Saturday, December 7, 2013

In Nation Remade by Mandela, Social Equality Remains Elusive

When Freddy Kenny started his business selling vegetables out of a battered pickup truck in the 1970s, a siren used to sound over this city, his hometown, every night at 9, signaling to him and every other black person that they must leave the city limits immediately or face arrest. These days, the only thing looming is a 20-foot statue of Nelson Mandela, the man who led South Africa out of apartheid and into an era of democracy, his fist raised in a black power salute. Mr. Kenny, now a supermarket magnate, donated the bronze likeness of Mr. Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, and had it erected atop the city’s highest point, Naval Hill. “Madiba always watched over us when he lived,” he said Saturday, referring to Mr. Mandela by his clan name. “Now he will watch over us for eternity.” Mr. Kenny’s new life, with the perks of privilege of his white counterparts, is a testament to the commitment Mr. Mandela, who died Thursday and whose funeral is next Sunday, placed on making racial reconciliation the centerpiece of his presidency. He led a party that had fought an armed insurgency against the apartheid government, yet when he emerged from prison he preached forgiveness and harmony. Stripped of bitterness, Mr. Mandela negotiated a peaceful end to white rule, giving birth to the rainbow nation. But racial equality at the ballot box has proved much easier to achieve than social and economic equality. While Mr. Kenny, a regular at the bar of the Schoeman Park Golf Club, a formerly all-white watering hole for the city’s elite, has caught up with and surpassed many white South Africans, he is an exception to a rule of lopsided opportunity and advancement that remains one of the most daunting challenges facing the nation today. Since the end of apartheid, the government has built well over two million homes, brought electricity to millions of households and vastly increased the number of poor people with access to potable water. The average annual incomes of black-led households almost tripled from 2001 to 2011, according to census figures released late last year, and a growing percentage of the adult black population has gone to high school, with an increasing sliver going to college. But black South Africans are still very far behind whites, and by some measures falling further back. In 2001, white-led households typically earned close to $17,000 more than their black counterparts, at current exchange rates. By 2011, that disparity had grown to nearly $30,000. And while the nation has made headway in reducing the number of black people with no education or only a few years of primary school, very few whites have that barrier to overcome; to the contrary, they have advanced to college and beyond at higher rates since apartheid ended. The nation remains deeply divided in social spheres as well. According to the SA Reconciliation Barometer, a survey of racial and social attitudes, less than 40 percent of South Africans socialize with people of another race. Just 22 percent of white South Africans and a fifth of black South Africans live in racially integrated neighborhoods. Schools remain heavily segregated, too: Only 11 percent of white children go to integrated schools, and just 15 percent of black children do. During his presidency, Mr. Mandela helped keep decades of oppression and imbalances from boiling over. He encouraged blacks to be patient about acquiring the material goods and services that even lower-class whites took for granted. He asked whites to have faith in multiracial democracy and not flee the country. But through the long years of his declining health, many asked what would become of South Africa’s relative racial comity once he was gone. Both through his words and his actions, Mr. Mandela gave South Africans “something to live up to,” Chanter Jacobs, 19, a white fashion student in Johannesburg, said before Mr. Mandela’s death. “He’s like a beacon, and you want to make him proud because he’s done a lot for our country.” Without Mr. Mandela’s living example, Ms. Jacobs worried that South Africans would not try as hard to live up to his ideals. She feared relations between the races could worsen, leading the economy to decline, too.
“I think something might change,” she said. “I just don’t know how or what.”
Others were more sanguine.
“I have a 9-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and I’m very happy to stay in this country,” said Debbie Angus, a white property manager in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. She credited Mr. Mandela with uniting multiracial South Africa into one people and said: “I think things are going to just carry forward like they are at the moment. I think he’s laid the groundwork for future generations.”
In few places is the legacy of racial separation in South Africa more bitter than in the city of Bloemfontein. In the second half of the 19th century, it was the capital of the Orange Free State, an independent Afrikaner republic that was in some ways a prototype of what would become apartheid. It was the city where a group of Afrikaner elites gathered at the all-white Ramblers Hall in 1914 to form the National Party, which would win power in 1948 and entrench racial separation and white supremacy as official government policy. But it is also a city with a rich history of black activism. It was in a church school here that a group of black community leaders met in 1912 to form the precursor to the African National Congress. In a speech delivered on a visit to the city in 1997 while he was president, Mr. Mandela hailed Bloemfontein as a symbol of the country’s extraordinary transformation.
“Here the forces and the peoples who make us what we are today interacted and clashed,” he said.
He continued: “Bloemfontein has come full circle. Once an outpost of an invading colonial force and then the capital of a republic that excluded the majority, today it is the seat of a democratically elected nonracial provincial government.” Yet deep fissures remain, and long-held prejudices are not easily papered over. A crude video made by residents of an all-white dorm at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein in 2008 showed the students berating and humiliating black domestic workers in their dorm, forcing them to eat stew into which one student appeared to have urinated. The students in the video, which was apparently made to protest the planned integration of the residence hall, were expelled and faced criminal charges.
“Racism is never very far below the surface in Bloemfontein,” said David Muthavhatsindi, a retired insurance broker who now runs a computer training school. “It is always with us, waiting to pounce.”
But even once all-white institutions, like the wood-paneled Ramblers Hall are eager for black members as membership has declined and a new black elite has arisen.
“It isn’t like the old days,” Johan Van Standen, the club’s manager, said recently as he restocked the beer fridges in a bar lined with dusty, sepia-toned photographs of rugby teams from decades long past. “We need everyone to survive. This is a place for anyone in the community to come together.”
Men like Mr. Kenny, with their wealth and status, live easily in a multiracial world. But for most black South Africans, race remains a formidable obstacle. Like many young, poor blacks, Mamello Tlakeli, 27, said she had no meaningful contact with white people. In her last job, as a waitress at a chain seafood restaurant, she said racial prejudice from whites was a constant irritant. Afrikaans-speaking customers would sometimes demand that she speak Afrikaans, even when they could clearly speak English, she said. Most young black South Africans do not speak the language, though many of their parents were forced to learn it in school, a policy that became a rallying point in the anti-apartheid movement.
“Even ice they would order in Afrikaans,” she said.
During staff meals, white and black employees would sit separately, not by force but by habit.
“It was always very uncomfortable with white colleagues,” she said.
Recently unemployed and working as a volunteer at a charity in the hope of getting some professional experience, Ms. Tlakeli said white people in South Africa continued to prosper as they did before apartheid, but blacks remained in the rear.
“There is a huge gap between black and white,” she said. “The rainbow nation is a dream, not a reality.”

​US security deal with Afghan govt to be signed in timely manner, Hagel reassured

Afghanistan’s defense minister has reassured the US that their security deal will be signed without delays. That’s according to US defense secretary Chuck Hagel while making an unannounced visit to the country Saturday. Defense minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, “assured me the Bilateral Security Agreement would be signed in a timely manner”, Hagel said.
Hagel added that he didn’t believe that trying to exert US pressure on President Hamid Karzai to sign the agreement would be helpful. However, Hagel said meeting with Karzai himself was not on his agenda as he came primarily to thank US soldiers for serving in Afghanistan. Hagel’s trip comes as US and Afghan officials are deadlocked over a security pact, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign. Karzai favors signing the deal after next year’s presidential election. Without a pact, all US troops stationed in the country would be required to leave next year, along with all foreign forces. At the moment some 46,000 US troops and 27,000 soldiers from other countries are based in the country.
“In some weeks, I expect we'll start to plan for something other than 'Resolute Support',” NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, told reporters. He was referring to NATO's current post-2014 plan.
Former drafts of the deal have indicated that troops could be allowed to remain in the country until 2024 for training and counterterrorism missions. Karzai has cautiously endorsed the agreement, and the Loya Jirga – Afghanistan’s council of tribal elders – has stated that it should be signed by the end of this year. Roughly 12,000 troops would remain in the country under current plans.
Washington is also pushing for the deal to be signed soon, threatening a swift troop withdrawal unless Kabul agrees to guarantee legal immunity for US troops.
While Washington and NATO officials have stated that they would like a quick decision to be reached in order to coordinate post-2014 forces, Karzai has stated repeatedly that he won’t sign an agreement that sanctions raids on Afghan homes. Earlier reports suggested that Karzai rejected a provision granting the United States authority to unilaterally carry out military operations within the country, including the search of civilian homes. However, the draft security deal published by Karzai’s government on November 20 confronts a number of much-debated articles. Under the pact, US forces would be allowed to enter Afghan homes in “exceptional” circumstances, and US forces remaining in Afghanistan after 2014 would be under US military jurisdiction, and not subject to Afghan law. Without US aid in the country, Afghanistan would risk a potential Taliban resurgence and could lose out on billions of dollars of international aid.

