Tuesday, January 5, 2016

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Yemen: Almost 2,800 civilians killed as civil war and Saudi Arabia-led air strikes take 'terrible toll' on lives

The civilian death toll in the continuing war in Yemen has risen to almost 2,800 amid accusations that the Saudi-led coalition is using cluster bombs on populated areas.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), children were among the 81 civilians killed and 109 wounded in December.
The conflict has been raging since March, when the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee attempted to overthrow the Hadi government, sparking a civil war drawing in at least a dozen other countries, as well as groups affiliated with Isis and al-Qaeda.
More than 2,700 civilians have been killed since Saudi-led airstrikes began in March
Iran is supporting the Revolutionary Committee, while the US and a coalition of Gulf nations led by Saudi Arabia is backing the former government with a bombing campaign.
A spokesperson for the OHCHR said the conflict continues to take a “terrible toll on civilians”, including more than 5,300 men, women and children in little over nine months.
“During the month of December, at least 62 civilians were reported to have been killed by airstrikes attributed to the (Saudi-led) coalition forces,” he added.
“This is more than twice the number of civilians reported killed in November.”
A Yemeni boy runs past a mural painted on the wall of the capital in Sanaa
Two air strikes reportedly killed 18 civilians when they hit a house in Saada Governorate on 18 December, while three children were among those who died in bombing that destroyed 14 houses in Al-Ḥudaydah two days later.
The recorded number of civilians killed by shelling by the Houthi-affiliated Popular Committees decreased last month to 11, according to UN figures.
A spokesperson for the OHCHR said it had received “alarming information on the alleged use of cluster bombs” by coalition forces in Hajjah Governorate. 
Inspectors saw the remnants of 29 of the bombs near banana plantations during a visit to village of Al-Odair, in Haradh District, where witnesses claimed other villages had been affected, with civilians stepping on unexploded submunitions. 
The aftermath of an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on Sanaa earlier this year
Senegal is the only nation in the coalition to be among the 98 signatories to a UN convention banning the use of cluster munitions.
The bombs, which release multiple “bomblets” over a wide area, can be indiscriminate and kill civilians long after conflicts have ended by failing to detonate until they are trodden on.
The UN raised particular concern over the city of Taizz, which has been the scene of violent clashes for the past eight months and has Popular Committees forces blocking all entry points, limiting access to food, medicine and essential supplies.
Dozens of prisoners have also died in bombing since the start of the war, which has also caused more than 4,000 to escape, while those remaining face food, electricity, water and food shortages as disease spreads.

Daily air strikes continued today, as the governor of the southern port city of Aden survived a suspected assassination attempt that killed two of his bodyguards.
Aidarous al-Zubaidi’s car was attacked a month after his predecessor was killed in a bombing claimed by Yemen's local Isis affiliate. 
Aden is controlled by the internationally recognised government, while Houthi rebels control the capital and parts of the north, with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Isis seizing other territory.
UN-backed peace talks secured a truce starting on 15 December but, after being repeatedly violated by both sides, it was officially ended by the Saudi coalition on Saturday.
Earlier the same day, Saudi Arabia executed a dissident Shia cleric convicted of “terrorism”, sparking riots outside Saudi consulates in Iran and a cut in diplomatic ties between the two countries, threatening to worsen their proxy wars in Yemen and Syria and deepen sectarian tensions in the region.

UN says cluster bomb remains found in Yemen

The United Nations says its investigative teams found remnants of cluster bombs in Yemen’s northwestern region, where Saudi Arabia has been carrying out incessant airstrikes.
The UN human rights office said Tuesday that it had received reports that Saudi forces used cluster bombs in Hajjah Province, adding that a UN team found remnants of 29 cluster submunitions in the village of al-Odair.
The statement came hours after local sources in Hajjah said Saudi warplanes had once again used cluster bombs in airstrikes against the town of Vash’ha, killing six people and injuring three more.
Rights groups had earlier exposed Saudi Arabia’s use of cluster bombs in the war on Yemen, with Human Rights Watch in late May 2015 saying that Saudi warplanes had targeted civilians and residential areas with cluster bombs in the northern province of Sa’ada.
In its Tuesday statement, the UN also updated its casualties toll of the Saudi aggression against Yemen, saying the number of fatalities has reached 2,795. It said at least 81 people were killed in December, adding that 5,324 were wounded since March 26, 2015, when Riyadh started the campaign against Yemen.
Yemeni sources, however, say more than 7,500 people have been killed and over 14,000 others injured in the campaign.
Saudi warplanes targeted residential buildings in Sa’ada on Tuesday. Two women and a child were killed. Similar airstrikes also hit various districts in the capital, Sana’a, a district in Ma’rib Province and a camp in Ibb Province.


