Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Demonstrations coincide with president's signing of law tightening controls on judiciary and new audio-recording leak.Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Turkey after the president signed a controversial bill tightening controls on the judiciary, deepening opposition resentment towards a government already struggling with a corruption scandal. Police used tear-gas to disperse protesters in the capital Ankara on Wednesday, while in Istanbul demonstrators gathered on central Taksim Square, the scene of protests that have dogged the government for months. Protests that swept six Turkish cities on Tuesday continued on Wednesday as demonstrators chanted "Thieves!" and "Government resign!" Mustafa Sarigul, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate for Istanbul mayor - the biggest prize in the country's March 30 elections - called on the government to resign, as party officials handed out fake money amounting to 30m euros. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, has accused his ally turned rival Fethullah Gulen - a US-based Muslim leader with strong ties to the country's police and judiciary - of being behind the corruption investigation. In retaliation, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has sacked thousands of police and prosecutors. Second recording leak The latest protests were organised by the CHP amid leak of a second audio recording, presented as the voice of Erdogan, asking his son not to accept an amount of money on offer in a business deal but to hold out for more. The recording was posted on the video-sharing site YouTube by an anonymous poster using a pseudonym on Wednesday, Reuters news agency said. "Don't take it," the voice on the latest recording, presented by a user under the pseudonym Haramzadeler as that of Erdogan, says. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring this. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need." "The others are bringing. Why can't he bring? What do they think this business is? ... But don't worry they will fall into our lap." Erdogan said a similar post on YouTube late on Monday, allegedly of him telling his son Bilal to dispose of large sums of cash as a corruption investigation erupted, was a "vile" montage and "completely untrue". The recorded conversations allegedly took place on December 17, when a high-level corruption scandal implicating highly placed Erdogan allies erupted. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of either recording. Fikri Isik, Turkish technology minister, said on Wednesday that five officials overseeing the encrypted phones used by the Erdogan's office had been dismissed. The tensions come as new legislation gives the Justice Ministry greater control over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), an independent body responsible for appointing members of the judiciary. More government powers The law, signed into force by President Abdullah Gul on Wednesday, will give the government more say in the naming of judges and prosecutors, a role currently fulfilled by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). Critics say the move contravenes the basic principle of the separation of powers enshrined in the constitution. Gul last week dismissed calls to reject the bill, saying it was not his place to challenge legislation passed by parliament. He also indicated he would sign another bill strengthening state control over the internet. Gul said he had objected to 15 provisions that were "clearly unconstitutional", and that he believed the Constitutional Court would deal with them. The CHP is expected to file a challenge to the law at the Constitutional Court, seeking its annulment. But even if the court rules to overturn some articles in the law, the government will have enough time to make changes that will tighten its grip over the HSYK, according to Murat Arslan, president of the Association of Judges and Prosecutors. The law will come into effect once it is published in the Official Gazette and all personnel of the HSYK, excluding the 20 elected members, will then lose their jobs. The unelected staff amounts to about 1,000 people, including its secretary-general, inspectors, audit judges and administrative staff, whose positions will then be filled by the justice minister, the Hurriyet daily said.
http://abcnews.go.com/A 23-year-old Bahraini suffering from sickle-cell anemia who was detained by police as part of a security investigation has died a week after being taken to the hospital, authorities in the Gulf island kingdom said Wednesday. The country's main Shiite opposition group, al-Wefaq, hailed the man as a martyr and blamed the government for his death because of what it alleged was improper care while in custody. The Ministry of Interior said the man, identified as Jaffar Mohammed Jaffar, had sickle-cell anemia and died at around 3:15 a.m. Wednesday. He had been receiving treatment at Salmaniya Medical Complex after being admitted on Feb. 19. It is unclear how — or if — his disease contributed to his death. The office of public prosecution said in an email that the hospital report indicated that Jaffar died of a pulmonary embolism and that there were no signs of injury on his body. As a result of his sickle-cell condition, he suffered from blood clots in the lungs that led to respiratory failure and bleeding in his digestive system, it said. He was being held awaiting trial. Opposition activists and human rights groups in the past have raised concerns about the alleged mistreatment of detainees amid a three-year uprising by a Shiite-dominated opposition seeking greater political rights from the country's Sunni rulers. Bahrain, an American ally that hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, says it is committed to complying with human rights norms. In April 2011, a supporter of Bahrain's anti-government movement, Rashid Zakaria Hassan, 40, was found dead in a detention facility. A medical examiner determined that complications from sickle-cell anemia resulted in his death. Jaffar was one of several suspects detained in connection with an operation in December that resulted in the seizure of stocks of weapons and explosives, including some being smuggled in by sea. The man's family alleges that their son was subjected to beatings and electric shocks, according to al-Wefaq. A government ombudsman has opened an investigation into the death, and investigators have spoken to family members and "relevant persons" at the detention facility, according to an emailed statement in response to questions. It said results of the investigation will be made public once it is complete. Jaffar is the second person to die in police custody this year. In late January, Fadhil Abbas Muslim, 20, died from injuries sustained when he was shot in the head while trying to flee the scene of a police investigation, according to authorities. In a separate statement, the Interior Ministry urged Bahrainis not to take part in fighting in conflicts abroad and warned against becoming involved with religious extremist groups. It specifically raised concerns about Bahraini citizens who have joined the fight in Syria, and said it was preparing draft legislation aimed at further deterring citizens from fighting abroad or receiving weapons training. It follows a royal decree issued earlier this month by neighboring Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah punishing citizens who fight in conflicts outside the kingdom with prison sentences ranging from three to 20 years in jail. Many Sunnis in the Arab Gulf back predominantly Sunni rebels against Syria's President Bashar Assad, who comes from a Shiite offshoot sect.