Iran: Rouhani swaps turban for baseball cap

Iran's president shows his sporty side by hiking in the mountains outside Tehran and having pictures published online.
The Iranian president's personal website has published pictures of Hassan Rouhani hiking in the mountains outside Tehran with his traditional clothing replaced by a sporty outfit.
The photos, published on Friday, show the mid-level cleric in a black baseball cap and matching ski jacket walking along a dirt road and using hiking poles.Rouhani, who is usually seen in the turban and robes favoured by Iran's clerics, appeared to be mingling and chatting with other hikers, including a group of women.
The pictures come as the recently-elected leader seeks to present a friendlier and more moderate image of the Islamic republic, which reached a landmark nuclear deal with the West last month. The website said that Rouhani, who defeated a pool of conservatives in a June presidential election after vowing to engage with the West, goes hiking once or twice a week.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who must approve all major decisions and who is seen as more distrustful of the West, is also fond of hiking.
State media have published similar pictures of Khamenei in the past. Iran and a group of world powers broke through a decade of gridlock last month to agree on an interim deal that would freeze parts of Tehran's controversial nuclear programme while easing some of the crippling international sanctions against the country.

Obama defends interim Iran deal, seeks to assure Israel

Iran to curb its nuclear program and, seeking to reassure Israel, pledged to step up sanctions or prepare for a potential military strike if Tehran fails to abide by the pact.
U.S. relations with Israel have been strained by the interim agreement, reached between Iran and major world powers including the United States, which was designed to halt advances in Iran's nuclear program and buy time for negotiations on a final settlement. The United States says the agreement will give the international community time to see if Tehran is serious about curbing its nuclear ambitions, while providing some relief from sanctions that have crippled its economy. Israel believes any sanctions relief is a dangerous gift to a country that threatens its very existence, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the deal reached in Geneva a "historic mistake."
Obama, speaking at forum hosted by Haim Saban, a major political donor, made a point of referring to Netanyahu as "my friend Bibi," while acknowledging they occasionally had "significant tactical" disagreements.
Obama said the interim deal, negotiated with Iran by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany, would provide space for a longer-ranging agreement to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, which Tehran says are peaceful. The president said he viewed the likelihood of a satisfactory "end state" as a 50/50 proposition, and repeated that all options remained on the table if Iran did not follow through with its obligations. "If we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community ... then the pressure that we've been applying on them and the options that I have made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for," he said. Obama said it was unrealistic to believe that Iran would halt and dismantle its nuclear program if the sanctions regime were strengthened and talks were not given a chance to succeed. "One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, 'We'll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it's all gone.' I can envision a world which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful," he said to laughter from the audience. "But precisely because we don't trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves: What puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran's not having a nuclear weapon ... what is required to accomplish that and how does that compare to other options that we might take?"
Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, in reaction to Obama's remarks, said the two countries needed to resolve their differences on the issue.
"It must be made clear: In the final agreement, Iran must not have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. In order to ensure this, Iran must not have any capability to enrich uranium or to produce plutonium," Steinitz said.
Obama suggested any enrichment capacity left in Iran would be limited.
"It is my strong belief that we can envision an end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity," he said.
The United States says it will confer closely with Israel about crafting a permanent Iran agreement after the six-month confidence-building period laid out by the Geneva deal. While pursuing that path, Washington has sought to reinforce its commitment to protecting Israel.
"We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we've made that perfectly clear. And our commitment to Israel's security is sacrosanct," Obama said.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who spoke at the forum later in the day, said disagreements with Iran would continue on issues including Tehran's support for Lebanese Hezbollah, which the United States deems a "terrorist" group, and for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"A comprehensive (nuclear) agreement wouldn't solve all our problems with Iran," Kerry said. "Whatever the outcome of the upcoming negotiations, Iran will still have much work to do."
Although the discussion at the Washington-based Brookings Institution focused primarily on Iran, Obama also touched on the Middle East peace process aimed at ending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli and Palestinian officials resumed U.S.-brokered peace talks on July 29 after a nearly three-year hiatus. At the time, Kerry said the aim was to reach "a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months." That in effect set the end of April 2014 as a deadline, although U.S. officials have said that was not hard and fast.
"I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes (it's) better to move forward than move backwards," Obama said.
In their remarks, both Obama and Kerry made clear that if a framework agreement were reached next year, there would still be more work to do. Noting that he returned from his eighth trip this year to Israel and the Palestinian territories on Friday night, Kerry said wryly: "Now I am not a masochist. I am undertaking this because I believe in the possibilities." Obama said the outlines of a potential peace agreement were clear and he left the door open for a pact that excluded the Gaza Strip, which is now controlled by Hamas Islamists opposed to peace moves by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank.
"If there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank, Palestinians are able to live in dignity ... that's something that the young people of Gaza are going to want," Obama said.

