Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sumaira Naz Urdu Song

Haifa Wehbe "Wahde" (Alone) English subtitles وحدی هيفاء وهبي

Singer Haifa Wehbe-Miss Lebanon singing

Saudi Arabia Trains Chechens to Operate in Syria: Report

Syrian Opposition sources and Western analysts agreed that Saudi Arabia has facilitated the recruitment of more than 1,000 Islamist fighters from Russia’s autonomous Chechnya in preparation for being sent to Syria, the American World Tribune newspaper reported.
Analysts said the Chechens significantly bolstered their presence in the Sunni revolt in Syria since Riyadh assumed responsibility for the war against the President Bashar Assad in late 2013.
“One group of foreign fighters is especially worth noting,” David Kilcullen, chairman of Caerus Associates, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 26.
“Chechens from the Caucasus, Uzbeks from Central Asia, and Tatars from the Crimea have traveled to Syria in recent years to fight a key Russian ally, learn military skills and participate in the jihad at a time when Russian operations, and those of Russia’s local allies, have made it harder to operate in the Caucasus.”
Chechnya face Russia in a long-term struggle for independence since the nineteenth century, and modern warfare began between Russians and Chechens in the mid- nineties where Dmoatan wars broke out with Russia in 1994 and 1999 .
With the Syrian war outbreak, dozens of Chechens moved to the Levant and became influential in different Brigades.
Moreover, a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation said last year that Chechen fighters in Syria are divided into two main categories: the first includes Chechen students studying Arabic and Islam in the Arab countries, and the second constitutes of Chechens who came from the Pankisi Gorge, northeast Georgia.
It is noteworthy that the Islamic Emirate of Caucasus expressed reservations on the fighters' travel to Syria, but urged them to join the opposition armed mercenaries in the North Caucasus.
A source in the North Caucasus revealed the reasons behind their desire to go to Syria, saying: "You application remains suspended for a year until you are accepted, then you begin to move between apartments and get martyred before reaching the mountains. Also there is no training camps such as the one in Syria, and there isn't enough support to accommodate everyone, so Syria became a utilized training field."
Syria was hit by a violent unrest since mid-March 2011, where the Syrian government accuses foreign actors, mainly the Saudi Arabia and Turkey, of orchestrating the conflict by supporting the militant opposition groups with arms and money.
Today hundreds of armed groups, including terrorist takfiri brigades affiliated with Al-Qaeda, are battling both the national army and each other, complicating any efforts to reach a political settlement.

Pharrell Williams - Happy ( Music Video)

Video:Easter in Syria: President Assad visits an ancient Christian town

Kuwait papers suspended over coup plot story

Al Watan and Alam Al Yawm newspapers ordered to stop printing for weeks after violating media blackout of investigation.
A Kuwaiti court has temporarily suspended the publication of two independent newspapers over articles about a secret probe into allegations of a coup plot to overthrow the Gulf monarchy's government, the official state news agency reported. KUNA issued a statement on Sunday by the Information Ministry saying it notified Al Watan and Alam Al Yawm newspapers of the suspension because they had violated a prosecutor-ordered media blackout of the investigation. According to the ministry, a judge ordered the newspapers to stop printing for two weeks. The deputy editor-in-chief at Al Watan, Waleed al-Jassim, said his newspaper regretted the decision and planned to contest the ruling. Two television stations owned by Al Watan have been closed in compliance with the ban as well, al-Jassim said. Both stations were off the air late Sunday. Al-Jassim said the newspaper's website will stay online because it falls under a different jurisdiction. Kuwait prides itself on having the Gulf's most free-wheeling political system and a vibrant press, but denouncing the Western-backed emir is illegal. The Kuwaiti prosecutor's office earlier this month ordered that a probe into the videotape be held in secret and called for a media blackout of the investigation. The tape purportedly contains allegations of a plot to topple the ruling system led by the emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah. Public Prosecutor Dherar al-Asousi has said the media blackout is necessary to preserve the public interest.

