Thursday, February 27, 2014

Influx of illegal immigrant / afghan refugees was big threat to the people and installations in Sindh
The Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali shah has said that influx of illegal immigrant / afghan refugees was big threat to the people and installations in Sindh. He said that any attempt for registration of these people at this stage when action is being taken against the terrorists in Northern Areas would be injustice and danger for the Sindh province and recommended the federal govt to stop it in case it is in process. This he observed while presiding over meeting of law and order to review over the performances of Targeted operation in Karachi and to discuss and decide the counter strategy to fight with terrorists especially with reference to Pak-Army strikes against the terrorists in northern areas held at CM House Karachi today. The Sindh Minister for Information Sharjeel Inam Memon, Chief Secretary Sindh Sajjad Saleem Hotiyana , Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Syed Mumtaz Shah, Secretary to CM Rai Sikandar, Secretary Law Mir Muhammad Shaikh , DG Rangers Major General Rizwan Akhtar, IG Sindh Police Iqbal Mehmood , Additional IG Karachi Shahid Hayat, All DIG’s in Karachi , Advocate General Abdul Fatah Malik , Prosecutor General Shair Muhammad Shaikh and other officers of LEA’s attended the meeting. Taking the serious notice of reports about illegal influx, of Afghan Refugess land grabbing, indulging in smuggling of Arms, Narcotics and other mysterious activities of these Afghani refuges in Hyd, The Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah strictly directed the DIG Hyd to remove all such illegal migrants / refugees to cross the border with in 3-days. He directed all the DIG’s and Distt officers of Sindh Police to put all the entry and exits points of their district under strict vigilance and not to allow such illegal immigrant to enter or settled in their areas. He also directed them the Madarsa which are being constructed without permissions from the competent authority must be stopped. The Chief Minister Sindh expressed his apprehensions over the reports about availability of 2.5 million aliens in Karachi and said that NARA and Commission for Afghan refugees in Karachi have not performed their responsibility properly in Karachi. He once again recommended the Federal Govt to activate the NARA to control over aliens and prepare a strategy to stop the illegal SIM’s as these both factors are causing increase in crime in Karachi he added. The Chief Minister Sindh while endorsing the proposal floated by IG Sindh Police for establishing well equipped and scientific check posts with bio-metric testing facilities of NADRA and having support of metal / explosive detecting equipments at each entry point on border and big cities in the province, the Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah asked the IG Sindh Police and DG Rangers to work out and submit their combine plan of action to him and assured that it to be implemented without delay.

Pakistani Rappers REMIND THE WORLD that youtube is banned in their Country

Human Rights Watch: '' Letter to President Obama re: Saudi Arabia Visit''

