Saturday, February 18, 2017

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In run-up to referendum, Turks can say anything but 'no'


Saying no can have a high price tag for ordinary Turks as pressure builds in the days leading up to an April 16 referendum on constitutional amendments designed to widely expand the president's powers.

On Feb. 2, the photo of a supposedly official document appeared on social media with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s signature. The document asked public employees to avoid using the word “hayirli” ("blessed" or "good"), which is very close to the Turkish word for "no," "hayir." The document asked employees to refrain from using "hayirli" until May so as not to confuse or influence voters.
For decades, conservative Turks have promoted the use of the word “hayirli" in daily greetings. It is widely used to wish someone a blessed Friday. Every Friday, Turkish social media is bombarded with messages and trending hashtags of #HayirliCumalar — "Blessed Friday." So it seems the Turkish language has pulled a little trick on conservatives cheering for a yes vote in the referendum.
The government promptly claimed that the document wasn't real, but of course people rallied against it anyway, and the ripple effects were significant. When Yildirim was asked about it by pro-Justice and Development Party (AKP) journalists, he angrily replied, “Whoever is spreading such fake news will be prosecuted.” His reaction backfired and ending up ensuring that coverage of the fake document spread across the media.
A communications scholar who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job told Al-Monitor, "In the last 10 days, we have not heard anyone was being investigated for this fake document, so it is highly probable that AKP trolls were the ones that published it. It has been more effective than a genuine decree because this way, all AKP supporters get the message that they need to avoid the word 'no,' and words containing 'no,' at all costs."
So even though the document with the prime minister’s signature banning the word “hayirli” was likely fake, supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have deliberately started omitting the word and substituting others in their daily greetings.
Indeed, the approaching referendum is altering the way people use Turkish and signal their allegiances in the public domain, generating sometimes amusing and sometimes disturbing scenes. The following examples read like Onion satire pieces, but they are verified news stories.
On Feb. 15, a baby girl born in Diyarbakir province was named Evet ("Yes" in Turkish). The parents told the press they wanted to show their appreciation for Erdogan. The district’s AKP representative visited the baby and gave the family a gold coin as a sign of appreciation. The father appeared on television saying the whole family will be voting for the referendum and they hope Baby Yes will be a good luck charm for Erdogan. (Meanwhile, social media users were busy focusing on the fact that the father has three wives, even though polygamy is officially banned in Turkey.)
On Feb. 14, Konya municipality stopped printing and distributing pamphlets against smoking. The pamphlets had read, “Decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to poison your kids? Have cancer? If you say no, then you have won your life and your future.” Public health officials said they stopped distribution for fear of misunderstanding: “If you say no” had appeared in red capital letters on the leaflets' covers.
Beyond these laughable examples are subtle but undeniable facts: Many of those against the referendum are sticking to their guns and using "hayirli" at every opportunity. Yet, uttering the word "no" on its own — even in a non-political context — has become risky, as can be seen in street interviews posted and shared by various news networks. People who are scared to speak up often say, “I don't know, maybe it's for the best” — but use "hayirlisi," a derivation of the taboo word. Most of them do not want the camera to show their faces.
Their fear is warranted. Several AKP members, including cabinet ministers and the prime minister, have indicated multiple times that saying no is what terrorists would do. The most worrisome statement came Feb. 12 from Erdogan himself. When asked about current polls, Erdogan was unhappy. He said, “It is too early to gauge the health of the polls” because he had not yet started actively campaigning. Erdogan told the press, “April 16 will be the answer to July 15 [the day of the coup attempt]. Those who say no will be siding with July 15.”
On Feb. 15, another AKP official took a step further, saying that unless 50% of voters say yes on April 16, Turkey should brace itself for the possibility of a civil war. In the ensuing uproar, the AKP announced it would request the official's resignation.
Despite all the public pressure, some brave individuals have taken the risk — and paid the price. One of them is news anchor Irfan Degirmenci, who was fired from his job at Dogan Holding, the most prominent mainstream media network in Turkey, for declaring he would vote no. Pro-AKP media bigwigs were upset at the network for telling the public the reason for Degirmenci’s dismissal.
There have also been multiple stories of brutality and intimidation of those who attempt to join rallies or refuse to distribute pamphlets, or who simply tell others that they plan to vote against the referendum. There has been so much of this talk that people have started questioning if the vote will be done through open or secret balloting, and whether those who dare to say no will be taken into custody after they vote.
Yet, even as the intimidation and pressure from the pro-Erdogan camp increases, it seems the naysayers are gaining momentum. In the past month, a majority of Kurds, significant numbers of ultranationalists, certain groups of Islamists and almost all secularists of Turkey have been joining forces to work for a no vote at the referendum.
These groups would never have come together, not even in the same coffee shop, only a month ago. Now, they are all working on a grass-roots level toward the same goal. AKP members seem to realize that trying to convince the public that only terrorists would say no is backfiring. If that were true, several people have asked on social media, why does the referendum even have a no option?
Some referendum supporters fear that the 18 amendments leading the way to an imperial presidency may not pass, and commentators have raised two intriguing suggestions. One possibility is for these changes to only apply to Erdogan's presidency and be abolished after he leaves office. Because the public has been concerned about what could happen when Erdogan is not the president, this proposal is designed to relieve their worries. Second, Ankara is rumored to be considering a graceful exit plan if support for the referendum doesn't improve in opinion polls by early April: Cancel the vote and blame deteriorating economic conditions that demand attention.
Whatever the result of the April referendum, Erdogan’s desire for an imperial presidency has initiated an opposition movement uniting the least likely of comrades. Perhaps their slogan could be "Hayirda hayir vardir" — "There is goodness in saying no."

