Tuesday, March 7, 2017
The Syrian army regained control over the largest water tower, supplying the city of Aleppo with water, a source told Sputnik on Tuesday.
The water tower, located in al-Khafsa village to the east of Aleppo, had been under control of Daesh terrorist group.
Regaining control over the facility will allow the country's authorities to improve water supplies to Aleppo and its outskirts.
Musa Khan Jalalzai
Last week, Afghan military commanders in Helmand province admitted that their colleagues were selling weapons to Taliban.
In 2017, the challenges of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may possibly be their wide-ranging differences with the US army on its long-term negligence and reluctance to adorn it with modern weapons. Afghans complain that the US army often stopped attempts of arming Afghan army by some friendly states, and even bombed its units on many occasions. The ANA leadership, political parties, and parliamentarians have often expressed concern against the under-equipment campaign of US and NATO military leadership to keep Afghan army dependent on their financial and military resources for a long time. They say that international military commanders never shared their military plans with the Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) or at least share plans ahead of the operation fearing that the ANSF might tip off the insurgents. They never tried to provide better training to Afghan soldiers and officers, or fit the NDS to the fight against insurgents during the last 15 years war in Afghanistan. At the ANA squad, company and platoon levels, tactical training remains inconsistent in all units, and its leadership is unable to move its forces freely across the country. Cooperation between US army, NATO, ANA and civilian leadership is still a bigger challenge to its existence. This resentment of the US commanders towards the ANA forces raised many questions including complaints that the ANA generals are being treated by US and NATO commanders as inferiors at best and enemies at worst.
Deputy Director of research at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies (CAPS), Dr. Zubair Popalzai in his recent paper (Insider Attacks: Some Perspectives of the Afghan Security Forces) noted the complaints of Afghan military and police officers that they were not even provided the same quality of medical treatment and care in the US-run hospitals, and even not being airlifted when wounded in the battlefield. “They have, instead, shown preference for treatment in Afghan National army hospitals where they say the chances of their limbs getting amputated are low” Dr. Zubair Popalzai also noted resentment of Afghan Security Forces towards NATO and US forces: “Resentment on the Afghan side range from issues related to honour and dignity such as insult, profanity and generally being vulgar to ANSF members, publicly searching and disarming ANSF members when they enter coalition military bases, coalition convoys not allowing traffic including ANSF vehicles to pass while the former are using the road to other such cultural issues as indecent exposure while urinating in public or urinating in stream water, arrogance, breaking doors before someone can answer, unnecessarily shooting animals spatially barking dogs even when they are tied......”.
The attitude of the Unity Government is also understandable form the fact that President Ghani and his Chief Executive Mr. Abdullah never attempted to equip and adorn ANA with modern weapons, or request the United States and its NATO allies for sophisticated weapons to make the operational mechanism of the army more effective against the unending insurgency in the country. Afghan President has also been reluctant to support his army against Daesh terrorist group and Taliban, and never changed his soft-corner towards Taliban and his colleague war criminals. The President’s resentment towards the Afghan armed forces is evident from the complaints raised by parliamentarians and civil society that his Ministries, parliamentarians, governors and elements with the Defence and Interior Ministries were arming Taliban and Daesh forces across the country. These questions were also raised by Deputy Speaker of Afghan Parliament, Zahir Qadir who openly accused national security advisor, Mr. Hanif Atmar of providing arms and financial assistance to Islamic States in 2016.
The growing military and political influence of Daesh in Afghanistan, and Taliban’s influence in the south means that the government and its allies have failed to bring stability to Afghanistan. On 01 Mach 2017, Taliban attacked Afghan capital, in which military recruitment centre was targeted. Taliban claimed that several people were killed and wounded. In an attack Taliban targeted a unit intelligence office. Last week, a Pandora’s Box opened when Afghan Security Forces besieged the house of Vice President Dostum due to his criticism of the wrongly designed ethnic strategy of the unity government. In October 2016, a number of Afghan law makers also accused President Ghani and his Defence Ministry for supporting terrorist organisations like ISIS and Taliban. They alleged that military commanders were providing arms, financial assistance and sanctuaries to terrorist groups, and transported their suicide bombers to their destinations. Miss Fatima Aziz, an MP from the Kunduz province, accused some police and military commanders for facilitating Taliban against ANA positions. “All Afghan officials in the Kunduz province, including the ANA, police and local government officials in cooperation with the people from central government, handed the city to the Taliban,” said Fatima Aziz.