Saudi Arabia - a monster of the West's creation

The deepening crisis between Saudi Arabia and Iran, following the controversial execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudis, shows no evidence of abating. Direct military confrontation is now a distinct possibility.
For many experts, analysts, commentators, and people familiar with the Middle East, the prospect of military conflict between the Saudis and the Iranians will come as no surprise. For some years both countries have been engaged in a de facto Cold War as representatives of Sunni and Shia Islam each seek to establish their legitimacy. This dates back to the original schism of 632AD, after Prophet Muhammad’s death.
In its modern incarnation, the fissure within Islam between both branches and their respective legitimacy as representatives of the true faith has taken on political and geopolitical dimensions, given the wider strategic importance of the resource-rich Arab and Muslim world.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran deteriorated rapidly in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, which toppled the US puppet regime led by the Shah. The Saudis, worried about growing Shiite influence in the region as a consequence, and regarding themselves as the theological guardians of Sunni Islam, have worked to oppose any such influence at every turn in the decades since.
The oppression of its own Shiite minority, along with the repression of Shiite pro democracy movements in Bahrain and Yemen in recent years, is evidence of Riyadh’s increasingly aggressive stance in the region, proving a key factor in its destabilization in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. This revolutionary surge swept through Tunisia and Egypt only to conclude in a counter revolutionary backlash, wherein it was hijacked by extremists who were fuelled by a literalist interpretation of Sunni Islam; one almost indistinguishable from the Wahhabi religious doctrine that underpins the Saudi state.
The role of the Saudis in supporting various groups fighting in Syria is by now well known, which in conjunction with the upsurge in beheadings and executions being carried out in the kingdom over the past two years, suggests a regime consumed with insecurity over the dominance of Sunni Islam as a political force. The announcement on Monday that Sudan had decided to cut diplomatic ties with Tehran, and with Bahrain also lining up alongside Riyadh, merely confirms this. Add to the mix the collapse of US leadership and influence in the region and the prospect of the crisis lapsing into open conflict is very real.
Saudi Arabia, despite its repeated and flagrant violations of human rights both within and outside its borders, and despite the destabilization it has helped wrought, enjoys the protection of its Western allies. Saudi Arabia has long been the biggest market for Western arms exports, and in the process of its long and favored relations with the West, it has perfected the art of saying one thing to the West and another to its own people and adherents across the Muslim world. However, there is no confusion when it comes to its actions, which have charted a course of ever increasing belligerency and extremism.
When it comes to Iran, we are talking about a country that has been much maligned in the West for decades. It is painted as a rogue state and a threat to security and stability. Nobody forgets its inclusion in former US President George W Bush’s ‘axis of evil’ along with North Korea and Iraq. A sworn enemy of Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran existed under a strict sanctions regimen for many years, and only recently was brought in from the cold by the Obama administration in the wake of diplomatic talks to end the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Obama’s peace overtures to the Iranians met with consternation in Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The nuclear deal caused a rupture in relations between Washington and its longstanding allies. Add to this the reluctance of Obama to commit to toppling Assad in Syria with sufficient force and never has an administration been regarded so poorly in the region as the Obama administration by the Israelis and the Saudis.
In truth, Iran has long been a pillar of stability in the Middle East. It has no territorial ambitions and its non-sectarianism is evidenced in its unwavering support for the overwhelmingly Sunni and long suffering Palestinians.
The region is in the throes of an ever deepening and intensifying crisis, triggered in the first instance by the disastrous US-led war of aggression on Iraq in 2003 and continued by the West’s role in helping to topple the Gaddafi government in Libya. There was a failure to adequately appreciate the threat posed by terrorism and extremism, both of which have proliferated as a consequence of the West’s actions since 9/11. Destroying the village in order to save it has been the strategy of governments, which have allowed regional allies such as Saudi Arabia to spread and propagate the poison of sectarianism and barbarism unchecked.
We are talking about people who as Oscar Wilde once quipped, “understand the price of everything and the value of nothing.” They are pushing the region into the most dangerous period it has experienced since the end of the Cold War.
Albert Camus says: “A man without ethics is a wild beast let loose upon this world.” The same sentiment can be applied to states and governments.
Step forward Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia Is a Burden, Not a Friend to the U.S.

