Sunday, October 25, 2015

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Stability woes dim Afghanistan’s SCO chance

By Xiao Bin

Afghanistan has officially petitioned the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for membership, according to Dmitry Mezentsev, general secretary of the SCO. It has become the third country which has shown interest in joining the SCO since the Ufa summit in July in Russia.

Analysts presume that Afghanistan, a country that spans Central Asia and South Asia, will reinforce the SCO's role in the international community, and enhance its leverage in regional affairs. The SCO could also play a constructive role in the peace process of Afghanistan.

But compared with the benefits Afghanistan can bring to the SCO, the challenges it transfers to the duties of the organization are more obvious. Afghanistan still faces complicated security issues, and suffers from backward development.

Besides the impact of major-power rivalry, the root cause of the grave security situation in Afghanistan is the discrepancies between different political groups. At present five different relationships are most prominent: the relationship between President Ashraf Ghani's government and the Taliban, the relationship between Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, the relationship among different clans, the intra-clan relationship, and the relationships among the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network and all other militants.

None of these contribute to the country's development.  Most local governments have lost control in their jurisdictions, which are manipulated by warlords. The central government is incapable of establishing an effective cabinet and a system of administration, which makes the government clumsy and ill-informed. 

Unemployment has reached a new peak of 40 percent in October, a dramatic increase of 15 percent year-on-year. After the Taliban seized Kunduz late September, the international community became deeply worried about its resurgence. In addition, protests against the current government are also ramping up.

Facing up to these pressures, Kabul intends to achieve certain political objectives by joining the SCO. The SCO's firm stance on anti-terrorism should help deter, at least psychologically, Afghanistan's domestic rebels. Afghanistan is able to draw more international support through the international organization. And Afghanistan can engage in more bilateral cooperation with other SCO members.

The SCO has been clear in its stance over the Afghan crisis. Since the US announced its decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the international community has put more faith in the SCO in boosting the peace and stability of Afghanistan. Before Afghanistan is enrolled as an official member of the SCO, there are three questions that need to be addressed.

First, the SCO needs to deal with the conundrum of collective action. Many international organizations face the same problem, and it is especially serious with the SCO. Although all SCO members believe that the resolution of the Afghan crisis is essential to regional peace and stability, they have different understandings about the severity of varying threats, making it hard to coordinate their actions.

Second, the SCO, so far, has limited capability in dealing with specific regional security issues. Afghanistan's participation will likely require the SCO to improve its ability to safeguard regional peace and stability, but it has no experience and limited capability in this regard. Given the fact that the US and its NATO allies were not able to achieve what they expect in Afghanistan, it is hard to anticipate what the SCO can do. 

Third, major-power rivalry hinders the peace process of Afghanistan, which demands concerted actions by all stakeholders. However, considering the sour relations between the US and Russia, Afghanistan will be reduced to being a tool for major-power rivalry. Reckless interventions by major powers will complicate the situation. More costs have to be paid to address the crisis.

The uncertainties and risks brought by Afghanistan's participation in the SCO are likely way beyond the benefits it can produce. If the above problems cannot be properly resolved, the SCO will have to think twice before it accepts Afghanistan.

Eradicating terror to pave way for political solution in Syria: Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the eradication of terrorist groups in Syria will pave the way for a “political” solution to the crisis in the Arab country.
Assad made the remarks during a meeting with a Russian parliamentary delegation headed by Sergei Gavrilov, the chairman of the State Duma’s Committee on Property Affairs, in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Sunday.
“Eradicating terrorist organizations would lead to the political solution that we, in Syria and Russia, seek in a way that satisfies the Syrian people and protects Syria’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” the Syrian president said.
He said that the ongoing fight against terrorism in Syria would determine the future of the Middle East and that a victory over terrorism will safeguard all regional states.
The Syrian president thanked Russia for its aerial campaign against the Takfiri militants operating inside Syria, adding that the Russian stance necessitates “writing a new history because this war will determine the future of the region and the world.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen during a meeting with a Russian delegation in the capital, Damascus, October 25, 2015. (Photo by SANA)

