Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Long Prison Terms for Activists

A Saudi court has sentenced three men for peaceful activism to extended prison terms since October 13, 2015, in separate trials. Two of the men, Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr and Dr. Abd al-Rahman al-Hamid, were among the co-founders of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA).The third, Abd al-Aziz al-Snaidi, is an independent dissident. The sentences range from eight to 10 years.
Like other peaceful activists and dissidents convicted by Saudi courts since 2012, the three faced broad, catch-all charges designed to criminalize peaceful dissent, such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “setting up an unlicensed organization,” as well as vague provisions from the 2007 cybercrime law. All of the charges were tied solely to their peaceful advocacy.
“These outlandish sentences demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s complete intolerance toward citizens who speak out for human rights and reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director. “King Salman should immediately release all peaceful activists and dissidents from their long prison terms.”
On October 13, the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced al-Snaidi, 41, to eight years in prison, an eight-year ban on travel following his release, and a fine of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (US$9,450), local activists told Human Rights Watch. The activists said that the charges included signing a petition for the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, writing tweets that criticized the king, impugning the integrity of the judiciary, and inciting public opinion. Authorities arrested him in February, and he is in Riyadh’s al-Malaz Prison.
The court convicted al-Hamid the same day, sentencing him to nine years in prison, a nine-year travel ban, and a 50,000-Riyal fine. The court convicted al-Khodr on October 19, and sentenced him to 10 years and a 10-year travel ban. Both men are in al-Malaz Prison. Authorities arrested the men in April 2014 and April 2013, respectively, and they have been in jail ever since.
The ACPRA activists faced similar vague charges, which included disparaging and insulting judicial authorities, inciting public opinion, insulting religious leaders, participating in setting up an unlicensed organization, and violating the cybercrime law. Other members of the group have been convicted under similar vague charges and are serving long sentences, including Mohammed al-Bajadi, Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Fowzan al-Harbi, Suleiman al-Rashoodi, and Omar al-Saeed. Two other members – Abd al-Aziz al-Shubaili and Issa al-Hamid – are on trial.
Other Saudi activists serving long prison terms include Waleed Abu al-Khair, serving 15 years on charges stemming solely from his peaceful criticism of human rights abuses in media interviews and on social media, and Fadhil al-Manasif, serving 14 years largely for helping foreign media cover popular protests by Saudi Shia in 2011.
Saudi authorities arrested and detained a prominent writer and commentator, Zuhair Kutbi, on July 15 after he discussed peaceful reform proposals in a TV interview. He remains in detention and has not been charged.
Saudi Arabia’s treatment of peaceful activists and dissidents contrasts in some cases with its treatment of defendants accused of committing acts of violence or fighting with extremist groups abroad – some of whom are permitted to enter a “rehabilitation” programin lieu of prosecution. On October 15, for example, the Arab News reported that two Saudi men who fought in conflicts abroad, in violation of Saudi law, were given a royal pardon after completing the rehabilitation program.
Saudi Arabia applies Sharia (Islamic law) as its national law. There is no formal penal code, but the government has passed some laws and regulations that subject certain broadly defined offenses to criminal penalties. In the absence of a written penal code or narrowly worded regulations, however, judges and prosecutors can criminalize a wide range of offenses under broad, catch-all charges such as “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom.”
Saudi authorities regularly pursue charges against human rights activists based on their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, in violation of international human rights obligations. The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia has ratified, guarantees the right to freedom of opinion and expression under article 32. The United Nations General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders states that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to “impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“It is inconceivable that mere criticism in statements and on social media could land someone in jail for more than a decade, but that’s the sad reality in Saudi Arabia,” Whitson said.

Saudi Arabia executes people over drugs while its princes are caught with tons of drugs at the airport

Ben Norton

The Saudi monarchy executes someone over drugs every four days while princes smuggle tons and hold decadent parties.

