Monday, March 17, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin officially recognized Crimea Monday as a sovereign independent state, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported, in a rebuff to new economic sanctions from the West and charges by the United States that Crimea's referendum on independence was illegal. The move followed a formal request from Crimea's parliament Monday calling for annexation by Russia, and the rejection of the Crimean vote by the White House and European Union, which issued a sanctions list against top Russian officials. The decree said Putin recognized Crimea as a "sovereign and independent" state as a result of the "will of the people of Crimea" as expressed at in Sunday's referendum, the Russian news agency reported. The presidential press service said the decree would take effect immediately. Crimean lawmakers were already in Moscow to ask the Russia parliament to annex Crimea, something that the United States and Europe say is a violation of international law and the Ukraine constitution. In Kiev, the parliament endorsed a plan to mobilize tens of thousands of reservists to counter Russia's "blatant aggression" in Crimea and to protect possible Russian incursions in southern and eastern parts of the country The country's defense minister Andriy Parubiy says 40,000 have volunteered to join the government's new national guard, set up just days ago. Many paramilitary groups such as Pravy Sektor, an extreme-right group present at anti-government protests that toppled Ukraine's former president in February have also been independently preparing for war. "What has taken place is a seizure, blatant aggression, the seizure by Russia of parts of the territory of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol," Parubiy told the chamber before the vote before the 450-seat assembly. Europe denounced the vote as well. "The referendum is illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognized," Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission said in a joint statement Sunday. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would address both houses of the Russian parliament on Tuesday to say what Russia should do. Russian troops have fanned out into Ukraine from a leased naval base on the Black Sea, and thousands of Russian troops are drilling on the Ukraine border, "Personally, I think there will be war," said Oleg Hadimov, who was collecting donations in Kiev for those injured during the city's winter protests against Russian-backed former President Viktor Yanukovych. "The Ukrainian army is not suited (to a fight against Russia). But the people will prevail." The diplomatic and parliamentary steps on all fronts followed the referendum Sunday in the semi-autonomous Crimea region in which. according to Crimea's election committee, 97% of voters backed a a break from Ukraine and a union between the largely ethnic-Russian peninsula and the huge neighboring country. Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov said on Twitter that the region would move to Russian time starting March 30. A delegation of Crimean lawmakers was set to travel to Moscow on Monday for negotiations on how to proceed. Russian lawmakers have suggested that formally annexing Crimea is just a matter of time. The United States and the European Union on Monday both issued new sanctions against Russia, whose troops have been occupying Crimea for several weeks.
The referendum in Crimea on Sunday has laid the legal foundation for Russia to take back this peninsula. The State Duma has said it was willing to accept Crimea's return, but the key figure in this contention, Russian President Vladimir Putin, hasn't given a clear attitude. Apparently, Putin's ambition is not merely to take another piece of land that makes up less than two-thousandths of Russia's entire territory. He wants the revival of Russia. Moscow believes that the West has been squeezing its strategic space since the fall of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, and Russia won't stop it unless it strikes a knockout punch. So far, no military frictions between major powers have taken place, but the Ukrainian crisis has prompted the West and Russia to reevaluate the other's hostility. Such an attitude may eventually destroy the basic trust between the two. What's worse, the West's resentment toward Moscow has turned into an animus against Putin, which has closed the door to any possible reconciliation between the two sides. The West perhaps believes it cannot accept a strategic setback in Ukraine. But defeat in Crimea is even more unacceptable to Russia and Putin. The West should be given a chance to extricate itself from the current situation. Russia is also in need of such a chance, as well as the West's restraint. Even if Western leaders realize they pushed Russia too hard on Ukraine, it will be difficult for them to readjust their strategies against Moscow. Putin and Moscow are obviously ready for a worst case scenario. There will not be a new Cold War in Europe, but the worsening of West-Russia relations is unavoidable. Once the confrontation between the West and Russia goes out of control, it is China that will suffer. Many countries will change their strategies, which will lead to changes to China's external strategic surroundings. China faces two tasks. The first is to urge all sides not to escalate the situation in Ukraine. It should play a mediating role between the West and Russia and help find opportunities to ease tensions. In the foreseeable future, the West and Russia will be at a crossroads. China's stance toward their confrontation will be key for the world to judge this stalemate. Second, China must remember the West's embarrassment even when Russia's GDP is not exactly stellar. The final say in a geopolitical competition is military strength. Having experienced the fall of the Soviet Union and economic slump, Russia still has enough military strength to leave the West in awe. China should speed up its military modernization, and especially develop its long-range nuclear strike capabilities. The resistance of Moscow this time may stir up the West's interest in evaluating the military strength of big powers. It is more likely that the military strength will be viewed as potential diplomatic leverage. Admittedly, China is relatively weak among major powers in this regard. Meanwhile, China lacks the experience and courage to confront the West. China should avoid confrontations, but we need to acquire the ability to not fear such a confrontation.