Russia kicked off a bombing campaign in Syria on September 30 at the request of the Syrian government, targeting the positions of Daesh and other terrorist groups in the country.
Members of the Russian delegation said during the meeting that Russia supports the efforts made by Assad in countering terrorism, which sets the foundation for bringing back peace and stability to Syria.
'Ready for elections'
After the meeting, Alexander Yushchenko, a Russian legislator who attended the meeting with Assad, said the Syrian president has expressed preparedness to run for another seven-year term in office in a future presidential election should the Arab nation support such a move.
“He is ready to conduct elections with the participation of all political forces who want Syria to prosper,” the Russian lawmaker said.
“At our meeting, Mr. Assad announced his readiness to discuss changes to the Constitution of Syria, as well as hold free parliamentary elections with the participation of all political forces committed to the prosperity of the Syrian Republic,” the Russian parliamentarian pointed out.
The foreign-sponsored conflict in Syria, which flared in March 2011, has claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people and left over one million injured, according to the United Nations.
The world body says 12.2 million people, including more than 5.6 million children, remain in need of humanitarian assistance.
The crisis has displaced 7.6 million people.

Turkey’s Self-Inflicted Disaster

On Oct. 10, a suicide bomb attack killed over 100 people in the center of Turkey’s capital, Ankara. The suspected perpetrators were part of an Islamic State cell in Turkey. What is more unnerving is that many saw it coming.
In June, a large pro-Kurdish election rally in Diyarbakir was attacked, killing four and injuring many more; in July, a horrendous suicide attack targeted socialist youth in Suruc, killing 33. Ominously, a number of Turkish columnists warned the government openly about potential bombers — even providing the names of some of them.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s government seems more interested these days in punishing those who insult the president on Twitter than in tracking Islamic State cells in the country. Since 2013, Turkey’s president has created a political climate in which domestic Islamic State cells have found it easy to prosper. Until very recently, Turkish security forces have been soft on Islamic State operatives and lax about their movements across the border.
Worse, as more information about the Ankara suicide bombers emerges, it’s clear that there were gross intelligence failures. The father of one of the suicide bombers pleaded with authorities to keep his son in custody, but the police let him go. The government’s ban on news reports about the incident has further clouded the situation. Not surprisingly, many Turks now feel that the social contract between the people and the government has been broken and there is no going back. Quite simply, the government has failed to protect them.
As a former member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., who served in Parliament from 2007 to 2011 and was on the party’s executive committee, this has been a deeply disappointing process to watch. The A.K.P. was once the most progressive force in Turkish politics, but it has undergone a damaging transformation since the fateful Gezi Park protests of 2013.
Although I am a former air force officer and I believe strongly in the virtues of a secular state, I joined the A.K.P. in 2007 because I believed Turkey was at a critical juncture. I had little regard for the militant secularism and nationalism harbored by many within Turkey’s old establishment. The election of Abdullah Gul in 2007, who was almost blocked from becoming president because his wife wore a head scarf, was a critical moment for the consolidation of our democracy. By that time, the A.K.P. had already put Turkey into accession negotiations with the European Union, managed an impressive economic growth story and improved Turkey’s international standing. In many quarters, Turkey was seen as an inspiration for other Muslim countries.
It’s true that the A.K.P. was never a liberal party, but it had a clear interest in Turkey’s democratization. That’s why the party enjoyed support from democrats, liberals and some social democrats who were eager to balance the excesses of the stern old secularist regime. Both in Parliament and abroad we enjoyed the moral high ground of normalizing civil-military relations, overseeing a growing economy and obtaining greater democratic legitimacy through growing support from the electorate. I comforted myself in thinking that the European accession process would serve as an anchor if the A.K.P.’s conservatism ever pulled the country off course.
By 2009, the process had slowed down. Then, in September 2010, a referendum allowed Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister and now the president, to shape the judiciary to his own liking. After that vote, he believed he had defeated the establishment for good. Regrettably, he came to the conclusion that he no longer needed the moderates in the party.
When I examined the new candidates list in 2011 I immediately understood what was going on. He had decided to root out all of the democrats, liberals and moderate conservatives. Those who replaced us were ideologically conservative Islamists who showed absolute loyalty to him.
However, few were willing to make a fuss about it as the A.K.P. won its third consecutive election with a record 50 percent of the vote. The purge of centrists continued in the party’s 2012 convention. Those who asked questions, offered constructive criticism or were generally disposed to moderation were kicked off the executive committee. The consolidation of Mr. Erdogan’s grip was complete.
I disassociated myself with the party after the convention and took part in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
A few months later, major corruption scandals put Mr. Erdogan and the party on an irreversible path. He turned authoritarian, the country became increasingly polarized, the Kurdish peace process collapsed after the June election and violence by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., broke out again.
Stubborn insistence on a disastrous Syria policy further dragged the country into a regional quagmire. Turkey’s inability to oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria led the government to support radical elements fighting Mr. Assad while Turkey became host to more than two million Syrian refugees.
What started out as an impressive political journey is now heading toward disaster.
It is clear that the A.K.P.’s promise to consolidate Turkish democracy, solve the Kurdish question and join the European Union has utterly failed.
It did not have to be this way. Mr. Erdogan’s desperate choices for his personal survival have doomed the party and poisoned the spirit of our nation. Mr. Erdogan has squandered a historic opportunity to consolidate Turkish democracy, transform Turkey into a First World country and bridge differences between secularists and conservatives, Turks and Kurds and Sunnis and Alevis. The absence of a viable, united opposition makes the situation even worse.
If the A.K.P. is not defeated in the Nov. 1 election, Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s foreign policy could suck Turkey deeper into the Middle East’s vortex of violence.
Turkey is in desperate need of new leadership and political wisdom to get out of this mess.

