Sunday, March 5, 2017

Arabic Music Video - El Zoghbi - Alf W Meya / نوال الزغبي - ألف و مية


The man from Tarut, an island in the Persian Gulf belonging to the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, was found guilty of participating in an anti-regime protest, keeping and carrying illegal weapons, and provoking unrest and violence, Riyadh-based news channel al-Ekhbariya reported on Sunday.
Chanting anti-regime slogans, throwing fiery materials, blocking path of security forces were among other charges leveled against the defendant.
According to the report, the court also fined him 5,000 riyals, about $1,125.
In addition, the man has also been banned from leaving the country after completing his jail term.
Numerous dissidents have been jailed without trial or on vague charges in Saudi Arabia, where the regime has been cracking down on the Shia population in the country’s Eastern Province since 2011.
In January, a political prisoner died under suspicious circumstances in a Saudi prison after four years of imprisonment without trial.
In early January 2016, the Riyadh regime announced the execution of prominent Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, in defiance of international calls for his release. The move triggered massive condemnations around the world.
Riyadh has long been criticized by international bodies for its grim human rights record, draconian restrictions on freedom of speech, and harsh punishments handed out to dissidents.

The Noxious U.S.-Saudi Relationship Should End

Steven Cook comes to a strange conclusion about the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship:
It is not that the U.S. shouldn’t walk away from Saudi Arabia because it is a major oil producer and a partner in the fight against terrorism, or because the bilateral relationship has benefited Washington. The larger issue is that if Saudi Arabia is left to its own devices, it will sow more chaos in the Middle East.
Cook does a very good job summing up the enormous harm that the Saudis have done in recent years and the incompetence of their more meddlesome foreign policy, but I’m not buying the conclusion that we have to maintain the current relationship with them so that they don’t cause even more trouble. The Saudis are at best a liability for the U.S. at this point, and thanks to the wrecking of Yemen that our government has supported for the last two years I think it is fair to say that they have become a regional menace. That has occurred while the U.S. has been lavishing them with more arms than at any previous point in the relationship. It seems reasonable to assume that there is a connection there. If the Saudis had not had U.S. arms and assistance over the last two years, they and their allies would have been able to cause much less harm than they have, and the coalition likely would have had to come to terms with their enemies in Yemen instead of continuing their war.
Washington’s ongoing commitment to “reassuring” the Saudis has been a nightmare for Yemen and has done nothing to make the U.S. or the region more secure, so it isn’t enough to say that the Saudis would become even more destructive if the U.S. reduced or eliminated its support for them. That might be true, or it might not, but we know right now that the current arrangement of enabling their destructive behavior is indefensible. Keeping the relationship as it is might prevent worse evils if there were any evidence that the U.S. acts as a restraining influence on the Saudis, but in practice it has been just the opposite. We have given the Saudis the means to attack one of their neighbors, and our government has backed them to the hilt as they did so. There might have been a time when supporting the Saudis seemed the least bad option for the U.S., but now this relationship is noxious, it makes the U.S. complicit in their war crimes, and it undeniably contributes to regional instability. It is very unlikely that this relationship will be ended, but it definitely ought to be.

SAUDI WAR CRIMES: World must address Saudi war crimes in Yemen urgently

The United Nations has warned about the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia presses ahead with its war on the poor nation.
Massoud Shadjareh, head of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, believes Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen need to be addressed urgently, adding that the world must raise its voice and take concrete action before it is too late.
“It really is outrageous and it is a war crime. It is difficult to even find right words to describe this deliberately created sort of phenomenon that ordinary people are deprived of food and medicine and deliberately this has been done by the Saudis and their allies – the Americans, the French and the Brits - in putting pressure on ordinary innocent civilians,” the activist told Press TV in an interview on Monday.
He also stated the fact that the United Nations has kept silence is another “outrageous aspect”, arguing that it should think about the lives and the well-being of the innocent Yemeni people who are dying on a daily basis rather than a few dollars that Saudi Arabia is going to pay to the world body.
The United Nations has already said that Yemen is facing a huge crisis, he said, but Saudi Arabia is still continuing its war crimes in an open way because of West’s support.
Shadjareh further opined that the West needs to rethink its decision to support this “madness” and “barbaric behavior”, arguing that Saudi Arabia should be pulled back and the Yemeni people must get their basic rights.  
According to the activist, there is nothing left in Yemen to bomb anymore, asserting that what Saudi Arabia has done in Yemen is “the crime of the century”.

Dear Saudi, their only crime was being born transgender, and that’s not a crime at all