Ali Al-Ahmed 

The U.S.-Saudi relationship defies a simple explanation. Saudi Arabia is not a natural ally to the United States, but the country has come through for America in the past on several occasions. While the Saudis have leveraged their relationship with the United States to further their own regional and global goals, they have served the U.S. interests too — primarily with the flow of cheap oil to feed the American economy since the 1940s. This is the calculus at the heart of the odd relationship.

The Saudi monarchy played an important role in the American war on communism. Their contribution was critical during the so-called jihad in Afghanistan that overthrew a Soviet-backed secular regime and, ultimately, drove Afghanistan into more than three decades of devastating conflict — giving birth to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, leading to the 9/11 attacks.

After Saudi billions backed thousands of Saudi nationals to fight the Red Army in Afghanistan, the U.S. was so grateful it gave Saudi Arabia virtually everything it asked for. Since the end of the Cold War, the Saudis reaped the greatest benefit of the relationship by having the U.S. serve as bodyguard to bully their regional rivals and enemies, such as Iran. Indeed, after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the U.S. was at the Saudi's beck and call with its military and security forces to contain Iranian revolutionary influence, and wage wars on Iraq while the Saudis watched from the bleachers, cheering but extending nothing more than a large check. The return on this investment was more than $200 billion a year of American taxpayer-funded military presence in the Persian Gulf.

But in recent years, the Saudis have become a burden to the U.S. with their erratic behavior and at times child-like tantrums, demanding American intervention on their behalf in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. And while the Saudis pay lip service to the war on terror, they continue to foster terrorist ideology and organizations that threaten American security and interests in the Middle East. This is true in the Saudi war on Yemen that gave new life to Al Qaeda and birth to ISIS.

So should U.S. support of Saudi Arabia remain as unconditional as ever? No. The simple truth is that near-blind trust of Saudi Arabia has harmed U.S. interests, and the kingdom's policies — in opposition to the Arab Spring, funding of extremism, and human rights violations — have damaged America’s position in the Middle East. America’s needs in the Middle East are evolving from the supply of crude oil to combating violent extremism and ensuring genuine regional stability. The Saudis aren’t meeting or supporting these needs, which makes them a burden, not a friend.

Yemen center for blind hit by Saudi-led coalition airstrike – locals

A center for the blind in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa was hit in an airstrike that was presumably carried out by a Saudi-led coalition targeting Houthi forces, locals told media.
Residents said the air-strikes targeting Houthi forces intensified on Tuesday before a care center for the blind was hit, Reuters reports.

Aftr Saudi bombed a centre for blind people in#Yemen.here a man tries to cheer a blind boy. 

The third floor of the Noor Center for the Blind in the Safiah district was damaged in the 1 a.m. incident, according to the Middle East Eye. No casualties in the bombing were reported.
Noor Center is one-of-a-kind in Yemen, receiving funding from one of the World Bank’s projects in the country.
After the airstrike, the center’s deputy manager, Mohammed Daylami, blamed Saudi Arabia and its allies for “having no clue about the rules and ethics of war."
"What did the disabled children do to do deserve being hit by an air strike? Where are the NGOs? Where is the UN?" Daylami told Saba news agency.
Saudi-led airstrikes resumed in Yemen as a formal ceasefire agreed on 15 December between the coalition and the Houthi rebels expired over the weekend.
The United Nations says the death toll from the fighting in Yemen has reached 2,795 as of Tuesday. At least 81 people were killed in December alone. The number of wounded since the start of hostilities in March stands at 5,234.

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Hillary Clinton's Closing Argument of the Primary

