Friday, May 12, 2017

Video - Victory Day Parade on Red Square 2017

Saudi Arabia uses money to silence world over Yemen crisis: Analyst

Saudi Arabia has been leading a brutal military campaign against Yemen since March 2015. The kingdom has also imposed an aerial and naval blockade on its southern neighbor. Some two thirds of the population or 18.8 million people are in need of assistance, according to the latest UN figures. Press TV has talked to Kim Sharif, director of Human Rights for Yemen, as well as Jihad Mouracadeh, political analyst, to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
Sharif believes Saudi Arabia is using its money to silence the international community over the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.
“The international community with the greatest respect is nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. This in history will be studied as a time of the age of hypocrisy because that is was it is. Everyone is being silenced with [Saudi] petrodollars,” she said.
She also noted there is a “grotesque abuse” of UN resolutions in order to subject the Yemenis to the will of the world’s most brutal dictators.
The analyst also criticized the countries that are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, asserting that “they do not care how many millions of Yemenis die.”
Sharif further stated that militias loyal to resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi are terrorist outfits such as AQAP and Daesh who have been committing “untold amount of horrific crimes” in Yemen.
She also emphasized there needs to be an “international independent investigation” in order to verify who is responsible for the crisis in Yemen, adding that to start with, the Saudis’ “illegal bombardment” should be stopped.
Elsewhere in her remarks, Sharif dismissed the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216 as “invalid,” given the fact that Russia has abstained.
She went on to say even if the resolution was valid, the way it has been executed is “grotesquely criminal” given the crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Yemen.
The analyst concluded by saying that the rule of law and democracy must prevail in Yemen, arguing that the recent demonstrations in the war-torn Arab country prove that the Yemenis support the government of Sana’a.
Meanwhile, Jihad Mouracadeh, the other panelist on the program, blamed the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on the Houthi Ansarullah fighters and those who support them.
The analyst also noted that, in the eyes of the international community, the government of Hadi based in Aden is “legitimate, not the one in Sana’a.”
Therefore, he said, in order to stop the crisis in Yemen, the Houthis must accept to withdraw from Sana’a in accordance with the UN Resolution 2216.

How can Canada pretend that Saudi Arabia is an honourable, peaceful country?


If you believe the official word from Ottawa it appears Saudi Arabia and Canada are on good terms. A Canadian government website, dealing with trade, takes care to assert that we share with the Saudis “many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs (including refugees), and counter-terrorism.” It also says admiringly that “The Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”
No wonder Canada seems willing to sell military vehicles and other products to Saudi Arabia. It sounds like a friendly government we should enjoy dealing with. Not democratic, of course, but sort of on the right side, at least sometimes.
On the other hand, UN Watch, an independent monitoring service, this week sent out a bulletin headed “UN holds lavish NGO forum in Saudi Arabia while rights activists languish in prison.” It seems that the Saudis, with support from a Saudi foundation headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi minister of defence, generously hosted a large global gathering of non-government organizations on the subject of Youth and their Social Impact.
It was staged in the luxury of the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh (which advertises Distinguished Fine Dining and All-Men’s Spa) — even as, UN Watch went on, “young bloggers and human rights activists like Raif Badawi languish in prison for the crime of advocating freedom in Saudi Arabia.”

