Friday, January 3, 2014
Bahraini demonstrators have held an anti-regime protest in the village of Shakhora, west of the kingdom’s capital city, along with the leader of the country’s main opposition party. On Friday, Sheikh Ali Salman, who is the head of the al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, also attended the protest to condemn jailing of photographers and activists by the Al Khalifa regime. The rally came a day after Bahrainis held protest rallies across the Persian Gulf kingdom, calling for the downfall of the regime. Over the past months, the Bahraini regime has stepped up its heavy-handed crackdown on peaceful protesters and activists in the country. In late December 2013, a court in Bahrain sentenced five opposition protesters to 15 years in prison on charges of being behind two bomb attacks, including one during the 2012 Formula One race. Reports say the protesters told the court that they had confessed under duress. On December 24, 2013, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights censured the Al Khalifa regime for arresting and torturing the youth and keeping them in detention for long periods. Bahrainis have been staging demonstrations since mid-February 2011, calling for political reforms and a constitutional monarchy, a demand that later changed to an outright call for the ouster of the ruling Al Khalifa family following its brutal crackdown on popular protests. In October 2013, Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said, “The [Bahraini] authorities simply slap the label 'terrorist' on defendants and then subject them to all manner of violations to end up with a 'confession'.”
The suspected involvement of converts to Islam in Russian suicide bombings points to the growing reach of jihadists far beyond the Muslim provinces of Chechnya and Dagestan, where insurgency and separatism have simmered for two decades. Russian news media say the authorities suspect an ethnic-Russian convert to Islam may have been behind one of the two suicide bombings that killed a total of 34 people in the past two days in Volgograd, a southern Russian city.Another convert is suspected of building a bomb used to kill seven people in the same city two months ago. The attacks came half a year after two Chechen brothers who had lived in Dagestan became the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three Americans, sign that a conflict once seen as remote by the West could have consequences far afield. Security experts say that insurgents have used ethnic Russians to carry out attacks in other parts of Russia, both because of the symbolism of their conversion to radical Islam and because Slavic appearance could help them avoid detection. "This is a new strategy that we have been seeing more often lately. It's a massive problem for law enforcement agencies," said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia's security services. Pavel Pechyonkin, named by Russian news agencies as a possible suspect in the first of two attacks within 24 hours - a suicide bomb that killed 18 people at Volgograd's railway station on Sunday - was a paramedic from the Mari El region in central Russia. An ethnic Russian on his father's side, he converted to Islam, his mother's religion. He left home in 2011 to join insurgents in Dagestan, his parents said earlier this year in a video message posted on the Internet, appealing to their son to lay down arms. In response, Pechyonkin recorded his own video message, saying he was following God's will. "Here Muslims are being killed and kidnapped ... Why should we follow those Christian commandments, when Allah urges us to fight those kafirs? Why shouldn't we leave their children orphaned?" he said, wearing a green tunic and skull cap. Authorities also believe an ethnic Russian from the Moscow suburbs, Dmitry Sokolov, built a suicide explosive belt detonated by his Dagestani wife in a bus bombing in Volgograd in October, law enforcement sources in Dagestan said. The two met on online Islamist chat rooms. Sokolov was killed by Russian security forces in November, alongside four other militants in a house in Dagestan. RECRUITS FROM AS FAR AS CANADA Vladimir Putin crushed separatists in Chechnya when he rose to power 14 years ago. But an Islamist insurgency spread to neighbouring Dagestan and remains the deadliest conflict in Europe. Fighters have recruited to their ranks from as far afield as Canada. Yekaterina Sokirianskaya, a Caucasus expert at International Crisis Group, says many new converts adopt a fundamentalist form of Islam that often puts them in conflict with their families and makes them more prone to "radicalisation". "They are very attractive to insurgents," Sokirianskaya said. "The last attack could have been carried out only by a Slavic man, this is clear, because security measures were tightened and a women in a hijab would have been noticed." Heavy security around Sochi means an attack on the Black Sea resort city where the Olympics will be held in February would be extremely difficult, security experts say, but the greatest potential threat is from a suicide bomber. "This is very effective tactic. It requires very little preparation and very little money, but it is very hard to stop," Alexei Filatov, deputy head of the veterans' association of the Alfa anti-terrorism unit. Russian police have launched a security operation making no secret that they are targeting migrants from Muslim areas. A bomber recruited from another part of Russia, preferably with a Russian-sounding name, would have an easier time reaching a target than one with a Muslim name whose identity documents were issued in Chechnya or Dagestan. More than 120 people have become suicide bombers during Putin's rule, Grigory Shvedov, editor of website Kavkaz-uzel.ru, which tracks the unrest. A harsh crackdown on adherents of the strict Salafist strand of Islam practiced by militants has added fuel to the insurgency, Shvedov and other experts say. "Although brute force is being used in the North Caucasus now, they (the authorities) cannot build a wall thick enough to prevent terrorists from slipping out," Shvedov said. CAUCASUS EMIRATE Local militant groups in Chechnya, Dagestan and other North Caucasus provinces united in 2007 under the leadership of Doku Umarov, a former Chechen rebel, whose Caucasus Emirate group says it was behind suicide bombings that killed 37 people at a Moscow airport in 2011 and 40 on the Moscow subway in 2010. He urged his fighters in a video posted online in July to use "maximum force" to prevent Putin staging the Olympics.
Severe snow storms in the U.S. and flooding in Britain is causing havoc for families and businesses, while Germany and France are enjoying exceptionally mild temperatures. Hayley Platt talks to meteorologists to find out what's behind the extreme variations and if this is the pattern we should get used to.
US airport officials report on Thursday that over 1,800 international and local flights have been cancelled and almost 3,000 delayed in a number of northern and eastern states due to heavy snowfalls.
