Monday, February 24, 2014

A better potato for India, via Israeli tech

Distribution, not famine, is what ails masses of the second largest country’s poor, says a researcher — and Israel has the solutions
When he visits family on vacation from his post at Israel’s Vulcani Agricultural Research Institute, Dr. Akhilesh Kumar is always struck by the two very different New Delhis he experiences. One is the city of haves, where people can phone up a fast food joint and get a nice meal delivered. The other is the city of have nots, down in the street, among the penniless, hungry beggars that the delivery person has to wade through to make his delivery. “The food is there, but it isn’t getting to everyone,” Kumar said. “The problem in India is not a lack of food. In truth, India grows enough food to feed itself.
The problem isn’t one of poor agriculture, but poor distribution, Kumar told The Times of Israel in an exclusive interview. “The biggest crop in India is the potato, and in fact India is the second largest producer of potatoes in the world after China (the country produced 45 million metric tons of potato in 2012, approximately 12.2% of total global potato production). But those potatoes are mostly produced in the winter, and when harvest time comes, there is a glut on the market.
“Producer prices are very low at that time, and farmers who sell their potatoes in the market can only get a little money for their produce. And, there’s only so many potatoes the market can absorb at one time,” said Kumar.
“The excess potatoes are bought up by distributors who store them in cold-storage warehouses,” he continued. “Later on when the weather is warm, they bring out the potatoes, and sell them for three times or more the price that they bought them for after the harvest. Those same farmers who sold the distributors their potatoes at low cost after the harvest now have to buy them back at greatly inflated prices.”
Solving this problem is one of Kumar’s objectives, and as a plant biotechnologist specializing in transgenic research, he is conducting basic research in extending the shelf life of potatoes. “If we could extend the time farmers could hold on to their potatoes in typical room-temperature situations, there would be less need for them to sell off their crop right away, prices would not drop as much at harvest time, and the power of the distributor trust would be diluted,” he said. Kumar was speaking during the recent ID2 (Israeli Designed International Development) conference, which brought together 70 entrepreneurs, academics, and students to discuss how to develop solutions for some of the world’s big problems – like hunger in India. Kumar came to Israel in 2010 on an 8 month Foreign Ministry scholarship, but upon finding Israel as a hub of innovative technologies, he decided to extend his stay and continue his research project.
In his research, Kumar is trying to decipher the molecular mechanism of glycoalkaloid (toxic secondary metabolites) biosynthesis in potato tubers – the process that turns potatoes green and sprout little “roots.” The green area and sprouts indicates the presence of solanine, which is poisonous. By developing ways to reduce glycoalkaloid biosynthesis, Kumar hopes to prevent or at least postpone the blight that makes it impossible for farmers to hold onto their potatoes.
According to Kumar, Israel — and the Vulcani Institute in particular – is the right place to do this research. “Israel has developed technology to deal with this problem, and applying it on a large scale, I believe, will greatly improve the agricultural situation in India.” Although he was trained in genetic research, Kumar believes that it would be best to keep genetic modification out of the food chain, because monkeying around with genes could create a whole new set of unforeseen problems. “At Vulcani they practice precise agriculture,” which entails very close monitoring of everything surrounding the growing of a plant — air, atmosphere, soil, hybridization, and more — to develop the best and most effective strains, capable of growing and thriving under the most difficult conditions.
Israeli solar energy technology could also be used to help India’s poor farmers, Kumar said. “Farmers could build small storerooms with solar panels on top to generate electricity for small refrigeration units. The solar panels could also power batteries which will keep the rooms cold at night as well.”
Although usually thought of as a Hindu country, India is actually home to the third largest Muslim population in the world — 176 million, or more than 15% of India’s total population, and almost as many as in Pakistan, the second largest Muslim-populated country in the world, with 178 million. Muslim politicians are very influential in India, and the country is located in a very anti-Israel neighborhood, with Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other hard-line Islamist countries close by — so the government is definitely concerned about appearing too pro-Israel, Kumar said.
“On the other hand, Israel and India do about $5 billion in business a year, and the free-trade agreement between both countries is likely to be signed in the coming months. Ten years ago doing business with Israel was much more difficult, but as time has gone by people see that having a good relationship with Israel has brought about many positive benefits to India,” said Kumar. Water technology, agricultural technology, and scientific cooperation with Israel have gone a long way to convince even Muslim politicians that working with Israel has its benefits.
“There are many more issues that need fixing in India and that Israel can help with,” said Kumar. “I hope to be able to take what I have learned here and teach others when I get home, and I am hopeful the Israeli government will support wider-scale technology training within India itself, and not just for visiting students.”
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Ukraine enters uncharted water, facing political, economic uncertainty

Following fast-moving days of political upheaval, Ukraine has entered into an uncharted water, challenged by a power vacuum left by the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych and the dire economic situation. Though Ukraine's parliament has moved swiftly after the ouster of Vanukovych Saturday -- empowering new speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, to perform the duties of the president until a election is held in May -- ominous signs emerged on both political and economic fronts. For ordinary Ukrainians, too many old faces in the provisional government, mostly from the opposition Fatherland party of Yulia Tymoshenko, raised fears that this time round, the deadly street uprising would just be a repeat of history, ending up in the popular disappointment of the government, just as the case with the 2004 Orange Revolution led by Tymoshenko. Among the strong contenders for presidency include two top allies of Tymoshenko -- Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader of the Fatherland, and the newly installed speaker Turchynov. This has also strengthened the bitter feeling that the political upheaval might in the end work only to the opposition's advantage rather than the Ukrainian people. As parliament continued its efforts to rebuild the country, authorities on Monday issued an arrest warrant of Yanukovych, whose whereabouts remain unknown, on charges of mass murder in the killings of dozens of anti-government protesters last week. "We have opened a criminal case on the mass murder of civilians. Yanukovych and several other officials are on the wanted list," said interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, adding that the president is believed to be in the pro-Russia Crimean peninsula in the south of the country, the strong support base of Yanukovych. Yanukovych's flee capped three months of protests triggered by his rejection of a Ukraine-EU trade pact in favor of closer ties with Russia last November. More than 80 people have been killed and hundreds of others injured in the bloodiest violence since the country gained independence in 1991. Meanwhile, scores of high-ranking officials in Yanukovych's government are also likely to be on the list of the judicial pursuit. "We're going to announce a suspicion to about 50 persons, including high-ranking officials, for organizing the massacres," said Oleh Makhnytsky Monday, who was appointed as the country's acting prosecutor general in the same day. Though he did not disclose the suspects' names, the members of the former government are reportedly to be among them.
The political uncertainty has cost Ukraine economically: the country is said to be in dire financial straits, facing possible default. Turchynov said Monday that his country needs at least 213 million dollars to hold the election campaign scheduled for May. The money was a large sum for Ukraine, said Yatsenyuk. "The treasury was plundered; the state is on the edge of bankruptcy." Ukraine, which has to pay 17.4 billion dollars of its foreign debt this year, turned to the international community for help. It has proposed to hold an international donor conference with the participation of the European Union, the United States, Poland, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other countries and international financial institutions to allocate funds for Ukraine 's reforms and modernization. Ukraine needs around 35 billion dollars in aid to improve its economy, the country's Finance Ministry said. The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is on a working visit to Kiev, capital of Ukraine, said the 28-member block is ready to support Ukraine. "We are ready to support Ukraine and to show the other countries that your state not only solves the problems of the past but looks to the future," Ashton said during a meeting with Turchynov. Meanwhile, Russia, the biggest Ukraine's trade partner, questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine's new authorities and said that gas contracts between the two countries had time limits and Moscow could reconsider them on consultations with Kiev. Gas price means a lot to the country's budget. When Moscow agreed to cut the price of its gas supplies to Ukraine by a third in December, Kiev said that it expected to save up to 7 billion dollars in annual cost from the deal.

Obama's three vain hopes about his meeting with the Dalai Lama

US President Obama and the Dalai Lama held a private meeting in the White House in Washington on February 21, 2014. This is the third time the two men have met. The US claims that these meetings show its concern for Tibetan human rights and respect for the religion and culture of Tibet, but the truth is quite different. The Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities. His trips to the US are aimed either at seeking support for Tibetan independence or damaging Sino-US ties. The US tactic of playing the "Dalai card"to hamper China's development is a vain one. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency backed the Tibetan uprising in the 1950s. Some U.S. politicians are still keen to meet with the Dalai Lama and fund forces advocating the "independence of Tibet", with the aim of damaging China's development and stability. Tibet has long been freed from the slavery of the Dalai Lama and serfdom, with rapid economic development and rising living standards. All the peoples of China enjoy substantial human rights and freedoms in comparison with the past, and religious freedom and traditional culture are also well-protectedd and passed on. The future of Tibet will not be changed by the forces advocating the "independence of Tibet". Those who play the Dalai card will lose the game. The US underestimates China's resolve to safeguard its core interests. The US has turned a deaf ear to China's indignation. It has also tried to justify the "private meeting". It must realize that mutual respect is a fundamental principle of Sino-US cooperation and one of the cornerstones of mutual strategic trust. The damage to China's interests and the hurt to Chinese people's feelings caused by the US not only incurs China's indignation but could also have broad-ranging unforeseen consequences. US politicians hope to polish their political image via meetings with the Dalai Lama. The US often defends itself by saying US president, burdened by the pressure of domestic politics and public opinion, is under an obligation to meet with the Dalai Lama. But it is obvious that ordinary American people are more concerned with things that relate to their daily lives such as the economy, employment, standards of living and education. Since China is the second largest trade partner of the US, there is an essential level of communication and coordination on a series of major local and global issues. Any tension between China and the US is bound to do harm to U.S. interests. The meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with ordinary American people; its only consequence will be to damage their interests.