Whether by accident or design, whoever reached across the dimly lit cockpit of a Malaysia Airlines jet and clicked off a transponder to make Flight MH370 vanish from controllers' radars flew into a navigational and technical black hole. By choosing one place and time to vanish into radar darkness with 238 others on board, the person - presumed to be a pilot or a passenger with advanced knowledge - may have acted only after meticulous planning, according to aviation experts. Understanding the sequence that led to the unprecedented plane hunt widening across two vast tracts of territory north and south of the Equator is key to grasping the motives of what Malaysian authorities suspect was hijacking or sabotage. By signing off from Malaysian airspace at 1.19 a.m. on March 8 with a casual "all right, good night," rather than the crisp radio drill advocated in pilot training, a person now believed to be the co-pilot gave no hint of anything unusual. Two minutes later, at 1.21 a.m. local time, the transponder - a device identifying jets to ground controllers - was turned off in a move that experts say could reveal a careful sequence. "Every action taken by the person who was piloting the aircraft appears to be a deliberate one. It is almost like a pilot's checklist," said one senior captain from an Asian carrier with experience of jets including the Boeing 777. There is so far no indication whether the co-pilot was at fault or had anything to do with turning off the transponder. Pilots say the usual industry convention is that the pilot not directly responsible for flying the plane talks on the radio. Police have searched the premises of both the captain and co-pilot and are checking the backgrounds of all passengers. Whoever turned the transponder to "off", whether or not the move was deliberate, did so at a vulnerable point between two airspace sectors when Malaysian and Vietnamese controllers could easily assume the airplane was each others' responsibility. "The predictable effect was to delay the raising of the alarm by either party," David Learmount, operations and safety editor at Flight International, wrote in an industry blog. That mirrors delays in noticing something was wrong when an Air France jet disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009 with 228 people on board, a gap blamed on confusion between controllers. Yet whereas the Rio-Paris disaster was later traced to pilot error, the suspected kidnapping of MH370's passengers and crew was carried out with either skill or bizarre coincidences. Whether or not pilots knew it, the jet was just then in a technically obscure sweet spot, according to a top radar expert. Air traffic controllers use secondary radar which works by talking to the transponder. Some air traffic control systems also blend in some primary radar, which uses a simple echo. But primary radar signals fade faster than secondary ones, meaning even a residual blip would have vanished for controllers and even military radar may have found it difficult to identify the 777 from other ghostly blips, said radar expert Hans Weber. "Turning off the transponder indicates this person was highly trained," said Weber, of consultancy TECOP International. NOT IN THE MANUAL The overnight flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur is packed year-round with business people, Chinese tourists and students, attracted in part by code-sharing deals, regular travelers say. The lockdown of MH370 may have begun as early as 40 minutes into the flight at a point when meals are being hurriedly served in time to get trays cleared and lights dimmed for the night. "It was a red-eye flight. Most people - the passengers and the crew - just want to rest," a Malaysia Airlines stewardess said. "Unless there was a reason to panic, if someone had taken control of the aircraft, they would not have noticed anything." At some point between 1.07 a.m. and 1.37 a.m., investigators believe someone switched off another system called ACARS designed to transmit maintenance data back to the ground. While unusual, this may not necessarily raise alarms at the airline and the passengers would not have known that something was amiss, said some of the six pilots contacted by Reuters, none of whom agreed to be identified because of company rules. "Occasionally, there are gaps in the communications systems and the guys in ground operations may not think much of it initially. It would be a while before they try to find out what was wrong," said one captain with an Asian carrier. Cutting the datalink would not have been easy. Instructions are not in the Flight Crew Operating Manual, one pilot said. Whoever did so may have had to climb through a trap door in full view of cabin crew, people familiar with the jet say. Circuit-breakers used to disable the system are in a bay reached through a hatch in the floor next to the lefthand front exit, close to a galley used to prepare meals. Most pilots said it would be impossible to turn off ACARS from inside the cockpit, though two people did not rule it out. Malaysia Airlines said 14 minutes elapsed between the last ACARS message and the transponder shutdown that - in the growing view of officials - confirmed a fully loaded jet was on the run. The ACARS must have been disabled within 16 minutes after that. In the meantime a voice believed to be that of the co-pilot issued the last words from MH370 and the transponder went dead. HIDING IN FULL VIEW? The northeast-bound jet now took a northwestern route from Kota Bahru in eastern Malaysia to Penang Island. It was last detected on military radar around 200 miles northwest of Penang. Even that act of going off course may not have caused alarm at first if it was handled gradually, pilots said. "Nobody pays attention to these things unless they are aware of the direction that the aircraft was heading in," said one first officer who has flown with Malaysia Airlines. The airline said it had reconstructed the event in a simulator to try to figure out how the jet vanished and kept flying for what may have been more than seven hours. Pilots say whoever was then in control may have kept the radio on in silent mode to hear what was going on around him, but would have avoided restarting the transponder at all costs. "That would immediately make the aircraft visible ... like a bright light. Your registration, height, altitude and speed would all become visible," said an airline captain. After casting off its identity, the aircraft set investigators a puzzle that has yet to be solved. It veered either northwards or southwards, within an hour's flying time of arcs stretching from the Caspian to the southern Indian Ocean. The best way to avoid the attention of military radars would have been to fly at a fixed altitude, on a recognized flight path and at cruising speed without changing course, pilots say. Malaysian officials dismissed as speculation reports that the jet may have flown at low altitude to avoid detection. But pilots said the best chance of feeling its way through the well-defended northern route would have been to hide in full view of military radar inside commercial lanes - raising awkward questions over security in several parts of the Asia-Pacific. "The military radar controllers would have seen him moving on a fixed line, figured that it was a commercial aircraft at a high altitude, and not really a danger especially if he was on a recognized flight path," said one pilot. "Some countries would ask you to identify yourself, but you are flying through the night and that is the time when the least attention is being paid to unidentified aircraft. As long as the aircraft is not flying towards a military target or point, they may not bother with you." Although investigators refused on Monday to be drawn into theories, few in the industry believe a 250-tonne passenger jet could run amok globally without expert skills or preparation. "Whoever did this must have had lots of aircraft knowledge, would have deliberately planned this, had nerves of steel to be confident enough to get through primary radar without being detected and been confident enough to control an aircraft full of people," a veteran airline captain told Reuters.