Last week, Afghan military commanders in Helmand province admitted that their colleagues were selling weapons to Taliban. Afghan National army (ANA) spokesman said that the sellers of heavy weapons were their military commanders who had open access to weapon depots. Since 2015, Afghan soldiers and police officers faced many challenges including the delay of their salaries, logistic and air support in the battlefield. The issues of insider attacks, weapon smuggling, child sexual abuse and desertion badly affected the image of ANA leadership in the eyes of civil society. Weapons purveyance to enemy to feed their children and taking arms against their own officers in cities and towns are stories that deeply affected the unity of their command and loyalty to the state. In February 2016, the ANA arrested and disarmed 30 cops with alleged Taliban ties, including the police chief of Helmand’s Sangin district. Drug trafficking is another serious challenge where, according to the Russian Narcotics Agency report, almost a third of the ANA officers turned to drug trafficking. Army generals and officers have been deeply involved in drug trafficking and kidnapping for ransom during the last ten years. An Afghan parliament told this scribe that some states provide weapons to Daesh terrorist group. The access of this terrorist group to American weapons is also matter of great concern. On 31 August 2016, Bakhtar News Agency reported Pentagon admitted the access of Islamic State to the US army weapons in Afghanistan.
The killing of an Indian engineer in Kansas last week and widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric have raised questions over whether the US is a safe place to work and study for Indians. Murali Krishnan reports.
As the final rites were performed for Srinivas Kuchibhotla in his hometown of Hyderabad in southern India on Tuesday, his mother, Parvatha Vardhini, could no longer contain herself.
"I want my younger son, Sai Kiran, and his family to return home for good," she said surrounded by hundreds of grieving friends and family members. "I will not allow them to go back. My son had gone there [USA] in search of a better future. What crime did he commit?" said Vardhini while wailing inconsolably.
Her son, a 32-year-old aviation engineer, was murdered last week at a bar and grill in Olathe, Kansas in what US federal authorities are investigating as a possible hate crime. The lone gunman also wounded Kuchibhotla's colleague Alok Madasani and another man who tried to intervene.
The gunman reportedly yelled "get out of my country" at the two before he opened fire. Both men had first come to the US ten years ago from India to study and worked as engineers at GPS maker, Garmin. Reportedly, the shooter mistakenly thought that the two Indians were from the Middle East.
Hate in America
Apart from the outrage that the shooting has spawned in India, there is a growing nervousness among students who are worried about their safety as they prepare to leave for the US to study at university. Families residing in India are also feeling insecure about their children's safety abroad.
Many are aware that US President Donald Trump's "America First" rhetoric is fuelling intolerance towards immigrants and his controversial travel ban against visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries has only made the atmosphere more tense.
The incident in Kansas has driven home the harsh reality that no religion or color is immune to such actions.
"I have applied to several universities for a postgraduate program in the humanities and I am likely to receive even a fellowship grant," said Shastri Kapoor, a final year college student in Delhi. "Sure, I am nervous, but let's see."
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu condemned the killing of Kuchibhotla, saying the US government should respond to such incidents and take the "strongest action."
"These kind of incidents involving racial discrimination are shameful and they will dent the image of the USA," he said. "So the US President, administration and civil societies should unequivocally respond and condemn such incidents. I as a central minister condemn such incidents."
In a recent article, Lakshmi Sridaran, director of National Policy and Advocacy for US-based South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) wrote, "The reality of racial and religious profiling in this country is that it is simply enough to be perceived as Muslim to be treated as one."
A risky opportunity?