http://www.euronews.com/A voice recording said to be of a telephone conversation between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal is at the centre of the latest political storm in Turkey. In the conversation the pair allegedly discuss how to hide large sums of money on the day police raided houses as part of a corruption inquiry into Erdogan’s government on December 17, 2013. Erdogan’s office described the recordings as a “dirty immoral fabrication”. After the alleged leak, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) held an emergency meeting where they discussed the voice recording. The CHP said the government has lost its legitimacy and called on Erdoğan to step down. The executive board of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also held a meeting under the leadership of chairman Devlet Bahçeli. Bahçeli said “the talks between the Prime Minister and his fugitive son is beyond our capacity of understanding.” In the newly released voice recordings, it’s claimed Erdoğan and his son discuss in five wiretapped phone conversations plans to conceal huge sums of cash from police, who raided a number of venues as part of a corruption investigation that has implicated sons of three Turkish ministers, businessmen and the head of the state bank. The Prime Minister’s office released a statement late on Monday, claiming that the voice recording is a “product of montage” and it is “completely false.” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ repeated the claim and said those responsible will be brought to justice. The voice recording is the latest in a series of leaked phone conversations that purportedly reveal wide-range corruption. The Prime Minister claims that all these are a plot against his government and are completely unfounded. Pro-government newspapers yesterday published reports of what it claims were illegally tapped phone calls. The political uncertainty hit Turkish markets, with the Turkish Lira losing value against the euro and the dollar.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron in Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party visited the historic site of Moen Jo Daro along with Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and attended a briefing regarding the preservation and promotion of the world-famous Indus valley civilization heritage and the steps to be taken in future for Moen Jo Daro’s preservation and promotion. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari stressed on the need of further excavation and dry core drilling to determine the complete area of the world heritage site. Further steps were discussed to safeguard the site and promote cultural tourism.
"Taiwan independence" will not win the support of Taiwan people and is doomed to be opposed by people from across the strait, said a mainland spokesman on Wednesday. Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman with the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, made the remarks at a press conference in response to a question about the pulling down of Dr. Sun Yat-sen's statue in Tainan City by supporters of Taiwan independence. Dr. Sun is the great forerunner of China's democratic revolution and is respected by people from both sides, Ma said. Organizations and people from the island expressed their indignation and denounced the pulling down of Dr. Sun's statue, Ma added.
Voice of Russia
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on democracy watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on Wednesday to "decisively condemn" the rise of "nationalist and neo-fascist" sentiment in western Ukraine. In a foreign ministry statement, Lavrov also said the OSCE should condemn attempts by nationalists to ban the Russian language in Ukraine. "Lavrov called on the OSCE to decisively condemn the rise of nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment in the west of the country, (to condemn) calls to ban the Russian language, to turn the Russian-speaking population into 'non-citizens' and to restrict freedom of expression," the ministry said in a statement.
Any forms of assistance to Ukraine, including from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), should be rendered at the request of this country's legitimate authorities and with respect for its sovereignty, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a meeting with OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier. "It has been emphasized that any forms of assistance, including from the OSCE, should be rendered at a request from the legitimate Ukrainian authorities and with unconditional respect for Ukraine's sovereignty," the Russian Foreign Ministry quoted Lavrov as saying at the meeting in a statement summing up its outcomes.