The US and EU imposed sanctions Monday on senior Russian officials following a referendum in Ukraine's autonomous republic of Crimea on Sunday in which voters overwhelmingly supported secession and reunification with Russia. Those named on the US and EU lists of sanctions are banned from entry into the US and EU member states and their financial assets will be frozen. The US sanctions targeted seven top Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin, including the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. The White House also announced sanctions on ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and three other Ukrainians, including the Crimean Prime Minister, Sergei Aksyonov. The EU sanctions will be imposed for a six month period on a separate list of 10 members of the Russian parliament, three military commanders and eight Crimean officials, although the individuals targeted were not named except for the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Alexander Vitko. The moves came a day after a referendum in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking autonomous republic of Crimea saw over 96 percent of voters approve secession and reunification with Russia. The White House announced that the sanctions could be broadened if Russia moves to incorporate Crimea into its territory. Russian officials earlier promised a proportional response against EU and US officials if sanctions were forthcoming. The crisis in Ukraine began after Yanukovych stepped back from closer relations with Europe last fall, leading to months of often violent protests. Crimea has refused to recognize as legitimate the government that came to power following Yanukovych’s ouster by a vote of parliament February 22, instead declaring independence and seeking to join Russia.
Pakistan ObserverSindh Minister for information, archive and local government Sharjeel Innam Memon while condemning sad incident of attack on a temple in Larkana said Islam was a religion of peace, tranquility, brotherhood and respect. The perpetrator involved in that sad and shameful incident was held under Police’s custody and would face duelegal action against him. The Minister said that no conspiracy to cause Hindu minority to confront with Muslim majority while making a basis of Larkana incident would be foiled. Police have arrested the individual, who conducted attack on the temple in Larkana had already been arrested and he would be taken to task for his unpardonable crime as per law. He said that Sindh government was the custodian of places of worship of minorities and would compensate the loss and damaged done to the temple. The temple would be reconstructed under Sindh government’s aegis and all expenses would be borne by the provincial government. He said since Islam was the religion of peace and tranquility and always preached for respecting others’ religions and rituals and beliefs, there was no room in Islam for any misbehavior in any form, whether just verbal or by acts. Memon appealed to the people of Larkana to stay united and foil all conspiracies being hatched to cause Hindu and Muslim confrontation. The Minister said that Islam had ensured complete and equal rights for all humans especially the non-Muslim minorities and anyone conspiring to insult the rights and sentiments of the minoritywould face the music as per law of the country.
The Express TribuneThe Sindh government has been in constant action over the past week to provide relief to the drought-stricken people of Thar. According to an official statement, Sindh government officials and the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have taken several measures to respond to the situation in the region. On Saturday (March 15), PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, taking notice of the food shortage in Thar, advised Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to personally monitor ongoing relief activities, the statement said. He also advised Sindh Coordinator for Relief Efforts Taj Haider to remain in Thar until the completion of relief work. The same day, PPP Patron-in-Chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari visited the drought-affected region on his father’s advice and personally saw relief efforts. He visited patients at the Mithi Civil Hospital and asked the Sindh CM to expedite relief efforts. The Sindh CM also visited the general and children wards of the Mithi Civil Hospital and advised doctors to make arrangements to send patients to Hyderabad and Karachi, if needed. He announced the expense would be borne by his government and distributed cash among patients. The CM also directed Mirpurkhas division officials to make arrangements to distribute wheat among drought-stricken residents in a transparent manner. He himself distributed rations among 200 families and announced Rs200,000 as compensation for each recent death in Thar. Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon, meanwhile, said maximum facilities would be provided to the people of Thar and all their needs would be fulfilled. The statement, quoting Sindh Minister for Works Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, said the Sindh government had distributed 52,000 sacks of wheat among drought-stricken people by Thursday (March 13) and medical centres were set up in six districts of Thar. Quoting Taj Haider, it said, rations had been distributed among 104,000 families by Thursday. On Thursday, Sharjeel Memon also said a special package for the people of Thar would be included in the next fiscal budget. A day before (March 12), the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund was set up for Thar. The Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Department also set up an emergency hotline to work for the prevention of diseases in livestock animals in Thar. In a statement, the same day, Taj Haider said relief work had been started on ‘war footing’ and mobile medical teams were working round the clock to provide aid to the people of Thar. He also said the Sindh government would provide jobs to 6,000 people and lay a water supply line from Islamkot to Nangarparkar.
Washington D.C. area residents woke up to seven inches of snow - just days before the start of spring
Asia Bibi was arrested on blasphemy charges in 2009 after she was accuse by fellow Muslim women of contaminating local water by drinking it and then offending their prophet Muhammad. She was sentenced to death the following year. While speaking about here Pope Benedict XVI said “In these days the international community is following with deep concern the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan who are often victims of violence or discrimination. Today I express my spiritual closeness to Ms. Asia Bibi and her relatives in particular, while I ask that full freedom be restored to her as soon as possible. I also pray for all those in similar situations, so that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected.” The Lahore High Court is now hearing the appeal of Asia Bibi for her sentence to death on charges of blasphemy. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/pope-benedict-xvi-speaks-about-asia-bibi-accused-of-alleged-blasphemy-law/#sthash.yCcwZkUK.dpuf
Pakistani Christians Under Attack: Torture and Death Threats Against Christian School Principal and Two Women
A local Muslim cleric began confrontation last week against the Christian ‘Saint Paul High School’, which has been serving both Christian and Muslim children for the over 20 years.LEAD (Legal Evangelical Association Development) has taken the Catholic School on leasing agreement from the Catholic Board of Education. Mr. Zulifqar Masih, a Human Rights Defender and Field Coordinator of LEAD, is working as the Principal of the school. Christian and Muslim children of nearby villages have been getting an education here, since the school was establishment. On March 15, 2014, after during school vacation, three anonymous armed persons by force entered the school and started beating and torturing Zulifqar Masih, as well as two Women Rights Defenders; Mrs. Zulifqar and Mrs. Imran. The invaders took away some school documents and one laptop and they also threatened the sufferers that if they did not shut the school, they would have to face awful consequences including abducting and homicide.