Parents and students in India are also concerned about life as an Indian in the US after the incident.
"I have two sons who are in the US. One is an engineer who has been there for five years and the second is at the University of Southern California. Obviously, these incidents will rattle anyone," said Madhu Sharma, a professor.
A large number of Indian students are pursuing their studies at American universities and they comprise the second largest community of students in the US.
Nearly 200,000 Indian students studied in the US last year, according to a quarterly report on foreign student trends prepared by Student and Exchange Visitor Program. More than 3 million Indians live in the US and many are well-to-do professionals.
"I have been admitted to one of the management schools having cleared my GMAT," said Pratap Reddy, a student from Hyderabad. "Will it be difficult to study and work there now? Yes, I am scared and my worries have increased."
Incidentally, the US consulate general in Hyderabad issues the fifth-highest number of student visas in the world and the highest in India.
Recently, tensions have been running high over the proposed curb on H1B visas, as Indian citizens are the top recipients of these temporary high-skilled worker visas. Many are keenly waiting to see how policies on students staying to work in the country and on work visas will pan out.
Coloring the diplomatic agenda
The safety of Indians and the status of H1B visas will be at the top of Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar's agenda as he meets with officials in the Trump administration later this week. This will be Jaishankar's third visit to the US since the presidential elections in November last year.
The Indian government's view is that IT companies in the country contribute to the American economy by increasing the competitiveness of US firms and this relationship should not be disputed.
Minority groups have expressed restlessness with the political and social climate prevalent in the US. Recently, there have been threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries.
And as this political and social climate in the US continues to be unsettled, heightened anxiety and fear among immigrants seems likely to increase.
A report with stark realities regarding prevalent malnutrition and its consequences in the country is an eye-opener for the government. Reportedly, the consequences of malnutrition — including lost laborers, healthcare expenses and lower productivity — cost Pakistan US$7.6 billion, or 3 percent of GDP, every year.
The statement is a part of a new report launched by the Pakistan Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Secretariat at the Ministry of Planning Development & Reform, in collaboration with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). There are stunning figures in the report. It has been reported that more than 177,000 children die every year in Pakistan before their fifth birthday because they or their mother are malnourished. The value of this lost future workforce is estimated at US$2.24 billion annually. Diseases like diarrhea and respiratory infection among children, stunting, anemia or iodine deficiencies as well as malnutrition are other sources that have burdened the country’s economy and causing billions of dollars’ loss annually.
In order to tackle the challenge, the concerned ministry has sought help from other government institutions and civil society. Undoubtedly, united efforts are needed to eradicate the menace of malnutrition and other menaces. At the government level, there is a need to educate the masses about these ills in society. New programmes at the federal level are needed to be launched for the awareness of the masses. Besides, the government needs to play its role in ameliorating the suffering of the masses by improving their living conditions. The rulers need to abandon their opulent, monarch-like lifestyle, and instead focus all their energies and resources on elevating the condition of the underprivileged and downtrodden people by providing them basic necessities of life.
Looking at the conditions in which the majority of Pakistanis exist, it is not an exaggeration to state that people in power do not seem to be interested to ameliorate the suffering of a common Pakistani whose quotidian existence consists of numerous ordeals to keep his body and soul together. There are merely discussions and debates about the problems of the poor but practically not much is done to resolve these issues. Since the independence of Pakistan, not a great deal has changed, and living conditions for a common citizen have gone from bad to worse during all these years. Successive governments have failed to ensure the provision of even the basic civic amenities to the poor: food, shelter, education, healthcare, clean water, electricity, gas. Low-income families live in conditions unfit for animals, and the unavailability of good schooling and health facilities adds to the bleak picture. The social fabric of society needs an overall improvement. Instead of indulging in mere discussions, something concrete needs to be done now.
Shaikh Abdul Rasheed
The foremost cause behind the spate of terrorist attacks on shrines in Pakistan is the lack of security arrangements at shrines.