Russia wanted to create celebration for whole planet - Putin on Sochi Olympics

President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin gave an interview to the representatives of Russian TV channels summarizing the Sochi-2014 Olympics.
I. Zaynalova: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I would like to first congratulate you for the success of the Olympics, all the people who attended it are praising it: the members of the IOC (International Olympics Committee), the athletes and guests. Practically everything was done without any glitch. I would like to ask right now what was the price for such organization for you and for your team? And how was it possible to achieve such success?
V. Putin: It was a team achievement, the first part was to create the most sport oriented engineering and transport infrastructure. And here the main role, I have already stated this, was played by the Russian Government, the former and current structure of it, as the main work was done by the Ministers: the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Transportation, ministries and departments, who were engaged one way or another in the construction, major Russian infrastructure companies, "Russian Railways", large construction companies. The main work was on-site, here all the Ministers and Deputy Ministers were working, as well as the Prime Minister and your humble servant in the former position and Dmitry Anatolyevich who is now Prime Minister but back then was the President, so it has been mutual team work. When I met with the athletes I said that surely at certain point believed that we would all be able to build and create all of this. But the holiday wouldn't have been so bright and full as it was today without the outstanding work of the whole team. And it is surely important to add that everything was done for the sake of sports. But initially we wanted to turn it into a large national sporting event of our country. I have already talked about this, we have a lot of issues, and we are used to have these issues following us but we need to have a holiday as well. I think we managed to have this kind of a holiday. At the same time, we have always thought about the international sport community, about our partners, about foreign athletes. We wanted to create a holiday for the whole world of sports, for the whole planet. And we are very happy that we have managed to do that. It turned out to be massive and very beautiful.
S. Brilev: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I want to go back to our interview 3 weeks ago, before the Olympics. You were careful back then to make any predictions regarding how many Russian medals there will be. Sochi turned out to be such a triumph that Vancouver seems to be a bad dream which never happened. But now I understand, it was a hint from your side. You told me back then: "Look, watch our young athletes".
V. Putin: Exactly.
S. Brilev: They rocketed. But then there are mathematics on it as well.
V. Putin: Not only young ones. We have very experienced athletes in sledges. Some of them started their career in 1985.
S. Brilev: But going back to the young ones, were there any calculations? If we look at Yulia Lipnitskaya or on Adelina Sotnikova, they are 15 and 17 years old minus four years from Vancouver, they were at this age where the decision could have been made for them to perform now.
V. Putin: It might have been.
S. Brilev: Does that mean that the decision was made before that? And not due to the outcome of Vancouver?
V. Putin: In this kind of sport, the career begins very early. You remembered Adelina Sotnikova, and she remembered something else, she remembered and brought me a photo. She told me: "Vladimir Vladimirovich, I have promised you to become an Olympic champion and I have done that".
S. Brilev: When did she promise you that?
V. Putin: Exactly five years ago.
S. Brilev: So it was before Vancouver?
V. Putin: Five years ago she was twelve. She brought a photo as a proof of our conversation, where she is standing right next to me and I'm hugging her by the shoulders. She is looking at me and I remember how she told me: "I promise I will become an Olympic champion".
S. Brilev: So, had you decided that you would start all of these before Vancouver?
V. Putin: The thing is that it is not my decision. It is the decision of the experts. The main idea here is not to substitute experts with yourself: not engineers, not ecologists, not constructors, not trainers. And if to talk about this, then a huge impact to our sport accomplishments were made by the Ministry of Sports and Minister Mutko. And, of course, by teams of trainers who at the same time were defined from recommendations of experts. Unfortunately, a lot of people spread all around the world. And it is not bad since we have a free country. And maybe it sounds primitive but it is true, all of them are high level experts, working force. It is known that working force is searching for the best possible way to implement itself. And I think that now, our country has the best work conditions for high level experts and if those conditions were not created completely then, they are in the process of being created very energetically, and we are completely competitive with our partners in other countries. Many people do come back, both athletes and trainers. After the Olympics we have received an agreement of some experts to return. So all this work is a long term project, the same way as the construction of a ship or a submarine, for instance. All of these require time and effort. You know, when we began all of this, the Olympics, I had said in one of my speeches that we have a very young and a very prospective team. The main thing is not to lose speed, not to slow down but to continue improving, help athletes and trainers and experts, different experts. Modern sports are of high achievement, colleagues know about this, they require experts from different levels. And this is the direction that one should work on.
К. Kiknadze: Vladimir Vladimirovich, continuing the topic of sports and experts who worked here. There is the Germany example that I am sure you are aware of.
V. Putin: Yes.
К. Kiknadze: Kids starting from the age of 5 or 6 are being carefully watched. There is a file on every boy, every girl who could potentially in 5-6 years become valuable for the big sports. Is it possible in our country to do the same thing?
V. Putin: You have started from the amateur sports and then turned out to be in the professional sport's field. But this is not the same thing. And for us, from the demographic point of view, from the point of view of the nation's health the most important aspect is the massive sport. And here you mentioned about the example of let's say Germany and it really resembles the Soviet experience. But our whole GTO system was based on the state, while in Germany it is all private. By the way, it was managed by Mr. Bach, the current president of the IOC. And it works very effectively: in districts, in areas, in towns, all of which are volunteer communities, they operate on the basis of small donations, people pay modest fees. But if to take into considerations massive amount of organizations, they are capable of maintaining skating rinks, small sport stadiums, places to play hockey and so on. They get membership tickets and they can go there paying minimum price. There is a group of people who use these benefits. I want to draw your attention to the fact that in Soviet period we had all of this, it is just that we didn't pay 30 kopeсks from our pocket, maybe once, to become part of DOSAAF, we just paid insignificant money amounts to GTO or DOSAAF and then the government or civil unions did everything. We can restore all of that and continue the path of the massive sports this way. But at the same time, massive sport gives an opportunity to choose the most promising children, young people for the sport and for high achievements and in order to do that, we have to create the system of special institutions: sport schools, schools of high sporting skills and so on and so forth, you know all about this. We should all restore this and continue moving forward. Overall, we are doing that.
I. Zaynalova: Vladimir Vladimirovich, now that you have met with our athletes, you were congratulating them and awarding them. We have all achieved that, they, we, the whole country. It was this feeling of us gathering together and we are proud of that. But high achievement in sports requires constant flow, attention from the government. There is Brazil and South Korea in the future. How to maintain this high level of attention? What would it cost and is it even possible to do so?
V. Putin: We are not talking about money right now when we say what it is going to cost.
I. Zaynalova: Attention. Attention is the main thing.
V. Putin: Attention we will save for sure. I don't know if we manage to achieve the same results as in Sochi, in our home. As you know it, at home the walls help you, as we say. But of course the fans help. This is why I want to say thanks again to our people not only for them cheering our team but for them, apart from few exceptions that have created such good, friendly atmosphere in which the representatives of all the countries who participated in the Games lived for two weeks. In foreign places, it is harder. It is always like that: one team of athletes leaves, another hasn't yet gotten into the right stage, right conditions and hasn't achieved maximum potential in sports development. That's why it doesn't mean that we will always show this kind of results, it is quite difficult but it is obvious that we can develop and we will continue to do so.
A. Lubimov: Vladimir Vladimirovich, I was consistently worried and puzzled by how foreign mass media covered the Olympics. In the end I was outraged as I never usually am. I am not a citizen, but even I was torn by patriotic feelings. Why such injustice? Is it normal?
V. Putin: This is very good. (Laughing)
A. Lubimov: If we talk about me, I agree.
V. Putin: You know what I want to tell you, it's not just you, everybody were touched by this. This means that our foreign colleagues who were doing what we have just mentioned have achieved opposite results of what they tried to gain. I would like to separate certain things here. First of all, we have always worked, during all those years, in the atmosphere of criticism, and in the majority of cases, it was well-construed, very friendly and constructive criticism from the IOC. Yesterday, in such informal atmosphere I have expressed my gratitude to Mr. Killy and the former president of IOC and the current one, not only for trusting us with the Olympics, but also because from the very first steps they showed us where to go, how the program should be done from the organization perspectives, from the planning and constructing point of view. I think that without such constructive and friendly criticism we would have done everything but I doubt we could have done that on such high quality level since our friends from IOC have incredible experience that we lack. And they have shared their experience with us. But at the same time, there was and maybe still is another kind of criticism, of those people who are not close to sports and who are engaged in competitions in the sphere of international politics. They have another aim, another work and they used the Olympic project for the achievement of their own goals in the sphere of anti-Russian propaganda.
A. Lubimov: Did you react calmly to that?
V. Putin: This has nothing to do with sports and I have always accepted that calmly. Do you know why? Because I know what it is and I know what it costs and I know that argue in that matter is useless. It doesn't matter what we say and no matter how hard we try to change their opinion, it is impossible because they have another job, another goal. I want to repeat once again, this is a sphere of competitive strife in the area of international politics, maybe even geopolitics. Because when strong competitors emerge, in this case Russia, they start feeling anxious, somebody just doesn't like that, somebody starts feeling afraid, as they don't understand how deeply, how massively the Russian society has changed. In this aspect, Olympics are very important for us, as it (and I really want it to be that way) has helped to open not just the doors to Russia but the doors to the Russian soul, to the soul of our people. In order for people to see and understand that there is nothing to be afraid of, we are ready and we want cooperation. And maybe those who criticize are unfriendly, and I think we can't even call them like that but I repeat it, they just have another job and maybe some of their fears disappeared and I really hope for that. And if we have managed to achieve that, then it is another success of the Olympics.