The White House
Dear President Obama,
As you prepare for your upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, we write to urge you to include critical human rights issues in all your discussions with Saudi officials. While the purpose of your visit may be to discuss “ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security, peace in the Middle East, countering violent extremism, and other issues…,” the Arab uprisings, beginning in 2011, have shown that security and human rights are deeply interrelated and cannot be separated from wider conversations.
Thus far, Saudi Arabia has avoided any major protests or uprisings but it has also seen a dramatic crackdown on civil society activists and dissidents, a sweeping campaign to arrest and expel hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers, and has maintained its systematic discrimination against women. At the same time most social reforms are stalled or blocked and domestic pressures continue to rise.
Accordingly, we urge you to use your visit to address the absence of genuine reform. Positive public and private US interventions on human rights issues would not only be well received by beleaguered activists, but could also empower reformists within the Saudi ruling elite to halt a range of abuses and push through positive reforms. Likewise, vocal US support for independent Saudi activists and peaceful dissidents would raise the stakes of abuses against them and empower them to continue their struggle against government repression.
As part of the ongoing strategic cooperation between the United States and Saudi Arabia, we urge you to make the following recommendations, which clearly illustrate how freedom and opportunity are fundamental elements essential to improve human rights conditions for Saudi men, Saudi women, and migrant workers:
Stop Repression of Independent Activists and Peaceful Dissidents
Human Rights Watch documented convictions of eight prominent Saudi human rights defenders in 2013, many of them in unfair trials, as well as authorities’ efforts to silence and intimidate dozens of peaceful dissidents and independent activists with travel bans, smear campaigns, and threats to investigate and prosecute them for peaceful activities. Saudi Arabia has no written penal code, the criminal regulations that exist are broadly and vaguely worded, and judges and prosecutors have criminalized a wide range of offenses under catch-all categories such as "breaking allegiance with the ruler" or "trying to distort the reputation of the kingdom."
One prominent activist, Waleed Abu al-Khair, is on trial before the Specialized Criminal Court, Saudi Arabia's terrorism tribunal, on a host of vague charges such as "breaking allegiance with the ruler" and "making international organizations hostile to the kingdom" for his role in publicizing information on human rights abuses and criticizing government policies. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison. Saudi authorities are also prosecuting al-Khair for hosting a weekly discussion group about prospects for political and social reform in Saudi Arabia.
Another human rights activist, Fadhel al-Manasif, played a leading role in documenting abuses against demonstrators in the Eastern Province in 2011. He organized educational workshops on human rights in Qatif and acted as an interlocutor between the families of detainees and authorities, on several occasions approaching police officials on behalf of families to ask the whereabouts of missing family members. Saudi police detained al-Manasif in October 2011, and the Specialized Criminal Court is currently trying him on charges that include "sowing discord," "inciting public opinion against the state," and "communicating with foreign news agencies to exaggerate news and harm the reputation of the kingdom."
The Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) faced severe repression in 2013. A Riyadh court in March convicted Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammed al-Qahtani, ACPRA members and human rights veterans, on charges such as "harming public order" and "setting up an unlicensed organization." The court sentenced them to long prison terms – 11 and 10 years respectively – and long bans on foreign travel after their release. A court in the central town of Buriada convicted and imprisoned ACPRA members Omar al-Saeed and Abd al-Kareem al-Khodr on similar charges.
A US Embassy official attended the trial session of, Fowzan al-Harbi, and another member of the group, who is on trial in Riyadh for charges including, among others, “participating in calling for and inciting breaking allegiance with the ruler,” “explicit libel of the integrity and religiosity of the Supreme Council of Religious Scholars,” “participating in setting up an unlicensed organization” – namely, ACPRA -- “publishing details of his investigation,” and “describing the ruling Saudi regime – unjustly – as a police state”. US attendance of the trial was widely welcomed by Saudi human rights activists and independent observers as a positive step forward.
Other ACPRA activists remain behind bars based on earlier convictions, including Suleiman al-Rashoodi, serving a 15-year sentence for “breaking allegiance with the ruler,” and Mohammed al-Bajadi, serving a four-year sentence for “participating in setting up an unlicensed association,” “distorting the reputation of the state through the media,” “insulting the independence of the judiciary,” and “calling for protests and sit-ins.”
Saudi authorities promulgated a new terrorism law on January 31 that has serious flaws including vague and overly broad provisions that allow authorities to criminalize free expression and the creation of excessive police powers without judicial oversight. Other countries restrict the definition of terrorism to violence intended to force a state to take or refrain from a particular action, but the Saudi law only refers to violence as an element of the crime with regard to attacks carried out against Saudis outside the kingdom or onboard Saudi transportation carriers. Inside the kingdom, “terrorism” can be nonviolent – it comprises “any act” intended to, among other things, “insult the reputation of the state,” “harm public order,” or “shake the stability of society,” which the law fails to clearly define. There is every reason to believe that Saudi authorities will exploit broad provisions of the new law to arrest and prosecute peaceful dissidents along with people suspected of terrorism-related crimes.
Saudi officials continue to refuse to register independent political or human rights groups, leaving members subject to prosecution for “setting up an unregistered organization.” In August, an appeals court upheld the Social Affairs Ministry’s denial of registration to the Eastern Province-based Adala Center for Human Rights. The ministry said it can only license charitable organizations, and that Adala’s activities are not covered under the ministry’s definition of a charity.
Outside of your senior level interventions, the United States can take the following meaningful steps to help end Saudi Arabia’s ongoing repression of peaceful dissidents:
Urge Saudi authorities to halt arrests and prosecutions of peaceful activists and dissidents in private meetings and in public statements.
Regularly request to attend the trials of peaceful dissidents, including trials in the Specialized Criminal Court. Press for the immediate release of activists imprisoned on vague, catch-all charges solely for their peaceful activities, including Abdullah al-Hamid, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Abd al-Kareem Khodr, Omar al-Saeed, Fadhel al-Manasif, Sulaiman al-Rashoodi, Mohammed al-Bajadi, and Fowzan al-Harbi.
Urge Saudi authorities to rescind the new terrorism law or amend its provisions so that it cannot be used to criminalize peaceful practice of basic rights.
Urge Saudi authorities to promulgate a written penal code that does not criminalize peaceful practice of basic rights and an associations law that allows independent groups to operate without undue government interference. End Abuses against Migrant Workers
Despite years of criticism, Saudi authorities have not undertaken important reforms to ensure adequate protection of the rights of migrant workers. Over 9 million migrant workers fill manual, clerical, and service jobs in the kingdom, constituting more than half the workforce. Many suffer abuses and exploitation, sometimes amounting to conditions of forced labor or servitude.
The kafala (sponsorship) system ties migrant workers’ residency permits to “sponsoring” employers, whose written consent is required for workers to change employers or exit the country. Some employers illegally confiscate passports, withhold wages, and force migrants to work against their will.
In 2011, Saudi labor authorities passed new regulations aiming to boost private sector employment for Saudi citizens and reduce reliance on foreign labor. The new Nitaqat, or Saudization, regulations set specific quotas for employment of Saudi citizens in private sectors firms based on the firm’s business sector and size.
In addition to Saudization, police and labor authorities in early 2013 launched a vigorous campaign to arrest and deport foreign workers found in violation of existing labor laws, targeting workers who did not have valid residency or work permits, or those found working for an employer other than his or her legal sponsor. Authorities halted the campaign in April following King Abdullah’s declaration of a limited “grace period” for workers to correct their status, but resumed it in November. The Saudi Interior Ministry announced in January that over 250,000 migrants had been deported since November.
Saudi officials say that the ongoing labor crackdown against foreign workers, which includes road checkpoints and raids on businesses, is part of Saudi Arabia’s effort to combat high levels of unemployment among Saudi citizens by opening jobs previously filled by undocumented workers.
We believe that the US is in a unique position to make recommendations to Saudi authorities based on its own experience coping with large communities of undocumented migrant workers. We hope you will convey to Saudi labor officials that arrests and deportations are ineffective policies to address an abusive, restrictive labor system that drives migrants to work under the table in violation of labor laws. Rather, Saudi officials should make specific reforms to the labor system that would force Saudi employers to respect the rights of workers – steps that would likely serve to improve conditions and wages.
Specifically, we urge the US to make the following labor recommendations to Saudi officials:
Amend the labor law to allow workers to change jobs without the approval of their legal “sponsor.” Abolish the requirement for foreign workers to obtain their “sponsor’s” permission to obtain an exit visa to leave the country. Improve labor complaints mechanisms so that judgments are handed down quickly and fairly, and allow workers to work temporarily while resolving a legal claim against an employer. Support Women’s Rights
Saudi officials in 2013 made important symbolic women’s rights reforms but did not abolish the discriminatory male guardianship system, under which all girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians. Likewise, under un-codified rules on personal status, women are not allowed to marry without the permission of their guardian; unlike men, they do not have unilateral right to divorce and often face discrimination in relation to custody of children.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving. On October 26, 2013, at least 50 Saudi women got behind the wheel throughout the kingdom in defiance of the ban and government intimidation. Police officials said that officers had pulled over at least 18 women driving in various areas of the country, though it is unclear whether any faced fines or other penalties.
In January 2013, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura Council and amended the council statute to guarantee representation of women. The Ministry of Justice granted the first lawyer-trainee license to a woman in April.
Punishment for domestic violence in Saudi Arabia remained lax, but in August the Council of Ministers issued a new law criminalizing domestic abuse for the first time. Unfortunately, the law does not detail enforcement mechanisms to ensure prompt investigations of abuse allegations or prosecution of those who commit abuses and does not explicitly criminalize marital rape.
We urge you to use the positive momentum for women’s rights reform in the kingdom by pressing Saudi authorities to make systemic changes that end legal discrimination against women, including:
Issue clear and specific enforcement mechanisms for the Law on Protection of Abuse and ensure prompt investigations of abuse allegations or prosecution of those who commit abuses;
Abolish the male guardianship system and all laws and regulations stemming from it;
Allow women the right to drive.
The US can play a crucial role in convincing Saudi Arabia to reform laws and practices to stop these ongoing abuses, and we urge you to do so during your visit. Saudi Arabia has been an important partner to the US in global affairs for many years, but it is also incumbent that you take a critical look at the country’s human rights record and recommend fundamental reforms that would end longstanding violations against Saudi citizens and migrant workers and generate adherence to basic rights.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Sarah Margon Executive Director Washington Director Middle East and North Africa Division Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch

U.S. proposes major update to food labels in bid to combat obesity

Packaged foods sold in the United States would display calorie counts more prominently and include the amount of added sugar under a proposal to significantly update nutritional labels for the first time in 20 years as health officials seek to reduce obesity and combat related diseases such as diabetes. The Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday its proposal would also ensure that the amount of calories listed per serving reflects the portions that people typically eat. That change may result in per-serving calorie counts doubling for some foods such as ice cream.
First lady Michelle Obama, who has used her White House position to launch the "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity, announced the proposal alongside the FDA. The principle behind the update is "very simple," she said in a statement. "You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it's good for your family."
While the FDA already requires companies to list the amount of sugar in a product, under the proposal they would also be required to list the amount of added sugar. Natural sugar is contained in fruits. Added sugar includes corn syrup and concentrated juice as well as white and brown sugar. In addition, the labeling on vitamin content would change, with companies required to list the amount of potassium and vitamin D. Currently, companies are required to list the amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, but the FDA said deficiencies in vitamin D and potassium are more likely. Dr. David Kessler, who was commissioner of the FDA when the original labels were created, said the proposed update is a "critically important" advance in public health. "The food label is not just about giving consumers information but about creating incentives for the industry to create healthier products," he said in an interview. "No company wants their product to look bad on the food label." The FDA estimated the cost to industry of updating the labels will be about $2 billion while the benefit to consumers is estimated at between $20 billion to $30 billion. The updates would take another three years or so to take effect. First there will be a 90-day public comment period, after which the FDA will draw up final rules. Once finalized, companies will have two years to comply with the regulations.
"It is critical that any changes are based on the most current and reliable science," Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said in a statement. "Equally as important is ensuring that any changes ultimately serve to inform, and not confuse, consumers."
The trade group represents food, beverage and consumer products companies.
In addition to having calorie counts displayed in a larger font, consumers may also get something of a wake-up call with the proposed changes in per-serving calorie counts. By law, serving sizes must reflect the amount consumers typically eat, yet serving sizes listed on many packaged goods often differ wildly from what people actually eat. A serving of ice cream, for example, is currently listed as half a cup. Yet few people stop at half a cup.
Under the FDA's proposal, a serving of ice cream would be a cup, doubling the calorie count and potentially giving consumers pause as they survey their options. The number of calories in a serving of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream, for example, would be about 660 instead of the current 330.
By contrast, the serving size for yogurt would fall from the current level of 8 ounces to the more commonly consumed 6 ounces, the FDA said. In the case of packages that can be consumed in multiple sittings, such as family-sized bags of potato chips, manufacturers would have to provide two labels, one to show the nutritional information "per serving" and the other to provide the "per package" information. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the proposed label change reflects what "has been learned about the connection between what we eat and the development of serious chronic diseases impacting millions of Americans." Even so, the extent to which nutritional labels affect consumer behavior is unclear. "The evidence is thin and highly variable," said Alice Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. Christopher Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute, said it is "hard to parse the impact of the nutrition facts label." The updated labeling would reflect advances in scientific knowledge about sugars and fats. Companies would be required to list the amount of total fat, saturated fat and trans fat in a product but would no longer have to list calories from fat since the type of fat consumed is more important than the amount, the FDA said. In November, the agency proposed banning artificial trans fats, long associated with an increased risk of heart disease, in processed foods. The FDA also proposes reducing the recommended daily amount of sodium to 2,300 milligrams from 2,400 milligrams, though some would like that reduction to go further. "There is strong scientific evidence that indicates lowering sodium can result in significant reductions in blood pressure," the American Heart Association said in a statement, adding that it will continue to recommend that daily sodium intake be limited to 1,500 milligrams. The current nutritional information is based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. The FDA said it has not yet established whether that figure will remain or be changed. The proposed changes would affect all packaged foods except certain meat, poultry and processed egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