Alex Mendola, a 19-year-old from Amherst, New Hampshire who will be casting his first ballot in next month's presidential primary, is exactly the type of young voter who has helped fuel Sen. Bernie Sanders' improbable lead over Hillary Clinton in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
And Mendola was a firm Sanders supporter - that is until Monday, when he walked into Nashua Community College Monday morning to hear Bill Clinton pitch voters on his wife.
"I was a solid Bernie voter, but now I'm not so sure," Mendola said after listening to the former president's remarks, which focused on the stakes of the election and Hillary Clinton's experience. "If Bernie won the primary and lost the general election, I think that would be disaster. So even if don't like Hillary as much as Bernie, I feel more confident that she would win the general election. And I think that's what's going to persuade me to vote for Hillary if I do."
He was not the only one to express that view here, and the Clinton campaign is hoping many more voters will follow.
As the calendar turned to the new year, Clinton seemed to zero in on one message: The stakes of this year's presidential election. And her opening argument of 2016 is also her closing argument of the Democratic presidential primary. By reminding Democrats of the stakes, she invites voters to question whether they're willing to risk so much in an untested candidate like Sanders.
With the accomplishments of the Obama presidency and the Supreme Court on the line, now is no time to gamble, the subtext suggests. Even if voters might not be in love with Clinton, the suggestion is that their choice is either Clinton or a Republican.
"We've made a lot of progress under President Obama on the environment, saving the auto industry, advances for LGBT rights, trying to work out the extreme difficulties involved in supporting immigration," Bill Clinton said during his first solo campaign stop for his wife of the 2016 campaign. All that "will be reversed if you get a Republican Congress and a Republican President."
Hillary Clinton made a similar point in her first speech of the year Sunday. "We're gonna have a great debate in the general election. I can't wait. You know I really can't wait," she said in New Hampshire.
And she continued to hammer it on Monday as she campaigned across Iowa. "So when I think about what's at stake in this election, I don't think the stakes could be higher," she said in Davenport. "The stakes are so high for Iowa and America," she said in Des Moines.
The message taps into a deep vein among Democratic voters, including some Sanders supporters, who view Clinton as the stronger general election candidate.
That's evident even in New Hampshire, Sanders' strongest and most important state. The same December CNN poll that found Sanders leading Clinton by 10 percentage points overall also showed that 70% of Democratic primary voters think Clinton had the best chance of winning in the general election, compared to just 17% who picked Sanders.
A separate CNN poll found 59% of Democrats nationally said Clinton has the best chance to win the presidency, compared to 38% who opted for "someone else."
Now Clinton's campaign has to convince voters that they should make their decision in the primary on who is best capable of winning the general.
Her campaign has been highlighting specific Obama administration accomplishments that would be jeopardized if a Republican wins in November, from gun control to the Affordable Care Act. "I know that a Republican president would delight in the very first day, reversing executive orders that President Obama has made," Clinton said in a statement sent to reporters this week.
The campaign almost never mentions Sanders by name, even as it reminds supporters not to let their guard down and to take his challenge seriously. "We cannot underestimate our opponent," campaign manager Robby Mook said in a fundraising email to supporters Monday. "He's raising a lot of money and building a big ground operation in Iowa, because he knows the results there will set the tone for the rest of this primary."
The electability argument may not be the most inspiring approach. While Sanders invites supporters to dream about a revolution that leads to a better world, Clinton pulls voters back down to Earth by reminding them they're actually more likely to make things far worse if Democrats can't just hold the line.
While the argument may not stir the spirits, it does seems to be working, at least with some voters. Waiting for Hillary Clinton to speak at Iowa's State Historical Museum Monday, Barbara Nunn, 80, and her friend Barbara Borst, 74, told MSNBC they were torn as the caucus date neared.
Both spoke highly of Sanders - Borst praised his "everyman" style and stance on campaign finance reform while Nunn cited his youth appeal - but they were uncommitted in part due to concerns about whether Sanders could make it through a brutal general election and then enact his agenda.
"I'm not sure Bernie can carry everyone," Borst said. "Hillary has the experience, she has the connections and she's polished."
"I'm scared to death of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz," Nunn said. "I just want the one who will carry the election because we can't have either of them."

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Obama’s Action on Guns: What It Means for Background Checks


President Obama on Tuesday will formally announce executive action on guns in an East Room ceremony.
Q: Will the president’s plan close the loophole that has allowed millions of guns to be purchased without criminal background checks at gun shows and in online bazaars?
A: No. Federal law already requires that anyone “engaged in the business” of selling guns must be licensed and must conduct background checks on every purchase. The problem is that many sellers at gun shows and on firearms websites claim to be hobbyists who are exempt from those requirements. People who purchase guns from those sellers are not subject to criminal background checks.
Mr. Obama’s executive action does not expand the existing law. Instead, his administration has now “clarified” that people who claim to be hobbyists may actually be “engaged in the business” of selling firearms if they operate an online gun store, pass out business cards or frequently sell guns in their original packaging. The president’s action also reiterates that there are criminal penalties for violating the law. Q: So, is the president ordering better enforcement of the existing laws to crack down on people who are selling without the proper licenses and background checks?
A: Yes, to the extent he can. He is asking Congress for funding to hire 200 new agents and investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, though that request may be denied by Republican lawmakers. Mr. Obama says the F.B.I. will increase the number of workers who process the background checks by 50 percent, or 230 people. He says that should reduce delays in a system that receives 63,000 background check requests each day. He is also announcing the eventual development of a more modern computer system that can process background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The president is also seeking to close a loophole that has allowed people to avoid background checks when they buy and sell certain weapons — machine guns and sawed-off shotguns — by forming corporate entities and trusts to conduct the sales. A new regulation will clarify that those purchases must undergo background checks.
Q: Are there other provisions of the president’s plan that would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals or mentally ill people?
A: Yes. The Social Security Administration will begin looking at how to link mental health records in its system with the criminal background check data. The Department of Health and Human Services is clarifying that health privacy rules do not bar states from reporting mental health records to the background check system. And Mr. Obama is requesting $500 million from Congress to improve basic mental health care.
In addition, Mr. Obama will announce that the A.T.F. will spend $4 million to enhance a ballistics database that analysts use to link guns to violent crimes. He will order the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to sponsor research into gun safety technology. And at Mr. Obama’s direction, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch wrote a letter to state officials to encourage reporting of criminal information to the background check system.