By Noman Ansari
Amna, a 35-year-old from the Mingora part of Swat and 26-year-old Meeno from Peshawar were killed in Saudi Arabia this week in police custody. The death of any prisoner at the hands of law enforcement is already disturbing as it is, but these two were allegedly tortured to death. Alongside 33 others, they were arrested, placed inside sacks, and beaten, and beaten, and then beaten some more until the two succumbed to their injuries. Imagine being helpless, alone, inside a dark claustrophobic sack, and struck on the body and head with canes and kicks until dying painfully.
There is very little that would justify such a gruesome death.
Were they murderous criminals? No.
Were they terrorists who had killed others mercilessly? Wrong again. Their crime, sadly, was a crime they had been committing since they were born in the eyes of hard-line Islamists; they belonged to the transgender community. They had offended the Wahabi-minded extremists enforcing draconian interpretations of Islam by wearing female clothes, because they gender identified as women. Imagine being born as a transgender, enduring abuse and sexual harassment all your life, having limited education and job options throughout your life, and dying by torture at the very end of a life cut woefully short.
Transgender rights activist Qamar Naseem has been rightly left disgusted by the murder. He said,
“Torturing humans after throwing them into bags and beating them with sticks is inhumane.”
It’s difficult to believe that we are in the year 2017, and we still violently discriminate against others for their skin colour, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In Saudi Arabia, women are treated like property and retain very few rights, suffering constant human rights violations since the day they are born in the kingdom. Hence, it’s not surprising that according to various sources, transgender people have been banned from entering the country, especially from performing Umrah.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is so deeply in bed with Saudi Arabia doing it favours that it doesn’t have the guts to stand up for its citizens. After all, we have been freely taking Saudi money for generations, and it is well-documented how we’ve allowed Saudis to build madrassas across the country that preach dangerously hateful interpretations of scripture.
Naseem has been pleading with the Pakistani government to do something:
“No one is there to save them as the life of a transgender is not of any value to anyone, not even for our own government.”
Speaking to The Independent, Naseem explains how dire the situation is:
“Gender fluid people are treated badly, sometimes flogged, and if someone is arrested on the same law for a second time they can be executed.”
My question is who died and made Saudi Arabia the gatekeeper of Islam? What right does this backward family business have – one that uses extremism to manipulate its masses to stay in line while it hypocritically takes part in all sorts of debauchery – to ban anyone from entering to perform their religious obligations based simply on their gender identity?
What are transgender individuals supposed to do? If the holy Muslim cities did not exist in Saudi Arabia, no one in their right minds would ever put themselves through the torture of temporarily visiting. Saudi Arabia should realise that it does not own Islam. The crimes against humanity committed by the Saudis keep stacking up, and one day when the day of reckoning comes, the kingdom will only have itself to blame.

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Pro-union rally in Mississippi unites workers with community: 'We are ready'

Mike Elk in Canton
For a mile outside Canton Multipurpose Complex on Saturday, the road was backed up. Many cars sported bumper stickers, pro-Bernie and pro-union.
They came in school buses, hot rods, church vans and motorcycles, with license plates from Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Illinois and Pennsylvania. A delegation of a dozen Nissan workers even came from Brazil, to support United Automobile Workers (UAW) activists who have faced illegal retaliation in a 13-year struggle to unionize the Japanese giant’s 5,000 workers in Mississippi.
“I feel their pain because we have been through the same thing with Mercedes,” said Kirk Garner of Vance of Alabama, who has been part of the decade-long UAW effort to unionize there.
Two weeks after the defeat of the Machinists Union at Boeing in South Carolina, an estimated 5,000 southern union activists gathered in Canton to lay the foundation of what they hope will be the large-scale community movements necessary to defeat anti-union forces nationwide – and in the White House.
Community support is proving essential for union drives, as companies use politicians and expensive media buys to counter such campaigns. In South Carolina, Boeing spent $485,000 on TV ads and politicians warned that a successful union drive would discourage other companies from moving to the region. In 2014, anti-union forces used a similar strategy to defeat a high-profile attempt to unionize Volkswagen in Chattanooga. In Mississippi, as the UAW seeks a vote, Nissan has begun airing its own anti-union ads this week. The UAW claims that the company has told staff that if they unionize, the plant will move to Mexico. The company has denied the charge.
In an email to the Guardian on Sunday, Nissan corporate communications manager Parul Bajaj said “the allegations made by the union are totally false” and accused the UAW of a “campaign to pressure the company into recognizing a union, even without employee support”.
High-profile company ad campaigns can turn communities against unions. Workers often face not just intimidation from their bosses but also peer pressure from friends and neighbors, who warn of harm to the local economy. “I don’t think the pressure was as intense as it is now,” said GM worker John W Hill Jr, who was part of the first successful UAW effort to unionize workers in the south, 41 years ago at a GM plant in Monroe, Louisiana. “In 1976, there wasn’t the harsh anti-union sentiment that is so prevalent over the country right now … We didn’t have all the politicians and everybody against us.
“I hope whenever the [Nissan] election is that they vote yes. But deep down inside, I think there is so much fear here and disconnect that I just don’t think [they will].” Hill was interrupted by a Nissan worker with a toddler on his shoulders: “Nah man, we got this, we got this. We are gonna beat them.” As they marched on the plant on an unusually warm March day, workers sang: “We are ready, We are ready, We are ready, Nissan.” They have organized a community coalition, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, that includes #BlackLivesMatter activists, church groups, the Sierra Club, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The coalition is calling for a mobilization not seen in the south since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. More than 80% of Nissan’s workers in Canton are black. A win at Nissan could be a game-changer. On Saturday, they had a guest speaker.
“If we can win here at Nissan, you will give a tremendous bolt of confidence to working people all over this country” Bernie Sanders told a crowd of 5,000. “If you can stand up to a powerful multinational corporation in Canton, Mississippi, workers all over this country will say, ‘We can do it too.’”
‘We know a union could help’
Out of 43 of Nissan plants worldwide, 40 are unionized. The only plants that are one in Canton, Mississippi and two in Tennessee. Workers say the lack of a union makes a difference. Bajaj said Nissan “respects and supports” employees’ decisions about who represents them. Many employees in Canton say they make less than $15 an hour, with starting wages for some at $13.46 an hour. Workers say they make $2 less each hour than those in Smyrna, where Nissan faces competition from unionized GM factories.
Bajaj countered that the company’s “hourly wages are significantly above the average central [Mississippi] production wage of $16.70 per hour”.
Many Canton workers also say they are forced to work for years as temporary employees and complain that they are denied vacation, only allowed to take time off in the last week of June and the first week of July – when the plant shuts down.
Without a union, they say, workers are often forced to work in unsafe conditions. Since 2008, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) has cited Canton facilities six times. In February, Osha issued a citation for a failure to have proper safety lights indicated when machines were on and for not instructing workers to turn off machines before fixing them.
“I had to call [Osha] twice in the past month,” said Karen Camp, who works in the paint shop. “You couldn’t see 10ft in front of your face because of the ventilation problems. We know a union could help fix it.”
In his email, Bajaj said: “The safety and well-being of our employees is always our top priority. We dedicate extensive time and resources to safety programs and training at the plant.”
The Canton plant, she added, “has a safety record that is significantly better than the national average for automotive plants” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Workers say Nissan has fought the union every step of the way. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board charged that the company and its temporary employee agency provider, Kelly Services, violated workers’ rights, with one manager threatening to close the plant if it went union. Nissan has said it is defending against the charge.
Workers say the company routinely imposes one-on-one meetings, where they are questioned about their views on unionization and have their work histories reviewed. Some say those who support the union are routinely denied promotion. Others say pro-union workers have been unfairly let go.
In March 2014, a 43-year-old pro-UAW Nissan worker, Calvin Moore, who had worked in the plant since 2004, was fired. Many workers began to protest.
The actor Danny Glover, a supporter of Nissan workers who was also present at Saturday’s march, with NAACP president Cornell William Brooks, called a press conference to denounce the firing. Students from Jackson State and Tougaloo College engaged in civil disobedience at Nissan headquarters. Workers in Brazil organized protests in solidarity.
Three months later, Moore was hired again. The win put wind in the union’s sails.
“It bolstered people’s spirits,” Moore said on Saturday. “To be honest, people were happier for me than I was for myself.” Moore said community support and events, such as the March on Mississippi, were key to winning support among coworkers.
“We have had a lot of non-union workers who have changed their mind about the UAW,” he said. “Events like this should help us get more support, especially when people see this on TV.”
‘If there was ever a movement to be lead’
High-profile labor efforts could prove crucial not just to unions in the coming months and years, but also to Democratic attempts to win back Congress and the White House. Last year, Donald Trump won the largest share of union voters for a Republican since 1984. He has since focused on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US.
However, with many of these new jobs being temporary, Democrats feel they can win union voters back by focusing on how to improve such jobs. Such a strategy, if successful, may not just to win back blue-collar voters. It could also help soften racial tensions that have spread among manufacturing workers.
With Republicans fighting unionization nationwide, incoming Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez – who was labor secretary under Barack Obama – has signaled that he intends to focus on supporting efforts to unionize.
In Canton, workers said their efforts could provide a model for the progressive movement in the age of Trump.
“If there was ever a movement to be lead,” said Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson, “it would be lead out of Mississippi, because we have always lead the movement.”