India: For Hindu nationalists, a chance to right wrongs

From a distance, the scene is as colorful as any in India. Men dressed as Hindu deities, with tinsel crowns and tridents, wait for their turn on the stage. Teenagers saunter by trucks carrying effigies of mythological heroes and listen to speeches.
Yet a closer look reveals elements that are less picturesque. The speakers are repeating well-worn slogans common among hard-line elements of India’s religious right. The young men are armed, some with ceremonial swords of little use, but others with combat knives and heavy-bladed hatchets.
“This is our tradition,” one says. “We are showing that we, too, are strong.”
The young men are from the Bajrang Dal, a youth organization dedicated to advancing a rigorous and revivalist version of Hinduism. The meeting last week in Delhi, the capital, was organized to celebrate the birthday of Hanuman, the monkey god.
“The others are always showing their strength. Now it’s our turn,” said Nala Kumar Thakur, an 18-year-old student from south Delhi, demonstrating slashing strokes with his saber. “All Hindus should know that their culture is under threat.”
The teens of Bajrang Dal believe they may soon have something else to celebrate. With the Indian election moving into its final weeks — the process of balloting 815 million eligible voters takes nearly two months — their favored candidate appears set to win in this emerging economic power of 1.2 billion people.
That candidate is Narendra Modi, the 63-year-old who leads the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Bajrang Dal is among the most militant of the many nationalist and religious organizations active in India that come under the umbrella of the Sangh Parivar (family of associations), which has been linked to a variety of violent acts. The BJP is perhaps the most moderate. Positioned somewhere between the two is the vast Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Association), which Modi joined around the age of 10. Many in India, and some observers overseas, are concerned by the possibility that an RSS veteran might soon run the country. Critics say that Modi stood by when 1,000 mainly Muslims died in sectarian violence in the state of Gujarat in 2002, shortly after he became chief minister there, and their fears for India’s communal harmony are thus well-founded. Last week, 60 Bollywood personalities called on their countrymen to vote for the incumbent Congress party, despite its reputation for graft and economic mismanagement after 10 years in power, “to protect our country’s secular foundation”. In a letter to The Guardian, others, including Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor and author Salman Rushdie, argued that a Modi win would threaten the pluralism enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
But a Supreme Court investigation did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate the charges against Modi relating to the 2002 riots, which he denies, and other figures from the film world have backed him as a “visionary leader.” Some dismiss Kapoor and Rushdie as out of touch. Modi’s supporters also stress that Gujarat has been peaceful since 2002, unlike parts of India run by other parties, and claim that Modi’s pro-business policies have led to growth that has benefited all local groups.
Underlining the ideological roots of the BJP in the powerful, if low-profile, religious and nationalist right-wing movement is the unprecedented operation launched by groups from the Sangh Parivar to maximize Modi’s chances of victory.
In Indian polls, the first-past-the-post system combines with long-standing traditions of voting in blocs for community interests to give a small number of swing voters a massive impact. This means the work of the giant but highly disciplined RSS, as well as smaller fringe groups such as the Bajrang Dal, can be critical.
“Their significance varies from place to place but . . . they can have a very high impact,” said Varghese K George, political editor of the Hindu newspaper.
Just how much the RSS, which was formed in 1925 to encourage a resurgence of Hindu culture in the face of British colonial rule, is helping Modi’s campaign is hard to determine in crowded cities such as Delhi. But in places like the small temple town of Vrindavan, a scruffy collection of shrines, ashrams, potholed streets and tenements 190 km east of the capital, the depth of the collaboration is clear.
This region, on the margin of the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is the Hindi heartland. Political strategists know the road to power in Delhi lies through the rough, poor state’s cities, towns and multitude of villages. It is here that the BJP has made its biggest effort, with the RSS at the vanguard.
Every morning a score of local men gather at 6 a.m. for the drill session that is the principal ritual of the RSS. They sing, pray to “Mother India,” drill and do exercises, part of another 40,000 such meetings simultaneously held nationwide.
“This is a daily routine for tens of millions of people across India. The RSS is the most strong and most popular volunteer organization in the world. Our goal is to spread the love of the motherland among all society,” math professor Dr. Krishna Kumar Kanodia said as men behind him marched in lines and went through yoga routines.
Kanodia, who joined the RSS 30 years ago, said that India was at a turning point. “There is a new age dawning,” he said. “It was prophesied 178 years ago. The future of India will shine. The U.S. is just an economic and military superpower. We will be greater than that, because we will be a cultural superpower too. People must vote for the best leader for national power.” After the drill session, the men spread out through Vrindavan, which goes to the polls this week. The RSS leadership, having controversially decided to mobilize its cadres for the election, has said it will not endorse any single candidate, even Modi, who has sprung from its own ranks, but will only call on voters to cast their ballots in the national interest.
“The tradition in the RSS . . . was that the organization prevailed over the man, and leaders had a collective decision-making process and never projected a single individual,” said professor Christophe Jaffrelot, a specialist in South Asian extremist organizations at King’s College London.
But as the activists move through the streets of Vrindavan, handing out BJP leaflets featuring Modi’s portrait, there was no such reticence. “We tell people to vote for Modi,” said small business owner Harish Bhartia, 47. “He is the strongest person of India. He can tackle our problems.” Phone numbers are recorded so each RSS activist can make hundreds of calls on polling day to make sure supporters have voted.
“RSS leaders may be worried at making their organization dependent on one man (but) Modi has galvanized the urban middle class and the . . . activists. The RSS need Modi more than he needs them,” said Jaffrelot.
For the BJP, this is a huge boost, giving it the organizational firepower to take on the local networks of the Congress party, in power for all but 13 years since India gained independence in 1947. Heema Malini, a former film star and BJP candidate for the Mathura constituency that includes Vrindavan, said the RSS had helped her campaign “very well” as she addressed a meeting of activists from the organization and from the more militant Vishva Hindu Parishad on Friday. Despite little talent for public speaking or enthusiasm for meeting voters, Malini is expected to win easily. RSS activists and officials say they do not discriminate on the basis of religion. Several pointed out there were senior Muslim officials in the BJP. But dozens of conversations reveal a worldview that is deeply sectarian. Few endorse the sentiment of the Bajrang Dal official in Delhi who told The Observer that India’s 150 million Muslims were not “really Indian” because they prayed facing Mecca, but many claim Indian Muslims are loyal to Pakistan rather than India, are attempting to win a “demographic war,” and support terrorism. Both the Muslim Mughal dynasty, which ruled much of South Asia from the 16th to 19th centuries, and British imperialists are seen as foreign invaders who between them destroyed a perfect Hindu rural society. All accuse successive Indian governments of “appeasement” and favoritism toward religious minorities. “This current government is working for the Muslims and only for the Muslims,” said Padma Nabh Goswami, a full-time RSS activist in Vrindavan. The RSS worldview is also deeply conservative — and expansionist. Many RSS activists blamed a recent surge in sexual violence in India on the influence of “Western ideas.” For Padam Singh, the head of the RSS in Vrindavan, today’s India is a stunted colonial creation and a mere shadow of “Greater Bharat,” a civilization-based state stretching from Afghanistan to Indonesia. “This election is about change. And that means bringing Mr. Modi to power,” Singh said.
The predicted victory of Modi thus poses many questions. How close is the former top RSS organizer’s ideology to the group of today? How much influence will the many other senior RSS members currently in top posts in the BJP have if the party takes power? How will fringe groups like the Bajrang Dal react to victory? Could, or would, Modi restrain them if they launch new campaigns? And how far could Modi actually implement any radical agenda, given the complexity of India’s political system and the necessity of coalitions and consensus building?
For the moment, there are no answers. Modi has already shown he is prepared to reject key parts of the RSS agenda, such as a commitment to economic self-sufficiency, and downplay others, even a demand to build a Hindu temple at the contested site in Ayodhya. He has also distanced himself from militant groups like the Bajrang Dal. Most voters appear to have decided that Modi can bring jobs, end graft, reinvigorate economic growth and restore battered national pride. Other concerns appear secondary.