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Billions in profits from Saudi war crimes


In two weeks’ time, the High Court here will consider a case that could set a vital precedent and be instrumental in changing British arms export policy.
On February 7-9, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), judges will be examining the legality of arms exports to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.
For almost two years now, Saudi forces have inflicted a brutal and devastating bombing campaign on the people of Yemen. Schools, hospitals, and homes have been destroyed in a bombardment that has killed 10,000 people and inflicted a humanitarian catastrophe on one of the poorest countries in the region.
The appalling consequences have been condemned by the United Nations, the European Parliament, and major aid agencies on the ground, with the Red Cross warning that the country has been left on the edge of famine.
A harrowing report from UNICEF has found that one child is dying every 10 minutes because of malnutrition, diarrhea, and respiratory-tract infections in Yemen, with 400,000 at risk of starvation.
Right at the outset of the bombing, Britain’s then-foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat.” Unfortunately, the British government has stayed true to his word. One major way in which it has done this is through the sale of arms.
Despite the destruction, and despite its appalling human rights record at home, Saudi Arabia is by far the largest buyer of British arms.
The arms sales haven’t slowed down; in fact, Britain has licensed over £3.3 billion ($4.1 billion USD) worth of arms since the bombing began. These include Typhoon fighter jets, which have been used in the bombardment, and missiles and bombs that reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have linked to attacks on civilian targets.
Last month, Saudi forces even admitted to using British-made cluster bombs, one of the cruelest and deadliest weapons that can be used in warfare. When bombs are dropped they open up in mid-air to release hundreds of sub-munitions. Their impact is indiscriminate. Anybody within the striking area is very likely to be killed or seriously injured.
The bombs were exported in 1988, but the lifespan of weapons is very often longer than that of the political situation they are bought in. How will the billions of pounds’ worth of weapons being sold now be used and who will they be used against?
If cluster bombs are not considered beyond the pale by the Saudi military, then what is the likelihood that its personnel are doing everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties? It’s not just the bombs that are deadly, it is the mindset which allows their use in the first place.
British arms export law is very clear. It says that licenses for military equipment should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that it “might” be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. By any reasonable interpretation, these criteria should definitely prohibit all arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen.
Of course the relationship is nothing new and the problem is institutional rather than party-political. For decades now successive British governments of all political colors have armed and uncritically supported the Saudi regime.
In 2006, we saw former Prime Minister Tony Blair intervening to stop a corruption investigation into arms deals between Saudi Arabia and BAE Systems. This was quickly followed by another multibillion-pound fighter jet sale. In 2013 and 2014, we saw then-Prime Minister David Cameron and even Prince Charles making visits to the Saudi Kingdom where they posed for fawning photographs and pushed arms sales.
One outcome of this cozy partnership has been a high level of integration between British and Saudi military programs. There are around 240 British Ministry of Defense civil servants and military personnel working to support the contracts through the Ministry of Defense Saudi Armed Forces Program and the Saudi Arabia National Guard Communications Project.
The political consensus seems to be shifting though, with the Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat front benches — and many Tory backbench legislators — all calling for arms sales to be suspended while an independent investigation into their legality takes place. This has gone a long way in shifting the terms of the debate.
But, even if it is taken up, it can not be enough unless it is complemented by an end to future arms sales and a meaningful change in foreign policy.
Regardless of the outcome in court next month, it is already clear how weak and broken British arms export controls are. A brutal dictatorship has created a humanitarian catastrophe, killed thousands of civilians, and flouted international law and yet Britain has continued arming and supporting it.
Instead of following its own rules on arms sales, the government has prioritized arms company profits over human rights.
If that’s not enough to stop arms sales, then what more would it take?

‘Continued UK arms sales to Saudis is outrageous act’

Despite thousands of civilians killed in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, the UK is continuing to supply the Saudis with arms – a fundamentally wrong policy that the British people will not benefit from, says Bahraini political activist Saeed al-Shehabi.
The British government is facing a landmark court case. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is taking legal action in an attempt to stop the UK from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.
RT: The High Court began this week its three-day judicial review of the UK's weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. How likely is it that we will see a full suspension of arms sales to Riyadh?
Saeed al-Shehabi: The media, especially the Western media, has not given it enough exposure. Now that the case against the British government has come to the court, I’m not sure whether the court will rule in favor of CAAT which brought the case. It is an outrageous act by the British government to continue supplying the Saudis with those weapons, knowing that more than 15,000 people have been killed, at least 5,000 civilians, including probably 2,000 children. Families live in Yemen now, because of the air, sea, and land blockade; nothing can get through this blockade to the people.
That is a humanitarian catastrophe, the situation that has been ignored by the world. Whether the court would rule against the government – I am not sure. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Saudis have broken the international humanitarian laws, and that they have committed war crimes on an enormous scale.
Every day there is a family that has been targeted – five people, 10 people of the same family – which represent no viable military target…    
RT: Why has it taken so long to come to court? The humanitarian disaster in Yemen has been ongoing for almost two years now.
SS: CAAT has taken the case about a year ago, but of course there is a lot of delay in that. Even the UN last year said that crimes against humanity or war crimes have been committed. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch – all these organizations have gone to the field and established beyond any reasonable doubt that war crimes were committed at the largest scale.
Yet, the British government continues to supply it, and they have insisted, come forward. Even when Theresa May went to Manama [in December] to attend the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] Summit she was not repentant about supplying the Saudis with arms. It is likely that she will continue to do so. Unfortunately the British government is adopting the wrong policy, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. I don’t think that British people are going to benefit from this policy.