The name “Raif Badawi” was placed near the top of the bulletin because UN Watch knows it’s the name most likely to upset Saudi officialdom. In fact, to many people the treatment of Badawi damns Saudi Arabia as irredeemably evil.
Saudi law gives the state the right to ban any organization the government opposes, on grounds that it violates “Islamic Sharia” or public manners or national unity. Individuals committing such crimes, even if they are otherwise peaceful, get long prison sentences. Many activists are currently in jail for advocating human rights reforms.
And Raif Badawi? The more you know about Saudi Arabia, the worse it appears. Once you digest the stifling and humiliating rules governing women, and perhaps even consider them routine, you may begin to wonder how the Saudis treat men. And then you come across Raif Badawi and everything grows darker still.
He’s a young Saudi Arabian writer, the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals. He was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam through electronic channels and charged as well with apostasy, the abandonment or breach of faith (though he says he’s still a Muslim). He’s not respectful of the grand institutions of the country. He’s referred, for instance, to Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University as “a den for terrorists.”
Even worse, he believes in secular government — “Secularism is the practical solution to lift countries (including ours) out of the Third World and into the First World,” he says. “Look at what happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They promoted enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”
Badawi apparently lives his life by words he quotes from Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
He was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in 2013, then re-sentenced in 2014 to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison plus a fine. The lashes were to be carried out over 20 weeks.
The first 50 were administered on January 9, 2015 — in front of a mosque while hundreds of spectators shouted “Allahu Akbar.”
The succeeding lashes are indefinitely postponed, apparently because of his health. He’s known to have hypertension and his condition has worsened since the flogging began. His wife, who lives with their three children in exile in Canada, predicts that he won’t be able to survive more lashes.  Still, that part of his sentence hangs over him, capable of being invoked at the pleasure of his jailers.
The lashes, and the government’s absence of shame, seem to show that official Saudi Arabia is cruel, bigoted and uncivilized
The word “flogging,” with its overtones of barbaric violence and sadism, has aroused anger in many places and turned Badawi into an international hero. Eighteen Nobel laureates signed an open letter urging Saudi academics to condemn the flogging. Vigils marking his birthday are held outside Saudi Arabian embassies in several countries. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression” and obtained 800,000 signatures on a petition demanding he be released.
He received the International Prize for Freedom in Brussels and 67 members of the U.S. Congress signed a bipartisan petition arguing he should be freed. Several people nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He received the Sakharov Prize from the European Parliament, the PEN Pinter Prize from Britain and the Franco-German Journalism Courage Award. PEN Canada gave him its One Humanity Award. South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the Saudi king supporting Badawi.
To this and much more, the Saudi Arabian government responded by asserting that “it does not accept interference in any form in its internal affairs.”
The lashes, and the government’s absence of shame, seem to show that official Saudi Arabia is cruel, bigoted and uncivilized.
Should Canada be engaged in trade with this country, as if were normal? How much longer can Canada’s relations with this backward state exist in a state of massive denial?

How Turkish referendum victory could backfire for Erdogan

Ali Bayramoglu
Can Turkey’s fractured opposition unite and produce a leader like French presidential winner Emmanuel Macron, driven by shared apprehension over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule? Can the critical presidential election in 2019 mobilize the opposition against him?

