Sunday, June 11, 2017

Video Music - Miley Cyrus - Someone Else

Video Report - Merkel to Trump: Building walls no help with migration problems

Video Report - Anti-Sharia protests across the USA

Video Report - Rep. Gutiérrez calls Trump a con artist

Will Washington abandon world leadership under Trump?

By Zhang Tengjun 

Since his inauguration in January, Donald Trump has been indulging in tricky maneuvers in Washington's foreign policy. He runs counter to his predecessor Barack Obama's pursuit of globalization. He has withdrawn the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, quit the Paris climate accord, planned on cutting down the foreign aid budget and has imposed unprecedented pressure on US allies. His maverick style has led many to believe that the US may be returning to an era of isolationism as it did in the 1930s. 

America under the rule of the business tycoon-turned politico has triggered worldwide concern for globalization and its future and raised doubts as to whether the most powerful country is seeking to give up world leadership. What's more, there is a view that the liberal international order is crumbling and Washington's retreat is the beginning of a great transformation. 

If the rise of Trump is viewed as a phenomenon, then its main significance lies in shaking the US' long-standing political ecology. Trump has mostly focused on domestic issues in the past five months, and the changes he has brought about to the country's foreign policy are actually less than expected. 

By his own admission, the "America First" position means that he puts most of his energy into addressing domestic affairs. His nature as a businessman determines the negotiability of foreign affairs. All the arrangements conducive to achieving his political goals can be compromised and changed. In this sense, the view that the US will abandon the world leadership is a pseudo-proposition.

Hampered by a slew of conundrums at home, the Trump administration has yet to formulate an explicit global strategy or more specific Asia-Pacific policy. Its foreign policy is somewhat fragmented, subject to a severe lack of coherence and consistency. It has so far been handling diplomatic episodes quite passively. 

Though many of Trump's foreign policy measures are questioned by the international community at large, it should not be viewed as an abdication of US hegemony. Currently speaking, it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that Trump is intentional giving up regional and global dominance. 

Two main pillars of US hegemony are the military and financial sectors. The former is backed by military power far better than other countries, the strongest circle of allies, and military bases spanning the globe. The latter is heavily dependent on dollar hegemony and the US-dominated international financial system. Trump has no intention of abandoning American military hegemony. Instead, he seeks to boost military spending by 10 percent in the coming fiscal year, further equipping the ground force, air force and navy with advanced weaponry. In this way, he inherits many of Obama's strategies. 

In addition, Trump remains ambiguous toward the financial system under US governance. Given the domestic landscape, he will prefer trade protectionism and a curtailment in expenditure of public products. But he will never discard US financial leadership on the world stage. More importantly, the US dollar, as a major international currency, is closely related to the country's leadership, and Trump understands this well. 

To say the least, even if he once planned on giving up Washington's global leadership and drawing back to the North American continent, it seems that he lacks the capacity to do so. The existing international order features a US hegemony which dates back to the start of WWII and has since been maintained through the strenuous efforts of generations of governments. Washington is unlikely to detach itself from the decades-long, consolidated framework. 

The conception of "peace under American governance" begun in the US has spread to every corner of the world to the extent that it is America's allies, instead of the American people, that are most concerned with Trump leading from the White House. They fear that if Washington breaks its promises on security, the international order will be plunged into chaos and conflict. By then they will find themselves mired in gridlock. 

Furthermore, Trump will think twice and be prudent given domestic obstruction. Both the Democrats and the Republicans continue to support American leadership in the world; they merely differ on policy and how to best exert leadership. 

Even if the US abandons its role as global leader, various legacy issues in the current world order still need to be addressed. However, even if it desires to continue with its leadership role, the world will not feel entirely reassured. The international community has already bid farewell to the era of unipolar dominance. Global governance needs collective leadership from all major countries and the wide participation of all people.  

