Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Although the word turbulence doesn’t exist in Turkish, it is probably the best description of the state of politics in Turkey these days. But we have other words, many of them, that denote “tension,” “masculinity” and “polarization,” all of which afflict the Turkish state. Turkey is a liquid country, a watercourse of conflicts and contradictions. The mood changes weekly, sometimes daily. Until recently the country was seen as a successful combination of Islam and Western democracy, a power broker in the Middle East. That view is rapidly fading, and the river that is Turkey is running faster than ever. With local, presidential and general elections coming, this is a year of loud polemics and quiet concerns. Citizens glance through websites dozens of times daily to see what else has happened. During a vote that gave the government greater control over the judiciary, members of Parliament exchanged blows; a bloody nose was a testament to our bruised democracy. Many in Turkey see the laws as a government effort to stem leaks in a corruption investigation.Amid Flow of Leaks, Turkey Moves to Crimp InternetFEB. 6, 2014 Nothing reflects the tempest better than the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly accused outsiders of being behind the protests in Gezi Park last summer, which left six people dead and 8,000 injured. Several government officials insinuated that dark forces were operating behind the scenes, including the Jewish diaspora, the C.I.A., the BBC, CNN and the interest-rate lobby, a term for a cabal of domestic and foreign banks that officials believe want to harm Turkey to further their own interests. A Turkish BBC reporter was openly accused of being a foreign spy. Protesters in Taksim Square were called terrorists. The German airline Lufthansa, it was suggested, was trying to scuttle an important new airport for Istanbul. On social media there are endless rumors about “deep state within deep state.” Gradually, Turkey is turning into a nation in the grip of paranoia. Nobody takes anything at face value anymore. There is a growing public suspicion that the news is filtered, if not manipulated. Recently leaked tape recordings revealed that opinion polls published in a major newspaper might have been tampered with to please the government. Journalists have marched to protest curbs on press freedom. In a country where freedom of expression is curtailed and media diversity has shriveled, social media is the only alternative platform of communication, information and misinformation. A new Internet law passed by Parliament further threatens freedom of opinion, though President Abdullah Gul, who said he would approve it, has conceded that parts are problematic. If the Gezi riots fueled conspiracy theories, the recent corruption investigation fanned the flames. Government officials talk constantly about foreign plots. Turkey has done too well, they say, and now hidden actors want to stop it from growing. These accusations resonate with some segments of society.
Why are we so in need of contriving conspiracy theories?Part of the answer lies in the fact that Turkey is still not a mature democracy and its politics are masculinist, aggressive and polarized. Turkey’s polarization affects every layer of social, cultural and economic life. When checks and balances, separation of powers and media diversity are all at risk, those in power become too powerful. And part of the answer lies in old fears that go back to our upbringing. One of the songs from my childhood went: “One, two, three ... long live the Turks ... four, five, six, Poland plummeted ... seven, eight, nine, Russians are traitors ... ” We children merrily sang this song on the streets, declaring that the Italians were cunning, the Germans pigs. We grew up believing that Turkey was surrounded on three sides by water and on four sides by enemies. The Greeks aspired to reconquer Istanbul and make it Constantinopolis. The Arabs were untrustworthy. The Russians plotted to seize the Bosporus. Everybody wanted a piece of Anatolia, our land, and a Turk’s only friend was another Turk. In the past, one of the strengths of Mr. Erdogan’s party, Justice and Development, was a foreign policy of “zero problems with neighbors.” That policy has not been sustained. This government, which liberal intellectuals once supported in the hope that it would push Turkey to join the European Union, restrict the role of the military and enact democratic reforms, is nowadays reviving overused rhetoric. When Mr. Erdogan speaks he addresses the nation’s subconscious. He speaks to our primordial fears and xenophobia. And without realizing, we, millions of us, become children again, waiting in the school courtyard for the headmaster, the baba, to tell us how ill-intentioned every foreigner is and how united we must stand against the world. Yet, at the same time, this warped mentality no longer entices. Times have changed. The youth are far more open to the world than the previous generations, and the people are ahead of their politicians. As much as we tend to buy into conspiracy theories, we Turks have also grown very, very tired of them.
Protesters take to the streets in 11 cities after recordings surface, purportedly of Turkish PM discussing how to hide moneyProtesters took to the streets across Turkey on Tuesday, after audio recordings purportedly of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordering his son to dispose of vast amounts of cash amid a graft probe surfaced and went viral on the Internet.