It's possible on paper, for the constitutional changes narrowly approved in the April 16 referendum have changed the rules of the game. Under the proportional representation system of the outgoing parliamentary regime, removing Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from power was virtually impossible under existing political balances. The new rules, however, allow an abrupt change in the seat of power by offering ground for alliances in the second round of the presidential vote. In other words, the new constitutional order that Erdogan wanted so badly and ultimately obtained risks becoming a political trap for him.
This possibility has stirred heated debate in Turkey since the referendum, with the opposition encouraged by the first serious signs that Erdogan can be defeated. Despite the unfair campaign conditions and allegations of electoral fraud, the “yes” camp came up with only 51% of the vote, about 10 fewer percentage points than the combined vote the AKP and its referendum ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), got in the general elections in 2015. In addition, the “no” vote prevailed in 17 major urban centers, including the country’s three biggest cities.
The fragility of Erdogan’s victory has given a boost to a gloomy opposition that expected a much worse outcome and animated the political scene. Veteran politician Deniz Baykal, former head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and still an influential parliament member, argued in a May 1 interview that the opposition should unite around a common candidate for the 2019 election, the first under the amended constitution. If CHP chair Kemal Kilicdaroglu does not plan to run for president, he should consider stepping down to allow for a stronger mobilization for the polls, Baykal argued. In another surprise statement, he suggested that former President Abdullah Gul, once Erdogan’s right-hand man, could be considered a joint candidate for the “no” camp.
With his veiled affirmation of Gul — an AKP founder at odds with Erdogan — as a possible candidate to unite the opposition, Baykal put into words something that many have silently thought of as a way to stop Erdogan. The mere utterance of this prospect was enough to rattle AKP ranks.
Baykal’s suggestion for a leadership change in the CHP also rattled the main opposition, sparking an internal power struggle and calls for an extraordinary party convention. The party’s in-house conflicts and the issue of whom it will back in the 2019 polls suddenly became intertwined.
Even more importantly, the hard-pressed CHP leader made it clear that the search for alliances for 2019 had already begun. “It would be wrong to behave as if the entire 49% [of the ‘no’ vote] belongs to us and embark on determining a candidate accordingly,” Kilicdaroglu said in a May 9 address to fellow party members in the parliament, stressing that he had consulted with the heads of more than 50 civil society organizations and was planning to visit fellow party leaders to discuss the process.
Political activity on the opposition’s left will clearly increase in this framework. Yet, it is the conservative camp that will make any alliance against Erdogan relevant and strong. At the referendum, 10% of AKP voters defied Erdogan, voting against the amendments. Will this group expand ahead of 2019? And even more importantly, will it become politicized? Those are vital questions for the coming period that are simmering anew in conservative quarters following Baykal’s mention of Gul as a possible joint candidate.
AKP officials urged Gul to speak out and clarify whether he does intend to confront Erdogan in the presidential race, while Erdogan slammed the idea as an effort to sow discord in the AKP ranks.
True to form, Gul remained cautious, neither opening nor closing the door. Speaking on May 5, he reiterated that he was keeping away from active politics, but at the same time stressed his “responsibility to share his knowledge and experience for the sake of the country.”
The AKP’s first prime minister and president, Gul has remained an important figure for the party and Turkish politics since completing his presidential term in 2014. Having fallen out with Erdogan over his policies after 2013, Gul represents the reformist and liberal leaning of the AKP’s original philosophy. As such, he enjoys a certain sympathy in opposition quarters and stands a chance of luring support from across the political spectrum should he decide to challenge Erdogan in the presidential race. So far, the non-confrontational Gul has held back from speaking out about his differences with Erdogan and creating discord and division in the AKP. The main reason was probably his belief that he had little chance of prevailing over Erdogan.
But given the growing discontent among conservatives and former AKP heavyweights, Erdogan’s continued pursuit of one-man rule could now upset the equilibrium. In his May 5 remarks, Gul seemed to speak on behalf of a certain group and orientation. Referring to vicious attacks from pro-government quarters, he said, “I condemn the unmentionable words and the foul language used against the AKP's real pioneers and founders and the unethical behavior within the party. Everybody now knows how this is being orchestrated.” Alluding to Erdogan, he expressed regret at “the silence in the face of all this.”
If an alliance emerges spontaneously around him, the possibility of Gul making a political move remains on the table in the new environment after the referendum. As Erdogan’s authoritarianism deepens and economic or foreign policy crises erupt, Gul is likely to remain relevant ahead of the critical election in 2019.
The key question, however, is whether the opposition — displeased and worried but still scattered and confused — can organize politically to mount a serious challenge. One must admit that this is no easy prospect. The 49% “no” camp includes antagonistic political movements whose reasons for rejecting the constitutional changes do not necessarily overlap, meaning that their ability to agree on and vote for a joint candidate cannot be assumed.
Moreover, Turkey’s political culture lacks any strong traditions of electoral alliances and compromise. Reconciliation between the MHP’s dissident naysayers and the Kurds, or between the conservatives and the left, seems quite difficult. Finally, the AKP remains the country’s strongest and best-organized political machine, with its popular support still at about 44% despite the recent hemorrhage.
All those developments are putting Turkish politics on a new and uncharted track.

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China - Pelosi, Dalai Lama stage show before their political exit

Just as the China-US relationship is getting back on the right track after experiencing some ups and downs, 77-year-old House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is seen very much as clinging to power way past her prime, has found a chance to highlight herself by playing the Dalai Lama card. On Tuesday, she led a US Congressional delegation to Dharamsala, India, to visit the exiled and infamous Dalai Lama.

The remarks that Pelosi and her confederates made in Dharamsala were nothing but clichés. By wooing Tibetan separatists, they intended to highlight the US' high moral ground in democracy and human rights. 