Ukraine’s new authorities resort to ‘dictatorial’ methods in regions – Russia

Russia has lashed out at the new regime in Kiev, accusing it of using “dictatorial” and “terrorist” methods to suppress dissent in the country, with backing from the West which is “acting out of geopolitical self-interest.” “The position of some of our Western partners doesn’t show genuine concern, but a desire to act out of geopolitical self-interest,” said a statement on the Russian foreign ministry’s website. “There is no condemnation of criminal actions by extremists, including manifestations or neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism. In fact, these are being encouraged.” The statement went on to say that “outside sponsors” are advancing a “regime change” in the country, without a desire to find “national consensus."
“We urge those embroiled in the crisis in Ukraine to show responsibility, and to prevent further deterioration of the situation, to return to the rule of law, and to stop the extremists in their bid for power.” An escalating three-month standoff between the opposition and the government came to an end at the weekend, when President Viktor Yanukovich escaped Kiev. Since then, a Rada composed of opposition deputies and defectors from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions has assumed control, stripping him of his powers, and making its speaker Aleksandr Turchinov the interim head of state.
The Russian foreign ministry said “paramilitaries... refuse to leave the cities, or abandon the administrative buildings they have occupied, while they continue to carry out acts of violence”. It also censures them for mocking historical memorials. The statement says that the legitimacy of the Rada is “questionable”, and says that the opinions of the largely pro-Russian regions should not be ignored.
Moscow accuses the Ukrainian MPs of using “revolutionary expediency” for calls to “virtually forbid the use of the Russian language entirely, encourage a lustration, liquidateparties, shut down certain media, and remove the limitations on Neo-Nazi propaganda”. The Rada revoked a law that allowed Russian and other minority languages to be recognized as official in multi-cultural regions, and has also proposed an initiative that would forbid officials from the former regime from occupying official posts. One nationalist leader has called for Russian TV stations to be barred from broadcasting in Ukraine. The Russian ministry has also condemned the announced May 25 presidential election date, saying that according to the February 21 agreement between the authorities and the opposition, made before Viktor Yanukovich left Kiev, that any polls could only be staged after a constitutional reform. To ensure the success of the reform, any changes to the Constitution should be put to a national referendum, Moscow stressed.

Obama: Governors meet the President

President Obama and Vice President Biden deliver remarks at the National Governors Association at the White House.

Saudi Arabia: The Middle East’s Real Apartheid State
There is a country in the Middle East where 10 percent of the population is denied equal rights because of their race, where black men are not allowed to hold many government positions, where black women are put on trial for witchcraft and where the custody of children is granted to the parent with the most “racially superior” bloodline. This Apartheid State is so enormously powerful that it controls American foreign policy in the Middle East even as its princes and princesses bring their slaves to the United Kingdom and the United States.
That country is Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia abolished slavery in 1962 under pressure from President Kennedy, who accomplished what the Ottoman Empire and the League of Nations had not been able to, but that hasn’t stopped its citizens from selling castrated slaves on Facebook or its princes from beating their black slaves to death in posh London hotels. The Saudis had clung to their racist privileges longer than anyone else. When rumors reached Mecca that the Ottoman Empire might be considering the abolition of African slavery and equal rights for all, the chief of the Ulema of Mecca issued a fatwa declaring “the ban on slaves is contrary to Sharia (Islamic Law)… with such proposals the Turks have become infidels and it is lawful to make their children slaves.” But Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth eventually made slavery economically unnecessary. Early on, African slaves worked for foreign oil companies which paid their masters, but they were a poor fit for the oil economy. The Kingdom no longer needed agricultural slaves and pearl drivers; it needed trained technicians from the West and international travel made it cheaper to import Asian workers for household labor and construction than to maintain its old trade in slaves.
The Saudis replaced the 450,000 slaves of the 1950s with 8.4 million guest workers. These workers are often treated like slaves, but they are not property and are therefore even more disposable than the slaves were. Exact numbers are hard to come by, but Nepal alone reported 265 worker deaths in Saudi Arabia in a single year. Human Rights Watch has described conditions for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia as resembling slavery.
Meanwhile the three million Afro-Saudis are denied equal rights, prevented from serving as judges, security officials, diplomats, mayors and many other official positions. Afro-Saudi women are not allowed to appear on camera. “There is not one single black school principal in Saudi Arabia,” the Institute for Gulf Affairs, a Saudi human rights group, reported.
Kafa’ah, equality in marriage, is used to establish that both sides are free from the “taint” of slave blood. The blood of Takruni, West African slaves, or Mawalid, slaves who gained their freedom by converting to Islam, is kept out of the Saudi master race through genealogical records that can be presented at need. Challenges to the Kafa’ah of a marriage occur when tribal members uncover African descent in the husband or the wife after the marriage has already occurred. The racially inferior party is ordered to present “proof of equality” in the form of family trees and witnesses. If the couple is judged unequal, the Saudi Gazette reported, “Children’s custody is usually given to the ‘racially superior’ parent.” These Saudi efforts at preventing their former slaves from intermarrying with them have only accelerated their incestuous inbreeding. In parts of Saudi Arabia, the percentage of marriages among blood relatives can go as high as 70%. Saudi Arabia has the second highest rate of birth defects in the world, but a Saudi Sheikh blamed this phenomenon on female drivers, even though women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Equality has always been a foreign concept to the Saudis whose tribal castes determine the right to rule. In Saudi Arabia everyone has their place, from the Afro-Saudi, to the non-Muslim guest worker to the Saudi woman. On the road to Mecca, a sign points one way for “Muslims” and another for “Non-Muslims.” Only Muslims are allowed into the holy cities of Islam. A Christian truck driver from Sri Lanka who wandered into Mecca was arrested and dispatched for trial to a Sharia court of Islamic law. Likewise, women are barred from many jobs, kept from driving and even electronically tracked to prevent them from leaving the country. Guest workers in Saudi Arabia are treated as slaves, their identity papers held by their employers, preventing them from leaving without permission.
The guest workers however, if they survive the witchcraft accusations and sexual assaults, will escape back to Ethiopia, Sri Lanka or the Philippines with a fraction of the money that they were supposed to earn. The Afro-Saudis however have nowhere to return to. Saudi Arabia is the only home they know. The Arab slave trade was longer, crueler and far more enduring than anything Europeans and Americans are familiar with and left behind large numbers of Afro-Arabs across the Middle East and Afro-Turks in Turkey. While African-Americans are prominently represented in American life, Afro-Arabs and Afro-Turks suffer from an inferior status which keeps them away from political power and out of public view.
American soldiers in Basra were surprised to discover large numbers of Afro-Iraqis. The hundreds of thousands of Afro-Iraqis are a legacy of the Zanj slave rebellion when 500,000 African slaves rose against their Arab masters. The Afro-Iraqis are free, but relentlessly discriminated against. In Gaza, 10,000 Afro-Arabs face daily discrimination. But it is the Afro-Saudis who are the Middle East’s best kept secret. Nawal Al-Hawsawi was dubbed the Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia when she took three women to court who insultingly called her “Abd” or slave. Nawal dropped the court case after she received an apology, but the taunt of “slave” is one that Afro-Saudis have to live with daily in Saudi Arabia.
“The monarchy’s religious tradition still views blacks as slaves,” Ali Al-Ahmed, the Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, wrote in Foreign Policy Magazine.
The Institute blames Deputy Saudi Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah, the son of the Saudi king, for being the architect of the Saudi apartheid state, but Saudi apartheid predates any one man.
Saudi slavery was intertwined with Islam, receiving sanction from the Koran and the Hadiths while relying on the Saudi role as the guardians of Mecca and Medina to lure African Muslims into slavery. African Muslims who made the pilgrimage to Mecca were defrauded and forced to sell their children into slavery to afford the return trip home. Slave traders lured African Muslims from Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso by promising to take them to the holy places of Islam and teach them to read the Koran in Arabic.
Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan, a leading authority on Islam in Saudi Arabia, bluntly stated, “Slavery is a part of Islam. Slavery is part of jihad, and jihad will remain as long there is Islam.” The linkage between slavery, Jihad and Islam dates back to Mohammed whose followers were compensated with human property. In The Legacy of Arab-Islam in Africa, John Alembillah Azumah writes that, “In pre-Islamic Arabia blacks were held in high esteem and did marry Arab women … the discrimination on account of the colour of their skin is a development within the Islamic period.”
Racism was a necessary prerequisite to the expansion of Islam through Jihad. The land that is today known as Saudi Arabia was at the center of those conquests, growing rich in slaves and loot. Today it is once again at the center of the new Jihad, its every atrocity justified by its role in the holy wars of Islam.