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McCain Ranting and Raving Over US-Russian Flights Safety Deal in Syria

The recent Russo-American agreement which aims to "de-conflict" the airspace over Syria has evidently hit a raw nerve in US Senator John McCain. US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, blew his lid after Washington and Moscow concluded an agreement aiming at "de-conflicting" Syria's airspace in order to avoid dangerous incidents and accidents between the US and Russian Air Forces.

"This 'de-confliction' agreement with Russia means that the United States will now be watching and moving out of the way while Russian aircraft, together with Syrian, Iranian, and Hezbollah ground forces, attack and kill brave young Syrians, many of whom our country has supported and encouraged to fight back against a brutal dictator [Bashar al-Assad]," McCain said in an official statement.

"This is not only self-defeating and harmful to our national interests; it is immoral," he proceeded, "This decision will reverberate ominously across the Middle East at a time when our friends increasingly do not trust us and our enemies do not feel deterred by us."

While Senator McCain continues his ranting and raving, US journalist Daniel Larison points to the fact that the agreement signed by Russia and the US actually lessens the risks to US pilots flying over Syria.

"McCain is bound to be annoyed by the agreement because it represents another step away from the crazy 'no-fly zone' option that he and other Syria hawks support. It is revealing that McCain objects so strenuously to an agreement that lessens the risks to US pilots flying over Syria," Larison wrote in his latest piece for The American Conservative.

"I doubt many Americans would find that to be either immoral or harmful," the journalist stressed.
Larison admitted that indeed Washington's behavior in Syria has been immoral but it is not related to the agreement.

By supporting and encouraging its proxies in Syria the US government "has created an absurd situation": it "has contributed to a conflict in which it has nothing at stake while setting those proxies up for failure."

Larison quoted US columnist Adam Elkus, who nailed it by saying that "there is something very unjust and disturbing in the way in which the United States can encourage men to risk their lives under the false hope that Uncle Sam will be with them the whole way."

Indeed, there is something really immoral in the US' proxy warfare, where people are being used like pawns in the Washington political establishment's grand chess game.

Read more:

Tony Blair 'could face war crimes charges' over Iraq War


Lord Dykes asked: 'Is my noble friend aware that more and more people think it is some kind of attempt to prolong the agony of Mr Blair facing possible war crimes charges?'

