Monday, January 20, 2014

Naghma - Afghani Mashoma New Afghan Song 2014

Several killed, at least nine injured in Nebraska plant explosion

Ukraine's president calls for compromise amid violent protests

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich appeals for compromise, as police and demonstrators continue to clash in the streets of Kiev. Jillian Kitchener reports.

U.S.-China Relations and the Western Pacific

By Denny Roy
Maritime assertiveness in 2013 appears to have dashed hopes for a “new kind of great power relations.”
The middle of 2013 brought the possibility of a reset in U.S.-China relations, as new Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke of his desire for a “new kind of great power relations” as he enjoyed relaxed, heart-to-heart talks with U.S. President Barack Obama at a California resort. The year ended, however, with further evidence that strategic friction between Beijing and Washington is serious and long-term. The Chinese declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, a new demand that foreigners get China’s permission before fishing in the South China Sea, and the incident involving the U.S. Navy cruiser Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel reinforced the suspicion that despite explicit denials, Beijing intends to impose a sphere of influence over the seas off the Chinese coast.
That intention is not surprising; it is typical behavior for a great power, and China sees itself as a rising great power in a region where the long-dominant power, the United States, is declining. Furthermore, China is a returning great power that for centuries dominated or attempted to dominate its periphery. This sets expectations and provides a familiar pattern for modern-day Chinese, who view the Sinocentric tributary system of the past as a confirmation that China’s destiny is to lead the region in the future.
Neither, however, is China’s apparent intention a cause for celebration for most of the region. Most Chinese have a sanitized view of China’s historical leadership in the region: that China exercised influence through cultural, scientific and economic prowess rather than through coercion or expansionism. Neighboring states – like Vietnam, forcibly occupied for a thousand years by the Chinese – often have a different, darker view of historical Chinese pre-eminence.
The promise that China will never seek hegemony or a sphere of influence has become a mantra of PRC leaders and diplomats. Hegemony means domination: a strong country forcing weaker countries to do what is in the strong country’s interest, as the Chinese often accused the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. of doing during the Cold War. A sphere of influence means a strong country has exclusive supervisory and veto power over international affairs in the areas near its borders.
China’s declaration of an ADIZ in the airspace near its territory followed precedents set by many other countries, including the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Thus it could be seen as China trying to keep up with the Japanese. But the ADIZ also reinforces China’s claim to some level of ownership over the East China Sea, as the ADIZ roughly encompasses the area of sea that China demarcates as its exclusive economic zone, a claim that cuts deeply into the half of the East China Sea bordered by Japanese territory. It is unfortunate that China chose to announce its ADIZ at a time of high tensions with Japan caused by the ongoing standoff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. China’s act might have created a permanent new source of regional conflict. As the U.S. immediately signaled by flying two B-52 bombers into the zone without China’s approval, foreign governments predictably feel compelled to demonstrate non-compliance by violating the ban, which in turn humiliates Beijing and creates pressure for the Chinese to retaliate.
Effective January 1, Beijing is demanding that foreign vessels obtain prior permission from the Chinese government before fishing in the South China Sea. A PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on January 9 that the purpose of the new regulation is “to strengthen the operation, development and rational utilization of fishery resources to protect fishery workers.” It sounds like another effort by Beijing to demonstrate administration and control as a basis for claiming ownership of disputed territory. As with the ADIZ, how strictly the Chinese attempt to enforce this unilateral law remains to be seen, but the PRC already has plans to greatly step up patrols of the South China Sea over the next few years.
In November, the Cowpens was observing China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier battle group while in international waters. According to a Chinese media report, the Cowpens was 30 miles away from the Liaoning. The Chinese position is that the presence of the U.S. vessel violated a prior Chinese government declaration that foreign ships were not allowed in the sector where the Liaoning group was exercising. As was well reported, the Chinese responded with the familiar tactic of intentionally placing one of their ships on a collision course with the U.S. ship. This was disturbing beyond the immediate issue of the Chinese using dangerous seamanship to make a political point.
Beijing and Washington have a long-standing disagreement over the surveillance of China by U.S. aircraft and ships outside China’s territorial waters and airspace, which ends 12 nautical miles off the Chinese coast. China opposes such surveillance even though it is allowed by the International Law of the Sea Treaty, of which China is a signatory. This dispute led to the aerial collision near Hainan Island in 2001 that resulted in a Chinese fighter pilot losing his life and China holding a U.S. aircrew hostage for 10 days while the two governments negotiated a U.S. apology. The dispute resurfaced with the media reports of Chinese ships harassing the U.S. Navy’s surveillance ships Victorious and Impeccable in 2009. During the May 2013 Shangri-La international defense dialogue, a PLA officer revealed that Chinese ships had recently surveilled U.S. Navy vessels near the American coast, raising hopes that the Chinese had accepted the American view that both sides should tolerate surveillance as a normal part of great-power relations. With the Cowpens incident, the Chinese position seems to have retrogressed, opening the possibility of continued incidents at sea as well as in the air. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Cowpens incident is what it says about China’s long-term expectations. Beijing unilaterally declares a section of international waters in the East China Sea to be off-limits to foreigners, then physically enforces this ban – evidently successfully – against a warship of the U.S. Navy. This parallels a ban on foreign fishing activity that China tries to enforce every year in the northern part of the South China Sea. The unilateral exclusion of foreign military vessels is a direct challenge to what could be called an American “core interest”: unhindered transit by U.S. vessels through the world’s international waterways, or what the Navy calls “freedom of navigation.”
The December 21, 2013 edition of the Global Times, a Chinese Communist Party newspaper, obliquely asserted a Chinese version of the Monroe Doctrine based on deference to Chinese “feelings” rather than international law: “the South China Sea will never be the same as the Caribbean, thus the U.S. navy will have to consider the national interests and the feelings of China while cruising in the South China Sea.” Other Chinese media outlets have made similar demands – that Americans must respect Chinese feelings now that China is a strong country – in reaction to reported plans of U.S.-South Korea naval drills in the Yellow Sea after the lethal North Korean provocations of 2010. The Chinese government has similarly complained about Japanese surveillance of Chinese fleets sailing in seas far from China but close to Japan.
After the Yellow Sea and the East China Sea, the other maritime region on China’s periphery is the South China Sea. The Chinese claim to at least partial ownership over the South China Sea is even stronger. To date Beijing refuses to clarify or disavow the infamous “9-dashed line” that on Chinese maps marks a boundary encompassing most of the South China, or the sea within the “first island chain” south of Taiwan. Beijing demonstrated that this claim is not merely symbolic when in 2012 it dispatched government ships to blockade Philippine fishermen from entering Scarborough Shoal, which is over 600 miles from the nearest Chinese coast but is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
Thus, if we disregard the claim of Chinese officials that China doesn’t want a sphere of influence, what we are left with is a growing pile of indications that China does indeed intend to establish a maritime sphere of influence, with exclusive rights to resources. This is not to say that China’s desire for a sphere of influence is limited to the oceans. Beijing also has or is trying to cultivate disproportionate influence in the capitals of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, the Central Asian states, Burma and North Korea. But it is in the maritime Asia-Pacific region that the clash of U.S. and Chinese designs is most serious. A Chinese sphere of influence here would require the eviction of American strategic leadership, including U.S. military bases and alliances in Japan and South Korea, U.S. “regional policeman” duties, and most of the security cooperation between America and friends in the region that now occurs. Washington is not ready to give up this role, seeing a strong presence in the western Pacific rim and the ability to shape regional affairs as crucial to American security.
A basic problem, then, is that Beijing wants a sphere of influence, while Washington is not willing to accede it. Unfortunately, therefore, U.S.-China relations are not poised for a breakthrough that could be achieved with a few concessions. American abandonment of Taiwan will not solve this basic dispute over influence in the region. Nor will it go away if Americans stop complaining about human rights abuses in China or the Chinese government’s involvement in organizing cyber attacks against U.S. corporate and government computer systems. The booming bilateral trade relationship and other ties create reasons to avoid war, but these have not solved the security problems that can independently drag the two countries into conflict.