Saudi prince Abdel Mohsen bin Walid bin Abdulaziz was caught in an airport in Lebanon on Monday with over two tons of drugs.
Lebanese security found 40 suitcases full of more than 4,000 pounds of amphetamine pills and cocaine on the prince’s private plane, which was on its way to Saudi capital city Riyadh. A security source told AFP that this was the largest smuggling operation ever foiled by Beirut International Airport security.
While this may seem like just another case of rich and powerful aristocrats going wild, the implications of this drug bust are much more insidious: In Saudi Arabia, people are executed over drugs. And not rarely — several times a month, on average.
In fact, just hours after the Saudi prince was caught with thousands of pounds of drugs, a Pakistani drug smuggler was executed by the Saudi government.
Roughly half (47 percent) of people executed in Saudi Arabia are killed for drug-related offenses, according to Amnesty International. From August 2014 to August 2015, Amnesty documented 175 Saudi executions, an average of one every two days.
Every four days then, on average, the Saudi government executes someone for drug-related offenses — while its own princes are caught in airports with tons of drugs.
Although an extremist theocratic absolute monarchy in which women are not granted equal rights, Saudi Arabia — which has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves — is a close Western ally.
When the Saudi regime was appointed to be the head of a U.N. Human Rights Council panel last month, the U.S. State Department said it “welcomed” the news, happily adding “we’re close allies.”
The Saudi regime officially has the world’s third-highest execution rate, after China and Iran. Yet China has almost 50 times more people, and Iran’s population is roughly three times that of Saudi Arabia.
Beheading is the most common form of execution in the kingdom. Firing squads are not uncommon either.
Critics have pointed out that, while Western governments and media are absolutely outraged at the brutal beheadings carried out by ISIS, those same governments and media are largely silent about the regular beheading of people by the Saudi monarchy.
Equally hypocritical are the standards by which the Saudi royal family are treated. Abdel Mohsen is by no means the first prince to be caught up in controversy. Mere days before he was caught in Lebanon, female staffers at a Beverly Hills mansionfiled a lawsuit against another Saudi prince, Majid bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, accusing him of sexually abusing them and using illegal drugs. Staffers say the prince, who was doing cocaine and heavily drinking — another illegal activity in Saudi Arabia — ordered them all to strip naked, while uttering “I am a prince and I do what I want.” They also say the prince engaged in homosexual sex, which is punishable by death in the Saudi regime.
The Saudi royal family is infamous for its decadence. These two recent cases are not isolated. WikiLeaks cables show that Saudi princes regularly throw opulent parties inundated with alcohol, drugs, and sex, while the totalitarian religious police turn a blind eye to their felonious activities.
Saudi royalty live by a completely different set of rules — while the rest of the population lives under a ruthlessly violent Western-backed feudal dictatorship, in which they can and will be executed for stepping out of line.

Doctors Without Borders Says Yemen Hospital Is Destroyed


A health center in northernYemen run by Doctors Without Borders was obliterated overnight in multiple bombings by warplanes belonging to the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, forcing the evacuation of staff members and patients, the group said on Tuesday.
“With the hospital destroyed, at least 200,000 people now have no access to lifesaving medical care,” Doctors Without Borders said in astatement. Hassan Boucenine, the group’s head of mission in Yemen, said in the statement that the attack was “another illustration of a complete disregard for civilians in Yemen, where bombings have become a daily routine.”
The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting Houthi rebels, has bombed several health facilities during the seven-month war, but the airstrikes appeared to be the first time coalition warplanes had directly struck a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders. The group said the hospital was “hit by several airstrikes” starting at around 10:30 p.m. Monday. Doctors Without Borders is one of the few international organizations operating extensively throughout Yemen.
About 12 patients and staff members were in the center at the time, and they were able to evacuate in the lull between the two airstrikes. One patient received burns and scratches, and another was in critical condition because of the hurried evacuation, Mr. Boucenine said. One staff member was slightly injured.
Doctors Without Borders had supplied the health center’s coordinates to the coalition about six months ago and reconfirmed them every month, Mr. Boucenine said.
The health center, in the Haydan district along the border with Saudi Arabia, was one of the few medical facilities still operating in the northern province of Saada, a Houthi stronghold that has been heavily bombed by the coalition.
This month, an American airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan killed at least 23 people. The group has called for an international inquiry into that attack under the Geneva Conventions.


