Friday, February 14, 2014

Behind the lines: Salafi insurgency fermenting

While the main focus of the jihadi groups in northern Sinai is the regime in Cairo, the situation in the peninsula has serious implications for Israel. Northern Sinai has long played host to a variety of smuggling networks and jihadi organizations. Since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s July 3 military coup in Egypt, however, there has been an exponential increase in attacks emanating from this area. This increasingly lawless region is now the staging ground for an emergent Islamist insurgency against the Egyptian authorities. Since July 2013, more than 300 reported attacks have taken place in Sinai. The violence is also spreading into the Egyptian mainland, with attacks in recent weeks on a security facility in Cairo, and the killing of an Interior Ministry official in the capital. Some of the groups engaged in the fighting are linked to global jihadi networks, including al-Qaida. Others have connections to elements in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The precise links between the various organizations engaged are difficult to trace. This emergent reality in northern Sinai has serious implications for Israel. While the main focus of the jihadi activity is directed against Sisi’s administration in Cairo, some of the groups centrally involved have a track record of attacks against Israeli targets. In al-Qaida’s official propaganda channels, the north Sinai area is described as a new front in the war against “the Jews and the Americans.” The most significant group operating in northern Sinai today is Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem); this organization has been active since 2011. It originated in Gaza, and made its way to Sinai following the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The group’s name will raise a wry smile for Israeli and Jewish readers. The Arabic term Bayt al-Maqdis (House of the Holy) for Jerusalem derives from the older Hebrew name for the Jewish Temple – Beit Hamikdash, with the same meaning. Contemporary Islamists and jihadis, of course, would fiercely deny that any Jewish Temple ever stood in Jerusalem. But this absence of logical consistency appears to have little impact on the organization’s energy for violent activity. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis was responsible for repeated attacks on the El-Arish-Ashkelon gas pipeline in 2011-2012, which eventually led to the suspension of supplies via this route. The group also carried out the cross-border terror attack on August 18, 2011, in which eight Israelis were murdered, and an additional strike into Israel on September 21, 2012, which took the life of an IDF soldier. More recently, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for the rocket attack on Eilat on January 20, 2014. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The organization’s main focus in recent weeks has been on increasingly high-profile attacks against Egyptian targets. These have included an attempt on the life of Egyptian Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim on September 5, and a series of bomb attacks in Cairo this past January. On January 25, the group claimed responsibility for downing a military helicopter over northern Sinai. The weapon used in this attack, a Russian Igla air-defense system, was reportedly smuggled out from Gaza, where the group maintains links with Salafi Jihadi elements. So what exactly is Ansar Beit al-Maqdis? According to a former member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, Nabil Naeim, the group is funded by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, following a deal brokered with powerful Brotherhood strongman Khairat al-Shater. Naeim suggested that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is supplied with weapons by the Brotherhood via the Gaza tunnels and Libya. He maintains that the Hamas authorities in Gaza are aware of the deal. The alleged Brotherhood links were also asserted by Sameh Eid, described in an Al-Arabiya article as an “expert on Islamist groups.” Eid referred to the group as the “military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood,” and said that Shater had threatened the Egyptian authorities with “escalation in Sinai and the targeting of the Egyptian Army.” Little hard evidence, however, has yet emerged to support the claims of a direct Brotherhood link to Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. The Egyptian authorities have an obvious interest in linking the violence erupting out of northern Sinai with the Brotherhood. Having brought down the Brotherhood government, Sisi’s subsequent strategy has been to deny the movement any way back into political activity, preferring to force it along a path of confrontation – on which it is likely o be defeated by the army. It is certainly possible, of course, that the Brotherhood has now, as a result, elected to begin to link itself to armed groups and to prepare for insurgency. But hard facts have not yet emerged to support this contention. Clear links between Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and the al-Qaida network, however, do exist. In recent testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, Tom Joscelyn of the Federation for the Defense of Democracies noted that the group uses al-Qaida’s official channels for its propaganda – such as al-Fajr Media Center. Moreover, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has on many occasions praised its operations. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis also often features al-Qaida leaders and “martyrs,” including Osama Bin Laden, in its videos. This shows that at the very least, a clear ideological identification is there, along with probable organizational links at one or another level. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is only the most active and prominent of a number of jihadi networks operating against the Egyptian authorities from Sinai. Joscelyn, in his testimony, notes evidence that elements of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula are active in Sinai. He also mentions a third grouping directly linked to al-Qaida, the Muhammad Jamal Network, as also active on the peninsula. What does this all add up to? An Islamist insurgency is now under way in northern Sinai. It involves groups with roots in the Gaza Strip. If some accounts are to be believed, both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas authorities in Gaza are involved in it, on one or another level. Almost certainly, the regional networks of al-Qaida form a significant part of it. The Islamists have already begun to strike west into Egypt proper. What this means is that any hopes that Sisi’s coup would lead to a rapid return to quiet and order in Egypt should rapidly be abandoned. Rather, the new regime is facing a similar test to that endured by Mubarak in the 1990s and Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. Islamism in Egypt is not going to quietly accept the verdict of July 3, 2013. For Israel, the emergent insurgency raises the prospect of two de facto al-Qaida-controlled areas adjoining its border – one in southern Syria, and the other in the Salafi playground that is now northern Sinai.

Lebanese public rallies behind Sochi skier who posed nude

http://www.timesofisrael.com/
The video of Jacky Chamoun that surfaced on the Internet as she prepared for the Sochi Olympics caused quite a stir in Lebanon, and exposed some deeper issues. As far as her parents and the thousands of supporters who have jumped to her defense since a government investigation was ordered are concerned, Chamoun’s actions several years ago are the least of the country’s problems.
Gabriel Chamoun said he was encouraged by the backing his Alpine skier daughter has received from people across Lebanon’s diverse sectarian and religious spectrum.
“As a father, when I saw the video, I was very upset,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. But, “The reaction of people was phenomenal. It’s the first time I see Lebanese people so united.”
He said the political fuss over the footage was symbolic “of everything that is going wrong in this country.” The old footage of Chamoun posing topless in the snow for a photographer prompted a Lebanese government official to order an investigation. The inference was that Chamoun had somehow harmed the country’s reputation. It was only after that decree that many people in Lebanon realized they had athletes competing at the Winter Games. Supporters took to social media immediately to criticize politicians for targeting the young athlete while turning a blind eye to corruption, nepotism, bombings and a litany of other problems. Within an hour, Chamoun’s Facebook page had 12,000 fans. Lebanese people from as far away as Los Angeles and Sao Paolo posted semi-naked pictures of themselves, covered strategically with signs featuring messages like “Stripping For Jackie” and “I am not naked,” on Twitter. Chamoun’s mother, Denise Chehab, said the family was shocked when the video appeared. But there was no shame. “Some people wanted to hurt us, but they ended up only harming themselves,” Chehab told The AP. “Just a few days ago, nobody cared what my daughter is doing for her country at the Olympics. Now she is famous.” In the Arab world, Lebanon is a relatively liberal country with sprawling beaches and mountain resorts. The capital is renowned for its bars, restaurants and night life. But under the surface, most people, Christians and Muslims, tend to be deeply conservative. Chamoun acknowledged on her Facebook page that she posed for an Austrian ski calendar, and never imagined that behind-the-scenes footage would ever be published. “I know that Lebanon is a conservative country and this is not the image that reflects our culture,” Chamoun wrote. “I fully understand if you want to criticize this.” Sports minister Faisal Karameh ordered an investigation a day after the video appeared on the Internet saying that “all measures should be taken in which Lebanon’s reputation and its international standing are not harmed.” His comments, carried by Lebanon’s state news agency, unleashed a fury on in mainstream and social media with people accusing the leaders of hypocrisy and criticizing them for focusing on issues that have no significant impact on a country still reeling from a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. Lebanon is deeply divided along the sectarian lines. There has been no properly functioning government since last April because of political divisions over Syria, although Parliament unilaterally extended its own mandate by 18 months by skipping scheduled elections. Lebanese factions have been fighting on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, and a massive flow of refugees has strained Lebanon’s already crumbling infrastructure. The latest wave of bombings in Beirut has compounded existing problems. So an athlete stripping down for a photo shoot isn’t likely to be high on a list of public concerns, the local media quickly highlighted. “You can get naked. You can take photos of your nakedness. No need to apologize,” an editorial in An-Nahar newspaper said, adding that many of “those who claim purity, chastity and conservative values, those who say they work to uphold Lebanon’s good reputation” are guilty of other faults. Another newspaper, Al-Akhbar, questioned in a recent editorial how Chamoun’s pictures could possibly have tarnished the “already damaged image of Lebanon because of political tensions, terrorists attacks, underage marriages, mistreatment of women and many scandals of our politicians.” Chamoun said she initially was embarrassed the footage was on the Internet, but now she has come to terms with it. “It happened,” she told The AP in Sochi. “I have to go with it.” Chamoun, who comes from a prominent Christian political family, competed at the Vancouver Olympics four years ago. In Sochi, she is scheduled to race in the slalom next Friday.
Back home, the government officials demanding the investigation into Chamoun’s photos appeared to have backtracked, saying they’ve acted to protect Chamoun’s wellbeing. “What we did, we at the ministry behaved as a sports family because we care about Jacky Chamaoun’s personal reputation as an Olympic athlete,” sports minister Faisal Karameh said Friday. A top Olympic official said he couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. “Jackie’s matter is not the first,” scandal, R. Hassan Rustom, secretary-general of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee, told the AP. “What politicians are doing is much worse than what Jackie did.”
Read more: Lebanese public rallies behind Sochi skier who posed nude | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/lebanese-rally-behind-olympic-skier-who-posed-nude/#ixzz2tM8Ij98O Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