Moscow is soon going to provide video evidence to the EU and OSCE proving that extremists provoked unrest in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry has stated on its Facebook account. "The Western media prefer not to talk about the riots for what they really were, demonstrations arranged by extremist groups. Perhaps the leaders of the European institutions do not know about the actions of these extremists who were disguised as civilians," the statement reads. "We are most deeply concerned about what is happening in Ukraine. We are startled to hear that some Western countries misinterpret the events, trying to influence the situation," the Ministry said.
Moscow flexes military muscle with urgent drills amid confrontation between pro and anti-Russian protesters in Crimean capitalIn the Crimean capital of Simferopol, supporters of Ukraine's revolution and their pro-Russian opponents are embroiled in an ugly stand-off outside the regional assembly, where members were holding an emergency session to discuss the crisis gripping the country. A crowd of several thousand people shouting pro and anti-revolutionary slogans have gathered outside the assembly, which pro-Russian protesters claim they are defending from the "fascists" who have taken power in Kiev. Small scuffles broke out as the two sides pushed and shoved each other. Pro-European demonstrators, most of them ethnic Tatars, rallied under a pale-blue flag, shouting: "Ukraine! Ukraine!" and the Maidan's refrain of "down with the gang!" The pro-Russian crowds, some of them cossacks in silk and lambswool hats, shouted back "Crimea is Russian!". Protesters said parliamentarians were debating the possibility of a referendum to decide the future of the Black Sea peninsula though this could not be immediately confirmed. The autonomous eastern peninsula, which is home to a largely ethnic Russian population, is at the centre of tensions over the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Moscow, by pro-European protesters at the weekend. Earlier, Cossack protesters hung the Russian flag across the assembly's facade, according to Russia's Interfax news agency, calling on the government to ignore what they regard as illegal resolutions by the new authorities in Kiev. Moscow has denounced the removal of Mr Yanukovych as tantamount to a coup, and has become increasingly concerned by swift moves by Ukraine's parliament to break away from the Russian sphere of influence. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister said that Moscow's "policy of non-intervention" will continue. But the combat drills in the western district bordering Ukraine are likely to raise the temperature in the region. "They wouldn't have done it now unless they wanted to have a political effect. If they had a planned exercise at this time in that command they would have cancelled it - if they wanted to de-escalate the situation," a former British Army commander said. "The converse is obviously true." The Telegraph's David Blair in Kiev said: "Russia’s decision to place its forces near the Ukrainian frontier on high alert sends another pointed signal to its western neighbour. The Kremlin wants no-one to misunderstand its strength of feeling over the downfall of a friendly pro-Russian regime in Kiev, and the possible emergence of a new pro-Western government in Ukraine. "But military alerts of this kind have been ordered before – and the term itself means little. What exactly will the armed forces in western Russia be doing today that they weren’t doing yesterday? "Vladimir Putin’s latest decision is best viewed in the same light as the withdrawal of Russia’s ambassador from Kiev. The goal is to send a pointed message, perhaps timed to coincide with the possible formation of Ukraine’s new government. But the alert probably means nothing more than that. In particular, it emphatically does not suggest that Russian tanks are about to start rolling over the border." On Tuesday, the country's interim president, Oleksander Turchynov called an emergency meeting to discuss "the question of not allowing any signs of separatism and threats to Ukraine's territorial integrity - meaning the events which have taken place in Crimea - and punishing people guilty of this," according to an official statement. In the fiercely pro-Russian Crimean port city of Sebastopol, the home of Russia's Black Sea fleet, the newly installed mayor announced the formation of vigilante 'self-defence' units to defend the region against the "fascist" revolutionaries in Kiev. Alexei Chaliy also said he would guarantee the salaries of the Berkut riot police, which was this morning officially disbanded by Mr Turchnyov. Video has emerged via Channel 4 of members of the feared riot police begging for forgiveness for their role in repressing the Kiev protests, as they knelt in front of members of the pro-European movement on Tuesday night.