Fighting Extremism While Cosying Up To Saudi Arabia Is Hypocrisy

John Wight
It is time for an honest conversation about Wahhabism, specifically the part this Saudi-sponsored ideology plays in radicalizing young Muslims both across the Arab and Muslim world and throughout the West, where people are now dealing with yet another terrorist attack in which innocent civilians were butchered and injured, this time in London.
The US, British and French governments can no longer credibly claim to be serious about fighting terrorism or religious extremism while cosying up to what is a medieval kleptocracy in Riyadh.
Just days prior to this terrorist attack in London it was reported that a UK government inquiry into the role of Saudi money in funding terrorism is likely to be shelved, due to the sensitive nature of its findings. The report was originally commissioned at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, while in coalition government with the Tories back in 2015. It was sanctioned by then Prime Minister David Cameron in return for Lib Dem parliamentary support for British airstrikes in Syria. Given that the British government just signed £3.5billion worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, the suppression of the report’s findings is nothing short of a scandal.
The Saudis have long enjoyed diplomatic and political support from successive British governments, based on its largesse as the biggest customer of UK arms sales, which according to the UK-based organization, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), has been worth £4.1billion since 2015. Some of the weapons sold to the Saudis are being used in its on-going war in Yemen, where its forces have been engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
There are also the billions in Saudi investment into London, especially in the city’s lucrative property market. Money, as everyone knows, buys influence, including political influence, which is where we discern the pristine and unalloyed hypocrisy involved in demonising Russia, Syria, and Iran, the countries that are in the front line against this medieval poison, while courting Saudi, Qatari, and other Gulf State business and money, where state-sanctioned preachers spew out hate speech against ‘apostates’ and ‘infidels’ on a regular basis.
The most concerning development in recent years, however, vis-à-vis Saudi influence in the West, is the extent to which Riyadh has been funding the building of mosques as a way of promoting its ultra-conservative and puritanical interpretation of Islam, one completely incompatible with the 21st century.
In 2015 Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came out in public and accused the Saudis of funding mosques in which extremism is regularly promoted. In an interview with the German magazine Bild am Sonntag, Mr Gabriel said, “We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over. Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany.”
Religious sectarianism and rigid adherence to an anti-human 7th century doctrine underpins what passes for justice in the kingdom itself. We are talking a country in which people are regularly and ritually beheaded, flogged, and even crucified for daring to deviate from the law. In 2016 alone the state carried out 154 executions, many of those for non-violent crimes. Yet, regardless, for those who claim the mantle of democracy and human rights, slavishly defending Saudi Arabia and its vile and barbaric practices has long been a received truth. Let us be clear: Britain’s longstanding alliance with the kingdom benefits nobody apart from UK arms companies and their shareholders. It is undeniably an alliance inimical to the country’s security, bringing its entire political establishment into disrepute as a consequence.
Three terrorist attacks in the space of three months carried out in the UK, in which civilians have been slaughtered, is an unacceptable price to pay for a foreign policy which at best is informed by cognitive dissonance and at worst by sheer unadulterated mendacity.
Western governments cannot have it both ways; they cannot expect to defeat terrorism and protect their citizens while continuing to refuse to grasp the issue by its roots. The world is dealing with a malignant ideology, one that whether associated with Daesh, Nusra, or Saudi Arabia is the same. That this ideology has grown in traction in recent years is now self-evident, thus begging the question: what are we going to do about it?
People have the right to go out and enjoy themselves without being slaughtered. It is a fundamental right that unites people in London, Moscow, Paris, and Damascus. Those who would seek to deny them this right are the enemy of humanity and must be regarded and treated accordingly.
Ultimately, the head of this Salafi-jihadi snake resides in Riyadh.