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Syrian President Assad in exclusive AFP interview

President Bashar al-Assad’s interview with Agence France Presse AFP:
Mr. President, what do you expect from the Geneva conference?
President Assad: The most basic element, which we continuously refer too, is that the Geneva Conference should produce clear results with regard to the fight against terrorism in Syria. In particular, it needs to put pressure on countries that are exporting terrorism, - by sending terrorists, money and weapons to terrorist organisations, - especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and of course the Western countries that provide political cover for these terrorist organisations. This is the most important decision or result that the Geneva Conference could produce. Any political solution that is reached without fighting terrorism has no value. There can be no political action when there is terrorism everywhere, not only in Syria but in neighbouring countries as well. From the political side, it is possible for Geneva to contribute to a process of dialogue between Syrians. There has to be a Syrian process within Syria and whilst Geneva could support this, it cannot be a substitute for it.
AFP: After nearly three years of devastating war and the big challenge of reconstruction in the country, is it likely that you will not be a candidate for the presidency?
President Assad: This depends on two things: It depends on personal aspirations or a personal decision, on the one hand, and on public opinion in Syria, on the other. As far as I am concerned, I see no reason why I shouldn’t stand; as for Syrian public opinion, there is still around four months before the election date is announced. If in that time, there is public desire and a public opinion in favour of my candidacy, I will not hesitate for a second to run for election. In short, we can say that the chances for my candidacy are significant.
AFP: In these past years, have you thought for a moment about losing the battle, and have you thought of an alternative scenario for you and your family?
President Assad: In any battle, there is always the possibility of winning and losing; but when you're defending your country, it's obvious that the only choice is to win. Should Syria lose this battle that would mean the spread of chaos throughout the Middle East. This battle is not confined to Syria and is not, as Western propaganda portrays, a popular uprising against a regime suppressing its people and a revolution calling for democracy and freedom. These lies have now become clear to people. A popular revolution doesn’t last for three years only to fail; moreover, a national revolution cannot have a foreign agenda. As for the scenarios that I have considered, of course these types of battles will have numerous scenarios – 1st, 2nd, 3rd……tenth, but they are all focused on defending the country not on running away from it. Fleeing is not an option in these circumstances. I must be at the forefront of those defending this country and this has been the case from day one.
AFP: Do you think you are winning this war?
President Assad: This war is not mine to win; it's our war as Syrians. I think this war has, if you will, two phases. The first phase, which took the form of plans drawn up at the beginning, was the overthrow of the Syrian state in a matter of weeks or months. Now, three years on, we can safely say that this has failed, and that the Syrian people have won. There were countries that not only wanted to overthrow the state, but that also wanted to partition the country into several ‘mini-states;’ of course this phase failed, and hence the win for the Syrian people. The other phase of the battle is the fight against terrorism, which we are living on a daily basis. As you know, this phase isn’t over yet, so we can't talk about having won before we eliminate the terrorists. What we can say is that we are making progress and moving forward. This doesn't mean that victory is near at hand; these kinds of battles are complicated, difficult and they need a lot of time. However, as I said, and I reiterate, we are making progress, but have not yet achieved a victory.
AFP: Returning to Geneva, do you support a call from the conference for all foreign fighters to leave Syria, including Hezbollah?
President Assad: Clearly the job of defending Syria is responsibility of the Syrian people, the Syrian institutions, and in particular the Syrian Army. So, there would be no reason for any non-Syrian fighters to get involved had there not been foreign fighters from dozens of countries attacking civilians and Hezbollah especially on the Syrian-Lebanese border. When we talk about fighters leaving Syria, this would need to be part of a larger package that would see all the foreign fighters leave, and for all armed men – including Syrians – to hand over their weapons to the Syrian state, which would consequently achieve stability. So naturally, yes, one element of the solution in Syria – I wouldn’t say the objective – is for all non-Syrian fighters to leave Syria. AFP: In addition to the prisoner exchange and a ceasefire in Aleppo, what initiatives are you ready to present at Geneva II? President Assad: The Syrian initiative was put forward exactly a year ago, in January of last year. It's a complete initiative that covers both political and security aspects and other dimensions that would lead to stability. All of these details are part of the initiative that Syria previously put forward. However, any initiative, whether this one or any other, must be the result of a dialogue between Syrians. The essence of anything that is proposed, whether it's the crisis itself, fighting terrorism, or the future political vision and political system for Syria, requires the approval of Syrians. Our initiative was based on a process to facilitate this dialogue rather than a process to express the government's point of view. It has always been our view that any initiative must be collective and produced by both the political actors in Syria and the Syrian people in general.
AFP: The opposition that will participate in Geneva is divided and many factions on the ground don't believe it represents them. If an agreement is reached, how can it be implemented on the ground?
President Assad: This is the same question that we are asking as a government: when I negotiate, who am I negotiating with? There are expected to be many sides at Geneva, we don't know yet who will come, but there will be various parties, including the Syrian government. It is clear to everyone that some of the groups, which might attend the conference, didn't exist until very recently; in fact they were created during the crisis by foreign intelligence agencies whether in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, France, the United States or other countries. So when we sit down with these groups, we are in fact negotiating with those countries. So, is it logical that France should be a part of the Syrian solution? Or Qatar, or America, or Saudi Arabia, or Turkey? This doesn't make any sense. Therefore, when we negotiate with these parties, we're in fact negotiating with the countries that are behind them and that support terrorism in Syria. There are other opposition forces in Syria that have a national agenda; these are parties that we can negotiate with. On the issue of the vision for Syria's future, we are open for these parties to participate in governing the Syrian state, in the government and in other institutions. But as I mentioned earlier, anything that is agreed with any party, whether in Geneva or in Syria, must be subject to people's endorsement, through a referendum put to Syrian citizens. AFP: In this context, could the ceasefire agreements that have been started in Moadimiya and Barzeh be an alternative to Geneva? President Assad: The truth is that these initiatives may be more important than Geneva, because the majority of those fighting and carrying out terrorist operations on the ground have no political agenda. Some of them have become professional armed robbers, and others, as you know, are takfiri organisations fighting for an extremist Islamic emirate and things of that kind. Geneva means nothing for these groups. For this reason, the direct action and the models that have been achieved in Moadamiyeh, in Barzeh and other places in Syria has proven to be very effective. But this is separate from the political process, which is about the political future of Syria. These reconciliations have helped stability and have eased the bloodshed in Syria, both of which help pave the way for the political dialogue I mentioned earlier.
AFP: Are you prepared to have a prime minister from the opposition in a future government?
President Assad: That depends on who this opposition represents. When it represents a majority, let’s say in parliament, naturally it should lead the government. But to appoint a prime minister from the opposition without having a majority doesn’t make any political sense in any country in the world. In your country, for example, or in Britain or elsewhere, you can’t have a prime minister from a parliamentary minority. This will all depend on the next elections, which we discussed in the Syrian initiative; they will reveal the real size of support for the various opposition forces. As to participation as a principle, we support it, of course it is a good thing.
AFP: Are you prepared to have, for example, Ahmed Jarba or Moaz Khatib, be your next prime minister?
President Assad: This takes us back to the previous question. Do any of these people represent the Syrian people, or even a portion of the Syrian people? Do they even represent themselves, or are they just representatives of the states that created them? This brings us back to what I mentioned earlier: every one of these groups represents the country that created them. The participation of each of these individuals means the participation of each of those states in the Syrian government! This is the first point. Second, let’s assume that we agreed to the participation of these individuals in the government. Do you think that they would dare to come to Syria to take part in the government? Of course they wouldn’t. Last year, they claimed that they had control of 70% of Syria, yet they didn’t even dare to come to the areas that they had supposed control of. They did come to the border for a 30-minute photo opportunity and then they fled. How can they be ministers in the government? Can a foreigner become a Syrian minister? That’s why these propositions are totally unrealistic, but they do make a good joke!
AFP: Mr. President, you said that it depends on the results of the elections, but how can you hold these kinds of elections if part of Syria's territory is in the hands of insurgents?
President Assad: During this crisis, and after the unrest started in Syria, we have conducted elections twice: the first was municipal elections and the second was parliamentary elections. Of course, the elections cannot be conducted in the same way they are conducted in normal circumstances, but the roads between Syrian regions are open, and people area able to move freely between different regions. Those who live in difficult areas can go to neighbouring areas and participate in the elections. There will be difficulties, but it is not an impossible process.
AFP: Now that opposition fighters are battling jihadists, do you see any difference between the two?
President Assad: The answer I would have given you at the beginning of the events or during its various phases, is completely different to the answer today. Today, there are no longer two opposition groups. We all know that during the past few months the extremist terrorist groups fighting in Syria have wiped out the last remaining positions that were held by the forces the West portrays as moderates, calling them the moderate or secular forces, or the Free Syrian Army. These forces no longer exist. We are now dealing with one extremist group made up of various factions. As to the fighters that used to belong to what the West calls ‘moderate forces,’ these have mostly joined these extremist factions, either for fear or voluntarily through financial incentives. In short, regardless of the labels you read in the Western media, we are now fighting one extremist terrorist group comprising of various factions.
AFP: Would it be possible for the army and the opposition to fight against the jihadists side by side?
President Assad: We cooperate with any party that wants to join the army in fighting terrorists, and this has happened before. There are many militants who have left these organisations and joined the army to fight with it. So this is possible, but these are individual cases. This is not an alliance between ‘moderate’ forces and the army against terrorists. That depiction is false and is an illusion that is used by the West only to justify its support for terrorism in Syria. It supports terrorism under the pretext that it is backing moderation against extremist terrorism, and that is both illogical and false.
AFP: The state accuses the rebels of using civilians as human shields in areas under their control, but when the army shells these areas, do you not think this kills innocent people?