The United States and Britain have sought to lower the temperature amid fears the former Soviet state could fragment in the struggle between its pro-Russian and pro-European populations. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, insisted the country must not be a battleground between East and West, after meeting William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, on Tuesday. "This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East," said Mr Kerry after the two men met at the State Department. "This is about the people of Ukraine and Ukrainians making their choice about their future." Mr Hague, who is planning to visit Kiev shortly, urged the country's interim leaders "to form an inclusive government, involve people from different parts of Ukraine including from the east and the south of Ukraine. It's important for Ukrainians to be able to make these decisions together after the terrible divisions of recent months." "We want to send our strong support for the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine," he added. Mr Lavrov this morning called on Europe's democracy watchdog to condemn the rise of "nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment" in western Ukraine. In a statement, his ministry said the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the organisation should also condemn moves to ban the Russian language and to turn the "Russian-speaking population into 'non-citizens'". The United States has warned Russia against interference in the crisis, saying military intervention by Moscow would be a "grave mistake". After a classified State Department briefing on Tuesday, Senator John McCain, who has openly expressed suspicion of Vladimir Putin for years, warned that the Russian leader has long had his eye on Ukraine as the "crown jewel" of the former Soviet states. "I know that Putin believes that Ukraine is part of Russia. He is committed to that," Mr McCain said.
Indian-Americans are doctors, engineers, motel owners, taxi drivers and spelling bee champs — just a few takeaways from a new exhibition at the Smithsonian. Looking closer, though, curators are probing the history behind certain cultural stereotypes of this population of 3.3 million Americans in a new exhibit opening Thursday. The influx of Indian doctors, for example, began in the 1960s as the U.S. needed more physicians for its new Medicare system and immigration law opened the door to those with medical training. Later, the American inventors of Hotmail, the Pentium chip and fiber optics were all of Indian origin, perhaps because H-1B visas for engineers were a U.S. effort to remain competitive with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation" is the Smithsonian's first major exhibit to examine the history of Indian immigration to the United States and the influence of Indian-Americans. The exhibit is on view for at least a year and is expected to travel to 15 cities through 2019. It's a story that dates to the first Indians arriving in 1790, those who helped build the nation's railroads and farms, and those who fought for citizenship when immigration from Asia was discouraged. There are also plenty of more recent contributions of leading Indian-American writers, entertainers, athletes and a fashion designer favored by first lady Michelle Obama. Curator Masum Momaya said her team used Indian-American stereotypes as an entry point for visitors to learn more. "We want to take people beyond some of the things they know and have seen in popular culture to the deeper and more nuanced history," she said. "I think one of the things that museums can do is add history and add context to contemporary conversations about race and immigration." So in a subtle way, curators show the current debate over immigration has been debated before. The Smithsonian borrowed and collected objects from many Indian-Americans, from family photos and shoes that evoke a family home to the a professional football helmet worn by the first Indian-American to win the Super Bowl, Brandon Chillar with the Green Bay Packers. For more than a year, curators worked to borrow a dress made by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan for Mrs. Obama. Khan draws on a line of Indian embroidery techniques in his design for an American silhouette. The rarely seen gown joins items from other Indian-American ground breakers. There's the NCAA basketball jersey from the first player wear a turban in competition as a symbol of his Sikh faith, a silver Olympic medal won by gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj in Athens, and the first U.S. spelling bee trophy won by an Indian-American in 1985. Coincidentally, Indian-American students have been on a spelling bee winning streak for most of the past decade. "It's novel, but at the same time, it does speak to that experience of becoming American," said Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. "Spelling bees have this symbolic value of being American, being literate in the language of the country and excelling in it." The yearlong exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History is part of a $2 million ongoing heritage project at the center. It will also help bring new items into the Smithsonian's collection to represent Indian-Americans. Newly acquired artifacts include campaign materials from former U.S. Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, who was the first Asian-American elected to Congress in 1957.