Jared Kushner, the Arms Deal, and Alleged Saudi War Crimes

Published -May 20, 2017 

Jared Kushner played a leading role in orchestrating a $100 billion arms deal with the Saudi government, according to the New York Times. At the same time the Saudi air force has allegedly engaged in repeated war crimes in Yemen, including attacks on schools, hospitals, and a funeral home, on many of these occasions reportedly with the use of US weaponry. Discussing the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, Human Rights Watch’s Kristine Beckerle wrote earlier this month of “the twenty-third time Human Rights Watch had identified remnants of U.S.-supplied weapons at the site of an apparently unlawful coalition attack.” As uncomfortable as it is for me to write this, Kushner may be stepping directly into the zone where US officials can become liable for aiding and abetting Saudi war crimes. One question this raises is what mitigation measures, including assurances from the Saudis, might the Trump administration pursue to avoid such risks.
This would not be the first time for US officials to consider such questions, according to news reports. Based on internal government documents received through the Freedom of Information Act, Reuters’ Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay wrote in October of last year:
“The Obama administration went ahead with a $1.3 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia last year despite warnings from some officials that the United States could be implicated in war crimes for supporting a Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians.”
In a piece entitled, “U.S. Arms Sale to Saudis Spells Legal Trouble for State Department Officials,” I drew a similar conclusion about the legal risks, and I explained a flaw in the Defense Department’s Military Manual that could unintentionally lead to poor advice to senior officials. The Manual would tell them they are not at risk of aiding and abetting war crimes if they do not desire the Saudis to engage in bad acts. But that conclusion is based on an interpretation of a legal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel which reached an opposite conclusion. What’s more, as I explained, other legal positions adopted by the Defense Department support the standard and correct legal view of aiding and abetting war crimes, which does not require US officials to have any desire for the Saudis to violate the laws of war. It would be wholly sufficient for the officials simply to have knowledge of the Saudi’s actions to trigger liability.
And indeed the executive branch has surely built up knowledge of Saudi actions over time, as explained in congressional testimony by Dafna Rand, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the Department of State. Accordingly, earlier support for the Saudi-led operations in Yemen may not have incurred criminal liability, but today’s support might. In addition, according to Andrew Exum, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, the US has appeared to learn over time that the Saudis do not have the capacity to avoid civilian casualties in their air campaign. And indeed the Obama administration suspended a major arms sale to Saudi Arabia in December out of concern for repeated civilian casualties from Saudi airstrikes in Yemen.
I am not alone in my legal assessment that US officials who play a leading role in providing support to the Saudi operations, especially through arms sales, can run into legal problems due to aiding and abetting liability.
Consider a letter written in October by Congressman Ted Lieu to then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter and then-Secretary of State John Kerry. Rep. Ted Lieu, was also a military lawyer who taught the laws of war and is currently a Colonel in the US Air Force Reserve. He wrote:
“U.S. personnel are now at legal risk of being investigated and potentially prosecuted for committing war crimes. Under international law, a person can be found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes. Under U.S. law, a person can be found guilty for conspiring to commit war crimes.”
My former colleague at Harvard Law School, Professor Noah Feldman also wrote: “It isn’t a legal stretch to say that refueling a plane that then bombs civilians is aiding and abetting the bombing. No refueling, no bombing. That’s a concern raised by Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who is an Air Force reserve lawyer and knows what he’s talking about.”
Tom Malinowski, the top human rights official at the State Department until January 2017 told Just Security, “There is a strong policy argument for suspending some sales, as President Obama did, until concerns about these kinds of incidents are resolved, and a possibility of legal jeopardy for U.S. officials if sales continue despite continuing evidence of violations of the laws of war.”
“Continued arms sales,” Beckerle said, “increasingly put U.S. officials at legal risk for aiding those crimes.”
What could the Trump administration do to avoid these legal risks? First, the type of weapons systems might matter. These assessments of legal exposure may not apply to the sale of defensive weapons and radar systems which are part of Kushner’s negotiated package. Second, perhaps in recognition of the legal risks involved, the Trump administration has reportedly sought new assurances from the Saudis to minimize civilian casualties. That is, in principle, the right approach—if pursued in a genuine and effective fashion. As I initially wrote back in September, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion describes mitigation measures that US officials could include to assure that US support will not contribute to international law violations. However, as I also wrote last month, Exum’s descriptions of flaws in the Saudi military systems may suggest they are incapable of reforming their targeting practices anytime soon. Finally, the same New York Times story that described Kushner’s role and “personal touch” in the arms deal, also noted that President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will studiously avoid discussion of human rights concerns:
“Mr. Trump is not expected to raise human rights concerns with the Saudis, in keeping with his approach to strongmen in Turkey, Egypt, China and the Philippines. The president, his aides said, does not believe the United States gets results by lecturing other countries.”
It would be good to know how the president’s aides could explain then how he does expect to get results. Also we can’t tell whether the Times’ reference to human rights includes humanitarian concerns raised by US-supported Saudi operations in Yemen. The president’s failure to raise specific concerns in that respect could put his own officials at legal risk, his son-in-law included.