President Assad: The army does not shell neighbourhoods. The army strikes areas where there are terrorists. In most cases, terrorists enter particular areas and force out the civilians. Why do you think we have so many displaced people? Most of the millions of displaced people in Syria have fled their homes because terrorists forcefully entered their neighbourhoods. If there are civilians among these armed groups, why do we have so many displaced people? The army is fighting armed terrorists, and in some cases, terrorists have used civilians as human shields. Civilian casualties are unfortunately the consequences of any war. There is no such thing as a clean war in which there are no innocent civilian victims. This is the unfortunate nature of war, and that is why the only solution is to put an end to it.
AFP: Mr. President, some international organisations have accused the government and the opposition of committing abuses. After this war ends, would you be ready for there to be an investigation into these abuses?
President Assad: There is no logic to this claim made by these organisations. How can the Syrian state be killing its own people, and yet it is still standing three year on, despite the fact that there are dozens of countries working against it. Had the Syrian state been killing its people, they would have revolted against it long ago. Such a state could not survive for more than few months; the fact that it has resisted for three years means that it has popular support. Such talk is more than illogical: it is unnatural. What these organizations are saying is either a reflection of their ignorance of the situation in Syria, or, in some cases, it shows they are following the political agenda of particular states. The Syrian state has always defended its civilians; it is well documented, through all the videos and the photos circulating, that it is the terrorists who are committing massacres and killing civilians everywhere. From the beginning of this crisis, up until today, these organizations do not have a single document to prove that the Syrian government has committed a massacre against civilians anywhere.
AFP: Mr. President, we know of foreign journalists who were kidnapped by the terrorist groups. Are there any foreign journalists in state prisons?
President Assad: It would be best for you to ask the relevant, specialised agencies on this issue. They would be able to give you an answer.
AFP: Would a reconciliation be possible, one day, between Syria on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey on the other?
President Assad: Politics changes constantly, but this change depends on two factors: principles and interests. We share no common principles with the states you mention; these states support terrorism and they have contributed to the bloodshed in Syria. As for interests, we need to ask ourselves: will the Syrian people agree to shared interests with these countries after everything that has happened and all the bloodshed in Syria? I don't want to answer on behalf of the Syrian people. If the people believe they share interests with these states, and if these states change their policy on supporting terrorism, it is plausible that the Syrian people might agree to restore relations. I can’t individually as President, answer on behalf of all the Syrian people at such a time. This is a decision for the people.
AFP: Mr. President, you were welcomed on the occasion of July 14 (Bastille Day) in the Elysee Palace in Paris. Are you now surprised by France's position, and do you think France may one day play some kind of role in Syria?
President Assad: No, I am not surprised, because when that reception took place, it was during the period - 2008 to 2011 - where there was a attempt to contain Syria's role and Syria's policy. France was charged with this role by the United States when Sarkozy became president. There was an agreement between France and the Bush administration over this, since France is an old friend of the Arabs and of Syria and as such it is better suited to play the role. The requirement at that time was to use Syria against Iran and Hezbollah, and to pull it away from supporting resistance organisations in the region. This French policy failed, because its goal was blatantly obvious. Then the so-called Arab Spring began, and France turned against Syria after it had failed to honour the pledge it had made to the United States. This is the reason behind the French position during that period why it changed in 2011. As for France's role in future, let's talk frankly. Ever since 2001 and the terrorist attacks on New York, there has been no European policy-making to speak of (and that's if we don't look back even further to the 1990s). In the West, there is only an American policy, which is implemented by some European countries. This has been the case on all the issues in our region in the past decade. Today, we see the same thing: either European policy is formulated with American blessing, or American policy is adopted by the Europeans as their own. So, I don't believe that Europe, and particularly France, which used to lead the European policy in the past, is capable of playing any role in the future of Syria, or in neighbouring countries. There is another reason too, and that is that Western officials have lost their credibility. They no longer have double standards; they have triple and quadruple standards. They have all kinds of standards for every political situation. They have lost their credibility; they have sold their principles in return for interests, and therefore it is impossible to build a consistent policy with them. Tomorrow, they might do the exact opposite of what they are doing today. Because of this, I don't think that France will play a role in the immediate future, unless it changes its policy completely and from its core and returns to the politically independent state it once was.
AFP: How long do you think Syria needs to rid itself completely of its chemical weapons stockpiles?
President Assad: This depends on the extent to which the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will provide Syria with the necessary equipment to carry out the process. So far, the process of making this equipment available has been quite slow. On the other hand, as you know dismantling and neutralizing the chemical materials is not taking place inside Syria nor by the Syrian state. A number of countries in different parts of the world have accepted to carry out that process; some have agreed to deal with the less dangerous materials, whilst others have refused completely. Since, the timeframe is dependent on these two factors - the role of the OPCW and the countries that accept to neutralize the materials on their territories – it is not for Syria to determine a timeframe on this issue. Syria has honoured its part by preparing and collecting data and providing access to inspectors who verified this data and inspected the chemical agents. The rest, as I said, is up to the other parties.
AFP: Mr. President, what has changed in your and your family's daily, personal lives? Do your children understand what has happened? Do you talk to them about this?
President Assad: There are a few things that haven't changed. I go to work as usual, and we live in the same house as before, and the children go to school; these things haven't changed. On the other hand, there are things which have affected every Syrian household, including mine: the sadness which lives with us every day - all the time, because of what we see and experience, because of the pain, because of the fallen victims everywhere and the destruction of the infrastructure and the economy. This has affected every family in Syria, including my own. There is no doubt that children are affected more deeply than adults in these circumstances. This generation will probably grow up too early and mature much faster as a result of the crisis. There are questions put to you by children about the causes of what’s happening, that you don’t usually deal with in normal circumstances. Why are there such evil people? Why are there victims? It’s not easy to explain these things to children, but they remain persistent daily questions and a subject of discussion in every family, including my own.
AFP: Through these years, what was the most difficult situation you went through?
President Assad: It’s not necessarily a particular situation but rather group of elements. There are several things that were hard to come to terms with, and they are still difficult. The first, I believe, is terrorism; the degree of savagery and inhumanity that the terrorists have reached reminds us of what happened in the Middle Ages in Europe over 500 years ago. In more recent modern times, it reminds us of the massacres perpetrated by the Ottomans against the Armenians when they killed a million and a half Armenians and half a million Orthodox Syriacs in Syria and in Turkish territory. The other aspect that is difficult to understand is the extent of Western officials' superficiality in their failure to understand what happened in this region, and their subsequent inability to have a vision for the present or for the future. They are always very late in realizing things, sometimes even after the situation has been overtaken by a new reality that is completely different. The third thing that is difficult to understand is the extent of influence of petrodollars in changing roles on the international arena. For instance, how Qatar was transformed from a marginal state to a powerful one, while France has become a proxy state implementing Qatari policies. This is also what we see happening now between France and Saudi Arabia. How can petrodollars make western officials, particularly in France, sell their principles and sell the principles of the French Revolution in return for a few billion dollars? These are only a few things, among others, which are difficult for one to understand and accept.
AFP: The trial of those accused of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri has begun. Do you think it will be a fair trial?
President Assad: Nine years have passed since the beginning of this trial. Has justice been served? Every accusation was made for political reasons. Even in the past few days, we have not seen any tangible proof put forward against the parties involved in the case. The real question should be: why the timing? Why now? This court was set up nine years ago. Have the things produced in the last few days been uncovered only now? I believe that the whole thing is politicized and is intended to put pressure on Hezbollah in Lebanon in the same way that it aimed at putting pressure on Syria in the beginning, immediately after al-Hariri’s assassination.
AFP: You have said the war will end when terrorism is eradicated. But the Syrians and everyone else want to know when this war will end. Within months? After a year? In years to come?
President Assad: We hope that the Geneva conference will be able to provide an answer to part of this by exercising pressure on these countries. This aspect has nothing to do with Syria; otherwise we would have put pressure on these states from the beginning and prevented terrorism from entering Syria. From our side, when this terrorism stops coming in, ending the war will not take more than a few months.
AFP: It appears Western intelligence agencies want to re-open channels of communication with Damascus, in order to ask you for help fighting terrorism. Are you ready for that?
President Assad: There have been meetings with several intelligence agencies from a number of countries. Our response has been that security cooperation cannot be separated from political cooperation, and political cooperation cannot be achieved while these states adopt anti-Syrian policies. This was our answer, brief and clear.
AFP: You have said in the past that the state has made mistakes. In your view, what were the mistakes that could have been avoided?
President Assad: I have said that mistakes can be made in any situation. I did not specify what those mistakes were because this cannot be done objectively until the crisis is behind us and we can assess our experience. Evaluating them whilst we are in the middle of the crisis will only yield limited results.
AFP: Mr. President, without Russia, China and Iran's help, would you have been able to resist in the face of the wars declared against you?
President Assad: This is a hypothetical question, which I cannot answer, because we haven’t experienced the alternative. Reality has shown that Russian, Chinese and Iranian support has been important and has contributed to Syria’s steadfastness. Without this support, things probably would have been much more difficult. How? It is difficult to draw a hypothetical picture at this stage.
AFP: After all that has happened, can you imagine another president rebuilding Syria?
President Assad: If this is what the Syrian people want, I don’t have a problem with it. I am not the kind of person who clings to power. In any case, should the Syrian people not want me to be president, obviously there will be somebody else. I don't have a personal problem with this issue.