Bilawal Bhutto condemns Peshawar blast
Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has strongly condemned the suicide bomb attack against the Frontier Corps check post near the Iranian consulate on University Road, Peshawar today. PPP Patron-in-Chief called upon all citizens to come together in solidarity against such terrorism in all its forms, so as to put an end to all plots targeting Pakistani people and institutions. He urged all to rally around the security forces which fortify the nation. Bilawal Bhutto expressed his sincere condolences to the families of the fallen martyr soldiers, while wishing speedy recovery to all those injured as a result of the explosion.

Iran's Spokeswoman Strongly Condemns Terrorist Attack near Iranian Consulate in Pakistan

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham strongly condemned the Monday terrorist attack in front of Tehran’s consulate office in Peshawar, Pakistan.
A blast near the Iranian consulate on University Road in Peshawar killed two security guards and left 10 others injured on Monday. The consulate is situated in a residential area and has schools in its vicinity as well.
The Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman condemned the terrorist actions and resort to violence in the region, specially against diplomatic center, and called for closer cooperation among all countries in their campaign against violence and extremism as well as confronting plots against religions.
“Following the occurrence of this terrorist act Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a telephone conversation with Iran’s consul-general in Peshawar was assured about the health conditions of our consulate colleagues and he was also briefed about the damage inflicted on the consulate building, and he also stated some necessary recommendations,” Afkham said. A spokesman for Pakistani jihadist Mast Gul, once acclaimed in Pakistan for his role fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, claimed responsibility. The group is affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, who are fighting to topple the government. "We sent a suicide bomber to target the Iranian consulate and Iranians inside the building," the spokesman was quoted by Reuters as saying. "They unfortunately remained safe.
"We will continue to target Iranian installations and the Shi'a community everywhere," he added.

Blast outside Iranian consulate in Peshawar kills two

A suspected suicide bomb attack outside the Iranian consulate in Peshawar Monday killed two paramilitary soldiers and wounded ten others, officials said. The bombing took place in the up-market University Town area of the northwestern city of Pakistan, where many non-government organisations (NGOs) are also based. Police sources said a suspicious vehicle stopped near a security checkpost near the Iranian consul-general’s office, following which a blast was witnessed. “We have two bodies of paramilitary soldiers and ten wounded have been admitted to hospital,” Farhad Khan, a spokesman for Khyber Teaching Hospital where the casualties were taken told AFP. A senior police official, Mohammad Ejaz Ahmed, said it appeared to be a suicide bombing. Confirming the incident and casualties, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai told reporters that Iranian consulate was the apparent target of the attackers. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have carried out such attacks in the past. Earlier this month Pakistan entered into talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) aimed at ending their seven-year insurgency. But the militant group continued carrying out attacks on a near-daily basis, and the dialogue was suspended last week after the insurgents claimed they had executed 23 kidnapped soldiers in a northwestern tribal region. Since then the air force has been carrying out attacks in the volatile tribal regions which border Afghanistan, killing dozens.

Peshawar: Suicide blast kills 2 FC men near Iranian Consulate

A suicide blast took place near the Frontier Corps (FC) check post close to Iranian Consulate, killing at least two FC personnel and injuring nine others, hospital sources said. Talking to Geo News, IG police Nasir Khan Durrani said there was one attacker who managed to reach near the FC check post. The personnel deployed at the check post stopped the attacker after which he detonated his explosive laden vest. Durrani said a detailed account would be provided once the bomb disposal squad completes its probe. FC personnel stopped the attacker from reaching the Iranian Consulate, he added. Police have cordoned off the area and a search operation is underway. According to SP Cannt, the suicide bomber jumped out of a vehicle and carried out the attack.

Russia's FM source: Susan Rice had better advise US, not Russia
Asked on NBC whether the US was concerned that Russia may bring its troops to Ukraine, Rice said it’s not in the interest of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the US to see a country split
Russia has declared that the US president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, would better counsel the White House, not Russia, a Russian Foreign Ministry source told Itar-Tass on Monday in a comment on Rice’s statement that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine “would be a grave mistake”.
“We have brought to notice Susan Rice’s expert estimates based on repeated introduction of US forces in different parts of the world, especially where, according to the US administration, values of Western democracy are endangered or where the incumbents get out of hand too obviously,” said the source. “We hope it is such advice on the wrongs of using force that the current national security adviser will give the US authorities if they decide on another intervention.” Asked on broadcaster NBC on Sunday whether the US was concerned that Russia may bring its troops to Ukraine, Rice said “it’s not in the interest of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or of the United States to see a country split. It’s in nobody’s interests to see violence return and the situation escalate.

Norway in danger from Syria jihadists: intelligence agency

Norway's intelligence agency said Monday that it fears an increased "terrorist threat" to its country due to dozens of Norwegian nationals fighting in the Syrian conflict. At least 40 or 50 people with links to Norway have fought, or are currently fighting, with forces opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime and run the risk of returning as seasoned radical fighters, the Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) wrote in its annual threat assessment report. "We conclude that the threat has already increased and will continue to increase throughout 2014," the head of NIS General Kjell Grandhagen said, adding that these "jihadists" are often in the most radical Islamic groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front. The NIS estimates that about 2,000 rebel fighters have travelled from Europe to fight the Syrian regime but did not reveal how the figure was calculated. Norwegian daily Verdens Gang also reported Monday that about a dozen women have left Norway for Syria to join rebel groups. In late 2013 the fate of two teenage girls of Somali origin hit the headlines in Norway when they left to join a jihadi group in Syria and were located weeks later by their father who brought them home.
Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Four die during Saudi police raid to arrest wanted people

Two Saudi security officers and two people they were trying to detain were killed in a gunfight Thursday in the eastern town of Al-Awamiya, the government said, an area where minority Shiites have staged anti-government protests. Shiites in the region complain of discrimination, a charge denied by Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, and Riyadh blames Iran for the rise in tensions. Saudi opposition activists said security forces stormed a home in Al-Awamiya belonging to the brother of a man on a list of 23 people wanted by the authorities over unrest, before shooting dead two unarmed men they found inside. The wanted man was not in the house at the time, they said. An Interior Ministry spokesman said security forces came under fire while trying to arrest “a number of armed troublemakers” who had previously fired on residents and security forces in Al-Awamiya, according to state news agency SPA. “As a result of the exchange of fire, the wanted men Ali Ahmad al-Faraj and Hussein Ali Madan al-Faraj were killed,” SPA said, adding that two security men had also died and two more were wounded. Local activists denied that there was any exchange of fire at the scene and said security forces burst into the house of a man in search of his wanted brother who was not there. They said that Ali, the homeowner’s son, was shot 11 times while trying to run away. The second man, Hussein, died “as he documented the raid,” one activist told Reuters. A local news website,, said Hussein, 34, had photographed many of the demonstrations and funerals of the more than 20 activists killed during unrest in Saudi Arabia’s eastern region in the past three years. At least 21 people have been shot dead in the region since early 2011, when Shiites there staged protests against the involvement of Saudi forces in ending demonstrations in Bahrain.
Read more: (The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