Human rights activists say Saudi Arabia has used UK-made bombs in at least 81 unlawful attacks in Yemen, according to a report.
In its “devastating aerial campaign” in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has used bombs and cluster munitions made in the UK, worth £3 billion, over the past two years, The Independent reported.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade has challenged the UK government for its complicity in human rights crimes in Yemen. The verdict in the case is pending.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said she was “confident” the verdict would be in the government’s favor.
Kristine Beckerle, Yemen and Kuwait researcher at Human Rights Watch, called on the UK to stop selling arms to the Saudis.
“It’s not just a question of the right thing to do, it’s also a question of legal liability,” she said.
“Do those conditions make it very, very difficult for civilians to live and get on with their lives? Absolutely. Impossible.”
Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher from Human Rights Watch, told The Independent that the Saudi Kingdom is using a dedicated court and rehabilitation center to quash dissent and punish human rights activists.
In March 2015, the Saudi regime and its allies, backed by the US, began a military campaign against Yemen to reinstall its former government. The war has killed over 12,000 civilians since then.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has recently licensed £3.5 billion worth of arms export to the Saudi kingdom.


Amnesty International has lambasted Saudi Arabia for detaining a women's rights activist for the second time, calling on the kingdom to "immediately and unconditionally" release her.
According to a report by the UK-based rights group on Monday, Loujain al-Hathloul, 27, was arrested by authorities at the King Fahad International Airport in the port city of Dammam, the capital of the restive Eastern Province, on Sunday afternoon.
Hathloul, who was due to travel to Riyadh, was also interrogated by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution, Amnesty added.
"The Saudi Arabian authorities’ continuous harassment of Loujain al-Hathloul is absurd and unjustifiable. It appears she is being targeted once again because of her peaceful work as a human rights defender speaking out for women's rights, which are consistently trammeled in the kingdom," said Samah Hadid, Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle East.
Back in early December 2014, Hathloul was arrested for breaking Saudi Arabia's controversial driving ban on females. In November the same year, she tried to drive into the kingdom from neighboring United Arab Emirates in defiance of the ban. Police held Hathloul for more than two months.

Cool Qatar: Riyadh plan backfires after Trump flip-flop & Turkey ruse

By Martin Jay

Saudi Arabia’s standoff against Qatar was fraught with miscalculations and comically ill-conceived notions from the start. But now the crisis is becoming a threat to Riyadh’s own prominence and security in the Middle East.
“Almost all relationships begin and continue as mutual forms of exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be determined when one or both parties run out of goods.”   - English-American writer, W. H. Auden.
This Ramadan will surely be remembered in the Middle East by Saudi Arabia’s inflated idea of a new zealous relationship formed with the US. Following Donald Trump’s ‘Arab Summit’ visit in May, Riyadh is reinvigorated with a new sense of importance and power, and has indulged itself on just how far warm sentiments from the Trump administration can take its new government and its struggle against Iran, an enemy of convenience that gives Saudi Arabia an important role in the region. But who needs the other more? The Saudis or the Americans?
In recent days, Saudi Arabia’s bold plan to isolate tiny Qatar in a bid to get it to agree to Riyadh’s geopolitics appears to be coming off the rails. But worse than merely suffering a modicum of humiliation when Riyadh inevitably climbs down and admits its zany plan didn’t come off, there are signs that the attempt to destabilize Qatar is going to backfire. Indeed, King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s new, inexperienced government has yet to recognize, let alone even understand an important maxim in politics: ‘When in a hole, stop digging’.
Although the cataclysmic errors of going ahead with such ill-conceived plans - like backing extremists groups in Syria - could be blamed on his predecessor, his brother King Abdullah who died in 2015, Salman must accept responsibility for other mistakes, like the beleaguered campaign in Yemen, which shows no signs of ending. And now Qatar.
It’s as though the Saudis are simply incapable both of effective military strategy or any form of sage diplomacy; blinded by delusional ideas of their own capabilities and power, they blunder ahead with scant regard of the consequences, even towards themselves.
“Most worrying is that Saudi Arabia and the UAE may repeat the mistakes that were made when the Saudi leadership decided to launch a war in Yemen,” said Yezid Sayigh, a Beirut-based senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “They had no clear political strategy, based their action on false assumptions, have incurred heavy financial costs and a growing human toll, and are probably now worse off in terms of their security,”according to
Indeed, the swift 180-degree turn by Trump, who started off entirely behind the Saudi move but ended on a more cautious note, must have really hit Riyadh hard. After the Pentagon more or less put Trump straight on Qatar and the implications of this tiny country going rogue, the architects of this foolhardy plan were confronted by a stark reality: ‘We’ve gone too far.’
And they really have. In a matter of days, the reality has hit home: not only is Trump and Tillerman now calling for Saudi Arabia to back down on the siege, but it appears that the requisite premise of the entire idea – that the US would militarily defend the Kingdom’s huge borders – is also folly. Suddenly, the veiled threats of Saudi Arabia going further beyond just the blockade look disingenuous when any skirmishes that may result on Saudi’s borders will have to be dealt with by its own army.