The Russian foreign ministry has expressed “deep concern” at reports from anonymous sources that Saudi Arabia is planning to supply Syrian rebels with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missile launchers to “turn the tide” in the three-year conflict. “There is a chance that if these powerful weapons get into the hands of the terrorists who have flooded the country, they are likely to turn up far beyond the borders of Syria itself,” said a statement from the ministry. The second report this month that these weapons will be given to rebels was published by AFP news agency over the weekend, and was indirectly confirmed up by several recent developments. The Western-backed Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba promised that “powerful arms will be arriving soon” to rebel units during a visit last week to rebel fighters on the ground. Meanwhile, his principal backers hosted Pakistan's army Chief of Staff, General Raheel Sharif in Riyadh earlier this month. Pakistan makes versions of both types of weapons, and has been earmarked as the supplier by Saudi officials, according to the source. Riyadh has long insisted that rebels should be armed with these fearsome portable launchers, which are key to fighting a Syrian army that has air superiority and far more armored vehicles. But US and other Western allies have repeatedly refused the rebels’ requests, reasonably fearing that even one or two such weapons could be used for a major terrorist attack against a civilian aircraft. According to the report, Jordan will be providing facilities to store the weapons before the delivery to Syria. Jordan’s territory is also being used by “by specialists from the Central Intelligence Agency” to train Syrian fighters, according to the Syrian National Coalition’s representative in the US, Najib Al-Ghadban, cited by Asharq Al-Awsat. Jordanian officials however denied this report . These developments trigger concerns that the militants are preparing to open a new “southern” battlefield in the coming months, the Russian ministry warned. A renewed hunger for a military resolution, following the virtual breakdown of the Geneva peace talks will test its resolve. “The Syrian conflict cannot be solved by force, and we ask all those considering the military option to reconsider, and allow the Syrians to reach a peaceful agreement within the parameters of Geneva, and without outside interference,” said the Russian statement. The long-awaited talks in the Alpine city last month have produced localized peace treaties to alleviate humanitarian suffering, but gave no hint of a political reconciliation between the warring sides. However, on 22 February the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to boost humanitarian aid access in Syria to ease civilian suffering. It strongly condemned the “widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by armed groups.” The war-torn country has witnessed 140,000 people killed over the last three years while a major part of the population has fled their homes and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The resolution calls on all parties in the Syrian conflict to allow “rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access for UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners” to ensure that humanitarian assistance “reaches people in need through the most direct routes.”
Before long, the announcement filtered through that Chaliy had been voted head of a new coordination council, and within a few minutes, he appeared at a second floor window to the cries of supporters. In a move that smoothed the process, the former mayoral incumbent Vladimir Yatsuba had earlier tearfully announced his resignation, thereby paving the way for the Russian town to get its Russian leader. The day’s events marked the first stages in the establishment of an anti-Kiev administration amid tumultuous development that will cause headaches for the group of politicians that have replaced the administration of ousted fugitive President Viktor Yanukovych. Similar expressions of popular anger have taken place across southern and eastern Ukraine in recent days, but nowhere is dissatisfaction with the new regime greater than in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula of two million people, which is the country’s only region with a majority ethnic Russian population. Chaliy’s election, which has been widely covered by Kremlin-friendly media outlets in Russia, is unprecedented. Sevastopol has not elected a mayor by popular plebiscite since Kiev deprived it of that right in 1992. Following up on their successful collective decision to install Chaliy as city head, the gathering in Sevastopol demanded that local security forces declare their allegiance to him and set up roadblocks to seal off the city. Speculation, often feverish, has been rife that armed units are to be dispatched from western Ukraine to subjugate Crimea and bend them to Kiev’s will. City police chief Alexander Goncharov, who went to Monday’s meeting to answer questions, said four roadblocks manned by armed officers would be set up around the city. “If we receive criminal orders from Kiev, we will not carry them out,” he said, in what seemed like a qualified attempt at fence-sitting as the situation becomes clearer. One of the people in the crowd, Fyodor, 26, a sailor from Sevastopol who travels around the world on merchant ships, echoed a common hope that Moscow could get involved. “If there’s repression of Russians in Crimea then Russia will be forced to respond,” he said. Alexandra, who declined to give her surname, called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to take direct action. “Putin and the Black Sea fleet should come,” she said. “We are not scared of bloodshed.” Crimea’s ties with Russia go back a long way. Until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 transferred the territory to what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Crimea was officially a part of Russia. During Yanukovych’s tenure, which began in early 2010, Ukraine renewed Russia’s lease on the naval base in Sevastopol until 2042, cementing what was already a strong economic link between Moscow and the region. Separatist sentiments surfaced following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and rumors have persisted ever since that the impulse is covertly encouraged by the Kremlin. On Sunday, there was a wave of large pro-Russian rallies in Crimea. Some estimates put the turnout in Sevastopol upward of 20,000, far larger than the impromptu throng of the following day. Speakers variously condemned the new government in Kiev as fascist and openly called for secession. “We will not submit to the regime in Kiev,” Dmitry Sinichkin, president of the local branch of motorcycle club the Night Wolves told the crowd in Sevastopol. The Night Wolves are closely linked to Russia’s political elite. Putin has visited the group in the city several times, on one occasion in 2010 riding a three-wheeled Harley Davidson alongside the bikers. After his speech, Sinichkin told RIA Novosti that fresh bloodshed in Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis was inevitable. Rally-goers waved the Russian red, white and blue tricolor and yelled the football fan-style chant of “Ros-si-ya, Ros-si-ya, Ros-si-ya,” as they endorsed calls to create self-defense squads with police cooperation and withhold taxes from Kiev.
