Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Risks of Syrian Intervention Limit Options for U.S.

Despite President Obama’s warning to Syria not to use its arsenal of chemical weapons or allow them to fall into the hands of extremists, the administration’s options for intervening remain limited by what its officials have described as a simple calculus: It would make the conflict even worse. American military operations against Syria, officials reiterated on Tuesday, would risk drawing in Syria’s patrons, principally Iran and Russia, at a much greater level than they already are involved. It would allow Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to rally popular sentiment against the West and embolden Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups now fighting the Assad government to turn their attention to what they would see as another American crusade in the Arab world. Syria’s deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, made the point in Moscow on Tuesday, dismissing Mr. Obama’s warning, and declaring that any foreign military intervention would lead to “a confrontation wider than Syria’s borders.” At the same time, Mr. Obama’s remarks underscored the fact that there could be limits to the American reluctance to intervene. But it would require a threat to American interests and values that a civil war inside Syria by itself does not: a nightmarish attack using chemical weapons or the transfer of those weapons to hardened enemies of the United States and its allies, including Israel, which the president mentioned on Monday. “We say it for deterrence effect, of course, but it’s also a reality,” one official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal strategy deliberations. “The United States is not going to be able to sit it out if Syria starts using chemical weapons on its people.” The Syrian Foreign Ministry pledged in late July that its stockpile of chemical weapons would be used only against foreign intervention, and that it would “never, never be used against the Syrian people or civilians during this crisis, under any circumstances.” Some experts and lawmakers have urged the administration to do more, including prominent members of Congress like Senator John McCain of Arizona, who called last month for increasing intelligence and helping to create “safe zones” in rebel-held areas. The White House faces little real public or political pressure to intervene forcefully, though, even as the bloodshed worsens. Mr. McCain was a frequent critic of what he regarded as the Obama administration’s overly cautious policy toward Libya, which did lead to military intervention by NATO. But, the officials said, the conflict in Syria has become far more complicated than was the case in Libya. That country’s universally unpopular leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, had neither an effective military nor international backing, and it posed far less risk of ethnic and sectarian strife that could easily spill into Syria’s neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Israel. For now, the legal and diplomatic hurdles to intervention remain insurmountable. In large part because of the intervention in Libya, Russia and China have vowed to block United Nations authorization that could lead to international military involvement, something that European allies from Britain to Turkey insist is a prerequisite for international intervention. At the Pentagon, commanders continue to draft plans for potential operations — from establishing a “no fly” zone, as in Libya, or sending in special forces to neutralize Syria’s unconventional weapons, should they be used or moved out of the Syrian government’s control. Pentagon officials have indicated that a worst-case scenario would require tens of thousands of soldiers, something that the officials said would inflame an already roiling region. Mr. Obama did not explicitly threaten a military response in the event of a chemical weapons attack, though he called it a “red line” that would “change my calculus” about the American response so far. Such an attack, the officials said, would also change the thinking of other nations, including Russia, and raise the chances of an international reaction. The administration’s current policy involves intensifying diplomatic and economic pressure on Mr. Assad’s government through sanctions, offering humanitarian assistance to Syrians inside and outside the country, and providing $25 million in “nonlethal” help to Mr. Assad’s opponents, including more recently to members of the Free Syrian Army. That aid has paid for communication equipment to enable the armed and unarmed opposition to better coordinate their attacks and plans for taking power. The administration has also ruled out providing arms to the rebels for broadly the same reason: more weapons, the officials say, would probably make the war only worse. Some rebels, for example, have asked for portable rocket launchers known as Manpads, which experts say could make a huge difference in the fighting by countering government jet and helicopter attacks. But the officials point to the experience of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the Central Intelligence Agency provided Stinger missiles to the mujahedeen fighting the Soviet Union, only to spend millions trying to track them down after the Soviets left and the opposition groups gave rise to the Taliban. “The complexity of Syria today makes Afghanistan in 1985 look very simple,” said Milton A. Bearden, who helped oversee the C.I.A.’s clandestine support of Afghan fighters in the 1980s, including the Stingers. “Who is the Syrian opposition? Who would these weapons go to?” The risk of not doing more is that the United States could lose the support of those hoping to overthrow Mr. Assad — in contrast to Libya’s new leaders, who now view the Americans favorably. There is also a moral argument that the United States and NATO intervened in Libya because it was easy, but not in Syria because it was hard. While some administration officials privately express frustration that the conflict is spiraling ever deeper out of control, they say it only underscores the danger of being drawn into a larger regional or even international conflict. “The opposition desperately needs weapons if you don’t want this conflict to be a grinder, which is the trajectory now,” Andrew J. Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in a telephone interview from Beirut. “If you’re not going to make the choice to intervene, you need to give them the ability to end this conflict themselves.” The administration maintains it is doing what is feasible to hasten the end of Mr. Assad’s rule, while the Pentagon and State Department plan for the political transition that would follow, addressing such questions as the security of Syria’s chemical arsenal. Other covert operations are also under way, though their extent remains unknown. “I reject the zero-sum argument,” one official said on Tuesday, “where either you intervene militarily or you’re doing nothing.”

Syria set to be next target of Western interventionism

Exactly one year ago, Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of Libyan Transitional National Council's executive board, announced in Benghazi that "Gaddafi is gone," following the death of the country's former leader. Earlier this month, Jibril handed over power to the General National Congress and stated that it was "the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people." A year on, is Syria set to follow the path of Libya? Has Libya been a success? Most Western media have spoken highly about Libya's peaceful transition of power, saying it was the first in the country's modern history. But the opposition seized power from Muammar Gaddafi with the help of NATO through civil war. Transitional Libyan leader Mahmoud Jibril stated that near the end of the eight-month war, 25,000 people had been killed. It would be far-fetched to say this was a "peaceful transition." I understand that what the Western media mean is the "peaceful transition" from the Transitional National Council to the General National Congress. But the sacrifices that millions of Libyan people have made shouldn't be secluded from the process. Judging from the current situation of Libya's national security, it still remains in doubt whether the "peaceful transition" will bring stability to the country. Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya has been separated into three parts: the east, the west and the north. The weapons lost during the civil war have fallen into the hands of armed forces which represent different tribes and interest groups. These armed forces have taken control of most of Libya. An article published on the London-based Guardian on August 9 said, "The transitional government failed to unite powerful militias under a national army. Instead, the militias and rival tribes often clash from their power bases in different parts of the country." Meanwhile, the handover ceremony was held in the middle of the night, which to some extent reflected the authorities' anxiety about the security issue. However, some Westerners still dwell on the "Libyan model" with relish. We could see the current situation in Syria is like that in Libya when NATO was about to intervene. But what's different is that the Western countries don't have a clear political will nor are they prepared for military interference in Syrian affairs. They need to focus more on their own domestic political and economic problems, and they need time to make clear which force, among the various opposition groups including extremists, could really represent the Syrian people. From a geopolitical point of view, the situation in Syria is much more complicated than that of Libya, especially as many Al-Qaeda militants who used to be active in Yemen and Iraq have been entering Syria to join opposition groups. Western countries have warned that once the situation in Syria gets out of control, the whole Middle East is likely to be affected. Therefore, the West has been holding a cautious attitude on using force. Nonetheless, the West won't wait until the situation takes a favorable turn toward the Bashar al-Assad regime. The West will enhance their support of the Syrian opposition, which means more bloodshed will take place in Syria in the following months. The West probably reckon that this is the price Syria needs to pay for democracy. US former assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy has blamed the US strategy of promoting democracy for confusing the situation in the Middle East. And the ultimate outcome of the strategy, for both Washington and the Middle East, remains in doubt.
The author is director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

UK and US Intelligence Covertly Aiding Terrorist Groups in Syria

The Sunday Times:
The British intelligence is covertly aiding the armed terrorist groups to launch terrorist attacks in Syria, the British newspaper Sunday Times reported on Sunday. In an article published on Sunday, the newspaper cited a Syrian opposition official as saying that the British authorities "know about and approve 100%" of intelligence from their Cyprus military bases being passed through Turkey to the militia of the so-called Free Army. "British intelligence is observing things closely from Cyprus," said the official, adding that "The British are giving the information to the Turks and the Americans and we are getting it from the Turks." The Sunday Times said that, according to the official, the most valuable intelligence has been about the movements of the army forces in the city of Aleppo. The UK owns two military bases in Cyprus, one at Dhekelia and another at Akrotiri. The bases monitor regional airwaves and report to the GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), Britain's national electronic surveillance center in Cheltenham, the article pointed out. The unnamed opposition official told the British newspaper that the US and its intelligence services (the CIA) gave his armed group satellite photos through Turkey. The newspaper also highlighted that the British foreign intelligence (MI6) and the US intelligence (CIA) have overlooked supplies of heavy machine guns coming from the Gulf states.

Russia warns West over Syria after Obama threats

Russia warned the West on Tuesday against unilateral action on Syria, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama threatened "enormous consequences" if his Syrian counterpart used chemical or biological arms or even moved them in a menacing way. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after meeting China's top diplomat, said Moscow and Beijing were committed to "the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law ... and not to allow their violation". The remarks were a reminder of the divisions hampering efforts to end the 17-month old conflict that increasingly sets a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition against President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority. The United Nations says more than 18,000 people have been killed in a war which is affecting neighbouring states. In Lebanon, at least five people were killed in sectarian violence linked to the Syria conflict, and Turkey, an opponent of Assad, investigated possible Syrian involvement in a car bomb that killed nine people on Monday. Russia and China have opposed military intervention in Syria throughout the revolt. They have vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions backed by Western and Arab states that would have put more pressure on Damascus to end the violence. After meeting Lavrov in Moscow, Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said Obama's talk of action against Syria was media fodder. He said the West was seeking an excuse to intervene, likening the focus on Syria's chemical weapons with the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S.-led forces and the focus on what proved to be groundless suspicions that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction. "Direct military intervention in Syria is impossible because whoever thinks about it ... is heading towards a confrontation wider than Syria's borders," he told a news conference. In one of the latest battle zones, troops and tanks overran the Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya on Tuesday, the second day of an offensive to regain control of the area. Activists said Assad's forces had killed at least 70 people in Mouadamiya since Monday. They included some two dozen men who had been executed and 16 people killed in a helicopter gunship attack on a funeral for victims of Monday's violence. "The mourners set off with 19 bodies and came back with 35," Hayat, one of the activists said from the suburb. Another resident, speaking to Reuters by telephone, said he had counted the bodies of some two dozen men who had been executed. "They were not killed by bombardment, their hands were tied and they were burnt and killed by knives," he said. Bodies were found in basements and looted premises, activists said. State-imposed curbs on media made it impossible to verify the reports of the violence, which followed another bloody day on Monday, when about 200 people were killed across the country, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "RED LINE" An opposition group said Syria's air force had redeployed 30 Sukhoi fighter-bomber jets closer to cities where the army is battling to crush rebels in the north and east of the country. The Soviet-era Sukhoi Su-22 planes, which can drop 400 kg (881 pound) bombs, flew from the Dumair and Sim air bases north and east of Damascus on Monday to bases in the city of Hama Tabaqa and Deir al-Zor, a senior official in the Higher Leadership Council for the Syrian Revolution said. "This type of Sukhoi is more geared to bombing missions than aerial combat. They are now within a more manageable range to hit the cities of Aleppo, Homs and Deir al-Zor and areas in Idlib province," Mohammad Mroueh told Reuters from Amman. The United States and its allies have shown little appetite for intervention to halt the bloodshed along the lines of last year's NATO campaign that helped topple Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. But Obama used some of his strongest language yet on Monday to warn Assad not to use unconventional weapons. "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is (if) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," he said. "That would change my calculus." Syria last month acknowledged for the first time that it had chemical or biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign countries attacked it. "We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people," Obama said, perhaps referring to Lebanon's Shi'ite Hezbollah group, an Iranian-backed ally of Assad, or to Islamist militants. The U.S.-based Global Security website says there are four suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria producing the nerve agents VX, sarin and tabun. It does not cite its sources. Israel, still formally at war with Syria, has also debated whether to attack the unconventional arms sites which it views as the gravest peril from the conflict next door. Obama has been reluctant to embroil the United States in another war in the Middle East and refuses to arm Syrian rebels, partly for fear that some of those fighting the Iranian-backed president are Islamist radicals equally hostile to the West. Rebels have seized swathes of territory in northern Syria near Turkey, which now hosts 70,000 Syrian refugees and which has suggested that the United Nations might need to create a "safe zone" in Syria if that total topped 10,000. But setting up a safe haven would require imposing a no-fly zone, an idea which U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last week was not a "front-burner" issue for Washington. The Alawite-Sunni sectarian fault line flared in neighbouring Lebanon, where five people were killed and more than 60 wounded in the northern port city of Tripoli, a mainly Sunni city with a staunchly pro-Assad Alawite minority. Gunmen in the Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh and their Alawite rivals in Jebel Mohsen exchanged gun and grenade fire in sporadic fighting overnight and into the day, despite action by Lebanese army troops deployed in the port city, residents said. The wounded included 10 soldiers, the army said.

Bahrain regime forces attack people mourning killed teenage

Saudi-backed regime forces in Bahrain have attacked people mourning the death of a teenage boy killed in Manama’s violent crackdown on protesters. Sixteen-year-old Hussam al-Haddad was killed on August 17, when regime forces carried out a brutal attack on a peaceful demonstration in the city of Muharraq, northwest of Manama. On Tuesday, the regime forces set several checkpoints on the roads leading to Muharraq and tried to prevent mourners from visiting his grave. They used teargas to disperse protesters and arrested a number of them. Scores of people have been killed by Bahraini regime forces since a popular uprising erupted against the ruling Al Khalifa family in February 2011. The protesters hold King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa responsible for the deaths of demonstrators during the uprising. Anti-regime protests continue in Bahrain despite a heavy-handed crackdown backed by Saudi Arabia.

Obama: Requesting tax returns not personal

During the White House press briefing, Obama commented on his re-election campaign. He said it is not "out of bounds" for his campaign to push Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney to release more tax returns. Obama says, "When it comes to releasing taxes, that is a precedent that was set decades ago including by Governor Romney’s father. And for us to say that it makes sense to release your tax returns, as I did, as John McCain did, as Bill Clinton did, as the two President Bush’s did, I don’t think is in any way out of bounds. I think that is what the American people would rightly expect."

Afghan rocket attacks damage top U.S. military officer's plane

Two rocket attacks targeting a U.S. military airbase in Afghanistan on early Tuesday damaged the plane of the top U.S. military officer, leaving two people wounded, an officer confirmed. "Two rockets struck Bagram Airbase last night after mid-night, causing some damage to an aircraft in the airbase. The aircraft was used by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff," An officer of the press department of the airbase, who declined to be identified, told Xinhua, adding that General Dempsey left the base later on Tuesday using another plane. Two maintenance crew members were wounded in the attack, the officer further said. General Martin Dempsey pays an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday, only one day after a man wearing an Afghan National Police uniform opened fire against U.S. forces, killing one U.S. soldier with the coalition in southern Kandahar province, the latest in the series of insider attacks when Afghan army, police or gunmen in their uniform turned their weapons against coalition forces.

Obama deeply concerned over Afghan "insider attacks"

President Barack Obama
on Monday said the United States needed to do more to safeguard U.S. troops after a spate of Afghan "insider" attacks that have left 10 American troops killed in the past two weeks. His comments came during a visit by the top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, to Afghanistan, where the killings of American forces by Afghans have topped the agenda. Obama, who spoke to Dempsey earlier in the day, said he would reach out to Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the killings. "We've been watching with deep concern these so-called green-on-blue attacks, where you have Afghan individuals, some of whom are actually enrolled in the Afghan military, ... attacking coalition forces," Obama said. There have been 32 insider attacks so far this year involving 36 shooters that have led to 40 coalition deaths, just over half of them Americans. Some 69 coalition troops have been wounded. That's a sharp increase from 2011, when 35 coalition troops killed, 24 of whom were U.S. troops during the year. The growing insider threat has eroded trust between NATO and its Afghan allies, causing a headache for Western powers who are planning to pull out most of their troops by the end of 2014. After noting some of the steps to bolster protection of U.S. forces, Obama said: "Obviously, we're gonna have to do more, because there has been an uptick" in the number of attacks. "I'll be reaching out to President Karzai as well because we've got to make sure that we're on top of this," Obama said. Over the weekend, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke by phone and agreed to boost vetting of Afghan recruits to try to put an end to the spiraling attacks, now averaging one a week. In Kabul, Dempsey met with his Afghan counterpart, General Sher Mohammad Karimi, who raised the issue of insider threat at the start of their meeting -- something Dempsey saw as a sign of Afghan resolve. "In the past, it's been us pushing on them to make sure they do more," he said. "This time, without prompting, when I met General Karimi, he started with a conversation about insider attacks - and, importantly, insider attacks not just against us, but insider attacks against the Afghans, too," in comments provided by his spokesman from Kabul. Reclusive Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has said insurgent fighters have successfully infiltrated the Afghan security forces. In a statement released last week, he urged police, soldiers and government workers to "abandon support of the invaders" and back the Taliban ahead of the departure of most Western combat troops in 2014. Still, last week, the Pentagon said only about 11 percent of so-called "insider attacks" by Afghans against NATO troops this year were due to Taliban infiltration, with the vast majority due to other motives, including personal grudges. Why there would be a sudden increase in personal grudges and other vendettas remains unclear.

US drone attack kills 3 in North Waziristan

Two US drones fired four missiles on a vehicle in Shnakhura village. A US drone strike on Tuesday killed at least three militants in a restive Pakistani tribal region near the Afghan border, security officials said. Two US drones fired four missiles on a vehicle in Shnakhura village, 10 kilometers from Miranshah, the main town in Pakistan s North Waziristan region. "We have received confirmed reports that three militants have been killed in the drone strike on a vehicle. However, the identities of the militants are not yet clear," a senior security official told AFP in Peshawar. Another official in Miranshah said a compound near the vehicle was damaged in the strike. "A missile also hit a nearby compound which was badly damaged and engulfed in flames," he said. Separate but unconfirmed reports suggested the number of killed militants may be more than three. "We suspect that the dead militants could be up to six. There are also reports that two were injured," a security official in Miranshah told AFP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media. Attacks by unmanned American aircraft are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, which says they violate its sovereignty, and fan anti-US sentiment, but US officials are said to believe the attacks are too important to give up.

Development, decay in Indian PM's Pakistan village

For years, Ghulam Muhammad Khan thought his brilliant classmate had been killed in the bloodbath that gave birth to India and Pakistan in 1947, the deadliest end to British colonial rule in history. But when the world's biggest democracy elected the softly-spoken Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 and he told an interviewer he had been born in a remote Pakistani village, Khan was over the moon. "He was our class monitor and we played together. He was a gentle and brilliant child. Our teacher always advised us to get his help if we couldn't understand something," Khan recalled, striding through village maize fields. Even more incredibly, Singh wanted to help the 2,500 villagers in Gah, on a plateau of muddy rock and bushy forest 100 kilometres (62 miles) southeast of Islamabad near the ultra-modern motorway that runs almost to the Indian border. "I never imagined Manmohan would one day bring so many blessings to our village. He did what our own government still refuses to do," recalled Khan, who is Singh's last surviving classmate left in the village. But the last eight years is a tale of generosity, squandered opportunity and political short-termism that leaves Pakistan with an embarrassing predicament now that President Asif Ali Zardari has invited Singh to visit later this year. The model village that Singh dreamt of lies in tatters. Buildings that cost tens of thousands of dollars stand empty and unfinished. The only question is what, if anything, will Pakistan do to fix it? Not long after taking office, Singh wrote to Pakistan's then ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, asking that Gah be earmarked for development. Musharraf, at the time working on peace talks that he hoped would resolve India and Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir, was happy to oblige. The provincial government in Punjab built a decent road from the motorway to the village, high schools for boys and girls, a hospital, veterinary clinic and hooked the village up to the water supply. Singh sent an Indian firm to install solar-powered street lights, solar-powered lights to 51 households that did not have electricity and a water heating system at the mosque close to the site of his destroyed home. But the project stalled after elections in 2008 swept former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party to power in Punjab, booting out of office Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Musharraf stepped down. The high schools and hospital stand empty. No teacher or doctor has been appointed, because the villagers say, credit for the development would have gone to the previous regime and not the new government. "We contacted the district administration and members of the ruling party time and again. They say there are no funds for the facilities and that they are trying to get it from the government," said Ashiq Hussein, the mayor of Gah. But a Punjab government spokesman said it was "absolutely baseless" to suggest it had abandoned the Gah development project for political reasons. "No scheme has been stopped anywhere in the province on such a basis," Pervez Rasheed told AFP. "The hospital in the village is still under completion and the boundary wall plus equipment is being provided this year. Staff will be recruited when it's completed," he said, referring to plans to open the high schools in September. Villagers young and old are united in their hope that the return of their lost boy sometime later this year will be the spur. "Everybody wants to see him and say thank you. We also want him to come soon because we think the abandoned development will be completed for his visit and we will get staff in our schools and hospitals," Khan said. The mayor hopes that if Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, attends village celebrations for Singh's 80th birthday in September, development work will resume. Hussein, whose late uncle Raja Mohammad Ali met Singh in New Delhi, is pushing full steam ahead with preparations to welcome home the "great son" of Gah. "We are going to bring all the musicians, drum beaters and flute players here to perform at his arrival. We will dance and celebrate. "We want him to establish an unbreakable friendship between India and Pakistan." No matter Pakistan and India's bitter rivalry, most people in Gah are proud of Singh for going on to govern 1.2 billion people in the world's largest democracy. "He is the son of our soil and we want him to become the hero of India-Pakistan friendship. We would like him to solve the Kashmir issue and I will talk to him about this when he comes here," Khan said. In Singh's old primary school, which unlike his home is still standing, his mark sheet has been put up on the wall, exhorting the next generation of children to take his lead, and go ahead and rule the world.

France decries blasphemy charge against Pakistani girl

The Express Tribune News
France on Tuesday added its voice to mounting international concern over the arrest on blasphemy charges of a young Christian girl in Pakistan. The girl, Rimsha, is reported to have Down’s syndrome. She faces the death penalty for allegedly burning pages with verses from the Holy Quran. French foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani said Paris welcomed an announcement by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that he would look into the case. “France calls on the Pakistani authorities to free this young girl,” he added. “We would also recall that the very existence of a crime of blasphemy is in breach of fundamental liberties, the freedom of religion or of conviction as well as the freedom of speech. “We call on Pakistan to respect its international commitments in this respect.” Zardari has asked the interior ministry to submit a report on the case, the details of which remain unclear. Reports in Pakistan have suggested the allegations against her were triggered after she burnt papers collected from a garbage pile for cooking.

Pakistan Christian Congress condemn arrest of Christian disable girl under blasphemy

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC have urged government of Pakistan to issue arm licenses to every Christian in Pakistan for self-defense if cannot protect their life and property. PCC Chief, commenting on burning of homes of Christians in Islamabad by Muslim mob after allegations of blasphemy on 11 years Rimsha Bibi, a Christian disable girl and fleeing of thousands of Christian residents of village Meherabad said “To flee from their homes for safety of life of thousands of Christians under the nose of highly protected capital city of Pakistan is total failure of administration” Nazir Bhatti said “Government is not serious to stop miss-use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan and attack on Christian’s life and property” There have been attacks on Christians and setting their homes on fire in Punjab province of Pakistan where Christian children, women and elder were burnt alive on allegation of blasphemy but recent attack on homes and a Church in Islamabad have sparked anger and fear among Pakistani Christian that if they are not safe in highly protected city of Islamabad then what is their future in Pakistan. On August 18, Muslims attacked Rimsha, 11 years old mentally ill Christian girl and her mother on allegations of burning of pages of Quran in Meherabad, a slum area in Sector G-8, of Islamabad. Police rescued Rimsha and her mother but Muslim mob started setting on fire homes of Christians and Church. There are 300 hundred homes of Christians in this slum area of Islamabad. Nazir Bhatti said “In 18th amendment in constitution of Pakistan, all Muslim parties in government, opposition and outside parliament agreed to repeal all laws endorsed by Zia-ul-Haq and even agreed to remove photo of former military ruler Zia-ul-haq from parliament building but never bothered to amend or repeal law of blasphemy imposed by dictator which gives impression that no one is ready to stop miss-use of blasphemy law which targets Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan” Nazir Bhatti urged President of Pakistan Asif Ali zardari and Prime Minister of Pakistan Raja Pervez Ashraf to order release of Rimsha Bibi immediately. “I urge Christians to sell their TV and other household to buy licensed arms for their self-defense and protection instead of fleeing from their homes” said PCC Chief Nazir Bhatti said “Pakistani Christians are sons of soil and have the right to protect their life and property in Pakistan”

Blasphemy-accused girl: US finds case 'deeply disturbing'

US State Department says the case of an 11-year-old girl arrested in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy is “deeply disturbing.” According to a transcript of the press briefing, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that they are calling on the Pakistani government to have the investigation into the matter in a transparent way. In response to a question, Nuland said that they welcomed President Zardari’s statement on the matter as well as the directive to the Interior Ministry to look into the case. “We urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens, but also women and girls.” When asked about the blasphemy law, Nuland did not respond on how the law compared to other such laws. “But as a general matter, concerns that in this case, what is being touted as an abuse or an intentional act for religious purposes may, in fact, have been something else.”

Arrest of Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges deeply disturbing: US

The US on Monday called the arrest of a young Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges "deeply disturbing" and praised President Asif Ali Zardari for coming out against it. "This case is obviously deeply disturbing, the arrest of a young Pakistani girl on blasphemy charges," state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily news conference. "President Zardari, to his credit, went out very quickly. So conceivably, we've been welcoming of that move in Islamabad, as well," Nuland said appreciative of the move of the Pak President. "Zardari has now asked the interior ministry to look into the arrest and has underscored that vulnerable populations have to be protected from misuse of the blasphemy law," she said. "We would call on the Pakistanis to have that investigation in a transparent way. And we think that the president's statement is very welcome, and we urge the government of Pakistan to protect not just its religious minority citizens but also women and girls," Nuland said.

Shahbaz Taseer to reunite with family soon

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday said the government’s efforts to recover Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, would soon prove fruitful. “Multiple efforts” on the part of the government were underway which would result in a “positive” outcome, Malik tweeted. Earlier in July, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah had said in a Geo News TV programme that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had been negotiating with militants over Shahbaz’s release. Sanaullah said that the kidnappers were demanding a large ransom and the release of some of their colleagues. Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped from Lahore on Aug 26, 2011 in the morning near his company’s head office. Slain Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard last year after he criticised Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Generals Meet to Study Afghan Violence

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday for discussions on the progress of the war, including an intensified wave of insider attacks by Afghan forces on NATO service members, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal. The visit by General Dempsey was characterized by NATO as one of his regular visits to Kabul. But it comes after a trust-eroding two-week stretch in which 10 American service members have been killed by Afghan security forces, in violence designated as insider or green-on-blue attacks. General Dempsey met in Kabul with Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, as well as other senior coalition and Afghan officials, said Jamie Graybeal, a NATO spokesman. General Dempsey received an update on the campaign, and the insider attacks were “certainly among the topics of discussion,” one NATO official said. The discussions took place in private, and officials gave no more details. “Our session today was an excellent dialogue about how to maintain momentum against the insurgents and ISAF’s continuing support to building Afghan capacity,” General Allen said in a statement, referring to the International Security Assistance Force, the formal name of the NATO-led force. “The campaign remains on track,” he added. But the visit comes as the military has moved insider killings to the top of the agenda. These have heightened worries about how coalition troops can protect themselves while training members of the Afghan Army and the police — a central part of America’s withdrawal strategy. The Taliban has claimed that the infiltration of Afghan forces is one of its most successful tactics, but a NATO analysis has shown that only 1 in 10 such attacks can be directly tied to the insurgents, while the remainder of such killings stem from personal disputes or cultural clashes. On Saturday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta spoke with President Hamid Karzai by phone to urge him to find new ways to stop the attacks — “including augmented counterintelligence measures, even more rigorous vetting of Afghan recruits, and stepped up engagement with village elders, who often play a key role by vouching for Afghan security personnel,” George Little, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement. On Monday, President Obama expressed concern about the killings and said in a White House news conference that he, too, would be conferring with Mr. Karzai about them. New Zealand announced Monday that it would probably withdraw its small troop contingent from Afghanistan months ahead of schedule, aiming for early 2013 rather than October of that year. The country has about 140 soldiers in Afghanistan, mainly in a reconstruction role in Bamian Province — a limited role that helped ease public wariness in New Zealand about taking part in the war. Bamian is a rugged and poor province in central Afghanistan, and until recently it had been one of the most peaceful in the country. But Taliban violence has sharply increased there this year, and this month five New Zealand soldiers were killed, including three in a roadside bombing on Sunday. In his announcement on speeding up troop withdrawal, Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand insisted that the deaths had not played into the decision. But the violence in Bamian has been a shocking measure of how insurgent activity has begun to penetrate even areas that until recently were considered relatively stable. Among those caught in the bombing Sunday was a 26-year-old medic who was the country’s first female soldier to be killed in the Afghan war. She and two colleagues were taking a member of their patrol to a doctor at a forward operating base when their convoy was attacked early Sunday, New Zealand officials said; the deaths brought the number of New Zealand soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2003 to 10. Earlier this month, two soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in a gunfight, also in Bamian. A Western official said New Zealand’s decision to withdraw earlier than initially planned was taken before the attacks this month, and was related to the transfer of full authority in Bamian from NATO to the Afghan government, a move most likely to take place this year. In Bamian, the New Zealand base is a local landmark, with a model kiwi atop its roof. While the New Zealand soldiers have concentrated on providing security for reconstruction, as well as police training, the country’s special operations forces have also been active in Afghanistan, including mentoring crisis response units in Kabul. Two members of its special operations forces were killed last year during attacks on the British Council in Kabul and in Wardak Province. The recent violence in Bamian has mainly been in the northeast corner of the province, close to the border with neighboring Baghlan Province, where the insurgency is stronger. The security forces have been trying to prevent incursions from Baghlan, while insurgents have also spilled over the border as they come under pressure from Afghan security forces conducting operations in Baghlan, Afghan officials said. “If the New Zealand troops leave Bamian Province, then we would require more police forces and more equipment to fight the insurgency,” said Juma Geldi Yardam, the province police chief. New Zealand now follows France, a much bigger coalition partner, which in January announced it was accelerating its troop withdrawal. France’s redeployment has already begun, with 2,000 troops scheduled to move out by December, and a final 800 troops by mid-2013, according to NATO. Richard A. Oppel Jr. and an employee of The New York Times contributed reporting.

Abolish blasphemy Law:- Experts slam victimisation of mentally challenged girl

As the news of the Christian girl Rifta and her ordeal continues to make headlines, what comes to the fore is a sick picture of double victimisation of an individual, first as a religious minority and secondly as a mentally handicapped human being in a society where there is little understanding of mental illnesses. Currently, the Down syndrome sufferer is being held in the Adiyala Jail for a judicial remand under charges of blasphemy and any progress in the case will be made only after Eid. While voices are being raised as to how a fair trial must be conducted under the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance, 2000, what is being overlooked is the need for sanity to prevail. The Bahawalpur case where a malang was killed by over 2000 ‘sane’ people after being accused of blasphemy and the case of this girl show the apathy of our society. So far, there has been no medico-legal examination of the girl to determine her mental health. Earlier, under 1912 Act, a person could be held for 10-30 days before an inquiry began but after the Mental Health Ordinance 2001, a mentally unstable person could not be detained for more than 72 hours and it was mandatory to carry out psychiatric evaluation within that period, an MLO working in a public hospital in Lahore said. Till 2001, Pakistan followed the Lunacy Act 1912, the mental health law that was introduced in India, which referred to a person with mental illness as ‘idiot of unsound mind’ or ‘lunatic’. However, in 2001, things improved significantly when the Lunacy Act 1912 was repealed and replaced with the Mental Health Ordinance 2001 (MHO 2001) by Pervez Musharraf. The ordinance offered a more humane outlook towards individuals with psychological disorders and mental handicaps and allowed them to be given a fair chance. However, after the 18th Amendment, the Federal Mental Health Authority was dissolved and MHO 2001 lapsed. So far, none of the provinces, with the exception of Sindh, has made any effort to take up this issue. Human rights lawyer Zia Awan agreed that the 2001 ordinance would have offered a more sensible way out in this case. “If you go by the law, then Section 82 (of) Pakistan Penal Code says that ‘nothing is an offence which is done by a child under seven’ while in Section 83, a judge can decide to ignore the age stated in Section 82, raising it to 12 years, in the case of a child who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding,” Mr Awan explained. “At the moment, it is important that a psychiatric evaluation is carried out to determine the extent of her mental illness. This girl might have a mental age of a 3-year-old and we have to keep this in mind when doling out a judgment,” he said. He added that if the MHO 2001 was there, the girl would not have been sent to the jail and would rather have been sent to a ‘facility equipped to take care of her needs’. Commenting on the situation, Dr Haroon Ahmed, president of the Pakistan Association of Mental Health, said: “There are so many loopholes in our legal system and usually it’s the innocent that gets caught. “So far, we do not have clear-cut definitions of mental illness and when it comes to legislation, mental health service providers are excluded. Currently, no laws address civil or criminal liability of a person suffering from mental illness.” He said the Pakistani society was already stifling with the ‘mob justice mentality providing a clear reflection of this decay’. “The charges of blasphemy are very serious but how do you determine who is sane and who is not? How do you deal with a schizophrenic person who claims to be a divine entity? Do you treat him for his illness or do you ‘punish’ him?”