Doctors without Borders (MSF) says a hospital run by the international medical group in Yemen has been hit by Saudi airstrikes.
“MSF facility in Saada [sic] Yemen was hit by several airstrikes last night with patients and staff inside the facility,” the group said in a tweet on Tuesday.
MSF spokeswoman Malak Shaher separately said that there were “no casualties” in the attacks.
Meanwhile, Yemen’s state news agency Saba quoted the Heedan hospital director as saying that several people were injured in Saudi attacks on the hospital – which is also located in Sa’ada – last night.
“The air raids resulted in the destruction of the entire hospital with all that was inside – devices and medical supplies – and the moderate wounding of several people,” Doctor Ali Mughli said.
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the Heedan hospital was the one operated by the MSF and targeted by Saudi warplanes.
The Saudi military has been engaged in heavy strikes against Yemen since late March. The strikes are supposedly meant to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and restore power to fugitive former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a staunch Saudi ally.
About 7,000 people have lost their lives in the Saudi airstrikes, and a total of nearly 14,000 people have been injured since March 26.
It is the second time this month that an MSF facility has been hit in a conflict zone.
Earlier, on October 3, an MSF hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz was bombed by US forces, killing about 30 people.
Officials at the humanitarian organization have blamed the United States, calling for “independent investigation” into the incident, which the US says occurred as a result of a “mistake” made “within the US chain of command.”

Death toll from quake in Pakistan, Afghanistan hits 339

The death toll from a powerful 7.7-Richter earthquake that hit several regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan has risen to 339.
Afghan and Pakistani officials said on Tuesday that 258 people lost their lives in Pakistan and 78 in Afghanistan while three people were killed on the Indian side of the disputed region of Kashmir. The number is expected to rise further.
The temblor’s epicenter was located 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of Fayzabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s sparsely populated Badakhshan province near the border with Pakistan, Tajikistan and China. It struck the two neighboring countries on Monday.
The figures come as rescuers are still trying to reach quake-stricken areas across Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan casualties, damage
Afghan officials have confirmed 78 dead and 466 wounded, based on numbers reported by hospitals across the country.
"We believe the exact numbers are much higher because not all people bring the bodies to the hospitals so there are many that are not being counted. And there are still areas we don't have access to so we are not aware of the situation there," said Qameruddin Sediqi, an adviser to the public health minister.
Badakhshan Gov. Shah Waliullah Adeeb, meanwhile, said the quake either demolished or partially destroyed 1,500 houses there.
He added that the province’s casualty figures of 11 dead and 25 wounded would increase “by the end of the day, once the survey teams get to the remote areas and villages.”
Men look for their belongings after an earthquake, in Kishim district of Badakhshan province, Afghanistan October 27, 2015. (Reuters photo)
Authorities in the province of Baghlan, southwest of Badakhshan, reported at least three deaths, but the number is expected to go up.
Meanwhile, in Nangarhar province on the eastern border with Pakistan, officials said at least 28 people were killed and 141 were wounded. More than 1,000 homes are also destroyed.
Causalities in Pakistan
Pakistan’s Swat Valley and areas around Dir, Malakand and Shangla towns in the mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are hard-hit, with authorities saying that 202 people died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Over 2,000 people have sustained injures in Monday's quake in Pakistan that also damaged more than 4,000 homes. Casualties and damage are also being assessed in the country.
Pakistan was last struck by a magnitude-7.6 quake in October 2005, which killed more than 80,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless.


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Obama Wins on Budget Deal as John Boehner Cleans Out the Barn