“Sevastopol is a Russian town and will always be a Russian town … we will never surrender to those fascists in Kiev,” said Anatoly, who was wearing a sweater bearing the logo of the United Russia party that dominates the political landscape in Ukraine’s eastern neighbor. United Russia, he said, had signed a cooperation agreement with the Sevastopol Russian Community, a local society of which he was a member. Purported moves in Moscow in recent years to push for granting Russian passports to ethnic Russians abroad has drawn fierce criticism from Kiev and sparked allegations of an attempted backdoor land grab. While Putin had as of Tuesday refrained from making any public pronouncements on the unfolding situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry was more forthright in describing the acting government as gaining power through “dictatorial and sometimes terrorist methods.” In remarks that hinted at possible future pressure from the Kremlin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed particular concern about Russians living in Ukraine. Indeed, fears are rising that southern separatists will use the current crisis to provoke Russians into lending their muscle and peel Crimea away from Ukraine. Some experts have raised the possibility of a scenario in which the peninsula becomes trapped in a frozen conflict and becomes wholly dependent on Russia, as has happened in other former Soviet nations such as Georgia, which lost control over the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in large part because of Moscow’s involvement. “It’s easy to imagine that the Crimea calls a referendum and gets special status within the Ukraine,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “The natural next step would be to secede … and that could turn Ukraine into an unrecognized state like Abkhazia.” Not all in Crimea back secession, however. The local ethnic Tartar community, a mainly Muslim population that numbers about 250,000 people, has been vocal in support of the incoming government in Kiev. That adds a potentially explosive strand to the region’s ethnic mix of Russians and Ukrainians. How the new regime in Kiev will act is also hard to predict. Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov warned Tuesday that he recognized that separatism was a “serious threat” and said he would liaise with security forces on how to resolve the issue. In statements that can only have served to sow alarm, leaders from the nationalist Svoboda party, which played a central role in the opposition’s ascent to power, reportedly said Monday that Russia was dispatching extra naval forces to Crimea. In Sevastopol, Viktor Neganov, an advisor to acting Interior Minister, told RIA Novosti that the new government was for now trying to settle the situation without the use of force. But Neganov warned that what Chaliy is doing in the city amounts to a local coup. “If he stays, he will go to jail as a traitor to the state,” he said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on his first ever trip to Kabul vowed that his country will remain committed to cooperate with Kabul in areas of military training, agriculture and peace talks. This is the first ever visit of a Chinese Foreign Minister during the past 12 years, but it is too crucial as the visit has taken place at such a time when Kabul has been unnerved with the unpredictable politics of the United States as Washington has been threatening the Karzai-led administration over a highly crucial security deal—the BSA. The US threatens if Kabul doesn’t sign the BSA it will opt for “zero option.” It means the US will pull out all of its troops and will suspend aid to Afghanistan. In such a time, the visit of the Chinese FM is extraordinarily important. If China shows readiness on cooperation in military training and peace talks, then we may conclude that peace will come in the region as China is not only a regional power but a global power as well. It can play even a more important role in Afghanistan than any other country, even Russia. Talking on the importance of the upcoming elections, he rightly said that the upcoming polls and military transition are the two biggest changes. He made the day of Afghans when he said China’s aid and cooperation will not be affected by any foreign factors, even the BSA will have no bearings on Kabul-Beijing ties. The fate of the region will take a positive turnabout when China-India relations turn good, when India-Pakistan relations turn friendly and their longest rivalry come to an end and when Afghanistan-Pakistan ties take a friendly turn. In theory these things look very fascinating and promising, but there are too many challenges to overcome and to be at such a world where borders are mere lines, where people are free and where people have no fear while roaming in bazaars, working in offices, schools and universities or offering their prayers in worship centers. Though, after decades of tension and animosity, China and India are edging closer and resolving some of their rivalries and enmities. It is a positive paradigm shift that could change the strategic realities of Asia. Besides that India and Pakistan have started revamping their ties as they are making efforts, but until there is a fundamental change in Pakistan’s policy, South Asia will remain always under duress and chaos. The fundamental change is when Pakistan sincerely dumps its support to terrorists, who have been a cause of mayhem and destruction in Afghanistan and a factor of chaos in Kashmir. The critical factor in drawing China and India together has been their growing economies, but here is a question that what will bring Afghanistan and Pakistan closer? And when will their longest enmity come to an end? And when will the blood of Pashtuns in Afghanistan and on the other side of the Durand Line cease to spill? For the good of India and China their economies are growing and the risks of military conflicts are declining where bilateral economic competition and geopolitics could be a new source of possible friction in the relationship and Afghanistan can effectively utilize it for its own economic and security objectives. China’s interests in Afghanistan are vast and Beijing will like to further its interests and objectives in this country. However, it is also concerned with the presence of major powers in the region. Since China has a greater influence in Pakistan, Islamabad will have no spleen to downgrade its say when it comes to peace talks in the region. Moreover, Pakistan-based terrorists are also becoming a threat to China’s galloping development and the greater role on international level as it is poising itself to be the world’s power, therefore, it will definitely ask Islamabad to withhold its support to militancy in the region. Should this happen and this regional will take a sigh of relief of the monstrous challenge.