Sources: FBI breaks with Trump

The FBI asked the Justice Department on Saturday to refute President Donald Trump's assertion that President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump's phones last year, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
The FBI made the request because such wiretapping would be illegal, since the President cannot just order the eavesdropping of a U.S. citizen's phones, the sources said. The sources would not say who was involved in the conversations between the FBI and DOJ.
So far, the Justice Department has not said anything in reaction to Trump's tweets on Saturday, in which he made the wiretapping allegations.
    Asked about the FBI request, a Justice Department spokesman said he had no comment. The FBI refused comment as well.
    The New York Times first reported that the FBI asked the Justice Department to refute Trump's wiretapping claim.
    Trump's aides asked Congress on Sunday to look into whether the Obama administration abused its investigative powers during the 2016 election. The move comes a day after Trump posted a series of tweets alleging, without presenting any evidence, that Obama wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower in the weeks leading up to the November election.
    "Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement Sunday morning, which he also posted on Twitter. "President Donald J. Trump is requesting that as part of their investigation into Russian activity, the congressional intelligence committees exercise their oversight authority to determine whether executive branch investigative powers were abused in 2016.
    "Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted," Spicer added. He did not provide any further details on the President's request to Congress.
    While Spicer said "reports" prompted the call for a congressional investigation, the White House still has not provided any evidence to back up the President's accusations. There are no publicly known credible reports to back up Trump's claim that Obama ordered Trump's phones be monitored.
    Frustrated that the Russia stories have overshadowed a widely praised performance in his joint address to Congress on Tuesday, Trump angrily raised the wiretapping issue unprompted in conversations with friends and acquaintances at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, two people who have spoken with him at his Palm Beach resort said on Sunday. The President didn't specify what information he was basing his accusations upon, but told them he expected an investigation to prove him right.
    Multiple former senior US officials have dismissed Trump's allegations, however, calling them "nonsense" and "false." Obama, through a spokesman, also rejected the claim that he ordered Trump's phones tapped.
    Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a career intelligence official who had oversight of the US intelligence community in that role, said Sunday that Trump was not wiretapped by intelligence agencies nor did the FBI obtain a court order through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor Trump's phones.
    "For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no wiretap activity mounted against the President-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign," Clapper said Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press."

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    Human rights violations endemic in South Asia

    By Biraj Patnaik

    For all the differences South Asia's countries insist on, they have depressingly similar attitudes when it comes to human rights. Over the past year, as Amnesty International documents in its Annual Report, civil society organisations have been harassed and shut down, journalists have been targeted, crude colonial-era laws have been unleashed against government critics, new laws have been invoked against critics online, and brutal practices have endured in areas afflicted by conflict.

    Scarcely has it been more dangerous to be a blogger or a journalist in South Asia. After a gruesome 2015 in Bangladesh, where five secular bloggers were slain in separate attacks, the machete killings continued without any determined action from the government. LGBTI activists, Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims and academics became new targets.