The deal is the policy equivalent of keeping the lights on — hardly the stuff of a bold fiscal legacy. But it achieves the main objective of his 2016 budget: to break free of the spending shackles he agreed to when he signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, an outcome, the president allowed Tuesday, that he could be “pretty happy” about.
For this fiscal year alone, the deal would add $50 billion in spending, divided equally between defense and domestic programs, as well as $16 billion for emergency war spending, half for the military, half for the State Department. Together, that represents an increase of $66 billion above the spending limits for 2016, not far off the $70 billion increase Mr. Obama requested.
From the moment he introduced his budget on Feb. 2, Mr. Obama held firm on his demand that Congress break through the punishing across-the-board cuts known as sequestration in the Budget Control Act to provide equal increases to domestic and military spending. He promised to veto any spending bill that adhered to the statutory spending caps, made good on that threat this month by vetoing a popular defense policy bill, enlisted the support of congressional Democrats with whom his White House had sometimes sparred on budget matters, and capitalized on Republican divisions to get his way.
Senate Democrats created an impenetrable wall for Republicans determined to stick to the caps, filibustering the spending bills that reached the Senate floor and threatening to block the ones that did not. House Democrats stayed in lock step with Mr. Obama as well, with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, promising that her troops would sustain the president’s veto.
The result was a deal that would raise spending $80 billion, or about 1 percent, over the next two years while enacting an array of cuts that Democrats found palatable. The deal also would suspend the statutory debt limit — on track to be breached on Tuesday without action from Congress — until March 2017, beyond his presidency. It also contains a provision Ms. Pelosi had pressed for to avert large Medicare premium increases for some beneficiaries.
“This shouldn’t be mistaken for some overarching grand bargain, but there’s a lot in here the White House likes and not much they don’t,” said Jared Bernstein, a former top economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and now a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research institute in Washington. “Most importantly, if the deal prevails, they won’t have to deal with budget nonsense for the rest of the term, which has got to look pretty sweet.”
The near-midnight posting of a 144-page agreement suggested that lawmakers were cognizant of looming political and operational deadlines. Even the caustic reaction of Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican on track to be elected speaker of the House on Thursday, did not dampen White House hopes, since Mr. Obama’s team recognized any agreement it could accept would defy the demands of the hard-line conservatives in the House whose backing Mr. Ryan depends on.
His opposition seemed orchestrated more to keep his election as speaker on track than to derail a budget deal that mirrors one he personally negotiated with Senate Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, in 2013. In the end, the retirement of Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, Mr. Obama’s negotiating partner in several abortive attempts at a much more sweeping fiscal deal, handed the president the leverage he needed to break the budget impasse. Mr. Boehner said he wanted to “clean out the barn” before handing over his gavel to a successor, telegraphing an opening for an agreement.
The president, hammered by some in his party for staying on the sidelines in earlier budget battles, quietly deployed Katie Beirne Fallon and Brian Deese, two senior officials with deep knowledge of Capitol Hill and the budget, to hammer out details with aides to Mr. Boehner; Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader; Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader; and Ms. Pelosi. “The Boehner resignation clearly was a pivot point, and his clear statement of wanting to clean out the barn was a real signal to the administration that there was a chance here,” said G. William Hoagland, a former senior Republican Senate budget aide. “The president learned a lot from his previous experiences on this, that if you’re trying to govern, you don’t run a political campaign. You have to work quietly and hard behind the scenes.” Mr. Obama, who disdains such legislative wrangling, ultimately had to yield to it.
And the deal did not come without concessions from the White House; it included Social Security cuts that Democrats have resisted, omitted tax increases the president had insisted must be part of any fair budget, and employed the very budgeting trick Mr. Obama dismissed as a gimmick in vetoing the defense measure to boost spending levels.
The White House said Mr. Obama had been “heavily engaged” in the talks behind the scenes since mid-September — a marked change from two years ago, when the president sat on the sidelines as Mr. Ryan and Ms. Murray negotiated the last increase in the spending limits. This time, the president occasionally made his presence known over the phone. What he got in return was an agreement that top White House officials said would create jobs and promote growth — and that Democrats hope will position them for electoral success in 2016. “As our strong domestic economic momentum continues to face headwinds from slowing growth abroad, it is critical to avoid the self-inflicted wounds of past episodes of fiscal brinkmanship,” Jason Furman, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in a blog post on Tuesday. “Instead, this agreement strengthens both short- and long-run growth, setting the stage for more, higher-paid jobs.”
Whether or not that happens, Mr. Obama can now see the end of lurching from spending crisis to spending crisis.
“There’s a lot that he’d like to do for the rest of his term, and that doesn’t include worrying about shutdowns and debt ceilings and spending hours strategizing and squabbling like crazy with the other side,” Mr. Bernstein said. “The idea that he can now work on policy he wants to promote, particularly around the economy, education, infrastructure — that’s got to feel great.”