US, NATO, EU lecture Russia with 'provocative statements' on Ukraine

Moscow has urged NATO to refrain from provocative statements on Ukraine and respect its non-bloc status after a chorus of Western politicians said Russia should be “transparent” about its military drills and avoid any steps that could be “misunderstood.” “When NATO starts giving a consideration the situation in Ukraine, it sends out the wrong signal,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its website on Thursday. As Ukraine’s turmoil has shifted to the ethnic Russian-majority in the Crimea region, the US, NATO, and the EU have all voiced their concerns over the situation as well as come up with proposals on how Russia should act. At the same time, the EU-brokered agreement to settle the Ukrainian political crisis which was signed on February 21 and certified by the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland and France “is still not being implemented,” Russia said. “Militants, who still haven’t surrendered arms and not vacated administrative buildings, announced their intention to ‘bring order’ to all Ukrainian regions,” the Russian ministry said. The agreement to jointly investigate violence, as well as to form a national unity government “fell into oblivion,” Moscow said. “Instead, as it was announced on [Kiev’s] Maidan ‘a government of winners’ has been established which includes nationalist extremists.”
Russia urged foreign partners who encouraged the opposition rallies in Ukraine and then initiated the February 21 settlement agreement, to realize their responsibility to work towards its fulfillment. Moscow says it is ready to cooperate with the West on Ukraine, just as it had been offering to do long before the crisis in the country descended to bloody unrest. “But we are ready to cooperate if there is a clear understanding that the cooperation should be honest, and based on an ability to make agreements as well as to fulfil them. And agreements should take into consideration interests of all the Ukrainian people as well as of all Ukraine’s partners,” the ministry’s statement reads.

Scientists liken Chinese smog to ‘nuclear winter’
Air pollution in parts of China is now so extreme it could lead to conditions similar to a “nuclear winter,” scientists say. The smog that covers the country has become so thick it is impeding photosynthesis, potentially disrupting China’s food supply. China’s pollution problem is reaching crisis point, with acrid smog covering six southern provinces for the past week. Over the last few days a total of 19 cities have recorded levels of pollution drastically exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety levels. Beijing’s concentration of micro-particles small enough to enter into people’s lungs and trigger serious health issues reached 505 micrograms per cubic meter Tuesday. The WHO’s safe level is 25 micrograms per meter.
The toxic smog is having severe consequences, with aircraft being grounded across the country because of poor visibility, roads closing and a significant reduction in tourist numbers. An associate professor at China Agricultural University, He Dongxian, told the South China Morning Post that if these conditions continued, China will experience something akin to a “nuclear winter.”
Furthermore, she said an experiment in Beijing in recent months had shown a significant slowdown in photosynthesis (the process by which plants turn light into chemical energy). According to He Dongxian’s tests, chili and tomato seeds that usually take 20 days to sprout could take over two months to grow into seedlings. "They will be lucky to live at all. Now almost every farm is caught in a smog panic," He Dongxian said, adding that the poor seedling quality would have a severe effect on agricultural output this year. Beijing authorities have come under fire from environmental organizations this week for failing to activate a red alert – which requires schools to close to minimize the impact of the smog on the public. "The officials are not proactive enough. They should listen to public opinion when setting the conditions [for the alerts],” said Greenpeace campaigner Huang Wei, adding that the authorities had not met the public’s expectations. China’s smog problem has begun to affect its neighbors overseas. On Wednesday officials in Kumamoto prefecture in southwestern Japan issued a health warning to residents after a dramatic rise in air pollution levels. Authorities advised people to stay indoors and not to exercise outside. Ministers from China, Japan and South Korea are set to meet in May to discuss ways to mitigate the rising levels of pollution in the region. China has been criticized by its neighbors for its excessive use of coal-burning power stations.

VIDEO: Ukraine: Crimea Explained in 60 seconds

Pakistan: Khursheed Shah demands in-camera session on terrorism

Leader of Opposition Syed Khurshid Shah Wednesday urged the government to take the parliamentary leaders of all the parties into confidence by holding an in-camera session. “If there were some issues which can not be discussed openly, then the government should call the parliamentary leaders of all the political parties and give them detailed briefing,” he underlined. Khurshid Shah said all the political parties were patriotic and no one would want anarchy in the country. He assured the government of complete support from the opposition parties for establishing durable peace in the country. “All the political parties, from day one, have supported the government against terrorism and will continue to do so in future as well,” he added. The opposition leader said there should be a clear policy of the government on the issue of terrorism. He said whatever option government use to establish peace in the country, the opposition parties would fully support it.

Afghan refugees in Balochistan seeking asylum abroad: UNHCR

More than 900 Afghan refugees in Balochistan approached United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to seek asylum abroad during the year 2013, an official said on Thursday.
Worsening law and order situation has forced the Afghan refugees living in Balochistan for last more than three decades to seek asylum abroad, Najeebullah Tareen, a spokesman of UNHCR said.
He said a total of 288 individuals were interviewed in Quetta for resettlement abroad. The UNHCR's sub office in Quetta established a new facility for the resettlement (abroad) of Afghan refugees whose lives are at peril both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“Australia being a lead country in resettlement of vulnerable Afghan refugees so far,” Tareen said.
Amid fear of targeted killings and bomb explosions, most of members of the ethnic Shia Hazara community have been striving to get resettled in Australia and other countries. The newly established facility is meant for carrying out elaborate scrutiny of cases referred to it for resettlement before their submission to the asylum offering states, Tareen explained. He said the acceptance of request would be subject of RSD (Refugees Status Determination) a thorough exercise to ascertain the eligibility of applicants.
The National Database and Registration Authority yesterday launched a countywide project for renewal of PoR cards to 1.6 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan.
Over 260,000 refugees living in Balochistan will be required to get their cards renewed under the project.
Najeebullah Tareen informed that under the voluntary repatriation program, 10,421 Afghan refugees had gone back to their war torn country in 2013.
He said there were ten refugee camps hosting Afghan refugees since early 1980s. Millions of Afghan refugees crossed into Pakistan in the aftermath of red revolution by Afghan President Noor Muhammad Tarakai in 1979.