But no matter how high-sounding she is, her dark side that fears changes could not be concealed. In the eyes of Chinese who live in the prospering Tibet Autonomous Region, this US lawmaker who unfailingly holds a hostile attitude toward China has no authority at all.

Another motive of Pelosi is to enhance the voices of the Democratic Party by hyping up the Tibet question, which is nothing but an outdated move. US President Donald Trump is propelled to abandon the polices of the Democratic Party of playing the cards of human rights and democracy, as these moves are doomed to fail. 

The US is changing, and the world is changing. The Americans cannot solve new problems with their outdated approaches. Meanwhile, we can get a sense of why US politics is trapped in the ceaseless wrangling of the two parties.

Pelosi led a delegation to visit Tibet in 2015. During her stay in Tibet and right after she returned to the US, she heaped praise on Tibetan culture and the Chinese government's efforts in protecting ecology and religious freedom and preserving traditional culture. However, she soon changed her tune, accusing the Chinese government of restricting culture and religious freedom. These words are in violation of the US' official stance of opposing Tibetan independence. 

Now Pelosi has yet again met with the Dalai Lama and poked her nose into the Tibet question. Such contradictory statements have rendered her moves worthless.

As China's influence is increasing, the determination of the Chinese people to object to separatism and safeguard the unity of their country has won wide support. The current Dalai clique has come to a dead end and is divided into several factions from within. 

The Dalai Lama's influence is waning and the space for Tibet independence is being squeezed. Pelosi wants to make political gains by clinging to the Dalai Lama, but she fails to grasp where the US interests lie over this matter. Pelosi, though such a senior US politician, holds a short-sighted view. People need to re-evaluate US politics. 

The US political landscape is changing. Washington's China policy and diplomacy, as well as its consideration over democracy and human rights, need to be adjusted to keep with the times. Pelosi and the Dalai Lama are indulging in their own shows before they exit the political stage.

Miley Cyrus - Malibu

Don't expect Mitch McConnell to defend the American republic

By Ross Barkan

Mitch McConnell has always liked to fight dirty. More than 20 years ago, at a Kentucky fundraiser, he took a cardboard cutout of Bill Clinton onto the stage and dared local Democrats to have their picture taken with it. The one congressman who accepted the dare later saw the picture in a TV ad for his opponent.
The congressman would go on to lose that fall.
Two decades later, McConnell is the Republican majority leader who will always put the fate of his party over the functioning of government. As Barack Obama’s tormentor, his legislative achievements were nonexistent, but he succeeded in stifling much of the Democrats’ agenda. Now he is in full bloom as an obstructionist, even with his own party in power.
As Democrats and some lawmakers in the Republican party, including John McCain, called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to probe possible Russian interference in last year’s election after Donald Trump fired James Comey, the FBI director, McConnell held his ground: he will not ask for a new investigation because it would “impede the current work” being done.
Trump’s firing of Comey, who was once the Democrats’ bête noire after he reopened an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the election, was yet another disturbing action from a White House committed to obliterating whatever democratic norms remain.
Like Richard Nixon, Trump dismissed someone investigating potential misconduct in his own administration, raising new questions about what exactly he is trying to hide. We don’t really know. As a compulsive liar with an addiction to misdirection, Trump will never be forthcoming unless the rule of law forces facts out of the darkness.
There is some hyperbole coming from the Democratic side. This is not necessarily a constitutional crisis; presidents reserve the right to dismiss FBI directors, and the bureau, created in 1908, does not exist in the constitution. While intelligence agencies agree that Russian agents hacked Clinton’s emails to benefit Trump’s campaign, no direct evidence has been aired in the public to bolster this case. Democrats call Trump Vladimir Putin’s puppet, but the reality is far more complex. The Democratic obsession with fomenting a new cold war – once the domain of hawkish Republicans not too long ago – doesn’t serve the country well.
But the public must know exactly what’s going on. Now that Trump has sacked Comey, he might seek a successor who toes the party line. Trump does not believe in political independence, separation of powers or the idea of other entities holding him accountable. His ideology, so porous and ill informed that it’s often a mere mirror of whatever he’s last seen on television, is rooted chiefly in loyalty. People who are good to him, who never say no, are rewarded. All dissent is shut out.
This is a dangerous place for any executive to be, let alone one as terrifyingly inexperienced as Trump. Republicans need to recognize this. Were McConnell another kind of man – one motivated primarily by preserving the integrity of the American republic – he would see that a special prosecutor is needed to tell us what happened last year, what’s happening now, and why exactly Trump fired an FBI director a third of the way into a 10-year term.
McConnell will not do this because self-preservation is all that animates him. He is a brilliant tactician and an empty shell, driven to cling to power at all costs, with the only endgame being a perpetual stranglehold on the majority. Never mind the corruption in the White House. Never mind the lack of serious policy coming from his party.
Lyndon Johnson was similarly obsessed with power, charting a path from majority leader to the presidency. Like McConnell, he was consumed by politics, kneecapping rivals and elevating his career at all costs. But he knew his power needed to be wielded for an end: to join history, he had to try to help people. And he did, shepherding Medicare, Medicaid and civil rights protections into law. He knew that power for power’s sake was worthless.
McConnell and his Republican allies drew their strength from opposition to Obama. Under Trump they are bereft of purpose, unable and unwilling to govern. Democrats aren’t blameless in this era of polarization, but it was the Tea Party and McConnell’s own vow to make Obama a one-term president which birthed the strife we have now.
McConnell knows that as Trump’s fortunes dim, so does his party’s, and an independent investigation unearthing uncomfortable facts may just endanger his slim majority. McConnell will fight to survive. He won’t fight for anything else. 