Syria: Fears of lost heritage as Islamic fundamentalists destroy treasures

Islamic fundamentalists in Syria have started to destroy archaeological treasures such as Byzantine mosaics and Greek and Roman statues because their portrayal of human beings is contrary to their religious beliefs. Fears are growing that a part of the world's heritage may be lost forever unless there is a concerted international response. But can an international community that has failed to protect Syrian civilians manage to protect Syrian artefacts? Brendan Cole reports.
They are the forgotten victims of the conflict in Syria.
With more than 100,000 people now dead, the lines have become more blurred between insurgents fighting Bashar al Assad’s forces and Islamic fundamentalists who have started to destroy some of the country’s greatest treasures. These include archaeological treasures such as Byzantine mosaics and Greek and Roman statues. Last month the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), an al-Qaeda-type movement controlling much of north-east Syria, blew up and destroyed a sixth-century Byzantine mosaic near the city of Raqqa on the Euphrates. Malu Halasa, has written a book called Syria Speaks, about the art influenced by the Syrian uprising. She told VoR that the world needs to sit up and take notice of the destruction of Syria’s heritage.
“Damascus and Aleppo are considered the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Their treasures and ancient and ageless and people don’t realise that the conflict there has destroyed a lot.” Also in the Aleppo countryside, statues carved out of the sides of a valley at al-Qatora have been deliberately targeted by gunfire and smashed into fragments.
Other sites destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists include the reliefs carved at the Shash Hamdan, a Roman cemetery in Aleppo province.
Strong religious context
The destruction has a strong religious context. Syria was once dominated by the Sufis and with the revolution, the Salafi movement became more prominent and within their belief system which is very puritanical.
Syrian writer and journalist Halla Dyab explains the reasons behind the wanton destruction: “They targeted a lot of cultural sites mainly because fundamentalist Muslims who believe in Salafi-Wahabbi ideology and who do not believe in statues and are against human portrayals.”
Indeed, this systematic destruction of antiquities may be the worst disaster to ancient monuments since the Taliban in Afghanistan dynamited the giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in 2001. The Syrian writer and filmmaker Hall Dyab says there is a battle on to define the identity of Syria post-Assad. “What is happening is a sectarian war and they want the future Syria either to be a Shia Syria or a Sunni Syria. It is about the future of Syria and to ask the question of what Syria is about.” Earlier this week, an Islamist group put a video online threatening the destruction of a citadel in Aleppo. The Syrian government has told UNESCO it had emptied the country's 34 museums and moved the contents to safer places. But that does not appear to have stopped the illicit trade. Richard Clay is a senior lecturer in the history of art at the University of Birmingham. He said international agreement on the protection of Syria’s patrimony is more likely to succeed than any kind of peace deal.
“Trying to bring peace on the ground is almost unimaginable but it could be around the protection of heritage where there is common ground. Nobody on the Security Council does not believe in the value of heritage, all are signatories to UNESCO, that is a neutral ground maybe that’s where we could see blue helmets in Syria.” The European Union gave UNESCO 2.5 million euros this week to establish a team in Beirut to gather better information on the situation in Syria, to fight the trafficking of artefacts and to raise awareness internationally and locally. But the fears are growing that if and when the Syrian conflict comes to an end, part of the the country’s heritage will have disappeared along with law and order.
Read more:

Pashto Song - Sobia Khan And Arbaz Khan - Meena Kho Sta jinai Kashmir De

Afghans Pay Tribute to Soldiers Killed in Taliban Attack

Afghan security officials, political figures and families of the 21 Afghan soldiers who were killed in the Taliban attack on military outpost in eastern Kunar this week paid tribute to the soldiers at a somber ceremony in Kabul on Monday. The coffins were taken by helicopters to Kabul early on Monday. The attack was the deadliest single incident for the Afghan army in at least a year. Hundreds of Taliban insurgents with the support of the Pakistani Taliban attacked a remote army outpost in Ghazi Abad district of Kunar, said Kunar Police Chief, Abdul Habib Sayedkhili. At Monday's ceremony in Kabul, honor guard stood at attention behind the long line of coffins draped in the Afghan flag and topped with bouquets of flowers. Afghan Defence Minister Gen. Bismullah Khan Mohammadi pledged that Afghan security forces will stand up to threats.A father of the soldiers who lost his son in the attack said, "I sent my son to defend his country." "My son is Amir Hussian, 35 year-old and he has two children. One of his children is two year old and another is born now," he said. He added that another of his sons is also an Afghan army soldier. Thirteen Taliban insurgents have been killed in Afghan forces operation in Ghazi Abad district in the past 24 hours, said Afghan army officials on Monday. Clashes continue between Afghan forces and Taliban in the area. Six soldiers are still missing since yesterday, said the officials. The Afghan Chief of staff, Gen.Sher Mohammad Karimi on Monday paid a visit to Ghazi Abad district to check the outposts. He will provide a report about the attack to President Hamid Karzai. On Sunday, Karzai strongly condemned the killing of the soldiers and postponed his official trip to Sri Lanka. Ghazi Abad district shares a border with Pakistan and has been the site of insurgent activity targeting Afghan forces' outposts.

Afghanistan: Foreign spies planned Kunar attack

Sunday’s deadly attack on the Afghan National Army (ANA) organised by the Taliban, their foreign accomplices and the intelligence network of a certain country, the Ministry of Defence alleged on Monday. At least 20 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers were killed and eight others kidnapped early on Sunday morning when militants stormed their check-post in the Ghaziabad district eastern Kunar province. A group of Afghan and foreign insurgents mounted the attack on ANA's Sher Ghashi check-post in Tunk area. Governor Shujaul Mulk Jalala said 20 soldiers were killed. A large number of government officials, lawmakers and residents attended a ceremony for delivery of the soldiers’ bodies to their families at the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital in Kabul. National anthem was played as their bodies were wrapped up in national flag. Speaking on the occasion, Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi denounced the attack as a “cowardly act”, saying it was planned by the Taliban, their backers and the intelligence service of a certain country.” He added the attack was planned across the border and the soldiers sacrificed their lives while defending their motherland. “This is not the first or last attack; the enemies of Afghans have long been carrying out such attacks with the help of a specific country...” He added: “As elections are drawing closer, Taliban and their supporters are striving to erode people’s confidence in their security forces, but such attacks will not deter us from ensuring security for the polls.” Also present on the occasion was presidential runner, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who strongly condemned the attack. The people and government should stand united against the armed opposition, he stressed. “We hope the government will make its policy clear in this respect. Those martyred are our heroes and sons,” he remarked. Abdul Amin, whose family member was killed in the attack, asked the government not to soften its stance against the Taliban and those arrested by security forces should be awarded exemplary punishment.

Interview: Heela Najibullah: The daughter of Afghanistan's last communist president: My father wanted inclusive solution to Afghan conflict