    In Pakistan, this year began with the suspicious disappearance of four bloggers. They've all since returned home, but the government hasn't investigated who took them. In 2016, according to the Pakistani Press Foundation, two journalists were killed, 16 injured and one abducted. The case of Zeenat Shahzadi, who was abducted on her way to work in August 2015, remained unsolved. Leading columnist Cyril Almeida was subject to a travel ban by the government for writing an article on tensions between the civilian government and the military.

    In India, home to a lively media, two journalists were also killed last year. Karun Mishra was killed by gunmen in Uttar Pradesh, apparently for reporting on illegal soil mining. Rajdeo Ranjan, a journalist with Hindustan, who had faced threats from political leaders for his writing, was shot dead in the town of Siwan.

    Freedom of expression was curtailed by the authorities in several cases. An outdated sedition law was used to target three students at Jawaharlal Nehru University in February for allegedly raising “anti-national” slogans. In the same month, an academic was arrested on the same charge by the Delhi police. India has also used the draconian, emergency-era Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to harass NGOs, and cancel or refuse to renew the foreign funding licenses of dozens of organisations without valid reasons.

    Instead of replicating each other's failures on human rights in a race to the bottom, South Asia's countries might want to focus their rivalries instead on who can provide a better future for their people – where each country is distinguished by the value it puts on human dignity
    Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director
    Activities online have come under increasing assault. In Bangladesh, a 22-year-old student, ran afoul of the country's Information and Communications Technology Act for allegedly making “derogatory remarks” about political personalities on Facebook. In a similar case, two men were arrested in India's Madhya Pradesh under the Information Technology Act for allegedly sharing a satirical image of a Hindu nationalist group. Pakistan, not one to be left behind, passed the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act last year, giving the authorities broad and invasive powers to monitor citizens and censor online expression. Nepal arrested and expelled a Canadian lawyer, Robert Penner, claiming that he was sowing “social discord” through his Twitter account.
    Repressive laws continue to hinder Sri Lanka's transition out from under the shadow of the decades-long conflict there. Despite commitments to deliver on accountability for alleged crimes under international law, the authorities made frequent use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), despite the government's 2015 pledge to repeal it. Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continued to be detained under the PTA, which permits extended administrative detention and piles the burden of proof onto the detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment.
    It is a problem that was noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who said the practice persists on a visit to the country last May. While the problem is at levels lower than during Sri Lanka's conflict, impunity still prevails for both old and new cases. The government is similarly failing to hold people accountable for enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions that took place during the conflict.
    In Afghanistan, the conflict has been widening. As the Taliban and other armed groups seize more territory, punctuating their advances with horrific attacks on civilians, the number of people displaced has risen to record numbers. More than 1.5 million people now languish in overcrowded camps, where they go without adequate food and water in freezing temperatures.
    The humanitarian catastrophe is set to worsen as the world turns its back on Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers. In Pakistan, even as the UN noted that civilian casualty figures have reached their highest point since records began being compiled in 2009, the UN refugee agency worked with the Pakistani authorities to forcibly return tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. The returns breached the international principle of non-refoulement: people cannot be sent to a country where they are at risk of serious human rights abuses. That the UN is directly complicit in this does not bode well for the rights of refugees in the region.
    Like so many other countries who have abandoned refugees over recent years, Pakistan justified its behaviour on grounds of national security. The government alleged that the refugee camps hosted armed groups. While countries are entitled to take necessary steps to protect their populations, these must never come at the cost of human rights.
    It's a principle that the Pakistani authorities have abandoned in Karachi and Baluchistan, where security operations have perpetuated a range of human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions. And it's a principle the Indian authorities abandoned in Jammu and Kashmir last year, where authorities imposed curfews across the valley and security forces deployed excessive and unnecessary force against protestors, even blinding hundreds of young people with the use of inherently indiscriminate pellet shotguns.

    Instead of replicating each other's failures on human rights in a race to the bottom, South Asia's countries might want to focus their rivalries instead on who can provide a better future for their people – where each country is distinguished by the value it puts on human dignity.