Tony Blair could face war crimes charges as a result of the Iraq war inquiry report, the House of Lords has been told.
Lord Dykes of Harrow Weald, a Liberal Democrat peer, claimed that the publication of the inquiry by Sir John Chilcot was being delayed “to prolong the agony” of the former Labour Prime Minister.
Lord Hurd – who as Douglas Hurd was Conservative foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995 – said the delay was now "becoming a scandal".
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, disclosed for the first time that talks over the publication of the gist of conversations between Mr Blair and George W Bush, the former US president, were now completed.
These talks have held up the publication of the report. But he said that if the report is not published by the end of February, it will be delayed until after the general election.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Dykes – who as Hugh Dykes was a Tory MP from 1979 to 1997 - asked: “Is not this continuing delay an utter and total disgrace and so much time has elapsed?
“Is my noble friend aware that more and more people think it is some kind of attempt to prolong the agony of Mr Blair facing possible war crimes charges?”
Lord Hurd added: “This has dragged on beyond the questions of mere negligence and forgiveable delay – it is becoming a scandal.
“This is not something which is of trivial importance, it is something which a large number of people in this country look anxiously for truth.”
Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, replied that the Chilcot inquiry was not delayed compared to other recent comparable reports.
He said that the £24million Al Sweady report into alleged maltreatment of Iraqis by British troops took five years report “on two battles in one afternoon”.
The £13.5million Baha Mousa “inquiry looking into the death in UK custody of one Iraqi civilian in September 2003 took three years”.
He added: “This [Chilcot] inquiry has been looking at nine years of british policy and operations within Iraq, it has not entirely unexpected that it has turned out to take a long time.”
Lord Wallace said the timing of the report's publication was in the hands of the Government but he hoped "we are very close to the finishing line".
He added: "It would be inappropriate for it to be published if it is submitted within the next few weeks after the end of February unitl after the election because part of the previous government's commitment was there woul dbe time allowed for substantial consultation and debate of this enormous report when it is published."
Lord Wallace added that the one million word report will contain details of discussions of more than 200 Cabinet meetings.
The delay so far was caused in part because the inquiry did not have enough staff to leaf through the huge pile of documents required.

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British Soldiers Face Afghanistan Abuse Probe

Military police are investigating claims British soldiers mistreated people in Afghanistan during the war.
More than 100 civilians say they were criminally abused and ill-treated during an eight-year period in the conflict.
The allegations have been made by civilians who say they were detained by British Forces during Operation Herrick between 2005 - 2013.
The Royal Military Police (RMP) has launched Operation Northmoor to examine the historical allegations of criminal abuse.
Minister for the Armed Forces Penny Mordaunt has branded some of the legal claims "ludicrous".
She warned that the allegations are costing the British taxpayer tens of millions of pounds.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has already spent millions on investigations and compensation following allegations of wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ms Mordaunt, said: "I am extremely concerned about recent legal developments that call into question the Armed Forces' ability to operate effectively.
"These have also facilitated a large number of compensation claims and judicial reviews which are time-consuming and can cost the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds.
"The MoD is looking closely at this issue and as the Government's manifesto made clear, we will ensure our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent and sometimes ludicrous legal claims that undermine their ability to do their job.
"Ministers have commissioned detailed work on this and will make any further announcements in due course."

120,000 Afghans Seek Asylum in 44 Countries: UNHCR

As the refugee crisis continues in Europe, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported Sunday that 120,000 Afghan nationals sought asylum in 44 countries during the first eight months of this year.
The report does not include the thousands of Afghans who have since fled the country in the past two months.
According to UN statistics, Afghans constitute almost 15 percent of the total number of 640,000 refugees who reached Europe between January and August.
In addition, there has been a significant drop in the number of return refugees from Iran and Pakistan in this time, said the UNHCR in a statement.
"Up to 122,080 Afghans have submitted applications for asylum in 44 industrial countries in the world until August," UNHCR spokesman Nadir Farhad said.
According to critics, security and poverty are what is driving Afghans to flee the country.
One senator, Anarkali Honryar, sharply criticized government and said it "is responsible to createjobs for the people of the country in order to prevent such migration."
After assuming office, leaders of the National Unity Government committed themselves to address a number of key problems facing the country including the economic situation, inflation,unemployment and security.
During their respective election campaigns last year, President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah both pledged to address these issues.
Ghani said: "Our goal is to alleviate poverty, create jobs for all - particularly for the youth and women and housing."
Abdullah meanwhile said: "We need a government in which there is no poverty, unemployment,dishonesty, begging, disease and a government that can nourish the hopes of the people of Afghanistan."
Amid the steady flow of Afghan refugees to Europe, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrsand Disabled (MoLSMD) has said that inclusive measures had been taken to overcome the issue of unemployment and poverty.
"We are trying to engage with foreign countries to create jobs for our youth in order to prevent them from having to endanger their lives [by fleeing with the help] of human smugglers," Ali Eftekhari, a MoLSMD spokesman said.
Only 60 percent out of an estimated seven million Afghans eligible to work have jobs, 15 percent are employed in short term jobs while another 25 percent are unemployed, said Farhad.

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Pakistan - Police authorities confirm Pakistani Christian “Asia Bibi could be killed by any inmate or prison guard”

Blasphemy convict Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi shifted to solitary confinement cell amid fears of possible attack from the inmates or police guards on duty. 