Afghanistan: Presidential Palace Accused of Election Meddling

Some high-ranking government officials are interfering in the election process under the pretext of uniting the candidates or making coalitions, Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah claimed on Thursday, while addressing his fans in Kabul Sports Stadium.
"These days, the presidential palace is holding Jirgas. Some candidates maintain their own apprehensions and some are annoyed because the president has not honored his promises," Abdullah said.
Additionally, Abdullah urged that people assess candidates' programs from all angles because some of the programs are not suitable for the country.
"One of the candidates says that he would establish an Islamic army while our army is already a Muslim one. Another candidate says that he would give freedom to the export of drugs," Abdullah said. "Listen these statements thoroughly."
To gain more support as the elections are approaching, candidates strive to discuss their platforms and programs through several corner meetings and media advertisements. People are also enthusiastic to learn about these platforms as they get ready to choose the country's next president in April.

Obama Looks to Boost Young Minorities

'My Brother's Keeper' initiative will partner with businesses and nonprofits to provide greater opportunity for young minority men
President Barack Obama on Thursday will formally launch a new initiative to provide greater opportunities for young black and Hispanic men, a head-first dive into racial economic disparities for a president who has often avoided the issue.
Through what’s being called the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the White House is partnering with businesses, nonprofits and foundations to address disparities in education, criminal justice and employment. Groups have invested $150 million in the program, according to the White House, and have pledged to invest another $200 million over the next five years. Obama will also sign an order Thursday to establish the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, which will determine best practices both inside and outside of government to address the challenges faced by young minority men. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will continue to work on the initiative even after they leave the White House, officials said.
“The president has made clear the challenges facing young men and boys of color are of great importance to him,” White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett said. “He also as president sees a larger picture. A stronger, better prepared workforce means more investment and a competitive le up as we face a globally competitive marketplace.”
The initiative is the latest in a series of incremental steps the Obama administration has taken to combat racial disparities in public policy over the past year. Last February, Obama met with a group of young men at Hyde Park Academy on Chicago’s South Side who were a part of the “Becoming a Man” program within the school. He spoke candidly with the group about his experiences, acknowledging the fact that as a man of color who was raised by a single mother, their lives were inherently similar. The only difference, he said, was the fact that he grew up in an environment that was more forgiving.
After spending much of his first term avoiding issues of race, he has spent his second taking a piecemeal approach to assisting minority youth. He addressed the issue of racial profiling after a Florida jury reached a not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who had been charged in the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. And his departments of Justice and Education have looked to stem disparities in drug sentencing and school discipline.
White House officials said the latest initiative was motivated by data showing that young minorities face steep challenges, regardless of their economic background. Just 14 percent of black boys and 18 percent of Hispanic boys perform at or above proficiency on fourth-grade reading exams, compared to 42 percent of white boys. In 2010, black students were four-times more likely and Hispanic students were twice as likely to be suspended than their white peers.
“The bottom line is there is an empirical reason to focus deliberate attention on Hispanic and African American boys,” Cecilia Muñoz, the White House Director of Domestic Policy, told reporters on a conference call.
Read more: President Barack Obama Launches My Brother’s Keeper Initiative |

Hillary Clinton discusses Arizona, Venezuela, White House run

Hillary Clinton says ''inclusive leadership is really what the 21rst century is all about'' during a visit to the University of Miami.

Syria committed to removing chemical weapons

Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Walid al-Moallem, met on Thursday Special Coordinator of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) joint mission Sigrid Kaag and discussed the progress which has been made regarding the removal of the chemical weapons in Syria and means to continue enhancing the standing cooperation between Syria, the OPCW and the UN in this domain. Al-Moallem stressed Syria's commitment to its obligations, taking into consideration the non- politicization of the process and the security circumstances going on in Syria. For her part, Kaag hailed Syria's cooperation and the progress made in implementing the removal program, reiterating that the mission is ready to exert all efforts to accomplish the program.

Syrian Christians sign treaty of submission to Islamists

Threatened by al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists, community in northern city of Raqqa chooses ‘dhimmitude’ over conversion or death
Christian leaders in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, captured by an organization formerly affiliated with al-Qaeda, have signed a submission document this week banning them from practicing Christianity in public in return for protection by their Islamist rulers
The document, dated Sunday and disseminated through Islamist Twitter accounts, states that the Christian community in the province of Raqqa, captured last March by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), was recently given three options: to convert to Islam; to remain Christian but pledge submission to Islam; or to “face the sword.” They opted for the second of those choices, known as dhimmitude.
Earlier this month, al-Qaeda’s central command distanced itself from ISIS, saying it was “not a branch of al-Qaeda.” The authenticity of the document, displaying the stamp of al-Qaeda, could not be independently verified. The signatures of 20 Christian leaders at the bottom of the document said to have been party to the agreement were blotted out, ostensibly at their own request.
According to classic Islamic law, Christians and Jews living under Muslim sovereignty must pay a tax known as jizya in return for the Muslim ruler’s protection, known as dhimma.
The Christians of Raqqa chose to sign the dhimma treaty over war, the document stated, receiving a commitment by local ISIS commander Ibrahim Al-Badri, also known as Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, not to be subjected to physical harm or religious targeting.
In return, the Christians agreed to a list of conditions: to abstain from renovating churches or monasteries in Raqqa; not to display crosses or religious symbols in public or use loudspeakers in prayer; not to read scripture indoors loud enough for Muslims standing outside to hear; not to undertake subversive actions against Muslims; not to carry out any religious ceremonies outside the church; not to prevent any Christian wishing to convert to Islam from doing so; to respect Islam and Muslims and say nothing offensive about them; to pay the jizya tax worth four golden dinars for the rich, two for the average, and one for the poor, twice annually, for each adult Christian; to refrain from drinking alcohol in public; and to dress modestly.
“If they adhere to these conditions, they will be close to God and receive the protection of Mohammed his prophet … none of their religious rights will be detracted nor will a priest or monk be wronged,” the document ended. “But if they disobey any of the conditions, they are no longer protected and ISIS can treat them in a hostile and warlike fashion.”
ISIS has previously banned the sale of cigarettes in Raqqa and enforced the veil for women in public. Last week, the Daily Star Lebanon reported, it changed the official weekend in the province to Thursday and Friday from Friday and Saturday, as practiced in “faithless countries.”

Russia won’t really buy Abe’s islet tactics

Tensions between Japan and its neighbors over disputed islands, Japanese politicians' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine and some historical issues have left Japan isolated in Northeast Asia. The Abe administration has realized this fact and tried to find alliances in order to get rid of the current dilemma. One of its efforts is to defuse the tension with Russia. For Abe, historical issues and his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine are political cards to play against Japan's neighbors. The purpose of his visit was to show his power, consolidate the cohesion of the Japanese right, and guarantee more domestic support. His visit to the shrine can be seen as a political tactic. However, Abe is also aware that territorial disputes are the real source of trouble for him, which could easily put him in a dilemma. If he compromises over territorial issues, his cabinet may collapse and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party also risks losing power. But if he sticks to his stance over territorial disputes, Japan's neighbors will be further incensed and the country will face stronger resistance. After Abe took office, he strengthened and promoted the strategy of confronting with China over the Diaoyu Islands. This strategy has been promoted and upgraded gradually as Japan's conflicts with China increase. It seems that China is positioned to be Japan's long-term opponent. As to the dispute with South Korea over the Dokdo islets, the Abe administration is well aware of South Korea's insistence and has realized the fact that they will not be able to take back the islets from the Koreans. In spite of this, Tokyo continues to protest and provoke over the islets issue, and use it as a diplomatic strategy against South Korea from time to time. However, the Abe administration has never got tough with Russia over the Southern Kuriles issue. There are several factors, including historical reasons, points of confrontation and Abe's diplomatic strategies. In history, Japan had been disadvantaged in the battles with Russia, except Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). It suffered intensely from Russia's strength and expansionism, even during the Russo-Japanese War when Japan had more casualties despite its decisive victory. In the final weeks of WWII, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and quickly defeated Japanese forces, which had a decisive impact on Japan's decision to surrender. The Abe administration is clear about Russian toughness and has been cautious in its Russia policy. Russia remains powerful despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, and there have been talks about Russia's rejuvenation. Every time when Japan shows a tough attitude, Russia gives a quick response, as shown by Russian leader's inspection of the Southern Kuriles or sending nuclear-capable bombers to fly near Japan. Though backed by Washington, Japan is reluctant to be tough with Russia and it knows even the US will not easily provoke Russia. Abe also understands that there are no benefits for Japan getting tough with Russia over territorial disputes. To avoid more losses, Japan chooses to soften Russia's stance by improving investments, discussing security issues, and talking up the "Chinese threat." The Kremlin is very sophisticated, and plays the territorial issue as a political card too. Russia has made a counter-offer by using the territorial issue as a bait, in order to obtain more funds and technology from Japan for developing Siberia and the Far East region. Russia's actual control of the islands has strengthened the country's confidence, and as such, it is unlikely to fall victim to Japan's calculations. Based on these considerations, Japan and Russia achieved a consensus to meet and negotiate over island disputes. The atmosphere of the meeting between Abe and Vladimir Putin in Sochi earlier this month seemed very friendly. But the question is: What could Abe really get from Russia? Russia is well aware of Japan's tactics and the negative results if Russia makes any compromise. Despite offering a friendly reception, Putin will not make any compromise over Russia's territorial and sovereignty interests. Consequently, Japan's dreams to reclaim the disputed islands of Russia can hardly come true. We need more time and patience to see the final result of the disputes.