- See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/pope-benedict-xvi-speaks-about-asia-bibi-accused-of-alleged-blasphemy-law/#sthash.yCcwZkUK.dpuf
Saudi Arabia has given $1.5 billion (Dh5.5 billion) to Pakistan to bolster the country’s falling foreign currency reserves and help cement security ties between the two countries. Senior officials at the finance ministry in Islamabad and the central bank in Karachi said that at least half of the funds, which were deposited in March, came as a grant. “The Saudi leadership has given these funds to Pakistan to help the rupee,” said one central bank official. “The other half [of the funds] could also eventually become a grant.” The injection of Saudi money will lift Pakistan’s liquid foreign reserves about 18 per cent and offer a boost to a struggling economy.The Saudi support to Pakistan follows a mid-February visit by Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Saudi crown prince, amid suggestions that Saudi Arabia is seeking an expansion of its security ties with Pakistan. In February a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia was seeking “a large number of [Pakistan] troops to support its campaign along the Yemeni border and for internal security”. The official confirmed that Pakistan’s agreement, during Prince Salman’s visit, to support the establishment of a “transitional governing body” in Syria was an important aspect of the deal. Islamabad had previously remained neutral and urged Syrian president Bashar Al Assad and his opponents to end the conflict peacefully. The Pakistani rupee has appreciated more than 4 per cent in the past three weeks with officials pointing to the Saudi assistance as one of the reasons for its strengthening. But some believe there are inherent risks for Pakistan, which is fighting an internal battle with Taliban militants, in getting closer to Riyadh. Historically, Pakistan has sought to maintain an even hand in public in its relations with predominantly Shiite Iran and largely Sunni Saudi Arabia. During Prince Salman’s visit an Iranian minister threatened to send troops across the border in to Pakistan if Islamabad failed to secure the release of five Iranian border guards kidnapped in the country. Officials in Tehran alleged the guards were taken by hardline militants backed by Saudi Arabia. The Iranian guards have still not been released. “We have to be careful in how we pursue our relations [with Saudi Arabia],” said Farooq Hamid Khan, a retired brigadier and commentator on security affairs. “As long as our security relations with Saudi Arabia are for internal security duties, that can be managed but we must not extend ourselves beyond that.” The Saudi assistance may help to support Pakistan’s weak economy though it cannot fund a long-term recovery, economists said. “The Saudi money for now has helped our reserves,” said Sakib Sherani, a former chief economist at the finance ministry. “But it’s early in the day. We need to build up on our progress. Pakistan’s economy needs to be put through other reforms too.” Last year, the IMF agreed to a $6.7bn loan programme for Pakistan. However, western diplomats say, Pakistan is riddled with challenges, notably energy shortages and domestic insecurity, which continue to deter investors. “In a country with major energy shortages, a low number of taxpayers and corruption in many areas, the Saudi money will help but only temporarily,” said one western diplomat in Islamabad.
Crimea held its controversial referendum yesterday. All observers believe the independence of Crimea is inexorable. As long as Moscow gives its consent, Crimea's return to Russia's embrace will be Europe's new political reality. On Saturday, the UN Security Council voted on the Ukraine resolution. Russia deployed its veto, which blocked the resolution condemning the referendum. China abstained. China's abstention shows its clear stance. It reflects the consistent principle of the Chinese government to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. The interference of the West in the Ukraine crisis has messed up the region and Russia was bound to respond. The problem is how the West and Russia should resolve rather than escalate the confrontation between the two. The West has kept making high-profile provocations and even announced sanctions on Russia. But Washington and its allies should be clear that it doesn't work for Russian President Vladimir Putin. If they think they can keep squeezing Russia's strategic space and Russia should grin and bear it, they are wrong. When the former Soviet Union suddenly collapsed, almost all of Eastern Europe fell for NATO and the EU and many Soviet republics joined NATO. It was Russia that bore the pressure from the sudden geopolitical change. The West has never considered Moscow's feelings but pressed harder on it. What happened in Ukraine last month, in essence, is an anti-Russia color revolution supported by the West. Opinions in the West must have expected that Putin would hit out. But the West didn't warn those supported by it to maintain restraint. Now the West starts to stress the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of a sovereign country. But why didn't it do it earlier? In 1999, NATO carried out air strikes against Yugoslavia for over 70 days without the authorization of UN. The independence of Kosovo was tailored by the West. Western opinions even take China's Tibet Autonomous Region as a "country." There is still some time between Crimea's referendum and Russia's "annexation" of the peninsula that belonged to Russia 60 years ago. Moscow has remained ambiguous on whether or not it will accept it. The West needs to readjust its Russia policy fundamentally if it wants Russia to change its stance toward Crimea and Ukraine. The compromise between the West and Russia has to be mutual. Since the Cold War, the US-led West has constantly carried out military attacks and sanctions on other countries without meeting vigorous challenges. Russia this time has dealt a heavy blow, though faults can be exploited under the international law. Reasoning and international law should become paramount principles in the international community. Double standards and principles that only favor Washington and the West should never prevail. The Crimea crisis should serve as an opportunity for the West to get things right. The outcome of this crisis should not be that Western interests continue to come first.