Hillary Clinton Regains Commanding Lead in Iowa in Latest Polls

Sanders surpassed Clinton in some polls as she was mired in her email scandal last month. However, two polls that came out on Tuesday show Clinton is back in a big way.
On Saturday night, thousands of Iowans packed a parking lot outside Hy-Vee Hall before the Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Two new polls show more Iowans are supporting Clinton now than ever before.
First came a Monmouth university poll which shows 65 percent of Iowa Democrats are backing her right now. Bernie Sanders is a distant second with 24 percent of the vote.
Then a few hours later a second poll mirrored those results. A Loras College Poll gives Clinton 62 percent of support, while Sanders has 24 percent.
It’s the first poll of Iowa Democrats we've seen conducted after last week's shake-up in the Democratic race.Vice president Joe Biden, Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffee all officially stepped out of the race last week.
Clinton also gave that memorable performance before the house Benghazi Committee that many Democrats have cheered.
Caucus day is still 96 days away, but for now it appears momentum has significantly swung back in Hillary Clinton’s favor in Iowa.

US officials: Iran invited to next round of Syria talks

Iran has been invited to participate for the first time in international talks over Syria's future, U.S. officials said Tuesday, a shift in strategy for the United States and its allies as they seek to halt the four-year civil war and eventually ease President Bashar Assad out of power.
Iran has yet to reply, the officials said.
The next diplomatic round is expected to start Thursday and continue Friday in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats attending.
Washington had held out the possibility of Iran joining the discussions in future, but is only now offering Tehran a seat after days of behind-the-scenes negotiation, particularly with its regional rival Saudi Arabia. Russia extended the invitation.
The United States is taking a gamble. Iran has backed Assad's government throughout the conflict, fighting alongside the Syrian military, and is seen by Western-backed rebels and U.S. partners in the region as a major source of the bloodshed. The Syrian opposition may balk at Iran's inclusion in any discussions on what a post-Assad Syria should look like.
On the other hand, all previous international mediation efforts have done nothing to stop the fighting, and Kerry is trying to unite all sides with influence in the Arab country around a common vision of a peaceful, secular and pluralistic Syria governed with the consent of its people.
The American officials weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman spoke about cooperating closely to fight the Islamic State and "establish the conditions for a political transition in Syria," according to a White House statement. They vowed to build on recent diplomatic efforts.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said arrangements for Vienna were still being finalized, but that "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting."
While the U.S. doesn't approve of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
"It's up to Iran to decide whether they're going to or not when they are asked," he told reporters.
It's not a given that Iran attends. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ruled out new negotiations with the United States after they and five other nations clinched a long-term nuclear agreement in July. But Iran clearly has a stake in Syria's future, as Assad's government has helped the Iranians exert dominance over nearby Lebanon and threaten Israel through their proxy, Hezbollah.
The U.S., Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey met last week in Vienna, putting forward new ideas to revive diplomatic hopes. However, they remained deeply divided over Assad's future.
The United States and its partners say Assad can participate in a "political transition," but would have to leave power at the end of the process if Syria could ever move on from a war that has killed at least 250,000 people and forced more than 11 million from their homes. Russia and Iran reject that demand. Other sticking points include the length of the transition, and what a new constitution and future elections might look like.
Beyond Iran, this week's gathering will expand to include countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Amid all the talking, Syria's fighting goes on. Since last month, Russia has launched hundreds of airstrikes targeting what it says are the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. The Obama administration, NATO and others say most of the bombs are landing on moderate rebel militias, some backed by the CIA. Meanwhile, violence continues to rage between rebel groups and the Islamic State, and in the Kurdish region in northern Syria, even drawing in Turkey.
Saudi Arabia had been most determined to block Iran from the meeting. King Salman even pressed that point on Kerry in a meeting last weekend outside of Riyadh, according to U.S. officials. But they said the Saudis relented after lengthy discussion.
From Vienna, Kerry is heading to Central Asia through Nov. 3. He could potentially resume his diplomatic efforts on Syria along his way back to the United States.

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Commentary: U.S. provocation in South China Sea an irresponsible game of brinkmanship dangerous to regional stability

By - Deng Yushan, Zhu Junqing

A U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese islands in South China Sea on Tuesday in a flagrant -- and baseless -- provocation against China's legitimate rights in the body of water.

The USS Lassen's operation, carried out in the name of freedom of navigation, was nothing but a willful and harmful game of brinkmanship mounted to flex U.S. muscles at China's doormat and reassert Washington's dominant presence in the region -- at the cost of injecting more uncertainty into regional stability.