The United States has intensified its drive against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants in Afghanistan before foreign combat forces depart this year, according to multiple U.S. officials. The effort is taking on added urgency as the clock ticks down on a NATO combat mission in Afghanistan set to end in December, and as questions persist about whether Pakistan will take action against a group some U.S. officials believe is quietly supported by Pakistani intelligence. The Obama administration has created a special unit based in Kabul to coordinate efforts against the militant group, according to officials familiar with the matter. It was set up late last year, as part of a new strategy that involves multiple government agencies. The unit, headed by a colonel and known in military parlance as a "fusion cell", brings together special forces, conventional forces, intelligence personnel, and some civilians to improve targeting of Haqqani members and to heighten the focus on the group, the officials said. "Things are coming together in terms of the more comprehensive approach (against the Haqqanis). So, there's a lot of focus - there's a lot of energy behind it right now," said a U.S. defense official, who asked not to be identified. It was not immediately clear whether the intensified focus on the Haqqanis has led to increased strikes on the group by the U.S. military or the CIA, which operates drones over Pakistan's tribal areas. And it remains to be seen, this late in the NATO combat mission, how much damage the United States can inflict on the Haqqani network, which has proven resilient and uses Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border, including the North Waziristan region, as a sanctuary. AUDACIOUS ATTACKS The White House announced on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had ordered the Pentagon to prepare for a possible complete withdrawal of troops following Afghan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security pact. The Haqqani network, which professes obedience to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, is believed to have been involved in some of the most audacious attacks of the Afghan war. These include assaults on hotels popular with foreigners, a bloody bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, a 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy, and several massive truck bombing attempts. The group is also believed to be holding Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier missing in the war in Afghanistan. Some U.S. lawmakers have complained that the Obama administration has dragged its feet in cracking down on the group after designating it a "foreign terrorist organization" in September 2012. For example, it is unclear what diplomatic pressure Washington is putting on Islamabad to arrest individuals connected to the group, the lawmakers say. This month, the U.S. Treasury froze the U.S. assets of three suspected militants linked to the Haqqanis, the Obama administration's first significant non-military move against the network since that 2012 designation. The Pentagon has regarded the Haqqanis, seen as more skilled in attacks on foreign targets than other militants in Afghanistan, as an acute threat to its soldiers for years. U.S. General Joe Dunford, who commands U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel of his concern about the state of the current U.S. effort against the group in a private letter last November, sources familiar with the matter said. During a recent visit to Washington, Dunford told senior White House officials that the group was a top priority for him, the sources said. 'PERVASIVE, VIRULENT ENTITY' Retired General John Allen, who commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011-2013, said he initiated the request to designate the Haqqanis as a terrorist group in spring 2012 because military efforts alone were insufficient. "My reason for doing that was that it is simply such a pervasive, virulent entity," Allen said in an interview. "I was going to pressure them in every possible way inside the country, but I wanted them to feel it at a strategic level, to include attacking their finances, their assets - pressuring the entire nervous system of the Haqqanis." Some Afghan and U.S. officials remain skeptical that the United States can seriously weaken militant groups such as the Haqqanis unless Pakistan cracks down on them from within or better controls its borders. "Until the Pakistanis do something about the safe havens, that's going to be a problem. (Militants) can recruit and train and equip and prepare to launch in Pakistan," said Major General Stephen Townsend, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. Townsend was speaking about the array of militants who infiltrate the border with Pakistan, not just the Haqqanis. On Tuesday, the Pakistani military launched new air strikes on militant hideouts in North Waziristan, killing at least 30 people. Pakistani fighter jets have been pounding targets in the area since efforts to engage the Pakistani Taliban in peace talks broke down this month. The former top U.S. military officer, Mike Mullen, told U.S. lawmakers in 2011 the Haqqanis were a "veritable arm" of the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, which some U.S. officials believe seeks to strengthen the Taliban and its allies as a means of ensuring that archenemy India does not wield influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies such charges. Founded by mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, the group fought the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with varying levels of support from Pakistani, Saudi and U.S. policy-makers. In November, six members of Congress sent Obama a letter calling efforts against the Haqqanis "woefully insufficient", according to a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters. "It is past time for the administration to comprehensively address the threat posed by the Haqqani network's deadly attacks," Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told Reuters in a statement.
We're not bluffing, the Obama administration told Afghanistan on Tuesday in announcing for the first time it has started planning for the possible withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of the year if no security agreement is signed. Statements by the White House and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel showed President Barack Obama's impatience with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign the agreement that would keep several thousand American troops in the country after combat operations conclude this year. In a phone call with Karzai on Tuesday to discuss upcoming elections for a new Afghan leader, Obama made clear that time was running out to properly plan for keeping any U.S. forces in the country beyond 2014, the White House said. Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani official warned that pulling out U.S. troops could have dire consequences, leading to a civil war in Afghanistan.
"President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014," said the White House statement.