    Pakistani Blogger Speaks Out About Captivity Perils

    By Madeeha Anwar f
    Waqas Goraya had planned to move back to his native Pakistan and settle down after his wife finished her postgraduate studies in the Netherlands this month.
    Now the idea seems impossible to the social media activist, who paid an enormous price for blogging to raise political awareness and campaign against human rights violations, religious intolerance, and extremism in Pakistan.
    Goraya, an IT consultant, vanished in January with four other secular activists in Pakistan -- a group that became known as the "missing bloggers."
    Released three weeks later under mysterious circumstances, Goraya won't discuss the circumstances of his disappearance, where he was held, or who his captors were for fear of repercussions for his family and friends in Pakistan.
    "Talking about extremism and criticizing the establishment in a country like Pakistan got me in trouble," Goraya told Voice Of America in a telephone interview from the Netherlands, where he returned after his captivity. "That's a no-go area for Pakistan, and no one talks about it."
    Not Anti-Pakistan
    "There can be confusion, but we've never been anti-Pakistan or anti-Islam or anti-society," said Goraya, who lived in the Netherlands before making a visit to Pakistan last year. "We're not losers sitting in a dark place and just blogging about negative things. That's not the case."
    If his captors' goal was to shut him up, it's working, Goraya said. He is too frozen to resume his social media activism, at least for now.
    "Abduction is 10 percent of the horror. The other 90 percent begins after you're released," he said. "I'll continue blogging, but it will take some time."
    Goraya's wife, Mesha Saeed, said, "Waqas's abduction has jolted us as a family, and we need time to recover from the shock. When Waqas came back, he couldn't sleep for days. He just wanted to see me and our son all the time."
    Pressured on all sides, Pakistan has become a dangerous, even deadly place for journalists. It ranks 147th in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
    "Journalists are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organizations, and Pakistan's feared intelligence organizations, all of which are on RSF's list of predators of press freedom," the group's website says. "Although at war with each other, they are all always ready to denounce acts of 'sacrilege' by the media."
    Human rights watchdog Amnesty International recently wrote an open letter urging Pakistan's government to take concrete measures to protect the lives of bloggers, activists, and journalists.
    Security Agencies Suspected
    Human rights activists and lawmakers say enforced disappearances, including torture, have become a norm in Pakistan and that the country's security agencies are responsible.
    "Human rights activists and NGOs, the broader community, and journalists believe the bloggers were abducted by the Pakistani intelligence agencies," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
    "The missing persons are often mistreated and then told upon release that if they speak, there will be retaliation against them or their families or their friends," he added. "I'm not sure if this happened in the bloggers' case."
    Pakistan's Interior Ministry and army have repeatedly and strongly denied any involvement in or link to the abductions of bloggers and other activists over the past few years.
    "The army or intelligence agencies had nothing to do with the abduction of the bloggers," Major General Asif Ghafoor, director general of the armed forces media wing, said in a statement to VOA.
    Pakistani defense analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said the bloggers were "made an example of" because they crossed the line by reporting on sensitive political issues controlled by the powerful military.
    "The state doesn't want people to remember the way Balochistan is being run," Siddiqa told VOA. "It's a political problem, essentially, and that's how it should be dealt with, rather than militarily."
    Goraya and several friends started their social media activism in 2011 to create "some sort of discourse," he said.
    "The turning point in my life was the murder of Salman Taseer, who was killed in 2011 because he demanded to review the blasphemy law," Goraya said. "That was the time I realized, 'We have to speak.' "
    Audience Expanded
    The sole purpose was awareness. His anonymous blogging through the Facebook page called Mochi quickly grew a huge audience.
    After his disappearance, he is pondering new plans for the future. There was a campaign against the bloggers on social media, and some well-known TV hosts blasted them, too. Amir Liaquat Hussain showed content and screenshots from their Facebook pages and labeled them as "blasphemers.'' The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority banned him from appearing on television for spreading hate speech.
    "Right now, it looks like I may never be able to go back to Pakistan," Goraya said. "I'll be a marked person due to blasphemy, and it doesn't matter how hard I try to explain myself. They'll not listen to me."
    Human rights defenders, social activists, and families of bloggers believe that such blasphemy allegations are aimed at punishing activists for criticizing the government and the military.
    "The best way in Pakistan to silence voices is to accuse somebody of blasphemy, and people will come and dispense justice in their own way." Siddiqa said.

    Why is northern Afghanistan increasingly unstable?

    Northern Afghanistan can no longer be considered a safe region as militant violence increases. Central Asian countries that share Afghanistan's northern border have also become concerned about security.
    Once considered the safest region of Afghanistan, many northern provinces have transformed into the new battlefield between Afghan security forces and its armed opponents. Incidents of Taliban fighters storming district capitals and launching suicide attacks in cities like Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif and Maimana are becoming more frequent.
    "The government controls Kunduz city and district centers but the Taliban are in charge of the rest of the province," Abdul Ahad Turyal Kakar, a member of the provincial council in Kunduz, told DW.
    Local residents and officials from other northern provinces are facing a similar situation. They say that the Taliban and members of extremist groups from Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have now expanded their operations into northern Afghanistan and are establishing bases in provinces like Faryab.
    "We know that members of foreign extremist groups like the ‘Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan' have moved to the Pashtun Kot district," Mohammad Arif Mowlani, a member of the Faryab provincial council, told DW.
    "They target security forces and locals on a regular basis," he added.
    Locals and officials in Balkh - previously one of the safest provinces anywhere in Afghanistan - claim the province is no longer as stable as it used to be, with government opponents gaining more presence in districts. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago when the Taliban were only focused on provinces close to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    The Taliban are not the only worry for locals in Afghanistan's north. Locals and officials claim that fighters from the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) are becoming more active. This could pose a threat to not only the government in Kabul but also Afghanistan's northern neighbors like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
    What is causing the current situation?
    It is difficult for officials in Kabul to provide a clear explanation for the deteriorating situation in northern Afghanistan. The war has indeed become more complex, which has changed regional and international dynamics. Officials say that various extremist groups that find it difficult to operate in Central Asian countries move to Afghanistan to form an alliance with the Taliban and establish new bases in the conflict-ravaged nation.
    Yunus Fakur, a Kabul-based analyst, believes the situation in north is also a result of the mistakes Kabul and its international allies have made in the past decade. He said that besides the Taliban and foreign insurgent groups, local commanders that are heavily armed and who fear irrelevance also pose a threat to the region.
    "Post 2001, many local commanders in Afghan north remained heavily armed and whenever they feel that they don't get the support they need from Kabul, they join hands with the Taliban and other groups to insure their relevance," Fakur told DW.
    A member of the provincial council in Balkh province, Mohammad Ibrahim Khairandish, added to Fakur's assessment. He told DW that in some cases, local officials and warlords are behind attacks in the province in an effort to get more support or military funding from Kabul. Locals and officials from other Afghan provinces have claimed the same but such claims are very difficult to verify.
    According to Fakur, another factor is that the Taliban wanted to expand their operations to areas that do not share a border with Pakistan to prove the group is free from Pakistani influence. The Taliban, he said, moved far from their strongholds like Kandahar and Helmand provinces to act more independently.
    Pakistan is accused of supporting the Taliban as a means of holding influence over the Afghan government and to pursue its proxy war against its regional rival India. Pakistan has always denied such accusations.
    Karte Afghanistan Mazar-i-Sharif Englisch (DW)
    Locals and officials in Balkh claim the province is no longer as stable as it used to be
    Is IS a threat in the Afghan north?
    IS, mostly active in eastern Nangarhar province, has also been trying to expand its footprint in northern Afghan provinces since the group emerged in 2015. The terrorist group's activities in the region caused concerns among Central Asian countries, which have close relations with Moscow. According to experts, these concerns brought Russia and the Taliban closer - both of which consider the group a common enemy.
    Michael Kugelman, an expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said Russia is worried about a possible IS presence close to its borders and is therefore cooperating with the Taliban to curb the group's eventual expansion.
    Experts, however, doubt that IS can pose a great threat to Afghanistan's neighboring countries or even the local governments in northern provinces.
    "This all assumes that IS is an organization that could one day actually project a sustained and real threat in Afghanistan and across the broader region," Kugelman told DW, adding that IS' potential should not be oversold in Afghanistan.
    Fakur, on the other hand, believes that Russia is using reports of IS activity close to its borders as a pretext to increase its presence close to Afghan border.
    "Russia is using the current situation as an excuse to get more involved in Afghanistan," he said.