Laili Zahedi - Dilbar Mastana Afghan Music 2012

Laili - Watandar Qataghani Afghan Music 2013 HD Mast

Pakistan: Imran Khan is at the wrong end of the stick

By Mina Sohail
Ahmed Rashid is a journalist who has authored several books about Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has covered Central Asia as a correspondent for The Telegraph for more than 20 years and has also been named as the Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 thinkers. In an exclusive interview with PIQUE, Ahmed Rashid talks about Imran Khan’s politics, Taliban insurgency and the emerging geo-political scenario of the region.
Imran Khan’s philosophy is that Pakistan has been fighting with Taliban for years but terrorism has only increased so we must try to have negotiations. Why do you think he is being criticized for this?
The problem is that talks with the Taliban is a tactic, not a strategy. Counter terrorism should be a comprehensive strategy that includes elements of talks and use of force. To implement that strategy we need a national security council, which should include the military, civil government and civilian experts who deal with terrorism on a daily basis, write about it and understand the nuances. We can’t wipe these terrorists out in a one-day operation or through a one day dialogue. The mistake being made here is that a tactic is being made a strategy, which in my opinion is completely wrong. Americans tried to have a counter terrorism strategy in Afghanistan and on paper what they were planning to do in 2007 and 2008 was a very sound strategy but like Pakistan they completely failed to implement it. They did not have enough troops, did not put enough emphasis on the reconciliation on the talks aspect and emphasized on the war aspect. We are doing completely the opposite by deemphasizing other aspects and emphasizing the talks. This is where I think Imran Khan is coming from and why I think he is at the wrong end of the stick. It is unfortunate that a man as worldly wise as Imran is accusing anyone who is criticizing his policies as being pro west, liberal or an agent of the CIA. He is using the same jargon as extremists do or as elements in the intelligence services do.
Do you think Imran Khan’s supporters have been disillusioned because of his talks with Taliban stance?
His vote bank has definitely been affected. We saw that in the bi-elections too as Bilour came back in Peshawar. Imran faces a mass decline of morale in the police and bureaucracy in KPK. He does not have the support of the local administration because they are confused as to why they should be laying down their lives for suicide bombers when Imran wants to talk to the same bombers. He has created confusion in the minds of the federal government and the army. The danger of insurrection in Peshawar by these extremists is quite possible despite the huge army presence there. Unless Imran will deal with these issues more firmly than he has so far, he may lose the province. We may see governor’s rule there in a few months time so he has to understand the situation is critical.
What did you think of his statement on letting Taliban open an office in the country?
Imran has been trying for a long time to equate the Afghan Taliban to the Pakistani Taliban. Afghan Taliban in my opinion have a peace lobby that has matured in the last few years of fighting because they believe that after 2014 withdrawal of US forces, they have to come to terms with other Afghans and want some kind of power sharing deal. There is no such lobby in the Pakistani Taliban and nobody who is talking about compromising with the state. Their mantra is still that we want to over throw the state and want sharia. Imran is talking about opening an office when there is no Taliban to man this office or interested in a peace dialogue. Because of his prejudices and his preconceived notions he is not able to differentiate between Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban and the real tragedy is he thinks he knows it all. IK recently said Taliban’s demand to stop the drone strikes was a legitimate one and should be supported by all. Do you agree? Drone strikes should stop but not on the basis of what the Taliban want. The strikes should stop because it is creating enormous anti Americanism in Pakistan and complicates the war on terror strategy that Pakistan would like to have. It allows for propaganda by the extremists and the Taliban, which is anti American and anti Western and that tends to become anti democratic also.
Now that General Kayani has retired, what do you foresee in the post Kayani period?
It is too early to say. Kayani’s legacy is that he has strengthened democracy and allowed elections to continue unlike earlier military leaders. However, on the other hand, he has left a terrible legacy of a much worse security situation, expansion of suicide bombings, the continuing insurgency in Balochistan and a worsening situation in Karachi.
Do you think Pakistani army is capable of fighting a prolonged war?
Yes, it is capable and we have no choice if we are to survive as a nation. Any counter terrorism strategy will take years. It won’t be resolved in six months or one year and will be beyond the life of even this government. We should be prepared for a long war and so should the army. The failure of the government and the army has been to confuse people’s minds with this idea that there are quick solutions. This extremism has taken years to be fostered and expand. We can go back 40 years to Zia’s period to the growth of this kind of extremism, not to speak of the fact that the state and the army sponsored a lot of these groups at one point including the groups fighting in Kashmir and those fighting with Taliban in Afghanistan.
What is your assessment of the civilian leadership. How do you think they will tackle the issue?
I am glad that we have had two successive governments. What has been lacking in both these governments is a comprehensive reform agenda, whether we are talking economic reforms or combating terrorism, social reform or need for education, there was a lot of expectancy with Nawaz Sharif coming in but we haven’t seen those policies emerge. I think there is a growing disillusionment even within the Sharif camp about the failure to carry out reforms on any front. Even the promise of economic reforms and the austerity measures that were needed to get international confidence have not occured.
Americans say they will leave Afghanistan by 2014 and the elections are approaching, what would be the fall out of this on Pakistan?
We do not know yet if the Americans will even leave bases in Afghanistan as that is still being negotiated with the Karzai government. But the uncertainty in Afghanistan, the uncertainty surrounding those elections, the withdrawal, the capacity of Afghan army to hold back the Taliban, all these uncertainties have a hugely negative effect in Pakistan. If we don’t know what will happen in our neighboring country, we can’t really say with any confidence that we will be safe from any fallout because obviously we won’t.
IK said if negotiations fail he would reluctantly support military options against the Pakistani Taliban. What do you think of this?
The debate in the country has been put as either war or talks. This is not a strategy for counter terrorism. You have to combine both these elements. IK is framing the debate as every other politician and extremist, that there is a choice between talks and war.
What is the future of Pakistani Taliban?
The situation will get much worse before it gets better. We saw an attack on 4 provincial capitals, which was unheard of before. With the kind of bomb attacks we have seen in Peshawar and before that the campaign in Quetta against the Hazaras and the jailbreaks, the state seems unable to combat any of this. Because of the politicians attitude there is a loss of morale in security forces, in believing this political leadership will provide the answers. It is clearly not providing the answers.
You mentioned in your recent book, “Pakistan on the Brink,” that you are constantly looking for a window that will open for peace to emerge in Pakistan. Will it?
The key issue is the civilian supremacy. Military has to understand they cannot continue running on their own. Their policy towards extremists has always been to favor some groups and attack other groups. The good Taliban and bad Taliban have to come to an end. In Balochistan the need for a dialogue is possible and a settlement with the separatists is possible. The state says it wants a dialogue but at the same time there have been 500 disappearances since Nawaz Sharif came into power. If you want a dialogue there has to be some sort of a halt to violence so that talks can take place. We need to have zero tolerance policy against all forms of extremism, even against those extremists who have been trained and nurtured by the intelligence services. We need to turn this policy around otherwise we will go down as a country.
Do you think IK will be able to deliver on his promises?
He won’t deliver on his promises because of the strategies that he has. He should engage in a debate about a strategy for counter terrorism. I would like to engage with him in a debate on counter terrorism and what it means so I can try and explain to him that talks can be part of the strategy but it cannot be the whole strategy.

Nelson Mandela: Death of a statesman

EVEN the world’s most prestigious award, the Nobel Peace Prize, was too small an honour for the giant Nelson Mandela was. Perhaps a more poignant tribute came from Bishop Desmond Tutu: “God was good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela”. He was more than good. The white supremacist regime in South Africa would sooner or later have collapsed, as happened elsewhere. But it was the way that it ended, or was made to end — without bloodshed — that showed how Mandela stood head and shoulders above other freedom fighters of his times. The ‘white man’s burden’ manifested itself in the colonised world in many ways; signs reading “dogs and Indians not allowed” were just one of the many exhibits of the rulers. But in South Africa, the colonial approach was unprecedented in its brutality: the segregation of races — euphemistically called ‘separate development’ or apartheid — reduced native Africans to the status of animals. In the subcontinent, the British established “civil lines”, which by convention forbade the natives from being the white man’s neighbour. In South Africa, Bantus were bound by law to carry passes to move from a black zone to a white one. The cumulative effect of apartheid laws was that 80pc of South Africa’s land — which belonged rightfully to all its people — was reserved for the ruling white minority. Mandela raised his voice against this precursor to Nazism when Hitler was still in the trenches in Flanders. He was arrested in 1962 and passed 27 years in prison — only to come out victorious. But perhaps Mandela’s greatest achievement was that he prevailed upon his people to shun revenge. The setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped heal wounds and spared the country what could have been a slaughter of unimaginable proportions as the victims, now unfettered, suddenly found themselves in a position of strength. Mandela was a conciliator, and there is no doubt he received valuable support from F.W. de Klerk, the country’s last white president. But without Mandela, who chose to serve just one term as president, the orderly transition to a racism-free democratic dispensation would have been unthinkable. In a world dominated by leaders with either autocratic tendencies or mediocre abilities, Mandela stood apart. Freedom fighter, democrat and above all great conciliator, the African icon had in him the rare combination of leadership, courage, wisdom and foresight. Forever in history’s spotlight, he remains in his death among the 20th century’s greatest freedom fighters and statesmen.