It also noted that a deal remained possible with a new Afghan leader, even if Karzai fails to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement before the April election chooses his successor."Should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan," the White House said. "Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year." In his separate statement, Hagel said he strongly supported the order by Obama to "ensure adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014." Speaking at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia Tuesday afternoon, Hagel said the situation in Afghanistan will likely be a top item on the agenda at a NATO ministerial conference in Brussels this week. Obama, he said, has been very clear that the possibility of U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan depends "on whether we have a bilateral security agreement signed by the Afghani government, to assure our rights of our troops and other important elements that are required any time America has troops in another country." Pakistani official: Don't do it A senior Pakistani government official told CNN that a full withdrawal of U.S. troops should not be considered, declaring that "the zero option means civil war in Afghanistan." Speaking on condition of not being identified, the Pakistani official predicted that 30% of Afghan forces would desert if U.S. forces leave the country. For the Pentagon, Obama's order means preparing for all contingencies. "For the first time, the commander in chief has told us to begin planning for a complete withdrawal" from Afghanistan, a senior U.S. official told CNN. While the option to keep troops there remains, the situation has reached a point where the Pentagon has to begin planning for all possibilities, the official added. More than 33,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan as the Obama administration winds down the almost 13-year war that began shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The security agreement negotiated between Afghanistan and the United States would cover a continuing mission after 2014 focused on training Afghan forces and counterterrorism. Pentagon: If freed Afghan prisoners return to fight, they're 'legitimate targets' Afghan presidential contender says he'll sign if elected While Karzai has balked at signing, a leading contender to succeed him told CNN's Christiane Amanpour this month that the agreement should proceed. Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said he would sign the deal to keep international forces in Afghanistan, and aid dollars flowing, if elected in April. Abdullah said Afghanistan will need the financial and military support of the international community "for years to come." White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that that longer it takes for security agreement to get signed, the more difficult it will be to properly plan and carry out a U.S. mission after 2014. Continued delay would result in a smaller and less ambitious mission, Carney said. Asked what happens if no agreement gets signed, he said: "We cannot and will not have U.S. troops on the ground" without a signed deal.
By Khwaja Basir Ahmad & Zarghona Salehi Desperate families are resorting to abortion in unsafe conditions and abandoning newborns, particularly female infants, in hospitals. It is not unusual to find an aborted foetus in city garbage dumps, according to an investigation by the Independent Media Consortium (IMC) Productions. In Afghanistan, like in many countries in the world, women do not have the right to abortion unless there are life-threatening complications. Here doctors risk imprisonment or a fine not less than 12,000 Afs (210 USD) for performing an abortion -- even if with the women’s consent. Abortion laws make no concessions for survivors of rape or domestic abuse. The shame of sex outside wedlock is so strong that a rape survivor has little chance of living a normal life, and is instead blamed for bringing dishonour to the family and tribe. In January 2009, the media reported the terrifying ordeal of a 14-year-old whose brother cut out her 5-month foetus with a razor blade, then stitched up the wound with string. Doctors in Bamyan discovered the truth when the sick girl was brought to hospital with a severely infected wound. Her 20-year-old brother was arrested and the foetus recovered. He said he was attempting to hide his sister’s pregnancy. The man accused of raping the teen was a construction worker helping to build a school near her home. There are no official figures of unsafe abortions, but an official in the sanitation department of Kabul Municipality who was interviewed by IMC says some 70 aborted foetuses were found in landfills in the Gazak area of Bagrami district, Kabul province, in the past one year. Abdul Basir Akhundzada, who works as a manager in Gazak, told IMC that at least two or three foetuses are found in a month. For the last six years, all the garbage from Kabul, a city of five million, is transported and buried in two landfills here called Gazak-Part 1 and Gazak-Part 2. Sometimes the foetus is not fully formed. Some are nearly nine months. But in each case the cleaners bury the foetus according to Islamic funeral rites in a makeshift graveyard next to the landfill. The small, unmarked graves are easy to spot though some have been leveled by the passage of time. According to Akhundzada, Kabul Municipality has been disposing hospital wastes elsewhere. A municipal cleaner who did not want to be identified said foetuses have also been found in city garbage containers. He said he has been working for the last seven years, and there is not a month that they have not found “three to four foetuses in garbage skips in Kabul City”. Mohammad Rafie, a deputy director in the municipality’s cleaning department, confirmed that aborted foetuses were found when skips were emptied into trucks taking waste to Gazak. Recently the police were informed when the bodies of two newly-born infants were recovered from city rubbish dumps by Kabul Municipality staff. The staff here has been trained to report the matter to the police. Social prejudice Nasratullah, a student, told IMC the body of a new-born girl was found behind the buildings in Sharak Telayi township. Later