China expresses hope for at-risk Syria talks

China on Monday reiterated its call for all parties related with the Syrian violence to "actively" participate in the Geneva II conference after the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) threatened to withdraw.
"We are calling on all sides involved with the Syria issue to actively participate in the Geneva II, and promise to implement the Geneva Communique in an all-round, balanced and effective way," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeman Hong Lei at a regular press briefing.
He added that China attaches high importance to the role of countries in the region and supports them in their push for a political solution of the Syrian conflict. The SNC, Syria's main opposition group in exile, said that it will suspend its participation in the Geneva II conference unless the UN rescinds its invitation for Iran to participate in the conference.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Sunday that he had invited Iran to attend the Syria peace conference, or "Geneva II," scheduled to take place in Switzerland on Wednesday.
"A political solution is the only practical way of solving the Syrian issue. All parties should express their appeals through dialogue and negotiation," Hong said. The Geneva Communique was adopted in June 2012 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and four Middle East countries. It called for the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria to lead the country out of a protracted conflict that broke out in March 2011.

Putin's Electoral Support Grows – Poll

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s electoral rating rose in December, returning to 2000s levels, a new opinion poll by the independent Levada Center showed. Asked whom they would vote for if a presidential election took place next Sunday, 68 percent of respondents said they would vote for Putin, up 10 percent from figures in December 2012. The figures for Putin’s closest possible rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, were 11 percent, slightly down from the December 2012 figure of 12 percent. Some 18 months after Putin’s return to presidency, a total of 22 percent of Russians said they want him to be re-elected after his six-year term expires in 2018. Another 47 percent of respondents said they want another person to be Russia’s president. Meanwhile, just 12 percent of those polled said they could name a possible successor for Putin, while 31 percent said there is no person in Russia who could replace Putin currently. The survey was conducted on December 20-24, 2013, among 1,600 people in 45 Russian regions. The statistical margin of error did not exceed 3.4 percent.

Geneva 2: UN retracts Iran's invite, Syrian opposition confirms attendance

The UN has withdrawn an invitation for Iran to the January 22 Geneva 2 peace conference after Syria’s main western-backed opposition group threatened to pull out of talks if the Islamic Republic attends. A UN spokesperson announced Monday that UN chief Ban Ki-moon has withdrawn his invitation for Iran.
"He (Ban) continues to urge Iran to join the global consensus behind the Geneva communique," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky said. "Given that it has chosen to remain outside that basic understanding, (Ban) has decided that the one-day Montreux gathering will proceed without Iran's participation."
Following the announcement Syria’s main opposition group - Syrian National Coalition – has confirmed its participation in the peace talks.
"We appreciate the United Nations and (U.N. Secretary General) Ban Ki-moon's understanding of our position. We think they have taken the right decision. Our participation is confirmed for 22 January," Monzer Akbik, chief of staff of the president of the National Coalition told Reuters.
Washington said it is hopeful that the sides can now refocus their efforts to end the Syrian civil war.
"We are hopeful that, in the wake of today's announcement, all parties can now return to focus on the task at hand, which is bringing an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and beginning a process toward a long overdue political transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Meanwhile the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, has expressed doubts that the Geneva 2 conference will settle the conflict in Syria. “I’m not very optimistic that the Geneva 2 conference might solve anything in Syria,” the diplomat told Itar-Tass on Monday. Earlier on Monday, the Syrian National Coalition gave the UN until 1900 GMT to withdraw the invite that it sent to Tehran a day earlier and that was accepted by the Islamic Republic. Otherwise, the coalition said, it would boycott the meeting.
The opposition group said it would agree to Iran's participation only if it “publicly states that it is withdrawing its forces, committing to the Geneva 1 agreement in full and committing to implementing any results of Geneva 2,” Anas Abdah, a member of the Coalition's political committee, told Reuters earlier.
Iran is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its attendance of the peace talks has been prompting heated debates throughout the preparation period. Iran maintained it would take a seat at the talks only if no preconditions are set. Several other powers, including the US, insisted that Tehran should agree that the premise of the peace talks is to pave the way for establishing a transitional governing body in Syria, which would remove Assad from power.
Moscow has insisted on Iran’s participation in the talks and said that not inviting the republic would be “an unforgivable mistake.”
“Those who question such a need are clearly not interested in a fair resolution of the Syrian crisis,” Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said at a Security Council meeting on Monday, cited Itar-Tass. He added that it would be “a big mistake” if the Coalition decided against joining in the Geneva 2 talks. Sunday’s last-minute invite by UN chief Ban Ki-moon sparked a confrontation with Saudi Arabia, the US, the UK and France. The American State Department said it would accept the invitation on the condition Iran expresses “explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.” The Geneva communiqué outlines key steps and measures for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. The document, which was agreed upon at the first Syrian peace conference in June 2012, proposed a transitional government to be elected by mutual consent between the Assad government and the opposition. It was vague on the fate of the Syrian president. Ban said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had assured him that Tehran understands the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the Geneva peace plan. However, Iran's deputy foreign minister Hosein Amirabdollahian voiced a different position on Monday.
“Setting such a condition to accept the Geneva 1 agreement for attending the Geneva 2 meeting is rejected and unacceptable,” he said, as cited by ISNA news agency. “Iran will attend the talks without any precondition, based on an invitation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.”