‘No legitimate military objectives’: UN panel finds Saudi strikes in Yemen may amount to war crimes

An expert UN panel investigating ten separate airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen - in which at least 292 civilians died - has found that most were the result of an ‘ineffective targeting process’ or deliberate attacks on peaceful targets.
"In eight of the 10 investigations, the panel found no evidence that the airstrikes had targeted legitimate military objectives," the 63-page report presented to the UN Security Council on Friday stated, which has been obtained by Reuters. "For all 10 investigations, the panel considers it almost certain that the coalition did not meet international humanitarian law requirements of proportionality and precautions in attack.” "The panel considers that some of the attacks may amount to war crimes," the experts said, echoing statements repeatedly made by independent observers since conflict broke out in the country two years ago.
The small subset of attacks, which took place between March and October last year, resulted in the deaths of over 100 women in children. Earlier this month, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, estimated that more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war so far, with many of them the victims of air strikes.
Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, flatly denied responsibility, saying the coalition - which includes Gulf states such as Qatar and Kuwait - was "exercising maximum restraint and rigorous rules of engagement."
The panel also stated that the alliance admitted that some of their airstrikes resulted in severe casualties, which was not the desired outcome.
"In some cases errors were acknowledged and responsibility accepted. Corrective measures including compensation to victims were taken," the authors of the report wrote. The UN panel said that although it was unable to travel to the bombing sites, it still "maintained the highest achievable standard of proof," and insisted the specific cases studied were part of a wider trend.
"The panel finds that violations associated with the conduct of the air campaign are sufficiently widespread to reflect either an ineffective targeting process or a broader policy of attrition against civilian infrastructure," proclaimed the report. "All coalition member states and their allies also have an obligation to take appropriate measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by the coalition."
The UN group also dismissed Saudi explanations that the devastating naval blockade of Yemen had been imposed because Iran was supplying Shia Houthi rebels with weapons.
"The panel has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, although there are indicators that anti-tank guided weapons being supplied to the Houthi or Saleh forces are of Iranian manufacture," said the report, which said 2,064 weapons seized on boats off the coast, had possible “direct” links with Iran.
The UN criticized the blockade for its "disproportionate impact" on civilians, saying the country, 90 percent of whose food supplies are imported, is on the verge of famine. Yemen was already one of the region’s poorest states before the current crisis, but according to the UN, 14.1 million people - over half of the population – are “food insecure,” and over two-thirds require humanitarian assistance, due to internal displacement, lack of medical supplies and clean drinking water.
Despite the devastating conclusions of the latest UN report, the US and UK, which are not directly taking part in the bombardment and blockade of Yemen, have avoided directly criticizing Riyadh, a longtime ally.
"We urge all sides to take steps to prevent harm to civilians. Ending the conflict in Yemen requires a durable cessation of hostilities and a comprehensive political solution," the US State Department said in a statement.
The British mission to the UN, while refusing to comment on the specific incidents mentioned in the report said, "We take reports of alleged violations of international humanitarian law by actors in the conflict very seriously.”
Both the US and the UK have been major suppliers of arms to the Saudis. In September 2016, Reuters reports, the US Senate cleared the way for a $1.15 billion sale of tanks and other military equipment to kingdom. Saudi Arabia has also been buying arms from the UK – with estimated purchases at some 3.3 billion pounds. That includes more than 2.2 billion worth of warplanes, helicopters and drones.

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Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said that terrorist attack on the shrine of Hazrat Lal Shah Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan was a worst form of terrorism aimed at to rip apart Sufi fabric of unity and peace.
Condemning the bomb attack on the Sufi shrine, the PPP Chairman said that extremism in the country has gone through roof and such shocking terror strikes should push an intensely alert wave across the Pakistani society to step up efforts against terrorism.
Terrorists on the ground are mere tools and their handlers are slaves of their masters who are holding the remote-control of terrorists, he said adding that only synchronized action against all those involved in execution of such gory terrorist acts would succeed.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that this was an attack on our culture, history and civilization and every single individual of this land will fight against the terrorists and uproot this menace with fullest unity. “Terrorists who carried out the attack won’t go scot-free under any circumstances, he added.
He said that current wave of terrorism in the four provinces and Azad Jammu & Kashmir have exposed gravity of very serious situation and everybody should be on one page and era of ifs and buts on the monster of terrorism should now be over.
PPP Chairman expressed deep sympathies with the families of martyrs and those injured and urged all the concerned authorities for emergency rescue and medical relief.

Pakistan's bloody week: Who is really to blame?