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday said Pakistan had an important role to play in the Afghanistan peace process, a part that should not be undermined. Rasmussen told a group of Afghan journalists in the Belgian capital: “I think the peace effort in Afghanistan needs continued political engagement and Pakistan can play an active role in this regard.” He promised: “We will continue to support the Afghan forces.” The strength of Afghan forces had significantly surged during the last two years, he noted. He acknowledged much had been achieved due to the sacrifices rendered by them. The post-2014 NATO mission would focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces, he said. “We will not leave the Afghans alone; we will continue to stand behind them.” NATO and the international community would continue assisting the Afghans, who must decide their future themselves, he continued. Stressing the early inking of the Afghan-US security deal, the secretary general regretted the delay. In the absence of the Afghan-US accord, NATO would not ink the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Kabul. Subsequently, foreign troops would have to leave Afghanistan after 2014, he maintained. Pointing to the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections, he said the process being led by Afghans. The ballot would be held in a free, fair and inclusive manner and its outcome would be acceptable to all Afghans, he hoped. In response to a question, Rasmussen said 28 NATO member countries had so far decided to participate in the new Afghan mission. Ten other countries have pledged cooperation but are yet to take a final decision.
A public outpouring of grief mixed with patriotic anger whipped through Afghanistan on Monday in the aftermath of the killings of 21 Afghan soldiers by Taliban insurgents in Kunar Province. Flown into Kabul by helicopter, the victims’ bodies were laid in repose at the military hospital here, in coffins draped with the Afghan flag and topped with bouquets of plastic flowers, as an honor guard stood at attention and a military band played a dirge. “The uniforms your brothers and sons wore were actually their burial shrouds,” Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi told family members at the service, a day after the attack. “We will follow their path and defend their blood.” Much of the public anger was directed at President Hamid Karzai, who did not attend the memorial but canceled a planned trip to Sri Lanka in response to the attack, which he condemned “in the strongest possible terms.” Continue reading the main story RELATED COVERAGE Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar Province where a Taliban attack on Sunday killed 21 soldiers in their bunks. President Hamid Karzai ordered an inquiry.Taliban Raid Afghan Army Base, Killing Soldiers in Their SleepFEB. 23, 2014 But complaints about Mr. Karzai have been piling up on social media, with a theme being that the president had been partial toward the Taliban, calling their fighters “brothers” and their dead “martyrs,” while doing little for Afghan government soldiers. Adela Raz, a deputy spokeswoman for Mr. Karzai, said that he had consistently referred to the Afghan soldiers as “martyrs” as well, and had ordered their families treated with respect. As a passive protest, numerous Afghan Facebook users changed their profile photographs to pictures of Afghan soldiers. Many who did not found themselves inundated with accusations of unpatriotic behavior. A video posted on the Facebook page of a member of Parliament, Baktash Siawash, showed the mother of a dead soldier weeping as she spurned the government’s payment of a death benefit, and Mr. Siawash weeping in return. It had attracted more than 137,000 “likes” by Monday, a huge number in a country with very low Internet coverage. Mr. Siawash has been staging a weeklong sit-in, pitching a tent in front of the parliamentary office building and vowing to stay until Mr. Karzai meets with families of soldiers killed in action, which he maintains the president has rarely done. “The president is not kind with our forces,” he said, “but very kind with our enemies.” Ms. Raz disputed that and said the president had met with the families of soldiers who were killed in the past, although in general the Defense Ministry deals with families of its fallen. In Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, in eastern Afghanistan, one civic activist, Abdullah Nizami, said wedding parties had voluntarily stopped playing music at their festivities out of respect for the dead soldiers. A tribal elder in the nearby Ghaziabad district said a backlash against the insurgents had begun. “People in Ghaziabad now say whoever’s family member is in the Taliban’s ranks, they must let the people know about it,” said the elder, Hajji Mir Kalam. On the national level, many people began raising money for the victims’ families to supplement the meager death benefit of 100,000 afghanis (about $1,800) that they normally receive. Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief, announced that he had raised $10,000 in small contributions in less than a day, which he promised to match out of his pocket. And one of the leading presidential candidates, Zalmay Rassoul, said he had suspended his campaign for a day and would donate the money saved to the soldiers’ families. The anger toward Mr. Karzai seemed prompted by two events: his government’s release of 65 men from Bagram Prison on Feb. 14 over the strenuous objections of the American military, and the president’s reaction to the Feb. 17 killing of a former Taliban official, Mullah Abdul Raqeeb. Continue reading the main story Mr. Raqeeb was the former Taliban minister for refugees, and he participated in efforts to start talks between the Afghan government and the insurgents in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, a few weeks ago. He was killed in Peshawar, Pakistan, after returning from Dubai. Mr. Karzai hailed him as a “martyr for peace” and arranged for a military helicopter to fly his body to his native Takhar Province, where government officials presided over his funeral and the president called Mr. Raqeeb’s father to express condolences. Mr. Karzai has gone to great lengths to try to encourage the Taliban to engage in talks with his government, and many of his statements seem aimed at convincing them of his sincerity. He has also broken off talks with the Americans on a long-term security pact that would allow foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. The pact is widely popular among many of Mr. Karzai’s supporters, and there is widespread nervousness about Afghan forces’ being left to fight the Taliban on their own. “I think President Karzai should stop his apologetic policy toward the Taliban and stop calling them his brothers,” said Jawed Kohistani, an Afghan military analyst