Twitter blocks two accounts on its Turkish network
Social networking site Twitter blocked two accounts on Sunday, after the users were accused of spreading corruption allegations about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his aides.
The move came after a series of high-level meetings between the Turkish government and executives from the company last week and after Ankara provoked a storm in March by trying to ban the network in the country entirely.
The accounts blocked on Sunday had published a series of leaks ahead of the municipal elections on March 30, including phone conversations which appeared to link the government and the prime minister to a vast corruption scandal.
Users reported that the two accounts were reported as "withheld" when they tried to access them from within the country over the weekend.
Twitter's global policy team said it withholds content only "after due process", such as after having received a court order, and in a tweet said it would not do so "at the mere request of a government official".
It added that it would not give details of the two accounts' users to the government.
"Twitter has not provided and will not provide user information to Turkish authorities without valid legal process," it said.
The government, which accuses those behind the accounts of publishing false and harmful content, is also pressing the company to hand over details on the owners of a dozen other accounts.
Erdogan has asked Twitter — which has 10 million users in Turkey — to open a liaison office in the country, and has criticised the microblogging site for not paying taxes there.
Twitter has ruled out any such move, refusing to open an office in a state that tried to ban the site, and has rejected charges of tax evasion. It said its advertising sales in Turkey are handled through a reseller that pays applicable levies. Erdogan's government had to unblock Twitter on April 3 after the country's top court ruled that the ban breached constitutional guarantees on free speech.
The video-sharing site YouTube has been blocked in Turkey since the end of March despite two separate court orders calling on the ban to be lifted, after an audio recording allegedly showing top civilian and military officials during high-level security talks on Syria was posted on the site.

Easter in Ukraine

Easter delivers signs of hope in Ukraine as residents express optimism despite attacks, turmoil.