Crimea's regional assembly has declared independence from Ukraine and applied to become part of Russia, a day after a referendum in Crimea overwhelmingly supported joining the Russian Federation. A delegation of Crimean lawmakers is set to travel to Moscow Monday to discuss additional procedures required to become part of the Federation. Meanwhile, Ukraine's parliament endorsed on Monday a plan to mobilise 40,000 reservists to counter Russia's "blatant aggression" in Crimea.The United States and its European allies are expected to announce sanctions Monday against Russia. President Barack Obama told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Sunday that Washington and its "European partners are prepared to impose additional costs" on Moscow for backing the secession referendum in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. A White House statement called Sunday's referendum illegal and said it violates Ukraine's constitution. It also said the vote will "never be recognized by the United States and the international community." Crimea's election chief announced Monday that nearly 97 percent of the voters cast ballots supporting secession and a move to join Russia. However, those opposed to the move had been advised to boycott the referendum. In Kyiv, Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk - speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting - called the Moscow-backed Crimea vote "a circus spectacle" directed at gunpoint by Russia. An earlier White House statement said no decision should be made about the future of Ukraine without the Ukrainian national government. It also said the presidential elections planned for May 25 will provide a legitimate opportunity for all Ukrainians to make their voices heard on the future of their country. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday agreed to push for Ukrainian constitutional reforms for power sharing and decentralization as a solution to the crisis. The Duma set to act Meanwhile, Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Ukraine's Crimea region to join Russia “in the very near future”, Interfax news agency quoted the chamber's deputy speaker as saying on Monday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will respect the will of the people in Crimea, ignoring Western leaders who say the referendum was illegal because Russian forces have seized the southern region. “The results of the referendum in Crimea clearly showed that residents of Crimea see their future only as part of Russia,” the deputy speaker of the State Duma, Sergei Neverov, was quoted as saying. Duma officials claim the Black Sea peninsula can become a member of the Russian Federation under current legislation, specifically under a law “On the procedure for the adoption into the Russian Federation and education of new subjects of the Russian Federation” that was passed in 2001, Interfax said. First, Crimea's appeal to join Russia will be sent to Putin. If approved, Putin will then pass it to the upper and lower houses of parliament, which will work on a treaty to be signed between Russia and the new state. Under the treaty, a transitional period could be set for the new subject to be integrated into Russia's economic, financial, credit and legal systems. Following its signing, Russia's constitutional court should then verify the treaty. It should then be voted on by both houses of parliament, the Duma and the Federation Council. “I do not think there will be any delays in considering these questions in either the State Duma or Federation Council. We are ready to pass all the required legal decisions as quickly as possible,” the Federation Council's deputy speaker, Ilyas Umakhanov, told Rossiya-24 television. Situation on the ground In Kyiv, Ukraine's acting defense minister told reporters that both Ukraine and Russia have agreed on a truce in Crimea until March 21. Sunday's vote came a day after Russian forces seized a natural gas facility just outside Crimean territory. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called the move "a military invasion by Russia." Ukraine provides the peninsula with all of its water and energy needs, and some analysts say the seizure may be aimed at ensuring the peninsula's energy requirements are met in the event Kyiv were to cut off supplies. Crimea is a primarily ethnic-Russian region within Ukraine. Moscow says it has the right to protect the interests of ethnic Russians in Crimea. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Saturday Russian forces have seized the Ukrainian village of Strilkove, near the Crimean border. There are no reports of shots being fired, but the ministry called the takeover an "invasion" and demands that Russian soldiers leave. Ukrainian border guards say the Russians are guarding a gas pumping station in the town. Reactions in Kyiv Thousands of Ukrainians gathered in central Kyiv Sunday to voice opposition to the referendum and what the perceive as Moscow's moves to divide the Ukraine. But the mood was somber as many Ukrainians feel helpless against Russia's might and military superiority, many fearing a further escalation of tensions. Irina, a restaurant manager who only gave her first name, said Crimea's fate likely was already decided in Moscow. She said none of this was right. This could have been done in a nice way, in an honest way, she said. This could have been done in a constitutionally correct way. And it seems to me, she said, everyone would have agreed to that. Moscow claims it is protecting ethnic Russians from persecution by Ukrainian “extremists” who it says illegitimately came to power after months of anti-government protests. Another Kyiv resident, Ira, who also only gave her first name, said she had nothing against Russians. She said she loves and respects the Russian people as much as Ukrainians, but not their government. She expressed hope that everything ends well, everyone becomes united, and that Crimea remains with Ukraine.
Throughout my career as a doctor I have traveled from the mountains of Yemen to its deserts. I have seen first hand what happens when children give birth to children. I have seen the tombstones of girls who died too young because they married too young. Yemen is one of only two countries in the world with no legislation on a minimum age of marriage. With a national dialogue underway to establish a new constitution, there is now a chance to establish a safe age of marriage, protecting young girls who are currently married off as young as 9 years old. As I advocate to end child marriage in Yemen, I always remember my best friend at school. We would talk about our future and what we wanted to be when we grew up. We had big aspirations, as young girls should. My friend was the smartest girl in our class. Everything felt possible.
But when she was 13, she was told to leave school to prepare for her wedding. Her dreams ended. We were all so upset. I still remember her wedding day as we tried to support her. It was such a sad day for us all, a stark comparison for so many whose wedding day is remembered as the happiest of their lives.I was lucky. My parents did not want me to marry as a child. They were my firewall, protecting me from the pressure of all the people in my community who said I should marry. They were determined to give me a brighter future. As I carried on my studies, and became a doctor, the image of my friend's wedding always stayed with me. So many girls in my country don't have the right to say "No, I don't want that man or this kind of life." My friend moved away and we didn't stay in touch. My friend's story is not unusual. The UN estimates that one in three girls in Yemen are married before 18. Around the world, approximately 14 million girls are married as children every year.
The right to choose
To think of all the girls in my country who are forced into marriage, lose their personalities, their happiness and just have to obey what they are told to do, is what drives me forward in my work. Child brides don't talk about it, but they suffer. A recent study in Yemen has shown that girls who have their rights taken from them in this way do not forgive their parents, and there is a breakdown of family relationships.