The universal truth is that Sufi saints not only preached but also practiced principles of spiritual devotion, humanitarianism, tolerance and love of all, regardless of their creed, caste, gender and religion, which are believed to be a powerful antidote against extremism and intolerance.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the shrines of Sufi saints have been made target of deadly attacks. The foremost cause behind the spate of terrorist attacks on shrines in Pakistan is the lack of security arrangements at shrines for the protection of their physical infrastructures and safety of devotees.
Regrettably, even in the wake of continuous terrorist attacks no adequate security measures were taken. However, many of the most frequented shrines generate revenue and can arrange their security themselves. The state of affairs shows that we are still not well-prepared for our prolonged battle against extremism and terrorism. Those that are antagonistic to humanity carried out terrorist attack on the shrine of the 13th century venerated saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Sindh on Thursday Feb 16, 2017, which took more than 88 lives with 342 left injured. The pulverizing blast, one of the deadliest of all the terrorist attacks on shrines in Pakistan’s history, was the result of inadequate security measures. Of the overall 38 CCTVs installed at the shrine of Lal Qalandar, 20 were out of order. There were only 2 walkthrough gates installed, which also were dysfunctional. As the electronic media clip shows, only one police constable was deployed at the main gate to scan a huge crowd of people entering the shrine. At the time when the blast occurred there was power outage because power connection of the shrine was disconnected due to non-payment of electricity bill of Rs40 million.
After Pakistan supported the United States and its allies in war against terrorism, it became the main target of coldblooded terrorists who also ruthlessly targeted Sufi shrines, killing hundreds of innocent people. A report reveals that since 2005 approximately three dozen shrines all over the country have been attacked, in which around 290 people have been killed and more than 700 injured. Of the overall 29 attacks on shrines, the major and deadly attacks were made on the most frequented shrines of the revered Sufi Saints—Lal Shahbaz Qalander, Sehwan (2017), Shah Noorani, Khuzdar (2016), Baba Nangay Shah, Islamabad (2014), Dargah Ghulam Shah Ghazi, Shikarpur (2013), Sakhi Sarwar, Dera Ghazi Khan (2011), Baba Farid, Pakpattan (2010), Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Karachi (2010), Data Gunj Bakhsh, Lahore (2010), Bari Imam, Islamabad (2005) and Pir Rakhel Shah, Fatehpur (2005).
The undeniable fact is that the ideology of Pakistan is based on the religion that promotes peace, love, coexistence, tolerance and humanity, which is exactly identical to the spiritual teachings of Sufism. It is not on founded upon the ideological views of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, ISIS, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other terrorist groups. As for the fanatics of the terrorist groups, the spiritual teachings, devotions, rituals of Sufism are intolerable and a cause of infuriation, so they attack the shrines of Sufi saints. Therefore, it would not be wrong to conclude that these attacks are a ferocious offensive on the ideology of Pakistan. Therefore, for the survival of Pakistan, security of its ideology is a prerequisite and it is our constitutional obligation to safeguard it.
It is notable that almost all the shrines generate their own incomes. The cash offerings, donations poured in boxes by devotees, are the major source of income of the shrines and the income of most shrines reaches millions of rupees annually. A report reveals that the income of the Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh shrine from the offerings of devotees and rent of 300 shops attached to it reached Rs.250 million in 2016. The annual income figure of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine is somewhat similar to that of Data Darbar.
The facts and figures about shrines’ income show that if utilized transparently and honestly the income is enough to make most of the shrines self-sufficient in making their own security arrangements such as installing CCTVs and walkthrough gates and hiring private security guards. They can afford utility bills and somewhat maintenance of their buildings without any support of the government. But a question arises even in common minds: where does this huge amount of money go, if it is not utilized on security, utility bills and repairs of shrines? All the concerned individuals and organizations should be held accountable and there should be transparent financial audit of all shrines. And for the transparent utilization of the cash offerings, permanent audit system ought to be established.