According to details, Asia Bibi who is kept imprisoned in Multan jail has been detained in a dingy small cell which has no window. The confinement cell where Asia Bibi is kept is highly secured due to fear that anyone of the inmates or even the policemen on duty may try to kill her. Allegedly, there are threats to her life, as she was able to win the Apex court’s decision to halt her death sentence.

A prison official has verified that there are threats to Asia Bibi’s life. “She could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful.” Another official confirmed that the authorities are “concerned for her life”.

Asia Bibi was accused of committing blasphemy in 2009, since then she has been behind the bars. In 2010, she was awarded death sentence over the fact that she was charged of 295-C (blasphemy law). However, in recent past, an appeal case against her death sentence was filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Apex Court noted that there was a lack of substantial evidence against her and so temporarily halted the death sentence till further hearings.

Prior to this in a similar incident, the then Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was shot dead by his gunman. The murdered claimed that Salman Taseer had committed blasphemy by calling the blasphemy law a “black law”. Keeping this in mind, Asia Bibi who is convicted of blasphemy may face danger from any of the police guards on duty.

Owing to rising occurances of blasphemy cases, The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, strongly criticized the Pakistani government for showing negligence to “investigate, arrest, or prosecute those responsible for religious freedom abuses promoted an environment of impunity that fostered intolerance and acts of violence”.

“Government policies did not afford equal protection to members of minority religious groups, and due to discriminatory legislation such as blasphemy laws…minorities often were afraid to profess freely their religious beliefs,” the report stated.

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Pakistan - Amin Fahim to be flown to Karachi from Dubai

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim is being shifted to Karachi from Dubai and is likely to arrive at the Jinnah International Airport via an air ambulance tonight, people close to him said.
Fahim, diagnosed with cancer, has been in a critical condition for some time. He had undergone lump surgery in Berlin, Germany.
He was to be taken to Boston, United States, but doctors dropped the plan after his condition did not permit. He remained under post-surgery treatment in London until recently.
One of his close friends described his overall condition “not encouraging” but his younger brother, Dr Makhdoom Rafik Zaman, said “he is well”.
Fahim, who is in his late 70s, is senior vice chairman of the PPP and member of the National Assembly from Hala (NA-218). He is the spiritual head of the Sarwari Jamat that is said to have millions of disciples across the world.
His election to the NA was challenged before an election tribunal by Pakistan Muslim League (Functional) candidate, Abdul Razak Memon.
The tribunal eventually dismissed Memon’s petition, upholding Fahim’s victory and dismissing the applicant's charges.
A close family member, who described Fahim's condition as frail, said he had undergone four cycles of chemotherapy in London and was brought to Duabi on the insistence of a close friend of his from Dubai’s royal family.
Fahim will now be flown to Karachi on a special plane. He is likely to be hospitalised in Karachi for treatment.
It is unclear whether Fahim will be flown back abroad for further treatment.

Pakistan - #Polio - Unimplemented action plan keeps virus active in Balochistan

Poliovirus has not yet been eradicated in Balochistan because the emergency plan was not implemented in letter and spirit said Emergency Operation Center Balochistan Coordinator Dr Syed Saifur Rehman.
“The issue persists in only three districts of Balochistan: Quetta, Pishin and Qilla Abdullah, called the Quetta block,” said Rehman, showing the results of lot quality assurance sampling (LQAS). Rehman spent three days in Qilla Abdullah this week, one of the three districts where more than 95% cases were reported during the last two years.
Of the recent polio drive, Rehman said security was still an issue albeit slightly improved. He said the drive should not have been carried out in two phases – results did not show the strategy to be a success. “The efforts were futile.”
The problem in Balochistan is usually in Pukhtun dominated areas, added Rehman, the drives go smoothly in other parts of the province.
While responding to a question, he said religious scholars and Pukhtun nationalists have to come forward and join hands with polio campaigners.
Hope ahead
However, he added, as compared to 2014, state of security has become better and not many incidents have been reported. “Even the performance of polio teams has significantly improved during the last eight months,” he added, saying that the commitment of the chief minister, chief secretary and health secretary of the programme shows him a polio-free Balochistan in future.
Rehman said Balochistan government has dedicated World Polio Day to those who have sacrificed their lives while vaccinating children. On November 26, 2014, at least three female and a male vaccinator were gunned down by u assailants in Quetta.
Rehman said there are hopes Balochistan will be rid of polio after a couple of years. “The Balochistan chief secretary and the deputy commissioners are actively involved in the campaign.”