By M Ilyas Khan
As Pakistan picks up the pieces from Thursday evening's devastating bomb attack at the 800-year-old shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the country's managers are looking for scapegoats abroad. And the military has openly taken charge of the proceedings, relegating pretentions of political propriety to the background. Soon after the bombing, army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa vowed that "each drop of [the] nation's blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately".
There would be "no more restraint for anyone", he said. The object of his remark was clear an hour later when the military announced that Pakistan had closed its border with Afghanistan to all traffic, including pedestrians.
On Friday morning, Afghan embassy officials were summoned to the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi. They were handed a list of 76 "terrorists" said to be hiding in their country, with the demand that they be arrested and handed over to Pakistan, the military says. The fiery reaction came after a series of deadly militant attacks in five days from Sunday killed more than 100 people across Pakistan, including civilians, the police and soldiers.
This is the worst spell of violence since 2014, when Pakistan launched an operation to eliminate militant sanctuaries in its north-western tribal region.
Violence decreased considerably as a result, with Pakistani leaders claiming the militants had been defeated. But this week, that sense of security has been blown away. The latest surge in attacks comes amid reports of the reunification of some powerful factions of the Pakistani Taliban. Some of them have links with the Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter of the so-called Islamic State, which itself emerged from a former faction of the Pakistani Taliban. Most of these groups have hideouts in border areas of Afghanistan, where they relocated after Pakistan launched its anti-militant operations. Pakistan now accuses Afghanistan of tolerating these sanctuaries. It also blames India for funding these groups. Officials say India and Afghanistan want to hurt Pakistan economically and undermine China's plans to build a multi-billion dollar "economic corridor" through the country.
But many in Pakistan and elsewhere don't buy that argument. They believe that militancy in Pakistan is actually tied to the country's own covert wars that sustain the economy of its security establishment. In Kashmir, for example, the BBC has seen militants living and operating out of camps located close to army deployments. Each camp is placed under the charge of an official from what locals describe as the "launching wing" of the intelligence service. In Balochistan, which has been under de-facto military control for nearly a decade, state agencies have allegedly been promoting Islamist militants to counter an armed separatist insurgency by secular ethnic Baloch activists. Last year the regional police compiled a report on militant sanctuaries across several parts of Balochistan, but an operation recommended by the police in those areas was never launched.
Likewise, the world knows about the safe havens which the Afghan Taliban continue to enjoy in the Quetta region and elsewhere in Balochistan province, as well as in some parts of the tribal region in the north-west, from where they continue to launch raids inside Afghanistan. Many observers believe that the Pakistani military uses militant proxies to advance its wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir, and takes advantage of the domestic security situation to control political decision making.
This is important, they say, if the military is to sustain a vast business, industrial and real estate empire which they believe enjoys unfair competitive advantages, state patronage and tax holidays. The military establishment rejects such arguments.
But with such a cocktail of militant networks in the border region, many find it hard to buy the Pakistani line that India and Afghanistan are to blame.
All militants on the ground - from disputed Kashmir to Quetta and Afghanistan - come from the same stock. They are the second-generation standard bearers of an armed Islamist movement that was formed on Pakistani soil during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980s. They may have regional affiliations or partisan loyalties, but all have been raised under the influence of Wahhabi Islam and its various ideological offshoots, imported here by Arab warriors who came to help liberate Afghanistan. As such, they are capable of forming complex group-alliances and cross-border linkages with each other. And they are all united in considering Shia Muslims and Sunni adherents of native Sufi Islam as misguided and heretical.
This may also partly answer the riddle as to how these groups manage to survive and operate even though they do not command popular support in any part of Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Pakistan lists Hafiz Saeed under anti-terrorism act: Here’s what it means

Pakistani authorities on Saturday listed Lashkar-e-Taiba founder Hafiz Saeed and four of his aides under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act, imposing further restrictions on his movements and ability to speak to the media.
Saeed and his aides, who were placed in “preventive detention” or house arrest on January 30, were listed under the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act by the government of Punjab province, Pakistani media reported. According to Section 11EE of the act, persons who are involved in terrorism, members of an organisation that is banned or on the interior ministry’s watch list or suspected to be involved with a group involved in terrorism can be included in the Fourth Schedule.
Saeed currently heads the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, which has not been banned but is on the watch list. The US and the UN Security Council have already declared the JuD and its sister organisation, the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation, as fronts for the LeT. The Express Tribune quoted an unnamed official of the Punjab home department as saying that action was taken against Saeed and his aides as they are “active members” of the JuD and FIF. A senior police officer told the Dawn newspaper that the Counter-Terrorism Department added their names to the Fourth Schedule on the orders of the federal interior ministry.
The Fourth Schedule imposes a wide range of restrictions on the movements and activities of a listed person. Such a person is not allowed to visit schools, colleges and other educational institutions, parks, hotels and public places, airports, railway stations, TV and radio stations or attend public rallies and meetings.
Under the provisions of this schedule, authorities can probe the assets and sources of income of the listed persons and their families to ascertain whether the assets are legitimate. These restrictions can be applicable for a maximum of three years.
Besides Saeed, the other JuD and FIF members against whom action has been taken are Abdullah Ubaid, Zafar Iqbal, Abdul Rehman Abid and Kashif Niazi. Saeed and 37 others have also been barred from travelling abroad as they were included in the interior ministry’s Exit Control List. Saeed and his aides have challenged their inclusion in the Exit Control List. The JuD has also said it will mount a legal challenge to his house arrest.
This powerful army has backed Saeed’s detention, saying it was a policy decision taken in the national interest.
Saeed was also put under house arrest after the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, but he was freed within six months on the orders of the Lahore high court.
Critics have also pointed out that the interior ministry has done little to fully enforce the Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act. A list of persons included in the Fourth Schedule that was drawn up by the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) last year contained the names of several persons who were dead or had even left Pakistan.
Leaders of the banned Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat included in the Fourth Schedule have attended rallies and even gone for the Haj pilgrimage.