President Obama, wiping tears, makes new push to tighten gun rules

Wiping back tears as he remembered children killed in a mass shooting, President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered stricter gun rules that he can impose without Congress and urged American voters to reject pro-gun candidates.
Obama made it clear he does not expect gun laws to change during his remaining year in office, but pledged to do what he can to make gun control a theme in the months leading up to the November election to replace him.

In a powerful address in the White House, surrounded by family members of people killed in shootings, Obama's voice rose to a yell as he said the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms needed to be balanced by the right to worship, gather peacefully and live their lives.
Obama has often said his toughest time in office was grappling with the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," Obama said, tears rolling down his cheek.
"That changed me, that day," he said, after being introduced by Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son was killed in the shooting. "My hope earnestly has been that it would change the country."
After that tragedy, the Democratic president failed to persuade Congress to toughen U.S. gun laws. He has blamed lawmakers for being in the thrall of the powerful National Rifle Association gun lobby group.
Obama, comparing the issue to the great civil rights causes of his time, is set to discuss gun violence again during a live televised town hall on CNN on Thursday, and during his State of the Union address next Tuesday.

Vice President Joe Biden is slated to do a series of television interviews on the topic on Wednesday.
The U.S. Constitution's 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to have arms, a right that is fiercely defended.
Obama laid out executive action he is taking to require more gun sellers to get licenses and more gun buyers to undergo background checks.
Under the changes, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is issuing guidelines intended to narrow exceptions to a system that requires sellers to check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether buyers have criminal records, are charged with crimes or have mental health conditions that would bar them from owning a gun.
The proposal is "ripe for abuse" by the government, said Chris Cox, an official with the NRA, in a statement, adding that the group will continue to fight to protect Americans' constitutional rights.
Legal challenges to the changes, which are contained in guidance from the ATF, are expected.
The crucial question in any direct legal challenge will be whether the ATF guidance creates new obligations, or merely clarifies existing law.
The more the Obama administration acts as though the guidance has created a new legal requirement, the more legal trouble it might invite, said Lisa Heinzerling, administrative law professor at Georgetown University.
The stocks of gunmakers Smith & Wesson Holding Corp and Sturm Ruger & Co Inc have climbed since the announcement. On Tuesday, Smith & Wesson ended up 11.1 percent to $25.86 a share and Sturm Ruger closed up 6.8 percent at $65.54.
Republican leaders were quick to denounce Obama's gun changes, with most Republican candidates for the 2016 presidential race promising to reverse his actions if they win the White House.
Democratic candidates praised the moves.
Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, said the changes were "all about burnishing the president’s legacy and boosting Democrat enthusiasm in a presidential election year."
Republicans who control Congress made it clear that they oppose the changes, although some downplayed their significance.
"Ultimately, this executive 'guidance' is only a weak gesture - a shell of what the president actually wants," said Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

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"The arrests were the result of raids in four Punjab cities over the weekend," said Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.
The minister said those arrested had been tasked with setting up sleeper cells for IS, and that those arrested include the purported IS Islamabad chief Amir Mansoor, his deputy Abdullah Mansoori and the group's chief for Sindh province, Umer Kathio.
The minister said the raids also yielded IS literature and weapons.
Sanaullah said the operation against alleged IS militants was launched after a raid last week in Daska district, when 13 other IS suspects were arrested.
The minister's statements come nearly a week after the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) claimed busting an IS terror cell in Sialkot. The CTD said it arrested eight suspects and seized weapons, explosives and laptops, as well as a large number of compact discs containing publicity material, during the raid. An 'IS recruiter' was also arrested in Karachi earlier this week.
In December 2015, four well-educated men held on terrorism charges were arrested in Karachi for their involvement in the Safoora attacks, while their wives and their accomplices were accused of brainwashing educated and rich women through sermons and videos about the militant Islamic State (IS) group and other terrorist outfits.
An investigation report into the Safoora attackers in August alleged that the suspects were affiliated with Al Qaeda and IS.


