucial matter of campaign financing) – would finally bring about the end of PTI’s counterproductive and derailing politics of mudslinging allegations. Alas, now that the dust of the by-election has settled, it has once again been frustratingly proved that PTI under the leadership of Imran Khan is a party thoroughly lacking in maturity, a democratic mindset,imagination and ideas. To employ the trite cricket analogies favoured by the national team’s former captain, it is a party that only knows one way to bat — i.e. swing wildly with its eyes closed — and has proved unable to adjust its technique according to changing playing conditions. Like a broken record, the rhetoric of PTI in the aftermath of the election has been the oft-repeated mantra of election rigging despite there being no credible evidence nor fingers being raised by concerned neutral parties. Immediately after the election, Imran Khan — sounding increasingly more paranoid — tweeted that PTI was not prepared for the apparently more refined and subtle rigging tactics of the PML-N and vowed that his party will be more vigilant the next time. Letters have been written by the losing candidate Aleem Khan and PTI Punjab’s organizer Chaudhry Sarwar to the Returning Officer (RO) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) respectively arguing for a recount and claiming that the election suffered from many irregularities like the transfer or deletion of names of prospective voters from the constituency’s list. The ECP has denied these allegations and has countered that registration of voters was frozen days in advance of the election, according to the rules. Despite the pre-election promise to accept the election’s result with dignity, it seems that PTI will cry foul until the moment it gets precisely what it desires. This lack of maturity and respect for due process reflects a party incapable of pragmatism or evolution, and the blame for this arrested development lies squarely on the shoulders of PTI’s egotistical leader.

After 2011, Imran Khan and his party became for the first time a genuinely credible player in the arena of politics ever since the inception of PTI in the mid-1990s. This belated elevation to the political mainstream for the charismatic sportsman came on the back of sloganeering for change, a promise to stand up against the status quo and quash corruption. Imran Khan was hailed by many analysts, who may have had an issue with his politics, for at least one thing: he mobilised a segment of society (the youth, the women, the upwardly mobile urbanites) that had been disillusioned by the politics of Pakistan and energised them with conveniently vague ideas of a ‘revolution’. A party completely lacking in any coherent ideology but one teeming with optimism, PTI came to reflect for its myriads of supporters whatever hopes and dreams they wished to project onto it and its main star. So PTI was being advertised by its multitudes of voracious supporters in different forums as a party of several contradictory values: a progressive party, an Islamic religious organisation, an anti-corruption party, an anti-status quo party, a pro-business party, a pro-welfare party, a pro-army party, an anti-imperialist party. In truth, the malleable ambiguity of its image was simply because it has no distinctive vision and now that the sheen of Imran Khan’s past achievements and personal charm has started to wear off and the prophecy of change has failed to materialise in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the reality of the party has become abundantly clear. It was and it remains a centre-right party, not dissimilar to the N-League, and the only endgame the PTI has in mind is for Imran Khan to come to power as if it is his inalienable destiny. The PTI is therefore a transparently unfit party with a politically bankrupt core.

Pakistan - PM protecting Punjab’s interests at the cost of smaller provinces: ANP

Awami National Party central president Asfandyar Wali Khan on Wednesday said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some other quarters were interested in protecting interests of Punjab at the cost of small federating units.
“The message is being given that Pakistan is Punjab and Punjab is Pakistan,” he said, warning consequences of such policy would be dangerous for the country as the ANP would protect rights of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Pakhtuns.
Asfandyar was addressing the ANP provincial executive council here at Bacha Khan Markaz on Wednesday, said a statement.
He spoke on various issues including Kalabagh dam, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, changing scenario in Afghanistan, terrorism, and reforms in tribal areas.
The ANP leader came down heavily on the federal government for ‘changing’ stand on Kalabagh dam and CPEC, saying like Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif was also in the habit of making U-turn on policy statements and announcements.
“Besides external challenges, Pakistan is facing internal threats too. Unfortunately, our rulers and some institutions are desirous to build Kalabagh dam,” the statement quoted Asfandyar as saying.

Asfandyar Wali castigates Nawaz Sharif for changing stand on Kalabagh, CPEC

The ANP leader also said some quarters including Nawaz Sharif had developed consensus on the CPEC and adopted policy to protect interests of Punjab.
Expressing serious reservations about the CPEC, he said Nawaz Sharif had changed his stand and that the federal ministers were violating unanimous decisions of the All-Party Conference held in Islamabad.
Asfandyar said it was the unanimous decision of the APC to start construction of western route of the CPEC to protect interests of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but that decision was being violated.
About the issue of Kalabagh dam, he said very powerful and authoritarian regimes could not build the dam, then who they (Nawaz Sharif and his team) were to put up the controversial water reservoir.
The ANP leader said his party had a very clear policy and stand on Kalabagh dam, Fata, terrorism and National Action Plan, and would protect all constitutional rights of the province and Pakhtuns at all costs.
About the situation in Afghanistan, Asfandyar said Islamabad and Kabul were on the path of reconciliation after the visit of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan, but that spirit was not maintained.
“It seems that some quarters have re-adopted their previous policies regarding Afghanistan,” he said, adding that peace in Afghanistan was inevitable for peace and prosperity in Pakistan.
The ANP leader said Afghanistan had changed and that the time had gone when the Taliban or any other force was imposed on Afghan people.
He said it was imperative to abandon the policy to use force and soil against each other.
Regarding Fata, Asfandyar said the ANP was in favour of drastic and genuine legal, political and administrative reforms in the country’s northwest tribal region.
He said his party’s policy was to merge Fata with KP and bring the neglected belt to the mainstream politics.
The ANP leader called for the implementation of National Action Plan in letter and spirit in order to eliminate terrorism and extremism from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the entire region.
He said his party did not support violence and negative politics and believed in political struggle.
Asfandyar also criticised policies of the coalition government in KP and said bad governance was one of the serious issues in the province.
He said the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had expelled the Qaumi Watan Party from the government over corruption but recently accommodated the latter in the ruling coalition.
The ANP leader said Imran Khan didn’t accept defeat and began hue and cry about rigging when his party lost polls.
He said when the PTI won polls, only then he (Imran) termed the process transparent and fair.