Video: Nelson Mandela – A Life in Pictures: 1918 – 2013

Hagel in Kabul amid crisis over vital U.S., Afghan security pact

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Afghanistan for a weekend visit on Saturday but had no plans to meet President Hamid Karzai amid tensions over his refusal to sign a deal governing the post-2014 U.S. military presence, a senior U.S. official said.
Hagel was expected to visit U.S. and international troops across the country and to hold talks with Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and Interior Minister Umer Daudzai, a Pentagon spokesman, Carl Woog, said in a statement. A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hagel did not expect to meet Karzai amid the dispute over his refusal to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) recently endorsed by a loya jirga, an assembly of tribal elders and politicians.
"The United States has made its position on the BSA clear," the official said. "And just two days ago, President Karzai repeated his position to senior U.S. officials that he is not yet ready to sign the BSA and provided no timeline or practical steps for doing so."
Hagel follows a string of senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who have visited Afghanistan but had no success in persuading Karzai to sign the agreement. Hagel is the first to visit with no plans to meet Karzai. U.S. officials have been pressing for the BSA to be signed by the end of the year. They say that further delay would complicate military planning by the United States and other countries contributing to the military coalition fighting Islamist Taliban militants for 12 years. They have also cautioned that further delay might force the U.S. administration to consider a "zero option" in which all U.S. forces would be withdrawn at the end of 2014. But the top U.S. military officer said this week he had not been asked to plan for a complete withdrawal. "I've not been told to plan for a zero option, but clearly I understand that it is a possibility given the current impasse," Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told a Pentagon news conference. He said a variety of other options had been considered.
Dempsey also acknowledged that the United States could wait until early in the summer of 2014 before the lack of a BSA became a factor affecting decisions about troop levels. "But, you know, don't forget that we're not in this alone," he added. "We've got 44, I think, contributing nations who have a different set of requirements to make their decisions. And so we will see an erosion of the coalition." There are 47,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a residual force of about 8,000 troops to train and assist Afghan forces after the end of the NATO combat mission. A year-long negotiation over the text of the BSA was thought to have been concluded last month when a loya jirga called by Karzai approved the pact. But Karzai surprised everyone during concluding remarks by saying he had additional demands, including an end to raids on Afghan homes by U.S. forces pursuing militants.

Video: President Obama Weekly Address: Calling on Congress to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Veena Malik partying in Dubai

Veena has been busy for quite some time now. She was so tired of her hectic schedule that she thought of taking a break and coming back after a small hiatus. She planned a visit to Dubai to meet her family and friends. According to reports, she was occupied with so many activities and commitments that she hardly got any time for herself. After a frenetic week of promotional campaign in Mumbai for her solo album launch, RUM, Veena was in Dubai for a short trip. Veena being a globe trotter, was recently in UK to receive an achievement award for her social contribution. She got very involved with the UK media for interactions and interviews. Veena wanted to have a small vacation of sorts. Being caught up with work, she realized that she didn`t meet her family for quite some time now. She was in a very nostalgic state and was missing her family badly. So, she packed her bags and was off to Dubai. There, she had some quality time with her family and was very elated to eat home made food that she missed for so long. Also, she met her old buddies and had an amazing time hanging out and partying with them. Her friends were also very amused to have their vibrant friend amongst

Condoleezza Rice : 'Terrorism an existential threat for Pakistan'

The leadership of countries that practice “embedded terrorism” – state sponsored terrorism – have to be told they must “clean up”, said former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit. The US policy towards state sponsors of terrorism, she said, which includes Pakistan, has been to say “you don’t have an option” about dealing with this terrorism.
Rice, who delivered the keynote address at the summit’s second day, said one has to be nuanced in responding to state-sponsored terror. Pakistan is a country that turns a blind eye to groups within its borders who practice terrorism, Rice noted. But their system can be mobilised to take action against terrorists with the right pressure and persuasion.
“I came here after the Mumbai attacks and then told (former) Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari: what has happened here is clearly unacceptable and Pakistan is responsible,” said Rice. She admitted this does not work quickly. “This is a long-term problem, it can’t be turned around quickly but over decades.” Rice, one of the authors of the Indo-US nuclear deal, said that the Indo-US relationship “was without limits” because the two countries shared both common interests and values. She listed some of the interests she saw shared by India and the US: a world safe from terrorism, stability in South and Central Asia, energy security, preserving an international system based on rule of law.
Though she was brought up in the US South in the days of racial segregation, Rice is a great votary of American democracy. “My parents couldn’t take me to restaurants and movies, but they still could believe I could be president of the United States. I became secretary of state and they could probably live with that.”India and the US share the values of democracy that include inclusion of minorities, a system that allows people to change governments peacefully, a belief in personal freedom. This provides “a basic foundation” for developing “the greatest resource we have: human potential”. Rice said while nations in the 19th century created wealth through extraction of resources, the 20th through mastery of the industrial process, in the 21st century they did so by exploiting “human potential, the creativity of people”. And this innovative ability doesn’t arise in societies that tell its people what they should think. Non-free societies that seek to replicate Silicon Valley fail because they need to “build a foundation of freedom”.
Rice, presently Provost of Stanford University, is a strong supporter of the “transformative nature” of education for the average person.
High quality education, Rice said, allows “people who cannot control their circumstances can nonetheless control their response to such circumstances”. The trajectory of her own family was changed when her paternal grandfather, a cotton farmer, was able to complete college.Why George W. Bush Took a Shine to India
Former US president George W. Bush sought to transform relations with India for two reasons, said Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s national security advisor and secretary of state. One was because of Indian democracy, a common value with the United States that excited the US president.
The other was the “energy” he saw in the Indian-American community in Bush’s state of Texas. She noted that Bush, when he was the governor of Texas, was exposed to the large Indian-American community that ran the state’s high-technology sector near Austin.
“The day he signed the Indo-US nuclear deal,” she said, “he was as happy as I have ever seen him.”
Even today, six years after he gave up the presidency, Bush asks about the state of the nuclear deal and the relationship, Rice said. She says it is forgotten that the deal was more about technology access than nuclear reactors and that way the deal has been a success.

Afghanistan face Pakistan in historic T20 on Sunday

As part of a preparation programme for the World Cup next year, Afghanistan will take on Pakistan in a historic Twenty20 international in the UAE on Sunday.
Afghanistan Cricket Board’s spokesman Farid Hotak told Pajhwok Afghan News the national side had started brief exercises in Dubai.
"We have resolved our problems and we hope to defeat Pakistan." Meanwhile, the Afghan team, who holds the previous championship title for the Intercontinental Cup, will stand against Ireland in the final match of the Intercontinental Competitions. The match against former world champions Pakistan will give another boost to Afghanistan as they will meet for the first time in Sharjah on Sunday.
Afghanistan received one-day status during their narrowly missed opportunity to qualify for the 2011 World Cup before progressing to two back-to-back World Twenty20 tournaments in 2010 and 2012. Afghanistan secured Associate membership of the International Cricket Council (ICC) this year, when the side for the first time qualified for the 50-over World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Billed as one of the best Associate teams, the national team last month qualified for the World Twenty20 to be held in Bangladesh next year.
Afghanistan's Pakistan coach Kabir Khan told a foreign news agency on Friday his team was hugely excited for Sunday's game. Kabir, who played four Tests and 10 one-days for Pakistan in 1990s, said it would be a historic and a challenging match for them. “If we do well then the world will take more notice." Kabir said Pakistan have always provided his team with golden opportunities. Sunday's Twenty20 will be Afghanistan's fifth against a Test playing country as they lost to India and South Africa in the 2010 World Twenty20 in the Caribbean and then went down against England and India two years later in Sri Lanka. Pakistan's T20 captain Mohammad Hafeez refused to take Afghanistan lightly. "They are a dangerous side..they have qualified for the 2015 World Cup and the World Twenty20 through hard work and since they are a dangerous side we will not take them lightly." Hafeez, himself under pressure for his miserable batting form, admitted Ajmal, who has most T20 wickets (77 in 57 matches) will be missed.
Teams (from): Afghanistan: Mohammad Nabi (capt), Merwais Ashraf, Hamid Hassan, Amir Hamza Hotak, Afsar Khan, Nawroz Mangal, Gulbadin Naib, Mohammad Shahzad, Asghar Stanikzai, Hashmatullah Shaidi, Samiullah Shinwari, Najeebullah Zadran, Shapor Zadran, Dawlat Khan Zadran, Izzatullah Dawlatzai. Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez (capt), Ahmed Shehzad, Sharjeel Khan, Sohaib Maqsood, Umar Amin, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Zulfiqar Babar, Bilawal Bhatti, Junaid Khan, Sohail Tanvir, Anwar Ali, Haris Sohail.