Pakistan Urged to Target Militants in Wake of Indian Air-Base Attack

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby has said that Washington expects Pakistan to target militant groups in the wake of an attack on India’s Pathankot air base.
“We have been clear with the highest levels of the government of Pakistan that it must continue to target all militant groups,” Kirby told media, according to the BBC.
The attack on the base began last Saturday, when gunmen dressed in Indian army uniforms entered residential quarters and began firing. Five militants and seven Indian troops have been killed in four days of fighting, the BBC reports, adding that clearance operations within the base are still continuing.
The United Jihad Council, a militant organization based in Kashmir, has claimed responsibility for the attack, which is seen as an attempt to derail growing rapprochement between New Delhi and Islamabad in the wake of a surprise visit paid on Christmas Day by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
“The government of Pakistan has spoken very powerfully [on the attack],” Kirby said, “and it’s our expectation that they’ll treat this exactly the way they’ve said they would.”
The Pathankot air base lies in the Indo-Pakistani border region, close to Kashmir.

Pakistan - Taseer’s legacy

On January 4, 2011, a brave dissenting voice fighting for a more tolerant and humane Pakistan was brutally silenced by a wretched product of the same twisted forces of hate and bigotry he fearlessly stood up to and was striving to curtail. Five years on from that dark day, we can ruefully observe that the country and the cause Governor Salmaan Taseer laid down his life for have only crumbled further into decay, and this disheartening reality makes his loss even tougher to swallow. Governor Taseer was killed in a hail of bullets by the fanatical Mumtaz Qadri, a man who was part of his security detail, because the governor displayed a moral fortitude not commonly found in the realm of Pakistani politics and campaigned for reform in the badly abused blasphemy laws. He threw his considerable weight behind the minorities of the land who are victimised by fundamentalist thugs empowered by the black laws created by the dictatorial Zia regime. For this simple act of levelling deserved criticism against a poorly conceived man-made law, he was widely accused by toxic demagogues of having committed blasphemy himself, and reprehensibly his spineless killer was hailed as a hero by many. With the zeal with which Qadri was celebrated, the rot at the heart of Pakistan was exposed and many fellow travellers of the slain Punjab governor lost their will to publicly continue the campaign to reform the blasphemy laws. Even his own party deserted him, both in life and immediately after his death, as no other politician could muster the moral fibre to question this deeply undignified surrender to the purveyors of violence and bigotry.

2015 started ignominiously with an attack by a bunch of extremists on a vigil held in Salmaan Taseer’s honour at Lahore’s Liberty Chowk. However, the year also saw some positive headway — a landmark Supreme Court (SC) judgement confirmed Qadri’s death sentence and declared him a terrorist. The judgement also extended the call made by Salmaan Taseer to reform the blasphemy laws, which in their present iteration have the harshest, disproportionate punishments and have a low threshold for proof and thus are used to settle personal scores and demonise minorities. The judgement also notably declared it a democratic right to level criticism against the blasphemy law. Regrettably however, in parliament — which is the only body which can translate the SC judgement’s words into meaningful action — there has been no movement, and Qadri, despite exhausting the legal appeals process, remains extremely popular and still evades the finalisation of his punishment. The political class needs to take inspiration from the SC and civil society and has to show some badly needed moral conviction. The fight against terrorism can never be won so long as we remain afraid to tackle the deeply ingrained intolerant mindset. The only way to salvage the legacy of a brave man and ensure his death was not in vain is to complete the mission he embarked on.