On the one hand, the pretext for the provocative voyage does not hold water whatsoever, for at least three reasons.

First, Beijing holds no "excessive claim" of sovereignty in South China Sea. Its entitlement to relevant South China Sea islands and reefs is well documented and validated in history. Those U.S. officials who dispute that either need to make up missed history lessons or choose to ignore historical facts.

Second, the freedom of navigation and overflight has never been jeopardized, despite the complicated territorial rows between China and some of its neighbors. That is in large part due to the shared resolve of relevant parties to keep the sea peaceful, and in no smaller part thanks to China's restraint.

Third, China does not seek to militarize the Nansha Islands in South China Sea, and its construction activities there do not target any other country and will not hinder the international passages all countries are entitled to under international law. As Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently reaffirmed, Beijing will never be the party to stir up chaos.
With trillions of dollars' worth of goods traversing the patch of water every year, South China Sea is vital both to global trade and to China's development. Beijing has no reason to make trouble that might block one of its own arteries of trade.

On the other hand, such aggressive behavior is highly irresponsible and dangerous. First of all, it breaches Washington's pledge of not taking sides in the South China Sea disputes.
Gimmicks like conducting patrols around South China Sea features built up by Vietnam and the Philippines -- which have illegally occupied some of China's islands -- cannot conceal to which side the United States is tilted.

In parallel, it runs counter to the consensus Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama has built on fostering a new model of major-country relations between the two global giants characterized by no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
Such provocations threaten to worsen the already gaping deficit of mutual trust between Beijing and Washington, which stems partly from the latter's frequent close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China.

Also, it is poised to further muddy the waters and undermine rational endeavors in seeking a peaceful and early settlement of the chronic South China Sea rows and thus eliminating the root causes of tensions and troubles for good.

Apparently instigated by Washington's expanding military presence in the region under the umbrella strategy of "rebalancing" to the Asia-Pacific, some claimants have already become increasingly assertive in the South China Sea disputes. More U.S. provocations against China would only further embolden them.

Given the importance of South China Sea to world trade, it is high time that Washington heeded Beijing's appeals and warnings and stopped making waves in the busy body of water and making trouble out of nothing.

Who Wants to Turn Bangladesh Into Bangla-Daesh?

Andrew Korybko

The Mideast-based terrorist group has taken responsibility for a string of violence in the South Asian country, but the question is, to whose benefit does this ultimately play out?

The Russian Aerospace Forces, Syrian Arab Army, and their corresponding Coalition of the Righteous partners are pressing forward in their quest to rid the Mideast of terrorism, but it appears as though ISIL’s retreat in West Asia is taking place concurrently with its preplanned expansion into South Asia.
The terrorist group (also referred to as Daesh in Arabic) claimed credit for three gruesome attacks in Bangladesh over the past month, which include the back-to-back killing of two foreigners and last weekend’s bombing of a Shiite procession that killed one and injured over one hundred others in the capital. While the government denies that ISIL has a presence in the country, some are skeptical about that claim.

It’s important for observers not to lose sight of the tense domestic context in which all of this is playing out, since internal political factors have certainly contributed to making the country more susceptible to externally managed destabilization attempts.

Furthermore, any breakdown of Bangladeshi society would result in strong regional aftershocks that would negatively affect India, both in terms of its physical security and the viability of its ambitious Act East foreign policy initiative. Considering everything that’s at stake if terrorism takes root in the South Asian state, it’s timely to ponder which actor would gain the most by turning Bangladesh into Bangla-Daesh.

Dueling Dynasties

Bangladeshi domestic politics has essentially morphed into a two-party system ever since 1990, with the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) fiercely competing with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). BAL is led by Sheikh Hasina and is the party currently in power, while the opposition BNP is controlled by Khaleda Rahman.

Each of these ladies is directly related to one of Bangladesh’s historical leaders.

Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, while Khaleda Zia is the wife of military leader Ziaur Rahman who came to power in the wake of Sheikh Mujibur’s assassination. For over the past 20 years, the country’s leadership has alternated between these two women.

The two parties couldn’t be more different in their national vision, which makes their rivalry all the more intense.
BAL is genuinely recognized as being more pro-Indian and strongly adheres to the country’s secular roots, while BNP is seen as being pro-American and pro-Saudi and supportive of the Islamization of society.