Pakistan: Former President Zardari condemns incessant killings of innocent people by terrorists
Former President Asif Ali Zardari has strongly condemned suicide attack in a market in Rawalpindi Monday morning which killed 13 people and injured over two dozens and called for effective measures to stop continuing bloodshed of defense Personnel and innocent men, women and children.
In a statement former President said that the attacks on security forces and citizens and the bloodletting of innocent people cannot and must not be allowed to go on with impunity. He called for immediate, decisive and credible measures to stop this barbarism. The former President said that Pakistan People’s Party will not leave the people on the mercy of terrorists and will fight the militants with the help of the people.. In times like these we need to have a unified and firm national narrative against militancy that no one should be allowed to distort it.
He prayed to Almighty Allah for eternal peace to the departed souls and early recovery for the injured. He also sympathized with the bereaved families.

Syria Peace Talks Will Be a Sham Without Iran – Russia

This week’s peace talks in Geneva on the ongoing conflict in Syria will be a sham without Iran’s participation, Russia’s foreign minister said Monday as the main Syrian opposition group threatened to boycott talks attended by the Iranians.
“Forty countries have been invited to the Geneva 2 talks … And if Iran is excluded from the list then the conference will resemble something profane,” Sergei Lavrov said. “Iran, of course, along with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq, is one of the countries interested in resolving the situation without further damaging the stability of this important region of the world.” Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, announced Sunday at a news conference that an invitation from the UN to attend the conference had been extended to Iran.
The Syrian National Coalition, the country’s Western-backed opposition group, said Monday it would not attend if representatives from Iran were at the meeting.
The United States insisted that Iran has failed to meet the requirements for participants, which include supporting the establishment of a transitional government. “If Iran does not fully and publicly accept the Geneva communique, the invitation must be rescinded,” the US State Department said in a statement Sunday.
The US reiterated its concerns about Iran’s continuing support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The talks are scheduled to begin Wednesday in Montreux before moving to Geneva. Representatives from several dozen countries as well as the EU, UN, Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation are expected to attend.

Iran invitation puts Syria peace talks at risk

On the eve of the peace talks on Syria, the Geneva-2 conference is on the verge of collapse with the Western-backed Syrian opposition threatening to boycott it unless an invitation for Iran to attend is withdrawn by 19:00 GMT Monday.
Syria's main opposition group, the National Coalition, which had earlier bowed to Western pressure to join the talks that include President Bashar Assad’s government, is now saying it will not attend the talks if the UN does not retract its invitation to Iran.
"We are giving a deadline of 1900 GMT for the invitation to be withdrawn," said Anas Abdah, a member of the Coalition's political committee, told Reuters on Monday.
Abdah reiterated that the Syrian National Coalition would accept Iran's participation only if it “publicly states that it is withdrawing its forces, committing to the Geneva 1 agreement in full and committing to implementing any results of Geneva 2.” Iran was officially invited to participate in the long-awaited Syria peace conference scheduled for January 22, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced Sunday. Tehran has agreed to send its representatives to Geneva.
Ban said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had assured him that Tehran “understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012, Geneva communiqué.” The UN chief said they agreed that the goal of the talks was to “establish by mutual consent a transitional governing body with full executive powers.” However, Iran's deputy foreign minister Hosein Amirabdollahian voiced a different position.
“Setting such a condition to accept the Geneva 1 agreement for attending the Geneva 2 meeting is rejected and unacceptable,” he said, as cited by INSA news agency. “Iran will attend the talks without any precondition, based on an invitation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov supported the UN decision to invite Iran, saying that without the country the talks would be “profane.” "Around 40 countries have been invited to the conference, including Australia, Mexico, Korea, Brazil, India and Indonesia,” Lavrov told a media conference in Moscow. “If Iran were not on the list, that would seem profane.” Lavrov described the opposition’s statement as “capricious” and proof that it’s not genuinely interested in resolving the Syrian crisis. “If one starts being so capricious… The government agrees without any conditions to participate in the talks, to which countries which directly provide the opposition with funding and weapons, including those not moderate at all, have long been invited. So what should it do, demand that those countries withdraw?” Lavrov asked. “Negotiations are about bringing to one table not those who you like, but those upon whom solving the problem depends.” The US argues that Iran has done nothing to ease tensions in Syria and its participation in the conference will not be helpful, according to a senior State Department official. Tehran’s statements on Syria talks “do not meet the bar” to attend the talks, the official said Monday, Reuters reports. Several hours before the deadline set by the opposition expires, the UN chief said “intensive and urgent discussions” were under way. “For the moment, let me just appeal again to all involved to keep the needs of the Syrian people foremost in mind,” Ban told the 15-nation Security Council during a meeting on the situation in the Middle East. Tehran is the main foreign supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its participation in the conference in Switzerland has been one of the stumbling blocks in preparing the talks. Saudi Arabia, which has strongly backed groups fighting Assad's forces, has come out against Iran’s attendance at the talks. An official of the Saudi Arabian King's Office said Monday that Tehran's delegation will be able to arrive in Geneva only if a transition government, which will be formed in Syria, agrees, AP reports, citing Arab media. Another official source cited by Saudi press explained that Iran should not attend because of its stance on Geneva 1 and its military support for the government forces. Iran did not accept the agreement reached at the first Syrian peace conference in June 2012, known as the Geneva Communiqué. The document outlined steps for a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis, including the establishment of a transitional governing body. Tehran’s public support for the document has been one of the preconditions laid down for its participation in the Geneva 2 talks. Iran, however, has maintained that it will not accept any preconditions.
‘UN peacekeepers in Aleppo is hoax’
Sergey Lavrov dismissed as rumor the information that UN peacekeepers could be sent to Aleppo.
"I’ve never heard of this,” he said. “I think it’s another hoax. There are many who are willing to use any chance to let some international military forces into Syria.” He recalled that the plan was to reach a deal between the Syrian government and the opposition so as to open safe humanitarian corridors to Aleppo in order to guarantee security to humanitarian agency workers.
Lavrov suggested certain forces have been trying to use the humanitarian crisis as a pretext for military action. He said before that there were attempts at achieving the same purpose by means of “the artificially created chemical weapons crisis, when all of the blame for the provocations by the opposition forces was laid on the government.”
On Friday, Damascus handed over to Moscow a plan for a ceasefire in the city of Aleppo, asking Lavrov to assist in passing it to the Syrian opposition in order to ensure the implementation of the plan.

Pakistan: No policy to fight militancy

ANOTHER severe blow by the TTP against security forces has been delivered, then quickly followed up with a faux promise of entering into talks with the state. Meanwhile, the government prepares to unveil its much-touted internal security policy while still insisting that talks are very much the preferred option. And sections of the national political leadership issue perfunctory condemnations of the TTP while insisting that dialogue isn’t going anywhere because of the shortcomings and indecisiveness of the government. If that chain of events were offered up as the plot of a horror novel, it would be dismissed as too fantastical and unreal. Except, it is very much the reality of Pakistan today — and profoundly depressing.
Even the new twists to the plot offer little real hope. Reports of military attacks in the Mirali region of North Waziristan yesterday appear to be part of an emerging pattern: the military will hit back when attacked. The military has denied that yesterday’s events in the Mirali region are linked to the Bannu attack on its troops. However, if true, it would suggest less a well-thought-out, meaningful policy to push back against the militants and more a reactionary move that will achieve little. Even the details of the Bannu attack are fairly unsettling: if there is some sense to ferrying troops to North Waziristan in private, unmarked vehicles, why were the vehicles not searched thoroughly before the troops were allowed to board them? If such patently obvious operational details are overlooked in such a high-risk environment — it is difficult to imagine more at-risk troops than those headed to North Waziristan — then what does that say about the overall preparedness of the army?
Still, the fundamental problem remains one of policy confusion. Specifically, the PML-N government has simply not been able to articulate a coherent strategy to tamp down the militancy threat and the security establishment is unwilling to embrace a zero-tolerance, no-to-militancy-of-any-stripe policy. Until those two fundamentals change, there will be nothing meaningful that can be done to combat the terrorism threat. A national consensus that the TTP cannot be adjusted within the structures of the Pakistani state and society is achievable. That does not mean the military option is the automatic and only option. But the talks-first mantra has ceded too much ground to the TTP and allowed them to manipulate the national narrative and the state’s response to the TTP threat. Surely, the politicians pushing for dialogue must be aware of this by now and the PML-N’s stuttering attempts to initiate talks must have made the government aware of why the present course is unwise. But do they have the courage to pick the right course?