Afghanistan Won't Bow to U.S. Over BSA: Officials

Fayeq Wahidi, Deputy spokesman of President Hamid Karzai, on Saturday has said the U.S. pressure on the Afghan government would not impact its approach to the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). The finalization of the BSA has been stalled since President Karzai said he would not sign the accord until after the April elections, and only if the U.S. met certain preconditions, despite a Loya Jirga recommending the pact be signed as soon as possible.
Officials in Washington have said the agreement must be signed before the end of the year.
Wahidi said the U.S. thinks that putting pressure on Afghanistan would force the government to sign the pact, but that this was a "miscalculation." He said that the Afghan government knows that the U.S. can meet Kabul's demands.
"We believe that the security pact will have benefits, but the demands for the signing of it from President Karzai are legitimate," Wahidi said. "So it's good that the United State chooses cooperation but the artificial pressure will not have any impact."
Karzai has said he will not sign the accord unless progress is seen in the Taliban peace process and U.S. raids on Afghan homes cease. U.S. officials have warned that if the BSA is not signed, no foreign troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and some 4.1 billion USD in military aid funding would be frozen.
"If the agreement is not signed, it could cause a capital flight from Afghanistan," economic expert Nazir Kaberi told TOLOnews.
"The signing of the agreement will have more impact on Afghanistan's economy than other sections," MP Kamal Naser Osuli said.
The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Washington's top diplomat for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, have all visited Karzai recently to convince him to sign by the end of the year, but the visits not seen any major progress. There are around 48,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The United States has been in discussions with Afghan officials about keeping a residual force of about 8,000 troops after the end of the NATO combat mission next year.
On Wednesday, Karzai reacted angrily to a comment by Kerry at a NATO meeting in Brussels that the Afghan Defence Minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, could sign the document instead of the President.
A year-long negotiation over the text of the document was thought to have been concluded last month when an assembly of Afghan tribal elders and politicians, called a Loya Jirga, approved the pact. But Karzai surprised everyone during concluding remarks by saying he still had important demands.

Senior Afghan politician makes it clear: government's formation in Afghanistan on outsiders' dictation not possible

A senior Afghan politician on Friday ruled out the possibility that the future Afghan government will be formed on dictation by others, saying that a friendly government in Kabul is possible, but opting for an obedient set-up is just a wishful thinking.
Humayun Shah Asefi, a former candidate for vice president in Afghanistan 2009 presidential elections, while sharing his views in a public panel discussion titled "Is political solution with the Taliban possible?" was confident of a political solution to Afghan dispute, as everybody recognises that defeating Taliban was not an easy task.
The discussion was organised by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (HBS) with the help of German Foreign Office on the occasion of Pakistan-Germany-Afghanistan media dialogue in which ANP's Senator Afrasyab Khattak, PML-N's Danyal Aziz, MQM's Faisal Sabzwari and Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council Maulana Tahir Ashrafi presented their view points.
"I think it must be very clear to everyone...a friendly government in Afghanistan is possible but an obedient government [as a result of reconciliation process] is just a wishful thinking," Asefi said, adding that it is high time that everybody should realise their past mistakes and recognise Afghanistan as an independent and a sovereign state. The Afghan politician did not name any country but he was apparently pointing towards Pakistan, as he seems backing the opinion of ANP's Afarasyab Khattak who opined that solution to Afghan conflict was possible if Pakistan decides that there will be no influence on Afghan to decide about their future and accepts Afghanistan as an independent and sovereign state.
Asefi further ruled out any possibility of Taliban to regain powers after withdrawal of the US troops, saying that things have changed tremendously and majority of Afghans that come from the young generation are against the Talibanization. He said that for Afghans, Pakistan is an important country and similarly Afghanistan is that important for Pakistan but both the countries need to remove misunderstanding and trust deficit by increasing people-to-people contacts and exchange of delegations of politicians and media from both the sides.
Afrasyab Khattak was of the opinion it is in Pakistan's interest to revisit Zia's policies especially towards Afghanistan which according to him failed. "We've to accept that Afghanistan is a sovereign and independent country," he said, adding that it is time for the government of Pakistan to demonstrate wisdom. He also contradicted the argument that Taliban could not be defeated in Afghanistan, saying "if some Taliban are living in Islamabad how can they be defeated in Kabul?" He said that Afghanistan needs an inclusive solution after an intra-Afghan consultation but not an imposed one by anyone else.
Referring to the border management, he said that the real issue between the two countries was not the border management but sourcing out the border [Pak-Afghan border] to the militants is the real problem. Maulana Tahir Ashrafi said that dialogue was the only solution to bring peace both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, adding that currently there seems no door is open for talks as Taliban's Qatar office has been closed and Saudi Arabia is also not willing to play its due role. He said that things could become better if Pakistan stops considering Afghanistan as its fifth province and Afghanistan refrains from treating Pakistan as India. Ashrafi challenged those who think Taliban Chief Mullah Omer is somewhere inside Pakistan, saying that neither Mullah Omer came to Pakistan after 2000 nor there exists any Quetta Shura.
Referring to the recent killing of Jalaluddin Haqqani's son Nasiruddin Haqqani in Barakahu area of Islamabad, he said that Nasiruddin had a refugee card issued by the UNHCR and he had been travelling to various Western counties and most recently he returned from an Arab country before he was killed.
To a question, he said that Pakistan is not under the US occupation and "if the US occupied Pakistan we will do the same what Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Omer is doing in Afghanistan". Faisal Subzwari said that it should be Pakistan's top priority to find solution to its own problems and must invest on its own people. Danyal Aziz, while sharing his opinion said that blaming Pakistan's policy for the problems was not a solution, saying the issue is more global.

'Pakistani army involved in Baloch kidnappings'