Russia Warns Saudis Against Giving Syria Rebels Missiles
Russia on Tuesday warned Saudi Arabia against supplying Syrian rebels with shoulder-launched missile launchers, saying such a move would endanger security across the Middle East and beyond. The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by news reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to buy Pakistani-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank systems for armed Syrian rebels based in Jordan.
It said that the aim was to alter the balance of power in a planned spring offensive by rebels on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
“If this sensitive weapon falls into the hands of extremists and terrorists who have flooded Syria, there is a great probability that in the end it will be used far from the borders of this Middle Eastern country,” the foreign ministry said. Long-existing tensions between Russia and Saudi Arabia have intensified further as a result of the Syria conflict, with Moscow standing by Assad but Riyadh offering open support for the rebels. Russia is widely seen as Assad’s last remaining major ally in a conflict that has left an estimated 140,000 people dead since it began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011.

Turkey’s Erdogan implicated in second leaked recording

A damaging new audio recording claiming to capture the voice of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was posted to YouTube on Wednesday by an anonymous user who goes by the pseudonym Haramzadeler. In the recording, a voice identified by Haramzadeler as Erdogan’s is heard advising his son not to accept a business deal, but to hold out for more money instead. “Don’t take it. Whatever he has promised us, he should bring this. If he is not going to bring that, there is no need,” Erdogan allegedly says in the audio. “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.” It is the second such post to appear on YouTube since Monday. In the first, the prime minister is recorded allegedly telling his son Bilal to get rid of large sums of cash amid a graft investigation. Erdogan refuted the audio’s authenticity, claiming it was faked by his political enemies. Neither recording has yet been verified. “We are going to check whether the tapes are fake or not and no statement is planned at the moment,” a senior government official told the Reuters news agency. The recordings, which appeared within days of the ruling AK Party’s official launch of a campaign for local elections at the end of March, are the latest and potentially most damaging allegations in a graft scandal that Erdogan has said was designed to unseat him.
Election battle
Late on Monday, Erdogan’s office released a statement describing the first recordings as “completely untrue and the product of an immoral montage.” Erdogan was scheduled to speak at local election campaign meetings in the western provinces of Burdur and Usak on Thursday afternoon. No company names are mentioned in Wednesday’s audio recording but the voice purportedly of Bilal Erdogan refers to a “Mr. Sitki”, saying he could not carry out a transaction. An accompanying text within the YouTube clip says the reference is to Sitki Ayan, the chairman of Istanbul-based company Turang Transit Tasimacilik. The basis for that conclusion was not clear. It could not immediately be determined what ties, if any, Turang or its chairman have to the Erdogan family. Representatives of Turang were not immediately available to comment on Thursday morning. Turang received a licence in 2010 to build part of a pipeline planned to carry Iranian and Turkmen gas to Europe through Turkey, according to its website. It was granted incentives including tax exemptions on investments of up to 11.5 billion lira ($5.2 billion) from the government in December, according to the Economy Ministry’s website.

US warns Russia on war games as tensions mount in Ukraine's Crimea

The United States warned Russia it would be a "grave mistake" to intervene militarily in Ukraine, as the Kremlin ordered 150,000 troops to test their combat readiness and armed men seized government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea region and raised a Russian flag over a barricade. Secretary of State John Kerry issued the stern warning on Wednesday after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the large-scale military exercises in what many see as a show of force or possible prelude to intervention in Ukraine. "Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, a grave mistake," Kerry told reporters in Washington. "The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected." In delivering the message, Kerry also announced that the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic. Kerry also renewed U.S. demands that Moscow withdraw troops from disputed enclaves in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, and urged Georgia to further integrate with Europe and NATO. The warning, aid announcement and nudge westward for Georgia all came amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and were likely to fuel already-heightened Russian suspicions over Western intentions in its backyard. Kerry insisted, however, that that U.S. policy toward Ukraine, Georgia and the other states that once made up the Soviet Union was not aimed at reducing Russia's influence in its neighborhood. Instead, he maintained that U.S. encouragement for former Soviet states to integrate with the West was driven by America's desire to see their people realize aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies. "This is not `Rocky IV'," Kerry said, referring to the iconic 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an aging American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman. "It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-U.S. or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that's a very powerful force." Ukraine's new government was expected to be formally approved by parliament Thursday. It will face the hugely complicated task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. Elsewhere, Russian news organization RBK reported Wednesday that Ukraine's fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, is staying in a Kremlin sanatorium just outside Moscow. Yanukovych has not been seen publicly since Saturday. While the West has recognized the new Ukrainian government, whose forces drove Yanukovych from the capital, Russia still considers him the legitimate president. RBK reported that Yanukovych is staying at the Barvikha sanatorium west of the capital, which is run by the presidential administration's property department. The spokesman for this department, Viktor Khrekov, told The Associated Press on Thursday that he had no information about the report. RBK said the information came from one of Russia's wealthiest businessmen and was confirmed by a government official, neither of whom was identified. The article was under the byline of respected journalists, including RBK's editor in chief. Meanwhile on Thursday, several dozen armed men stormed and seized the buildings of the legislature and the local government in Ukraine's Crimea region, where the majority of the population are Russian speakers. The men occupying the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, did not come out to voice any demands. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II. The men also put up a sign saying "Crimea is Russia." They threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist's questions. Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel of the Russian military's General Staff, wrote a commentary in a Russian online newspaper,, saying "if illegal armed formations attempt to overthrow the local government in Crimea by force, a civil war will start and Russia couldn't ignore it." While Russia has pledged not to intervene in Ukraine's domestic affairs, it has issued a flurry of statements voicing concern about the situation of Russian speakers in Ukraine, including in the Crimea. Some Russian officials accuse the West of being behind the revolt against its fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the capital last week. U.S. and European officials have denied such allegations. In addition to Putin ordering the military exercises, Russia's defense ministry said it would take steps to strengthen security at facilities of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, where there have been clashes between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. Pro-Russian protesters have spoken of secession, and a Russian lawmaker has stoked their passions by promising that Russia will protect them. Those steps have raised fears of possible Russian military intervention in Ukraine along the lines of its 2008 operation in Georgia, which led to the occupations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and was roundly condemned by the United States and its European allies.