Security forces have made headway in the investigations of recent terror attacks across Pakistan, identifying four terrorist organisations with direct links to the attacks that have claimed over 100 lives. Four Deobandi terrorist outfits are involved in recent bombings and among them Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is sister-wing of proscribed ASWJ.

Meanwhile, in an ongoing crackdown that was launched after the attack in Sehwan on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, security forces had killed over 100 terrorists till Friday night with an addition of 3 more killed during an operation in Dera Ismail Khan.
Security forces have intensified search and combing operations across the country. During operations in Abbottabad, Rawalpindi, Hafizabad, Chiniot and Sialkot, 53 suspects were detained while in Ittehad town in Karachi 7 suspects were taken into custody. Many Afghan nationals are among the detained.
Direct Involvement
According to sources, evidence of direct involvement of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA), Daesh and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have been found in the recent attacks. Sources add, that the heads of these banned organisations are operating from Afghanistan.
Pakistan has demanded Afghanistan hand over Mullah Fazlullah the head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, Umar Khalid Khorasani of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and Safdar Khorasani of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Almi.
Sources claim that a man identified as Haseeb Logri is controlling Daesh operations in Pakistan from Afghanistan.
Intelligence agencies in Pakistan have learned about the plans after rounding up underage boys who were being groomed for terror activities. During raids in Peshawar and Quetta information was discovered about the terrorist’s plans and a widespread search and combing operation was launched across the country.

Pakistan strikes ‘terror camps’ in Afghanistan

“Terror camps in Afghanistan indicated a clear danger to Pakistan and, as nothing was being done by Afghan forces, we had to take matters into our own hands”
A senior Pakistan Army officer confirmed that at least six different “terrorist camps” on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border were destroyed yesterday by Pakistani artillery.
According to the source, who asked not to be named, all the camps were located within 100 to 200 meters across the border, on the Afghan side, and most of them either belonged to or were were affiliated with the Tahreek-e-Taliban-JamaatulAhraar (TTP-JA) - an IS-loyalist Pakistani Taliban splinter group that has claimed responsibility for most of the terror attacks in mainland Pakistan this past week.
“Six camps, all on the Khyber and Mohmand tribal agency axis, including the one in Lalpura belonging to JamaatulAhraar deputy commander AdilBacha, have been engaged, neutralised and dismantled overnight by our gunners,” a private television channel quoted the officer as saying.
Dozens have been killed in terror attacks this past week in all four of Pakistan’s provinces, including an attack on an 800-year-old shrine in Sehwan Sharif on Thursday that killed over 80, and is being categorised as the biggest terror attack in the country since the Peshawar Army Public School massacre in 2014 that killed over 150.
JamaatulAhaar claimed that attack too, and have been publishing videos, threatening to strike Pakistan since then. The TTP-JA are believed to be set up in Afghan provinces - Kunar and Nangarhar - according to several military assessments and statements released since the Peshawar massacre, and have conducted various attacks on Pakistani territory since moving across the border from local bases after the launch of a massive counter-insurgency operation, Operation Zarb-e-Azab, by the Pakistanis in 2014-15.
Last night’s actions followed the unprecedented closure of all major Pak-Afghan border crossings by Pakistan on Friday, as well as a meeting between Pakistani generals and Afghan officials (the military said a list of over 70 militants was handed to the Afghans to take action immediate action against) and phone calls between Pakistan’s senior-most diplomat, Sartaj Aziz, and the Afghan National Security Adviser, HanifAtmar.
Also, following the attacks, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General QamarJavedBajwacalled the US General John Nicholson, Commander of Mission Resolute Support in Afghanistan. A military statement qoutedBajwa telling Nicholson that the “freedom of attacks” from Afghanistan-based terror groups is testing Pakistan’s current policy of cross border restraint.
About the Pakistani army’s actions, the military source told that “the terror camps in Afghanistan indicated a clear danger to Pakistan, and as nothing was being done about them by Afghan or western forces on that side of the border, we had to take the matter into our own hands.”
However, no air assets were used in the strikes. A senior officer of the Pakistan Air Force said that there are clear plans to strike terrorists settled in Afghanistan, but we don’t have the green light yet. Another Pakistan Air Force pilot said, “There’s a lot of anger, and we are ready to go, have been training to go, but they won’t let us go in to Afghanistan yet.”
For years, Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken gibesat each other for not doing enough about the militant groups based on their own territory. Kabul says groups affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, like the Haqqani Network, use Pakistani soil for protection and to strike in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Islamabad claims that groups associated with the Pakistani Taliban, like JamaatulAhraar, enjoy safe havens in Afghanistan and are funded by Afghan intelligence and its allies, like Indian and US intelligence services.
But in America and Pakistan’s longest war, the involvement of a nuclear-armed IS’ regular military operating on Afghan soil could be a signature of a new level of escalation.