The daughter of Afghanistan's last communist president reflects on politics and pluralism in the strife-riven state.
Heela Najibullah was only 10-years-old when her father became the president of Afghanistan. To Heela, Mohammad Najibullah was Aba, father, trying to create reconciliation among an Afghan nation divided between communists and Mujhaideen, religious warriors fighting soviet occupation. Though Heela saw her father working towards an inclusive solution to the Afghan conflict, few in the general population could separate Najibullah the communist from Najibullah the president calling for reconciliation. In the decades since, however, Najibullah's image has undergone a transformation. Pictures of a man once tied to communism now hang in people's cars, windows and shops. In an interview Al Jazeera, Heela Najibullah talks about her father's changing image 25 years after the soviet withdrawal.
AJ: How old were you during Dr Najib's presidency? How old were you when he died?
HN: Aba [my father] became the President when I was 10. He was killed when I was 18; we had not met him for four-and-a-half years.
AJ: How do people react today when you say you are the daughter of Dr Najibullah? How, if at all, has that changed over the years?
HN: I usually don't mention whose daughter I am. Recently, I met a young Afghan who was aware of my background and whose father was a Mujahid during the Cold War. Surprisingly, he also acknowledged “not reconciling with the Dr was a missed opportunity”.
Today he is viewed as a man of vision who understood the politics of his country in relation to the super powers and regional powers, a man who was progressive and yet respectful of Afghan culture, a man who wanted peace and an independent Afghanistan and a man who stood by his ideals. I also am often told how his predictions of the future wars and bloodshed came true, and that the Afghans paid with their blood and honor in the name of religion as he had foreseen.
AJ: How do you think people perceived Dr Najib during his presidency? How, if at all, did that change over the years?
HN: Aba's Presidency and its perception were greatly influenced by the on-going super power rivalries. His image, as that of the entire Afghan political scene, was taken hostage. His reconciliation efforts and hopes for [a] peaceful Afghanistan were usually a target of Cold War propaganda because of his affiliation with PDPA [the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan] and the years he was head of KHAD [the Soviet-backed intelligence agency]. However, Aba's government and his leadership gained popularity once the Soviets withdrew. The fact that his government survived the opposition's continued offensive post withdrawal was a boost to the moral of Watan party members and the masses.
AJ: Those who opposed his government - political figures and average Afghans on the street- what do you think led them to that opposition?
HN: I believe that those political figures, who opposed Najibullah's government, had started their political opposition before PDPA came to power. We all know today that their opposition gained strength outside Afghanistan. It is hard to quantify how many of the average Afghans opposed his government. Afghan social structure is complex; one cannot put all Afghans in one basket.
AJ: How did you perceive his presidency, growing up? Has that changed over time for you?
HN: As a child I found it hard to adjust to our changing environment when he became the president. I remember praying he quits politics and starts practicing medicine so my sisters and I could spend more time with him. I followed closely the reconciliation process and often felt insecure about our future wondering what our lives will entail if the extremists took over. Our movement was restricted because of security, schools had become irregular, [the] number of rockets and shelling had increased, I had already lost my first grade teacher and classmate in bomb explosions and my friends in school had started leaving the country. Yet, Aba always reminded us that we were not any different from other Afghans and that he was doing his best to finalise the peace process through the United Nations for his people and us, the future generations of Afghanistan.
AJ: Growing up did you see a very different man in public and private? What were the differences?
HN: My sisters and I grew up with a father who watched movies with us, played sport, taught us how to recite the Quran, listened to Afghan Folk music and old Hindi songs, watched the football World Cup and told us stories of caliphates and emperors. As a private person, he enjoyed living a simple life always appreciating friendships and nature. While in public, I always saw him as a dedicated leader who sincerely thought of serving his people and his nation hoping to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
AJ: What would surprise people about your father and his personality?
HN: People are surprised to hear that he was soft and sensitive inside and yet very decisive, strong and stubborn at the same time. When he made-up his mind irrespective of the risks and consequences, he would act on it.
AJ: Do you have a memory from your father's time in Afghanistan that sticks out to you the most?
HN: Often Aba would tell us stories with a hidden message, one such story that he shared with my sisters and I, was about a mother, who assembled her five children and gave them each a stick to break. Once the children had broken the sticks into two, she collected them into a bundle and gave each the bundle to break, which none of the children could break. He concluded his story by telling us that the mother drew the lesson for her children that when you are alone you can be broken easily but when you unite no one can divide you. I often remind myself of his story and hope that one day Afghans could realise their power in their unity.
AJ: How would you describe him as a father? Did that differ from how he was a leader?
HN: As a father he was a guide to my moral consciousness and as a leader, my hope for a stable Afghanistan.
AJ: Why do you think people are drawn Dr Najib rather than say Zahir Shah, Daoud Khan or even Amanullah?
HN: When one reflects on leadership in Afghanistan, Najibullah was the first and only leader to fight for peace and not power or territory. He publicly announced that for a peaceful resolution with his opposition, he was willing to accept their conditions to step down.
AJ: Some would say Dr Najib and Hamid Karzai are in similar situations, would you agree?
HN: I don't think Najibullah and Hamid Karzai are entirely in similar situations. Najibullah's government had no support from the international community while Hamid Karzai's government has signed strategic agreements which shall last beyond the withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces.
[The] Soviet withdrawal was enforced in less than one year, while withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces are currently debated.
Dr Najibullah's government was stronger and independent in terms of its decision-making processes and military capacity, while President Karzai's government doesn't enjoy the same capacity or independence. Dr Najibullah's government had a solid political party system while President Karzai's government runs on alliances of power brokers along ethnic lines and old political affiliations. Dr Najibullah's reconciliation policy promoted political pluralism and national unity and indicated religious extremism and poor economy as the prime enemy for Afghanistan's national interest. While the Bonn Agreement was the foundation of a divided society based on ethnicity and selected historical victories of ruling factions who are negotiating the agreement to allow US bases. However, what remains the same are the regional and international rivalries and continued involvement of Afghanistan's neighboring countries in its internal politics.

Neighbors see Afghanistan as fighting ring: Analysts
Political analysts during a routine meeting of the Mahmood Tarzi Think Tank discussed political struggle between neighboring and some regional countries in Afghanistan. They said the neighboring countries should not see Afghanistan as their fighting ring and restrain from outwitting each other in the war-hit country. They further said that a stable Afghanistan was in the interest of neighboring and regional countries. Shah Hussain Murtazawi, an Afghan writer and journalist, said that if the neighbors want to invest on natural resources of Afghanistan, they should take practical steps to bring peace and stability in the country. “They shall also help Afghans in holding safe and transparent presidential and provincial councils; elections,” added Murtazawi. Ghaws Janbaz, another political expert, said that several spy agencies of different countries were active in Afghanistan and were in the quest to weaken the country. However, it will go against the interest of these countries that are playing double game with Kabul, due to geo-strategic location of Afghanistan. “Instability of Afghanistan will create challenges for them as well because it is in the heart of Asia,” said Janbaz. He said that there was need for national consensus to deal with Pakistan and make Islamabad to support the Afghan-led peace process. Sayed Masood, lecturer at the Faculty of Economics in Kabul University, termed the policy of neighbors against Afghans, and said that polices of the neighboring countries in Afghanistan was designed to achieve their own goals instead of helping Afghans. Pakistan became an atomic power in the region. Weakening of Afghanistan was Islamabad’s priority. Equal economic opportunity would end competition between the regional countries, she said, suggesting that the Afghan government should pave ground for investment and bring improvement in the policies necessary for growth of national economy. He said a policy regarding management of water resources between Afghanistan and its neighbors should also be carved out.

Pakistan: MQM Resolution Demands Strong Action Against Taliban

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) passed a resolution on Sunday, expressing solidarity with armed forces, rangers, police and other security personnel. The resolution was adopted at a large gathering held in Karachi to express solidarity with armed forces in their fight against Taliban. It said that all the participants of the Solidarity Rally strongly condemn suicide attacks and bombings targeting shrines, mosques, imambargah, churches, schools and bazaars and term them as contrary to Islamic teachings. The resolution also paid tributes to martyred soldiers, policemen, rangers, FC personnel and levies men at the hands of Taliban and expressed sympathy with their families. “Today’s gathering announces that Pakistan is an independent Islamic state… It is not property of any one sect or group,” it said, adding that Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and other minorities are equal citizens of Pakistan. Pakistan and Taliban cannot go along together, it added. The resolution c urged the government to deal with the terrorists with iron hands. It said all the citizens of Pakistan have right to live their lives with freedom to practice their religion and faith. It also stressed upon the social boycott of the political parties supporting the Taliban.


Pakistan’s brave and iconic education activist Malala Yousafzai recorded a video message for the second Lahore Literary Festival, which took place Feb. 21 to 23. The message played to roaring applause at the inaugural ceremony and at the beginning of select sessions.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Shia Youth shot martyred in Karachi by Yazidi takfiri terrorists
Yazidi nasbi takfiri terrorists have shot martyred another Shia Muslim in Karachi, capital of Pakistan’s Sindh province on Monday. Shiite News Correspondent reported here that notorious terrorists of outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba/Lashkar-e-Jhangvi stormed into L block of Orangi Town where they targeted Sarwar Abbas Naqvi. 25 year old Sarwar embraced martyrdom due to firing. The body was taken to hospital for autopsy. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted murder of another Shiite on the anniversary of martyrdom of another Shia youth Danish. They demanded military operation to eliminate the terrorists.