‘Witness Intimidation’: Trump May Have Crossed Legal Lines With Comey Tweet

On Friday morning, the sitting president of the United States may have threatened the former head of the FBI.

An early morning tweetstorm from US President Donald Trump warned darkly that ex-FBI Director James Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
Trump has been roundly bashed for sacking Comey. Some lawmakers say the move amounts to obstructing the ongoing investigation into ties between his inner circle and Russian government operatives. 
FBI directors usually serve 10-year terms to maintain independence from the common chaos of Washington politics. "The FBI is a tribal organization," Ben Wittes of the Brookings Institution told Vox. "You screw with the FBI, you screw with the institution of the FBI, and … a lot of people are going to be angry," he said Thursday. 
Another charge levied against the Trump administration following Comey’s ouster is that Trump’s tweets constitute nothing short of witness intimidation.
"First obstruction of an investigation. Now witness intimidation from the Highest Office. A sad moment for even this White House," Democrat lawmaker Gerry Connolly of Virginia tweeted Friday morning. 
"Unhinged?" Connolly inquired to the masses. 
Connolly wasn’t the only one to suggest Trump had broken the law. Former President Barack Obama’s ethics czar Norm Eisen also tweeted concern. 

​​If any "tapes" do in fact exist, they should be submitted to the House Intelligence Committee, ranking member Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, said Friday. 
A source close to the former FBI chief told CNN on Friday that Comey is "not worried about any tapes" as he enjoys his sudden vacation at home in northern Virginia. The source cast doubt on the existence of Trump’s phantom blackmail recordings: "If there is a tape, there’s nothing [Comey] is worried about."
When asked about the "tapes" on Friday afternoon, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said "the president has no further comment about that." Spicer added he was "not aware" of whether audio surveillance was conducted when Comey and Trump met for dinner at the White House on January 27.
Regarding Trump’s possibly threatening tweet, Spicer insisted the president had merely stated "facts."