    Pakistan - Military courts extension without new law unacceptable: #PPP

    The all parties conference (APC) called by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on the question of extension of military courts on Saturday remained inconclusive as the host party remained adamant that extension could not be granted without a new law.
    The PPP announced that in case of inevitability of the military courts, the party will present amendments in the constitutional draft proposal and in draft of the Army Act of the government to ensure minimum standards of human rights and fair trial of the accused on the one hand and to prevent their misuse for political victimisation. However, the parties, except JUI-F, agreed on merger of Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on immediate basis.
    To reinforce the message, former president Asif Ali Zardari first stated it before the all parties conference at the Zardari House on Saturday and later reiterated by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his brief encounter with media persons waiting outside the Zardari House.
    The PPP-convened conference remained inconclusive as majority of the participating parties were in support of extension in military courts due to which no consensus was reached on the joint declaration of the conference. However, majority of participants supported the Fata integration into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa except Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
    “We would extend support to the military courts after obtaining legal opinion,” Bilawal told the media after the conference which was attended by heads and representatives of 13 political parties, including Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain of the PML Q, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F, Aftab Ahmed Sherpao of QWP, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour of ANP, Sirajul Haq of JI, MNA Shah Jee Gul Afridi of Fata, Senator Mir Israrullah Zehri of BNP-A, Senator Mir Hasil Bizenjo National Party, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed of AML, Sahibzada Hamid Raza of Sunni Ittehad Council, Khurram Nawaz Gandapur of PAT, Syed Shujjat Bukhari of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Fiqqa Jafria and Allama Raja Nasir Abbas of MWM.
    Besides Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the PPP team consisted of Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah, Opposition Leader in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan, former chairman Senate and legal expert Farooq Naek, Senator Sherry Rehman, secretary general PPP Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Senator Sardar Ali Khan, Abdul Qayyum Soomro, political secretary Rukhsana Bangash, Fauzia Habib and Senator Farhatullah Babar.
    The agenda before the multi-party conference was to discuss the revival of military courts, implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), reforms in the tribal areas and the profiling of Pashtuns in some parts of the country. Upon asking by the political parties, Asif Zardari tasked Farooq Naek to urgently finalise draft legislation for military courts in case their setting up was deemed inevitable by all political parties. He also asked opposition leaders Khursheed Shah and Aitzaz Ahsan to share draft legislative proposals with other political parties.
    About Fata reforms, Zardari said the PPP has spearheaded reforms in tribal areas, opened the door for reforms in FCR that was closed for a century and allowed political parties to operate freely in the tribal areas by extending the Political Parties Order 2002 to Fata, adding delaying reform implementation for five years amounted to hoodwinking the tribal people. He demanded immediate implementation of Fata reforms. Zardari also deplored the non-implementation of various provisions of the NAP and called for the accountability of those responsible.
    Bilawal said that apart from military courts, integration of Fata into KP and the implementation of NAP were also discussed in the meeting. He said no consensus was reached on the extension to be granted to military courts and that a final decision will be taken after consultation with legal experts. He did not specify a timeframe in which the parties may come to a joint conclusion.
    Senator Farhatullah Babar said while talking to the media that merely mentioning terrorist organisation or the terrorist group was inadequate, and these terms were required to be explained so as to prevent its misuse. He said for ensuring fair trial as contained in Article 10-A of the Constitution it was necessary to allow the accused to engage defence counsel of his choice, the right of appeal and the presence of observers in a military court. He said questions have been asked about how jet-black terrorist has been defined, how many of 161 accused sentenced to death were jet-black terrorists, how many were allowed to engage a lawyer of choice, how many were denied the charge sheet, copy of the judgment and evidence?
    “The PPP also wanted to know as to how many had been sentenced merely on the basis of ‘confession’ without supporting evidence and what precaution had been taken to ensure that the said confessions were not extracted through torture,” he added. Babar also asked as to how many of the accused sentenced during the last two years were those who were brought out into the open under the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011? He said that establishing of military courts will only deflect attention from the real issues in reforming the criminal justice system and that was one reason why the PPP opposed it. “The very purpose of allowing military courts for only two years was to have an opportunity to revisit their working, ask questions and consider how best the shortcomings encountered can be removed,” he said.
    He said leaving the term terror organisation undefined or too wide open to interpretation can be problematic.
    Babar said the reforms package in Fata failed in demolish the remnants of colonial structures. “The Riwaj Act, replacing FCR, has not been made public and it must be brought before the Parliament as first step towards enabling the Parliament to legislate for Fata if it is to be mainstreamed,” he said.
    Meanwhile, Maulana Fazlur Rehman insisted that a clear definition of the word ‘terrorism’ should be given before a decision can be made on the military courts.
    Addressing the conference, he emphasised that instead of targeting one religion or sect, every armed group should be dealt with accordingly and that anyone who picks up arms against the state should be termed a terrorist.
    Talking about the integration of Fata into KP, he said it was necessary to ask the people of Fata about their wishes and asked the government to not impose any decision on them.