Pakistan: Bringing back our narrative

Yasser Latif Hamdani
One side wants Pakistan to succeed as a modern state, a proud democracy and the inheritor of 5,000 years of the Indus civilization. The other side wants to turn Pakistan into a theocratic dystopia of religious strife where people are executed in public and stoned to death for personal choices
Bilawal Bhutto’s closing speech at the Sindh Festival in Thatta struck a note of defiance against the Taliban. The young PPP leader was also very clear in his narrative: Pakistan is ours, the Taliban and other self-styled thekedars (contractors) of religion are no one to dictate to us how we should practice Islam and that the people who wish to impose their twisted and narrow interpretations of religion on us are the same people who had rallied against the founding father of this country, calling him Kafir-e-Azam (the great infidel) and Pakistan Kafiristan (the land of the infidels). He also declared that ours is a great and ancient civilisation dating back 5,000 years — the civilisation of the Indus.
We are in desperate need of this clarity in narrative. For the last 150 years, the battle wages on between the orthodoxy and the modernists, or the revivalists and the reformers. Ever since Sir Syed Ahmed Khan founded the Aligarh Movement to educate and modernise Muslims, the reactionary orthodoxy has been out to prove that the modernists and the reformers are anti-Islam and agents of the west. Amongst the modernists and reformers were men like the Agha Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Sir Zafrullah Khan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and last but not least Mohammad Ali Jinnah. By and large, Aligarh’s modernist Muslim arsenal supported the Pakistan Movement and the Muslim League. By and large, the Darul Uloom Deoband and the straitjacket mullahs sided with the Congress Party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, Majlis-e-Ahrar and Jamaat-e-Islami, not out of any love for the Hindus per se but because of their calculation that in Pakistan, the modernists would dominate. The Congress Party, on its part, encouraged this division, going so far as to appoint Maulana Daud Ghaznavi as its leader in Punjab after secular leftists like Iftikharuddin joined the Muslim League. This was a Faustian bargain that continues to haunt Congress and its Muslim supporters in India even today. The Shah Bano and Imrana cases underscore the vile nature of the unholy matrimony between Deoband and the Congress. In Pakistan, till General Zia’s dictatorship, the apprehension of the religious orthodoxy about the modernists taking over turned out to be true. Every leader from Jinnah to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was in essence a modernist. While there were terrible lapses, for example the passing of the Objectives Resolution under Liaquat, the introduction of state religion by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and the declaration of Ahmedis as non-Muslims through the second Amendment, it was the teeth General Zia gave religion that ultimately delivered the country to the religious orthodoxy. Subsequently, Benazir Bhutto’s government, despite its generally modernist outlook, failed to withstand the ground gained by the religious right in the country. General Musharraf’s regime tried to roll back some of Zia’s damage but, in the end, that project too fell victim to political expediency.
The situation in our time has become unsustainable. Maulana Abdul Aziz’s treasonous, seditious and poisonous ramblings on our television channels are a case in point. It is all or nothing. The battle for the heart and soul of Pakistan is a zero sum game. One side wants Pakistan to succeed as a modern state, a proud democracy, the inheritor of 5,000 years of the Indus civilisation and the flag bearer of the tolerant and inclusive traditions of Islam. The other side wants to turn Pakistan into a theocratic dystopia of religious strife where people are executed in public and stoned to death for personal choices. One side wants Muslims to grasp the higher ethical principles of sharia, i.e. social justice, religious freedom and the preservation of intellect and liberty, which is what made Islam a cyclonic revolution in human history. The other side wants to limit Islam to the regulation of dress codes and enforcement of harsh punishments. One side wants Pakistan to take its place amongst the comity of nations, the other side wants us to become pariahs. If the purpose of Pakistan was the socio-economic uplift of Muslims of this region, then clearly the Taliban and their apologists cannot deliver. We need men and women of vision integrated in the modern world and ready to march in tandem with the rest of humanity.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has thrown out this challenge not just to the Taliban but the rest of the country as well, especially aging leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. The young PPP leader has told his people and rivals alike by saying ‘non ducor, duco’. May other leaders find such courage too and lead the country towards a consensus. There is no other way. So, Mr Sharif and Mr Khan: which side are you going to choose? A hefty 5,000 years of our existence as a people is at stake. Sitting on the fence is the most patently cowardly thing you can do!

Pakistan Terrorism: Containment or elimination?

The security scenario is getting so muddied and complicated that ordinary citizens may be forgiven for scratching their heads in mounting confusion. Perhaps what is needed is to sift what is clear from what is uncertain or obfuscated. It is clear, for example, that the government and military agreed to launch targeted precision strikes by the air force the other day in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency, and with helicopter gunships in Hangu on Saturday. The latter action killed nine terrorists, including a local Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander. The hits seem to have had a salutary effect on the TTP and its sympathisers in the committee negotiating on their behalf. Now increasingly the TTP seems to be emphasising and asking for a ceasefire and resumption of the peace talks by the government. The government on the other hand is demanding a ceasefire by the TTP before talks can resume. The deadlock has also produced ‘desperate’ appeals by Maulana Samiul Haq and Professor Ibrahim for sparing the terrorists the unwanted attentions of the military, even going to the extent of conceding that the constitution is not anti-Islam, implying there could be talks within its confines. This is however in sharp contrast with the TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid’s reiteration of the TTP view that the constitution has nothing Islamic in it. This ‘discordance’ between the TTP and its negotiating committee spells more trouble in pinning down exactly what parameters the negotiations will be conducted within, if and when they restart. Although the government and the military have refrained from spelling out whether they intend to follow up the aerial bombardments with a full scale military offensive, fear has induced an exodus by people from North Waziristan in anticipation of an operation. In the past few days after the aerial bombardments, apart from minor terrorist incidents in remote areas of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there has been nothing on the scale of the 13 policemen killed in Karachi or the slaughter of the 23 FC personnel, both of which fed into the decision to ‘teach the terrorists a lesson’. Nevertheless, there is clearly no room for complacency as the TTP can return to its mayhem and murder any time, anywhere. Interestingly, most political parties, especially those that previously were seen as pro-Taliban, are shifting their positions in the light of the unfolding events. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has guardedly supported the air strikes. The PPP, ANP and MQM were in the lead of condemning the terrorists and even calling the talks futile. The MQM held a rally in Karachi on Sunday against the Taliban. The JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman too has ‘distanced’ itself from the Taliban. Only the recalcitrant Jamaat-e-Islami continues to insist on no military operations and a continuation of the talks even if they fail a hundred times! The Jamaat lives in its own cloud cuckooland for which there is so far no known cure.
Tomorrow, February 25, the federal cabinet will assemble to discuss the draft of the National Security Policy that has been in gestation for nine months. Media reports have leaked parts of the policy paper. The leaked reports speak of an analysis in the report of how much Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorism, outstripping such well known trouble spots as Iraq and Afghanistan. It also discusses the law enforcement and intelligence forces at the government’s command in relation to the challenges posed by the current situation. While we wish the cabinet Godspeed in its long delayed appraisal of the proposed policy’s analysis and recommendations, there remains a worrying question about the approach of the government. The retaliatory strikes by the military were just that: retaliatory. They were also limited in scope and intensity so as to avoid not only collateral damage but perhaps also a widening of the military action beyond the immediate area struck. Limited retaliation by the military smacks of a ‘containment’ strategy rather than ‘elimination’. That is another added factor in the confusion that has the country in its grip. What after all, does the government hope to achieve through ‘containment’ of the terrorist threat, described in the media reports on the policy paper as an existential threat? Coexistence with the terrorists? The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. In this case though, the government may willy nilly be ‘rescued’ from its illusions about minimum damage to be inflicted on the terrorists in the vain hope that their retaliation too would be limited. More likely than not, it is the terrorists who will soon force the government’s hand and nudge it towards the logic of hitting the terrorists hard.

Pakistan: Military strikes

WITH parts of Hangu and Tirah valley pummelled by the military, the inevitable speculation has picked up again: is this a soft roll out of the much-talked-about military operation against the TTP in North Waziristan? Thus far, there is little indication that that may be the case — though the intense speculation only adds to the pressure for one and also reinforces the notion of divisions between the PML-N government and the army high command on the best way ahead. For, as the weekend’s strikes by the military indicate, the idea of limited retaliation by the military after TTP attacks against it has already progressed towards so-called pre-emptive action. But even as the military goes from strictly defensive actions to a mildly aggressive posture, the government continues to insist that talks are still very much the preferred option — as long as the TTP wants to take up the government on its offer.
There are two elements here that merit comment: the army’s preparedness and the government’s negotiating strategy. On army preparedness, it is encouraging to note both the resolve to push back against the TTP militarily if necessary and a greater focus on targeted operations. However, military resolve and better intelligence are necessary but not sufficient conditions for military success — that would entail having a strategy that looks into both the medium- and long-term futures and ensuring that the civilian and military arms of the state can work together to deny militants space in their remaining strongholds. Whether there is any thought being given to such concerns by the army high command is unknown. What is clear though is that the military will need to redefine its understanding of success if a decision is eventually taken to allow the military option to go ahead.
As for the government’s negotiating strategy, at least this can be said for it: the craven and supine approach at the outset has gradually been replaced with a stronger and more convincing stance. Be it the insistence that talks must take place within the ambit of the Constitution or that any deal will be a localised affair to demand the TTP demonstrate its interest in a negotiated settlement by announcing a ceasefire first, the government — whether by design or because of the pressure it has found itself under — has finally put some genuine pressure on the TTP. If the government stands firm in the days ahead, it is the TTP that will have to provide answers first. Does the TTP have the ability to ensure militant violence ends across or the country? Is the TTP even genuinely interested in negotiations or is it just a time-buying tactic? If the government stands firm, the answers should be known shortly.