in Kabul. People seemed particularly outraged by the manner of the soldiers’ deaths. All were reportedly shot in their sleep after Taliban insurgents overran their base in the Ghaziabad district on Sunday morning. The governor of Kunar Province, Shuja al-Mulk Jalala, said the guards on duty were apparently Taliban sympathizers and let them enter the base. It was the deadliest attack against the Afghan National Army since 2010. At a news conference on Monday, Gen. Zaher Azimi, the spokesman for the Defense Ministry, lashed out at Mr. Jalala, saying that he should focus on civilian matters, and that accounts of Taliban infiltration at the base were false. General Azimi said the Taliban had attacked with hundreds of fighters, many of them Arabs and Pakistanis, and overran the base. “There was no enemy infiltrator involved,” he said. “The soldiers fought until the last bullet.” While it is widely believed that Afghan Army casualties have been rising sharply over the past year, General Azimi declined to comment on that or to give any statistics. “We have decided we will not share the number of casualties with the media,” he said. He also threatened legal action against any officials who discuss military issues without permission.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced budget cuts Monday that will shrink the army to its smallest since before World War II and are aimed at reflecting the realities of continued government austerity a military without an ongoing ground conflict. The impending end of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan presents a clear opportunity for the Pentagon to shift its priorities away from a permanent war footing, Hagel said. But he cautioned that reducing Army troop levels would increase the risk involved in protracted or simultaneous ground operations, as the U.S. saw during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “As a consequence of large budget cuts, our future force will assume additional risks in certain areas,” Hagel said in his remarks at a press briefing Monday. Hagel also raised the specter of disaster if Congress does not reverse sequestration cuts to the military that would set in at deeper levels two years from now. “Sequestration requires cuts so deep, so abrupt, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough,” Hagel said. “In the short-term, the only way to implement sequestration is to sharply reduce spending on readiness and modernization, which would almost certainly result in a hollow force - one that isn’t ready or capable of fulfilling assigned missions.” “In the longer term, Hagel went on, “after trimming the military enough to restore readiness and modernization, the resulting force would be too small to fully execute the president’s defense strategy.” In Hagel’s proposal, the Air Force will slow down – but not stop - the growth of its drone fleet, which, “while effective against insurgents and terrorists,” Hagel said, “cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses.” Unmanned aircraft have played an increasing role in U.S. military and counterterrorism efforts. Separate from their cost, human rights groups have questions about the legality of drone strikes, particularly in regions where the U.S. has not officially declared war. Some elements of the Defense Department’s budget will escape relatively unscathed. Hagel announced that the Pentagon will add 3,700 personnel to its special operations forces for “counterrorism and crisis response.” In addition, funding will not be cut for the Air Force’s F-35 plan. The F-35’s exorbitant cost and repeated delays have made it a source of controversy. Even after the cuts, the U.S. military’s budget will still far outstrip every other nation in the world, and the Pentagon continues to spend money to maintain bases from a time when Russia remained America’s main adversary. The Pentagon will conduct a review this spring with an eye toward reducing spending through cuts and closures at bases overseas, Hagel said. This to go after “Republican members of Congress started attacking the budget immediately” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decried the cuts, saying in a statement, “Reducing the size of the Army to its lowest levels in 70 years does not accurately reflect the current security environment, in which the administration’s own officials have noted the threats facing our country are more diffuse than ever.” Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, was more measured, saying only that he has concerns about the plan’s “potential to harm America’s military readiness.” While Congress voted to undo cuts to military retiree benefits on February 12, some cuts will still be made to compensation. Hagel emphasized that his recommendations do not cut pay. Instead, the new plan would change housing allowances, increase health-care costs for retirees and some active-duty family members, and reduce subsidies to military commissaries. Hagel called on everyone involved in determining military compensation to work together to make changes all at once in order to reduce economic uncertainty for members of the armed forces and their families. Hagel acknowledged that his proposed compensation cuts would be controversial, and they have already drawn criticism from some veterans. In a statement, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said, “We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit servicemembers, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet. Last week we learned that members of the military redeemed nearly $104 million in food stamps at commissaries in the previous year. Now the Defense Department wants to cut subsidies that servicemembers use to pay for diapers for their kids and to put bread on the table. IAVA will fight any effort to take away the benefits that American servicemen and women have earned and are promised.” “Cuts to benefits make it more difficult for the military to attract and retain qualified personnel,” Rieckhoff said. “Maintaining the strongest all volunteer force requires a commitment to its people, and this proposed budget combined with Congress’s recent willingness to cut retiree benefits, puts the system at risk.” Republican members of Congress started attacking the budget immediately. Rep. Buck McKeon of California, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, called the proposal an attempt to “solve our financial problems on the backs of our military — and that can’t be done.” Fellow Armed Services Committee member Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, said in an interview on Bloomberg TV - before Hagel spoke - that the cuts would leave the US too vulnerable, and that he would push to increase the budget. “The world is not getting to be a safer place. This is not the time for us to begin to retreat, and certainly not the time to cut our military,” Turner said.