Erdogan, the real Sultan of Swing

But it gets worse. If the Saudis massively over-estimated the support their masterplan would muster from the US, they also underestimated that another wild card in the region would swiftly run to the aid of Qatar: Turkey.
I recently argued about the significance of Qatar merely starting a debate about whether Iran is really a threat and how Qatar’s refusal of the Saudis using Iran as a pretext to hang its entire geopolitical strategy on is detrimental to Riyadh. But a ‘third way’ is already happening now and this is entirely the Saudi’s fault.
Previously this alternative strand of joined-up-thinking was contained and confined to only Qatar as the underhand control that Saudi Arabia has on media in the entire region is almost absolute and succeeds in muffling any such debate, according to a recent report by Wikileaks.
But now, with the Saudi move – despite it being planned in advance, right down to the planted op-eds in US newspapers about how Qatar is the problem in the region to countering terrorism – the third way is very much a real, living beast. It is a trilogy of those who consider Saudi Arabia – as opposed to Iran - as the threat, a group made up of Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood itself.
Incredibly, the West - perhaps even Trump himself - has to accept some responsibility for this. Just three days before Trump gave his speech in Riyadh before over 50 heads of state of Muslim countries, where he denounced Iran and Hezbollah, Turkish President Erdogan left Washington DC entirely empty handed. I initially speculated that Trump’s people could not trust Erdogan and I stand by this. But there was more to it than that. Trump’s people could not give what the Turkish President wanted in Syria as it might have upset the Saudis; the best kept secret in the Middle East is that the Saudis intensely dislike Erdogan and were hoping that the attempted coup in July of 2016 would have ousted him. Erdogan flew back to Ankara from Washington empty-handed, realizing that he will never be part of the powerful elite and should look East.
Few Western commentators in the region understand that Turkey supporting Qatar is payback to Trump and the Saudis, as the real ideology that Erdogan supports (apart from his own Sultan-like autocracy) is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is universally loathed by the Saudis. By giving Qatar the support it needs, Erdogan believes he cashes in big time - as if Qatar gave in to pressure, it would have left Turkey as the only real player who supports the pan-Arab Islamic group. He gets a new role in the Middle East as a dangerous ally of two hated creeds in one blow: the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran. Erdogan suddenly becomes more than just a wild card, but a figure to fear more than merely a leader of a rogue state in terms of how the Turkish leader can impact Saudi stability.
Yet even Erdogan will pay a very high price for this cavalier play and not just with the expected withdrawal of Saudi and UAE investment in Turkey. but more how Moscow will now treat him, given that he has proven to Putin that he simply cannot be trusted by defiantly going against the wishes of Russia to stay neutral. “If Erdogan enters the Qatar conflict head on, he will be going against Russia’s legitimately stated position of neutrality,”argued The Duran. “If Erdogan jumps into the Gulf he will at once isolate himself from Wahhabi Saudi, the secular Arab world (which he is already largely hated in), Russia and the United States."

The heart of the beast

But did you ever wonder if you were being told all the story? In the Middle East disputes are never what they seem. There is always a hidden agenda and the Qatar calamity is no exception. We are lead to believe that the heart of the dispute is the funding of terrorist groups. A hilarious notion if we are to examine that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have both funded ISIS and its affiliates, at some stage of the Syrian war.
The greatest fear that the Saudis have is that their omnipotent role as leader of the GCC countries will be undermined by debate, which is sparked by this new trilogy, which will force other countries to look closely at Iran and ask is it really a threat to the region or more of a fake foe being used to keep a house of cards standing – a point I made in my earlier article, which has since been confirmed by a number of respected, leading journalists covering the Middle East.
David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye, who was previously chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian. He also writes that the spat has nothing to do with “funding terrorism or cosying up to Iran. In fact the Emiratis do a roaring trade with Iran, and they are part of the coalition accusing Qatar of siding with Tehran”.
“Their real demands” he continues, “which were conveyed to the Emir of Kuwait - who is acting as an intermediary - are the closure of Al Jazeera, de-funding of Al Arabi al Jadid, Al Quds al Arabi, and the Arabic edition of Huffington Post."
So, it may well be that the trilogy of Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood has actually been created by Saudi Arabia’s blundering- which just adds to the gargantuan failure of the plot. But what is really at the core of the Saudi plan is to silence all debate which questions the Saudis. It’s really that simple. If you can’t buy media, then simply threaten the state which owns it to have it shut down.
In reality though, they are doing the opposite and actually making Qatar cool and creating more debate than ever.
Inevitably, the coming days might see the UAE cutting off its gas pipeline from Qatar but in the weeks to come keep an eye open for a curiously high number of Opeds about Qatar’s human rights record and how this should prevent it from hosting the world cup in 2022.
Although Trump faked out his Saudi hosts over taking a bold stand against Qatar, there is still some time before either Riyadh or Washington “run out of goods”.