Japan's historical denialism "destructive"

A major U.S. newspaper has joined the international outcry over the historical denialism of leaders of Japan's public broadcaster NHK and asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to condemn these comments with "equal clarity." The new NHK Chairman Katsuto Momii told a news conference on Jan. 25 that "comfort women" -- an euphemism for women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels -- were common in countries at war at that time, and that media "cannot say left when the government says right." The NHK leadership further fueled the situation as Naoki Hyakuta, a novelist and member of NHK's decision-making body, said earlier this month that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in China had never happened, adding that the United States sought to cover up its own "crimes" such as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by holding trials of Japan's war-time leaders. "In fact, 'comfort women' is a euphemism for a uniquely Japanese system. In many cases the enslavement lasted for years, and many of the women died," the Washington Post said in an editorial dated February 12. As to Hyakuta's "offensive" denial of the Nanjing Massacre, the paper quoted a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tokyo as saying that "these suggestions are preposterous." Unfortunately, Abe's attitude towards these provocative comments is ambiguous, as a Japanese government spokesman claimed that Momii and Hyakuta's offensive statements are "individual" and the prime minister cannot "infringe on freedom of speech." However, the Washington Post pointed out that these remarks, made by Abe's handpicked NHK leadership, made his responsibility particularly heavy in this case. "Why can't Japan's government bring itself to condemn these comments with equal clarity? When neighboring countries complain about Japanese attempts to rewrite or sugarcoat the history of World War II, Japanese officials like to point out that they can't infringe on freedom of speech," the paper said. "Japan's historical revision deserves clarification from Abe," it noted, criticizing Abe's "obtuseness reflected in the NHK flap." Japan's rewriting of history also made U.S. officials wondering "whether Abe is primarily a nationalist or a reformer," the paper warned. "Only he can make clear whether he supports an independent press and rejects destructive historical denialism," the Washington Post said.

Russia’s draft on Syria aid calls for political solution to conflict

A draft resolution on humanitarian aid for Syria tabled by Russia for the UN Security Council’ consideration envisions humanitarian aid, the speediest evacuation of the civilian population, and the end of besieging settlements. "The UN Security Council calls on all the parties, Syrian authorities in particular, to immediately cooperate in ensuring safe and unhampered delivery of humanitarian aid to those who need it," the Russian draft resolution says. "The UN Security Council urges the sides to withdraw troops from medical institutions, schools and other civil sites in order to avert possible attacks," the document notes.Russia stresses that a "humanitarian situation will only get worse if a political solution is lacking".
The Security Council should work on the complete implementation of the Geneva communiqué dated June 30, 2012, allowing Syrians "to determine their future independently and in a democratic manner". The document also says that the only way to resolve the crisis peacefully is to find a political solution. Besides, the draft resolution condemns the violation of human rights and international humanitarian law norms. "The UN Security Council calls on all the sides to immediately stop all the kinds of violence," the document adds. The UN Security Council has started discussing Russia’s draft on Syria on Thursday. Earlier, the Security Council began debates over a draft resolution put forward by the West.The final decision on the documents is expected to be made no earlier than next week. Declarations of possible use of force to resolve conflict are attempts to disrupt Syrian peace process - Lavrov Declarations of a possible use of force to resolve the Syrian conflict are an attempt to force the Syrian government to "slam the door in face" of the peace negotiations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. "Steps are being taken, some of them publicly, such as declarations that the use of force remains a possible option, steps are being taken to politicize all humanitarian issues at the UN Security Council; probably, they wish to force the government to slam the door shut [on negotiations]. These attempts are bad. One has to honor agreements. We have done our job honestly. And we expect our partners to do the same," Lavrov told a press conference after negotiations with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"We have been witnessing systemic attempts to find any pretext for thwarting a political settlement. Certainly, we grow alarmed whenever the presidents of the United States and France once again say at a joint press conferences that the affair may go beyond negotiations," Lavrov said.

Pakistan: Preparing for civil war

On Thursday, Feburay 13th, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Karachi that killed 12 policemen and injured 60 others, ostensibly as revenge for the killing of a TTP commander last May. On Friday the TTP negotiating committee said it was almost ready for a ceasefire if the government promised not to take any military action. We don’t yet know what Satuday will bring, but it seems clear that no matter what the government does the TTP will find excuses to continue attacks. Despite a halt in drone strikes since December and no action by the military since mid-January, the TTP claim they don’t tust the army and trust the government little more — but the question remains, should we trust them? If the continuous stream of terrorist attacks is any indication we have no reason to. Meanwhile members of the TTP negotiating team have openly declared their support for the militants and made claims about hundreds of suicide bombers ready to unleash terror. Naked threats and the continuing use of force have made the TTP strategy painfully clear, and the government can no longer afford to stick its head in the sand about them; the TTP are using the time and space from negotiations to prepare while continuing to sow terror, essentially weakening the government’s resolve to fight back. At the same time, negotiations have given them a platform to preach their ideology on mainstream media, lambasting the government and army while claiming to be fighting for constitutional rights. Attacks on infrastructure threaten to destroy what little Pakistan has built over the last 50 years and turn the country into another Afghanistan. A country without infrastrucure would be that much easier for the TTP to control, which is why they target civil and military installations necessary to maintain effective state control. The TTP vision of the future is this: a broken army that is too afraid to attack because of the possibility of widespread urban warfare; co-option of the state by forcing their representatives into the highest official positions; control of the courts through the same method; enforcement of their ideology on the streets with bands of armed thugs. With this in mind, the TTP aim to provoke a full scale civil war across the country, eventually letting them control whatever battered remnants remain after thousands have died. From its cowed statements the government hasn’t woke up to this fact yet though awareness might be growing — slowly — as Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar’s statement yesterday shows. However, with the TTP preparing for full scale war, time is of the essence and the government must wake up before it is too late and the country is in a position that makes the last few years look like Eid by comparison.

sharia+islam in action:- ‘Saudi women cannot go to male doctors alone,’ says cleric

A top Saudi cleric has scolded women who visit male doctors without being accompanied by a male guardian, claiming that is prohibited by Islam, Al Hayat daily reported on Thursday. His remarks follow the death of a university student last week after paramedics were denied access to her campus because they were not accompanied by a male guardian, or close relative, a must according to the strict segregation rules in the Muslim kingdom. “Women are becoming negligent in consulting doctors without a mahram (male guardian), and this is prohibited,” Al Hayat quoted Shaikh Qays Al Mubarak, a member of the Council of Senior Ulema (Muslim scholars), as saying. A medical check-up could include “a woman showing parts of her body to a doctor. This is not permissible ... unless urgent,” he said.
Women “must seek help from a male doctor only when a female medic is not available. When this happens, they must not be alone and the doctor must only look at the pain” part of the body, he said. The Council of Senior Ulema is the highest religious authority in the ultraconservative kingdom.
Al Hayat said the religious police in Eastern Province have enforced restrictions on women entering several private medical centres without a male guardian. “Members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice have entered a health and diet centre and prevented women from consulting a male dietitian without the presence of a mahram,” Al Hayat reported, referring to the religious police. AFP could not immediately verify these allegations. In 2002, 15 girls died after a fire broke out at their school in the holy city of Makkah and religious police blocked their evacuation because they were not dressed in keeping with Islamic codes. Witnesses said male civil defence workers were kept at bay because, in their haste to escape the flames, the 12-to-14-year-olds had not put on their black abaya. Saudi Arabia imposes a strict interpretation of Islamic laws, notably a segregation of the sexes, and does not allow women to work or travel without the authorisation of a male guardian from her family. It is also the only country in the world that bans women from driving.