However, Pakistan has always been the land of the Sufis. All over the country, from little villages to metropolitans, network of thousands of Sufi shrines is spread. If not all, then at least the most frequented shrines should be secured through CCTVs, walkthrough gates and deployment of a sufficient number of security guards to keep an eye on the movement of each and every visitor. Moreover, efficient security systems at all the overcrowded mosques, temples, churches and other holy places of worship; public and important places need to be secured to wage war against terrorism in a holistic way.
Addressing the Express Group's event, 'CPEC: Priorities and Challenges', she said, "We should keep our differences aside when we talk about the national interest, but it's time the government put its listening gear on."
"CPEC is an opportunity which should be operationalised together and the government should spend more time and effort on building a consensus and investing in transparency. There is no need to squander this big opportunity, and all provinces must feel that they are part of this big development story," the senator continued. "CPEC should be seen as a huge opportunity for us. We want this to be an investment opportunity," stated the PPP VP.
In her speech, she observed, "Keeping in mind the way the world is evolving, we are now living in an era known as 'The Asian Century'. The global order is changing and I believe that this is a new phase for our region and the world. China has a huge role to play in this." "China is exporting its global surplus wisely and projecting soft power through OBOR in ways it has never done before. China is continuing its ambition of Eurasian connectivity and is all set to become a two-ocean power. You cannot roll back interdependence and connectivity, you cannot roll back human society so we are both on the right side of history," she reiterated.
Speaking on the opportunity that CPEC poses for the youth, she said, "Pakistan is in dire need of employment opportunities. Our new generation is seeking new jobs and opportunities. Every year four million enter the labour force. With two out of every three Pakistani under the age of 30, we have a significant youth bulge and we need to provide the youth with real employment opportunities, and China can play a key role in creating the conditions that spur economic growth." Highlighting the vital role the PPP government played in the initial stages of CPEC, the PPP vice president said, "PPP has had its relationship with China even before others. During Zardari's regime, he visited China nine times and laid the foundation of China's investment in Gwadar."
"Connecting the roads and seaports via old and new routes was a PPP vision that benefited both countries. It is a vision rooted in interdependence and future world realities but also our history of enduring relations," she concluded.
The dream of ending polio could not be materialised in 2016 and considering the ground reality it is highly unlikely that this target will be achieved in 2017, since 139,097 kids could not be vaccinated during the last campaign in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P).
According to a health department official, during the three-day anti-polio campaign, which was launched on February 27, some 0.7 million children missed the vaccination drive. However, he added that this number decreased to 0.1 million after they conducted a catch-up campaign.
Meanwhile, another health official who spoke on the ‘not available’ children stated that vaccinating such children was not a problem, since the polio teams vaccinate these children wherever they see them during the campaign. However, for him the real issue was ‘the repeated refusal cases scattered all across the province.’
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stated that earlier they would receive clusters of refusal during their campaigns and polio teams would vaccinate the cluster refusals. Currently, he said the all cluster refusals had decreased but there still were chronic refusal cases.
“Yes, there are some [refusal] cases during every campaign but we have also changed our strategy by trying to convince them to take the polio drops, rather than putting them behind bars,” he said, adding that ‘parents are constantly refusing polio drops to their kids.’
When asked about the number of refusal cases, the official stated that they had received 6,441 refusal cases and highlighted that the majority of these cases were from Peshawar district, which he described as a serious issue.
“We still have some 1,856 parents who have been refusing polio drops to kids in Peshawar district, followed by 1,015 in Lakki Marwat, 808 in Charsadda and 752 in Bannu district,” the official said. He added that the figure in other districts was below 500.
Another senior health official stated that besides refusal cases, some 13,300 children were not available at their homes when polio teams visited them.
“Some 17,665 such cases have been reported from the provincial capital, which was the highest number of not available children in any district during the campaign,” he said. Commenting on other districts, he said that 14,068 such cases were reported from Nowshera, 11,000 from Swat and less than 1,000 cases were reported from other districts in K-P.
When asked about a catch-up campaign, the official stated that they were not in favor of a catch-up campaign as this stops the polio teams to prepare for the next campaign.