Scottish independence poll:Yes on brink of victory

ALEX Salmond is on the brink of securing a historic victory in the referendum, according to an exclusive poll suggesting Yes Scotland needs a swing of just over 2 per cent to win independence.
A landmark ICM survey for today’s Scotland on Sunday reveals a decline in the No vote from 46 per cent to 42 per cent over the past month. Over the same period, the Yes vote has remained steady at 39 per cent, resulting in a significant tightening of the gap between the two sides.
When the 19 per cent “don’t knows” are excluded from the equation, the No vote stands at 52 per cent, with 48 per cent in favour of Scotland going it alone. This is the highest level of Yes support to be recorded by an independently commissioned opinion poll.
Further analysis reveals that the 460,000 people who live in Scotland but were born in England could play a major role in the outcome of the referendum. According to the survey, the 15 per cent of the 1,004 sample who were born in England are far more likely to vote No than their Scottish-born counterparts.
Only 28 per cent of English-born voters say they will vote Yes, compared with 58 per cent who say they will vote No.
This contrasts with Scots-born voters who, taken alone, are in favour of independence by 42 per cent to 40 per cent. The small sample size means some caution is required. But yesterday Professor John Curtice, the Strathclyde University elections expert, acknowledged that the reluctance of English-born voters to embrace independence could prove crucial when votes are cast on 18 September. “In a tight race, they could yet hold the key to the referendum,” Curtice said. “It is an indication that appealing to the non-Scots-born part of the population is rather more difficult for the Yes side to achieve.
“They are more likely to retain a sense of British identity and they are more likely to want to remain part of the UK. They are internal UK migrants.”
Looking at the responses to the independence question as a whole, Curtice said that today’s survey was the closest seen so far in the referendum campaign, which will heat up this week as both sides launch new poster campaigns in an attempt to win more people to their causes. “This is another poll showing the No side is in a real battle if it wants to keep Scotland in the Union,” said Curtice. “When the ‘don’t knows’ are excluded, it is the highest Yes vote in a poll that has not been commissioned by a partisan organisation.” The poll is the latest in a series of surveys that have made worrying reading for the Better Together campaign. This week, Labour will attempt to rejuvenate the No campaign by holding a meeting of its shadow cabinet in Glasgow on Friday. In what promises to be a big week for Ed Miliband’s party, former prime minister Gordon Brown will speak from a Better Together platform for the first time on Tuesday when he will argue that an independent Scotland would struggle to cover escalating pension costs.
Until now, Brown has only spoken on constitutional matters under a Labour banner. His decision to join the cross-party Better Together will be seen as an attempt to bury his differences with Alistair Darling, the campaign leader. Critics of Better Together’s strategy have suggested that Labour’s “big beasts”, such as shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy, should do more campaigning for the UK.
By holding its shadow cabinet north of the Border, Labour is signalling that its big players are stepping up their fight for the Union. All members of Labour’s top team will be out campaigning for a No vote from Inverness to the Borders. The shadow Scottish secretary, Margaret Curran, said: “This week we will be saying loud and clear that the best prospects for a stronger Scotland lie with Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.” Last night, Scotland on Sunday’s poll was welcomed by Yes Scotland’s chief executive, Blair Jenkins. He said: ‘This is another very encouraging poll – the narrowest gap in the campaign so far and a swing of just two points is all that is needed to put Yes ahead, which we are confident of achieving.
“Our latest poster campaign shows that we are stepping up activity further in the months ahead to achieve a Yes vote on 18 September – and deliver a fairer, more prosperous country to benefit everyone who lives here.”
Jenkins added: “The extreme negativity of the No campaign is proving a major turn-off for voters, and month by month they are paying the price.” Better Together’s campaign director, Blair MacDougall, said he was unsurprised that people born in England were in favour of retaining the Union.
“It’s no surprise that people born elsewhere in the UK now living in Scotland strongly support keeping the UK together.
“With such strong bonds of culture, history and family it’s clear that we are stronger and better together as part of the UK,” MacDougall said. On the poll’s overall independence finding, MacDougall said: “This poll shows support for leaving the UK at the same level as last month and is just the latest poll to show a majority of Scots want to remain in the UK.
“Whilst it is welcome that there is a majority in favour of keeping the UK together, this poll is a reminder that there can be no complacency from those who believe that the brightest future for Scotland is to remain in the UK.”
He added: “With the launch of our advertising campaign tomorrow and a big grassroots campaign push, we will be fighting hard for every single vote between now and polling day. Everybody who wants to keep Scotland in the UK needs to play their part.” John Curtice: Yes side has much to do in SNP’s NE heartland ACCORDING to our latest poll, the Yes side could be close to taking the lead in the referendum race. But what does it have to do if the progress made so far is to be turned into victory in September? Our ICM poll provides four vital clues. First, the Yes side actually needs to shore up its own vote. Only 10 per cent of No voters say they might change their mind about which way to vote, while no less than 18 per cent of Yes voters do so. That eight- point difference is bigger than in any of ICM’s previous polls this year. The Yes side needs to recognise that unless voters are provided with the necessary reassurance, the ‘leap’ to independence could come to seem a step too far for some voters as polling day draws near. Second, the Yes side has work to do in the nationalists’ own back yard. Although there has been much commentary about how it is scooping up Labour supporters (and no less than 24 per cent of those who voted Labour in 2011 say they intend to vote Yes), rather less is heard about the 14 per cent of 2011 SNP supporters who intend to vote No. Of particular note is the relative weakness of the Yes side in the North-east, where SNP support is highest. Across all four polls ICM has conducted this year, Yes support in the region (after Don’t Knows are excluded) has averaged 41 per cent. Only in the Lothians is the equivalent figure lower (40 per cent).
In general, support for independence is higher among less well-off C2DE voters (53 per cent once Don’t Knows are excluded) than among more middle class ABCI (42 per cent). But the North-east contains a higher than average proportion of ABC1 voters.
It looks as though the Yes side needs to persuade middle class SNP supporters in the region to follow up their previous support for Alex Salmond with a Yes in the referendum. Third, the Yes campaign needs to become more effective at translating scepticism about the prospects for more devolution into support for independence. As many as two-fifths of No supporters (38 per cent) want more devolution, but only two-fifths (41 per cent) think it will happen. However, only 4 per cent of No supporters say they would vote Yes if by September they were convinced Holyrood would not get more powers. There is a much larger group, 16 per cent, who say they do not know what they would do. They are a group Yes needs to reach. Finally, the Yes side needs to build on the progress it has made in persuading Scots of the economic case for independence. Back in September, 48 per cent of Scots thought independence would be bad for the economy, while only 31 per cent reckoned it would be good. That 17-point pessimism gap is now down to four points. Nothing does more to persuade voters of the merits of voting Yes than the prospect of a more prosperous future. But at the moment there are still rather more pessimists than optimists.