Bahrain's PR sheen can't hide abuse allegations

As Bahrainis mark the third anniversary of the 2011 uprising that was crushed by government and Gulf troops, a new law says anyone who publicly insults the king will be sentenced up to seven years in prison.
Three years ago this week, Bahrainis joined the wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world and took their long harbored grievances to the streets. Their demonstrations were cut short when a Saudi-led Gulf force rolled in to help silence them. And although the foreign tanks and troops have long since left, the silencing has endured. Since the beginning of 2014, the Bahrain Center of Human Rights (BCHR) has documented 146 unwarranted arrests, many of which were made during the systematic night raids on the homes of those who refuse to drop the baton in the struggle for economic and political reform. That figure could easily rise in the coming days, not least because in the run-up to the anniversary, the penalty for publicly offending King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the Bahraini flag or emblem has been increased to between one and seven years behind bars. The offense also now carries a fine of up to $26,000. "They are looking for everyone who is fighting for justice, freedom and democracy," Said Yousif al-Muhafda, BCHR head of documentation, told DW. He has spent the past three years travelling his country recording testimony from the thousands of people beaten, harassed and tortured by regime forces.
Arrested seven times during the same period, the activist accuses the government of "looking for anyone fighting for justice, freedom and democray," and says up to 3,000 Bahrainis are currently being held as prisoners of conscience. They include BCHR co-founders Abdulhadi al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab who have been jailed for life, and two years respectively.
Al-Muhafda is certain he would have faced a similar, if not worse fate, had he not opted to flee for safer shores. He made his decision following the response to a BCHR campaign called "Wanted for Justice," which published the identities of officials activists hold responsible for human rights violations. "We named them and attached evidence from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and even testimony from the victims themselves," Al-Muhafda said.
Death threats
He knew the campaign would not meet with a warm reception - not least because his list included members of the royal family and the prime minister of Bahrain, who has held the post for more than four decades. But he had not reckoned with the barrage of tweets so blatantly calling for his arrest, torture and even death.
"A well-known torturer used twitter to threaten to kill me, and he even used his own name and photograph which shows how confident he is in the culture of impunity," the activist said. Accountability is one of the many things Bahraini human rights defenders want to see introduced into their society.
Article one of the Constitution of Bahrain says it is ruled by a hereditary constitutional monarchy, but that sovereignty is "in the hands of the people, the source of all powers." Reda al-Fardan of the human rights group Bahrain Watch argues that little could be further from the truth. The country is divided along sectarian lines, with the Shi'ite majority ruled by the Sunni minority. "All the power is with the king and the royal family, and there has been no accountability in Bahrain in modern history at all."
Positive spin can’t hide reality
Among the most telling stories to emerge from the Arab world in the tumultuous days of early 2011, are those which described Bahraini security forces preventing doctors and nurses from treating injured protesters. Many who did were arrested and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, and although the majority have since been acquitted or released, says some medical professionals remain behind bars. But the government appears to operate on an out-of-sight, out-of-mind basis. Bahrain Watch has published figures suggesting that in the years and months since the revolt, the ruling Khalifa family has paid US and UK public relations companies as much as $30 million to lend its country a sheen so glossy that the mere suggestion of human rights violations would slide right off it. Brian Dooley of Human Rights First says the spin isn’t working.
"In terms of the PR battle, I don’t think the government is doing very well," Dooley told DW. "I think it is due a refund, because although it makes it very difficult for journalists to get in, it is failing to smother the story." Given the widespread, if reluctant, acknowledgment that human rights violations in Bahrain are ongoing, and given also that Bahrain evidently cares how it is viewed by the outside world, Al-Fardan says the international community - and the US and UK in particular - is missing an important trick. "We have seen in the past that the government best responds to pressure from international organizations and from its own allies." Like many activists, he would like to see sanctions imposed on human rights abusers.
Pay now or pay later
Yet Dooley, who is author of the report "Plan B for Bahrain - What the United States Government Should Do Next," says Washington has mixed feelings about how to behave toward the Gulf island nation. On the one hand it is an outspoken advocate of the importance of democracy and liberty, but on the other, it has strategic military interests in the country that accommodates its Fifth Fleet - interests it is keen to protect. The failure to act with conviction suggests that American policy makers believe they have to choose between their national interests and the sanctity of human rights. "I think that is wrong," Dooley said. "I think it is in the US interests to promote human rights in Bahrain because long-term that is what is most likely to bring about stability."
As it is, a continued willingness to supply Manama with arms - of any description - would appear to demonstrate a preference to prop up another dictator in the name of maintaining a shaky status quo. And that, many say, is short-sighted. Not only does it send a message of complicity, which emboldens the regime, but it also increases the likelihood of lasting anti-American sentiment. Dooley, who describes Bahrain as a problem "on a constant simmer," says he doesn’t believe the US will take any action until the problem has become much worse and possibly so bad that they can no longer be effective in helping to solve it. "It is a question of pay now or pay later," he said.

Video: President Putin Visits U.S. Olympic Team

Video: Anti-government protesters march in Bahrain

Clashes mark anniversary of Bahrain uprising

Police use tear gas against protesters attempting to march from Shia villages towards now demolished Pearl Roundabout.
Security forces have clashed with protesters trying to march towards the Bahraini capital's symbolic Pearl Roundabout to mark the third anniversary of the country's uprising, witnesses said.
Protesters, who gathered in several Shia villages on Friday to walk towards the roundabout, where demonstrators camped out for a month in early 2011 before being violently dispersed by troops, were met with tear gas and bird shot, according to witnesses who spoke to AFP.
Several demonstrators were wounded as forces beefed up security around the area and dispersed protesters emerging from nearby villages, sources said.
"Down with Hamad," protesters, some wrapped in white shrouds and others covering their faces, chanted, referring to the king.
"We will never surrender," they shouted as police helicopters hovered overhead and police forces manned checkpoints outside Shia villages, witnesses said.
Earlier on Friday, Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) announced that they had documented 36 arrests while seven were released from jail.
The opposition has called for three days of protests to mark the anniversary as it seeks to give new momentum to its campaign for the ruling al-Khalifa family to surrender its grip on all key cabinet posts in favour of an elected government. The Pearl Roundabout and its popular namesake monument, which were a symbol of the 2011 uprising, was later demolished in March the same year and the site remains heavily guarded ever since. Bomb attack The Ministry of Interior said a police bus was struck in a bomb attack in the Shia village of Daih, without reporting casualties. The ministry said on its official Twitter account: "Terrorist explosion in Daih damaged a bus transporting police personnel." Witnesses told AFP that a loud explosion was heard and police cordoned off the area. A ministry official near the scene of the blast told reporters that three police officers were injured in the explosion. He insisted on anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly. However, pictures posted by the ministry on Twitter showed the bus slightly damaged on its sides.
Violent crackdown
The "February 14 youth coalition" had called for the march to Pearl Roundabout. Bahrain announced in June that it had arrested leading members of the cyber-group, accusing it of links to Iran. Amnesty International on Thursday condemned Bahrain's "relentless repression" of dissent and said it feared a violent crackdown on the anniversary demonstrations. The International Federation for Human Rights urged Bahrain "to take immediate measures to restore the rule of law, to put an end to ongoing human rights violations." Six opposition groups led by Al-Wefaq called in a statement on Friday for an "overall political process to rebuild the state... free elections.. and an independent judiciary." In a speech published on the day, King Hamad stressed his "commitment to complete reform in accordance with our circumstances, national interests, identity and values". Previous rounds of national dialogues have failed to significantly close the rifts between the two sides and the opposition is demanding amnesty for what they claim are more than 3,000 political prisoners held in Bahraini jails. Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa met top opposition leaders last month to once again revive the talks.

MY VALENTINE . . . Martina Mcbride and Jim Brickman

Be My Valentine (romantic love song)

Valentine's Day: What you didn't know

More Snow Predicted for Eastern US

http://www.voanews.com/
The last of a wave of snowstorms is expected to pass through the eastern United States Friday and Saturday, after the biggest snowfall yet in an exceptionally harsh winter. The last snowstorms were predicted as millions of people struggled to dig out of heavy snow that blanketed the eastern third of the country. A million people in the South were in the dark after ice coated trees and snapped power lines. At least 18 deaths were attributed to the storm, including that of a pregnant woman whose car was hit by a snowplow. Her baby was delivered in critical condition. The storm hit the southeast Wednesday and moved up the Atlantic coast Thursday into New England in the northeastern U.S. More than 30 centimeters of snow fell on parts of the the mid-Atlantic, closing down the federal government and schools, and grounding thousands of flights. Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama visits Fresno, California, Friday to check on the state of an ongoing drought there. He is scheduled to meet with local officials and farmers, as well as other stakeholders affected by the drought to learn about its effects on local agriculture. Also during his visit, the president is to announce new measures to provide relief to those suffering from the drought. The measures include $100 million in disaster assistance for livestock owners, $15 million in targeted conservation assistance, and $60 million in aid for food banks.