Pakistan - Once More Unto The Breach

Over a hundred dead in six separate attacks across four provinces in the space of a week. It is clear now, our self-congratulatory declarations of victory were premature. More than two years have passed since the APS Peshawar attack, and it seems the nation is back where it started; a citizenry reeling under an unprecedented wave of terror, and the security regime vowing "never again".
The COAS has told us – as he should – that "each drop of the nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone". This is undoubtedly the right sentiment and the tone to strike after this spate of attacks, but one is bound to question, why was there 'restraint' in the first place? Where were the gaps, and what will be done now that was not done after APS, after Gulshan-e-Iqbal, after Charsadda, after Parachinar?
No one doubts the sincerity of the security regime when it comes to eradicating terrorism, but there are kinks in the system that make us do a double take. The military operation was never taken to its logical end; Punjab was ignored for being an unmanageable political labyrinth, and "useful" religious narrative still finds traction in high places. The pressure on the religio-seminary complex – the spawning pool of these terrorists – was dropped, by the government and the military too. Major religious parties were allowed to chant "death to Ahmedis" on national forums, and hate speech was ignored. Perhaps worse of all, the state was refocused towards countering "liberal critics" and radical elements allowed to exist in Pakistan were using accusations of blasphemy and treason, equating powerless peaceniks to the monsters that are blowing up our cities.
The state became complacent, and the ruling party, which never had much enthusiasm to begin with, dropped the ball on the National Action Plan due to cowardice and ineptitude – only a few months ago it was found schmoozing up to religious ideologues whose worldview calls for violent deaths to the kind of people who were present at the Sehwan shrine. This is a hard war to fight and the above mentioned mistakes only make pinpointing the enemy harder, mistakenly giving them a nebulous, half-good half-bad character.
As the immediate nationwide crackdown claims to have killed 25 militants, it is clear that the war against militancy has been taken up another notch. The Sehwan attack has been claimed by IS, but the same regional groups keep shifting allegiances – they are within our reach to eliminate and much less of a monolithic entity than we think they are. As always, the public is fully behind the security forces. They must not be hesitant, nor must they tolerate any apologism for religious militancy if they want to go down in history as the saviours that we believe they are.

Pakistan - The aftermath of tragedy

Afrasiab Khattak

Pakistan has faced numerous terrorist attacks in the past but the current wave of terrorism has turned this week to be the bloodiest in the country’s history so far. The last five days have seen ten attacks targeting all the four provinces.
Bloodbath at Sehwan, Sindh, on Thursday peaked the series of attacks when a suicide bomber hit the Sufi shrine of Laal Shahbaz Qalandar during rituals performed by the devotees. The terrorist wave started with an attack on a DSNG van of Samma TV in Karachi on Sunday killing a media worker. It was followed by a suicide attack in Lahore the next day that left 13 people dead. On the same day a Bomb Disposal Squad commander and a policeman were killed in Quetta while they were defusing a bomb planted by terrorists. Two security personnel were killed as their vehicle hit a land mine in South Waziristan. On Wednesday four suicide bombers blew themselves up in Peshawar, Momand Agency and Charssada. Their target was security forces and judicial officers. Three soldiers were killed in Awaran district of Balochistan on Thursday followed by an attack on police in Dera Ismail Khan. TTP claimed responsibility for some of the aforementioned attacks. The so-called Islamic State (IS) accepted its role in planning and carrying out suicide attack in Sehwan. Choice of time and places for terrorist attacks during the current wave reveals a sophisticated and coordinated plan behind the terror campaign.
In a knee jerk reaction Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan late Thursday evening giving little thought to the fact that such an arbitrary closing of borders violates the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. It is also important to note that closing six or eight crossing points at a border with hundreds of other unfrequented routes wouldn’t have any practical impact on the cross border movement of terrorists. Apart from this senior Afghan diplomat was summoned to GHQ for receiving a list of 76 terrorists hiding in Afghanistan who are involved in subversive activities in Pakistan. By initiating these significant foreign policy moves without even the fig leaf of some high level meeting, the GHQ has left no doubt about the fact that it is in the driving seat. But what is new about closing the borders or handing over the list of fugitives to the Afghan government? This has happened in the past without any result. Afghans have also been handing over longer lists of Taliban based in Pakistan. In fact the issue became a source of real embarrassment when sometime back Mr. Sartaj Aziz formally confirmed the presence of Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan for many years. Even a press report on Thursday quoted the Foreign Secretary Mr. Aizaz Chaudhry saying that Taliban entered Pakistan as immigrants on condition they would disavow militancy. Who entered in the aforementioned agreement with Taliban? I am sure Pakistani Parliament doesn’t know anything about it.
Anyhow, the statement of the Foreign Secretary brings us to the heart of the problem, to the Taliban project. The official narrative in Pakistan goes into great details to underline differences between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. But basically both of them belong the same movement and ideology. They take oath of allegiance to the same leader (to the Amir of the Afghan Taliban). Both have been systematically coordinating with Al Qaeda and other international terror networks. That’s why they have been reinforcing one another by division of work. For example, the TTP hold areas in FATA that were to be used by the Afghan Taliban for their activities across the Durand Line. A good number of TTP cadres have been fighting along side Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan. It is true that some elements in TTP have been regularly used by hostile foreign intelligence agencies against Pakistan from their bases inside Afghanistan, but the Afghan Taliban have always refrained from acting against TTP as an entity. One wonders why Pakistani authorities aren’t giving the lists of TTP fugitives to Afghan Taliban who have significant presence in the areas where these miscreants are based. Pakistani media gives wide coverage to Taliban “victories” in Afghanistan but never raises questions about nexus of Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line.
A number of Pakistani political leaders and analysts have been criticising the official policy of “good and bad” Taliban and the non-implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) but there is no visible change in government policy. The Supreme Court’s Quetta Inquiry Commission Report issued in December last year was full of scathing criticism of government’s failure in tackling terrorism. Instead of taking corrective measures the government deemed it fit to totally brush aside the report. Proscribed organisations are publicly carrying out their activities under new names. Holy war or Jihad in Islam is a state institution but private Jihad hasn’t been criminalised so far. Under these circumstances the atmosphere remains conducive for spreading extremist militancy, with or without foreign support.
There are two critical aspects of the current wave of terrorism in Pakistan that find no mention in our media or official analysis. First is the expansion of the so called IS in the region at a time when it’s losing ground in the Middle East. Media reports appear from time to time about the presence of the so called IS in eastern Afghanistan. The fighting of Taliban is creating swaths of territory uncontrolled by the Afghan state. But what is not mentioned in these media reports is the fact that most of the fighters under its black flag are Pakistani citizens. So the ideology, cadres and resources flow from Pakistan to the stateless territory in Afghanistan. This process of expansion of the so-called IS is not dissimilar to the growth of Al Qaeda in the 1990s. It will definitely attract international intervention if it is not checked by local players soon. The second significant aspect of the current wave of terrorism is its negative fallout on Pak-Afghan relations. Efforts have been underway for restarting the political engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan for arresting tensions in their relations before the so called summer offensive of the Taliban. Terrorists aim at derailing any possible political engagement between the two countries.
PM Nawaz Sharif must move swiftly to muster collective wisdom and energy for effectively meeting the current national security challenge.