Light a candle: Taseer remembered for standing up to extremism

By Muhammad Shahzad

Speakers at a vigil held on Monday to mark slain governor Salmaan Taseer’s fifth death anniversary paid tributes to him for raising his voice against religious extremism.
The participants gathered at the Liberty Roundabout included members of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Peoples Students Federation and several civil society organisations. They carried placards with slogans like Taliban Zaliman, Dehshatgardi Murdabad (Down with terrorism) and Dehshatgard Ka Jo Yaar Hai, Ghadaar Hai Ghadaar Hai (Those who support terrorists are traitors).
The featured speakers included PPP Senator Shazia Marri, PPP media wing in charge Jahanara Wattoo and Taseer’s children Shehyar Salmaan Taseer and Sher Bano Taseer.
Mari said the PPP had always opposed terrorism and its leaders had sacrificed their lives for this upright stance. She paid homage to Taseer for supporting equal rights for all citizens regardless of their religious affiliations.
Amna Malik, one of the participants, called upon the government and political parties to strive for the establishment of a peaceful and tolerant society in the country. She said Taseer had sacrificed his life in pursuit of these ideals.
“The religious zealots are a minority. We will not allow them to force their beliefs upon the rest of us,” she said.
Malik said implementation of the National Action Plan should be ensured in letter and spirit. This, she said, could help eliminate extremism and create a facilitating environment for poets, writers and intellectuals to work for a positive outlook in the society.
Samson Slamat echoed Malik’s concerns and urged the need for promotion of values of tolerance and co-existence. He said extremist outfits espoused a pre-tribal culture and wanted to drag the country towards barbarism. “Taseer was gunned down in broad daylight for raising his voice for an oppressed woman,” he said.
Abdullah Malik termed Taseer a martyr for humanity and said that the late governor had been an ambassador of peace, progress and tolerance.
Strict security measures were in place to avoid any untoward incident. All major roads leading to the venue were blocked for traffic by putting up barbed wires. A large contingent of police was deployed to secure the area.
A senior police official said precautions had been taken to avoid any untoward situation. A vigil held to mark the anniversary last year had been attacked by a group of armed men. Five of the suspects arrested in connection with the attack were later convicted by an anti-terrorism court.