Obama "very, very proud" of Democrat caucus unity

Afghanistan: Youth Demand End to Violence Against Women

Afghan youth participated in a worldwide campaign to bring awareness to the issue of violence against women and promote efforts to end it.
The campaign, called "One Billion Rising", began last year and brought millions, if not billions, of people out into the streets around the world to protest violence against women. "We Want Justice" was the program orchestrated in honor of the day in Kabul. Afghan you appeared with covered faces and did symbolic activities saying "No" to violence against women. "We want justice and to end violence against women," a participant named Hamida Hussaini said. The participants who wore orange bracelets chanted the slogan "We Want Justice" with music, representing the minority of individuals who have spoken out against the violence. Human rights groups noted a troubling rise in reported cases of violence against women in Afghanistan in 2013. And still, the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) Law remains stalled in Parliament due to a conservative contingent who think it is a threat to Islam. However, what is likely a promising sign for the organizers of Friday's event is that many of the youth who participated were born at a time when that kind of public showing of support for women's rights in Afghanistan would have been impossible. "Holding such programs is a sign of a civil movement against the violence and repression imposed on women in society," civil society activist Abuzar Mazoori said.

Will Afghanistan Survive The Aftermath Of Its 2014 Presidential Elections? Will A Former Warlord Or Pro-Western Technocrat Replace Karzai?

http://www.ibtimes.com/
The April 2014 Afghan presidential elections is one of the most important political tenure's Afghanistan will go through since the ousting of the Taliban 12 years ago. But many experts are skeptical that a country plagued by extensive political corruption, increased security challenges and a growing opium trade will prosper, especially in light of Afghanistan's past two flawed election processes. The election means more for Afghanistan than selecting a new president. It means the country could have the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in its modern history, in the year when the U.S.-led international forces (ISAF) that have been in the country since 2001 will leave. The current president, Hamid Karzai, was first appointed by a national assembly in 2001 as the interim leader and then went on to win two elections. Based on Afghanistan’s constitution, he is barred from running for a third term. “This year’s presidential election can provide a critical opportunity for a renewal of legitimacy, a boost in confidence and a start to correcting the ineffective and corrupt governance that characterizes Afghanistan,” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, a non-partisan Washington think tank, said.
But Brown warned the election could trigger “extensive violence, a prolonged political crisis that paralyzes governance and the collapse of international support,” which could strengthen the Taliban. In 2009 the U.N. fraud-monitoring panel nullified around a third of Karzai’s votes from the previous year’s election because of “clear convincing evidence of fraud.” A subsequent runoff election was canceled as Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah Abdullah (a frontrunner in this year's election), withdrew his candidacy because he said it would result in widespread fraud, according to Brown. The 2009 and 2010 elections left NATO with “little hope of ensuring even a procedural level of democracy in Afghanistan,” a report by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government stated in December. “In addition to a fraudulent election process and a politically compromised electoral commission, election day security was lacking throughout the country, despite NATO ISAF efforts.” Karzai’s presidency is also marred by several corruption scandals, one of which included his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected of trafficking large amounts of heroin through an intermediary, according to American officials. He denied the charges. Back in April 2013, the New York Times revealed that tens of millions of dollars poured from the CIA to the office of Karzai. Not surprisingly it was alleged that his brother had been on the CIA’s payroll for years. He was assassinated in 2011 by a police commander believed to have been influenced by the Taliban. A 2012 study revealed that the Afghan population considered corruption, together with insecurity and unemployment, to be one of the major challenges facing the country, ahead of poverty or the performance of government.
Another challenge Afghanistan faces after the withdrawal is the growing opium poppy trade, which reached a record high in 2013. According to the 2013 Afghanistan Opium Survey, cultivation amounted to some 209,000 hectares, surpassing the earlier record in 2007 of 193,000 hectares, and a 36 percent increase over 2012. It is considered the most important cash crop and provides for many households in rural areas. Today it represents around 4 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product (GDP), officially. But it also fuels conflict and undermines governance by providing income to insurgents.
In 2013, 89 percent of Afghanistan’s opium farming took place in regions that were classified as “high” or “extreme” security risks by the U.N.’s Department of Safety and Security. Most of these regions are inaccessible to the UN and to NGO’s. One possible explanation as to why opium cultivation increased in 2013 may have been caused by “speculation due to the withdrawal of international troops and the forthcoming elections in 2013, which led farmers to try to hedge against the country’s uncertain political future,” a United Nations reported stated in November.
The election and transfer-of-power process are seen as indicators of Afghanistan’s future success after the U.S.-led ISAF coalition leaves this year. But the withdrawal could leave a political, security and economic vacuum, making Afghanistan at risk of becoming a failed state. In fact its economy could fall by 10 percent after the pullout, according to the World Bank. Afghanistan’s economy is largely dependent on international assistance as well as the presence of coalition forces in the country, which generates demand for goods and services. In 2010 to 2011 the civilian and security-related assistance was the equivalent to 98 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP, and with the transition Afghanistan will have to rely more on domestic revenue generation to meet its budgetary needs. But the international presence has drawbacks. too. “The obvious downside of such internationalization however is that it perpetuates a statehood depleted of internal sovereignty, which conflicts with official claims to increase local ownership, sustainability, and legitimacy in line with democratic ideology,” the Harvard report stated. The question now is, who will lead Afghanistan into an uncertain future? This year’s elections will see 11 candidates, ranging from Western-educated technocrats to former warlords with bloody histories.
READ MORE:
http://www.ibtimes.com/will-afghanistan-survive-aftermath-its-2014-presidential-elections-will-former-warlord-or-pro

جنګ پر پښتنو دی او فیصلې یې پنجاب کوي. افراسیاب خټک

'پر افغانستان د شوروي یرغل له کبله پښتنانه سختدریځه کړل شول'..... افراسياب خټک

http://www.mashaalradio.com/
د فېبرورۍ پر ۱۵ مه نيټه په ۱۹۸۹ م کې د شوروي اتحاد اخري پوځي افسر بوريس ګروموف له افغانستانه ووتو او دارنګ په افغانستان کې د شوروي اتحاد څه باندې نهه کلن یرغل پای ته ورسېد. د دې یرغل په ترڅ کې د رامنځ ته شوې جګړې له کبله په پاکستان او په خاصه توګه د پښتنو پر سيمو څه اثرات وغورځېدل په دې اړه د مشال راډيو خبریال اسرار عالم مومند د عوامي نېشنل پارټۍ له یو مرکزي مشر افراسياب خټک سره مرکه کړې. افراسياب خټک وايي پر افغانستان د شوروي اتحاد د يرغل شا و خوا ۲۵ کاله تېر شول خو د ده په خبره د دغه يرغل اثرات اوس هم د سختدريځۍ په شکل کې د پښتنو پر سيمو موجود دي او د دې د مخنيوي يواځنۍ لار دا ده چې د تعليمي نصاب، رسنيو او حکومتي پالیسو څخه د سختدريځۍ مواد لیرې کړل شي.

Pakistan: Losing Karachi

http://new-pakistan.com/
We lost East Pakistan in 1971. Our grip on FATA is tenuous and could slip away completely if government finally caves in to Taliban demands in peace talks. Former Chief Minister Akhtar Mengal has warned that Pakistan could lose Balochistan if the situation there is not resolved. Today, Karachi too can be added to the list of areas that are falling out of state control as the nation begins to unravel.
Known as the Gateway to Pakistan, Karachi is the nation’s largest city and the heart of the national economy. It is also known for having a messy political situation. Battles between political parties and alleged ties to mafias have been well documented. however, these issues may have held Karachi back from reaching its full potential, but they were never really a threat to the national security.
Today, though, Karachi is besieged by a new and more deadly threat. The Taliban have taken control of much of the city, and are now fighting not for political spoils, but to deal a death blow to Pakistan by striking directly in its heart.
Research by The Wall Street Journal shows that Taliban militants have been taking over control of the city:
Research by The Wall Street Journal, based on conversations with security officials and urban planners, shows TTP still control or dominate about 470 square miles of Karachi, or nearly a third of its area, where at least 2.5 million people live. TTP’s sway in Karachi extends right up to Saddar—the city center—and into areas such as Sultanabad, a ramshackle community next to the new U.S. Consulate compound.
These are districts with a majority population of Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as TTP’s leadership. These areas that encircle the city include Baldia and the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate to the west and Gadap in the north. Residents in these areas said TTP’s hold had gotten stronger over the past year. In addition to the main TTP faction from the Mehsud tribe of South Waziristan in the tribal areas, long established in Karachi, the city is increasingly plagued by another TTP faction from the Mohmand tribal area, police officers said, along with TTP Swat. Islamist militants also have influence over some non-Pashtun districts of the city, such as Lyari in the southwest where TTP ally Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has a base. TTP has an ability to stage attacks across Karachi. TTP dominates 33 of Karachi’s 178 administrative units—known as union councils— security officials said. These tend to be the larger, peripheral, districts, with ever expanding shanty settlements that eat into the surrounding desert. The militants are also now getting more educated recruits, including non-Pashtuns, and spreading to neighboring areas outside Karachi, including Hub to the west and Jamshoro to the northeast. In the areas it controls, TTP is levying a tax on residents and businesses, said a businessman in Sohrab Goth, a Taliban-run neighborhood just north of the city center. The militant group has set up courts in neighborhoods to resolve disputes, which give written judgments, handling matters that include disagreements over land ownership and regulating levels of theft from power lines that they allow, residents said. Recent Taliban attacks in Karachi including the murder of SSP Chaudhry Aslam demonstrate just how desperate the situation has become. Even during so-called ‘peace talks’, Taliban have carried out not one but two bomb attacks against security forces in Karachi, and CID police have arrested al Qaeda militants with even more explosives.
There is a saying that ‘As goes Karachi, so goes the country.’ Today, it is a warning we should not ignore.