Pakistan - The Taliban albatross

By Afrasiab Khattak

The decision by the U.S. Government to extend the period of deployment of their troops in Afghanistan had been quite predictable after Taliban’s “summer offensive“ turned into an all out war on the Afghan state. Unlike their suicide attacks for creating terror and hit and run tactics against military targets to register their presence during the last few years, Taliban took it upon themselves now to destroy urban centers around which the modern Afghan state has emerged. They started their wanton destruction from Kabul but gradually expanded it to other cities. North of the country was focused for military operations before large scale attacks in the south to deny security depth to Afghan security forces and to establish sanctuaries for Central Asian terrorists. Destroying important bridges and blocking main highways was a logical extension of this policy of strangulation. These attacks were launched in every nook and corner of Afghanistan so that the Afghan state security apparatus is forced to spread itself too thin. Taliban felt no hesitation in filling their ranks by Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs and TTP fighters during their latest offensive in Afghanistan. Interestingly they believe that they can afford to be part of an international terrorist syndicate and also be recognized as a legitimate stockholder in the Afghan peace process. It is hardly surprising to find that the Afghan government side is reluctant in resuming the dialogue.
As far as Taliban are concerned all the aforementioned features of their ideology and strategy are hardly new. Any systematic study of their two decades plus war in Afghanistan will clearly reveal that their fight has been mainly aimed against the Afghan state rather than against any government. They basically want to demolish the modern state and impose their own version of Sharia, which they practiced during their politico military ascendency in 1990s and there is no indication of a change of heart on their part. The myth of their existence as a “national resistance“ against foreign troops is also a mere concoction. They fought for long years against fellow Afghans before there was even a single foreign soldier on Afghan soil. Actually they were the ones who not only kept foreign fighters in Afghanistan whom they had inherited from the previous Mujahideen government but they also welcomed new comers from other countries to join them. Basically it was their reckless policy that turned Afghanistan into an international battlefield. Of course the U.S. and the European powers had made their own contribution in the crises by first making huge investments in promoting extremist militancy during the Afghan war and subsequently by putting their back on Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. But the neglect or blunders of other countries can’t absolve Afghans of their own responsibility for keeping peace in their country.
Be that as it may all of these developments have every thing to do with Pakistan for obvious reasons. Unfortunately brand of Taliban fighters has been closely linked with Pakistan’s Afghan policy and can be traced back directly to the proxy wars fought in Afghanistan in 1990s. It is true that other regional players also backed horses of their own during that period but no one turned their Afghan allies into this type of albatross around their necks. Some of our leaders had publicly claimed credit for bringing the movement of Taliban into being at that time for protecting what they described as Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. As if that was not enough, in an interview some time ago, former President General (R) Pervez Musharraf justified Pakistan’s support for Taliban after 9/11 against what he dubbed the pro-Indian policies of the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. So the regrouping and launching of Taliban after 9/11 is confirmed by no less a person than the former head of state who also happens to be the former COAS.
In 2014 after the presidential elections in Afghanistan and particularly after the approval of National Action Plan (NAP) on December 24, 2015 by the political and state leadership of Pakistan there was a genuine expectation that Pakistan has finally decided to jettison the Taliban based Afghan policy that was a baggage from the Cold War. The opportunity to have a friendly Afghanistan was quite visible and the high level engagement between the two sides generated a lot of optimism about the peaceful future. It seemed that ultimately realization has dawned in Islamabad that Pakistan is going to befriend Afghan nation as a whole instead of supporting a group that is hell bent on destroying modernity in all its forms. All these hopes were dashed to the ground when Taliban, after knowing about the death of their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, not only ruptured the dialogue but also went into an extra ordinary aggressive mode. But the way Afghan Taliban could gather in big numbers for the succession ceremonies of their leadership at the outskirts of Quetta and not anywhere inside Afghanistan has brought the point home that the Taliban albatross is still intact. There is a real danger of the flaring up of a new round of extremist insurgency in the region. War is not only raging in Afghanistan but it is also still devastating FATA Pashtuns. If it could reach Karachi yesterday what could stop it from traveling down country tomorrow? It goes without saying that if we don’t learn from the past experience we are actually opting for reliving it. We have burnt our fingers in the past and we can burn our hands this time round. How can we go for building economic corridors or gas pipeline with this kind of insurgency based inside our country?
This is the time for rethinking our Afghan policy. This is the time for breaking the albatross holding our neck, pushing us into isolation and keeping us backward. Can the Prime Minister call an APC also involving the real movers and shakers of our Afghan policy to reconsider the country’s options on Afghanistan? We can take a fresh start with a new policy. We need not go to Washington, London or Paris for finding a solution. We can go straight to Kabul with fresh ideas. Let me quote the English translation of Pashto couplets written by prominent Afghan poet Suleiman Laiaq and addressed to our own prominent poet Ajmal Khattak; “Every drop of rain that falls over Hindu Kush comes to your Attock and Abaseen (Indus). There is no other way out here (in Kabul). Every thing that moves here will reach you just like our rivers“.