Pakistan: Grenade attack on Rangers vehicle in Karachi

Three people have been injured including a Rangers' man in a hand grenade blast near a vehicle of the paramilitary force in Manghopir area, Geo News reported Monday. According to Karachi police chief Shahid Hayat, the incident took place in Mianwali Colony of Manghopir area where unknown assailants lobbed a hand grenade near the vehicle of Rangers. As a result, three people including one troop of the paramilitary force sustained injuries. Rescue and emergency response teams reached the site of the blast and whisked away the injured to the hospital for treatment.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the catalyst of change

Washington Post
MARTIN LUTHER King Jr. preached nonviolence, practiced it and led a great movement guided by its principles. Yet surely he knew, as did most of his followers, that what they were doing would lead to violence. One need only look at the old black-and-white photos of civil rights protests, at the hatred, scorn and, perhaps most important, fear on the faces of some of the white people there to confront the demonstrators to understand how such simple acts as sitting down in a bus or entering a restaurant, seeking the right to vote or go to a better school, could lead to the worst sorts of violence — a bitter truth that followed King to the day of his death.
Yet out of that violence came new understanding of a sort: People who had been all but invisible to much of the United States came to be seen through the newspapers and television as individual human beings : women and children being firehosed; war veterans returning home to be subjected to all the humiliations and restrictions of the time (or to be murdered, like Medgar Evers); polite young men trying to get a sandwich at a lunch counter; a dignified woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus; the children killed by a bomb in a Birmingham church. For many Americans, this marked the first time they had come face to face, or had allowed themselves to come face to face, with the cruelty of racial separation and oppression, a century after the official end of slavery.
It was not a new phenomenon. Many of the men who fought to preserve the Union — probably most of them — had little interest in freeing the slaves. Yet as they moved south, saw the faces and witnessed the conditions under which many enslaved people lived, they gained a new sympathy and understanding of how awful it was. Historian Allen Guelzo writes that Union naval officers “who had some chance ashore to see the remains of the slave system for themselves experienced great awakenings.” Adm. Samuel F. Du Pont, who acknowledged that he had once been “a sturdy conservative” on the question of slavery, “was horrified by the conditions he found on the coastal plantations,” writes Mr. Guelzo. Having seen the institution of slavery in person, Du Pont wrote to a friend, “may God forgive me for the words I have uttered in its defense as intertwined in our Constitution.”
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was seen by some as a radical and a troublemaker. The truth is that he had considerable faith in America. He believed that when people saw the unfairness of the caste system that had grown up in their country — in a nation founded on the principles of equality before the law, the opportunity to advance in life according to one’s merits, the right to choose the people who govern us — they would understand how truly un-American it was and it would all come to an end, and much of it has.

Martin Luther King Jr: The reluctant civil rights leader

On the holiday that celebrates the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., many will remember his sacrifices for the civil rights movement, and serve others in his memory. Because of the accolades he received after his martyrdom, King is often viewed as a charismatic leader who was responsible for the success of the campaign for civil rights reform. But many forget his international outlook, including protest of the war in Vietnam. And history reveals that before he was a civil rights leader he was, first, a preacher, committed to social and economic justice. He was only reluctantly a civil rights leader.
Rosa Parks transformed King into that leader. Chosen to lead the Montgomery bus boycott movement, he quickly gained prominence as the nation's best-known civil rights spokesperson and advocate of Gandhian nonviolent resistance to the Southern Jim Crow system. But during the six years after the boycott's successful conclusion, he never planned and carried out a campaign of civil disobedience. In 1963, King finally had an opportunity to play a leading role in sustained protests in Birmingham. But even in this campaign to pressure local leaders on the city's segregation, he came perilously close to failure.
By early April 1963, his support among local black leaders had declined, and despite initial enthusiasm of the first mass protests, it became clear that he would not be able to recruit many more protesters willing to engage in civil disobedience through clashes with the forces of Police Chief Bull Conner.
As Easter neared, King realized that bail funds were depleted, and few adult activists were prepared to spend long periods in jail. Even Ralph Abernathy and some of his other colleagues were unwilling to risk arrest if this meant being unavailable to deliver Easter Sunday sermons in their churches.
When he made a critical, solitary decision -- his "faith act" -- to submit to arrest on Good Friday, King was not certain that this decision would result in a successful outcome in Birmingham.
Many of his advisers, including his father, had tried to dissuade him from going to jail.
"I don't know what will happen or what the outcome will be," he had admitted to the close associates who gathered in Birmingham's Gaston Motel. After he was arrested and placed in solitary confinement, he remembered enduring "the longest, most frustrating and bewildering hours I have lived."
King regained his confidence only after he learned from his lawyer, Clarence Jones, that entertainer Harry Belafonte had raised $50,000 and promised to raise more to provide bail for those willing to go to jail.
When a group of local white clergymen denounced the Birmingham protests as "unwise and untimely," King responded with the letter from his jail cell that would become the most influential defense of civil disobedience since Thoreau's essay on the subject more than a century earlier.
But King's letter also expressed a philosophical commitment to nonviolent direct action that he had never previously translated into a nonviolent direction action campaign.
King was not able to revive the Birmingham campaign until he allowed himself to be bailed out of jail and gave in to the urging of James Bevel, Dorothy Cotton, and other activists that he allow eager teenagers to participate in marches into Birmingham's downtown area, and thereby reinvigorate the flagging protest movement in Birmingham. When Conner responded with fire hoses and police dogs, the clashes in downtown Birmingham attracted the world's attention. In Birmingham, as had been the case in other communities, the courageous actions of young people demonstrated the effectiveness of King's ideas more than the actions of King himself.
Due to the timely intervention of thousands of young people, King was able to secure a settlement with Birmingham's white business leaders. He could then claim victory rather than suffer an ignominious defeat. King's success in Birmingham marked a major turning point in his life. If he had failed, it is unlikely that he would have been invited to deliver the concluding speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It his even more unlikely that he would he have been given more time than the other speakers that day to share his dream that would enter the nation's collective consciousness.
King's most important contribution to the modern African-American freedom struggle was as an eloquent proponent of civil disobedience, and as a visionary who understood the broader global and historical significance of the African-American civil rights movement. His oratory inspired participants in mass movements that were usually initiated and sustained by others. The Southern freedom struggle certainly would have eventually achieved major civil rights reforms even after a setback in Birmingham, but it is very doubtful whether we would be talking about King today if he had failed in Birmingham in 1963.

Taliban attack on expats in Kabul cafe is likely to accelerate disengagement

Suicide attacks are a regular agony in Kabul but last Friday's restaurant bombing was a rare strike at the city's close-knit community of foreign civilians – and it risks chilling international support for the struggling country.
The Taliban squad chose a Lebanese cafe that had been open for years, was popular with Afghans and foreigners, and with its armed guards and steel doors met the security requirements for groups such as the United Nations left bruised by previous attacks. Details of the 21 killed trickled out over the weekend; the carnage spared few of the eclectic groups of expats who have gathered in Kabul over the last decade.
The dead included an academic and commentator, finance specialists, an old Afghan hand trying to broker peace talks with insurgents for the UN, a security guard, a children's health specialist, and the restaurateur, who was reportedly gunned down trying to protect his clients. Two Britons were injured. The only foreigners absent from the grim list were soldiers.
"This was an attack on foreign civilians targeted merely for being foreign – a rare occasion in this Afghan war," the Afghanistan Analysts Network said in a report on the killings. "It is unlikely that an attack on a restaurant will prompt international missions to stop their work, but the psychological effect is not to be underestimated.
"Pressure from home countries is likely to rise, demanding more restrictions or the withdrawal of personnel. But more security regulations and less personnel means even more compromises on the quality of aid and policymaking."
Already organisations are rethinking their security policies, said aid workers in Kabul. The effects are unlikely to be dramatic but the cumulative impact of a slow reduction in travel and meeting places will almost certainly be damaging. Although foreign organisations can be heavy-handed, short-sighted or plain ignorant and in some cases complicit in wasteful spending of millions of dollars of aid, they are also critical in keeping an underfunded and understaffed government afloat and trying to meet the most pressing food and health needs of one of the world's most vulnerable populations. Foreign interest in Afghanistan's plight was already waning as the combat missions wind down and soldiers head home. If foreign civilians are also forced to cut back their work and profile, it will probably mean another step towards disengagement from Kabul. At a time when the US is mulling whether or not to leave any troops in Afghanistan – and few analysts think funds will flow if the soldiers go – that may be exactly what the Taliban are seeking.
Insurgent attacks in recent years had focused largely on embassies and military bases, where security measures have increased over the last decade. They are now surrounded by formidable blast walls and defensive machine-gun nests, with streets shut off to through traffic.
This has meant even relatively sophisticated attacks like a recent one in which official cars, counterfeit passes and Nato uniforms took attackers to the doorstep of the CIA office in Kabul, could end with few casualties and little impact in the world's media.
In contrast Friday's attack was splashed across front pages around the world.
It also already appears to be affecting rules of foreign organisations in Afghanistan, just as a deadly 2009 attack on a UN guesthouse caused sweeping changes to the way they and other international organisations worked. On Sunday a few dozen activists gathered in central Kabul and marched to the site of the bombing to lay flowers for the dead, carrying signs saying: "We will win, terrorism will lose." It was a rare public act of grieving in a city that has endured decades of violence – and perhaps a sign of how much some feel is at stake.