    Da Pashtunistan De ♥ دا پښتونستان دی

    Interview - “Pashtuns are the real victims of terrorism” - Afrasiab Khattak

    — Afrasiab Khattak, former senator, analyst

    TNS: How do you look at the recent crackdown and the ethnic profiling of the Pashtuns, especially in Punjab?
    Afrasiab Khattak: Actually, discrimination against Pashtuns was going on in Punjab for the last so many years. But it didn’t become a political issue: first, because the media kept a lid on it for obvious reasons and, second, because most of the Pashtuns with their tribal background deem it against their pride to complain against mistreatment meted out to them.
    Initially, Afghan refugees bore the brunt of racial discrimination in Punjab. It is pertinent to note that Afghan refugees have lived in a legal vacuum as Pakistan is neither signatory to international conventions on refugees nor has it any national law for dealing with protection of refugees. So, their status depends on the policy of the government of the day which makes them quite vulnerable.
    Then came the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Swat and Fata after the ascendancy of terrorists in those areas followed by military operations. These devastating developments resulted in massive dislocation in Pashtun belt on both sides of the Durand Line. Pashtuns started crossing the Indus in big numbers.
    Without making it public, the Punjab government adopted the “policy of containment” towards Pashtun IDPs. There have been standing orders by the deputy commissioners in districts of upper Punjab to the locals to refrain from selling or renting their properties to Pashtuns. They have faced massive arrests and fleecing at the hands of Punjab police. Even their Pakistani CNICs haven’t been of much help as the cards would be blocked immediately.
    Read also: Prove your ID
    Pashtun Parliamentarians have raised the issue in both the National Assembly and the Senate but to no avail. An all Parties Conference was held on the issue but the situation hasn’t changed.
    TNS: There is a sense that the discrimination going on against the Afghan refugees in Punjab has shifted to Pashtuns in general after the recent wave of terror attacks. Can you see any specific reason why is this happening?
    The state of Pakistan needs to have a clean break with the policy of making distinction between good and bad terrorists. There is need for implementation of the policy of zero tolerance towards extremism and terrorism and not just making pious noises in this regard.
    AK: Religious extremism breeding terrorism has existed in Pakistan since Zia’s martial law but the country has lived in denial for too long. The fault lies in the state policy that has used militancy of the so called non-state actors as instrument of policy both at the national security and foreign policy level.
    Even when General Musharraf had to grudgingly recognise the existence of terror problem, successive governments have consistently made a distinction between the so called good and bad Taliban.
    The National Action Plan could not be implemented for two reasons: firstly, because the state has refused to act against “good Taliban” that includes Afghan Taliban, JuD, JeM and some others. The problem is that terror syndicate is an indivisible body and by not acting against its major part you keep the problem intact. Secondly, both the political government and security establishment have not gone after extremist and terror nurseries in Punjab. Unlike Swat or Fata where full-fledged military operations were conducted involving F-16s, tanks and long range guns, in Punjab the action was confined to the so called intelligence-based operations, which was more or less white washing.
    Absolute majority of proscribed organisations that consists of extremist ideologues are based in Punjab but they remain by and large unscathed.
    So, after the most recent wave of terrorist attacks when focus on terror bases in Punjab became inevitable, the government decided to externalise the problem by shifting the entire burden to Pashtun/Afghan entities.
    It is really painful for Pashtuns, who are the real victims of terrorism and have suffered the most at the hands of terrorists, that they should be demonised as an entity for diverting attention from misguided state policies and terror nurseries in Punjab.
    TNS: You have suggested in one of your recent columns that the Afghan jihad was designed and implemented by the Punjabi establishment. As a consequence, the Taliban are believed to have acquired a Pashtun identity in the minds of an ordinary Punjabi. What is your sense about the Punjabi Taliban? What has been the resistance like against Taliban of all hues from the Pashtuns?
    AK: Yes, it is quite a twisted narrative. Project Taliban was launched by Punjabi dominated security establishment of Pakistan in 1994 for two objectives. One was to fill the vacuum created by the fragmentation and decline of the Afghan groups known as Afghan mujahideen groomed in Pakistan and the second and more important objective was to create a brutal fighting machine which could implement the policy of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by demolishing Afghan state and society. The militia was projected as a Pashtun entity, first because most of its fighters were from the Pashtun areas and also because it could get them legitimacy as Pashtuns are the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
    But in practice this movement has remained anti-Pashtun and it has targeted Pashtun nationalists in large numbers on both sides of the Durand Line.
    Pakistani Pashtun political leadership is kept miles away by the security establishment from framing the country’s Afghan policy.
    But, unfortunately, mainstream Pakistani media has generally remained very uncritical of the country’s Afghan policy and has confined itself to reproducing the official narrative. That’s why people in Punjab are mostly uninformed about the Afghan question. It isn’t difficult to manipulate this uninformed public opinion.
    Pashtuns have been at the receiving end of both the terrorist onslaught and the military operations launched in their area, particularly in Fata.
    TNS: We have heard the Pashtuns residing in the cities of Punjab are finding it difficult to get their identity cards renewed, etc. Are you aware of any more procedural difficulties they are facing?
    AK: Yes, the problem of identity cards is an old one. When I was working in the Human Rights Committee of the Senate, we raised this issue with the interior ministry and Nadra but the bureaucracy does not listen to Parliamentarians. Without identity card one can’t get registered as a voter. Then there are restrictions on renting or buying properties. These days even the daily wage labourers are being harassed and persecuted. They are being told to leave. There is a lot of anger and frustration in the Pashtun IDPs.