Video - Russians Tricked Trump Once Again: The Daily Show

'Russians tricked us': US media outcry over exclusion from Trump-Lavrov meeting

Observing May Day

Ensuring workers' rights a far cry

May 1 remains a day of particular significance since it was the first time in history when 200,000 workers organised a nationwide strike in the United States in 1886 demanding an eight hour work day. We have to thank them for this and many of the other rights that we now take for granted – the right to minimum wage, safe working environment, leisure time, and the right to organise as a collective to demand to be treated with dignity. While most of these have been achieved in the more advanced economies of the world, our workers' hopes to those very rights remain unrealised.
Unfortunately, workers in the biggest segment of our economy, the readymade garments are still struggling for the right to unionise so that they may press home their right to work in a safe environment free of harassment and unlawful termination, and the right to due wage and festival bonuses. We look at the millions of our expatriate workers who brave seemingly insurmountable odds to reach foreign labour markets, only to find that they have been cheated out of a fair wage and face terrible human rights violations. Closer to home, the Domestic Workers Protection Welfare Policy 2015 was supposed to end domestic violence against household help but that has not happened.  This is more or less representative of other sectors, both formal and informal.
Until we learn to respect workers as human beings who toil in our factories and our homes, there can be no meaningful change. We are a nation of laws and we have ratified conventions internationally, yet we remain averse to giving workers the rights that are theirs by law. The observation of May Day carries little meaning if we cannot make workers' rights a priority in the national context.

FATA - Reform Of Colonial-Era Laws Aims To Bring Pakistan's 'Black Hole' Into The Light