Video: Dog steals nuggets from oven, goes for 2nd round

Dog steals nuggets from oven, goes for 2nd round

Music: Shabnam Suraya & Sadriddin - Wafai Delam Official Video 2014 wafai dilam

Afghanistan: 9 bombers, US soldier killed in Kandahar ISAF base attack

A complex attack, involving a car bomb and gunmen in Western military uniforms with explosives strapped to their bodies, on a US military base left one coalition soldier and nine assailants dead in southern Kandahar province on Monday, officials said.
The brazen attack that occurred in the militancy-plagued Zherai district began around 11am when a suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car into the wall of the joint US-Afghan troops’ forward operating base, the town’s administrative head, Haji Jamal Agha, told Pajhwok Afghan News. He said the attack involved nine attackers and all of them were killed in an exchange of fire with foreign troops. ISAF said it was a complex attack with a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, enemy forces with suicide vests and small arms fire.
The force also confirmed the death of one service member in the attack, saying all other ISAF personnel were accounted for. Javed Faisal, the governor’s spokesman, also confirmed all the nine attackers involved in the coordinated assault had been killed, but he had no further details. 205th Atal Military Corps commander Gen. Abdul Hamid Hamid said the attackers descended from two cars and then of the cars laden with explosives was crashed against a wall of the base. He said the remaining eight attackers, who were dressed in ISAF military uniforms, tried to force their way into the base but failed and were killed by ISAF and Afghan soldiers.
ISAF said the blast caused damages to the outer perimeter of the base and that the base was currently secured and all enemy forces had been killed. Sources said investigations into the incident had been initiated and more details would be shared with media. In a tweet, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling it “a coordinated group martyrdom assault.” The attack came three days after 21 people, mostly foreigners, were killed in a similar complex attack on a foreign restaurant in the heart of Kabul.
The Nation Security Council (NSC) on Sunday accused “foreign intelligence services” of being behind the attack in Kabul, saying such complex and sophisticated assault was beyond the ability of ordinary Taliban.

Afghanistan hints at spy link to Kabul attack

Afghanistan's National Security Council suggests Pakistani intelligence services were behind restaurant bombing.
Afghanistan's National Security Council, which is chaired by President Hamid Karzai, has accused "foreign intelligence services" of being behind the deadly attack on a Kabul restaurant, in a veiled reference to Pakistan. Pakistan was the main supporter of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and Afghan officials have long voiced suspicions about connections between the hardline movement and Islamabad's powerful intelligence services.
"The NSC said such sophisticated and complex attacks are not the work of the ordinary Taliban, and said without doubt foreign intelligence services beyond the border are behind such bloody attacks," a statement released on Sunday from the palace said.
"Beyond the border" is a phrase commonly used by the Afghan government to refer to neighbouring Pakistan.
Taliban fighters claimed responsibility for Friday evening's suicide attack on a popular Lebanese restaurant in central Kabul in which 21 people, including 13 foreigners, were killed.
Among the dead were three Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, the International Monetary Fund head of mission, and the Lebanese owner of the Taverna du Liban, which was a popular social venue for expats.
In the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, one attacker detonated his suicide vest at the fortified entrance to the restaurant before two other fighters stormed inside and gunned down diners and staff. Fragile ties The accusation of Pakistani involvement is likely to damage regional peace efforts as Pakistan, which has been battling the Pakistani Taliban, is seen as crucial to encouraging the Afghan Taliban to open talks. Many Afghan Taliban leaders seek shelter in Pakistan, and Islamabad's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency is often accused of maintaining ties to the fighters to ensure future influence in Afghanistan after US-led NATO troops withdraw. Pakistani officials were not immediately available to comment on the accusations from Kabul, but Islamabad has always denied any links with the Taliban.
Karzai earlier condemned the restaurant attack and called on NATO forces "to target terrorism" in his country.
Social activists and local residents held a small demonstration in Kabul on Sunday, laying flowers and placards outside the restaurant demanding peace.
Daffodils and roses were laid next to placards, some written in English reading "Peace is what we want" and "We will win, terrorism will lose", outside the entrance to the Lebanese restaurant.
Afghan officials vowed to investigate how the suicide attackers penetrated one of the most secure parts of Kabul. Three police chiefs responsible for the Wazir Akbar Khan district have been suspended over the security breach. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to the four UN staff killed in the attack, and pledged that the UN would maintain its work in Afghanistan. The blast has led to embassies, aid organisations and international institutions re-assessing whether their staff can operate safely in the Afghan capital. NATO combat forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan this year after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled over a deal to allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014. Underlining Pakistan's own battle with rebel fighters, Pakistan army helicopters fired missiles killing three fighters in the northwest of country on Sunday after a bomb killed 22 soldiers in the same region earlier in the day.

Experts: Taliban have not changed strategy with Kabul restaurant attack

The weekend attack on a Kabul restaurant frequented by foreigners came as no surprise to international organizations on the ground. Experts don't believe the Taliban have changed their strategy to target more civilians.
Dramatic scenes must have played out in the restaurant: Guests sought cover under tables as a group of terrorists shot wildly into the dining rooms. News agencies report the restaurant owner tried in vain to fend off the attackers. He was among the more than 20 people who perished, most of whom were employees at international organizations. The attackers were also among the dead. During the evening dinner rush, at 7:00 p.m. Friday (17.01.2014), one of three Taliban members detonated his explosives-laden vest and blew a breach in the highly secured restaurant. Neither the man-high blast walls, nor the secured access points with armed guards could stop the attackers. The two remaining terrorists were killed later in a firefight with security forces at the scene.
No change in Taliban strategy
The suicide bombing on the popular Lebanese restaurant, Taverna Du Liban, in the high-end Kabul neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan was the worst attack so far in 2014. Afghanistan votes for a new president in April; and the international troops are scheduled to withdraw from the country by the end of the year. Although there are plans for a small contingent to remain in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai first has to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States. But he continues to play for time. In this context, the Taliban may be targeting civilians more in order to drive out not just the military coalition, but the entire international community. Yet "as horrible as this incident is, I don't see a change in strategy," said Thomas Ruttig, the co-director of the Afghan Analysts Network. Similar attacks have also been launched before, "at least 12 to 15 times in the past eight years," Ruttig said. The worst attack was in 2012 at Qargha Lake, a popular weekend destination near Kabul. More than 20 people were killed, all of them Afghans.
Extensive security precautions
The Taliban, which normally doesn't miss an opportunity for fiery rhetoric, hasn't declared a change in strategy. A spokesman for the Islamist militant group said the attack was retaliation for a NATO airstrike in Parwan Province, a few kilometers north of Kabul. According to an assistant of the Afghan president, seven children and one woman died in the coalition strike. "You have to carefully monitor the security situation," Nils Wörmer, head of the Konrad Adenauer Institute in Kabul, told DW. "But I think it's a bit early to talk about a change in [Taliban] strategy." Wörmer's office lies just a few hundred meters from the site of Friday's attack. He could clearly hear the explosion, which shook the window panes in his office.
"It was immediately clear to me that something had happened," Wörmer recounted. But the Konrad Adenauer Institute was prepared.
"We had a relatively concrete warning in the last week related to our neighborhood, and we were very cautious," Wörmer said. He met with colleagues in his secured office. Like most of the international organizations, the Konrad Adenauer Institute is also integrated into the security networks. "The security precautions are high," Wörmer said. "But that doesn't exclude the possibility that something similar could happen again." But the Afghan security forces have succeeded in preventing many attacks in the past few months, he said. Kabul residents criticize Taliban
An informal, impromptu poll by DW's Kabul correspondent, Hussein Sirat, suggested the Taliban are not winning Afghan hearts and minds with such attacks.
"Wherever the Taliban have
killed civilians, they have not achieved their goal," said Mirwais, a pedestrian in the Kabul city center. Idris, another Kabul resident, seconded Mirwais' sentiment.
"The Taliban intimidate the people so that the security agreement won't be signed," he said. "But the people won't bend to this intimidation."
How the international organizations adapt to the tense security situation in Kabul will come after many conversations, analyses, and briefings in the following days. But Wörmer is not thinking about giving up. "We have a clear agenda and long-term projects, which I considered to be very sensible," Wörmer said. "I am of the opinion, as I was before, that what I'm doing here with the Konrad Adenauer Institute is worth the risks."