Malik Siraj Akbar, a Pakistani expert living in exile in the US, says Pakistani security agencies are involved in grave human rights violations and the abduction of activists in Pakistan's Balochistan province.
DW: Pakistani security agencies have once again failed to present the missing Baloch people to the Supreme Court despite a December 5 deadline. Why are the Pakistani authorities reluctant to comply with the court's orders?
Malik Siraj Akbar: In Pakistan, the military, its intelligence agencies, and the security establishment have historically remained unaccountable to anyone, including the superior judiciary. They have enjoyed absolute impunity for all their extrajudicial actions over the years. In Balochistan, the same intelligence agencies and the army are blamed for perpetrating enforced disappearances. The security agencies are unwilling to comply with the court's order because they believe, although without evidence, that the missing persons are closely connected with Baloch separatist organizations. Multiple government institutions such as the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Military Intelligence (MI), and the Frontier Corps Intelligence (FCI), are involved in whisking away these people.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Pakistani army operates dozens of illegal underground torture cells in different parts of the country and various intelligence agencies do not share complete information with each other about their operations and torture cells. Rights groups believe these people are languishing in these cells. The Supreme Court intervention seems to have overwhelmed the security apparatus but there is still not a single institution or a person who knows everything about every missing person. It is a very chaotic situation.
Defense Minister Khawaja Asif recently told the apex court that no "missing persons" were in the government's custody. In whose custody are they then?
The minister is right in a way. While the civilian government has control over the police department and the civilian intelligence bureau, the Pakistani army is not under civilian control. It is the army and the intelligence agencies that are involved in enforced disappearances and the Pakistani army certainly does not brief the civilian government about its operations, detention centers and investigation methods. And Balochistan is one of those areas which the army strictly keeps under its control under the pretext of "national security." I believe even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, just like former President Asif Ali Zardari, has no clue about the whereabouts of the missing Balochs.
How significant is the "long march" of the Baloch people from Quetta to Karachi. Has it achieved its objectives?
The long march is a milestone in Balochistan's struggle for civil rights and justice. The peaceful march also indicates that most of the missing persons are not linked with the Baloch separatist groups. If they were affiliated with such groups, their families would surely be reluctant to share their photos and detailed biographies with the media. They would not ask for an open investigation under the country's judicial system. By walking 700 kilometers in the quest for justice and human rights, the long march leader Mama Qadeer and his colleagues did something that I often say even Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela couldn't do.
There has been very little coverage of this march in Pakistani media. Why is this?
There is insufficient coverage of everything related to Balochistan in the Pakistani media. The long march was not an exception. The Pakistani media also sides with the army's policy on most issues related to Balochistan. I do not think it is only due to the military's pressure. It is simply because most Pakistanis do not know much about Balochistan; they have never been there and they do not know what their army is doing there. With the media so ignorant, you can imagine how little the Pakistani public knows about the situation there. The media is indeed responsible for intentionally giving a cover-up to the army's human rights abuses in Balochistan.
What are the 'long march' organizers demanding?
Actually, the organizers of the long march have been protesting since 2005 in different ways. They have been holding hunger strike camps, demonstrations in front of local press clubs, the Balochistan High Court, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad. Their protests never attracted much attention. The reason they chose to walk from Quetta to Karachi was to raise more awareness for their cause because the Nawaz Sharif government is less enthusiastic than the preceding Pakistan People's Party's to resolve the Balochistan conflict. The protestors are demanding that their relatives be resurfaced, given access to lawyers, and produced before the court. They say if the courts convict their relatives, they will accept the verdict. They also demand that kidnappings, torture and murder should end.
There was hope that Abdul Malik, the new chief minister of Balochistan, would resolve the Baloch conflict. Have you seen any progress in this regard since he took the reins of the provincial government?
The conflict is not between Baloch separatists and the chief minister. It is a conflict between the Baloch people and the Pakistani army and the federal government. The chief minister cannot do much to resolve this issue considering his limited influence over the army, the intelligence agencies and even the Baloch separatists. As expected, he has not managed to make an iota of progress in resolving the conflict.
What do you propose Islamabad do to address the demands of the Baloch people?
The demands of the Baloch separatists and the organizers of the long march are totally different. It is still possible for Islamabad to control further damage in Balochistan by resurfacing the missing persons so that anti-Pakistan sentiments do not further trickle down to the common Baloch people. The separatists are, ironically, not in a hurry. They believe the more Islamabad commits rights abuses, the more their support base broadens among general public. As far as the demands of the separatists are concerned, they are clearly asking for a free Baloch state. Understandably, Islamabad will not concede to that demand. In a situation like this, Islamabad should at least meet the demands of the organizers of the long march to build some confidence and de-escalate tensions. The demands of the long marchers are in accordance with the Pakistani law and the constitution. Malik Siraj Akbar is a political expert and the editor-in-chief of Balochistan's first online English language newspaper, The Baloch Hal. He is the author of The Redefined Dimensions of Baloch Nationalist Movement, a former Hubert Humphrey Fellow (2010-11) at Arizona State University, and a former Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington D.C..

Pakistan: Losing the battle: Polio emergency

AS the year draws to a close, the situation on the polio front in Pakistan sadly remains one of great concern. Looking at the figures of polio cases in the country this year so far (73, whereas there were a total of 58 cases in 2012), it appears that eradicating the crippling disease remains a distant goal. The same stubborn obstacles appear to be halting progress: ignorance, myths about the vaccination and insecurity. In many instances, parents themselves seem to be dooming their children’s future by refusing anti-polio drops for them. WHO figures indicate that of the over 2m children missed nationwide during a recent anti-polio drive, over 47,000 could not receive the drops as their parents refused to have them vaccinated. The majority of refusals (nearly 25,000) came from KP. Corroborating this trend is the view of health officials that most polio victims in Pakistan are Pakhtun. In fact, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative says North Waziristan has the highest number of children paralysed by polio in the country. Health officials also want a ‘polio emergency’ declared in Karachi because of the continued recurrence of cases in the metropolis.
The truth is a nationwide polio emergency needs to be declared. The state needs to tackle obstacles such as parents’ refusal with urgency. While other factors that are inhibiting anti-polio efforts, such as lawlessness and militancy, require time and complex efforts to resolve, changing people’s perceptions about polio vaccinations is a more achievable goal should the state pursue it with dedication. Since resistance is highest in the Pakhtun community, the KP government should be putting in extra effort to engage tribal, community and religious leaders in polio awareness campaigns. A publicity campaign in Pashto should be undertaken to convince parents to have their children vaccinated. We must remember that if Pakistan continues to ignore the threat posed by polio, penalties such as international travel restrictions may be on the horizon.

Pakistan: Mandela in the eyes of late Salmaan Taseer

Daily Times
People around the world paying tribute to Nelson Mandela following the news of his death brings to mind former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s words for the international icon of peace. The late Salmaan Taseer in some of his Twitter posts on November 14, 2010 had admired Mandela’s legacy of tolerance that formed the basis of South Africa’s democracy. “You can detain persons but u cannot arrest ideas which is why prisoners of conscience are always free,” the late Salmaan Taseer wrote. About PW Botha’s January 1985 offer to Mandela for a conditional release from the prison, the late Taseer had tweeted, “Interior Minister Botha said they release Mandela if he renounced terrorism 2 which the great man replied first Botha “renounce terrorism”.” “So they had 2 release Mandela on his own terms as the jailers had become the prisoners. A lesson in moral authority”. He had also tweeted, “I was in Faisalabad jail when Nelson Mandela was released & now feel the same elation & excitement at the news of Suu Kyi release”.

Pakistan: Should MQM prepare for the worst?

The news from London that the police there have arrested two Pakistanis associated with money laundering case involving MQM is very disturbing, specially, because one of the held men handles the party's financial matters. Unconfirmed news from the UK Metropolitan suggests the police there is making steady progress not just in the money laundering case but also in Dr Imran Farooq murder case; in fact the inquiries of the two cases are said to be so intermingled that the findings in one sparks leads in the other. The progress in both cases does not only spell disaster for the recent operation in Karachi but can, also, cause upheaval in Pakistan's politics, for if the links of the money laundering activities are established to the highest leadership of the party after the arrest of the above two persons, the MQM may become a leaderless and as such a rudderless party. The political vacuum, in such a scenario, created by the absence of central leadership of this party will not be filled in Karachi until fresh elections are held to prove whether MQM still has the mandate of the people of the mega city or they have shifted loyalties to other parties. In all fairness to the London police and regardless of complications, the progress in the cases can create crises in Pakistani politics, the PML-N government is said to be sitting on vital evidence in both cases because of it wants to avoid, exactly such a situation. On the other hand, instead of uniting in such testing times, which threatens to take away the top leadership from them, MQM is developing cracks in its ranks. The changes in the membership of MQM Rabita Committee a few months ago which forced even the Karachi's ex-Nazim of world fame, Mustafa Kamal, not only quit party but, it is said, also leave the country for security reason. It is a very glaring example of the disquiet in that party. There seem no steps in the offing by the MQM leadership in Karachi to prepare for the time in case of the eventuality, when and if the London Police find evidence justifiable in courts. None, neither the will-wishers of Karachi nor those of the whole country have ever cherished the desire for disintegration of MQM into a non-entity. Rather, it is hoped MQM will change its ways while remaining a party of highly charged and well-disciplined workers. Many have urged the party leadership to forget the violence of the past, whether by them or against them, and adopt peaceful means for political goals. Even neutral journalists tried to encourage this party to adopt less violent means. But time and again its leadership, after taking a few steps forward towards transforming the party to attract national appeal, has reversed to its shell and assumed the mantle of representing a single ethnic group. It is hoped MQM will work for becoming a party with national appeal, overcome petty differences within and prepare for what is becoming a probability.