A Wave of Grief and Anger After a Pakistani Shrine Is Bombed

Hundreds of protesters — enraged, inconsolable and demanding justice — converged outside a revered shrine in southern Pakistan on Friday, one day after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed more than 80 people in the country’s deadliest attack in years.
As families held the first funerals for the victims, many of them women and children, protesters clashed with the police and set fire to a car before the authorities dispersed the crowds using tear gas and batons.
The din of clashes and lamentations on Friday was in stark contrast to a day earlier, when hundreds of pilgrims thronged the gold-domed shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in the southern province of Sindh, for a celebration of traditional music and the spiritual dance known as dhamal.
“After the blast, everyone present at the shrine was running, shouting and searching for their families,” said Faraz Hussain, 30, who had traveled to the shrine from his home in Karachi. “It was like doomsday.”
More than 250 people were wounded in the explosion, and local hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. Military aircraft were employed to take the wounded to hospitals as far away as Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, about 180 miles from the shrine. On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of army staff, visited Sehwan and Nawabshah, where many of the wounded were taken for treatment.
One senior police official, Raja Umar Khitab, who is leading the forensic investigation, said the bomber’s suicide vest was filled with shrapnel, including ball bearings, bolts and screws, intended to inflict mass casualties.
“It is the reason for the high death toll,” he said.
The bombing, one of several deadly attacks this week, has shaken Pakistan’s leadership.
“It is a very ugly development,” said Afrasiab Khattak, an opposition politician and newspaper columnist. “The timing and the scale of the targets suggests it is a big plan to destabilize Pakistan.”
On Thursday, the Islamic State, the extreme Sunni militant organization based in Syria and Iraq, announced that its branch in the region had carried out the attack.
But the Pakistani military played down the role of the terrorist group, seeing instead old foes’ fingerprints on the attack. Military officials blamed Afghanistan for harboring Pakistani Taliban militants in its territory.
Afghan officials were summoned on Friday to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and handed a list of 76 terrorists whom the Pakistani military wants targeted, said Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the chief military spokesman.
The military also claimed that at least 100 terrorists had been killed in operations that began Thursday night, though there were few details.
Senior security officials also implicated Pakistan’s archrival, India, suggesting that an Indian intelligence agency might have been behind the attack to scuttle cooperation between Pakistan and China.
Some officials, however, said the threat posed by the Islamic State could not be ignored.
“At a time when space is shrinking for the Islamic State in the Middle East, it is trying to establish itself in this region,” Mr. Khattak, the opposition politician, said. “There are many groups here that are aligned with its ideology.”