Tension between the two exploded into political violence after a hard-core Islamist party allied with the BNP provoked nationwide riots in 2013 to protest the BAL government handing down a death sentence to one of its leaders.
Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the former Vice-President of the now-banned Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party, was convicted of crimes against humanity for atrocities that he committed during the 1971 War of Independence, and while the resultant Color Revolution attempt that he sparked failed to bring down the government and replace it with the BNP, his legal appeal succeeded in reducing his sentence to life in prison. 
The domestic political fallout from the riots can still be felt today, and it’s at the core of Bangladesh’s present instability.
The BNP boycotted the 2014 general election in response to the government’s reaction to the rioters, alleging that the vote wouldn’t be free or fair (despite its results later being accepted by the international community, although with some criticism).  Due to their obstinacy, the BNP hasn’t had a single seat in parliament since, and in a circuitous fashion, they allege that this makes the current government illegitimate. 
The latest update in the political rivalry came in mid-October when Sheikh Hasina accused Khaleda Zia of “conspiring from abroad [note: she’s in the UK for “medical treatment”] to tarnish the country's image through killing foreigners”, intimating that she and her political allies were working with terrorists.
Implications For India
The spiraling situation in Bangladesh couldn’t come at a more geopolitically inconvenient time for India. Prime Minister Modi has just gotten started in excitedly promoting his country’s new Act East policy, and he sealed historic border and trade agreements with Bangladesh during a visit there in June.

The border aspects put to rest all prior impediments to a true strategic partnership, thus allowing India the economic privilege of using Bangladeshi territory for transshipments to the country’s seven northeast provinces. The “Seven Sisters”, as they’re colloquially called, have historically been hotbeds of anti-government unrest, and Bodo and Naga terrorist groups have lately resumed their activity there.

It’s absolutely crucial for New Delhi to stabilize and develop this far-flung region for use in properly launching the mainland portion of the Act East strategy. Just last month the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway (India’s “ASEAN Road”) became operational, thus linking the Indian-led South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) with one of the world’s other fastest-growing economic blocs, ASEAN. The potential for mutual benefit is limitless and could do wonders for India’s rising multipolar status in the world, but it’s conditional on the preservation of peace all along this highway route, including in vulnerable Northeast India. An ISIL-initiated terrorist war in Bangladesh could ruin all of that, however, since the trans-border humanitarian and terrorist overflow could drastically destabilize India and set off a chain reaction of conflict inside the country itself. 

The Damocles’ Sword Of Daesh

No matter how India tries to assess it, the reluctant realization has likely dawned on its leadership that the viability of its Act East strategy and the ASEAN Road are dependent on internal conditions in Bangladesh that are beyond their control, but are dangerously threatening to explode and take the whole region down with it.
The visionary dreams of India’s rightful place as a multipolar centerpiece are endangered by the uncontrollable destabilization that an Islamist terrorist war in Bangladesh chillingly poses, and it’s clear that the latest attacks are being done with the intent of weakening the government and prompting snap societal chaos that could suddenly engulf India.

Daesh’s activities in Bangladesh are a sort of Damocles’ Sword hanging over Modi’s head, as the controlling forces behind this terrorist group hold the ultimate form of blackmail in influencing New Delhi. If India doesn’t accede to their geopolitical ‘suggestions’ (perhaps to distance itself from Russia and start ‘containing’ China), then the terrorists will unreservedly be ordered to go forward with their regime change scenario in either installing an anti-Indian government in Dhaka or turning Bangladesh into a black hole of chaos instead.

Recall how Khaleda Rahman has been scheming for “early elections” almost right after the ones that she boycotted were held, and how Sheikh Hasina has just tacitly accused her of being in cahoots with terrorists. President Putin warned last week in Valdai that “some terrorists are used as a battering ram to overthrow the regimes that are not to one’s liking”, and while spoken about the Mideast, it now looks to be applicable for South Asia as well. Expanding on this insight, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder whether the same culprit responsible for destroying the Mideast might be the one that’s using the threat of terrorism in Bangladesh to blackmail India away from its Eurasian BRICS partners.