Shah questions rationale behind talks with Taliban

Opposition leader in the National Assembly and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) senior member Syed Khursheed Shah has questioned the rationale behind talks with Taliban. Speaking to the media on arrival here on Friday evening at the airport, Shah said that the deteriorating law and order situation across the country was playing havoc with the national economy. “The government should focus all its attention to this core issue because until and unless we do not overcome this menace, we cannot strengthen our economy”, he said. The opposition leader asked whether the government still wanted talks with the militants after the on-going incidents of terrorism. Shah said that after the terrorist incidents, dialogue would not be of any benefit. He said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have to take a decision now as a leader, whether to talk with the Taliban or not. He said protection of life and property of the people is the foremost responsibility of the government. "The government is running after the Taliban for peace talks but the recent attacks clearly indicated their state of mind," he added. Replying to a question, he said that the opposition has given full mandate to the government to cope with deteriorating law and order situation in the country and is ready to provide all possible assistance in this regard in future. "The extremists have not only hurt the country's economically but have also destroyed the image of Islam in the eyes of the world and this was part of a big conspiracy," he said.

Pakistan Army's atrocities in Balochistan: 22 innocent Baloch killed and over a dozen abducted in latest military operations in Balochistan

http://balochwarna.com/
Pakistan military has launched fresh offensives in Marri and Bugti regions of Balochistan on Thursday morning. Local sources reported that at least 22 people including women and children have been killed so far and the operations continue. The Baloch Republican Party issue a statement to media and which read: “Pakistan Army launched a fresh military offensive in Wagoo, Lop, Larpati, Chabdar, Doi wadh and nearby areas of Dera Bugti on Thursday and heavily bombarded civilian populated areas. “At least 22 people, mostly women and children, were killed while 12 civilians were abducted by forces during this ruthless military operation by Pakistan Army. A few deceased are named as Salamhan s/o Sahazo Marri, Gulo Bugti, Hazaro Bugti along with his wife and two children.” The statement of the pro-freedom Baloch party also claimed that Pakistani forces fired rockets and mortar shells on a village in Doi Wahd area of Dera Bugti which hit the house of Ali Sher Bugti. Resultantly, his house was destroyed and his two children have been injured. Meanwhile an Urdu news Blog Humgaam.com reported that Pakistani forces have also launched offensives in Kohistan Marri region. The armed troops backed by gunship helicopters fired rockets and mortar shell on civilian population. According to sources the military operation started on Thursday morning. Eye-witnesses said that at least two fighter jets were also used in the shelling on villages. The most affected areas include Janatali, Nisao, Sahkeen, Bhambor, Tratani and surrounding regions. The military has reportedly sealed the exit and entry routes to the area under military operation and they are not even allowing people to take the injured to hospitals for treatment. Fresh military troop have been dispatched from Barkhan and other areas to Dera Butti and Kohistan Marri and locals fear that military is planning for a major aggression in the remote regions of Balochistan. Separately, at least four men from Marri Baloch tribe were arrested and disappeared in Nahad Kot area of Barkhan, Balochistan. The abducted men are resident of Nisao and Jhabar areas. They went to Barkhan for shopping when the FC convoy stopped them at Nahad Kot and abducted them. The family sources of the victims said that these men have no affiliation with any resistance group or political party. “They were mere farmers and cattle tenders, the FC arrested them only for being Baloch.” In a similar military raid at least two Baloch were abducted from Dandhar area of Kech region in Balochistan. According details Pakistani army tortured and harassed women and children during the houses-t-house search operation in Dandhar village.

What's holding Pakistan together?

Ayaz Amir
Not Islam - this fiction was exploded in 1971, and continues to be exposed today in Balochistan. Far from being a uniting factor religion, and the uses to which it is being put, is proving to be the biggest divisive factor of all, Pakistanis killing each other in the name of sect and faith – a country created on the basis of religion floundering at the altar of religion, earnest Pakistanis forever engaged in the quest to discover what Allah’s commandments mean and what they do not.
Not democracy – which is proving to be a sham democracy, unable to sow the seeds of peace in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or lessen the anger of the aggrieved Baloch, or prove a boon to Karachi, or have any kind of relevance for the down and out, the economically disadvantaged, who constitute the vast majority of the Pakistani population.
Not a common sense of nationhood – because that is something we have not managed to create, indeed the concept of nationhood never more fractured than it is today, partly because the institutions of statehood have become so dysfunctional, partly because of the march of primitive Islam, as exemplified by the Taliban, which is testing the capacities of the Pakistani state, and leading thoughtful Pakistanis to brood about the country’s future.
Holding Pakistan together, and this is a sad admission, is what pseudo-leftists like myself had trained ourselves to demonise, and with good reason because of its long list of follies: the Pakistan Army. The army we blamed, and rightly so, for many of Pakistan’s problems – East Pakistan, the cult of militarisation, the overweening power of the ISI, the unholy intervention in Afghanistan, ‘jihad’ in Kashmir, creating the god of national security and placing it at the top of the Pakistani pantheon.
But the wheel has come full circle. New realities have emerged, new dangers have arisen. The luxury of adventurism as in Afghanistan or Kashmir has gone. Pakistan is under threat and its survival is at stake and holding the gates is just one force: not Pakistani patriotism, not Pakistani nationalism – weak concepts yet to be given the shape of stone or iron – but the army.
For argument’s sake remove the army from the present equation and the national landscape becomes more unstable and more threatening, and the barbarians at the gates, many with their Trojan horses well within the gates, look that much taller.
But the army has a problem, in fact many problems. It is over-extended and chooses not to realise it. The only front relevant today, the only front which matters, is the western front where the Taliban danger looms. The eastern front with India is a phony front, a manufactured front, a front whose time is over, but for reasons rooted in the past the army’s attention, most of it, continues to be in that direction. This is strange. The threat comes from the primitive Islamist dagger pointed at the army’s back. But the military mind continues to be obsessed by the east. Who will change this, who will undertake the army’s re-education? The shade of Clausewitz perhaps or Ares the god of war. No lesser agency will suffice because this seems to be a difficult proposition, the army stuck in its ways.
On the eastern front more than tanks and artillery what we need now are better water experts, who can read and understand the small print of the Indus Waters Treaty and argue Pakistan’s case before international tribunals. If we keep losing those arguments, as we have thus far, of what use tanks and artillery? They are not going to get us more discharges for the Neelum River or water the dry beds of the Ravi and the Sutlej. Tools of war we have deployed, to little effect. Times have changed. Tools of the mind, tools of the intellect, are what we need now. Or we are doomed if we remain faithful to the old doctrines.
The necessity of turning away from the old and discovering the new makes the continued patronage of such strategic dinosaurs as Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Maulana Masood Azhar’s Jaish-e-Muhammad all the more absurd and bizarre. These are old steeds of war which should now be put out to pasture. Their relevance, if ever there was any, is long over. The games they are good at can only damage us. So regarding these leftover pieces of ‘jihad’ the army and the ISI have to change their thinking or we lose the war on the western front which threatens Pakistan’s survival.
The war against primitive extremism has thus to begin not from the foothills of North Waziristan – this would be to get the whole picture wrong – but from the confines of Muridke and Bahawalpur and Muzaffarabad. Disengagement from here, from the fossilised remains of the Kashmir ‘jihad’, is a prerequisite for unity of aim and purpose in the west.
And there has to be a rethinking about Balochistan. Army meddling has been a disaster there, a replay of past Baloch follies. The army can’t hope to win back the Frontier, the western marches, by losing Balochistan to Baloch disaffection.
This is the challenge before the army command – the readiness to step out from the past and into the present.
I was struck by something I was reading the other night, an article on China in the New York Review of Books. This particular passage said that Hitler’s defeat in the Second World War had wiped out the arch-conservative, military-landowning class that had opposed German liberalism before the war. Then this mind-shattering sentence: “Thus, the disaster of Hitler eliminated forces that might have hindered a successful recreation of German society after the war.” This was compared with China where the smashing of the old traditional order by Mao prepared the way for China’s modernisation. “Seen this way, Mao’s brutal interim was perhaps the essential, but paradoxical, precursor to China’s subsequent boom under Deng Xiaoping…” (NYRB Nov 21-Dec 4, 2013 – ‘Dreams of a Different China’ by Ian Johnson). Turkey’s present-day rulers take justifiable pride in their economic achievements. These achievements and Turkey’s rise as a modern power would have been impossible without Mustafa Kemal’s revolution.
Ours is a hidebound, traditionalist society mired not so much in physical backwardness as in mental backwardness. Only a sick society living in the past would indulge in the kind of extended Shariah debates which seem to be one of our regular pastimes.
It took the greatest war in history to free Germany from its past. It took Mao’s “uncompromising nihilism” (this phrase also from that article) to break the shackles of the past and free China’s mind. What will it take to free the Pakistani mind, what nihilism of the soul and spirit before we arrive at the shores of liberation?
Maybe this war against primitivism which our sham democracy is trying to run away from is our historic opportunity to break away from the habits of the past, habits which have cost us so much and prevented us from becoming a nation, and forge a new beginning. But provided we don’t shirk this fight because without sacrifice and blood and toil there are no new beginnings.