In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin

Even as the crisis in Ukraine continues to defy easy resolution, President Obama and his national security team are looking beyond the immediate conflict to forge a new long-term approach to Russia that applies an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment. Just as the United States resolved in the aftermath of World War II to counter the Soviet Union and its global ambitions, Mr. Obama is focused on isolating President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia by cutting off its economic and political ties to the outside world, limiting its expansionist ambitions in its own neighborhood and effectively making it a pariah state.
Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.
“That is the strategy we ought to be pursuing,” said Ivo H. Daalder, formerly Mr. Obama’s ambassador to NATO and now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “If you just stand there, be confident and raise the cost gradually and increasingly to Russia, that doesn’t solve your Crimea problem and it probably doesn’t solve your eastern Ukraine problem. But it may solve your Russia problem.”
The manifestation of this thinking can be seen in Mr. Obama’s pending choice for the next ambassador to Moscow. While not officially final, the White House is preparing to nominate John F. Tefft, a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania.
When the search began months ago, administration officials were leery of sending Mr. Tefft because of concern that his experience in former Soviet republics that have flouted Moscow’s influence would irritate Russia. Now, officials said, there is no reluctance to offend the Kremlin.
In effect, Mr. Obama is retrofitting for a new age the approach to Moscow that was first set out by the diplomat George F. Kennan in 1947 and that dominated American strategy through the fall of the Soviet Union. The administration’s priority is to hold together an international consensus against Russia, including even China, its longtime supporter on the United Nations Security Council.
While Mr. Obama’s long-term approach takes shape, though, a quiet debate has roiled his administration over how far to go in the short term. So far, economic advisers and White House aides urging a measured approach have won out, prevailing upon a cautious president to take one incremental step at a time out of fear of getting too far ahead of skittish Europeans and risking damage to still-fragile economies on both sides of the Atlantic.
The White House has prepared another list of Russian figures and institutions to sanction in the next few days if Moscow does not follow through on an agreement sealed in Geneva on Thursday to defuse the crisis, as Obama aides anticipate. But the president will not extend the punitive measures to whole sectors of the Russian economy, as some administration officials prefer, absent a dramatic escalation.
The more hawkish faction in the State and Defense Departments has grown increasingly frustrated, privately worrying that Mr. Obama has come across as weak and unintentionally sent the message that he has written off Crimea after Russia’s annexation. They have pressed for faster and more expansive sanctions, only to wait while memos sit in the White House without action. Mr. Obama has not even imposed sanctions on a list of Russian human rights violators waiting for approval since last winter. “They’re playing us,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said of the Russians, expressing a sentiment that is also shared by some inside the Obama administration. “We continue to watch what they’re doing and try to respond to that,” he said on CNN on Friday. “But it seems that in doing so, we create a policy that’s always a day late and a dollar short.”
The prevailing view in the West Wing, though, is that while Mr. Putin seems for now to be enjoying the glow of success, he will eventually discover how much economic harm he has brought on his country. Mr. Obama’s aides noted the fall of the Russian stock market and the ruble, capital flight from the country and the increasing reluctance of foreign investors to expand dealings in Russia.
They argued that while American and European sanctions have not yet targeted wide parts of the Russian economy, they have sent a message to international businesses, and that just the threat of broader measures has produced a chilling effect. If the Russian economy suffers over the long term, senior American officials said, then Mr. Putin’s implicit compact with the Russian public promising growth for political control could be sundered.
That may not happen quickly, however, and in the meantime, Mr. Obama seems intent on not letting Russia dominate his presidency. While Mr. Obama spends a lot of time on the Ukraine crisis, it does not seem to absorb him. Speaking privately with visitors, he is more likely to bring up topics like health care and the Republicans in Congress than Mr. Putin. Ukraine, he tells people, is not a major concern for most Americans, who are focused on the economy and other issues closer to home.
Since returning from a trip to Europe last month, Mr. Obama has concentrated his public schedule around issues like job training and the minimum wage. Even after his diplomatic team reached the Geneva agreement to de-escalate the crisis last week, Mr. Obama headed to the White House briefing room not to talk about that but to hail new enrollment numbers he said validated his health care program.
Reporters asked about Ukraine anyway, as he knew they would, and he expressed skepticism about the prospects of the Geneva accord that his secretary of state, John Kerry, had just brokered. But when a reporter turned the subject back to health care, Mr. Obama happily exclaimed, “Yeah, let’s talk about that.” That represents a remarkable turnaround from the start of Mr. Obama’s presidency, when he nursed dreams of forging a new partnership with Russia. Now the question is how much of the relationship can be saved. Mr. Obama helped Russia gain admission to the World Trade Organization; now he is working to limit its access to external financial markets.
But the two sides have not completely cut off ties. American troops and equipment are still traveling through Russian territory en route to and from Afghanistan. Astronauts from the two countries are currently in orbit together at the International Space Station, supplied by Russian rockets. A joint program decommissioning old Russian weapons systems has not been curtailed.
Nuclear inspections under the New Start arms control treaty Mr. Obama signed in his first term continue. The Air Force still relies on rockets with Russian-made engines to launch military satellites into space, although it is reviewing that. The United States has not moved to try to push Russia out of the W.T.O. And the Obama administration is still working with Russia on disarming Syria’s chemical weapons and negotiating a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program.
“You can’t isolate everything from a general worsening of the relationship and the rhetoric,” said Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University and an adviser to multiple administrations on Russia and defense policy. “But there’s still very high priority business that we have to try to do with Russia.”
Still, the relationship cannot return to normal either, even if the Ukraine situation is settled soon, specialists said. “There’s really been a sea change not only here but in much of Europe about Russia,” said Robert Nurick, a Russia expert at the Atlantic Council. “A lot of the old assumptions about what we were doing and where we were going and what was possible are gone, and will stay that way as long as Putin’s there.”
Mr. Nurick said discussion had already begun inside the administration about where and under what conditions the United States might engage with Russia in the future. “But I can’t imagine this administration expending a lot of political capital on this relationship except to manage it so that the other things they care about a lot more than Russia are not injured too badly,” he said.

Russia on Eastern Ukraine shooting: Kiev must fulfill Geneva de-escalation pledge

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed outrage over the deadly gun battle on Saturday night in the protester-held city of Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine. It said Kiev must deliver on its commitment to de-escalate the violence. Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU agreed this week in Geneva on a roadmap to calm tension down in protest-gripped eastern Ukraine. The agreement includes disarmaming paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict. Yet on Saturday night an apparent raid by a Right Sector radical paramilitary unit ended with up to 6 people killed in Slavyansk, a city in Ukraine’s Donetsk region controlled by anti-Kiev protesters. Moscow condemned the violence on Sunday and said it indicates Kiev’s unwillingness to implement the Geneva agreement. “The Russian side is outraged with the provocation, which indicates that Kiev is unwilling to put in check and disarm nationalists and extremists,” the ministry said in a statement. The ministry added that Moscow “insists on the strict implementation by the Ukrainian side of its commitments to de-escalate the situation in southeastern Ukraine.” The Geneva document agreed on Thursday after marathon negotiations is aimed at defusing the Ukrainian political crisis. In addition to disarming paramilitary groups, it provides for an amnesty for protesters not involved in violent crimes and preparation of constitutional reform to provide greater autonomy for Ukrainian regions.