Credibility of general elections is lost: Aitzaz

Credibility of the general elections has been lost after the statement of the interior minister, as poll results are being questioned even after the passage of seven months, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Aitzaz Ahsan said on Friday. Addressing a press conference outside the Parliament House, Aitzaz said, “Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday admitted in parliament that 60,000 to 70,000 votes in every constituency of the country cannot be verified. Admittance of this reality by the interior minister has completely harmed the credibility of the general elections, while the Punjab government is bringing changes in ballot papers and thumb verification papers to stop NADRA from verifying the authenticity of the voters.” The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) senator also said the Punjab government, by not implementing the orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), was not providing the election record of two constituencies -- National Assembly (NA) 118 and NA 139. Aitzaz said, PPP candidates Chaudry Manzoor Ahmed (NA-139) and Bushra Aitzaz (NA-118) had submitted applications for provision of record several times but the Punjab government was creating hurdles. He said the PPP had filed applications in the ECP asking for the records of NA-118, NA-139, NA-258 and NA-259 since four months, but not providing the record had raised the threat of changing it. “Another application has been also submitted before the chief election commissioner (CEC), because seven months have passed but results of the general elections are still considered suspicious,” he said. - See more at:

Freed Taliban Prisoners in Pakistan and Afghanistan Return to Jihad

Pakistan and Afghanistan have released waves of Taliban prisoners in a goodwill gesture—but instead of returning home as promised, the radicals are flocking to rejoin the fight against the West.
Abdullah never gives up. The senior Taliban commander, who goes by one name, lost a leg in the fighting in late 2001 just as Mullah Mohammad Omar’s forces were collapsing. He was captured and sent to the U.S. lockup at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Released from the Cuban prison in late 2005, he was immediately rearrested when he arrived in Pakistan and spent the next five years in a Pakistani jail run by the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. After nearly a decade behind bars, he was released in 2010 and quickly became the insurgency’s overall commander for the strategic region of southern Afghanistan. Pakistan’s release of Abdullah and of some two dozen other important Taliban prisoners in late 2012 was meant as a goodwill gesture to Kabul. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government has been lobbying Islamabad hard to get it to release top insurgent inmates like Abdullah as a means of luring the Taliban into peace talks. In theory, the freed prisoners were to rejoin their families, most of whom live in Pakistan, and to serve as harbingers of peace—not return to the 12-year-old jihad against the U.S. and Kabul.
That strategy seems to have backfired badly. So far the prisoner releases seem to have only succeeded in funneling commanders and fighters back to the fighting. Once freed, Abdullah and a slew of recently released Taliban inmates have made a beeline back to the battlefield. Abdullah tells The Daily Beast exclusively that he is now more committed than ever to the jihad. “We are born for jihad and can’t sleep without the jihad,” he says, after just returning from the front lines in southern Kandahar Province. “Long imprisonment hasn’t slowed down our momentum, resistance and commitment to the fight.” He says he is not grateful to Pakistan or Kabul for his release. “I’m not thankful to Karzai and my enemies in Pakistan for releasing me,” he says. He flatly rejected the verbal restrictions Pakistan put on him and the other prisoners when they were released: that they not return to the fight. “None of us would ever accept any conditions or restrictions that would keep us from fighting,” he says. Even given the lack of success in keeping fighters out of the fray, Pakistan’s release of insurgent prisoners has continued. So far this year, at least 40 imprisoned Taliban of both senior and junior ranks have been freed. But the releases don’t seem to have won any Taliban hearts and minds—or to have induced the Taliban leadership to move any closer to peace talks. Any hope for a dialogue was further set back this past summer when the Taliban opened a quasi-embassy in Qatar as a venue for the fledgling talks, a move that provoked a furious Karzai to cancel any further official contacts with the Taliban.
Meanwhile, many of the more than 60 prisoners like Abdullah, who have been released over the past 13 months, seem to have quickly returned to the insurgency after brief visits with their families in Pakistan. “The priority is jihad not family and kids,” says Abdullah. A senior Taliban intelligence officer tells The Daily Beast boastfully that “almost all of the freed prisoners never lost faith in the jihad despite the hardship of prison and are back enjoying the struggle.” His unscientific guesstimate is that 80 percent of the released insurgents have rejoined the fight. As he points out, two the Taliban’s top commanders—Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Abdul Rauf Khadim—were both released from Guantanamo Bay some six years ago and are now directing the fight.
An Afghan government intelligence officer who is charged with following some of the recently freed Taliban expresses his disappointment at the results of the releases. He says Mullah Muhammad [he has no first name], a former insurgent shadow governor of northern Baghlan Province, was arrested in early 2010 along with Mullah Mohammad Omar’s deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. After more than three years, Muhammad was freed from a Pakistani jail this past summer and is now a member of the insurgency’s governing council, the Quetta Shura, and has returned to running guerrilla operations in Baghlan once again. “We had been expecting them to be nice and to help restart the talks but so far we have not received any positive signals,” the Afghan intelligence officer says dejectedly. Mullah Muhammad is but one of many. Mullah Abdul Bari, 45, a senior commander in southern Helmand Province, was arrested in Quetta five years ago during a night raid on his house by the ISI and spent hard time in the notorious Pakistani prison at Mach in Baluchistan Province. According to Bari’s close friend and fellow officer, Mullah Abdul Salam Khan, Bari was freed earlier this year at about the same time as another insurgent operative Mullah Nuru Din Turabi. “Bari had a black beard when he was arrested,” Salam Khan says. “But during that time in hell in Mach his beard turned pure white.” After his release Bari returned to his family for a few months to regain his health and then quickly rejoined the insurgency. “He started as an ordinary small commander,” Salam Khan says. “Now he is in charge of eight large units on the Helmand front.”
Salam Khan recalls Bari telling him after he was released that he has no regrets. “Jails, torture and suffering won’t change our jihadist commitment,” Bari told Salam Khan. Salam Khan should know. He was captured in Pakistan in 2009 while he was the shadow governor of southern Kunduz Province and was finally released by the ISI five months ago. After a brief visit to his family in Pakistan, he is now serving as the shadow governor of the key northern province of Balkh.
Another fast-rising former prisoner is Mullah Sadar Ibrahim. A former senior commander who was close to Mullah Omar, Ibrahim had been languishing in Pakistani jails for the past five years. He was released in late 2012 and has quickly garnered the senior posts of commander for military operations in several southern provinces, the Taliban’s former heartland, and is now also the deputy chief of the Quetta Shura’s important military council. Mir Ahmad Gul, the former shadow governor of Logar Province, just south of Kabul, who was recently freed after several years in a Pakistani prison, has been appointed shadow governor of the strategic region abound the eastern city of Jalalabad. Kabul, too, has been releasing Taliban prisoners with largely the same disappointing results. Two senior commanders named Abdul Wasai and Mullah Qasim Akhund were freed by Kabul last year. Both men had been imprisoned in the sprawling Pul-e-Charki jail near Kabul for several years and are now respectively serving as shadow governors of Kandahar and Ghazni Provinces. “Some of these former prisoners are now in key senior posts and many more have returned to being fighters and facilitators for our cause,” says the senior Taliban intelligence officer.
The Taliban intelligence officer says almost all of the former prisoners report that they experienced mental and physical suffering while in Pakistani custody. But he says those Taliban prisoners who were incarcerated in Afghan prisons serve relatively easier time than those held across the border by the ISI. Prisoners in Afghan jails, even Taliban, can periodically receive visits from their families and may even enjoy some protections under the Afghan justice system. In Pakistan, the intelligence officer says, Taliban prisoners simply disappear into a black hole with no possibility of contacting their families and no protections under the Pakistani constitution. “All of these men have been kidnapped by the Pakistanis,” he says. “It’s as if they no longer exist.” Not surprisingly, he adds, the released prisoners have little but hatred for their former jailers. “None of these men is going to join Karzai or stop contributing to the jihad,” he says. “They are now more committed to the fight than ever.”
While none of freed Taliban prisoners has brought the insurgents any closer to the negotiating table, Karzai seems to be obsessed with the belief that at least one prisoner, Mullah Baradar, Mullah Omar’s former number two, can somehow orchestrate a breakthrough. Baradar was arrested by the ISI in early 2010. Ever since then Karzai has been pushing Islamabad hard in order to gain access to him. Finally, reacting to Kabul’s entreaties, the ISI nominally released him this past September, but he apparently remains under house arrest in Pakistan. Late last month on a brief visit to Kabul, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, reacting to Karzai’s insistence, agreed to allow members of Kabul’s High Peace Council, the entity Karzai has designated to negotiate with the insurgents, to meet with Baradar in Pakistan. But after four long years in Pakistani custody it is unclear how much clout or credibility, if any, Mullah Omar’s brother-in-law retains with top insurgent decision makers in Quetta.
Afghanistan is betting heavily on Baradar as the key to peace talks. But this gamble may turn out to be just as big a loser as have all the hopes that Kabul has placed on prisoner releases so far.