Pakistan: In the name of peace

The figures are astounding, not just for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which, since Jan 1, 2014, has borne the major brunt of terrorist attacks, but also for its capital Peshawar. Of the total 129 fatalities in terrorist attacks in the northwestern KP since the dawn of the new year, 80 were civilians, of which 75 deaths took place in Peshawar alone. There has been no drone strike since December. Nato supplies to Afghanistan via Peshawar remain suspended and there is no active military operation currently under way in any part of the tribal regions. And to cap it all, the peace dialogue is on between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s handpicked four-member committee and the team nominated by the political shura of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. So on the face of it, there should have been no casus belli for the attacks as all reasons that have been offered as justification for the acts of violence by some political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, have been addressed. But while there can be no justification, there can at least be some sort of explanation for what caused this escalation in the number of attacks, which by the way, has never witnessed any decline, save for the brief lull following the elections and the death of TTP supremo, Hakeemullah Mehsud, in a drone strike.
Opinions vary.
There are those who believe that since the TTP has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, hence they are the work of: a) splinter groups not interested in peace; b) a “third force” with vested interests (read military and security establishment) that is trying to create the mood for military action in Waziristan and c) foreign powers inimical to Pakistan that want to destabilise the country. There is yet another group of people, including the TTP, which justifies violence and terrorist attacks by arguing that since there has been no ceasefire, attacks and counter-attacks can continue. The TTP insists it is acting in self-defence. But this argument – regardless of whether one agrees with it or not – applies when the TTP accepts responsibility for an attack, like the one carried out in Karachi on Thursday. But what is one to make of the attacks that either remain unacknowledged or are claimed by groups hitherto unheard of? This is where it becomes murky or so it would seem to the hapless people of this hapless province – and by extension the rest of the country, apart from the security apparatus. The security officials may be slow in tracking down terrorists or pre-empting a terrorist attack but they do not lack information when it comes to militant groups, their nexus and or their involvement in terrorist attacks. Intelligence intercepts, ground and human intelligence and forensic evidence – there is tons of evidence about the involvement of groups involved in attacks, including some recent ones that have been disowned by the TTP. Why then are the nation and the political leadership confused? Is it that these intelligence reports are not shared with the political leadership? Who is it shared with? At what level? And what, if any, role do these intelligence reports and assessment play in the political decision-making over dealing with terrorism? If the political leadership is not being told, it is a very serious matter and will embolden those wreaking havoc in the country. But if they are being told and they do not want to speak about it, it would mean either that the intelligence is not credible or that they are too scared to call a spade a spade and risk public pressure for an operation. But there is a third option. The politicians know who or which group is behind most attacks but they do not want to vitiate the environment by pointing fingers as a ‘peace process’ is under way.
This is the underlying reason for the silence.
Our security establishment is no exception to the rule; it too has started focusing on which direction the wind is blowing in. As one official put it: “No one is interested in who did what. We are talking peace here, stupid!”