As a doctor I see the complications young girls are suffering from as they give birth before their bodies are ready. Girls not Brides, a civil society network campaigning against child marriage, suggests that girls under 15 are five times more likely to die giving birthYemen has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. According to the White Ribbon Alliance, one in 90 women die in childbirth in my country. I cannot bear to continue to watch young women giving up their lives and having to give birth too young. We must support our girls and women by providing better maternal health care, access to family planning and safe abortion. We must work together to end early marriage so that all girls have the right to choose when and whom to marry and are able to finish their education, strengthening the bonds that are so important to us, with our friends and our family. We know how to fix these problems. We can tackle many issues if we tackle early marriage. Together in partnership with the White Ribbon Alliance in Yemen and many other activists we have been campaigning for a safe age of marriage for many years. Since the uprising in 2011, a new constitution is being drafted in my country. This is an opportunity to establish a minimum age of marriage. But it is a narrow window of opportunity. Too often girls have no voice, no choice, no access. I am determined to help them have a better future. My friend did not fulfill her dream, but by ending child marriage together we can make sure that girls in Yemen and around the world can fulfill theirs.
http://www.rferl.org/A second candidate has withdrawn from Afghanistan’s April 5 presidential election, leaving nine men officially on the ballot to succeed outgoing President Hamid Karzai. Former Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak gave no reason for his decision to drop out of the race in the March 16 announcement. Wardak, who was not considered among the top contenders, told reporters he had no plans to throw his support behind another candidate. Qayyum Karzai, a brother of Karzai, withdrew earlier this month. The leading contenders are widely believed to include former Foreign Ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rasul, and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani. Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the Taliban was ousted in late 2001, is constitutionally barred from serving a third presidential term.
http://www.foxnews.com/The main U.S. foreign assistance agency wants to step up use of smartphones, satellite imagery and GPS cameras to oversee tax-funded development projects in Afghanistan that aid workers no longer will be able to observe firsthand as American troops leave the country. The U.S. Agency for International Development on Saturday began seeking bids on a monitoring project contract that could cost up to $170 million. The agency hopes the five-year project will allow aid work to continue in Afghanistan despite the troop drawdown and will satisfy lawmakers and others who have criticized the agency for weak monitoring. Unless security improves significantly, Afghans hired by USAID contractors will increasingly be on the front line of overseeing the agency's largest single-country program. "As the U.S. prepares to have a smaller military footprint, it could become increasingly challenging for us to do our direct monitoring and have U.S. employees on the ground looking at things," Mark Feierstein, associate administrator for USAID, said in an interview. "We are going to try to do whatever oversight we can with USAID employees," Feierstein said. "If we conclude that even with the best technology we just can't have eyes and ears there, we just won't do the project." Since 2001, USAID has spent $12 billion on development projects in Afghanistan. Millions more will pour into the country in the years ahead. USAID-funded projects are monitored by aid workers, contractors, other U.S. government employees, USAID's internal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, the Afghan government and civil organizations, and the office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The new contract aims to enhance oversight by combining these existing monitoring techniques with stepped up use of high-tech tools. USAID already has used them in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq and certain areas of Colombia. The tools include satellite imagery, cameras that take photos with the time, date and GPS coordinates, and cellphones that can be used to collect data and conduct informal public opinion surveys. Typically, Afghans are hired to go to project sites and collect information useful in monitoring the work. Such work can put them in danger if they are seen by insurgents fighting America's presence in Afghanistan. The drawdown of forces and further restricted movement of U.S. civilian workers in Afghanistan has alarmed Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., long critical of waste and fraud in U.S. reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. At a Senate hearing this past week, McCaskill noted that the special inspector general's office predicts that soon no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. civilian oversight personnel. "Now that's a 47 percent reduction since 2009," McCaskill said. "We had eyes and ears on the majority of Afghanistan during a time period that ... billions of dollars of American taxpayer money was being spent to build things. We're only going to have eyes and ears in 21 percent of the country." In its most recent quarterly report, the special inspector general's office also expressed deep concern that oversight could suffer. "As the U.S. drawdown continues, implementing agencies and oversight bodies will have far less visibility over the reconstruction programs than in the past," it said in the report in January. In a letter to U.S. officials late last year, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said access had already become an issue. He noted that in 2013, his office was unable to visit $72 million in infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan because they were in areas that could not be reached by U.S. civilian employees. Sopko said five zones, encircling many of the highest-populated cities in the country, have been identified as having "possible oversight access." He said U.S. military officials have told his office that "requests to visit a reconstruction site outside of these oversight bubbles will probably be denied." U.S. military officials also have said they will provide civilian access only to areas within a 30-minute trip of an advanced medical facility, he wrote. In his letter, Sopko acknowledged USAID's work to use third-party monitors to oversee construction sites and said the State Department was looking at ways to expand access by periodically moving emergency medical and security forces to the edges of the oversight bubbles. "Even if these alternative means are used to oversee reconstruction sites, direct oversight of reconstruction programs in much of Afghanistan will become prohibitively hazardous
http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/Awami National Party (ANP) leader Senator Zahid Khan Sunday alleged that more than 10 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) ministers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were involved in corruption and misappropriation in KPK’s Sehat ka Insaf programme. In an interview to a private TV channel, Zahid Khan said the PTI ministers had previously made leaders of Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) escape goats to hide their own corruption. The ANP leader disclosed that the QWP representatives were not involved in any corruption; however, the PTI ministers were real culprits in this regard.