Pakistan's military have launched air strikes against suspected militant hideouts in the north-west, killing at least 30 people, officials say. Fighter jets bombed targets in the North Waziristan tribal area on Tuesday, officials said. Fighting was also reported in South Waziristan. Talks between Pakistani government and Taliban militant negotiators broke down last week, after a Taliban-linked group said they killed 23 soldiers. "The militants had captured a stretch between South Waziristan and North Waziristan and had established training centres where they were also preparing suicide bombers," a military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was quoted by Reuters as saying.
The latest attacks primarily took place in the Shawal valley and Datta Khel areas of North Waziristan, Reuters news agency added. There has been no independent confirmation of the number of casualties. The air strikes came a day after senior Pakistani Taliban commander Asmatullah Shaheen was reportedly shot dead in North Waziristan. Shaheen was briefly the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) interim leader after its chief Hakimullah Mehsud was killed last year during a US drone strike. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for Shaheen's death. Last week, government negotiators suspended a planned meeting with Taliban negotiators after militants based in the Mohmand tribal area said they had killed 23 soldiers who had been abducted and held since 2010. Those killings, and other violence in the past weeks, also triggered air strikes on suspected militant hideouts last Thursday in which the government said 38 militants were killed. Pakistani jets also carried out strikes on suspected militant hideouts in North Waziristan last month, following a wave of attacks against security forces.
Parliamentarians’ of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) submitted an adjournment notion in the National Assembly Secretariat over Interior Minister’s Chaudhry Nisar inviting the Taliban to play a cricket match. The motion was submitted by PPP MPAs Imran Legahri, Shazia Marri, Ijaz Jhakrani, Kamal Khan and Abdul Sattar Bachani. The motion states that the interior minister invited the Taliban to play cricket during a sensitive time. It adds that Nisar’s statement is tantamount to insulting the people and security forces of Pakistan. On Monday Interior Minister told a group of reporters that a cricket match against the Taliban could offer hope. "I have information that the Taliban keep an interest in cricket. So if this message can go through to them, we can have a cricket match with them which can have a better result," the minister said after an exhibition match in Islamabad. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shaidullah Shahid rejected the interior ministers invite and said cricket was responsible for turning the youth away from Jihad.
Senator Farhatullah Babar asked the Army, the Frontier Corps and Coastal Guards in Balochistan to take a leaf from Pakistan Navy in learning how to win the hearts and minds of the people instead of behaving like an occupation force as is the general sentiments about them in the province. Taking part in the discussion on visit of the Senate defence committee to Makran coast he said that the launching of public welfare projects of schools, hospitals and water supply schemes by the Pakistan Navy from within its own meager resources was spirit lifting and an eye opener. It demonstrated that where there is will the security forces could win the hearts and minds of people. He said that in the present situation of insurgency it was vital that security forces refrained from acting like occupation forces and measured their success in terms of number of people they befriended and the hearts and minds they won instead of the land conquered and reclaimed. Farhatullah Babar also called upon the government to set up an endowment fund for the continued running of Bahria Cadet College in Ormara which was serving as an institution not only of quality education but also as an institution for national integration. He said that if it was not done the Cadet College which had been started with meager resources would clsoe down dealing a severe blow to the efforts of national integration mounted by the Pakistan Navy in the province.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi have participated in the country's biggest anti-Taliban rally, demanding the government take serious action against the Islamists.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the militant Islamist groups, particularly the Taliban, are tightening their grip on Pakistan's financial capital, Karachi, and extending control over a number of areas in the city, which has become the Taliban's biggest base outside the country's northwestern tribal areas. The recent WSJ article shows that the Pakistani Taliban - also known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - dominate nearly one-third of the multi-ethnic city, which has a population of over 18 million people. The New York-based newspaper claims that Karachi is providing "a vital financial lifeline" to extremists, and the money raised from "extortion, land-grabbing and robberies is sent to the Taliban's leadership in the tribal areas along the Afghan border." To demonstrate against this growing influence of the Islamists, hundreds of thousands of Karachi residents participated in a rally on Sunday, February 23, and demanded that the central government launch a decisive military action to uproot the Islamists from their city. The so-called "solidarity rally" was organized by the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party which has dominated the city's politics and administration for three decades but now finds its power diminishing due to the changing demography of the city and the rise of a number of religious groups. The MQM supporters are primarily descendants of Urdu-speaking migrants from India, who are in majority in Karachi and some urban centers of the southern Sindh province."It was a praise-worthy effort to organize people against the Taliban. It was a much-needed initiative," Abdul Hai, a veteran human rights activist in Karachi, told DW. "The Taliban threat should be taken seriously. I agree with the findings of the Wall Street Journal report on Karachi. We see the Taliban and their allies everywhere in city. Their influence is certainly growing, and it means that a huge disaster is in the making." 