    Pakistan is supposed to be a federation and the Constitution guarantees right to free movement inside it but it is denied in Punjab.
    TNS: How has the war against terrorism, including the military operations within the country affected the Pashtuns?
    AK: Pashtuns have been at the receiving end of both the terrorist onslaught and the military operations launched in their area, particularly in Fata. The latter has been used mostly as a strategic space for fighting great games and no one has thought about the human beings living there. They are the main victim of terrorism.
    Foreign terrorists who were brought to fight in Afghanistan were imposed on Fata Pashtuns. After September 11, the tribal area was by and large controlled by terrorists for more than a decade but the state didn’t come to their rescue. Terrorists killed thousands of tribal elders but no one was bothered. Fata was hit by the largest number of drone attacks.
    Unlike military operation in Swat in 2009, where military worked closely with the political government, there was no political oversight during the military operations in Fata. Consequently, the civilian population of the area caught in the crossfire between the army and terrorists had to bear immense sufferings.
    There were collateral damages not registered. Big markets in Miran Shah and Mir Ali were flattened. Majority of the population in the Tochi Valley in North Waziristan lost all movable and immovable property. IDPs have faced grave problems during displacement and in the process of rehabilitation. They are made to sign a “social contract” drafted by the civil and military authorities other than the Constitution of Pakistan. They have to use “watan card” that is like an entry visa into their own areas.
    The delay in Fata reforms and prolongation of the colonial system along with brutalities of war have created a deep sense of alienation in young people. The volcano of unrest is building and it can burst if remedial measures are not taken soon.
    TNS: It is said that the Pashtuns in Karachi are at this point in time safer than Punjab because of their relatively large numbers. What is your view?
    AK: In Karachi Pashtun IDPs did face problems and have difficulties even now but being part of a big community has helped them. Karachi is the real cosmopolitan city and, despite ethnic polarisations diversity is by and large accepted. Historically, Pashtun immigration to the south and east has been taking place over so many centuries and there are old Pashtun settlements in upper Punjab which are fully integrated in local communities.
    Punjab has attracted settlers and the common Punjabi has been quite hospitable to new comers.
    Even now, complaints originate from government policy rather than the common people. Parliament and media in Pakistan need to hold a dispassionate debate on internal displacement and internal immigration, instead of getting bogged down in ethnic polarisation. A country that is already suffering from sectarian divisions cannot afford to develop ethnic faultlines.
    TNS: How do you look at the state’s response to the Afghan refugees? Don’t you think there should have been some naturalisation plan in place for them just as we demand for our own citizens in other countries?
    AK: I have worked in the human rights movement and have seen the problem firsthand. Pakistan has hosted a huge refugee population for quite a long time. The people of Pakistan have been very generous towards refugees. The biggest problem has been the legal vacuum and whimsical government policies.
    The solution of every big refugee problem has three components. First is repatriation, which has to be voluntary, dignified and sustainable. Second is the policy of relocation for part of the refugee population, which can neither go back to the country of its origin nor stay back in the host country. So, such refugees are relocated to a third country. Third is absorption of refugees in the host country.
    Generally, this right is given to the refugee children born in the host country. In the case of Afghan refugees, the first two components are being implemented but the third one is not even discussed. Pakistan’s Citizenship Act has a provision for giving citizenship to children born in Pakistan. There are only two exceptions to this general rule. First, children whose parents are serving diplomats aren’t included in this category. Second, children whose parents have been declared as enemies of Pakistan won’t enjoy this right. Pakistan, Afghanistan, and UNHCR need to discuss and include all the three components with mutual agreement as other countries are doing.
    TNS: How should the state of Pakistan address the terrorism problem in the country, especially with reference to relations with India and Afghanistan?
    AK: The state of Pakistan needs to have a clean break with the policy of making distinction between good and bad terrorists. There is need for implementation of the policy of zero tolerance towards extremism and terrorism and not just making pious noises in this regard. Good Taliban is elephant in the room and in its presence Pakistan cannot gain credibility as a country fighting against terrorism.
    Afghanistan shouldn’t be bracketed with India by Pakistani policy makers. It has been Pakistan’s misguided Afghan policy of Talibanisation which has pushed Afghanistan towards India. Interestingly, Pakistani leaders have been lecturing and pontificating to the world during the last four decades that Afghans would never accept foreign hegemony but forget their own advice when it comes to their Afghan policy.
    President Ashraf Ghani’s offer for close friendship with Pakistan was the best deal that Pakistan could get in the last seventy years. Both countries need to defuse tension, go for some confidence building measures (CBMs) and pick up the thread from where it was left in 2014. Security circles in Pakistan, mentoring Taliban need to realise that Talibanisation cannot co-exist with CPEC, TAPI and CASA.
    Pakistan needs to focus on human development and economic advancement. With India the situation is more complicated but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been very focused on normalising relations with the big neighbour in the east. One hopes India will also reciprocate. Unlike the past, anti-Indian populism has no takers among the people of Pakistan during elections. One hopes Pakistan bashing wouldn’t remain a popular election slogan in Indian politics as bilateral relationship is a two-way traffic. Pakistan and India need to learn from the experience of France and Germany.