local people and the police buried her in Shuhada Salehin graveyard. Niaz Mohammad, a witness, thinks there are only two reasons why dead new-borns are left in the garbage: she may have been born out of wedlock, or rejected because she was female. “Such views are common,” Mohammad observes. People in provinces outside the capital are also prejudiced, he adds. Khadem Husain, the mayor of Bamyan City, claims aborted foetuses were found in garbage skips next to Bamyan University. But he did not give more details. Mohammad Maroof Mukhtar, an appeals lawyer in the Attorney General’s Office for Takhar province says two foetuses were found in farm land adjoining the provincial capital Taluqan. No option IMC interviewed a young man who got the young woman he was in love with pregnant. The man who did not want to be identified said the pregnancy was confirmed through an ultrasound. However, none of the clinics they went to were prepared to perform an abortion except one which demanded 22,000 Afs (385 USD). The man was very remorseful of the situation he had put the woman in, and described it as an “unforgivable sin”. Had her family agreed to their marrying “we would never have aborted the foetus”, he says. Dr Mohammad Hashem Wahaj of the Wahaj Private Hospital, Kabul, says his hospital does not admit women unless there are l ife-threatening complications. According to him, women who cannot prove they are married are turned away when they come to the hospital for a pregnancy ultrasound. Wahaj blames unintended pregnancies on moral corruption in society. He rues the influence of western culture on Afghan youth: the “unlimited liberty” given to women and men, and the raising of the age of marriage in the last decade. Dr Najia Alemi, a specialist in Kabul’s government-run Rabia Balkhi Maternity Hospital, says government hospitals prohibit abortion but not private medical facilities. She wants the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) to crack down on illegal abortion. MoPH spokesman Dr Kaneshka Baktash Turkistani said the ministry was not aware of illegal abortions in private clinics. Islamic rites Dr Mohammad Ayaz Niazai, a lecturer at the Religious Studies Faculty of Kabul University, says the country’s abortion laws adhere to Islam. To dump a foetus in the garbage is anti-Islam. It must be bathed, wrapped in white cloth and buried, he adds. Najibullah Zadran Babrakzai, responsible for protecting children’s rights in the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), believes “human rights and dignity are breached when the aborted foetus is not buried”. Law enforcement Kabul Police chief General Mohammad Zahir Zahir says the police have not made any arrests for illegal abortion. Arrests have been made in cases where the husband and wife were estranged, and the wife resorted to abortion in unsafe conditions. Women take a deadly cocktail of medicines to force a miscarriage, or turn to midwives for help to terminate the pregnancy. General Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, provincial police chief of Herat, says no complaint has ever been filed for clandestine abortion practices. The police have been cracking down on moral corruption, and trying to arrest perpetrators, the general said. Basir Azizi, a spokesperson in the Attorney General’s (AG) Office, said there are cases under investigation of a wife who miscarried because she was beaten by her husband, and women with unintended pregnancies who aborted the foetus. “Investigation has been completed in some cases and files sent to the court, which has taken a decision,” Azizi said not giving any details. Abandoned infants Dr Fatema Nazari, a specialist at Rabia Balkhi Maternity Hospital said she has seen babies who were abandoned by mothers after the delivery. Often the reasons are the gender of the baby, and the parents’ inability to provide for another child. The abandoned infants in Rabia Balkhi were handed over to the MoPH for adoption. Nine new-born girls and two boys were left in three Kabul hospitals in the last 10 months, according to MoPH’s Department of Curative Medicine. Dr Nazari said a new-born baby girl was left at the back of her consulting room at the hospital last year. Mohammad Ajmal, a Kabul resident, said a neighbour in the 16th District found a female infant wrapped in a blanket in a gr aveyard in Tapa Maranjan. Ajmal and his wife who were childless adopted the baby. A worker, Abdul Qayum, in the 17th District, found a new-born baby boy in a garbage skip in Dewan Bigi area. The child, however, died because it was exposed to the bitter cold. Mirza Mohammad Reja, the head of the provincial health department of Kapisa, says unwanted babies are abandoned also in hospitals in his province. His counterpart in Nangarhar, Dr Baz Mohammad Sherzad, said there were two cases in the government hospital last year. In both cases the mothers died in childbirth, and the fathers were not ready to take their daughters home. Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant. Maternal mortality rates are one of the highest in the world. Mohammad Maroof Mukhtar, a lawyer in Takhar province, said a baby girl who was found in a garden in the state capital T aluqan four months ago, was handed over to a man called Jamaludin in Rustaq district. The decision was taken by an unnamed influential local. Esmatullah from Raj village in Farah province says he found a 2-month-old infant on his way to the mosque. The boy is now with his neighbour Bismillah who has no children. Son obsession A woman who gives birth to a daughter risks being beaten by her husband and his family members. Latifa, 35, a mother of six in the Qala-e-Zaman Khan area in Kabul, says after each birth she was brutally abused by her husband. “My husband told me to abort the foetus when the ultrasound showed it was female. But I don’t want be considered a murderer on Judgment Day,” Now Latifa is two-months pregnant with her seventh child. She hopes it will be a son or her husband has threatened to marry again. Hawa Alam Nuristani, a press officer at the AIHRC, says the obsession with sons is contrary to the Shariah and against Islam and human rights. The AG’s Office has recorded some 8,000 cases since 2009 of heinous abuse when women bore girls or were infertile.