Slavyansk mayor asks Russia to send peacekeepers in wake of deadly night attack

Head of the self-defense units of Ukraine's eastern town of Slavyansk, Vladimir Ponomaryov, who was appointed Slavyansk mayor by the town's residents, has asked Russia to send peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine to protect civilians from National Guard and Right Sector militants.
"They kill our people. They don't talk to us but just kill," Ponomaryov said at an emergency press conference in the wake of last night's armed clashes on the outskirts of Slavyansk.
"The town has actually been besieged by the Right Sector," he said.
Only Russia can protect civilians from the Right Sector, Ponomaryov said, that's why he decided to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeepers to the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the RIA Novosti news agency reports.
The leader of the self-defense forces in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk said Sunday up to seven gunmen who attacked a local checkpoint overnight were injured or killed by return fire. Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, also known as the acting Slavyansk mayor, has confirmed that one member of the self-defense forces was killed and two others were injured in the shootout.
Nevertheless, Ukraine's Interior Ministry has stated Sunday three people, including two local citizens, were killed and three others were injured in overnight shootout at a checkpoint in the eastern city of Slavyansk, RIA reports. Federalization supporters in Kharkov, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slavyansk and Kramatorsk have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one held in Crimea last month, which led to the republic's reunification with Russia. In response, Ukrainian authorities launched a special operation to crack down on the protests.
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Syria: From Maaloula, President al-Assad wishes blessed Easter and peace for the Syrians

On the occasion of Easter, and from the heart of Maaloula town in Damascus countryside, President Bashar al-Assad wished a blessed Easter for all Syrians and the restoration of peace, security and amity to all Syria.
During his visit to Maaloula town, President al-Assad inspected the Monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus and checked the damage and destruction caused to the monastery by the terrorists.
After passing the Eastern Entrance and as he was inspecting Mar Thecla Monastery, President al-Assad said, "No one, no matter their terrorism, can erase our human and cultural history."
"Maaloula will remain, along with other Syrian human and cultural landmarks, steadfast in the face of the obscurantism and barbarianism of all those who are targeting the homeland," he added.
Passing through Ein al-Tineh village on his way back from Maaloula, President al-Assad applauded the village residents who gathered around him for their stand in defending their village and neighboring areas. President al-Assad labeled the villagers’ stand as an “honorable” one that represents a miniature of the Syrian society as a whole and the bright civilization of its people.

Pashto Music: Urooj Khan "Nan laly raghly da"

Why a Regional Security Force Will Not Work in Afghanistan

By Arwin Rahi
Talk of a new regional force is unrealistic. There is only one way to keep the peace after 2014.
As NATO-led coalition forces prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan, we are increasingly hearing the idea that a multinational regional security force (MN-RSF) would be a viable option for Afghanistan. The reality on the ground, however, suggests otherwise.
In short, the deployment of an MN-RSF is simply not feasible. To begin with, China is unlikely to change its policy of non-intervention anytime soon. Nor does it want to get involved in a war of attrition at a time when it is seeking to modernize its security forces for a larger possible showdown in the Pacific.
Next, the deployment of troops to Afghanistan by Pakistan and Iran would be highly sensitive, even if it were made within the framework of an MN-RSC. Both countries and the international community acknowledge this, which is why at the Bonn Conference in 2001, Iran and Pakistan’s names were kept off the table when the idea of a U.N.-led multinational security force was discussed.
Not only does that perception of Iran and Pakistan persist, but with the growing Pakistan and Iran interference in Afghanistan’s affairs, Afghans are becoming ever more sensitive towards these countries. In fact, the logic behind the endorsement of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga was curbing Iranian and Pakistani influence in Afghanistan—let alone allowing them to deploy troops. Afghanistan’s Pashtuns are already accusing Iran of stirring linguistic and cultural tensions, which makes it more than difficult for Iran to put boots on the ground.
India, meanwhile, is not interested in getting involved on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Any Indian involvement would provoke Pakistan, which in turn would further destabilize the entire region. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has already bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul in response to India’s growing presence in Afghanistan. New Delhi itself acknowledges the ramifications of provoking Pakistan, and has to date rebuffed President Hamid Karzai’s requests that India sell heavy weapons to Afghanistan.
An MN-RSF involving the five Central Asian countries (CAR) seems very unlikely for several reasons. First, the CAR themselves have faced threats of extremism since the fall of the Soviet Union. They are in no position to get involved in Afghanistan, which might further provoke extremists into striking at their countries directly. Second, a significant element of the military in today’s CAR fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Neither commanders nor politicians in these countries want to repeat the experience.
Third, given their weapons and techniques, which resemble those of the former Soviet Union, troops from the CAR would likely encounter even more ferocious resistance from the insurgents. They could even provoke the general public. Fourth, the CAR have at any rate evinced no interest in joining a multi-national force at any point in the last 12 years.
Fifth and finally, the ethnic component of CAR troops could also be unwelcome in Afghanistan. For instance, Tajik troops may be viewed as having been deployed to help their fellow Tajiks in Afghanistan. The same could be true for Uzbek and Turkmen soldiers. These forces would be met by a much fiercer response from the Pashtun-dominated Taliban.
In fact the Taliban might seek to instigate Pashtun nationalism to stand against forces who have come—in the eyes of the Taliban—from Central Asia to partition Afghanistan. Pashtuns for their part may go further and target Afghan Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Turkmen. In that scenario, it is not hard to envisage all-out civil war in Afghanistan.
Other countries in the region that could conceivably contribute troops are the Muslim countries from the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and Egypt, for instance. Yet these countries are very unlikely to join any MN-RSF in Afghanistan because their public sympathizes with the Afghan insurgents. Middle Eastern countries would not want to gamble on sending troops to Afghanistan. Particularly at a time when they still trying to get past the Arab Spring, fighting insurgents with whom their publics sympathize would be tremendously unappetizing.
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Jordan already have troops in Afghanistan. Their continued presence post-2014 will be very much dependent on the United States. If the U.S. pulls out completely, so will these countries. Thus, the very idea of an MN-RSF is not only unwelcome in Afghanistan, it is effectively impossible.
With the infeasibility of an MN-RSF, Afghanistan should ink the BSA with the U.S. with haste sufficient to allow the U.S. to maintain a presence beyond the end of this year. In addition to training and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), U.S. troops would also boost morale, enabling the ANSF to independently carry out combat operations.
On April 5—Election Day—the ANSF showed that they had the ability to maintain stability. Nonetheless, their capabilities still need to be strengthened further. In so doing, special attention should be paid to two items. First, the training of special forces to storm buildings and other complexes if they are taken by insurgents. Over the last month, ANSF have stormed several buildings soon after they had been taken by insurgents. Special forces should be able to be deployed to any part of the country within hours if necessary to overtake insurgents.
Second, the Afghan Air Force should acquire more transport aircraft and bombers sooner rather than later. Afghanistan not only has mountainous terrain, most parts of the country also lack paved roads and railroads. As a result, troop deployments and rapid-response operations quickly tend to run into trouble. To overcome this, the ANSF—especially the special forces—should be able to be swiftly moved to any part of the country by air. Moreover, bombers would prove helpful in pounding insurgents’ positions before ground troops can clear the area.
Ultimately, the only way to genuine and sustainable peace in Afghanistan is to strengthen ANSF. The only realistic role of foreign forces is to serve as a catalyst for this.