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Bilawal Bhutto - ‘Yes, jiyalas love me’

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Tuesday said he does not care for ‘turncoats’ as he is surrounded by the jiyalas.

Talking to reporters during an Iftar dinner at Bilawal House, he said that he had no worries about the people who were leaving party and joining the Kaptaan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). He said the “real jiyalas” were with him. To a question about Panamagate case, he said that the Sharifs were never held accountable in the past. He added that he wanted law to prevail in the case.
About the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed to probe into the case, he said that the people who are being called by the JIT have no links with the politics. Bilawal has formally started his Ramazan tour of Punjab by participating in Iftar dinners and holding meetings with PPP office-bearers. He held two meetings with his party’s Punjab and Lahore chapters on Tuesday.
According to his schedule, Bilawal will visit various district headquarters including Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sargodha, Sahiwal and Rawalpindi. He will also visit three districts of southern Punjab.
After completing his Punjab tour, Bilawal will go to Peshawar and Quetta to hold meetings with party leaders and workers.
Bilawal will visit Faisalabad today (Wednesday), On June 8, Bilawal will visit three district of Southern Punjab. He will go to Gujranwala on June 9, next day he will visit Sargodha and on June 11 he will be among workers in Sahiwal.
On June 12, Bilawal will again hold a meeting with the Lahore PPP office- bearers. He will visit Rawalpindi division and Islamabad on June 13.
According to the schedule, Bilawal will visit Peshawar on June 16 and Quetta on June 20. Party sources told Daily Times that Bilawal and the party office bearers from Punjab and Lahore chapters also discussed the current political and organizational issues. They confirmed that Bilawal will visit Multan today (Wednesday) and stay at Yousaf Raza Gilani’s house where he will hold meetings with the southern Punjab office-bearers.

After abductions, Pakistan scrambles to protect Chinese citizens

Chastened by the militant Islamic State group's claim to have killed two kidnapped Chinese teachers, Pakistan is beefing up security around Chinese citizens streaming into the country on the back of Beijing's "Belt and Road" infrastructure splurge.
China has often urged Pakistan to improve security after pledging around $57 billion to build power plants, railways, and roads that will cross the Himalayas to connect western China with Gwadar port.
Pakistani officials have outlined to Reuters extensive security plans that include thousands-strong police protection forces, tighter monitoring of Chinese nationals, and in Balochistan ─ where the two teachers were kidnapped on May 24 ─ a review of security arrangements. The protection forces will buttress a 15,000-strong army division set up specifically to safeguard projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiative, which has been credited with rejuvenating Pakistan's $300 billion economy.
"We are already alert, but this incident has made us extra vigilant over Chinese security," said Sindh Deputy Inspector General of Police Amin Yousafzai.
The provincial government in Sindh, which is home to about 50 million people, is raising a protection unit of about 2,600 police officers to help safeguard 4,000 Chinese working on CPEC projects, and another 1,000 working in other businesses.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), which signed billions of dollars in contracts with Chinese companies, is also conducting a census of Chinese nationals and raising a force of about 4,200 officers to protect foreigners. Balochistan would "review the whole security arrangement" and Chinese nationals who come in a private capacity should inform the authorities about their activities, said the provincial government spokesman Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar.
The number of militant attacks in Pakistan has fallen sharply in recent years, but militant groups still pose a threat, and in Balochistan, militants opposed to CPEC also carry out attacks.
The IS killings were a rare attack on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, but the incident has unnerved Islamabad and the growing Chinese community.
Miftah Ismail, a state minister involved in CPEC planning, said Pakistan had devoted huge resources to improving security and Chinese investors should not be put off by a one-off attack.
"The country's security situation has improved," Ismail maintained.
The scale of the task facing security agencies is increasing by the day as more Chinese entrepreneurs arrive to set up businesses. Most stay in big cities, but some venture into riskier areas.
The challenge for authorities will increase in 2018, when the corridor is due to become operational and trucks ferrying goods to and from China cross more than 1,000 km of road in remote areas of Balochistan currently off-limits to foreigners.
Protection force
The two Chinese-language teachers were kidnapped by gunmen pretending to be police, but little else is known about how the they ended up in Quetta. The Balochistan government afterwards evacuated 11 other Chinese nationals based in the city. "There are no more Chinese living in Quetta," said Balochistan IGP Ahsan Mehboob. It was not clear why the 11 were there. The new Sindh and KP forces resemble the Special Protection Unit (SPU) recently established by Punjab, which has attracted most Chinese investment.
KP was already working on plans to set up the force, but after the Quetta kidnappings the process was "accelerated", according to one regional official.
Sindh was also planning to set up a force before the Quetta attack, and was now expanding it, another official said. Punjab's SPU, dedicated to protecting Chinese nationals and other foreigners, has more than 6,000 officers and is set to grow to 10,000. Punjab Secretary for Information Raja Jahangir said SPU chiefs hold daily meetings with intelligence agencies and police chiefs to ensure Chinese nationals stay safe, while a database has been set up to track foreigners from their arrival, to their hotels, and their departure.
Jahangir said security has been stepped up since the Quetta attacks. "Almost all personnel are on alert and they are on their toes," he said.