#HappyBirthdaySZAB - Quaid-i-Azam & ZA Bhutto

It was Quaid-i-Azam’s democratic struggle led to the creation of Pakistan but it was the Bhuttos who guaranteed its invincibility by making country’s defence impregnable. Pakistani nation is deeply beholden to Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and pays tributes on his birth anniversary today for giving consensus constitution, making the country a nuclear power and granting the right of one-man-one-vote on the basis of adult franchise. The aspiring members of the national and provincial assemblies now have to beg their support from the people to get them elected. It was a giant step towards the empowerment of the people of Pakistan as the ultimate arbiter. Previously, the role of the people was inconsequential in the election of lawmakers because Ayub Khan’s Basic Democracies (BD) members used to elect them.
Indeed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was on a mission to make Pakistan a stronger Pakistan, a prosperous Pakistan, and above all a democratic Pakistan that would be at ease with itself and with the international community in general and the Muslim world in particular. He also introduced far reaching reforms in all walks of national life with a view to empower the less privileged segments of Pakistani society leading to their upward social mobility. Sadly, he was not allowed to complete the mission and was removed at gun point in1977 and later assassinated by tyrant dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. The General was largely responsible of creating royal mess the country is embroiled in today. His dictatorship was the worst among all during which evils of extremis, terrorism, bigotry and culture of Kalashnikov and drug permeated in the country to asphyxiate the society and its dynamics of creativity and ingenuity.
Unfortunately, the history of government and politics of Pakistan remained mired in political turmoil after independence, mainly due to the early demise of the Quaid-i-Azam. After that, the civil and military bureaucracy in collusion with feudal opportunists played havoc with the new country. The politicians failed to frame constitution till 1956 whereas India promulgated its constitution in 1949. The 1956 constitution, based on the principle of parity representation between East and West Wing, was promulgated at last but abrogated by General Ayub Khan in1958 triggering the process of national disintegration. The resultant political and economic alienation among the East Pakistani culminated to the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 when General Yayha Khan was the self-appointed president of the country.
After the debacle of 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became the President of Pakistan as the Pakistan People’s Party emerged as the biggest party in the elections. While dealing and addressing many problems emanating as a result of dismemberment of the country, he prioritised the framing of the constitution reflective of the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. His tireless efforts succeeded in passing the almost unanimous constitution by the elected assembly within months that envisaged federal parliamentary system of government in the country. The constitution has kept the fragmented pieces of the country united despite many political upheavals caused by the misadventures by men on the horseback. Successive dictators though despised the constitution but could not abrogate it because it enjoyed the massive support of the people of Pakistan. They fiddled with it, mutilated it beyond recognition, but it survived due to its inherent strength. This invaluable gift of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the nation will ensure the continuity of democracy and safeguarding of the federation in the final analysis.
The military debacle of 1971 was a fatal blow to Pakistan’s stature in the comity of the nations with ninety thousands POWs in India and vast territory under enemy’s occupation. Defence analysts were unanimous in their views, and rightly so, that Pakistan could not defend its territorial integrity with conventional weapons in the face of vast difference of weapons of enemy country, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The only choice was nuclear deterrence to meet the future challenges to the country’s security. The tilted balance of power in favour of India could only be rectified by acquiring the nuclear capability of military level. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave this daunting task to Pakistani scientists in a conference held in Multan in early1972 who assured him that they would not disappoint him. Pakistan’s nuclear programme obviously became an Achilles’ heel for the West in particular and they warned Zulfikar Ali Bhutto through Mr Henry Kissinger of making a horrible example out of him if he did not desist from following ‘Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme’. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto embraced martyrdom but did not give in and continued the programme because he could not afford to compromise on the nation’s future, its dignity and independence.
He matured the nuclear programme making the defence of the country impregnable. If Pakistan had not been a nuclear power, the Indians would have put the security of the country at the greatest peril and the extent of nuclear blackmail would have been huge, making the independence as inconsequential to Pakistanis. The events later on proved his assessment was quite accurate. India amassed its massive military build-up under Operation Brass Tacks but had to withdraw due to nuclear deterrence. It was the nuclear deterrence that forced India to see redemption in withdrawal rather than indulging in active hostilities. Pakistan’s nuclear plan has also shattered the Indian dream of establishing its hegemony in the region. It also guaranteed Pakistan’s defence against any aggressor either from the East or from the West. Salam to the vision of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who not only conceived the programme but also laid solid foundations leading to the attaining of full nuclear power capability during early ’80s. Quaid-i-Azam made Pakistan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Benazir Bhutto defended the country through nuclearisation and equipping the country with the state of the art missile technology.
But, anti-Bhutto and anti-Pakistan forces were active in hatching conspiracies to eliminate the great leader. They were at the look out to strike. The elections of 1977 provided them the opportunity and the establishment instigated the opposition parties under the banner of PNA and lunched agitations against the government on the charges of rigging in elections. However, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto agreed to the demands of the opposition to hold fresh elections but impetuous Zia-ul-Haq was behind the whole agitations and imposed martial law on the same night because he did not want the agreement between the opposition and the government fulfilled due to his personal ambitions. He later hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in a judicial murder. The PPP has filed a reference in the Apex Court to review the case of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto but the decision is still awaited.
The martial law of Zia-ul-Haq was ferocious as he unleashed the reign of terror and persecution and political dissidents were eliminated through summary trials. They were subjected to torture, public hanging and lashing on purpose — to strike fear into the hearts of all and sundry of his illegitimate and tyrannical rule. The other dimension of his insidious decision was to promote the religious seminaries to counter-balance the support of the political parties who were protesting against him to hold elections that he postponed on one pretext or another. His promise of holding fair and free elections within ninety days did not see the light of the day even after a decade. His referendum became the joke of decades because of its outlandishness and silliness. He hoodwinked the political parties of PNA and used them to perpetuate his rule. With divine intervention the people got rid of him when he was killed in an air crash.
The pusillanimous of PNA politicians made the nation suffer for about 11 years of his dictatorial rule in the hope of getting their pound of flesh. On the other hand, Shaheed Benazir Bhutto fought heroically to subdue the dictator despite undergoing the shock of hanging of her illustrious father, but she did not abandon the cause of the people of Pakistan. She succeeded in restoring democracy in Pakistan after the tyrant’s unnatural death. She was elected as the first women Prime Minister of Pakistan. She deserved this honour and the people of Pakistan while acknowledging this bestowed this on her by electing her the Prime Minister of Pakistan. But retrogressive forces struck with vengeance and her government was dismissed by the father of the establishment, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, despite PPP’s majority in the National Assembly. Despite this, her struggle for democracy continued till she embraced martyrdom on December 27, 2007.
If these forces had not interrupted the democratic process in the country, the nation would have been rubbing shoulders with the developed nations today rather than being known for the wrong reasons. The evils of extremism and terrorism are the legacies of the dictators who also inflicted national embarrassments of huge proportion both at domestic and diplomatic fronts. All territorial losses to the nation were wrought on during the watch of dictators. The dismemberment of Pakistan, occupation of Siachen by India, Kargil fiasco and 1965 war are irrefutably attributed to tyrant rulers. On the contrary, enemy could not occupy an inch of Pakistan’s territory during the civilian rules. Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon added Gwadar in the landmass of the country. Its strategic and commercial potentials cannot be defined today. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) revolves around this port entailing 46 billion dollars of investment initially. It is going to connect China, Central Asia and the Middle East and beyond. It is the beginning and sky is the limit.