Abdullah Still Ahead in New Afghan Vote Results

New partial results released in Afghanistan's presidential election show candidate Abdullah Abdullah still is the front-runner, though a runoff election will be likely. Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani, the chairman of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, announced the results Sunday. They represent about half of the estimated 7 million ballots cast in the April 5 vote. Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai's top rival in the country's last election, has 44 percent of the vote tallied. His closest competitor, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official, received 33.2 percent of the vote. Final results are scheduled to be released on May 14. Ghani and Abdullah are vying to take over from Karzai, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

په پښتونخوا کې پر عوامي نیشنل پارټۍ بریدونه
د خيبر پښتونخوا چارواکي وايي بيګا وسله والو د عوامي نيشنل ګوند دبونير يو مشر افضل خان وژلی دی. د يو بل خبر ترمخه پيښور سره نږدې په بډه بيره کې د عوامي نيشنل ګوند يو مشر د ميا مشتاق پر کور بيګا وسله والو بريد کړی او د هغه د کور درې نارينه غړي يې تښتولي. د بډه بيرې يو پوليس افسر احمد علي د اتوار په ورځ مشال ريډيو ته وويل چې بيګا شوي دې پيښه کې يې لا تر اوسه څوک نه دي نيولي. د عوامي نيشنل ګوند يو مشر ملک مصطفی د دوی د ګوند پر غړو د مسلسلو بريدونو په اړه نن مشال ريډيو ته وويل: (( موږ د ترهګرۍ خلاف یو ، ترهګري چې ترڅو روانه وي نو دا ملک نه بچ کیږي ، خو ځیني خلک ترهګرو ته تحفظ ورکوي، موږ به تر مرګه ددهشت ګرۍ پرضد خپلې هڅې جاري ساتو. )) ملک مصطفی زياتوي چې په تيرو څوو کلونو کې د وسله والو په بريدونو کې د عوامي نيشنل ګوند خوا او شا اته سوه غړي وژل شوي. تر اوسه پورې د بيګانيوو بريدونو ذمه واري چا نه ده اخيستي.

Afghanistan: Abdullah ahead of Ghani in 50pc vote results
Abdullah Abdullah takes 44% lead in Afghanistan Elections.
Presidential candidate Dr. Abdullah Abdullah is ahead of his main rival Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the second batch of results from the April 5 presidential race, an official told Pajhwok Afghan News on Sunday.

More Afghan poll results due as Abdullah in small lead

Afghanistan was set on Sunday to release further results from its presidential election after early counting put former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah ahead of his main rival Ashraf Ghani.
The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said that the second batch of results would be declared at about 1230 GMT in the race to succeed President Hamid Karzai as US troops withdraw from the country.
It was unclear how many ballots would be declared, but election officials have repeatedly warned that the partial results may not reflect the final count due out on May 14.
Last week, the first 10 per cent of the vote was announced with Abdullah collecting 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani on 37.6 per cent after eight candidates stood in the April 5 election.
A run-off vote between the two leading names will be triggered if no single candidate gains more than 50 per cent of the vote.
Both Abdullah and Ghani have expressed confidence that they will win the election in the first round, and have also vowed to fight on if a run-off is necessary.
Abdullah, who came second to Karzai in the fraud-riddled 2009 election, has signalled that he may be open to constitution changes that could allow for a power-sharing deal before the run-off.
Ghani, a former World Bank economist, has also raised the issue, but it is uncertain how any new system could placate the two rivals or how long it would take to implement.
Afghanistan faces immediate challenges as US-led NATO troops pull out this year after fighting Taliban insurgents since 2001, and as the country tries to strengthen its aid-dependent economy.
More than seven million people defied bad weather and Taliban threats of violence to vote in the first round of the election, though hundreds of serious fraud allegations have been registered.