PAKISTAN: DEEPENING CATASTROPHE IN BALOCHISTAN

By Anurag Tripathi
On January 17-18, 2014, at least 13 highly decomposed bodies were found buried in the Tootak area of Khuzdar District in Balochistan Province. On February 4, 2014, the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Khuzdar, Syed Abdul Hameed Shah, submitted a report to the Supreme Court, stating that 13 dead bodies had been recovered from a mass grave on the indication of a local shepherd who informed the DC’s office. Balochistan Home Secretary Asad Jillani informed the Court that a one-man inquiry commission had been constituted and would complete its inquiry within one month. The Apex Court has now directed the Balochistan Government to submit DNA and inquiry commission reports on March 7, 2014.
On February 1, 2014, the Supreme Court had taken notice of the issue following a statement by the Chairman of the Voice for Balochistan Missing Persons (VFBMP) Nasrullah Baloch, who had claimed on January 31, 2014, that around 100 bodies had been recovered from mass graves in Khuzdar, and among them three had been identified as missing persons. This is the continuation of an entrenched trend. On December 31, 2013, Nasrullah Baloch had alleged that 161 Baloch political workers had been subjected to extra-judicial killings in different parts of Balochistan through 2013, and that “Secret services picked up 510 Baloch political workers.”
Significantly, the Supreme Court has been hearing the Balochistan missing people case since 2012 and has already reprimanded the Government for its failure to comply with its order on several occasions. At times, the Government has pleaded helplessness in the matter. Crucially, on January 30, 2014, the Balochistan Provincial Government conceded before the Supreme Court that it was handicapped in recovering missing Baloch persons, because it had no effective control over the Frontier Corps (FC), which was accused of ‘detaining’ these persons. In March 2013, the Commission on the Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances, a government-sponsored judicial commission, admitted that total number of missing person cases stood at 621 at that time. However, Nasrullah Baloch, dismissed the figure: “Absolutely wrong figures. 621? Not at all. 23,000 is the number of registered cases. From this, a whole 14,000 came during the current Government’s tenure.”
Indeed, extra-judicial killings have become the order of the day in the restive Province. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Province has recorded at least 3,073 civilian fatalities since 2004. 276 civilian killings (174 in the South and 102 in the North) have been claimed by Baloch separatist formations such as the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA). The Islamist and sectarian extremist formations, primarily Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the killing of another 489 civilians, all in North, mostly in and around Quetta. The remaining 2,308 civilian fatalities – 1426 in South and 882 in North – remain ‘unattributed’. As SAIR has noted, a large proportion of the ‘unattributed’ fatalities, particularly in the Southern region, are believed to be the result of enforced disappearances carried out by state agencies, or by their proxies, prominently including the Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Aman Balochistan (TNAB, Movement for the Restoration of Peace, Balochistan).
Sectarian violence orchestrated by Islamabad-backed Islamist formations is also responsible for a significant proportion of civilian fatalities. SATP data indicates that at least 239 Hazara Shias were killed in Balochistan through 2013. SATP recorded at least 396 Hazara Shia fatalities in Balochistan between 2001 and 2012. In the most recent incident, on January 21, 2014, at least 24 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran were killed and 40 were injured in a bomb attack targeting their bus at Khusak in the Kanak area of Mastung District, Balochistan. The attack was claimed by LeJ.
Northern Balochistan is dominated by Islamist terrorist groups and Sunni sectarian formations such as the TTP and the LeJ. A multiplicity of Baloch nationalist groupings operate principally in South Balochistan. South Balochistan has accounted for at least 1,848 fatalities, including 1,056 civilians, 429 Security Force (SF) personnel and 3370 terrorists, since 2004. The Northern areas of the Province, recorded 2,758 fatalities, including 2,017 civilians, 424 SF personnel and 307 terrorists, over the same period. The security scenario in Balochistan continues to deteriorate. Balochistan recorded at least 960 fatalities, including 718 civilians, 137 SF personnel and 105 militants in 2013. In 2012, total fatalities stood at 954, including 690 civilians, 178 SF personnel and 86 militants. 711 fatalities were recorded in 2011, including 542 civilians, 122 SF personnel and 47 militants. The first 40 days of 2014 have already seen at least 108 killed, including 79 civilians, 14 SF personnel and 15 militants. Since 2007, Balochistan has recorded a continuous year on year increase in the number of civilians killed.
The number and lethality of suicide attacks in the Province has also increased considerably, with nine such incidents resulting in 233 fatalities and 407 injuries in 2013; as against three such attacks resulting in 30 deaths and 60 injuries in 2012 and 60 fatalities and 124 injuries in four attacks in 2011.
Further, as against 70 major incidents of killing (each involving three or more fatalities) resulting in 213 fatalities in 2012, 63 such incidents were recorded in 2013, but fatalities rose to 433 fatalities. The Province also recorded fewer bomb attacks, but with considerably higher fatalities in 2013, 138 and 440 respectively; as compared to 148 resulting in 205 fatalities in 2012.
There were 18 attacks on NATO convoys through 2013, with six killed and seven injured, following ten such attacks in 2012, with six injured and none killed.
Through the year, Baloch rebels in the southern part of the Province continued to carry out attacks overwhelmingly targeting the economic infrastructure, mainly gas pipelines, power pylons and railway tracks. The attacks remained principally non-lethal in intent. According to partial data compiled by SATP, there have been at least 206 incidents of sabotaging of gas pipelines since 2004.
Given the state of Governance, acts of violence were, crucially, not restricted to a few areas, but occurred in practically each one of the 29 Districts of the Province, including the capital, Quetta. Quetta bore the brunt of terrorism through the year, with 190 terrorism-related incidents, including six suicide attacks. Out of the 138 bomb blasts recorded in Balochistan through 2013, 51 were reported from Quetta alone.
Commenting on the deteriorating law and order situation during a debate in the Provincial Assembly on August 28, 2013, Chief Minister (CM) Abdul Malik Baloch observed:
Most of the Baloch dominated areas in Balochistan were “no go” areas. Right from the Sariab Road area of Quetta to Mand in Turbat District, nobody feels safe to go there. Even Taliban style judgments are being issued in different parts of Balochistan. 78 gangs involved in kidnapping and other subversive activities were operating in Quetta alone.
Major General Ejaz Shahid, Inspector General, Frontier Corps (FC), similarly admitted on January 22, 2014, “we are struggling to establish the writ of the Government along Balochistan’s western border. We are quite far away from even playing the national anthem in state-run schools in Panjgur, Turbat [Kech] and adjacent cities in Makran Division.”
Meanwhile, the Provincial Government, on December 30, 2013, resolved to disarm ‘all armed groups’ in Balochistan, as part of a ‘smart and effective security policy’. Under the new strategy, the operation will begin against the BLA, BRA, UBA, Baloch United Liberation Front and Baloch Liberation Front. The scope of the operation will then extend to separatist groups such as the Balochistan Bunyad Parast Army, Baloch Musalla Difa Tanzeem, Balochistan National Liberation Army, Baloch Republican Party-Azad, Baloch Student Organisation Azad, Balochistan Waja Liberation Army and Lashkar-e-Balochistan.
It is both significant and unsurprising that Islamist terrorist formations find no mention in this listing, though they are responsible for the greater proportion of attributable attacks and killings in Balochistan. Indeed, terming reports about the presence of the Afghan Taliban as baseless and far from reality, Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti on January 6, 2014, declared that there was no Taliban Shura (council) in Quetta and that there was “no sign of Afghan Taliban factor in the Province. I have no information about the killing of Taliban leaders.” He added, further, that ‘foreign hands’ were involved in the prevailing unrest in Balochistan. Significantly, on January 4, 2014, Afghan Taliban sources had been quoted claiming that unidentified assailants had assassinated two senior members of the Afghan Taliban in Quetta a few days earlier. The deceased were identified as Mulla Noorullah Hotak (50), a member of the Taliban shura headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar and also serving as Taliban’s shadow governor for Afghanistan’s Zabul Province; and Mulla Abdul Malik, member of the Taliban commission responsible for making high-level appointments.
However, contradicting his Home Minister’s implied allegation, as well as Islamabad’s standard rhetoric about India’s role in the troubles in Balochistan, on October 20, 2013, Chief Minister Baloch stated that he had no evidence of alleged Indian involvement in the volatile region. Earlier, on September 25, 2013, Baloch had expressed the view in London, that the Pakistani establishment was responsible for the deteriorating situation in Balochistan and for pursuing ‘flawed policies’.
Islamabad’s policy of appeasing Islamist extremists while suppressing the genuine demands of the Baloch people by raising the bogey of the ‘foreign hand’ continues to wreak devastation in the Province. Despite Chief Minister Baloch’s vocal opposition to this disruptive and bloody approach to domestic political management there can be little hope of any respite from violence in Balochistan in the foreseeable future.

Pakistan: Looming danger of further Talibanisation of the constitution

Some leaders and journalists are telling us that all the killings in FATA were for the implementation of a quicker and more effective judicial system. If that is so then why are all the people of Pakistan not picking up arms against the corrupt and painfully slow judicial system?
Strange are the ways of politics: on the one hand, former president General Pervez Musharraf is being tried by the present government for violating the constitution by promulgating emergency, ostensibly to curb terrorism while actually it was terrorism against the judiciary and media, while on the other hand the same government has constituted a committee to negotiate with the terrorists who have ruthlessly murdered around 50,000 people including about 5,000 military jawans (soldiers), not only violating the constitution but also all local and international laws. The dichotomy is glaring. In Musharraf’s case the government has compromised and not tried him on the more serious crime, i.e. the coup against an elected government on October 12, 1999 because of the consideration that it would have required indicting not one general alone but the whole military. And that’s not all — the judges who provided legal cover to the military coup and even obliged the general by allowing him to change the constitution where required.
Musharraf’s coup against the former Chief Justice (CJ) and his colleagues has taken precedence over the coup against an elected parliament. Now Musharraf is faced with a hostile judiciary and media, and his only bet is that the army supports an honourable exit from Pakistan, where he returned under the delusion that the people still love him. He may be having tacit support from his institution but does not have the firepower of the terrorist groups organised under the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella. So what does this weak-kneed policy of the Nawaz government prove? That ballot power had to surrender to bullet power on the mountains and in the valleys of FATA? When the two committees sit down to negotiate, the obvious TTP demand is to release the terrorists arrested by the government so far for killing hundreds of innocent people and military personnel, and implantation of sharia ala Mullah Omar and al Qaeda. Now the question is: will the military agree to release the terrorists in their custody, knowing well that these terrorists will join their cadres and strengthen the TTP? It would be foolish if they fall for that. The second demand, regarding the imposition of sharia may include, as it did in Swat, introducing the Nizam-e-Adl. Next they can ask to have Qazi courts with only madrassa (seminary) educated Islamic scholars. They can also ask to make an ulema (cleric) body like the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) as the supreme body instead of parliament as they do not believe in democracy and elections, which, according to the TTP and al Qaeda literature, is the “curse of the western civilization”. They can also ask to make the rulings of the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) final instead of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan and to appoint only muftis to the FSC. Will all this be acceptable to the government and parliament? Some Islamists are arguing that, with the insertion of the Objectives Resolution as the substantive part of the constitution in 1985, General Zia opened the door to the Islamisation of the constitution. They also quote Article 31 of the constitution to emphasise that implementation of sharia is possible under this provision but the point they miss is that it does not use the word ‘enforce’. Instead, it says that steps shall be taken to ‘enable’ the Muslims of Pakistan. Article 31(2) says, “shall ‘endeavour’” while only 2(a) says, “make the teaching of Holy Quran and Islamiat ‘compulsory’”. Article 2(b) says, “‘promote’ unity and the observance of Islamic moral standards” and 2(c) enjoins “to ‘secure’ the proper organisation of Zakat, [ushr] auqaf and mosque”. Now, 2(a) and 2(c) have already been implemented in Pakistan. The rest of Article 31 does not provide for forcible enforcement, as the TTP and its advocates want. Leaving the constitutional issue aside and without indulging in the debate that there are various interpretations of sharia that divide the Muslims of the world as nothing was written for over a century after the Prophet (PBUH), the real problem in Pakistan is separating politics and religion. Rising religiosity and the attached militancy have not only made religious teaching controversial and divisive, they have also kept Muslim societies way behind the developed world, which moved towards secularism centuries ago.
Some leaders and journalists are telling us that all the killings in FATA were for the implementation of a quicker and more effective judicial system. If that is so then why are all the people of Pakistan not picking up arms against the corrupt and painfully slow judicial system? Killing and hanging bodies on poles, bombing and whipping for a civilised cause are not justified from a democratic and secular standpoint. It is barbaric. So it is naive to believe that the long-drawn Taliban battle was just for sharia. There is definitely more to it than our detractors want us to believe. Inspired by al Qaeda, these Taliban leaders believe in the world’s ‘Islamic revolution’ starting from a base in Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, peace is important and any little respite is welcomed by the people who have been living in the crossfire between the Taliban and the army. So, if you move the camera around to ask whether peace talks should be given a chance, people are not going to criticise these talks with the TTP. They also fear for their lives before commenting on the talks because the Taliban have been silencing all dissent across the country. Yes, in politics we have to be pragmatic but that does not mean we should disregard what is good and what is not good for the country in the long run. The government should have encouraged and supported the local people in resisting the Taliban. People want an ally that can be relied on in the struggle against the Taliban, not a government that will give in to fascist forces. It is advocated by the supporters of the talks that the government has to negotiate with these people as one cannot use the military indefinitely against our own people. Absolutely right! However, what they fail to recognise is that if a group of people has taken up arms against its own people and the state, one only negotiates peace from a position of strength. Everybody knows that eventually solutions are found on the negotiation table but it should not be while compromising on basic democratic principles.
In spite of the violation of this basic principle of politics and negotiation, there are slim chances for any accord unless, to appease the TTP, the government succumbs to further distortion of the constitution by Talibanising it. Indeed, this is likely to be resisted by secular forces democratically. The signs of this resistance are visible on the political horizon.