By Frud Bezhan
It's a place where a toddler can be thrown in jail for crimes committed by a tribe member; where people can spend years behind bars without ever being charged; and where the authorities can oust entire communities from their homes without explanation.
Justice in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a throwback to another era -- a colonial one. For more than a century, human and legal rights have taken a back seat under a set of laws introduced by the British Raj in 1901 in an effort to bring resistant Pashtun tribes on a contested frontier to heel.
But now plans are in motion to bring residents of the restive region along Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan under the umbrella of the central government by ending the old legal system, offering voting rights and greater government representation, and raising living standards. The inclusive approach, in theory, will end FATA's isolation and help lure locals away from joining the various militant groups that thrive there.
Legal 'Black Hole'
A number of tribes voluntarily agreed to the laws, known as the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) when they were introduced. But the system did not die with the end of British colonial rule -- it was incorporated into Pakistan's legal system upon its founding in 1947, and remains more or less intact today.
Residents of the seven tribal areas that make up FATA have suffered immensely under the system, and have seen few of the benefits of being part of a state. They were granted only minimal political representation; were not allowed to vote in national elections; infrastructure modernization such as electrification largely passed them by; unemployment rates jumped to as high as 80 percent; and millions have been displaced by fighting and natural disasters.
The FCR was originally intended to quell fierce Pashtun opposition to the British Indian empire in the late 19th century. The system gave unchecked power to tribal leaders, who were given partial autonomy in exchange for quelling rebellion and protecting British interests. The FCR suppressed the locals while keeping the area extremely isolated.
The British created FATA and the neighboring Northwest Frontier Province (known today as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province) as a buffer zone following the creation of a 2,400-kilometer border with Afghanistan known as the Durand Line in 1893. The border, which Kabul does not recognize to this day, divided the Pashtun tribes who lived in the region.
The draconian laws allowed the British Raj -- and later presidentially appointed bureaucrats known as "political agents" -- to punish an entire tribe for the crime of an individual, jail residents for up to three years without cause, and forcibly relocate people and have their property searched and seized.
In one notorious case, a 2-year-old was jailed in 2004 along with her mother and two siblings for a crime committed by the girl's father.
In another, the entire Mehsud tribe was subjected to collective punishment in 2009 after the government moved against the Pakistani Taliban, which was led by 35-year-old tribesman Baitullah Mehsud. The political agent in FATA's South Waziristan tribal agency ordered the detention of tribe members and the seizure of their property.
The lack of formal law and writ of the state in FATA has led many activists to label the area a "black hole." For residents of FATA, the proposed reforms are essential to establishing law and order, and ridding their homeland of the moniker.
Sayid Kabir has been incarcerated numerous times in FATA without charge or explanation.
"I was put in jail seven times under the FCR," says the 37-year-old, who now lives in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, under which FATA would be subsumed under the reforms. "I did not commit any crime. I only protested for more provisions of water and electricity in my community."
It's a common story in FATA. Former resident Qayum Afridi says he was jailed for years in dismal conditions. The FCR, he says, "destroyed us" and must be abolished. If and when the reforms go into effect, he may get his wish.
Supporters of the proposed changes have staged several protests calling for the government to adopt the reforms immediately.
The reforms, recommended by the government-appointed FATA Reforms Committee, were approved by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet on March 2. Pakistan's president also endorsed the reforms.
For the reforms to take effect, the plan approved by the government on March 2 must now be codified as a draft constitutional amendment that requires approval by two-thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers of Pakistan's bicameral legislature. There are 104 members of the upper chamber of Pakistan's parliament, the Senate, and 342 lawmakers in the lower chamber, the National Assembly. In 2016, both chambers of Pakistan's legislature approved a draft version of the plan.
Under the plans, FATA would be merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province within five years. The jurisdiction of Pakistan's national courts would be extended to FATA, and tribal law enforcement would be incorporated into the national security forces. The merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would also give FATA access to Pakistan's main parliamentary body, the National Assembly, something it was denied under the FCR.
Afrasiab Khattak, a senator and the president of the secular Awami National Party (ANP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, says the reforms would bring about significant change.
"If properly implemented the reform package for mainstreaming FATA can not only empower the local population by providing them with the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution but can also bring the area under full state control and deprive the terrorists from enjoying the safe heavens in the area," he said.
Only Closer To Fine
Others say the planned changes, collectively known as the Riwaj Act, do not go far enough.
Mustafa Qadri, a Pakistani human rights activist, says the proposed reforms are "far from perfect," but can be an "important step toward a new, positive phase in FATA's history."
"There are other concerns with the proposed legal setup in FATA: enshrining so-called 'tribal laws' into legislation is a recipe for further abuse of rights," Qadri notes.
He refers to the "jirga" legal system in which unelected tribal councils dominated by elders mete out justice. Qadri says this system is "dominated by political interests" and fails to meet "even elementary aspects of international fair-trial standards."
Under the reforms, the jirga system would work in tandem with Pakistani courts, which would have jurisdiction in the area, thereby creating an opening for disputes.
Qadri also says that women are excluded from defending themselves under the patriarchal system in which tradition-bound village elders decide their fates. This, he says, has made them particularly vulnerable to rulings that allow sexual and other forms of abuse to be perpetrated with impunity.
He also laments that under the changes the country's powerful military -- which has been accused of carrying out extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, and torture during recent campaigns in the region -- is still above the law and will retain sweeping powers. FATA is a heavily militarized area where around 100,000 Pakistani troops are stationed.
Mohammad Taqi, a U.S.-based Pakistan political analyst, says there are major constitutional, political, and administrative challenges that must be addressed before the changes go into effect, but that the plan is doable.
"All tribal agencies and frontier regions are contiguous to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," he says. "Expanding the administrative machinery will be a major task but not an insurmountable one."
Divided Over Reforms
FATA residents appear to be divided over the proposed reforms, although a majority want to eradicate the FCR and merge with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The FATA Research Center, an Islamabad-based nonprofit organization, conducted a poll in February that found that 68 percent of respondents approved of abolishing the FCR; 74 percent of respondents (54 percent fully; 20 percent partially) endorsed merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
However, 26 percent of residents wanted FATA restructured into separate province. This is in keeping with the positions of some religious and nationalist political groups that have voiced opposition to the reforms, saying the changes could undermine local tribal traditions and Islamic law that is dominant in FATA.
In March, five tribal leaders challenged the proposed reforms in the Supreme Court, saying they were "illegal and unconstitutional." The tribal leaders noted that only the president, and not the prime minister, can decide a merger of the tribal areas even though the president has already backed the reforms. They said a jirga should decide on the merger.
One of the most prominent critics of the proposed reforms is Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a hard-line Islamist who leads the largest faction of the Jamiat-e Ulema Islam (Society of Muslim Clerics, JUI). Mainly led by traditional Sunni clerics, the JUI wants to turn Pakistan into a Shari'a state. Rehman has accused Islamabad of "bulldozing their wishes" upon FATA's residents.
Another critic is Mahmood Achakzai, the head of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, who has also alleged that Islamabad is enforcing changes in FATA without the consent of residents.
Both men have been accused of opposing the reforms for personal and political gain.