'Now or never' Saman Jafri, one of the rally organizers and the MQM's member of parliament, told DW that her party chief, Altaf Hussain, had been warning about the "radicalization" of Karachi for more than five years, but no one had taken him seriously. "We have been saying that the members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are coming down to Karachi from the northwestern areas. It started during the 2009 military operations in the north when thousands of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) left their homes in search of secure livelihoods. But they were not the only ones, as a number of militants, who posed themselves as the IDPs, moved to Karachi and other big cities of the country." Jafri says that Pakistan's progressive parties must unite against the religious fanatics if they want their country to survive. "We are pro-Pakistan and anti-Taliban, and we stand behind the security forces who are fighting the militants and sacrificing their lives. It is now or never, and the people have said no to extremism." Power politics Syed Mahmood, a student at the University of Karachi, believes that the state could easily tame the Islamists if it wanted: "The Taliban are not as powerful as the MQM or the government claim. It is good to be united against fundamentalism but the MQM, too, has a history of violent politics in Karachi. The problem is that now it feels insecure and is using the Taliban threat to get the city back under its control. It is not a fight between liberals and Islamists; it is about who controls the city and its economy." Others like Jahanzeb Siddiqui, an MQM supporter and a shop-owner in Karachi, disagree. "If we don't stand up against the Taliban now, soon they will turn Karachi into Kabul, flog women and ban music. The Sunday anti-Taliban rally is just a beginning; the whole country should stand up against extremists," he told DW. Talk or fight? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's center-right government, however, is not as resolute about how to deal with the TTP and other Islamist groups as the MQM is. He is currently engaged in "peace negotiations" with the Taliban and the members of his administration have already held a round of talks with the militants. However, the talks are not going smooth. Despite agreeing to a ceasefire last month, the TTP continued to attack civilians and security forces. In response, Pakistani fighter jets targeted the Islamists in the country's restive tribal areas. On Sunday, February 23, the Pakistani air force bombed the militants' hideouts in the northwestern Tirah Valley, killing at least 38 terrorists. Experts say that Pakistan has a complex relationship with the Taliban, which it officially supported prior to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US. Hence, to expect Islamabad to start an all-out war against the TTP is wishing too much, they say. "The TTP could have been routed out militarily or through police actions," Snehal Shingavi, a South Asia expert at the University of Texas, USA, told DW. "Everything indicates that they are not that sophisticated or large. But the Pakistani Army has used them as part of their strategic game in Afghanistan, and will probably continue to do so."
shiapost.comANP leader and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said here Monday that formation of terrorists’ state will not be allowed on Pashtun land. Talking to reporters here, he alleged that the committee nominated by Taliban for peace talks was trying to establish terrorists’ regime in the province, which will not be allowed come what may. He said shedding the blood of innocent people in the name of talks was not at all a good step. “When real time of the advocacy came, Taliban’s advocate Imran Khan escaped from the arena, but we would not permit formation of a terrorists’ state on Pashtun soil,” he said while criticizing the PTI chief. “The non-flexible attitude and stiffness of Taliban caused this deadlock in the peace talks of the dialogue committees,” Mian Iftikhar said, adding the government should not show any weakness at this critical stage. The action launched by the government, against Taliban in North Waziristan, should not be called an operation, in fact it is a counter reaction against brutal acts of the militants, he said. The ANP leader said the government should also formulate its last option alongside talks with the militants. The militants were taking revenge of the killing of their leader Hakeemullah Mehsud and did not stop their terror acts even during the talks, he added. He alleged that the PTI government was supporting the TTP, and added that terrorism in the tribal areas of the country had increased. The Pashtun culture has no connection with terrorism whatsoever, as Pashtuns are peace loving nation, he said and claimed that terrorists were now trying to increase their support in the parliament.