Crimea parliament announces referendum on Ukrainian region’s future

The parliament of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea has announced it will hold a referendum to determine the region’s future amid the turmoil in the country. The region’s parliament said the all-Crimean referendum is about “improving the status of autonomy and expanding its powers.” “According to the underlying principles of democracy, the presidium of the Crimean parliament considers that the only possible way out of the situation on the ground is applying the principles of direct rule of the people. We are confident that only by holding an All-Crimean referendum on the issue of improving the status of the Autonomy and expanding its powers Crimeans will be able to determine the future of the Autonomy on their own and without any external pressure,” Oksana Korniychuk, the press secretary of the head of the parliament, said in a statement on Thursday. As a result of “the unconstitutional seizure of power in Ukraine by radical nationalists supported by armed gangs,” Crimea’s peace and order is “under threat,” the spokeswoman stressed. The Wednesday clashes near the parliament’s building in Simferopol, which led to two deaths and about 30 injuries is “a result of rampant political extremism and violence gripping the country,” which could bring Ukraine to “complete chaos, anarchy and economic catastrophe,” Korniychuk said.

Russian flag over Crimea's parliament as people barricaded inside

Local ethnic Russian ‘self-defense squads’ have taken control of and raised Russian flags over the buildings of the Crimean parliament and government in the region’s capital, Simferopol.
Ukraine's autonomous region is divided over the acceptance of new authorities in Kiev. Thousands gathered in front of the parliament building on Wednesday with crowds split between those supporting the new government and those calling for integration with Russia. Two people died and over 30 were injured in clashes. At around 4am local time, an unknown group of people barricaded themselves inside the buildings. According to local officials, those people might have been armed. The men wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II, according to AP. They placed a Russian flag on top of the Council of Ministers. Journalists who in the morning tried to approach the parliament building had a stun grenade fired at them. RT’s video agency Ruptly filmed the incident.
“We will swiftly inform Crimeans of the current developments today. Everything is under control, the negotiating process is under way,” Prime Minister of Crimea Anatoly Mogilyov told a local TV station.
The country’s police and Interior Ministry troops have been on alert in connection with the situation in Crimea, Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s acting interior minister said on his Facebook page. Avakov said the areas around the seized buildings have been cordoned off by police to prevent civilian casualties. Law enforcement authorities are stationed next to the Council of Ministers, with officers banning people from approaching the building, Interfax-Ukraine reported, citing the press service of the Crimean parliament.
The buildings are reportedly occupied by ‘self-defense squads’ of 50 Russian-speaking locals each. They allowed those who were inside at the moment of seizure to leave. They later let inside the seized parliament around 15 Crimean MPs, including the speaker Vladimir Konstantinov. They are holding a session the agenda of which is not yet clear. Around 400 protesters, demanding a referendum on the status of Crimea, have gathered near the parliament building, according to RIA Novosti. Activists are holding banners reading “Crimea for peace!” and “Crimea for a referendum!”
Earlier in the day Crimean Prime Minister Anatoly Mogilyov spoke to those who barricaded themselves inside parliament and government buildings. The squads’ members said they were not authorized to either hold talks or make demands. Mogilyov gave the men his phone number for further attempts to resolve the situation. Ukraine's acting President Aleksandr Turchinov has said the buildings in Crimea were seized by "criminals in military fatigues," Reuters reports. Turchinov has called on citizens to remain calm. Local police have asked Simferopol residents not to go downtown, according to Olga Kondrashova, the head of the press service of the Crimean police. “Police are providing security in the area. We call on the residents of Simferopol and Crimea to stay calm, not to panic and try to avoid going to the city center,” she said as cited by RIA Novosti. Outside the sealed off center Simferopol residents are reportedly leading their normal everyday life. There are a lot of people on the streets, most of the shops and cafes are open.

Ukraine's Yanukovich says he's still president, asks Russia to ensure his safety

Mera Babu Chail Chabila Mein To Nachon Gi - Runa Laila (Mann Ki Jeet)

Hard Talk Aside, Little Desire by the West to Leave Afghanistan

Listening to the Western defense officials gathered at a NATO meeting here on Wednesday, it would be easy to think that the United States and the rest of the international military coalition in Afghanistan have shifted into a full-speed withdrawal from the country by year’s end.
After all, the statements from NATO officials all picked up where President Obama left off on Tuesday. He abruptly announced that he had instructed the Pentagon to begin planning for a complete withdrawal because President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was continuing his refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that would allow Western troops to remain past 2014.
“We all know the facts,” the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said. “If the bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan is not signed, there will be no NATO status of forces agreement with Afghanistan. And if there is no agreement, there will be no NATO troops in Afghanistan after 2014.”
But as all the withdrawal talk has hardened, another message can be read that may be a truer gauge of what Western officials really want to happen in Afghanistan. Mr. Rasmussen sent that other message too, when, after warning about a full withdrawal, he quickly qualified it: “Let me stress, this is not our preferred option.” And there, defense analysts say, lies the truth that makes the Western ultimatum to Mr. Karzai look more like posturing than policy. Few of the interested parties — and especially not the Pentagon — really want to cut and run out of Afghanistan after 13 years of war in which almost 3,500 coalition troops, mostly American, have been killed; an untold but exponentially higher number of Afghan civilians have died or been wounded; and $700 billion has been spent.
The reason is simple: Military commanders and policy experts say that without a remaining core of Western troops to support the Afghan government and continue training the security forces, the chances are high that significant swaths of the country will fall back under Taliban control, just as they were before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. After the blood and sweat of the past 13 years of war, that potential return to old realities is seen as a particularly bitter pill.
“If we withdraw, and the international community withdraws its aid, you will see the potential for the Afghan government to collapse, the insurgency to gain momentum and territory, take over eastern Afghanistan, recreating a safe haven for terrorist elements that still harbor an anti-U.S. agenda,” said Michèle Flournoy, a former top Pentagon official in the Obama administration. “After all of this effort and all of this sacrifice and all of this progress, you’re back to a new safe haven for terrorists? It’s like, it just makes no sense.”
American intelligence officials have warned in classified assessments that insurgents could retake key areas of Afghanistan in the south and the east in as little as a year after American troops are fully withdrawn. The assessments also warn that Kabul, the capital, could quickly come under more serious attack than it has in recent years.
Such a turn could also lead to insecurity for India and Pakistan, foreign policy experts say, with each of the nuclear-armed South Asian nations entering a more aggressive proxy war in Afghanistan in a bid for regional influence and a trump card to play against the other.
“The neighboring countries, they all want us to stay,” said David Sedney, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. “If we were to leave, the consequences for Pakistan, for the Indians — these countries want a stable Afghanistan.”
American planners are thinking about what would happen if the United States is forced into a full and final troop withdrawal. Part of that contingency planning, officials say, will include looking to other countries — perhaps in Central Asia — for air bases that would allow continued drone operations in the region.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel alluded to that this month when he said at a news conference that the military was “constantly updating” where to put drone bases, “where the threats are most significant, where do you have allies that are willing to work with you.” But military officials say that a complete pullout from Afghanistan, where the United States now has the luxury of the base at Bagram from which to provide support, would hurt the American counterterrorism effort.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said as much during a meeting with commanders in Afghanistan on Tuesday, urging them to keep pushing. “It is not an indication that we’re not committed to a mission beyond the end of 2014,” he said, “because we very much believe the Afghan security forces could use our help.”
General Dempsey said that Western threats to fully withdraw were weakening the Afghan forces’ resolve, and that the impasse over the security agreement was encouraging the Taliban to be more aggressive. “It is having an effect on the enemy, and in some ways I think encourages them, and intelligence supports that,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Many Afghan officials — including all 11 of the presidential candidates vying to succeed Mr. Karzai this spring — have said they want some American troops to stay. And on Wednesday, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, insisted that a security deal could eventually be reached.
“I would like to restate our position on this: There is no zero option,” he said, referring to the possibility of leaving no American troops in Afghanistan. Other officials emphasized how critical international aid was to keeping any sort of stability in Afghanistan after 2014.
“I personally believe that Obama will not go with the zero option,” said Aryan Yoon, the head of the international relations committee in the Afghan Parliament. He added, “The Americans should know that the minute they pull out from Afghanistan without leaving a residual force, the country will plunge into a civil war and will go back to the ’90s.”