US intelligence: Afghanistan will 'almost certainly' deteriorate

Even if NATO deploys more troops, the political and security situation in Afghanistan will likely get worse, US spy chiefs said. Australia said it was "open" to sending more soldiers after Berlin signaled reservations.
US top intelligence officers offered a grim assessment of Afghanistan's future, saying that the Taliban were set to "continue to make gains."
"Afghan security forces' performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support and weak leadership," the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, told the US Senate Intelligence Committee.
The US and its NATO allies ended their combat mission against the Taliban in 2014, leaving the field to Kabul troops. Ever since, the US-backed government has been losing ground to the insurgents. Kabul now controls or influences only 57 percent of the country's territory, according to the US estimates.
"Unless we change something... the situation will continue to deteriorate and we'll lose all the gains that we've invested in over the last several years," said General Vincent Stewart of the Defense Intelligence Agency on Thursday.
Kabul still dependent on West
NATO still has about 13,450 troops in Afghanistan, including 6,900 US personnel that provide training and advice to local anti-Taliban forces. Additionally, Washington deployed 1,500 troops to fight the so-called "Islamic State" group and the remaining al-Qaida militants in the country.
US General John Nicholson, the commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan, asked Washington in February for several thousand more soldiers to push back against the Taliban insurgency. NATO has since asked its members to consider sending in more troops.
However, Afghanistan will "almost certainly deteriorate through 2018, even with a modest increase in the military assistance by the US and its partners," US spy chief Dan Coats said. Kabul would continue to struggle with "its dependence on external support" until it either defeated the Taliban or reached a peace deal with them, he added.
Australia mulls over additional deployment
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said his country was mulling over additional deployment in Afghanistan.
"We are certainly open to increasing our work there, but we've obviously got to look at the commitments of the Australian Defense Force in other parts of the region, and indeed in other parts of the world," Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.
"It is very important that we continue to work together - we and our other allies in the effort in Afghanistan," he said.
Canberra currently has around 300 soldiers in the central Asian country.
Germany not 'first in line'
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also discussed the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, ahead of a large NATO summit later in May. Stoltenberg said that increasing NATO's presence would not necessarily mean putting soldiers on the front lines.
Germany's army maintains a contingent of around 1,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Merkel said there were no concrete plans to send in more German soldiers and added that the Bundeswehr is already playing a key role in safeguarding security.
"I don't believe that we are the first in line to increase our capabilities," she said.

Pakistan - Christian lawyer raising voice against forced conversions receives death threats

Pakistani Christian lawyer Advocate Jacqueline Sultan received death threats. She has been advocating for rights of minorities and raising voice against forced conversions of girls hailing from minorities’ communities. Details emerged that the Christian lawyer received a letter, in which she was warned not to pursue struggle for the rights of minorities or else she would be killed.
Jacqueline Sultan,is a high court advocate as well as member of the Karachi Bar Council. After she received the threatening letter, she informed the incident to Naeem Qureshi President of Karachi Bar Association. Moreover, the incident was also reported to the South SSP, and the Rangers DG , South SSP and the Risala Police Station.
Advocate Jacqueline found the letter in her chamber. Consequently, Karachi Bar Association has urged the authorities to take serious action regarding the matter and provide the Christian lawyer with foolproof security.
Karachi Bar Association also urged the authorities for an inquiry into the matter so as to determine the perpetrators of the act. The lawyers’ body demanded for immediate action and arrest of the people who had threatened the Christian lawyer.
The incident was also condemned by various Human Rights activists, NGO’s and political activists. They expressed serious concerns for the security of Advocate Jacqueline Sultan, demanding efficacious efforts from the concerns authorities.

Pakistan: Millions receive government generated blasphemy warning texts

Millions of Pakistanis have been receiving text messages from the government warning them against sharing “blasphemous” content online.

“Uploading & sharing of blasphemous content on Internet is a punishable offense under the law. Such content should be reported on for legal action,” read the SMS sent by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to all mobile phone subscribers.

A similar note was posted on the agency’s website in Urdu. A PTA spokesperson said the agency was acting on a court order.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in the country, with allegations leading to dozens of mob attacks or murders.

Last week a 10-year old boy was killed and five others were wounded when a mob attacked a police station in an attempt to lynch a Hindu man charged with blasphemy for allegedly posting an incendiary image on social media.