Pakistan most terror-hit nation

Pakistan is the country most affected by terrorism in the world after Iraq, but if the severity of the incidents is considered, it even surpasses the Middle Eastern nation, according to a policy document on internal national security. The draft of National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2013-2018, currently being fine-tuned by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan before presentation to the cabinet, describes the scenario as dangerous, posing an existential threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the state.
“From 2001 to 2013, there were 13,721 incidents in Pakistan which is marginally less than Iraq. From 2001 to 2005, there were 523 terrorist incidents in Pakistan but from 2007 to November 2013, the total number of incidents has risen to 13,198.”
Similarly, the number of suicide bombings between 2001 and 2007 stood at 15 only, but from 2007 to November last year, suicide attacks jumped to 358 – the highest anywhere in the world.
According to data released by the US National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses for Terrorism (Start), Pakistan led the chart with 1,404 terrorist attacks in 2012, surpassing Iraq (1,271). Even Afghanistan was behind Pakistan at number three with 1,023 incidents. More than one-third (33 per cent) of those attacks occurred in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, followed by Balochistan (23pc), Fata (19.6pc) and Sindh (18pc), Start noted.
Ironically however, authoritative sources have revealed to Dawn that while KP has been the hardest hit, the interior ministry never asked it to join formal consultation while formulating the national internal security policy. “We were asked to give our input, but were never invited to formal discussions,” an official said.
The national internal security policy document says from 2001 to November 2013, 48,994 people were killed in the country including 5,272 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies, a large number of them – 17,642 – having been killed in just three years from 2011 to 2013 including 2,114 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies. So far the interior minister has offered only snippets of the 86-page document which largely remains shrouded in secrecy. So much so that according to sources privy to deliberations on what is being billed as the country’s first internal security policy, all those in attendance were asked to return its copy within 24 hours of receiving it.
Loss to economy
The document goes on to estimate the total loss to economy in the last ten years because of terrorism at $78 billion. It provides a grim picture of the state of security in the country facing what it describes as serious traditional and non-traditional threats of violent extremism, sectarianism, terrorism and militancy.
“Terrorist networks lurk in shadows and thrive on a strategy of invisibility and ambiguity. They operate in an ideologically motivated environment to embroil the state on physical, psychological and ideological levels,” the document notes.
Offering a situation analysis, the document blames flawed and myopic foreign policy choices relating to Afghanistan, Kashmir and India, prolonged military rules and declining capacity of the state institutions and poor governance for the internal security threat. All categories of violent groups in Pakistan, it notes, have hierarchical leadership, organisation and sources of funding. “They have weaved supportive political narratives and have carved out a domestic support base through which they operate,” it points out, adding that the most troublesome aspect of the entire phenomenon was their connections of varying degrees with external adversaries.
On pursuing dialogue, the document notes that while it seems a noble idea to proceed on a non-violent path, it also create confusion in the minds of the foot soldiers and police officers. “Without holding a strong position in negotiations, it is difficult for any party to reach…a favourable conclusion,” it argues.
Underscoring the need for capacity building of national internal security apparatus, the policy document however, notes that the total strength of 33 national security organisations, including the police and other civil armed forces, both at the federal as well as the provincial level, exceeded 600,000, which is more than the sixth largest standing army of the world i.e. Pakistan. Pakistan spends Rs150bn on policing in a country where the citizen to police ratio, it notes, was well within the Police Rules, except for the Punjab and Sindh. It notes, however, that the countrywide crime rate registered a spike since 2008 and in 2013; the nationwide reported crime figures stood at a whooping 64,4554. However, it acknowledges that the metamorphosis of crime accompanied by non-traditional challenge, has prompted the law-enforcement agencies to realign their preparation and posture accordingly, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan where the police forces have gone into an operational mode with other important areas of police work being relegated to the back seat.
The document puts forward three elements of the NISP framework revolving around Dialogue, Isolation and Deterrence, providing for an open-door policy for negotiations with “all” anti-state and non-state groups within the limit of the Constitution and “without compromising” the primary interests of the state territorial integrity and sovereignty, developing a national narrative to counterterrorism and extremism, de-radicalisation and reintegration & reconstruction and capacity building of the criminal justice system and law-enforcement agencies.
The document offers a comprehensive analysis of counterterrorism models in many countries, including the US, UK, Canada, Germany, India, Turkey and Singapore and ventures to offer its own solution to overcome the behemoth of terrorism. The interior minister has indicated he intended to revamp and revitalise National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) to prepare a comprehensive response plan, rapid reaction force and an integral air wing.
But central to the revamped Nacta, according to the document, would be the establishment of a `directorate of internal security’ to collate intelligence from six intelligence agencies, including the special branch operating at the provincial level, and coordinate efforts between 20 law-enforcement agencies. The whole operation is to cost Rs21bn, according to the document.

Pakistan Mustn't Surrender

Last week, a Pakistani Taliban commander reported the execution of 23 Pakistani frontier troops held hostage; two weeks ago, a suicide bomber killed nine Shiite Muslims in Peshawar. In response, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has conducted retaliatory airstrikes but has only suspended, not abandoned, its foolhardy strategy for peace: keep trying to talk the Pakistani Taliban into disarming, in exchange for halting military operations against them.
These peace talks will fail. They are an effort to surrender, and they ignore what most Pakistanis want: to regain control of their country from this deadly insurgency.
So Mr. Sharif should end the talks definitively and have the army mount a strong land offensive to drive the Pakistani Taliban out of their mountainous stronghold south of Peshawar once the snows melt this spring. It is there that the group poses the greatest risk to Pakistan’s people, and to America’s supply line to Afghanistan. The United States should help the army prepare.
In the last decade, the Pakistani Taliban and associated groups, operating from the northwest, have terrified much of Pakistan. They have killed more than 18,000 civilians, including more than 2,000 Shiites and 5,500 police officers and soldiers. A sense of siege prevails west of the Indus River, even though that area is garrisoned by Pakistan’s military.
Much of the problem can be laid at the feet of Pakistan’s leaders. For decades, with government acquiescence, Pakistan’s military and its intelligence agency have used radical Islamist groups to foment insurgencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The groups recruit and train ideologues and fighters; raise funds; run seminaries and businesses; broadcast hatred of their political and religious enemies; and get hospital treatment when they are wounded. The military’s original goal was to counter Indian regional influence, but the cost to Pakistanis has been the failure of their state. Now the extremists increasingly target the very military that armed and encouraged them.
In other words, Pakistan’s luck has run out. You can sway an insurgent to fight “injustice” in a neighboring country like India, but once his leaders feel they have impunity, you can’t stop them from acting independently or exploiting local grievances. These days, as much as the Pakistani Taliban hate Indians and Americans, they hate other Pakistanis more. Acting in tandem with Al Qaeda, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other lethal groups, the Pakistani Taliban has slaughtered Shiites, Christians, Indians, Americans, Afghans and polio prevention workers, often with the state looking the other way.
Pakistan’s decade-long response has been based on a fallacy: that the military could target “bad” insurgents (those fighting Pakistan’s army and citizenry), while it worked with “good” ones (those fighting India). In reality, the two types are increasingly indistinguishable and have killed a great many times more Pakistanis than Indians. For example, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, also has supported anti-Shiite death squads. And the Haqqani network, which has fought Indian influence in Afghanistan, has also helped Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban kill Pakistanis.
Last year, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Global Attitudes Project found that 93 percent of Pakistanis said terrorism was a big problem, while only 45 percent worried that much about Indian influence in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, peace efforts have kept chasing the dream of compromise. In 2004, 2006 and 2008, Pakistan’s army signed deals that gave insurgents territory, amnesty, reparations, exemption from constitutional rules — along with time to rearm, regroup and resume their attacks. The record of mayhem, which has included attacks on major military headquarters, has left one mediator defending the current talks with this logic: “If America, with all its might, couldn’t win in Afghanistan, how can we win against the Pakistani Taliban? They have scores of suicide bombers. We must negotiate.”
But that is nonsense. Of course Pakistan’s army can’t expect to win the war by simply killing enough of the enemy. It must also focus on winning over the local populace by assuring their safety. But the army showed in 2009 that it could do this: After the Taliban seized the peaceful Swat Valley and proceeded to behead policemen, flog women and keep girls like Malala Yousafzai from attending school, the army swept in. Aided by new training and tactics, and with an infusion of American dollars and equipment, the troops took back the area and then kept control of it — a first for them since 9/11. And most of the two million displaced residents returned home.
Today, most Pakistanis want to apply the “Swat Valley model” to North Waziristan, the nerve center of the Pakistani Taliban. Prime Minister Sharif, in a Jan. 29 speech defending negotiations, admitted as much. “I know if the state today decides to use force to eliminate the terrorists, the entire nation will support it,” he said.
What he should have added was that peace talks would make the most sense after Pakistan’s troops took the area from the insurgents. Today, the Taliban demand nothing less than blanket immunity, a return of prisoners, the exit of all Pakistani troops, an end to American drone strikes, the abandonment of secular education and the severance of ties between the United States and Pakistan. Defeating them in battle might allow Pakistan to demand, instead, that the Taliban accept the rule of law.
That outcome would benefit the United States. We need Pakistan as a strategic ally, and we need both its stability and a good working relationship with its leaders to help keep its 100 or so nuclear warheads from falling into terrorist hands. Nevertheless, our relationship has been strained for decades by mutual distrust — largely traceable, on the American side, to Pakistan’s reluctance to directly confront the dangerous partners it has coddled for so long.
So in preparation for a spring offensive, America should now offer Pakistan intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, as well as humanitarian assistance for those citizens whom fighting would inevitably displace. It is an opportunity to start building trust between our two countries by helping Pakistan take on its worst internal threat, one that menaces the democracy that Pakistanis crave.