Nelson Mandela and Pakistan’s elitist liberals

by Khalid Ahmed Mirza
“Irony / hypocrisy: Those who obfuscate or remain silent on persecution of religious or ethnic minorities are shedding tears on Mandela’s death. They remain silent on or obfuscate the sufferings of Balochs, Pashtuns, Shias, Ahmadis, Christians etc, but are paying tribute to Mandela?”
This status by a former LUBP editor caught my attention. It summarized the hypocrisy of Pakistan’s urban elite and their crocodile tears on the passing away of the great Nelson Mandela. How can those who have remained silent on the brutal suppression of Baloch nationalists by the Pakistan Army have the audacity to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela? On any given day, Mandela would have stood in solidarity with the Baloch! How can the supporters of right-wing pro-Taliban parties (eg PTI, JI, PMLN) eulogize Mandela while also praising their vile, lying and hypocritical leaders?
Nelson Mandela is everything that the Taliban apologist Imran Khan is NOT! Mandela and Khan both stand at opposite ends of the spectrum. Mandela opposed the Apartheid regime and system that separated South Africans on the basis of colour. Imran Khan is an apologist for the system of (anti-woman, anti-SunniBarelvi, anti-Shia and anti-minority) apartheid practiced by the Taliban.
One can see many Pakistani urban, liberal elites sharing facebook statuses in support of Nelson Mandela. Again, they are the polar opposites of the values of truth and resistance that Nelson Mandela stood for. As Christain churches, Sunni Sufi, Ahmadi, Shia mosques and Sufi shrines are under constant attack by the interconnected Takfiri Deobandi groups like the Taliban and Sipah Sahaba, the role of Pakistan’s (fake) civil society and urban chattering class is despicable.
For example, there are characters like Dr. Haider Shah, founder of the so-called Rationalist Society of Pakistan (a facebook page), who instead of identifying the perpetrators (ASWJ), advocates for an end to the religious freedom of Sunni Sufi and Shia Muslims and Hindus and their right to commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussain at Karbala. Refer to “Dr Haider Shah: Rationalizing Prejudice”
Sadly, Dr. Haider Shah is only one of numerous examples and cases of Pakistan’s hypocritical and deeply bigoted Fake Civil Society who echo the words of terrorist hate mongers like Ludhainvi. Nelson Mandela opposed apartheid in South Africa while Pakistan’s urban elites (posing as liberals) stand behind the Takfiri Deobandi drive to create an Apartheid against the Sunnis and Shias. Nelson Mandela was inspired by Gandhi who in turn was inspired by Imam Hussain. Nelson Mandela would have stood with the Sunni, Shia, LGBT and Hindu processions for Imam Hussain. Like he opposed Apartheid in South African, Mandela would have opposed hate mongering terrorists and supremacists like Ludhainvi Deobandi of ASWJ-LeJ whose goal is to cage and eliminate Pakistan’s Non-Takfiri Deobandi majority. He would have appreciated the essential symbol of Resistance and Protest that forms the core of Azadari for Imam Hussain. Unfortunately in Pakistan, its elitist Fake Civil Society stands with Ludhainvi’s agenda of curbing Muhurrum. Many of these urban elites already support an apartheid against Pakistan’s poor and working classes anyways. They idolize corrupt, Islamofascist and Pro- Rape Judges like the current CPJ Iftikhar Chaudhary. Truly, then, it is an insult to the senses to see the same compromised fake civil society shed crocodile tears for the Great Nelson Mandela. Pakistan is already an apartheid state for Christains, Hindus and Ahmadi Muslims. It is nearly an apartheid state for its Shia, Sunni (Barelvi) and moderate Deobandi populations. Those Pakistanis who cannot be honest about this reality cannot hide their hypocrisy simply by remembering Mandela on Facebook.
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Pakistan: Saint Joseph’s Hospice In Rawalpindi On The Verge Of Closure

Saint Joseph’s Hospice serving since 50 years is now being forced to close on account of deficiency, of funds and rising expenses.
Located in the West ridge area of Rawalpindi; a crammed full area with winding streets, this petite Christian hospice run by Irish nuns has served of the impoverished and disabled for 50 years now. What’s distressing is that the hospice that caters mostly to Muslim patients is at present being obliged to shut as a result of decreasing donations and increasing expenses.
For Aysha Gulrehman; the hospice has been her home for 10 years. At the age of 12 she was hit by a bullet outside her home in northwest of Pakistan she has been battling with “cerebral palsy.” “When I first came here, I couldn’t do anything, now I can eat by myself and I can write,” she says. “Everybody here loves me and takes care of me. I wasn’t looked after like this in my own home.”
There are 40 patients in the hospice similar to Aysha, who are insolvent. Some of the paraplegics and quadriplegics have been cast off. Sister Margaret Walsh along with a group of local and international volunteers have been striving to maintain St. Joseph’s service. Nevertheless 50 years have gone by; donations are diminishing while Naveed Inderyas a bookkeeper by profession says:”Fuel, electricity and medical costs are rising. According to our bank balances, we can survive only for the five months.”
Even though, the hospice looks after people of all religions; majority holds the view that: “As a Christian institution, its own faith community should be responsible to raise the money.” However sectarian hostility has distanced majority of Pakistan’s better off Christians thus lessening donations.
Dr. Munawar Sher Khan says:” While there are many charitable organizations in Pakistan, St. Joseph’s is unique.” “It gives a unique service,” she added. “There is no place to the best of my knowledge that helps the disabled, the chronically ill, they are rejected from other hospitals, they can’t afford to go to hospitals, and they can’t afford expensive treatments.”
Another occupant of the hospice, Mohammed Sohail who dove into a lake and cracked his head on a rock in his youth: thus paralyzed from the neck down.”These people, especially hospice, they know what to do with me,” he says. “Dressings, food — a lot of other things, special needs for patients they provide us — and slowly, slowly, starting that day, I did move my neck, my hand, my finger, and now I am like a big man,” he continued. Sister Walsh determined to keep the hospice running says:”I will fight to keep the hospice open, as closing seems too painful an option. I love the hospice, and I just can’t bear the thought of it closing,” she says. “For what? Why are we closing? Insufficient funds? People don’t care anymore? I care, that’s it.”
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