Read more: http://sputniknews.com/columnists/20151026/1029133026/bangladesh-daesh.html#ixzz3poET3rPG

Pakistan: Ahmadiyya leader on terrorists' hit list in Punjab, media hate campaign continues

Terror group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba have added a local president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to their hit list, it is learnt from a periodic news report issued by the community's London headquarters.

Mr Ijaz Mahmood who leads the local chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mandi Bahauddin, a city in central Punjab, it the latest victim to face open death threats from the banned terrorist group.

"The local mosque of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is said to have been watched by local youths and a middle-aged man attempted to storm the building, asking for Mr Mahmood," the Ahmadiyya Persecution News report said.

TV channel airs death threats against Ahmadis

Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic extremism finds support in the Pakistani media, helping them to start easy hate campaigns against Ahmadis.

A series of pre-recorded speeches inciting violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were recently aired by Bedari, a private TV channel in Pakistan.

The hate speeches, first recorded in the Punjab town of Sargodha during an anti-Ahmadi conference in August 2015, openly called for the Ahmadis' murder, the report said.

"Mirzais [derogatory term for Ahmadi Muslims] are infidels and must be killed," a speakers is heard saying, according to the Ahmadiyya Persecution News. "We announce war against them. We will shoot them in their heads.”

Ahmadis in Pakistan face problems in their businesses and work places with constant threats of violence, harassment, and abuse.



Opposition leader of National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said “Terrorism is a grave issue of Pakistan against which we have been fighting since 2008. Operation Zarb e Azb is going on against terrorists. Even though the military operations in Swat, Waziristan and FATA have remained fruitful, the government has to take corrective measures to curb terrorism in other parts of the country and we all have to jointly work to solve this problem”.
 He expressed these thoughts while talking to the media after offering condolences to the families of martyrs of Jacobabad incident. He said “Terrorism severely affects the political condition and we all should look for its solution. All political parties, whether inside or outside the parliament, were taken on board to discuss such issues during the tenure of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Now the situation is grave and the government should take other parties in confidence and form a strategy to cope with terrorism in the country”.
“There is no doubt that terrorism has been eradicated to a large extent dur to Operation Zarb e Azb but huge nurseries of terrorists are cropping up in Punjab and besides affecting other parts of Pakistan, they have started affected parts of upper Sindh. Shikarpur and Jacobabad incidents are the examples and this whole area is getting affected by terrorism”, he pointed out. Shah claimed that the Sindh government is doing its best to curb terrorism in the province but it should work with the agencies to eradicate terrorism. He said “We need to rectify our network because only then we will be able to break terrorists’ network”.

Pakistan - The Earthquake

An earthquake measuring 7.7 and centered in the mountainous Hindukush region has shaken Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistani officials say the death toll in their country from the Afghan earthquake has risen to 145, bringing the overall total to at least 180. Inayatullah Khan, Pakistan’s provincial minister, has claimed that the death toll from the earthquake in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone jumped to 121.
Peshawar has been sealed, while online monitoring systems are being installed for many areas. However, looking at the chaos and destruction that the media is highlighting, it is safe to say that we really were not prepared for this. It is even more worrying to know that this could have been much worse, as it was in 2005. Natural disasters always leave behind substantial damage, but unless a proper warning and rehabilitation system is put into place, that destruction becomes irrevocable. Experts claim that this earthquake was a deep-focus one, rather than a shallow one, leading to comparatively less damage. Who knows what will happen next time. There are measures that can be taken to help prevent the landslides and housing and construction can also be improved to be earthquake resistant or cause minimal damage to people. Yet, in the last ten years, no efforts have been made to explore such options.
Additionally, rather than talking about relief and prevention from unavoidable natural phenomena, people have taken to social and traditional media to say that the disaster is a result of the “immoral” behaviour of people. This type of flippancy in the face of crisis needs to end if we want to understand the actual reasons behind such disasters and create awareness for our own protection. It is ethically wrong, to attribute the death and pain of innocent people to immoral proclivities and point to a lack of respect for victims as well as for factual information.
The loss of life in regrettable, and we must work in partnership with local organisations as they are the first ones to respond to a crisis like this. People need to be aware of the dangers of aftershocks; especially as they are being repeatedly felt across the region. In this time of tragedy let us also not forget the victims of the 2005 earthquake, and the fact that there are things beyond our power and perception that will test us, and we must stand together as a nation and as humanity to protect each other.