The South Asia Partnership-Pakistan has demanded to built an institution of commissions on minority rights at provincial and national.It will help meliorate the condition of human rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. It was also stipulated that it should be an independent organization with fiscal and executive powers which could also analyze the laws and policies causing biasness against religious minorities. SAP-PK also requested the Government of Pakistan to guarantee religious liberty and other primary rights of minorities as assured under the national and international obligations. Throughout a press briefing at a local hotel on Monday, SAP-PK’s National Coordinator for Human Rights Fund-III (HRF-III) Hameed Gondal said that the organization had already ongoing to execute a plan “HRF-III” aspiring to amplify the security and promoting rights of expression, assembly, association and thought including religious sovereignty of minorities all over the state. Articulating worry over the condition of minorities, he shared that it was awful to say that harassment of minorities in Pakistan was a major issue, but the matter was not being taken critically by the government. He said “the Constitution of Pakistan in its introductory chapter clearly said that no person would be prevented from or be hindered in doing that which was not prohibited by the law; and no person would be compelled to do that which the law did not require him to do.” Citing a number of examples of essential rights as assured in the Constitution of Pakistan, he said the Chapter One-Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy said that laws inconsistent with or in derogation of Fundamental Rights to be void. Similarly, Articles 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the Constitution grant freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of speech to every citizen in Pakistan regardless of any distinction. Article 20 of this Constitution allows professing religion and managing religious institutions. Speaking about the international commitments, he added that Pakistan had approved the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which held the State to make sure the defense of religious sovereignty and other essential rights such as right of expression, association, assembly and thought. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/demand-to-establish-minority-rights-commissions/#sthash.IrIdvZg5.dpuf
Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide foreign-backed militants operating inside Syria with anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, sources say. An unnamed Saudi source, who is close to decision-makers in the country, said on Sunday that Pakistan produces its own version of Chinese shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, known as Anza, and anti-tank rockets, both of which Riyadh is planning to get for the militants. The source referred to Pakistani army chief of staff General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Riyadh earlier this month during which he met Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz. Last week, Prince Salman himself headed a large delegation to Pakistan. The source further said that Jordan is set to provide facilities to store the arms before they are delivered to the militants within Syria. Ahmad Jarba, the head of the so-called Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said last week during a visit to northern Syria that "powerful arms will be arriving soon." Citing Western and Arab diplomats as well as foreign-backed Syrian opposition sources, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 15 that Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide the foreign-backed militant groups in Syria with more sophisticated weaponry, including anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles. A Western diplomat with knowledge of the weapons deliveries told the journal that “new stuff is arriving imminently.” Meanwhile, the Syrian army has reportedly arrested more than 80 foreign officers and soldiers, mostly from Saudi spy services. The detainees are said to have entered Syria to carry out terrorist attacks. Saudi Arabia has been the main supplier of weapons and funds to foreign-backed militants inside Syria. Syria has been gripped by deadly violence since 2011. Over 130,000 people have reportedly been killed and millions displaced due to the unrest. MR/PR/SL
The Express Tribune NewsThe Bomb Disposal Squad defused a hand grenade near the Iranian consulate on University Road in Peshawar, Express News reported Tuesday.
Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah on Monday objected to reportedly likely sale of arms to Syria and demanded a briefing by the government on foreign policy. Speaking on a point of order in the lower house of Parliament, he claimed that it was a shift in the foreign policy, which would have serious repercussions like the country faced after indulging in Afghan war in 1980s. He said when the country itself was facing extremism, supporting another troubled nation like Syria would be counterproductive. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader said that policies should be changed taking ground realities in account. Indulging in the affairs of other countries would have a backlash for Pakistan itself, he added. “We should learn from the consequences of our previous policy of interference and make efforts for peace without inviting any problem,” said Shah. Referring to the prevailing situation in the country in the wake of terrorist activities, the opposition leader said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should take the house and the nation into confidence. “We and the nation want to know the status of dialogue with the militants,” he said and assured whatever the decision the government would take, the opposition and the nation would stand by it as well as the armed forces. Minister for Science and Technology Zahid Hamid said that the government will soon take members of the National Assembly it into confidence on the issues of militancy and foreign policy. He described the claim of alleged “U Turn” in foreign policy by the opposition as “speculative” and clarified that nobody should think that the government lacked political ownership of the decisions. “Today is the first day of session. Tomorrow the cabinet will meet to discuss important issues. Afterwards, the house will be taken into confidence,” he said. The minister said that an amendment was made to the rules of procedure and conduct of business to bring the development budget of ministries to the standing committees of the house. “This amendment was moved by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and it is for the first time that the rules are being implemented properly,” he said, adding that 11 standing committees had either submitted their proposals or were in the process of doing so. “Remaining standing committees shall also hopefully accomplish their task within the stipulated time,” Hamid said in connection with the discussion on the development budget of relevant ministries. He said the proposals had been sent to respective standing committees by 22 ministries, most of which were being deliberated for preparation of recommendations for inclusion in the annual budget by the finance ministry.