Free Balochistan can be a reality if U.S. stops aid to Pakistan

After registering his protest on continuing human rights violation in Balochistan by way of heckling Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while the latter was addressing the US Institute of Peace, a prominent independent think-tank, in Washington, on Friday, Ahmer Musti Khan, a Baloch activist and journalist, spoke exclusively to ANI on the reasons for doing it.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q1. Since you interrupted the speech of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the US Institute of Peace (USIP), what impact will it make on the international community?
A. I have been deluded by messages of appreciation from Balochistan, Afghanistan, Gulf nations, and of course India. Since the U.S. capital is one place from where many good and evil things happen, I am sure my heckling of Sharif’s speech will make a difference in the days ahead. Just as I know the sun will rise tomorrow, I know Balochistan will be free. I have been seeing this dream of a free Balochistan since I was 14-years-old. I am celebrating my 56th birthday today in Washington D.C., so, 42 years have passed, but my dream is alive due mainly to the heroic sacrifices of thousands of Baloch people. The international community will and must take note.
Q2. What really happened when the police detained you during Prime Minister Sharif’s speech? Will you be slapped with criminal charges?
A. Police did not detain me. The private security of the USIP removed me from the hall, though, I was leaving on my own after making my point. I literally scolded the security director of the USIP that the fundamental right to the freedom of expression cannot be denied to anyone in the United States. The official Secret Service did interview me. I told them that Pakistan receives U.S. dollars, but is an avowed enemy of the United States. That was it. As much as I know, the U.S. is sympathetic to the Baloch cause. Maybe it is because it understands Pakistan wants to work with China in Balochistan, which hurts vital interests of the United States. Unfortunately, some arms manufacturers in the United States have a lot of clout on Capitol Hill. That is the main problem.
Q3. Pakistan media has totally blacked out the incident and the report about the raising of the Balochistan issue at Prime Minister Sharif’s event in U.S.? Do you believe that Pakistani media is being controlled by the agencies?
A. Pakistan media thinks if it does not report a reality, the truth will die. The censoring of the heckling story, which by all definition of news was a major international story, clearly shows that Pakistan media is hands in gloves with the intelligence services of that country. As I have been a journalist myself and a member of an old Baloch family, I know quite well media houses cannot challenge the military narrative on Balochistan.
Q4. Will you continue to raise the issue of Balochistan as aggressively as you have been doing so far? Will the U.S. impose some restrictions on your activities?
A. We have a changed United States since the 9/11 attacks and bin Laden’s discovery with his three wives next door to the Pakistan Military Academy. I am an American citizen. No one, not even God, can restrict my activities on U.S. soil.
Q5. You also protested outside the White House a day before interrupting Prime Minister’s Sharif’s speech? Please elaborate on the protest?
A.The protest at the White House when President Obama was doing the talking and Sharif was doing the listening was meant to highlight Pakistan’s genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Balochistan. The slogan raised there was “Pakistan is Taliban; Taliban is Pakistan.” I did use a bull horn (loudspeaker) to tell the audience which included many Americans that Pakistan is friend of China and an enemy of the United States. Many Americans have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan due to the ISI machinations. I must assure you our Baloch people are so confident of victory, that they believe that once the U.S. stops supporting Pakistan, we can force them out of Balochistan. At the same time, as a rising power in the world, India must openly support a free Balochistan, not in the interests of the Baloch people, but in the interests of 1.4 billion Indians. We have expectations of the Modi administration having a solid policy of support for Balochistan.
On Friday, Mustikhan was protesting against Islamabad’s inability to rein in the Pakistani Army, which has allegedly been engaged in acts of torture and killing of Baloch who are demanding freedom. He st also called Sharif a ‘friend of Al Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden’.
“I hope my small minute contribution will reach the ears of thousands of Baloch martyr families. My voice was also meant to expose Pakistan terror in Afghanistan and war crimes in Balochistan,” Mustikhan told ANI.