http://www.hindustantimes.com/"One of the tougher nuts to crack has been Pakistan. It's no secret that the Pakistanis and the Taliban have some shared history. There's no need for rose-coloured glasses here. Relations between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan are a Gordian knot," Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon told reporters at the National Press Club. The lawmaker said that stability in both Pakistan and Afghanistan was "symbiotic" and that the relationship between the two countries are "thawing". "Yet we're finally starting to shake some progress loose. Pakistan and Afghanistan have both acknowledged that stability in both their countries is symbiotic. Problems in one means problems in the other," McKeon said. "Relations between the two countries are thawing. That started with President Karzai's visit with Prime Minister Sharif last September. Official state visits are well and good, but what I'm really watching is the military-to-military relations," he said. The Congressman added that the three sides had a long way to go, but "these baby steps have paved the way for giant leaps down the road." "Pakistan and Afghanistan have gotten the ball rolling there. The relationship has improved, but slowly. I was happy to see the three-way talks between senior ISAF, Pakistani and Afghan leaders, and just as happy to see the same meetings held at lower levels," he said. "With that progress in mind, we have a real problem heading our way with the bilateral security agreement. That agreement is the legal framework we need to continue the mission there until the mission is finished," he said. - See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/relations-between-us-pak-and-afghan-a-gordian-knot-lawmaker/article1-1187894.aspx#sthash.DssVpdw8.dpuf
Investigation results released by Pakistani police on the recent terrorist attack near the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, said the suicide bomber was from a Central Asian country. 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. Police investigation revealed on Tuesday that the perpetrator of the attack was either an Uzbek or a Chechen national. The suicide bomber intended to destroy the Iranian Consulate building, but due to a technical failure in his car and malfunction of the bomb he had planted in his car, he failed to achieve his goal. Meantime, two other accomplices of the suicide bomber who were also inside the bomb-laden car tried to enter the consulate building, but were stopped by the security guards and one of them exploded himself near the entrance gate. The vests used by the suicide bombers usually contain 8 kilogram of explosives, but the bomber was wearing a suicide vest with 4 kilograms of explosives planted in it. The Peshawar police also confirmed earlier reports that a militant group commanded by a person named Mast Gul has claimed responsibility for the Monday attack. Mast Gul, 47, is known for his clashes with Indian forces and fled to a region in Kashmir in 1995. A spokesman for Mast Gul, once acclaimed in Pakistan for his role fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, claimed responsibility on Monday. 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 on Monday. "They unfortunately remained safe. "We will continue to target Iranian installations and the Shiite community everywhere," he added. He escaped an ambush by the Pakistani forces in Peshawar in 2003 and is hiding since then. A few hours later yesterday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham strongly condemned the Monday terrorist attack in front of Tehran’s consulate. “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. 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.
Despite incredible progress in the two decade long fight against the disease, Pakistan stands at risk of becoming the last active reservoir of the poliomyelitis virus in the worldMaasi Askari, the eldest member of my family was in her late 60’s when she passed away nearly two decades ago. She was afflicted with polio as a child, all of her limbs misshapen and twisted at unnatural angles by the time she reached puberty. She never married, she never held a job. Even the simplest tasks, such as a trip to the washroom took nearly an hour. She suffered from severe depression during most of her life, watching her brothers and sisters get married, employed, and have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Her last few years were an excruciating cocktail of immobility, debilitating pain and embarrassment at not being able to take care of herself. The most dignified member of our family died a most undignified death, completely cognizant of her situation, and utterly unable to do anything about it. This is the likely fate that awaits children crippled by poliomyelitis in Pakistan, which is now arguably the last refuge in the world for the polio virus. Despite the incredible progress made against this incapacitating disease worldwide and most of Pakistan, it continues as an endemic, with 91 confirmed cases of polio reported in 2013 alone. A TALE OF TWO BARRIERS