Afghanistan: BSA impasse encourages Taliban: Dempsey
The top US military officer on Wednesday depicted a grim future for Afghanistan without US help, saying Kabul’s refusal to sign the security agreement could make the summer fight more difficult this year.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spent the day with his commanders and troops in Afghanistan, urged them to focus on the considerable military work they have to do and not worry about next year. In an interview, Gen. Dempsey said the possible exit of all US troops was making Afghan military leaders anxious and eating away at their troops' confidence.
He said he spoke with some Afghan leaders, who asked him to stay committed to an enduring US presence and assured him they were doing all they could to get the pact signed. President Barack Obama spoke Tuesday with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, their first direct conversation since last June. Karzai has refused to sign the pact. Frustrated with his response, Obama ordered the Pentagon to accelerate planning for a full US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by year's end. But Obama is also holding out hope that Afghanistan's next president, to be elected this spring, may eventually sign the stalled security accord.
Obama has threatened to pull all troops out, and NATO forces would follow suit.
The impasse has an impact, Gen. Dempsey said. "It is having an effect on the enemy and, in some ways, I think, encourages them, and intelligence supports that," he told reporters.
The uncertainty of a continued US presence in Afghanistan, he said, may encourage some Afghan security forces to "hedge their bets." "There are parts of the country where it seems to be, there will -- with some likelihood ... be some accommodations between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban," Gen. Dempsey said. "I think a delay in the [pact] might accelerate those kind of accommodations. I don't think it will be widespread, by the way, but we do have to be alert to that possibility."
He also said he expects the Taliban to become more aggressive during the coming summer fighting season. He said the Afghan forces did well last year when they were in the combat lead last year for the first time. "So I think the Taliban has always calculated that they need to up their game this year to confront what they now realise is a pretty credible opponent." He added that while the United States can wait until after the spring elections before deciding whether to completely withdraw all forces, that decision must be made sometime in the summer.
While Gen. Dempsey visited commanders, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met his NATO counterparts in Brussels this week. And NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the 19,000 troops from other nations would also pull out of Afghanistan after year's end without a security agreement.
"Let me stress, this is not our preferred option," he said. "But these are the facts."

Hindus struggle to protect temples in Pakistan

The minority Hindu community in Pakistan is struggling to protect its temples and the land around them from the land mafia, a media report said on Wednesday. Most of the Hindu inhabitants migrated to India at the time of Partition, leaving behind a number of properties and places of worship. "These properties have been up for grabs. Some allege that locals forged documents in order to occupy land around temples and construct markets. These temples are located in areas where the value of land is very high. This acts as a magnet for the land mafia," Express Tribune reported. "No temple here exists that has been spared by land grabbers," claims Amarnath, a resident of Kirtarpura. The helpless community can do nothing to protect the dilapidated and plundered buildings, the report said. For around 5,000 Hindus living in Rawalpindi, Krishna Mandir is the only place of worship left. The temple is built on a small plot which is not enough to accommodate the community members during religious ceremonies. "But the fact that this temple remains is also nothing short of an achievement. There was a time when its future was also bleak and even today's there are challenges to its daily existence," the daily said. The community members believe that the land mafia attacked temples around which Muslim families were living so that the families would vacate the land and the land grabbers could take over, considering the commercial value. Some local politicians led mobs and attacked temples, the report said. "There is a perception that the Hindus (who migrated) had buried their wealth in these temples. Temples on the outskirts of the city were dug but when they found nothing, they destroyed the statues and defaced the statues," a community member said.

Pakistan: Blasphemy Sentence: Asia Bibi’s Petition Yet To Be Heed

Asia Bibi petition against her blasphemy conviction was fixed for trail on February 14, three years after it was submitted, but court didn’t took it in.
Her criminal appeal number is 2509/10 ‘Mst Aasia Bibi vs The State’ and murder reference 614/10 ‘State Vs Mst Aasia Bibi w/o Ashiq’ was fixed for trails before the Lahore High Court division bench. The court management had updated her counsel. Her husband, Ashiq Masih said “It was a ray of hope for me and my children…the court might reconsider the facts of the case and release her”.
The counsel was later informed that her trail had been called off.
Aasia’s counsel, M. Yasin of the Free Legal Aid and Settlement (FLAS), told that February 14 the LHC management had informed him through a SMS that the trail had been “called off by order”. He said the issue was very receptive and the LHC was fully conscious of this. He said the genuine case file was not put on with other files but in an officer’s cupboard. He said a copy of the petition had been placed in the regular record room for reference.
He said the cause list was called off for the reason that one of the judges on the division bench had gone on leave that day. He said he could not guess the next date of trail. Since June 19, 2009 after her neighbors in a village near Nankana Sahib blamed her of making offensive comments about Prophet Muhammad Aasia, 45, has been in prison. On November 2010, an additional district and session’s judge find her guilty and condemn her to death. The evidence of the judgment by the LHC has been waiting. When Governor Salmaan Taseer visited her in jail and criticized her conviction as well as the blasphemy law, the case attracted more concentration. A few months later, he was murdered by his official bodyguard.
Chairman FLAS, Advocate Anis AA Saadi said that she faced bullying from fellow inmates and her jailers at Sheikhupura Jail. He said she had been badly beaten by a member of jail staff in October 2011.
He said her petition should be heard right away to guarantee her security. He said he expected the high court would set free her. He said Aasia’s conviction for blasphemy was incoherent with the proofs presented in her case. He said, if not release her; the court would likely cut her punishment. He said her supposedly blasphemous word had come in an argue with some Muslim neighbors, who had declined to drink water from the same utensil as her for the reason that she was Christian.
He said the trial’s record demonstrate that there were some ambiguities in the prosecution’s case, counting her extrajudicial confession, irregularities in the statement of prosecution witnesses, and technical blunders on the part of the police.
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Pakistan: Gunships target militant hideouts in Dera Ismail Khan, SWA

Gunship helicopters targeted militants’ hideouts in Kolachi Tehsil of Dera Ismail Khan and mountains bordering South Waziristan Agency (SWA) Thursday. According to the sources, three gunship helicopters took part in the surgical strikes in Zarkani Luni and other adjoining areas. This is the fifth in a series of airstrikes targeted militant hideouts in the tribal areas. In the first strike on February 19, 30 militants were killed when military jets and gunships pounded their hideouts in North Waziristan and Khyber Agencies. Nine militants were killed in shelling on February 22 in Hangu. 38 militants including key commanders were killed when airstrikes were carried out in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on February 23. On February 25, 30 militants were killed in airstrikes in North and South Waziristan agencies.

Pakistan's Shia Genocide: Eminent Shia scholar Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi shot martyred by Yazidi terrorists
Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi embraced martyrdom in a terrorist attack by Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorists of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba/Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (now renamed as ASWJ) on Thursday noon. Shiite News Correspondent reported in the initial report that he was ambushed near Board of Secondary Education (BSE) Karachi in North Nazimabad. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the targeted murder of Allama Taqi Hadi Naqvi who they said was a famous Zakir-e-Ahl-e-Bait (AS) and a respected religious scholar among all Sunni and Shia Muslims.

5 rockets fired on Peshawar villages

Five rockets were fired at the provincial capital from an undisclosed location early Wednesday.The police said two rockets landed in fields near the airport in Nawan Killay village in the limits of Pishtakhara Police Station. Another two rockets fell inside a private school on the Warsak Road while one fell in the Regi village. No casualty or damage was reported in the attacks. Two projectiles that landed inside the private school did not explode and were defused on Wednesday.Peshawar has been under attack from the tribal areas for the last many days. However, the rocket attacks are the first one in last several months.