The fragile government of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is seriously menaced by its own disaffected members of the provincial assembly from Mardan who are trying to win support of fellow legislators to form a “forward bloc,” a euphemism for rebel group in the party. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government could face serious challenge if it loses support of only seven MPAs, the number the estranged group claimed has acquired. Chief Minister Pervez Khattak’s government has the support of 69 MPAs in the 124-member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Iftikhar Mashwani, who is one of the three disgruntled MPAs from Mardan, spoke rebellious about their plans. “We are going to make a ‘forward bloc’ if the chief minister didn’t change his behaviour and our reservations were not addressed,” he says. “We are three MPAs from Mardan and won support of four more from the southern districts of the province. One MPA is going to join us from Peshawar,” he said, indicating that they had already launched a campaign to form the ‘‘forward bloc.’’ Khalid Masood, provincial general secretary of PTI, debunked the seriousness of the division and expressed confidence that no “forward bloc” was going to appear in the party. “This is just a disagreement which will be solved in the coming two or three days,” he said when asked to comment on the threat posed by the MPAs to PTI. “Disagreement is part of democracy and we also have difference of opinion within our party,” he argued. The general secretary said the government faced no threat as the 18th Constitutional Amendment did not allow change of loyalty of members of the assembly. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Awami Jamhoori Ittehad Pakistan (AJIP). One of the coalition partners, the Aftab Sherpao-led Qaumi Watan Party was expelled by Imran Khan on charges of corruption. As the party has internal differences, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also has uneasy relations with JI and AJIP over the running of the affairs of the government. Iftikhar Mashwani alleged that Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had brought them to this point and he was responsible for it. He complained of discrimination in distribution of funds and continued refusal by the chief minister to meet them. “For two months, I have been requesting the chief minister for a meeting but he has yet to see us,” he said. “The MPAs are not being taken into confidence on the issues,” he complained.
I consider it a matter of urgency to inform readers about the plight of Asia Bibi, a mother of five and a Pakistani Christian. In 2009, she was tried and subsequently found guilty of the crime of blasphemy, the punishment for which is death by hanging. For the last four years, this woman has been held in solitary confinement without access to fresh water, light, heat or a toilet. She lives a meagre existence in Sheikhupura prison, Lahore in the Punjab Province of Pakistan. She is the first woman in this century to be found guilty of this crime and there is a reward of Fatwa, not only on her head, but on those of her family, who have been forced to flee from their village. There were only two people who tried to help Asia Bibi throughout her trial. They were the Muslim governor of the Punjab and Pakistan’s Christian Minister for Minorities. Both of whom have been assassinated. I am trying to bring to light the plight of this woman and her troubles have been highlighted by the book Blasphemy written by Anne Isabelle Tollet which was published in 2011. The royalties from this book have been donated to Asia Bibi’s family. Pope Benedict and Hillary Clinton have spoken up for her but her story was only heard by the world for one day and then silence. I would like to urge readers of Times of Malta to buy this book to help her family and to bring this story back into the media. I have written to many people, on her behalf, and to her in prison. In the name of freedom, Godliness and sanity, please help her and spread her story.
WITH 14 individuals on death row, 19 others serving life sentences and countless others awaiting sentences for blasphemy, “Pakistan’s blasphemy law is used at a level incomparable to others”. This is the most recent indictment against the country and the deeply problematic Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. It comes from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in its report Prisoners of Belief: Individuals Jailed under Blasphemy Laws that was released in Washington on Thursday. Whether the country is actually the worst in the world may be somewhat difficult to judge, given that the closed nature of countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran — for whom strong criticism is also reserved in the report — can mean that information is obfuscated or kept under wraps. Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue that the misinterpretation of the law is not common in Pakistan — and that this needs to change. The so-called blasphemy law as it currently exists on Pakistan’s law books is open to misuse. There is more than enough evidence of this, from it being used as a tool to settle personal rivalries to being invoked to create panic in communities so that people with malicious intentions may seize their land or properties. There have been horrifying cases where, even before the law enforcers got involved or at times despite their intervention, suspicions of blasphemy have led to lynch mobs and violence, as seen in Larkana on Saturday. One incident that comes immediately to mind is that involving Junaid Ahmed in 2011, a Chakwal seminary student whose actions were misunderstood by a passer-by and who was severely beaten by the angry mob that tends to gather whenever such an allegation is made, before being arrested. In point of technicality, the law serves to protect all religions, but is actually invoked only by the majority, not just against non-Muslims but against Muslims too. The fact of the matter is that the existence of this law in its open-to-abuse form lends legitimacy to the actions of those who would take the law into their own hands. It is time for parliament to examine Section 295-C, and take whatever steps are necessary to stop its misuse.