Pakistan: Victims Of Peshawar Church Blasts To Receive Counselling From Specially Trained Team Of Peshawar Diocese

The Diocese of Peshawar sends a seven member team for counselling training to provide counselling services to the Peshawar Church blasts victims.
As CIP has learned, members of the Peshawar Diocese have undertaken counselling training for the purpose of helping the mentally distressed and traumatized victims of the September 22 suicide bombings at the All Saints Church. The members who had been trained for counselling included a team of seven who travelled all the way to Lahore for training organized by Interserve. Some of these trainees had themselves lost loved ones in the incident. Sessions included ‘Effective Listening’ and ‘Overcoming Grief’.
Fehmida William one of those who has received counselling services from those trained expressed overwhelmingly that she moral support from these counsellors. She had lost her husband and two children in the blasts. As she went on to put in plain words the results these counselling sessions have had she told that she received help and support after the incident from a range of charities and Churches. She said: They all gave me moral support and financial help as well. It is worth mentioning that the Diocese of Peshawar has arranged a team of Medical professionals who provide Nursing Care, Physiotherapy, and Psychological and spiritual counselling on a regular basis.
She herself sustained injuries in the attacks said: four months on, I am physically on the mend and it is my faith in God that is helping me cope with the loss of my family.I keep praying to God and he blessed me with patience and peace of heart. Although it’s a great loss, as my children and husband will never come back, the Spirit of God is with me, and it consoles me all the time. Praise the Lord! I am mobile; I can walk with the help of a walking frame. I can socialise with others, and the healing process is still going on. Hopefully, with the grace of God, one day I will be fully recovered, but I will always be in debt to all those people who helped me and my family, especially my in-laws and Diocese of Peshawar which I am sure will never abandon its people.
While a spokesperson for the diocese wrote in its latest newsletter to the Anglican News: Still the Christian community of Peshawar is passing through a very difficult time full of grief after the blast at All Saints’ Church, Peshawar.They need proper comfort and counselling. The diocese has deep concern about them and is struggling to provide them with spiritual counselling and comfort.As a result the seven were sent to learn more about how to support those coming to terms with loss and injury.
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Pakistan: Between the devil and the deep blue sea

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
Pakistan is a multicultural and multi-religious country. Imposition of an identity or a narrative that does not accommodate its multicultural and multi-religious nature will always be a failure
Many decades ago, Faiz sahib wrote an essay on the culture of Pakistan. It was perhaps the most comprehensive vision of the Pakistani identity, which was inclusive, democratic, respectful and, I daresay, secular. It was a fascinating mosaic from pre-Islamic heritage to its Muslim identity and inspiration, with the local cultures of the Pashtun, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindhi.
Tragically, today Pakistan is caught between two extremes and multiple variants, suffering for the want of that vision. What are these extremes? The first extreme comprises those who want to take Pakistan into the Middle Ages by imposing a theocracy based on their own interpretation of Islam. To them, Pakistan is the world’s sole Islamic nuclear power, which everyone is out to destroy. Islam to them is the answer to all the problems facing Pakistan. They are prone to using terms such as ‘westoxified’, ‘peons of the west’, ‘liberal fascists’ and ‘paid slaves’ for everyone they disagree with. A variant of this extreme wants to wage a 1,000 year war against India and is given to such slogans as “Bharat se rishta kiya; nafrat ka intiqam ka” (Relationship with India: hate, revenge). A slightly different variant wants to bring back the Khilafat. Inevitably, all these extremes are pro-Taliban and believe that anyone fighting the Taliban cannot be a martyr. Meanwhile, the same people support the complete extermination of the Baloch citizens of Pakistan.
The second extreme consists of self-styled ‘freethinkers’. To them, everything about Pakistan is wrong, starting from its creation. Their standard of ‘liberalism’ is not a person’s position on such things as women’s rights, minorities’ rights or equality of citizenship but whether or not you are willing to denounce Pakistan as a country. Indeed, in this group, unless you reject Pakistan in toto and become a self-hating Pakistani, you cannot be considered a meaningful member of humanity. Essentially, what they want is for Pakistan to disband its army, give its nuclear weapons to India and just roll over and die. Invariably, they believe that while Waziristan should be bombed out of existence, Balochistan should be declared an independent state as soon as possible. A variant of this extreme believes that the root cause of all that is wrong with the world is Islam the religion.
These two extremes have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Without one the other cannot exist. Both essentially agree with each other’s narrative without accepting it. In the process, these outspoken extremists on both sides marginalise all other opinions in the middle. Here I would like to state a few facts for both sides to consider: Pakistan exists and it is here to stay. Its disintegration is in no one’s interest. A great majority of the people of Pakistan is emotionally attached to and derive their life’s inspiration from the religion of Islam but it does not mean that they would accept the imposition of a theocratic dystopia on their heads. It also does not mean that Islam will cease to play an important role in their lives. Pakistan is a multicultural and multi-religious country. Imposition of an identity or a narrative that does not accommodate its multicultural and multi-religious nature will always be a failure. The Pakistani nation — one and indivisible — comprises Baloch, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and countless other ethnicities, all of whom are part and parcel of what makes us Pakistani. Each language that is spoken in Pakistan is a Pakistani language but Urdu is our lingua franca, our common tongue with which we communicate with each other. Islamic ideology, if there is such a thing, can only mean justice, fair play and equality, and any attempt to narrowly define this ideology would mean unmitigated disaster. Pakistanis are proud of their men and women in uniform but we shall never again accept a uniformed president. Belittling the sacrifices of our soldiers because of four unthinking generals who derailed democracy in this country is not acceptable. And, finally, Pakistan must always be a democracy. Without democracy, Pakistan ceases to be Pakistan.
During the course of the few years that I have been writing on these pages, many have queried as to why I speak up for the Ahmedis. It is because in this patriotic community, I have always found a genuine love for this country despite all the persecution they have to face. They — much more than our ‘freethinkers’ who, mind you, have always been beneficiaries of this country’s lopsidedness — have genuine grievances against the country but have you ever seen an Ahmedi question the existence of the country or abuse it? Every August 14, their buildings are lit up and the flag of Pakistan flies high. The Ahmedis’ contribution to Pakistan’s creation, existence and survival are second to none. They still pray for this country because they believe that it is their own country. Though many of our countrymen hate them, it has not turned them into self-hating Pakistanis. There are many Pakistanis — many of them Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of every kind — who reject these extremes and all their variants. Ultimately, as Pakistanis we have every right to exist as an independent and honourable people. The two extremes that hold us hostage cannot be counted upon to deliver us from this quagmire because, at the end of the day, they are too self-serving and self-engrossed to care about this country. It is us — the middle Pakistanis — who reject both those who hate the world and those who hate ourselves, who will ultimately have to take control of Pakistan’s destiny. This will be our Pakistan; the Pakistan of tomorrow.