Pakistan campaigners say lift YouTube ban after US ruling

Pakistani Internet campaigners said Thursday there was no excuse for the government to maintain its ban on YouTube, after a US court ordered the removal of an anti-Islam film. The video-sharing website has been blocked in Pakistan since September 2012 over its failure to take down the "Innocence of Muslims" movie that sparked furious protests around the world. A US appeals court on Wednesday ordered Google, which owns YouTube, to remove the film after a lawsuit brought by an actress who says she was tricked into appearing in it. Pakistani technology think-tank Bytes for All said that with the removal of the crude movie, regarded as highly blasphemous by many Muslims, the government had no reason to maintain the ban. "We think that now the government of Pakistan has been left with no excuse to continue blocking access to YouTube," Shahzad Ahmed from Bytes for All told AFP. "But the ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government's desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition." There was no immediate response from the government. Religion in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population are Muslims, is a very sensitive topic and perceived insults to the faith can spark violent reactions. The American-made "Innocence of Muslims", which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a thuggish deviant, triggered protests across Pakistan that left more than 20 people dead. Free-speech campaigners in Pakistan have complained of creeping censorship in the name of protecting religion or preventing obscenity. In November 2011 the telecommunications authority tried to ban nearly 1,700 "obscene" words from text messages, which included innocuous terms such as "lotion", "athlete's foot" and "idiot". In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over alleged blasphemy. It continues to restrict hundreds of online links.

Pakistan won’t target militants who fight in Afghanistan

Pakistan announced Wednesday that it was ending its 7-month-old policy of trying to reconcile with its Taliban insurgents and vowing to answer each terrorist attack with military strikes on the militants’ strongholds in northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
But the government stopped short of abandoning its attempts to engage willing Taliban factions in a peace dialogue, underlining that Pakistan’s national security policy remains focused on restricting attacks within its borders, rather obliterating the militants altogether.
That means that militants who use Pakistan for a staging base to attack U.S. and Afghan forces in neighboring Afghanistan will still be allowed to operate, as long as they observe a cease-fire in Pakistan. Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, outlined the government’s policy toward insurgents in a 110-page document that he presented to Parliament but that has yet to be made public.
One of the document’s three sections, covering operational details, has been classified top secret, but will be shared soon with the heads of Pakistan’s political parties, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said.
The document makes it clear how the government intends to proceed with a widely expected military strike on insurgent forces in the country’s tribal areas, where the Pakistani air force has been conducting strikes with U.S.-built F-16 warplanes and Cobra helicopter gunships since the government called off talks with Taliban-nominated intermediaries on Feb. 18. The Pakistani Taliban are usually referred to as the TTP, the initials for their Urdu-language name, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. The main focus of the likely military strike is the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, where most of the TTP’s estimated 2,500 guerrilla fighters are based, along with a similar number of foreign al Qaida members, whose nationalities range from Uzbeks and Africans to Arabs and Westerners.
A second area expected to be besieged is the Tirah-Sadda region, where three tribal areas – Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai – converge, creating a strategic conduit between the northern and southern tribal areas as well as adjacent areas of Afghanistan to which TTP fighters have fled previous Pakistani military offensives. Pakistan’s Cabinet approved the new policy document Monday, but Sharif’s determination to move militarily against the TTP has been known for the past month after word leaked that the government had conveyed its plans to international allies – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States – in January. Sharif made his decision after the TTP refused to halt terrorist attacks in response to the government’s offer of peace negotiations. Sharif had suspended military operations against the TTP in September and persuaded the CIA to halt drone strikes in November. But the TTP stepped up attacks instead, killing at least 460 people and wounding 1,264, according to a briefing reported by Pakistani news media last week.
At talks in Washington, Pakistan asked the U.S. to help by securing the Afghan-side border of Pakistan’s pre-identified conflict zones. The State Department acknowledged that the request had been made on Feb. 17. That day, the TTP released a video that showed the decapitations of 23 Pakistani paramilitary troops, who’d been held hostage in Afghanistan since 2010. That and other murderous attacks infuriated Pakistanis, and prompted the government to announce Feb. 18 its withdrawal from talks. Operational arrangements with the U.S. were discussed Feb. 19 in Rawalpindi, Islamabad’s twin city and the headquarters of the military, with Gen Lloyd Austin, the chief of the U.S. military’s Central Command. CIA director John Brennan was briefed Feb. 21. Political analysts said the national security policy unveiled Wednesday offered an easy way out for militant factions that wanted to disassociate themselves from the TTP, however: They simply have to stop attacking Pakistani government forces.
That makes it likely that Pakistan won’t take any military action against the Haqqani network, an ally of the Afghan Taliban that controls significant territory in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal agencies. The network is a major source of friction between Pakistan and the United States, which previously has accused Pakistan’s security services of complicity in several of the network’s high-profile attacks on Afghan government and U.S. targets in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan. Widely viewed as a projector of Pakistan’s influence into Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has distanced itself from the TTP during the Taliban group’s six-year insurgency by signing peace agreements, fronted by the local Wazir tribe, that predate the 2009 launch of counterterrorism operations. Accordingly, it won’t be targeted by the Pakistani military as long as it doesn’t side with the TTP.
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Iran fires mortar shells into Pakistan

The Express Tribune
Less than a week after the formation of a Pakistan-Iran committee to check border violations and terrorist activities, Iranian border guards fired mortar shells into Pakistani territory on Wednesday. “Iranian border guards fired two mortar shells which landed near Peshuk check post in Panjgur,” a local official confirmed to The Express Tribune. Such violations continue unabated even though the matter was taken up with the Iranian diplomatic mission and their border security officials, he added. The official revealed that Iranian border guards fired five rockets in the same area on Monday but the incident was not reported to the media considering the sensitivity of the Pakistan-Iran relationship. “There were no casualties, though,” he added. On Friday, the joint border commission agreed on joint efforts for tracking down the five Iranian guards, who were allegedly abducted near the Pakistani border earlier this month.

Baloch marchers reach near Rawalpindi

Participants of a march held by relatives of the Baloch missing persons are just a few kilometres away from the federal capital, and it is expected that they will either enter Islamabad or Rawalpindi on Friday.
It is pertinent to mention here that the relatives of missing persons started their march from Quetta Press Club on October 27, 2013. Mama Qadeer Baloch, who is heading the march, told Dawn that he was eight kilometres behind Rawat and was determined to reach Islamabad.
“I received threatening phone calls and text messages but still we are continuing the march,” he said.
“As many as 60 persons started on foot from Quetta, but because of the long journey, some people fell ill. Some were unable to walk further so they stopped at various cities,” Mama Qadeer added.
“At the moment, there are nine women, three children and four men, including myself. Moreover, a large number of people are receiving us at every village, and they also accompany us for several kilometres,” he said.
Currently, the number of participants has started increasing as civil society activists and people from Balochistan, Kashmir and nearby areas are also joining us.
Various civil society organisations and human rights activists of the federal capital are also planning to receive the participants of the march.
Human rights activist Tahira Abdullah, while talking to Dawn, said: “We are sure that the sacrifices of the relatives of missing persons will be fruitful and it will have a positive effect on the people of Pakistan.” A senior police officer, requesting anonymity, said strict security measures were being taken as any incident might be embarrassing for the law enforcement agencies. “The number of participants has started increasing, due to which extremists can also take advantage. So some of the officials have also been deputed in plain clothes to march along with the participants,” he said. “We are getting information that the march might go to Rawalpindi and then come to Islamabad,” the officer added.
Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights Chairman Afrasiab Khattak and other members have also announced that they would receive the participants of the march in Islamabad.