Eleven men of Shinwari tribe who had shifted from Khyber Agency and taken permanent residence in Faqir Kaley village were kidnapped in broad daylight on the morning of Saturday March 15 by twelve militants who had crossed over from the adjacent tribal area in two vehicles. The Fakir Kaley village is situated on the edges of Peshawar city. The abduction has a story behind it: The kidnapped men had previously received warnings and were threatened of dire consequences if they either did not join the militants or pay three thousand rupees per month each. Secondly, the warning was not the first of its kind. Such threats have been made by the militants before to the people in that very same area but, mostly. to the tribesmen who had shifted from Fata. Thirdly, the armed militants crossed over from the tribal area in two vehicles. It cannot be that the militants did not drive by a check post and even more so that they took the abducted men in the same vehicles and crossed back into the tribal area passing by, again, in front of the check post manned both by the police and FC men. How could they have come and then gone back along with the abducted men and remained undetected; it is a question that needs to be inquired into. The police and FC officials, who were patrolling the area jointly, as a matter of routine, argued that because the scared locals did not inform them at the time of the incident, they did not intervene. The excuse by the law enforcement men is outrageous. If they were not aware of the background situation, which was common knowledge in the area, and did not make special arrangements to ward it off, then the question is that what kind of law enforcement men were they and were they even fit to work in this department. The abduction and the law enforcement agencies' argument for not stopping the militants, bring forth the many misgivings that the general public all along had regarding the reasons of ineffective law enforcement in and around the metropolis. The taking of eleven individuals from their homes by force in itself is a time consuming and huge crime. It is shocking, especially, when the scene of the crime is so near the capital city. The failure of the special arrangements, like joint patrol by police and FC, made to specifically prevent such extraordinary crimes, adds to the insecurity of the ordinary people. Adding insult to injury is the excuse of the cops and FC men that the scared locals did not informed them. In fact it is the failure of the law enforcers that the citizens are scared even in their presence. There never are policemen posted on every nook and corner of every street anywhere. All police forces throughout the world have informers who update the cops not just on crimes currently taking place but of the crimes in the making. The question is why were there no informers in these areas and if there were; why did they not inform. The heads of the law enforcing agencies should take stock of the situation. Obviously, their claims regarding foolproof security arrangements were based on the plans which looked perfect on paper but left much to be desired when it came to implementing the same. A lot of these crimes are happening because the lower staff members that have to face the bullets are left unsupervised. It is now commonly believed that policemen hesitate to get involved in face off with the militants for the obvious reason that they are not actively backed by their officers. There hardly is any on-the-ground check by the highly placed officers to see that their orders are implemented in letter and spirit. The high-ups in the law enforcement agencies, it seems, are unaware that many of their field officers, instead of fighting insurgents, have adopted the attitude of coexistence towards the militants. In times such as these, we just do not need excellent strategy planners; we also need brave officers who lead their men by examples of bravery. That seems missing. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa IG police Nasir Khan Durrani is a very able and brave officer but he has to take some time out of the massive paper work that has bogged him down. He and his immediate assistant officers needs to start making surprise visits of the many check posts and try to find out the location of many police companies roving in their mobile vans and supposed to be making tours of the areas under their jurisdiction. He may be in for some rude shocks as during his visits he may find the many contradictions between what is on the paper and what is happening on the ground. As to the case of this particular abduction, IGP Durrani should hold an inquiry and dismiss all those responsible for not being able to stop a crime which was so much expected to happen.
indiatimes.comAs the death toll from the latest outbreak of poverty-driven diseases in Pakistan's Thar desert nears 100 children, experts are warning that corruption and a dysfunctional political system make a repeat of the disaster almost inevitable. The desert region in Tharparkar, one of Pakistan's poorest districts, spreads over nearly 20,000 square kilometres (7,700 square miles) in the country's southeast and is home to some 1.3 million people, including a large population of minority Hindus. Between March 2013 and February this year, rainfall was 30 per cent below usual, according to government data, with the worst-hit towns of Diplo, Chacro and Islamkot barely touched by a drop of water for months. Asif Ikram, the second most senior administration official in the district, told AFP on Thursday that the death toll from diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis since December 1 had risen to 161 people, including 97 children. Life in the desert is closely tied to rain-dependent crops and animals, with farmers relying on beans, wheat, and sesame seeds for survival, bartering surplus in exchange for livestock. The drought is not the only reason for the recent deaths — observers say they have come about as a result of endemic poverty, exacerbated by the drought and an outbreak of disease killing livestock. Authorities have been busy dispensing food aid and sending medics to attend to the sick following visits by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who leads the Pakistan People's Party which rules the province. But observers say the relief work fails to address the root causes of such disasters and warn they are likely to be repeated. A drought in the desert in 2000 killed 90 per cent of the livestock. Zafar Junejo, chief executive of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), says the region has long been ignored by Karachi, the provincial capital, because it is not considered an important constituency politically. According to the last census, Hindus make up 40 per cent of the district's population, unlike most of Pakistan which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and Junejo said the authorities have little concern for the suffering of minority communities. "We are fortunately or unfortunately a mixed Hindu and Muslim population," he said. "Fortunate because we are living in peace and harmony unlike the rest of the country where radicalization is in vogue. But also unfortunate because being Hindu and being secular we do not fit in the official ideological definition of the country," he added. Javed Jabbar, founder of Banh Beli non-government organisation which works in the area, added: "When you have Karachi with 18 million people, Tharparkar is relatively less important from a political radar point of view." Jabbar, a former federal information minister, added that the district has fallen victim to "a failure to enforce accountability due to considerations of partisanship" that has afflicted the province for years. He cited the case of five doctors in the province who were able to keep their jobs despite being absent from their posts for years, because of connections to political patrons. Residents and activists say the effects of drought can be mitigated by global lessons in dry regions, such as the conservation of rainwater. "Rainwater harvesting should be made mandatory all over the country and especially in this part," said Abid Channa, a local social activist, complaining of the district's lack of reservoirs despite decades of disasters. Jairam Das, a 49-year livestock farmer who lost 10 sheep and two goats to the recent outbreak of animal disease, said he and other villagers were envious of Indian villages just a few kilometres (miles) away across the border. "In the bordering town of India there is greenery all around as their government has spread a network of irrigation and piped drinking water," Das said. "We have a similar climate but the lack of water is a major hurdle," Das said. On the Indian side of the border, the 400-kilometre Indira Gandhi canal through the Thar desert in the state of Rajasthan is a lifeline for isolated communities and farmers who use the water for irrigation for crops and drinking water when needed. Jabbar, the ex-minister, added more planning was needed ahead of droughts. "When you see signs in a particular year, you move supplies of fodder and nutritional supplements in advance of the drought not after it," he said. One positive he noted was the extensive television coverage the disaster had received, thanks to the growth of Pakistan's media, and the pressure it had applied on government to no longer ignore the area.