Pakistan's alarming social media death sentence

In a first verdict of its kind, a Pakistani court sentenced a man to death for committing blasphemy on Facebook. But rights groups say the government is using blasphemy as an excuse to muzzle free speech in the country.

A counterterrorism court handed down Saturday the verdict to Taimoor Raza, a Shiite Pakistani from the eastern city of Okara, for posting "derogatory" remarks about Sunni religious figures and the prophet of Islam's wives.
Defense lawyer Rana Fida Hussain told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Raza had an argument on Facebook with a government official, who brought charges against his client in the court.
Hussain said that Raza, who was arrested in April last year, was innocent and that he would appeal against his client's death sentence.
Blasphemy is a sensitive topic in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where around 97 percent of its 180 million inhabitants are Muslim. Rights advocates have long been demanding a reform of the controversial blasphemy laws, which were introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.
Activists say the laws have little to do with blasphemy and are often used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas.
In April, 23-year-old journalism student Mashal Khan was killed by a vigilante mob over allegations of blasphemy in Pakistan's northwestern city of Mardan. The brutal murder shocked many liberals who believe that state policies are emboldening religious fanatics.
Crackdown and intimidation
Government critics and secular writers in Pakistan fear religious extremists and the government alike when it comes to blasphemy allegations, which are enough to put them in prison or get vigilante mobs to lynch them.
After Bangladesh witnessed a spate of killings of secular activists, Pakistan is experiencing a government crackdown on liberal bloggers, journalists, academics and activists. At the same time, religious fanatics are targeting secular social media activists, who have to go into hiding or self-censor to save their lives.
The "abduction" of liberal bloggers in January – allegedly by Pakistan's security forces – and the recent lynching of a secular journalism student shocked activists and the journalist community in Pakistan. There has been increased social media vigilantism, which is forcing critics of the government and military as well as human rights activists to censor their thoughts and words.
Pakistan is already one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, but the blasphemy issue has made it even more dangerous for them. Earlier this year, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan threatened to block all social media websites with "blasphemous content."
"The crackdown on dissidents is actually a political witch hunt," Arshad Mahmood, a Pakistani writer and social media activist, told DW. "Those who are critical of the state and the military are being picked up by the government agencies. I wish the authorities had shown the same enthusiasm in targeting Islamist militants," Mahmood added.
The fight for free speech
Despite threats to their lives, journalists and activists in Pakistan refuse to give up the fight. They say they would continue to strive to report and express their views independently.
"Civil society needs more unity now to protect freedom of speech. In the age of social media, independent thinkers have a platform to voice their concerns against certain actions of the government, and it is their right," Nahyan Mirza, an Islamabad-based development professional, told DW.
"Pakistani society, unfortunately, is being controlled to a large extent by the right wing," Mirza added. "These groups will never tolerate social, cultural and intellectual change that poses a challenge to their power. But I am hopeful the change will come soon."