Long March of Mama Qadeer and the insensitive Punjabi establishment

by Dr. Taimur Rahman
The Pakistani establishment wants that Mama Qadeer’s Voice of Baloch Missing Persons march should pass through Punjab as quietly and uneventfully as possible. That is why while working journalists have been covering the story, the establishment has somehow managed to get editors and anchors to completely ignore this event. They want to continue to keep the people of the largest province in the country in the dark about their policies in Balochistan. They are scared of the truth. It is a tribute to the Punjabi workers and peasants that the state is terrified of what would happen if the truth got out. It is no tribute to them that it has been so easy to keep them in the dark.
The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons march was the first initiative by the Baloch to reach out and through the Punjab heartland with their grief and sorrow. For that reason it was a total deviation from all the tactics pursued by the Baloch to date. Imagine what would happen if slowly but surely the Punjabi poor labouring class learnt of the ordeals of the Baloch? If they learnt that the people who oppress them are also the cause of the animosity between the peoples that live in our society. It has the potential of turning the tide of history.
For this reason, I think the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons march and Mama Qadeer have made history in more ways than one. The march drew out hundreds of Baloch students who live in Lahore but never participate in politics in Lahore. This interaction, communication, and the building of ties between an oppressed people and an oppressed class is the kind of force that is required to overcome the power of those who have instituted policies that are leading to the greater animosity between the nationalities within our society. In the long view of history, the Baloch and Punjabis have lived together for centuries. Chakar Azam (the leader of the Baloch) is buried in the heart of Punjab (in Okara). The final destiny of all mankind is to live as global citizens. We can get to that goal a lot sooner if the working people of Punjab learn about the Baloch. And that is the path that Mama Qadeer opened for us. Not that every Baloch should undertake a long march on foot. But that the issue of oppressed nationalities within Pakistan must become one of the central debates in all efforts for the general emancipation of society.

Valentine’s Day clash at Peshawar university injures 3 students

At least three students were wounded Friday in a clash at Peshawar University, following a dispute over Valentine's Day celebrations in Pakistan, police said. Students from the left-leaning Pakhtun Students Federation were marking the international day of romance with red balloons and cake when they were attacked by students from the rival Islami Jamiat Tulba (IJT) group. The IJT, the student wing of Pakistan's hardline Jamaat-i-Islami party, had been celebrating “Haya (“Modesty”) Day” in response to Valentine's Day which they oppose as un-Islamic. Dozens of students threw rocks in the scuffle, leading to gunshots being fired by both sides and three rooms in a student dormitory being set on fire. “The situation is under control now. Three students were wounded in the clash,” local police official Fazlur Rehman told AFP, adding that police were searching for the students involved to arrest them. One student had a gunshot wound to his hand, he added. Valentine's Day is increasingly popular among younger Pakistanis, many of whom have taken up the custom of giving cards, chocolates and gifts to their sweethearts to celebrate the occasion. But Pakistan remains a deeply traditional Muslim society where many disapprove of Valentine's Day as a Western import. Peshawar is a conservative city on the edge of Pakistan's restive tribal belt, where most women wear veils in public and few girls go out alone. Many of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked bombings which have killed thousands of people in Pakistan in the past several years have focused around Peshawar and the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Pakistan: Rangers vehicle targeted in Karachi suicide attack

The Express Tribune
A Rangers wing commander’s vehicle was targeted in a suicide attack in the Qayyumabad C area of Karachi on Friday, Express News reported. The vehicle was travelling from Sea View onto Korangi Road when the incident occurred. Korangi’s SP Usman Bajwa confirmed that it was a suicide attack. The suicide bomber was reportedly on foot and was not close to his target when he detonated the explosives. The vehicle was damaged but police confirmed that Rangers personnel remained unharmed after the blast. Police said that body parts – believed to be of the suicide bomber – were found near the site of the blast. The body parts have been taken to Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center for DNA analysis. Rangers and police have cordoned off the area and an investigation is ongoing.

Pakistan: PASHTUN'S GENOCIDE: : The cost victims pay

WEARING a light blue shalwar-kameez with a matching shawl, Khadija, 13, is lying on an adjustable hospital bed at Peshawar’s Paraplegic Centre. Her elder sister Sakeena, in her late teens, stands close to the bed that is placed in the shadow of a tree on a sunny February day in the backyard of the centre’s female ward. Khadija has been under rehab treatment here since June 21, 2013. “She was injured when a mortar shell hit our house at Shandrung Killay, Bara, Khyber Agency,” says a pink-faced Sakeena, adjusting the dupatta covering her head. A soft smile spreads across Khadija’s slender face as she narrates the events of Aug 18, 2011. “I heard a loud noise as something big with force landed on our roof,” recalls Khadija. She says she was helping her mother cook the evening meal when the roof caved in. Her mother, Noor Bibi, died whereas Khadija has never been on her feet since then. “She’s completely paralysed below and will never be able to walk again. She has no bowel and bladder control,” explains physiotherapist Syed Mohammad Ilyas, chief executive of the Paraplegic Centre, a provincial public-sector institution. The centre comes to life early in the morning as some of the patients transport themselves in their wheelchairs to the in-house mosque for Fajr prayers. This writer saw a few patients with sore backs lying on their stomachs on custom-made beds brought out into the open where they could enjoy the sunshine. The Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency was a militancy hot spot when Khadija, a student at a Punjab seminary, came home for vacations. The military operation against a local militant `commander’, Mangul Bagh, led to human misery in the short run and some stability in the longer run. About half a million people had to leave their homes, taking shelter in a tented village at Jalozai near Peshawar. Khadija said her family could not move out in time because her father, a labourer in Saudi Arabia, was not there and the women could not decide to leave in his absence. As she was narrating her ordeal, a fair, eight-year-old boy walked close to her bed, pushing a wheelchair by its handles. Ali, one of the 78 paraplegic patients currently registered at the centre, survived a deadly attack in the militancy-affected Darra Adam Khel in September 2011. “He was returning home when his school van was fired upon. He injured his spinal cord,” says Ali’s mother, whose younger brother, and three other boys, all Ali’s age, died in the attack. The boy, says Ilyas, had been readmitted to the centre after developing pressure sores over a month ago. “He does not have sensation in his backside and if he does not take care he develops sores,” says the physiotherapist. When asked how it feels to walk with a calliper wrapped around his leg below the knee, he moves away without saying anything, dragging his left foot and holding a half-filled urine bag in his left hand. The men, women and children with permanent disabilities caused by militancy-related violence is a comparatively new phenomenon at the centre where a majority of patients suffered spinal cord injuries due to falls from poles and trees, according to the physiotherapist. “Every nook and corner of the building, including the mosque, is wheelchair-accessible,” said Zia-ur-Rehman, chairman of the centre’s board of directors. Set up by the ICRC in 1984 to treat patients with spinal cord injuries from Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Afghan war, the centre was also utilised by the Taliban government in Kabul. Its utility, said Ilyas, was second to none for the growing paraplegic population of Pakistan. On an average about 300 patients annually left the centre. Annual costs were about Rs70 million of which Rs50m came from the provincial government this financial year, according to Rehman. Apart from providing free medical and rehab treatment, it also provides free meals to patients and their attendants throughout their stay. It imparts occupational training to help the disabled become functional by relearning some of the movements they lost. Similarly, it has separate vocational training facilities for male and female patients, a workshop to produce callipers and wheelchairs, an incinerator and a gym.