The fight Pakistan must wage within

By Husain Haqqani

Attacks like the one in Sehwan show how its tolerance for terror groups undermines the country.
The suicide bombing at the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan is not the first terrorist attack on a place of worship in Pakistan, and is unlikely to be the last. Imbued with their extremist ideology, jihadis have targeted several Sufi shrines all over Pakistan for several years. As the shrine is a major attraction for devotees, the Sehwan attack resulted in a very high number of fatalities, just like the attacks on the popular shrine of Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore in 2010 and that of Hazrat Shah Noorani in Balochistan last November. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s ruling elite still sees terrorism through a geo-strategic lens, not as the consequence of its appeasement and sponsorship of Islamist extremism.
Jihadi justification
The jihadis justify their violence against Sufi shrines as attacks against ‘impure’ manifestations of the Islamic faith. Killing ‘unbelievers,’ ‘heretics’ and ‘deviants’ is an integral part of their plan to create a purer Islamic state. The same justification has been used in the past to attack Shias and Ahmadis as well as Pakistan’s Christians and Hindus. Although jihadi groups were originally nurtured by Pakistan for proxy wars in Afghanistan and against India, at least some jihadi groups consider Pakistanis as legitimate targets. To them Pakistan is as much their religious battlefield as Afghanistan or India. Pakistan would have to delegitimate the jihadi ideology in its entirety to ensure that more extreme offshoots of its protégés do not kill its people.
Despite periodic noises about making no distinctions among good and bad jihadis, Pakistan’s leaders have shown no interest in defining all jihadis as a threat to Pakistan. The country’s military still sees terrorism in the context of its geo-strategic vision. The jihadis responsible for attacks within Pakistan are deemed ‘agents’ of Indian intelligence or the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security (NDS). For Pakistan’s military, Pakistan has only one enemy and all acts of violence against Pakistanis must be attributed only to that enemy. At a recent event in Washington DC, I was confronted by a fellow Pakistani who argued that terrorism in South Asia would end if the Kashmir issue was resolved in accordance with Pakistan’s wishes. He had no answer to my question how resolution of any international dispute would diminish the fanaticism of those who kill Shias and Sufis as part of an effort to purify Muslim society.
In all four provinces
Over the last week, jihadi offshoots claiming links to the Islamic State (IS) have demonstrated their capacity to strike in each one of Pakistan’s four provinces. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Taliban, publicly claimed responsibility for some of the attacks and threatened to attack further Shia, Ahmadi and Pakistan military targets as part of its ‘Operation Ghazi’. Simple research on Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and other similar groups reveals that their members are homegrown Punjabi jihadis ideologically convinced of their narrow sectarian worldview. But Pakistan’s reaction to the Sehwan attack was to blame groups ‘based in Afghanistan’. Some were silly enough to suggest that the latest wave of attacks was aimed at preventing the Pakistan Super League (which plays its cricket in Dubai due to poor security in Pakistan) from having its final in Pakistan. There was no attempt to answer the question how Afghanistan-based terrorists could travel vast distances within Pakistan without being intercepted by Pakistan’s security services. After all, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which prides itself at being the ‘world’s best intelligence’ service, shows a high degree of efficiency in dealing with secular critics, ranging from little known bloggers to political activists, but is remarkably incompetent at interdicting suicide bombers.
The only reasonable explanation for why Pakistan is unable to intercept jihadi terrorists targeting its own people is that the state apparatus does not consider jihadis as the enemy in the same manner as they pursue secular Baloch and Muhajir political activists or other critics of Pakistan’s policies. For decades Pakistan has seen jihadi groups as levers of its foreign and security policy and periodic assertions that the policy has changed have proved wrong. Every step against jihadis is followed by one in the opposite direction. Thus, the much publicised ‘Operation Zarb-e-Azb’ targeted out-of-control Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan but spared groups based in Punjab and Karachi. Hafiz Saeed’s recent detention was accompanied by blocking action against him and Masood Azhar at the U.N. with Chinese support. It is almost as if the Pakistani state is continuously telling jihadis, “Those of you who do not attack inside Pakistan will not get hurt.”
More about image
For Pakistan’s civil and military elite, the priority is Pakistan’s international image and its external relations, not the elimination of terrorism or confronting extremist ideology. Pakistan’s publicly stated view of its terrorist problem is that it is the victim of blowback from its involvement in the anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad during the 1980s. Former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, described Hafiz Saeed as Pakistan’s hero in a well-known interview on Pakistan’s Dunya TV in October 2015 and argued that Pakistan had “brought Mujahideen from around the world” and “trained the Taliban” at a time when Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani and Osama bin Laden were heroes for both the CIA and the Pakistanis.
In this version of history, there is little acknowledgement of Pakistan’s role in allowing the ideology of jihad to flourish and grow for two decades after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Americans started telling Pakistan to shut down the jihadi enterprise. Pakistanis spend more energy defending themselves against U.S. and Indian criticism over safe havens for the Afghan Taliban than they do on figuring out how to rid Pakistan of the cancer of jihadi terrorism. Twenty-five years have elapsed since then Secretary of State James Baker threatened Pakistan in 1992 that its support of jihadi groups could result in the U.S. declaring Pakistan a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Over a quarter century, Pakistan has offered excuses and explanations as well as made promises that have not been kept. It has itself faced terrorism, lost lives and fought certain terrorist groups. But its essential policy of using jihadi groups for strategic advantage in the region— in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir and against India — has not drastically changed.
For ‘strategic advantage’
In the process of securing strategic advantage, Pakistan has unleashed ideologically motivated groups on its soil that have morphed and mutated over time. While groups such as Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa speak of Pakistan’s national interest, other groups such as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have an ideological perspective that is not limited by the concept of modern nation states. For them, Pakistan is as dispensable as other states for the restoration of an Islamic caliphate and they have a God-given right to kill those they consider un-Islamic. In a recent report co-authored by Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation and myself, we pointed out that Pakistan must focus on reversing the extremist trends in Pakistani society. Pakistani authorities — specifically the country’s military leaders, who control its foreign and security policies — need to take a comprehensive approach to shutting down all Islamist militant groups that operate from Pakistani territory, not just those that attack the Pakistani state.
As attacks like the recent one in Sehwan demonstrate, Pakistan’s tolerance for terror groups undermines the country. It corrodes stability and civilian governance, damages the investment climate, and inflicts death and injury on thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens.