Damascus complains to UN that Ankara enables terrorist organizations "to receive funding and arms, enter Syrian territory.”Syria submitted a letter of complaint last week to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon alleging that Turkey is enabling “Al-Qaida, as well as the Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations, to assemble, take refuge, receive funding and arms, engage in smuggling, and enter Syrian territory.” The Syrian delegation, representing the regime of President Bashar Assad, claims those same organizations are responsible for the killing of civilians and the destruction of public and private property in Syrian lands. Citing international law, the delegations claims that Turkey’s actions are “tantamount to an act of aggression,” a violation of the UN charter and of Syria’s right to self-determination.“I hate to side with the Syrian government, but in this case the accusation is correct,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official now with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. “By any objective measure, Turkey has become a state-sponsor of terrorism for its support not only of Hamas, but also of al-Qaida affiliates and the Nusra Front,” he said. The letter is an escalation in an increasingly tense relationship between the two countries. In the past week alone, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called Assad a “mute devil” for his willingness to attack his own people, and the Turkish government has encouraged efforts to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for committing crimes against humanity. “The regime has lost its legitimacy,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “It is no longer governing. It is surviving by oppression, terror and massacres.” But whether or not to label the Nusra Front a terrorist organization, as the United States and NATO have done, has become a political debate in Turkey that has revealed a subtle delineation between jihadist and terrorist. Just a week ago at a Turkey-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission, Davutoglu said, in reaction to questions on the Nusra Front’s classification, that “for [Turkey], jihad is a sacred notion. Let us not taint this notion by using it like neo-cons and pro-Israelis in America.” An estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees have flooded Turkey, a NATO ally committed in public statements to the war on terrorism. Protests have erupted in recent days in Turkey’s southern provinces over the government’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, and against the deployment of US Patriot missile batteries, which became operational just weeks ago. Iran’s government-sponsored television network, Press TV, reported claims today that Turkish nationals were taking drugs and crossing over the border to fight Assad’s forces, while maintaining a “constant arms flow” to rebel groups. “It comes down to ideology,” says Rubin. “Turkey would rather support al-Qaida affiliates than have secular Kurds like the PYD [Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party] consolidate control along its border.”
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Marriage took place last year in a 'private and beautiful ceremony'Janet Jackson has revealed that she married her billionaire Qatari boyfriend Wissam Al Mana last year. Jackson comes out in the open in the wake of numerous reports on her impending lavish and extravagant wedding in Doha.Jackson, 46, the younger sister of the late singer Michael Jackson, wed the businessman Wissam Al Mana, 37, last year but kept the news under wraps. In a statement (which was later posted on her Twitter page) Jackson and Al Mana said, "The rumors regarding an extravagant wedding are simply not true". "Last year we were married in a quiet, private, and beautiful ceremony. "Our wedding gifts to one another were contributions to our respective favorite children's charities."Earlier reports claimed that Jackson and Wissam allegedly got engaged in 2011 after Wissam, a billionaire whose family has extensive reaches in the real estate and media spheres, proposed to her with a stunning 15 carat diamond ring. Wissam is the managing director of Al Mana Retail, which represents A/X Armani Exchange, and he's a shareholder in the Saks Fifth Avenue. Reorts also suggested that Janet and Wissam will be wedded in a Muslim ceremony. A renown Turkish author, Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya), is also making the claim that the 46-year-old Janet Jackson has converted to Islam — as did her brother, Michael Jackson — and is choosing to keep her new religion a secret from her fans. But these reports have neihter been confirmed nor denied by the couple.The couple met in December of 2009 after Janet gave a special performance in the Middle East and the rest, so it seems, is history. The American singer is known for keeping her private life from the media, rarely speaking out about her ex-husbands. She married soul singer James DeBarge in 1984, and the marriage was annulled a year later. Her 1991 marriage to music video director Rene Elizondo ended in divorce in 2000.
Nearly half Saudi women are beaten up by their husbands or other family members at home and many of them are hit by sticks and head cover, according to a university study published in local newspapers on Tuesday. Surprisingly, the study found that the Bedouin men who still dwell the desert in the conservative Gulf Kingdom, are less violent than Saudi men in urban areas. The study was conducted by Dr Lateefa Abdul Lateef, a social science professor at King Saud University in the Capital Riyadh. It involved female students at the university and some Saudi women covered by the government’s social security. “The study showed that nearly half those covered by social security and more than a third of the female students at the university are beaten up at home,” Dr Lateefa said, quoted by the Saudi Arabic language daily Almadina. “Husbands were found to be beating their wives more than others….they are followed by fathers, then brothers then sons…hands and sticks were found to be used mostly in beating women, following by men’s head cover and to a lesser extent, sharp objects.” The study showed that husbands beating their wives included both educated and non-educated men and that “those dwelling in the desert are less violent with their wives than those living in cities or villages.” The study found that the main reasons for violence against women include poor religious motives, drug addiction and alcoholism, arrogance and a tendency to control, psychological problems, poverty, and unemployment.
US Secretary of State John Kerry advocated First Amendment-protected freedoms during an address in Berlin on Tuesday, and said that thanks to the US Constitution, "you have a right to be stupid if you want to be” in America. Kerry, a long-time Democratic senator from Massachusetts and former presidential hopeful, was speaking to a group of German students when he opined about the benefits of freedom of speech, religion and thought. Even if ideas were unpopular, said Kerry, the US Constitution allows for them to be voiced. And yes, that includes the stupid ones. "People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it's the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another," he said. "The reason is, that's freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid - if you want to be," Kerry added. "And you have a right to be disconnected to somebody else if you want to be. "As a country, as a society, we live and breathe the idea of religious freedom and religious tolerance, whatever the religion, and political freedom and political tolerance, whatever the point of view," he said. Kerry’s stop in Berlin this week marked only the second city on the new secretary of state’s trip abroad. He was confirmed for the position earlier this month, replacing former-Sec. Hillary Clinton as the United States’ top foreign minister.
Authorities in the United Arab Emirates said on Monday that a Western academician was barred from entering the Gulf state following his strong criticism of the monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen was stopped on Friday from entering the UAE where he was supposed to deliver a paper on Bahrain at a conference organised by the American University of Sharjah and his institute, the London School of Economics and Politics (LSE), the UAE foreign ministry said. “Ulrichsen has consistently propagated views de-legitimising the Bahraini monarchy,” the ministry was quoted as saying by WAM state news agency. “The UAE is a strong supporter of efforts by the Government of Bahrain and the opposition parties to resolve their situation through peaceful dialogue. “The UAE took the view that at this extremely sensitive juncture in Bahrain’s national dialogue it would be unhelpful to allow non-constructive views on the situation in Bahrain to be expressed from within another GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) state,” the ministry said. Ulrichsen had written a paper last year titled — After the Arab Spring: power shift in the Middle East?: Bahrain’s aborted revolution. After his deportation the LSE reportedly pulled out of the conference titled “The New Middle East: Transition in the Arab World” which itself was later cancelled. Ulrichsen wrote on his Twitter account on Saturday that he had returned to London after being barred from entering the UAE, adding that he was told by passport authorities that his name was on a “blacklist”. His deportation stirred a buzz on Twitter, with some condoning LSE for withdrawing from the conference. “Bravo LSE for principled stand canceling Mideast conference in UAE,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s executive director of the Middle East and North Africa. Bahrain’s security forces, boosted by Saudi-led Gulf troops, stormed in mid-March 2011 a protest encampment in Manama’s Pearl Square, ending a month-long Shiite-dominated uprising that demanded democratisation in the Gulf archipelago. - See more at: http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/02/26/western-academician-barred-over-bahrain-remarks-uae/#sthash.Ksjm9ebO.dpuf
The American-led military coalition in Afghanistan backed off Tuesday from its claim that Taliban attacks dropped off in 2012, tacitly acknowledging a hole in its widely repeated argument that violence is easing and that the insurgency is in steep decline. In response to Associated Press inquiries about its latest series of statistics on security in Afghanistan, the coalition command in Kabul said it had erred in reporting a 7 percent decline in attacks. In fact there was no decline at all, officials said. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is among the senior officials who had publicly repeated the assertion of an encouraging drop-off in Taliban attacks last year, was disturbed to learn of the error, said his spokesman, George Little. "This particular set of metrics doesn't tell the full story of progress against the Taliban, of course, but it's unhelpful to have inaccurate information in our systems," Little said. A coalition spokesman, Jamie Graybeal, attributed the miscounting to clerical errors and said the problem does not change officials' basic assessment of the war, which they say is on a positive track as American and allied forces withdraw. The 7 percent figure had been included in a report posted on the website of the coalition, the International Security Assistance Force, on Jan. 22 as part of its monthly update on trends in security and violence. It was removed from the website recently without explanation. After the AP asked last week about the missing report, coalition officials said they were correcting the data and would re-publish the report. As of Tuesday afternoon it had not reappeared. It was not clear whether or how the Pentagon might correct a separate report — its semi-annual report to Congress on security progress in Afghanistan, which used some of the same Taliban-attack statistics. The report was sent to Congress in December. "We'll look at any adjustments that need to be made" to that report, Little said. U.S. and allied officials have often cited declining violence as a sign that the Taliban have been degraded and that Afghan forces are in position to take the lead security role across the country when the last U.S. combat troops leave Dec. 31, 2014. In mid-December, Panetta said "violence is down" for 2012 and Afghan forces "have gotten much better at providing security" in areas where they have taken the lead. He said the Taliban could be expected to continue to attack, "but overall they are losing." Little said Panetta was briefed only "very recently" on the erroneous data. U.S. and alliance officials try to measure progress against the Taliban from a variety of angles. Those include, for example, indications that the Taliban have lost much of their influence in population centers. "The fact that 80 percent of the violence has been taking place in areas where less than 20 percent of the Afghan population lives remains unchanged," Little said. The Taliban have lost a good deal of territory since a 2010 surge of U.S. forces in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, and they failed to recover it during the past two fighting seasons. Even so, they are resilient, and they are expected to severely test Afghan forces as the U.S. and its coalition partners step further into the background this year and complete their combat mission next year. Many people, including coalition officials, have cautioned against the heavy reliance on statistics in assessing war progress. Yet the figures often are highlighted when they fit the narrative being promoted by leaders in Washington and other allied capitals. "It is disturbing that, after 10 years of war, no reliable count of trends in violence exist even in terms of deaths, the most visible form of violence and one that is only a small portion of the actual causes and patterns of violence in the war," Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in February 2012. Graybeal did not fully explain erroneous reporting of 2012 Taliban attacks by the International Security Assistance Force. It was not clear, for example, at what point the data errors began or who discovered them. "During a quality control check, ISAF recently became aware that some data was incorrectly entered into the database that is used for tracking security-related incidents across Afghanistan," Graybeal said earlier. He said an audit determined that portions of the data from unilateral Afghan military operations were "not properly reflected" in the trends ISAF had reported in its monthly updates. "After including this unilateral ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) data into our database, we have determined that there was no change in the total number of EIAs (enemy initiated attacks) from 2011 to 2012," Graybeal said. "This was a record-keeping error that we recognized and have now corrected," he added. While ISAF routinely reports trends in Taliban attacks, it does not reveal exact numbers of attacks. Judging from its illustrative charts, however, it appears that there were more than 28,000 Taliban "enemy initiated" attacks in 2011. The coalition defines enemy initiated attacks as those by small arms, mortars, rockets and improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. But it does not include IEDs that are found and cleared before they explode. Trends in Taliban attacks are one yardstick used by ISAF to measure war progress. Others include the state of security in populated areas, the number of coalition and Afghan casualties, the level of economic activity, the degree to which civilians can move about freely and the performance of Afghan security forces. Graybeal said that even though the number of 2012 Taliban attacks was unchanged from 2011, "our assessment of the fundamentals of campaign progress has not changed. The enemy is increasingly separated from the population, and the ANSF are currently in the lead for the vast majority of partnered operations."
An earthquake of moderate intensity jolted parts Quetta, Sibi and Bolan districts of Balochistan province early on Wednesday. The magnitude of the earthquake was 4.6 on the Richter scale. No casualty was reported, sources said.
Sectarian hatred and violence brew in Pakistan while government comes up empty on promises to protect Shi'ite group.They’re targeted because they are ethnic Hazaras. No, they’re killed because they’re Shi’ites. No, Hazaras. No, Shi’ites. This is an actual debate going on between those who wish to whitewash the sectarian hatred long brewing in Pakistan, and those who are cognizant of anti-Shi’ite hatred pervading among militant Sunni terrorist groups. Intolerant ideologies like Wahhabism and Deobandism flourish in Pakistan, and Sunni extremists do not hesitate to manifest their hatred and blood lust for the Shi’ite minority. In recent months massacres of Shi’ites have taken place with horrendous death tolls including children and women. The maimed and injured are countless. Activists are calling this the “Shia Genocide,” and repeatedly the Pakistani government has failed to prevent bombings and attacks against them. Moreover, the government is coming under intense pressure to proactively protect the country’s Shi’ites, and bring terrorists to justice. Fingers immediately point to Lashkare Janghvi (LeJ), an outlawed Sunni-militant organization that usually claims responsibility after each massacre in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The New York Times (January 2012) mentions former US secretary of state Colin Powell as designating LeJ a terrorist organization, and said “the group’s involvement in the kidnapping and killing of Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, in 2002 ‘has been confirmed.’” In recent years, LeJ has allied itself with the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida. On February 19, the Asian Human Rights Commission stated: “This recent blast on February 17 is the second one. The first one took place on January 10, and killed 90 persons. Then in the short space of just one month and seven days, another blast occurred which cost the lives of 107 persons. In both incidents more than 500 persons were injured. The second bombing took place despite the presence of the army and one of its units, the Frontier Corp (FC) which was assisted by more than three intelligence agencies working under the military command.” The Commission’s report emphasized the Pakistani government’s heavy investments in recent years in intelligence agencies, both civilian and military. Yet, suicide attacks and other kinds of violence occur on nearly a daily basis. The armed forces in particular are secretive and keep civilians at a distance when it comes to “national security affairs,” which include terrorism. The Commission’s report contends that the Pakistani military “treat the terrorists as friends-in-arms, hoping for their assistance in the event of trouble after the withdrawal of the allied forces from Afghanistan. It is evident that retired army officers are providing training to the terrorists.” NOW, WITH the steady rise in ruthless attacks targeting Shi’ites, the media and government are compelled to address the issue. There is even mention of hard-line Saudi Sunni influence in Pakistan’s ideological and national security matrix, often fueling the anti-Shi’ite sentiments. Saudi ideological inspiration, institutional support through building madrassas, and financial support to various militant groups dates back to the General Zia ul-Haq era, around the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979), when he implemented an ultraorthodox Islamization of Pakistan. LeJ operates openly in Pakistan, running hundreds of mosques, promoting its venomous anti-Shi’ite ideology, referring to them as infidels and authorizing them to be fair game as targets. Operating in Punjab province, LeJ officials solicit funds unhindered, and according to the Commission’s report, “the law minister of the Punjab government is notorious for providing protection to the militants of banned organizations and these groups support him in the elections.” Until recently, LeJ’s leader Malik Ishaq, roamed freely in Pakistan, despite boasting about killing Shi’ites, and he visited Saudi Arabia often, “where he gets VIP treatment and [is] given huge rewards for his ‘the service to Islam.’” Following the last two recent attacks, Pakistani Shi’ites staged protests demanding government action, while refusing to bury their dead. The February 17 remote-controlled bombing in a busy Quetta market caused nearly 90 deaths and 200 injuries. While many Pakistanis are sympathetic to Shi’ite victimization, still many others wallow in denial. The utility of denial and argumentative attitudes is beyond comprehension. The polemics of ethnic Hazara identity versus sectarian Shi’ite identity are also ludicrous. What’s the point? Innocent children, women, and men are dead and maimed. The Pakistani government showers the Shi’ites with many promises, but with each new bombing, the promises ring hollow.
How a virulent Pakistani terrorist group is trying to annihilate an ethnic rival--and why we should be worriedAbdul Amir (as we'll call him), a chemistry teacher in Quetta, Pakistan, was taking an afternoon nap on Feb. 16 when his house began to shake and the earth let out an almighty roar. His mother and sisters started screaming and ran out of the house, but by the time they gathered in the street, the noise had already stopped. He climbed to the roof to get a better view of what happened and saw a thick cloud of bright white smoke, a mile south, suspended above the market place where his students would be buying snacks after their weekend English classes. He rushed back down to the ground, started his motorcycle and took off toward ground zero, knowing all the while that this was foolish - during a bombing five weeks before, the people who came to help were killed by a second explosion. Still he raced through the streets, swerving around people running away from the bomb, finally arriving at a scene even worse even than he'd feared. The blast had been so powerful that the market hadn't been destroyed so much as it had been deleted, as had the people shopping there and those in buildings nearby. Everything within 100 meters was simply flattened, and all that remained were the metal skeletons of a few flaming vehicles and the chemical smell of synthetic materials burning. Abdul would find more than fifty of his students were injured. One of his favorite students would die from her wounds six days later.In all, 17 students and two teachers in just one school would be killed, their bodies mostly unrecoverable. No secondary bomb went off that day, but it didn't need to, because the message to first responders had been heard: So few ambulances showed up that people were relegated to ferrying their dead and dismembered in their own cars. For the Hazaras, a group of Shia Muslims from Afghanistan with a large population in Pakistan, leaving the house has become a fraught enterprise. Schools have emptied, students stay home and parents try to explain to their children why people want them dead. They believe their government is at best uninterested in protecting them, and many are so traumatized they believe it's complicit. The Feb. 16 bombing killed 85 people, almost all of them Hazaras, and the number is still rising as people succumb to their wounds. About a month prior, another attack had killed 96 people who were also almost all Hazaras. The victims are not bystanders; they are a people who are being exterminated. The group doing the killing is called Lashkar e Jhangvi, "The Army of Jhangvi" or LEJ. They are Sunnis whose agenda is not much more nuanced than killing Shias. Though South Asia is a region rife with internecine conflict, with factions who have fought each other for all of recent history over land and religion, these attacks are unique. Even in a region violence visits far too often, what's happening now is singular, and it's getting worse. First it was snipers picking off civilians, then LEJ members began stopping busses, shooting Shia passengers and leaving their bodies on the roadsides. Now, LEJ is using massive bombs in places frequented by Shia civilians: social clubs, computer cafes, markets and schools. About 1,300 people have been killed in these attacks since 1999, according to a website dedicated to raising awareness about them. More than 200 have been killed so far this year. Hazaras are one kind of Shia for which LEJ has a particular fascination. Quetta sits just below the border with Afghanistan, and it's the city where members of a Shia group from Afghanistan--the Hazaras--have sought refuge whenever they've felt their own country doesn't want them. They've been coming to Quetta for over a hundred years, but while they're coming in search of safety, they're now being met with slaughter. Over Afghanistan's long and tumultuous history, just about every group has suffered, but the Hazaras have the unique misfortune of being both Shia when most of the country is Sunni, and of looking different from other Afghans. Hazaras are Asiatic, having descended from Buddhist pilgrims or from Genghis Khan (or both). So if one is hell-bent on destroying Shias, Hazaras make really good targets: They can't blend in. The LEJ can simply seek out Asian faces and kill them. Hazaras are hysterical now, holding protests wherever there's a sizable enough diaspora. In Quetta, where the killings are taking place, Hazaras decided not to bury their dead until the government took action because they are desperate for their suffering to be seen. They're beginning to use the term "genocide," and while it may be an exaggeration for what LEJ has accomplished thus far, it's certainly not for what they aspire to do. "We are solely fighting this war in Allah's name," a spokesman for LEJ told local media, "which will end in making Balochistan a graveyard for the Shias." In an open letter that began to circulate a year and a half ago, LEJ made plain their belief that "all Shi'ites are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure and the Shi'ites have no right to live in this country." And as if to acknowledge that theirs is not merely a sectarian conflict but an ethnic one, they laid bare their desire to eliminate one group in particular: "We will make Pakistan the graveyard of the Shi'ite Hazaras and their houses will be destroyed by bombs and suicide bombers. Jihad against the Shi'ite Hazaras has now become our duty." *** If the Taliban is the schoolyard bully who keeps some semblance of order among the other children but then begins to abuse his power, LEJ is the hyperactive kid running around kicking shins, and who has free reign because the teachers are terrified of him, too. After a bombing last month, LEJ waited until rescue crews arrived at the scene, and then set off a bomb to kill them, as well. The message was clear: If you try to help Hazaras, you will end up like them. Fear may explain why the government isn't doing anything about the attacks. LEJ is not hard to find and their leadership lives openly, mostly in Punjab. They do not pursue their means discreetly. The bomb LEJ used in February weighed 2,200 pounds, twice the size of the one Ramzi Yousef used to try to topple the World Trade Center towers in 1993. They had to tow it to the bombsite behind a tractor.Nor do the killers try to avoid blame. On the contrary, they eagerly accept responsibility, post YouTube videos of themselves and tally up death tolls with transparent glee. A twitter update just after a recent attack read: "Quetta Alert: 50 Shias in hell and over 65 injured due to blast on Alamdar Road." LEJ's impunity may have to do with their provenance: They evolved in a kind of symbiosis with the state, which then officially but perhaps not practically disavowed them. The group's roots go back to a religious party with a political wing called Sipah-e Sahaba, which was formed in the early 80s to address a broadly shared concern in Pakistan that the country would be submerged under a tidal wave of Shia influence emanating from the revolution in Iran. In 1996, a group believing the party was too tame broke off and formed a new home for the most exuberant believers and called itself LEJ. In 2002, bowing to international pressure after Pakistan-based terrorists attacked the Parliament in India, President Musharraf began banning militant groups , including this one. But they simply went underground and later remerged with a more violent outlook and new alliances with other fugitive groups. Perhaps most ominously, they began working with the Taliban. While the LEJ is animated by their hatred of Shias, the Taliban is animated by their hatred of anyone who helped America in Afghanistan. In the Hazaras, their two agendas neatly overlapped. Pakistan has taken few affirmative measures to address the killings, and those that it has taken have been wholly insufficient to satisfy the people under siege. Hazaras have demanded military intervention, but the military has politely abstained, saying this is an internal law-and-order problem and not an appropriate application of federal force. And, so says the military, it'd be undemocratic to act without orders from the civilian government. However, Pakistan's military controls the civilian government at least as much as the reverse is true. ("In most countries," so goes the trope, "the state has a military. In Pakistan, the military has a state.") Indeed, the military's excuses have proven so unsatisfactory that people have accused it of complicity in the attacks, allegations which have gained so much traction that the military actually conveneda briefing just to try and deny them. Meanwhile, the Frontier Corps reportedly went on a few raids, and the district police force had its own flurry of arrests, detaining twenty five LEJ members, including its leader. Hazaras just wondered why the leader was free in the first place--he'd loudly accepted responsibility for the bombing a month before. Whether what's keeping the Pakistani military from doing anything about LEJ is fear, politics, or complicity -- or some unholy alloy of the three -- is unresolved. Perhaps the only thing about LEJ that has everyone in agreement is that they're expanding their operations. They've ventured into Afghanistan with devastating success, carrying out a sophisticated, highly-coordinated attack just over a year ago in which Shias in three separate cities were bombed simultaneously. If the Pakistani military does not crack down on LEJ in Pakistan, it is LEJ more than any other group that would be able to turn back all the gains that coalition forces have made protecting and promoting vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. And for those in America who want American troops to come home but fear what will happen to minorities in Afghanistan when they do, LEJ provides a grim preview. LEJ draws its religious inspiration, after all, from the very same Deobandi tradition that birthed the Taliban. They just have even more sophisticated methods and are even less discriminate when killing civilians. We shouldn't be surprised if, as the U.S. withdrawal accelerates, the LEJ incursion does too. And once they've established a base of operations in Afghanistan, they may look to expand again.
A homeless man's decision to return a woman's engagement ring after she accidentally dropped it in his cup is about to pay big dividends. By Tuesday, people from around the world had donated more than $151,000 to help him.
Retired U.S. basketball player Dennis Rodman visits North Korea to film a television documentary.
http://www.usatoday.comThe Senate voted 58-41 Tuesday to confirm Chuck Hagel as the new Defense secretary to succeed Leon Panetta, thus ending a contentious battle over his nomination. Senators voted 71-27 earlier Tuesday afternoon to end debate on President Obama's nomination of Hagel, a Republican former senator from Nebraska. Hagel will immediately inherit a budget crisis. Last week, the Pentagon announced that it plans to furlough the majority of its 800,000 civilian employees to help meet a $46 billion shortfall caused by automatic spending cuts that begin March 1 and its stop-gap budget that prevents shifting funds to urgent needs. The contentious nomination process will not prevent Hagel from dealing with Congress, George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said after the vote. Hagel is a "team player" whose interest in cooperation will extend to Congress, Little said. Hagel has been briefed on issues facing the Pentagon and will be ready to start work immediately upon confirmation, Little said. Hagel faced opposition from his own party. He cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee on a 14-11 party-line vote on Feb. 12. On Feb. 14, Republicans blocked a final vote on the nomination. His nomination sat idle last week with the Senate in recess. Of his major critics, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., signaled that he would no longer oppose a vote on Hagel's nomination, setting the stage for Tuesday's vote. Three of Hagel's chief antagonists during the confirmation hearings -- Republican senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas -- all voted no. "There were other, more capable choices available and I regret President Obama did not choose one of them," Graham said in a statement. "Having said this, I do believe it is the president's prerogative to pick his Cabinet and I will work with Senator Hagel to ensure our defense at home and security around the globe is not diminished." McCain voted to end debate but against Hagel's confirmation. Earlier in his Senate tenure, Hagel was close to both McCain and Graham. All three voted to approve military action in Iraq. But as the war continued, Hagel began to criticize the Bush administration's handling of the war. His criticism of the surge of troops in 2007 that helped bring down violence there angered McCain, who blasted Hagel for it at his confirmation hearing. The ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., opposed Hagel, and questioned his toughness on Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Graham has said comments Hagel has made show a lack of commitment to Israel. Cruz raised questions about the propriety of Hagel's income, suggesting at one point that he might have received funds from North Korea. Hagel has maintained, in answers to the Senate, that he has received no money from such nations. Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who leads the Armed Services Committee, has said Hagel supplied the committee with the information it needed to approve his nomination. Hagel, 66, was born in North Platte, Neb. In 1968, Hagel and his brother Tom were both wounded in combat in Vietnam. Chuck Hagel rescued his brother and was awarded two Purple Heart medals.Hagel served two terms in the Senate from 1997 to 2009.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is traveling to Tehran on Wednesday to finalize a major deal for Iran to build an oil refinery in its eastern neighbor. "The president has been urging for further strengthening of the bilateral relations [with Iran] and for early completion of the mega projects between the two countries and (he) expressed the hope that the visit would lend further impetus to the efforts aimed at early completion of the bilateral projects," Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar said in a statement on Tuesday. The Pakistani president is also expected to hold talks with the Iranian officials on various regional and bilateral issues. According to official sources, Zardari plans to sign an oil refinery deal worth 4 billion dollars with Tehran, while also discussing the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project that will carry Iran’s natural gas to its eastern neighbor. "The multi-billion-dollar oil facility will produce about 400,000 barrels per day [of various oil products]," an official at Pakistan's Finance Ministry said on condition of anonymity, adding, "This production capacity is beyond our needs." Iran has agreed to help Pakistan set up an oil refinery in Gwadar, a town off the country's southern coast, the official added. On January 29, an Iranian deputy oil minister said Tehran would also finance and help build the 700-kilometer tranche of the IP gas pipeline on the Pakistani side. “Aside from a 250-million-dollar loan, Iran will also provide the supplies and equipment necessary for the construction of the part of the pipeline on Pakistani soil,” Javad Owji, who is also managing director of the National Iranian Gas Company, said. This is while Pakistan has constantly dismissed rumors that it might pull out of the project amid efforts by the United States to convince the country to abandon the pipeline. Iran has already built more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil.
President Barack Obama took his case for softening the effect of deep budget cuts to a shipyard town dependent on defense contracting on Tuesday, but there was little sign he will be able to halt automatic cuts from starting this week. "These cuts are wrong. They are not smart, they're not fair. They are a self-inflicted wound that doesn't have to happen," he told workers in Newport News, Virginia. He was speaking in front of a huge submarine propeller at the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard where scheduled maintenance to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has been delayed due to the budget crisis. It was the latest event staged by the White House to warn of the possible damage to public services - from less child care to air travel chaos - from the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts that are due to begin on Friday. An agreement in Congress would halt the cuts but with days to go before the ax starts to fall the two parties do not agree on what to replace them with. Republicans seek different, more targeted, spending cuts than entailed in "sequestration," as the automatic cuts are known in Washington budget parlance. They complain that Obama is overplaying worries about sequestration to promote long-held plans to close tax loopholes. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner accused Obama of using "our military men and women as a prop in yet another campaign rally to support his tax hikes." "The president's been running around acting like the world's going to end because Congress might actually follow through on an idea he proposed and signed into law - all the while pretending he's somehow powerless to stop it," said Mitch McConnell, the Senate's Republican minority leader. In a sign of how far they are from halting sequestration, congressional Republicans and the White House have been trying to blame each other for the cuts, which both Democrats and Republicans agreed to in a 2011 plan to fix an earlier budget crisis. With a trip to a defense-heavy region of the country, Obama is seeking to draw attention to how the cuts would play out in communities where the military is a major source of jobs. The sequestration cuts apply in equal measure to non-defense spending and defense spending, which makes up 9.8 percent of Virginia's gross domestic product. The reductions will force the Pentagon to put most of its 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave for 22 days, slash ship and aircraft maintenance and curtail training, Defense Department officials have told Congress. Pentagon contracting and acquisitions personnel were authorized last week to consult with their industry counterparts about the upcoming spending cuts. But sequestration will be brought in gradually, and no shock to the economy is expected on Friday when it starts. GRADUAL IMPACT "The impact of this policy won't be felt overnight but it will be real," Obama said. "The longer these cuts are in place the greater the damage." The planned cuts will be phased in over seven months, giving lawmakers time to halt the worst effects, possibly in budget talks later in March. Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican, said sequestration might be stopped as part of negotiations next month over a continuing resolution, known as a CR, to fund government operations. "I think what you'll see, what I think is most likely is the House will provide a CR that includes flexibility for the president to make reductions in a thoughtful way to address the sequester. And then we'll be on board working with that," Hoeven told reporters on Monday night. But some Republicans think they are in a strong bargaining position as there is not likely to be public outcry when the cuts start, unlike the "fiscal cliff" crisis at the New Year when the threat of tax hikes for most working Americans kept pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal.
Faced with the imminent onset of massive budget cuts, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has released an unspecified number of detainees who were being held pending deportation, illustrating the practical impact of a looming “sequester” that President Obama described Tuesday as a terrible way for the government to operate. The announcement by the agency known as ICE, part of the Department of Homeland Security, dramatized the quandary posed for government bodies by the advent Friday of automatic, mandatory spending reductions totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts this fiscal year — amounting to $85 billion — are starting to force agencies to make some tough choices. “In order to make the best use of our limited detention resources in the current fiscal climate and to manage our detention population under current congressionally mandated levels, ICE has directed field offices to review the detained population to ensure it is in line with available funding,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement. “As a result of this review, a number of detained aliens have been released around the country and placed on an appropriate, more cost-effective form of supervised release.” Congressional Republicans promptly denounced the releases, charging that the Obama administration was putting criminals onto the streets. Speaking at a shipbuilding facility in Newport News, Va., Obama acknowledged Tuesday that sequestration cuts could lead to such outcomes, and he accused congressional Republicans of blocking a compromise agreement to avert them. “Across the country, these cuts will force federal prosecutors to close cases and potentially let criminals go,” Obama said, listing likely impacts. “Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, and that could cause delays at airports across the country. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find child care for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.” Obama added: “So these cuts are wrong. They’re not smart. They’re not fair. They’re a self-inflicted wound that doesn’t have to happen.” Historically, many illegal immigrants released from federal detention centers while in deportation proceedings fail to show up for subsequent court appearances, joining the ranks of what ICE calls absconders or “fugitive aliens.” According to the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration controls, as many as 59 percent of people in removal proceedings abscond. The group estimates that 500,000 to 600,000 such fugitives may be at large in the United States, accounting for as much as 5 percent of the total illegal immigrant population. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned separately Tuesday that Americans would be less safe if federal agencies have to absorb the major cuts set to go into effect Friday. Holder said in a speech that law enforcement agencies would try to minimize the effects of the cuts but that “the reality is there is going to be harm.” Napolitano, addressing the Brookings Institution, said the cuts would “affect our core critical mission areas. With the sequestration deadline approaching, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) made clear Tuesday that he has no interest in new House legislation to deal with the issue, instead calling on the Senate to “get off their ass” and take action. “We have moved a bill in the House twice,” Boehner told reporters following a closed-door meeting with House Republicans. “We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.” He referred to measures that the Republican-controlled House passed twice last year to replace this fiscal year’s $85 billion sequester by shifting defense cuts to domestic programs. Obama and congressional Democrats reject such a solution, describing it as a shredding of the social safety net. Taking his case to the public, the president appeared Tuesday at the site of key naval installations and a massive shipyard to highlight the impact of the cuts. In a speech at a nuclear submarine facility in Newport News, Va., he blamed House Republicans for the impasse. “There are too many Republicans in Congress right now who refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special-interest tax breaks” in order to raise new revenue to narrow the deficit, he said. “And that’s what’s holding things up right now.” “All we’re asking is that they close loopholes for the well-off and well-connected ... so we can avoid laying off workers, or kicking kids off Head Start, or reducing financial aid for college students,” Obama said. “The majority of the American people agree with me,” he said. “We need to get this done. But the choice is up to Congress. Only Congress has the power to pass a law that stops these damaging cuts and replaces them with smart savings and tax reform.” Obama rejected the idea that a solution is to just give him “some flexibility” so that he can make the cuts himself in the least damaging way. “When you’re cutting $85 billion in seven months,” including cuts of more than 10 percent in defense, “there’s no smart way to do that,” Obama said. “When you’re doing things in a way that’s not smart, you can’t gloss over the pain and the impact it’s going to have on the economy.” “We can’t just cut our way to prosperity,” Obama told the crowd of workers, local officials and other dignitaries. He urged them to put pressure on their representatives in Congress to reach a compromise agreement. In announcing the release of immigration detainees, ICE said it was not dropping their deportation cases. The agency said it would continue to prosecute the cases in immigration court while they are monitored outside detention facilities. But ICE did not immediately provide details on the number of detainees who have been freed or the nature of their offenses. The agency has estimated that detention costs $122 per bed per day. It has been under pressure by immigration advocacy and civil-rights groups to rely on cheaper detention alternatives for those in deportation proceedings who do not pose a security threat. More cost-effective alternatives include electronic ankle-bracelet monitoring, telephone monitoring and community-based monitoring programs. In a news briefing Monday before the releases were announced, Napolitano indicated that sequestration would affect detention policy. “I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration,” she said. “How do I pay for those?” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, condemned the releases in a statement Tuesday, saying that the detainees “have either been charged or convicted of a crime, have a final order of deportation, are fugitives, or are suspected gang members.” Goodlatte said it was “abhorrent that President Obama is releasing criminals into our communities to promote his political agenda on sequestration.” He charged that “the administration is needlessly endangering American lives,” as well as undermining efforts to reform the nation’s immigration laws.
The parliament passed 117 bills, including anti-terror legislation. Its 5-year term ends March 16.Pakistan is on the verge of an unprecedented democratic transition of power, from one elected government to another after a full five-year term.The National Assembly January 30 gathered for a commemorative photograph outside Parliament House, marking the first time an elected group in Pakistan has survived five years of unhindered rule. Typically, elected governments in Pakistan have lasted two to three years before being dissolved by the president or falling to martial law. During its term, which ends March 16, the parliamentarians have passed 117 bills on a wide range of issues, including terrorism. "Given our country's history, it is an achievement in itself that we have lasted together for five years," Malik Azmat Khan, minister of state for inter-provincial co-ordination, told Central Asia Online. "We have shown the world that democracy can prosper in Pakistan. … We have made history." The country has proved that members of different parties can come together and stand as one in the protection of the democratic process, he said. "We have strengthened institutions. We have brought autonomy to the provinces, brought stability to the country," Malik said. "We have stood shoulder to shoulder with the army in our war against terrorism. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with the people when it comes to accountability." "When we came into power, there was no party with a majority," he said. "It was teetering toward a hung parliament. We were told we wouldn't last five months. We have made it five years." 18th amendment stabilises Pakistan Among this greatest achievements, parliamentarians cite passage of the 18th amendment and, to a lesser extent, the 19th and 20th that refine it. The 18th amendment returned power to parliament and the prime minister after military regimes had steered those powers to the president. For example, the ability to dissolve elected governments now rests with the prime minister. The amendment also strengthened provincial governments, giving them the ability to legislate on marriage, labour, pollution and more than 40 other issues; previously federal authority prevailed on those matters. The amendment filled constitutional holes created by past regimes, said Sheikh Rohail Asghar, a National Assembly member from Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. It allows for a stronger federation through stronger provincial autonomy, and it paves the way for healthy institutions, he said. "There have been many disappointments, but for me, the 18th Amendment was a marvellous achievement," Sheikh told Central Asia Online. "All the lawmakers banded together and rid the constitution of all of its dents, and the provincial autonomy that it brought about was critical to our nation's development." The amendment, which contains more than 100 revisions to the constitution, came about after more than a year of consultation and was passed on April 8, 2010. When President Asif Ali Zardari signed the bill, it was the first time that a Pakistani president willingly handed back power to the people. The 19th and 20th amendments define the procedure to appoint members of the judiciary and the Election Commission – two institutions that will play a critical role in ensuring the legitimacy of the upcoming elections, he added. Anti-terror laws The parliament worked on fighting terrorism too. The Fair Trial Bill, for example, seeks to streamline the processing of evidence within the criminal justice system. It updates laws of evidence, enabling authorities to more readily prosecute suspects accused of terrorism. The bill, which still requires presidential approval to become law, would allow authorities to establish criminal liability by performing electronic surveillance but safeguards privacy rights by including the judiciary in the entire process. Previously, authorities were restricted to presenting traditional evidence, such as the word of informants. "Matters of evidence and surveillance have languished in grey areas in Pakistan for the past decade," Aijaz Ahmed, senior correspondent for CNBC News covering the parliament in Islamabad, told Central Asia Online. "Terrorists have been caught planning crimes over the phone by the intelligence agencies, but the proof was inadmissible in court due to our old laws." "These fixes to the law allow for proof to be out in the open rather than in shaded offices," he explained. "They also ... [bring] in the requirement of warrants for each stage of surveillance." The National Assembly in its February 8 session also saw the introduction of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, which has made its way through the Senate, media reported. Observers expect the bill to come up for debate and to secure passage when the Assembly meets for its final sitting, which is expected the last week of February. Observers also expect the final session to bring an announcement of the date of general elections as well as of the names of the caretaker ministers who will serve during the interim.
By C. J. CHIVERS and ERIC SCHMITT Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to antigovernment fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases. The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad. The arms transfers appeared to signal a shift among several governments to a more activist approach to assisting Syria’s armed opposition, in part as an effort to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Mr. Assad’s forces. The weapons’ distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular, and appears to have been intended to bypass the jihadist groups whose roles in the war have alarmed Western and regional powers. For months regional and Western capitals have held back on arming the rebels, in part out of fear that the weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. But officials said the decision to send in more weapons is aimed at another fear in the West about the role of jihadist groups in the opposition. Such groups have been seen as better equipped than many nationalist fighters and potentially more influential. The action also signals the recognition among the rebels’ Arab and Western backers that the opposition’s success in pushing Mr. Assad’s military from much of Syria’s northern countryside by the middle of last year gave way to a slow, grinding campaign in which the opposition remains outgunned and the human costs continue to climb. Washington’s role in the shipments, if any, is not clear. Officials in Europe and the United States, including those at the Central Intelligence Agency, cited the sensitivity of the shipments and declined to comment publicly. But one senior American official described the shipments as “a maturing of the opposition’s logistical pipeline.” The official noted that the opposition remains fragmented and operationally incoherent, and added that the recent Saudi purchase was “not in and of itself a tipping point.” “I remain convinced we are not near that tipping point,” the official said. The official added that Iran, with its shipments to Syria’s government, still outstrips what Arab states have sent to the rebels. The Iranian arms transfers have fueled worries among Sunni Arab states about losing a step to Tehran in what has become a regional contest for primacy in Syria between Sunni Arabs and the Iran-backed Assad government and Hezbollah of Lebanon. Another American official said Iran has been making flights with weapons into Syria that are so routine that he referred to them as “a milk run.” Several of the flights were by an Iranian Air Force Boeing jet using the name Maharaj Airlines, he said. While Persian Gulf Arab nations have been sending military equipment and other assistance to the rebels for more than a year, the difference in the recent shipments has been partly of scale. Officials said multiple planeloads of weapons have left Croatia since December, when many Yugoslav weapons, previously unseen in the Syrian civil war, began to appear in videos posted by rebels on YouTube. Many of the weapons — which include a particular type of Yugoslav-made recoilless gun, as well as assault rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, mortars and shoulder-fired rockets for use against tanks and other armored vehicles — have been extensively documented by one blogger, Eliot Higgins, who writes under the name Brown Moses and has mapped the new weapons’ spread through the conflict. He first noticed the Yugoslav weapons in early January in clashes in the Dara’a region near Jordan, but by February he was seeing them in videos posted by rebels fighting in the Hama, Idlib and Aleppo regions. Officials familiar with the transfers said the arms were part of an undeclared surplus in Croatia remaining from the 1990s Balkan wars. One Western official said the shipments included “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns” and an unknown quantity of ammunition. Croatia’s Foreign Ministry and arms-export agency denied that such shipments had occurred. Saudi officials have declined requests for interviews about the shipments for two weeks. Jordanian officials also declined to comment. Danijela Barisic, a spokeswoman for Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that since the Arab Spring began, Croatia had not sold any weapons to either Saudi Arabia or the Syrian rebels. “We did not supply arms,” she said by telephone. Igor Tabak, a Croatian military analyst, said that after a period when many countries in the former Yugoslavia sold weapons from the Balkan wars on black markets, Croatia, poised this year to join the European Union, now strictly adheres to international rules on arms transfers. “I can’t imagine bigger quantities of weapons being moved without state sanctioning,” he said. “It is not impossible, but it is just very improbable.” He added that it was possible that such weapons could be moved by the intelligence services, though he offered no evidence that that was the case. Syria’s rebels have acquired their arms through a variety of means, including smuggling from neighboring states, battlefield capture, purchases from corrupt Syrian officers and officials, sponsorship from Arab governments and businessmen, and local manufacture of crude rockets and bombs. But they have remained lightly equipped compared with the government’s conventional military, and have been prone to shortages. An official in Washington said the possibility of the transfers from the Balkans was broached last summer, when a senior Croatian official visited Washington and suggested to American officials that Croatia had many weapons available should anyone be interested in moving them to Syria’s rebels. At the time, the rebels were advancing slowly in parts of the country, but were struggling to maintain momentum amid weapons and ammunition shortages. Washington was not interested then, the official said, though at the same time, there were already signs of limited Arab and other foreign military assistance. Both Ukrainian-made rifle cartridges that had been purchased by Saudi Arabia and Swiss-made hand grenades that had been provided to the United Arab Emirates were found by journalists to be in rebel possession. And Belgian-made rifles of a type not known to have been purchased by Syria’s military have been repeatedly seen in rebel hands, suggesting that one of Belgium’s previous rifle customers had transferred the popular weapons to the rebels. But several officials said there had not been such a visible influx of new weapons as there has been in recent weeks. By December, as refugees were streaming over Syria’s borders into Turkey and Jordan amid mounting signs of a wintertime humanitarian crisis, the Croatian-held weapons were back in play, an official familiar with the transfers said. One Western official familiar with the transfers said that participants are hesitant to discuss the transfers because Saudi Arabia, which the official said has financed the purchases, has insisted on secrecy. Jutarnji list, a Croatian daily newspaper, reported Saturday that in recent months there had been an unusually high number of sightings of Jordanian cargo planes at Pleso Airport in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. The newspaper said the United States, Croatia’s main political and military ally, was possibly the intermediary, and mentioned four sightings at Pleso Airport of Ilyushin 76 aircraft owned by Jordan International Air Cargo. It said such aircraft had been seen on Dec. 14 and 23, Jan. 6 and Feb. 18. Ivica Nekic, director of the agency in charge of arms exports in Croatia, dismissed the Croatian report as speculation.
A Qatari appeals court has sentenced a poet accused of incitement against the regime to 15 years in prison, his lawyer says. The poet, Mohammed al-Ajami, was given a life term by a lower court last year for publicly reading a poem considered offensive to Qatar’s ruler. Ajami was arrested in November 2011 after the publication of his "Jasmine poem," which criticized Arab governments across the Persian Gulf region in the wake of crackdowns on the Arab Spring uprisings. In a clear reference to Qatar, home to a major US base, he wrote, "I hope that change would come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory belies in US forces." But, his lawyer Mohammed Nejib al-Naimi insists that "there was no evidence Ajami had recited the poem he is being tried for in public," a key claim by the prosecution, and that he only read it "at his apartment in Cairo." Following the appeals court on Monday, Naimi said that "the appeals court was apparently politicized and does not differ much from the court of first instance," which was held behind closed doors and did not give Ajami a chance to defend himself. Naimi, who is a former Qatari justice minister, said that according to the charges against his client he was liable to a maximum of five years in jail. Amnesty International has urged Qatar to release Ajami. "It doesn’t matter if he’s in jail for a day, for 15 years or for life, it’s a flagrant violation of his human rights," said Sunjeev Bery, the Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International. In October 2012, Human Rights Watch said that the prosecution of Ajami over his poem proves Doha's double standard on freedom of expression.
America’s unwinnable war in Afghanistan, after exacting a staggering cost in blood and treasure, is finally drawing to an official close. How this development shapes Afghanistan’s future will have a significant bearing on the security of countries located far beyond. After all, Afghanistan is not Vietnam: The end of U.S.-led combat operations may not end the war, because the enemy will seek to target Western interests wherever located. Can the fate of Afghanistan be different from two other Muslim countries where the United States militarily intervened — Iraq and Libya? Iraq has been partitioned in all but name into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish sections, while Libya seems headed toward a similar three-way but tribal-based partition, underscoring that a foreign military intervention can effect regime change but not establish order. Will there be an Iraq-style “soft partition” of Afghanistan, with protracted strife eventually creating a “hard partition”? Afghanistan’s large ethnic minorities already enjoy de facto autonomy, which they secured after their Northern Alliance played a central role in the U.S.-led ouster of the Afghan Taliban from power in late 2001. Having enjoyed autonomy for years now, the minorities will resist with all their might from coming under the sway of the ethnic Pashtuns, who ruled the country for long. For their part, the Pashtuns, despite their tribal divisions, will not rest content with being in charge of just a rump Afghanistan made up of the eastern and southeastern provinces. Given the large Pashtun population resident across the British-drawn Durand Line that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, they are likely sooner or later to revive their long-dormant campaign for a Greater Pashtunistan — a development that could affect the territorial integrity of another artificial modern construct, Pakistan. The fact that the ethnic minorities are actually ethnic majorities in distinct geographical zones in the north and the west makes Afghanistan’s partitioning organically doable and more likely to last, unlike the colonial-era geographical line-drawing that created states with no national identity or historical roots. The ethnic minorities account for more than half of Afghanistan — both in land area and population size. The Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara communities alone make up close to 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population. After waging the longest war in its history at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and nearly a trillion dollars, the U.S. is combat-weary and even financially strapped. The American effort for an honorable exit by cutting a deal with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban, paradoxically, is deepening Afghanistan’s ethnic fissures and increasing the partitioning risk. With President Barack Obama choosing his second-term national security team and his 2014 deadline to end all combat operations approaching, the U.S. effort to strike a deal with the Taliban is back on the front burner. This effort, being pursued in coordination with Afghan President Hamid Karzai amid an ongoing gradual withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops, is stirring deep unease among the Afghan minorities, who fought the Taliban and its five-year rule fiercely and suffered greatly. The Taliban’s rule, for example, was marked by several large-scale massacres of Hazara civilians. The rupturing of Karzai’s political alliance with ethnic-minority leaders has also aided ethnic polarization. Some non-Pashtun power brokers remain with Karzai, but most others now lead the opposition National Front. The minority communities are unlikely to accept any power-sharing arrangement that includes the Taliban. In fact, they suspect Karzai’s intention is to restore Pashtun dominance across Afghanistan. The minorities’ misgivings have been strengthened by the “Peace Process Road Map to 2015″ put forward recently by the Karzai-constituted Afghan High Peace Council, empowered to negotiate with the Taliban. The document sketches several striking concessions to the Taliban and to Islamabad, ranging from the Taliban’s recognition as a political party to a role for Pakistan in Afghanistan’s affairs. The road map dangles the carrot of Cabinet posts and provincial governorships to prominent Taliban figures. The ethnic tensions and recriminations, which threaten to undermine cohesion in the fledgling, multiethnic Afghan Army, are breaking along the same lines as when the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, an exit that led to civil war and Taliban’s subsequent capture of Kabul. This time the minority communities are better armed and prepared to defend their interests after the U.S. exit. In seeking to co-opt the Taliban, the U.S., besides bestowing legitimacy on that thuggish militia, risks unwittingly reigniting Afghanistan’s ethnic strife. A new civil war, however, would likely tear Afghanistan apart, Balkanizing the country into more distinct warlord-controlled zones than the situation prevailing today. This raises a fundamental question: Is the territorial unity of Afghanistan essential for regional or international security? In other words, should the policies of outside powers seek to keep Afghanistan united? First, the sanctity of existing borders has become a powerful norm in world politics. Border fixity is seen as essential for peace and stability. Yet this norm, paradoxically, has allowed the emergence of weak states, whose internal wars spill across international boundaries and create serious regional tensions and insecurity. In other words, a norm intended to build peace and stability may be creating conditions for conflict and regional instability. The survival of ungovernable and unmanageable states can be a serious threat to regional and international security. Second, outside forces, in any event, are hardly in a position to prevent Afghanistan’s partitioning along Iraqi or Yugoslavian lines. A weak, partitioned Afghanistan may not be the best outcome. Yet it will be far better than an Afghanistan that dissolves into chaos and bloodletting. And infinitely better than one in which the medieval Taliban returns to power and begins a fresh pogrom. Indeed, it may be the only way to thwart transnational terrorists from rebuilding a base of operations there and to prevent the country from sliding into a large-scale civil war. In this scenario, Pakistani generals, instead of continuing to sponsor Afghan Pashtun militant groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, will be compelled to fend off a potential threat to Pakistan’s unity. With American options in Afghanistan narrowing considerably and a deal with the Taliban appearing both uncertain and perilous, some sort of partition may also allow the U.S. to exit with honor intact.
http://gulfnews.comPresident Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday signed the Instrument of Ratification for Pakistan to become a member of the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Irena, founded on January 26, 2009, in Bonn, Germany, aims to promote widespread and increased adoption and the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy. To date 149 countries have signed the statute of Irena while 76 have ratified it. The president’s spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said that recognising the advantages of this international forum, Pakistan took an active part in the formative phase of Irena and participated actively in the preparatory meetings that were held before this forum was formally established. The agency facilitates its member’s access to all relevant renewable energy information, including technical data, economic data and resource potential data.In view of the current energy shortage, the growing demands of an increasing population, the financial constraints and environmental concerns, President Zardari has continuously been urging for adoption of alternate means of energy generation at the earliest possible, Babar said. By becoming a member of Irena, Pakistan stands to gain significantly, he said.
Media organizations say that 30 journalists have been killed in the restive south-western Pakistani province of Balochistan in the past four years, making it one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. A recent UNESCO report ranks Pakistan "the second most dangerous country for journalists the world over" after Mexico. According to the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), 17 journalists were killed in the whole of South Asia in 2011, 12 in Pakistan alone. Since the start of the US-led "war on terror" in 2001, around 90 journalists are reported to have been killed in the country.Experts say that the southwestern Balochistan province - which borders Afghanistan and Iran - is the most deadly place for Pakistani journalists and reporters. Not only does the province face the challenge of a protracted separatist movement, it is also a hub for various Islamist militant organizations, including the Taliban and al Qaeda. Observers also say that where the focus of the national media is generally on Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas, the terrorism-related issues in Balochistan are usually ignored. They accuse the government and security forces of muzzling press freedom there. Shehzada Zulfiqar, the vice president of SAFMA, said that Balochistan was a difficult place to work for journalists because they not only risked being killed in suicide bomb attacks but Islamist militants also target them systematically. Independent reporting is near impossible Recently, militant Pakistani Sunni extremists with links to al Qaeda have intensified their attacks on Balochistan's minority Shiites, whom they do not recognize as Muslims. An attack on Hazara Shiites in Balochistan's Quetta city killed more than 80 people on February 16. Similar attacks on Hazara Shiites in January killed at least 86 people. The Sunni organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), claimed responsibility for both attacks. Nasir Tufail, a Karachi-based journalist who works for Geo TV, told DW that many journalists "could not even think of going to most parts of Balochistan where the military is operating against separatists. How can you expect independent reporting from them?" he asked.Local and foreign media, he said, relied mostly on the reports of a few journalists for their reporting on Balochistan and the semi-governed north-western tribal areas of Pakistan. Another problem was that the conflict does not interest readers. "We highlighted the issue of Balochistan for several months. We tried to analyze it in a serious manner. But in Pakistan people are so insensitive and apathetic about Balochistan that they don't even want to think about it. Similarly, many people were killed in Gilgit in sectarian violence last year, yet we can't tell people what is happening there because it is not sellable," said Tufail. Overall improvements in press freedom Generally, however, experts agree that the Pakistani media enjoy a great amount of freedom to criticize the government, politicians, the military and its ubiquitous intelligence agencies, including the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in such a way that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. However, this freedom has been accompanied by some insecurity as there are state and non-state elements who do not favor press freedom. "So many journalists in Pakistan have been killed yet nobody has ever been brought to justice for these murders," complained Imtiaz Alam, Secretary General of SAFMA. “The recommendations of the judicial commission investigating Saleem Shahzad's murder (allegedly killed by the ISI) have never been implemented.” Alam said there was a problem with those who owned the media and a combination of factors undermined press freedom."The marketing staff decides the editorial content," he explained. "Most owners of media companies are blackmailers. Pakistani governments are afraid of them. Governments can't implement wage laws in these organizations. Most journalists work for inadequate salaries and have contractual jobs." Despite these odds, many journalists are optimistic about the future of media in Pakistan. "The struggle to report independently and objectively will continue," Tufail said. "What we have achieved is the result of our decades-long battle against suppression, and our longing for freedom."
By Dan Murphy | Christian Science Monitor
Afghan President Hamid Karzai would like to make it very clear that he doesn't like the US, his principal protector and patron.Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been on a roll recently in attacking the professionalism and ability of the US military – the people most responsible for his run as Afghanistan's leader. With ongoing negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement that would govern the possible retention of a sizable US military presence in the country after 2014, Mr. Karzai's belligerent stance toward the US – also the principal financial backer of his government – seems an odd way to go about the negotiation. But there he was over the weekend, accusing US Special Forces of involvement in torture and murder in Wardak, and ordering them out of the province within two weeks. That came about a week after Karzai banned the Afghan National Army (ANA) from calling on US and other international air support for ground operations after an incident in which he said 10 civilians were killed when Afghan intelligence called up a NATO airstrike. While civilian casualties in urban areas have been a key driver of Afghan anger at both international forces and the Karzai government, asking Afghanistan's soldiers to fight without that kind of support will surely drive up their own casualty rates. It would also raise questions about what effect it will have on operations against the Taliban by the ANA. The chances that more territory will simply be ceded to the group as a consequence of this order, if he sticks to it, are high. (Writing for the Monitor from Kabul, Paige McClanahan fleshed out the risks of Karzai's action in Wardak.) Perhaps that's Karzai's point. Most of the Taliban are drawn from the Pashtun ethnic group that Karzai himself belongs to, and with moves afoot to sharply reduce the international military presence (US President Obama said in his State of the Union Address that the current plan is to cut the US military presence from about 68,000 now to 34,000 by the end of the year) negotiation and accommodation are probably on his mind. US objectives long ago were scaled back in Afghanistan with the recognition that the United State's longest war was not going to end in the total destruction of the Taliban. Warlords of all stripes – members of the Taliban, allies of Karzai – are going to have a seat at the table in determining Afghanistan's future after most international forces leave, and it's hard to fault Karzai for recognizing this reality. And criticizing the Americans, hugely unpopular in the country after more than a decade of occupation, is smart politics. But it's also dangerous, because Karzai's grip on power rests on both NATO military power and the billions of dollars that flow into the country, which create patronage opportunities and employment for those around him, from the US and its NATO allies. Wardak borders Kabul to the west, and has become a much more dangerous place in the past couple of years, with US commanders suspecting that attacks inside Kabul have been planned from the neighboring province. The Kabul-Kandahar highway, a key economic lifeline and source of resupply for foreign and local troops alike, crosses through the province, and for years local warlords have profited from convoy protection. Protesters in the provincial capital of Maidan Shahr blocked the highway for a day earlier this month after the body of a local university student, alleged to have been killed by US forces, was found dumped in a local river. That incident appears to have been among those that caused Karzai to take action. A statement from the president's office over the weekend said: "A recent example in the province is an incident in which nine people were disappeared in an operation by this suspicious force and in a separate incident a student was taken away at night from his home, whose tortured body with throat cut was found two days later under a bridge," the statement added. "However, Americans reject having conducted any such operation and any involvement of their special force." Is it possible that torture and murder is going on in Wardak? Almost certainly. Torture and murder are commonly deployed by Afghan powerbrokers and warlords on all sides of the Afghan conflict. Could US forces themselves be responsible? It's possible. But more likely, if there's any truth to what Karzai contends, is that actions have been carried out by other informal militias who work with US Special Forces or formal Afghan commandos who do likewise. The role of US Special Forces is, by and large, to work with and train foreign armies and militia groups. There have been persistent claims that local forces trained by US Special Forces have been involved in murder and torture down the years. A few thousand US Special Forces were involved in training roughly 16,000 Afghan Local Police (ALP), village-based paramilitary groups that have been accused of killing and torturing detainees, for much of last year and the year before, though that training was suspended to improve vetting after a rash of Afghans armed and trained by NATO killed their foreign colleagues. Human Rights Watch alleges that ALP members have been involved in "killings, rape, and extortion of Afghan civilians" and explains the genesis of the groups this way: The ALP was created in 2010 at the request of Gen David Petraeus, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan... The ALP is a loose network of local defence forces designed to mobilise and arm local civilians to defend their communities from the Taliban in areas where the national police and army have a limited presence. ALP recruits are mentored by foreign troops, most frequently US special forces, but in some parts of the country by troops from other nations, including Britain. They are nominally under the supervision of the Afghanistan National Police, but in practice they are sometimes no more than deputised gunmen loyal to a local warlord or members of violent local militias who are given a new uniform The cooptation of gunmen loyal to local warlords has been consistently attempted throughout the Afghan war, and it makes sense at the local level: Motivated Afghan soldiers who know the local people and terrain can be fairly useful. But given that NATO's stated goal has been to build a strong central government, local tactical efforts have often moved counter to the ultimate goals. The stakes in Wardak are pretty high, write Bill Ardolino and Bill Roggio at the Long War Journal: Wardak province, which borders Kabul to the southwest, has been contested by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the al Qaeda-linked Taliban subgroup, despite US efforts to secure the province over the past several years. The Taliban have been in control of the Tangi Valley, which runs through Wardak, since the withdrawal of US forces from Combat Outpost Tangi in the spring of 2011. US troops turned over the base to the Afghan Army, which immediately abandoned it. The Taliban later released a videotape that showed hundreds of fighters and senior Taliban leaders massing at the abandoned base and conducting a tour. Wardak has been the scene of numerous high-profile attacks by the two groups, particularly in 2011. The Taliban shot down a US Army Chinook helicopter in Sayyidabad on Aug. 6, 2011. Thirty-eight US and Afghan troops, including 17 US Navy SEALS from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, were killed in the crash. And on Sept. 10, 2011, the Taliban detonated a massive suicide bomb outside of Combat Outpost Sayyidabad, killing four Afghans and wounding more than 100 people, including 77 US soldiers. US commanders later blamed the attack on the Haqqani Network, a powerful al Qaeda subgroup. President Karzai seems more concerned about the US role in the province, at least in public.The Obama administration is hoping to keep up to 15,000 troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014 as a "residual force" that would focus on training Afghan troops and counterterrorism operations. But one matter yet to be decided is whether Karzai, who is scheduled to step down after presidential elections in 2014, will grant ongoing immunity from US forces from Afghan prosecution. A refusal to do so would probably be politically popular, but would be a deal breaker for Obama, with the specter of US troops hauled before Afghanistan's frequently corrupt courts. The question of immunity was what eventually ended the US military presence in Iraq. Will Karzai go that far? Friends I talk to who understand Afghanistan far better than me insist that Karzai and the people around him will make a deal, since a lose of US military and financial support would be catastrophic for them. But recent signs from Karzai are that he's leaning in the other direction.
Associated PressGunmen shot and killed a police officer Tuesday who was protecting a team of polio workers during a U.N.-backed vaccination campaign in northwestern Pakistan. It was the latest of several attacks on Pakistani efforts to eradicate the deadly disease, found in only three countries in the world. Militant extremists view the vaccination campaigns as Western-backed plots to gain intelligence in sensitive areas and have frequently targeted the medical staff and those protecting polio teams. No polio workers were wounded in Tuesday's attack in the Mardan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said police officer Fazal Wahid. At least two attackers were hiding in a field near a narrow road as the polio workers walked by on their way to visit houses in the area, said Mardan Police Chief Inam Jan. "The polio workers were going door-to-door and one police officer was protecting them when the gunmen suddenly attacked them near an open area and fled," Jan said, adding that the police were searching for the attackers but that so far no one had been arrested. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and it wasn't immediately known whether the police officer was targeted because he was protecting the polio team or for some other reason. Janbaz Afridi, a senior health official, said the polio vaccination campaign continued in various parts of the province Tuesday despite the killing. "We have taken best possible steps for the safety of polio teams," he said. In 2012, humanitarian workers, including those working to prevent the polio spread, were repeatedly targeted. According to UN figures, 19 humanitarian workers were killed last year in Pakistan. Of those deaths, 11 were related to polio, including a rash of shootings in December when nine polio workers were killed across Pakistan. In an effort to protect people administering the vaccine, the government has increasingly sent police officers into the field along with the vaccinator. But they have come under attack as well. On Jan. 29, gunmen riding on a motorcycle shot and killed a police officer protecting polio workers in the Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Mazhar Nisar, a senior official working with the Prime Minister's polio monitoring cell, said at least 11 members of polio teams have been killed in various parts of Pakistan since December. Some militant groups in Pakistan oppose the vaccination campaign, accusing health workers of acting as spies for the United States or the Pakistani government. They are also angered since it became known that a Pakistani doctor helped in the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden. The physician, Shakil Afridi, ran a hepatitis vaccination campaign on behalf of the CIA to collect blood samples from bin Laden's family at a compound in northwestern city of Abbottabad, where U.S. commandos killed the al-Qaida leader in May 2011. The samples were intended to help the U.S. match the family's DNA to verify bin Laden's presence there. In the recently released film about the search for bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty," a short scene shows a man going to vaccinate people at the compound where bin Laden was hiding. The campaign however is portrayed in the movie as an anti-polio campaign, not anti-hepatitis. The campaigns are made more complicated by the fact that many Pakistani residents are also suspicious of the repeated vaccination efforts going on across the country and fear the vaccines are intended to make Muslim children sterile. Pakistan is one of the few remaining countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio is rampant. As many as 56 polio cases were reported in Pakistan during 2012, down from 190 in 2011. Most of the new cases in Pakistan were in the northwest, where the presence of militants makes it difficult to reach children for vaccination. The virus usually infects children living in unsanitary conditions. It attacks the nerves and can kill or paralyze.
Qasim RashidNo other logical choice exists but to unite as one community against religious discrimination, oppression of conscience, and violence Pakistan Ambassador to the United States of America, Sherry Rehman’s twitter bio declares: “Will take a bullet for the motherland but hope our children don’t have to.” But what is an ambassador to do when that bullet comes from Pakistan and strikes her in the back? Last week, Pakistan took the unprecedented step and charged their own ambassador with blasphemy — a crime that carries the consequence of fine, prison time, and even execution. As Rehman valiantly fights to improve her nation’s image, implores the US that her country is moderate and tolerant, and courageously defends Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy, the motherland — of all places — proves her wrong. But state-sanctioned persecution of Rehman is not a surprise; it is an inevitability and just the latest in a long trend. Pakistan loves to shoot — literally or figuratively — anyone or anything that stands up for Pakistan. In 1992, Pakistan figuratively shot its own constitution when the Supreme Court championed the nation’s draconian blasphemy law in Zaheerudin v State. In a landslide decision, the Court upheld the law without citing to a single Pakistani statute, ordinance, or decision. Instead, the Court enforced an invented precedent for all Pakistanis that “might makes right” when they wrote, “The [Ahmadis] who are non-Muslims want to pass off their faith as Islam? ... [a] [Muslim] believer...will not tolerate a Government, which is not prepared to save him of such deceptions or forgeries...” Not two decades later, this precedent would inspire a ‘Muslim believer’ to haunt Pakistan’s highest offices. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than their nation’s founding principles of pluralism, Pakistan shot its own constitution. In 1996, Pakistan figuratively shot their only Nobel Laureate, the ‘God particle’ pioneer Dr Abdus Salam, when they literally defaced his tomb to remove the word ‘Muslim’. Dr Salam was a devout Ahmadi. Thus, Pakistan legally forbids anyone from calling Dr Salam a Muslim — even after his death. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than celebrate one of history’s greatest scientific achievements, Pakistan shot its own citizen. In 2011, Pakistan’s 1992 Supreme Court decision that ‘might is right’ inspired an extremist who violently shot and murdered Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. Taseer condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and declared his public mission to see them revised, if not repealed. Extremists did not tolerate this. Governor Taseer’s assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, simply embraced the Supreme Court’s words that “... [a] [Muslim] believer...will not tolerate a government, which is not prepared to save him of such deceptions or forgeries...” and took vigilante action accordingly. To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than allowing the democratic process to proceed, Pakistan shot its own governor. In 2011, again, an inspired extremist in Pakistan shot and murdered Shahbaz Bhatti, the nation’s only Christian federal minister. Bhatti, like Taseer, opposed Pakistan’s blasphemy law and made no secret of his wish to see them repealed. Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper courageously inaugurated Canada’s first Religious Freedom Ambassador from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Canada headquarters in Maple, Ontario. Harper declared, “Shahbaz Bhatti worked tirelessly to defend the vulnerable not only his fellow Christians, but also Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and all other minorities. He did so knowing that it placed him under a constant and imminent threat to his life.” To protect their beloved blasphemy law, rather than allowing freedom of conscience the chance to reign free, Pakistan shot its own federal minister. What began in Pakistan with the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in the 1970s and 1980s, soon spread to the persecution of Hindus, Christians, Shias, and Sufis in the 1990s and 2000s, and is now consuming Pakistan’s remaining few pluralistic government officials in the 2010s. In just the past three years alone Pakistan has shot and killed over 119 Ahmadi Muslims, over 200 Shia Muslims, and at least two major politicians. Pakistan continues to shoot its Christian and Hindu citizens, and anyone not deemed the right kind of Muslim — all to protect its beloved blasphemy law. And now, as Pakistan shoots its own ambassador in the back, who will take a bullet for Sherry Rehman? The answer is simple but its performance requires courage. It is a job no one person can do, but instead requires the collective effort, courage, and compassion of all people of all faiths and of all people of no faith. No other logical choice exists but to unite as one community against religious discrimination, oppression of conscience, and violence. As long as Pakistan’s blasphemy law lives, those who stand up for freedom and tolerance will continue to fall at the hands of the Supreme Court-endorsed extremists. Only by working together — above dogmatic differences and beyond religious bigotry — can we make the motherland truly deserving of its name: the Land of the Pure. It is time we joined collectively to take a bullet for the sake of humanity, in a hope our children won’t have to.