Another attack on Pakistan's Shiites - where is the state?

Shamil Shams

A suicide bomber has targeted a Shiite procession in southern Pakistan, killing at least 15 people. Attacks on Shiites have intensified over the years - a result of the state's support for Sunni extremists, say experts.
The attacker hit the procession of the Ashoura mourners on Friday in the southern city of Jacobabad, according to Pakistani police officials. The suicide attack also wounded dozens of people, including at least six children, who the authorities say are in critical condition.
"The death toll could rise," said Yar Mohammad Lashari, a Jacobabad police official.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sunni extremist organizations are known for their violent opposition to the minority Shiite sect, whom they consider non-Muslims.
Witnesses described scenes of mayhem and chaos at the attack site, with injured people being rushed to nearby hospitals on ambulances and rickshaws.
"We were some three kilometers from the spot and heard the blast," Jan Odhano, a rights activist in the city, told the AFP news agency. "We rushed towards the spot. We saw people running here and there, some were crying and wailing. We could see blood on the clothes of some people," he added.
A day earlier, a suicide bomber, disguised as a woman, targeted a Shiite mosque in the Sibi district of the southwestern Balochistan province, killing at least 10 people. Six children were among the dead.
The attacks happen despite government's claims of fool-proof security measures to protect the members of the minority sect.
Ashoura marks the assassination of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad, by then caliph Yazid's army, in the Iraqi city of Karbala in the year 680.
State's Sunni support
Of late, Pakistan's Sunni militant extremists with links to al Qaeda and the Taliban have intensified their attacks on minority Shiites. Pakistani human rights groups accuse the country's security agencies of backing Sunni militants and failing to protect the minority groups of the country.
Development worker and political activist Maqsood Ahmad Jan believes the government's insistence on peace talks with the Taliban and other radical groups are emboldening them to act against religious minorities.
But Sikandar Hayat Janjua, a member of the socialist Awami Workers Party in Karachi, says it would be foolish to expect that the government would launch an operation against Sunni militants.
"The Sunni extremist groups are practically the militant wings of the country's security agencies, and no organization would like to act against itself," Janjua told DW.
Ali Chishti, a security and political analyst in Karachi, argues that the Pakistani state has failed to protect not just the Shiites but most of its citizens. "Pakistan is headed in a completely wrong direction and faces an existential threat due to its policies," Chishti said.
Many Pakistani analysts trace the origins of sectarian violence in Pakistan to the Afghan War of the 1980s. They say that Pakistan's former military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq made it a state policy to fund and arm extremist Wahhabi groups in the 1980s, using these organizations against the Shiites to kill Iran's support in Pakistan and to increase its influence in Afghanistan.
A Saudi-Iran proxy war
Experts believe that the Saudi-backed Sunni hardliners are targeting Shiites to kill Iran's support in Pakistan.
"Pakistani Shiites have close ties with Iran. On the other hand, Baloch separatists prefer to be with Tehran rather than Islamabad. This makes both the Shiites and Balochs suspicious in the eyes of the various stakeholders in the establishment. It is certainly not acceptable to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers," Nahyan Mirza, a communication expert in Islamabad, told DW, explaining the more volatile situation for the Shiites in the restive Balochistan province.
According to Siegfried O. Wolf, a senior research fellow and lecturer at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, for Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalists the country is a "Sunni Wall" against Shiite Iran . "The policy of containing the Shiite influence in the region was seriously affected after the collapse of the Sunni-Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq. These events created a power vacuum which is now being increasingly filled by Tehran. Saudi Arabia does not want to see the rise of Iran and will continue to do anything to ensure Sunni dominance," he told DW.
Wolf said that attacks on Shiites would continue until Islamabad stopped differentiating and negotiating with Islamic extremists.
Amin Mughal, a Pakistani journalist and scholar in London, believes that the policy of supporting Islamist groups has backfired and that the Pakistani state is no longer in a position to control the situation.
"It is a logical consequence of state policies which are based on religion," Mughal told DW, adding that the only way out of the crisis was for "true secular parties" to come to power and change the course of state affairs.