The heavy snow falling along much of the mid-Atlantic Coast into New England is expected to taper off Friday as a nor'easter heads into Canada, leaving bitter cold in its wake, the National Weather Service said.
Talks could resume if there is a new president in April who is seen to have wide support and whom the Taliban could trust. But are the Americans and Nato ready to help in such talks? If these important issues are not discussed with Mr Karzai now, the consequences could be terrible. A rigged election and a continuation of the war with the Taliban could lead to thousands of casualties, tens of thousands of refugees, a humanitarian crisis and international terrorist groups returning to Afghanistan. The world will have no will to intervene once again, and the neighbouring states will pour in money and arms to try and control some of the warlords. As the Americans leave and in order to highlight these outstanding problems, what is needed is a genuine neutral mediator who can help all the elements in this complex equation reach the right conclusions. The United Nations or the European Union or individual, non-controversial countries such as Norway or Germany could play such a role. The tragedy is that the US and Nato-led war has emasculated the potential peacemakers and mediators. We need to prepare for the Western withdrawal now by building a major Western diplomatic initiative that will replace Western military force.
http://www.firstpost.com/Pakistan People's Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose posts on Twitter have been creating a storm, today cautioned his opponents that he would do much more once he is elected to parliament. "If my tweets freak you out so much wait and see what I can do from parliament," the scion of the Bhutto family said in a tweet. He became eligible to contest parliamentary polls when he turned 25 in September.
Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Thursday demanded constitution of an independent medical board to verify Pervez Musharraf's heart ailment, hours after the former military ruler was admitted to an army hospital. "All medical excuses must be verified by an independent board of doctors. I have an ouchy is no excuses to skip your treason case," the 25-year-old Patron-in-Chief of the PPP tweeted. "I can't believe this coward ever wore the uniform of our brave and courageous armed forces. Disgrace," Bilawal said, launching a scathing attack on Musharraf. The 70-year-old former president's international spokesperson retaliated to Bilawal's remarks, tweeting, "How dare you make such insinuations against General Musharraf. Don't forget your father while in office was airlifted to Dubai." Bilawal has been increasing voicing his views on various issues and has announced that he and his sisters, Aseefa and Bakhtawar, would become part of the political mainstream before the next general election in 2018. Bilawal's sister Aseefa tweeted,"Hope for Musharraf's speedy recovery so he can finally enter the court". Musharraf who had to appear before the special treason court was rushed to a hospital on Thursday. He left his heavily guarded farmhouse on the outskirts of Islamabad to attend the treason case hearing but on his way he complained of chest pain. Musharraf's convoy was immediately diverted to Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC) in Rawalpindi for a medical checkup after which he was admitted. Aasia Ishaque, spokesperson of Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party said, "He suffered a severe heart attack while he was on his way to the court."
General Pervaz Musharraf has been unable to appear before the court yet again on January 2. This time it wasn’t any bomb laid in his way that prevented the former military ruler from reaching the court. It so happened that a sudden pain appeared in Musharraf’s chest and his car had to be diverted towards the combined military hospital. He was admitted in the intensive care unit. A medical board has been constituted to diagnose him and to decide whether he should be treated in Pakistan or abroad. Musharraf’s trial under Article 6 has so far passed through unusual impasses, creating suspicion about the entire case, especially over the possible role of the intelligence agencies in getting the matter delayed. Musharraf on the other hand has been suspicious of the government’s intentions. He considers the creation of a special court, the selection of judges and the choice of the prosecutor a ploy to take revenge from him. Lately he has said that as a military man his case cannot be heard but in a military court. The question is that when Musharraf took over the reins of power, was this in the civilian sphere or the military? He has been donning the hats of both the president and that of the chief of army staff. He got his presidency ratified from his self-designed parliament through an amendment in the constitution. However, upholding the sanctity of the office of the president and Chief of Army Staff, the court has refused to issue his arrest orders. The case has also been adjourned until January 6 due to his indisposition. Though it is all hazy and nothing could be said for certain if Musharraf will be tried at all or not, if the government had shown even an iota of political will this case would have had a different feel. A feel of justice and not what is being called a vendetta. Resurrecting the spectre of November 3, 2007, and keeping the skeletons of the 1999 coup hidden shows that a deliberate case is being created to single out Musharraf. This atonement for others’ sins by one person might not go down well internationally. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud-al-Faisal is arriving in Pakistan on January 6. He might be coming with some proposal to get the former military ruler out of the country. Saudi Arabia has been instrumental in getting Nawaz Sharif out of hot water after the 1999 coup that toppled his government. Musharraf had listened to Saudi Arabia then in favour of Nawaz Sharif. It might now be Nawaz Sharif’s turn to listen to the kingdom’s voice in favour of Musharraf.
The government did not task Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) Chief Maulana Samiul Haq to revive peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), sources told Express News on Friday. Express News correspondent Aamir Ilyas Rana reported that sources clarified that the influential cleric had asked for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s time, and after meeting him, unilaterally announced that the government had given him the task to hold peace talks. On December 31, it was reported that Nawaz was looking to mend broken communication links with TTP, naming Haq as the government’s point man and ice-breaker in the proposed negotiations. The recently-initiated dialogue process had collapsed after the TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack on a North Waziristan compound. Background It should be noted that JUI-S was not invited in the All Parties Conference in 2013, which was convened to chalk out a plan to tackle terrorism. Samiul Haq was not made a part of the government’s plans of starting dialogue with the TTP after JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman expressed his reservations over Haq’s inclusion. Haq is nicknamed the ‘Father of the Taliban’ and runs a madrassa where several Taliban leaders were educated.