Pakistan: Journalists protest against attack on Hamid Mir.

Journalists across Pakistan are outraged over the attack on Geo News senior anchor Hamid Mir and are staging protests.
Protest demonstrations are being held in Obaro, Multan, Dera Ismail Khan, Noaushehroferoze and many other cities and towns of the four province of Pakistan against the dastardly attack on Hamid Mir, while the journalist community also demanded the arrest of the assailants.
Multan Union of Journalist (Barna and Dastori), Electronic Media Journalist Association, (South Punjab) and other media organizations have announced staging protest demonstrations before the press club today.
Journalists including social and political organizations took out a rally and are staging a sit-in from the National Press Club to the main chowk. In D.I. Khan, Dera Union of Journalist and other organizations bringing out rally from Huq Nawaz Park to Topa Wali. Demonstrations held and rally taken out in Nowshera. Journalist associations demonstrated in Swat, Press Club Mirpur in Azad Kashmir staging protests. Azad Kashmir former prime minister, Atiq Ahmad Khan and Markazi Anjuman Tajiran have slated the attack on Hamid Mir.

Pakistan: Geo News senior anchor Hamid Mir was shot six times

Senior Geo News anchor Hamid Mir was shot six times during an attack on his life in Karachi on Saturday evening.
Three bullets were removed during the surgery while three still remain in Hamid Mir’s body.
According to the medical report, Hamid Mir was shot six times. One bullet hit Mr. Mir in the ribs under the arm, one in the stomach, one grazed his hand while two pierced his thigh on the front and one on the back of the thigh which doctors have not been able to remove as it is lodged in the bone.
Doctors will take a decision regarding removing the lodged bullet after further examinations. According to the medical team looking after Hamid Mir, his condition is improving and they are hopeful that he will regain consciousness soon. According to initial reports the renowned Pakistani journalist was shot thrice and underwent a successful operation at Aga Khan Hospital.
Hamid Mir was attacked in Karachi on Saturday evening while his car was leaving the airport. The Geo News senior anchor was shot multiple times and rushed to Aga Khan for treatment. He underwent a successful operation and is recovering.
The attack took place when a single gunman wearing shalwal kameez stopped Hamid Mir’s car right outside the airport and opened fire. The driver of the car sped away but the gunman and his accomplices in two motorcycles and a car followed Hamid Mir and continued firing. The attackers followed Hamid Mir’s car till Karsaz and disbursed. While being chased Hamid Mir spoke to his colleagues over the phone and informed them of the attack.
Senior journalist Amir Mir the brother of Hamid Mir said the Geo News senior anchor had said that if he was attacked some ISI officials and the intelligence agencies chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam would be responsible.
Speaking to Geo News Hamid Mir’s brother, Amir Mir said the senior anchor had informed him of a plan by ISI chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam to assassinate him. The ISPR condemned the attack and prayed for Hamid Mir’s well being. ISPR spokesman said an independent inquiry must be carried out immediately to ascertain the facts. He added that raising allegations against the ISI or the head of ISI without any basis was highly regrettable and misleading.

Pakistan: End of ceasefire by TTP

The TTP has announced its decision not to extend the ceasefire, saying it would keep the dialogue option open provided the government took steps indicating "clear progress" on its two key demands. The demands, described as "reasonable and concrete suggestions" by the Taliban spokesman to which, he said, the government had not bothered to respond, are creating a 'peace zone' and release of non-combatant prisoners. He also alleged that the government response to "a gift of 40-day ceasefire by the TTP" was to launch "operation root out" in which more than 50 Taliban fighters were killed. And that over 200 people were arrested for alleged links with the TTP, more than 25 search operations carried out against his side, and prisoners tortured.
The ostensible justification for the 'reasonable suggestion' of a peace zone is to facilitate meetings between the two sides' negotiating teams. Towards that end, the Taliban want the security forces to vacate Makeen and Laddah in South Waziristan that they had wrested back from the militants in a painstaking, costly operation. There is no way the government can allow the Taliban move back in, and erode its own writ. As regards the prisoners issue, the government has already released, inviting much public criticism, some 19 non-combatants. The Taliban say these are not the people they sought, but are yet to provide the specific details about the non-combatants they want to be freed. Nor have they done any known act of reciprocity. Kidnapped civilians that include administrative head of the Peshawar University and sons of two politicians remain in their custody. The arrests and search operations the TTP spokesman mentioned, apparently, were part of the ongoing security action in Karachi, which is not Taliban-specific but all criminal elements involved in violent crimes in the city. The veracity of Taliban version about the killing of 50 fighters cannot be established. Even if true, that should not be surprising considering that the security forces' stated position all along has been that they will retaliate if they are attacked. The day before the declaration of ceasefire end, the forces had to react to an IED explosion near a checkpost near Miranshah in North Waziristan that left a soldier injured. Retaliation was swift and strong. Helicopter gunships attacked militant hideouts in the area. It is not known if any militants were killed. But incidents such as this will, and should, invite attacks on TTP fighters.
The obvious question after the ceasefire ends is; what next? Will the Taliban start attacking, like they have been, innocent people all over the country? The Prime Minister had declared at the outset that talks and attacks cannot go together. In any case, if any of the groups resorts to a terrorist strike the government will be under pressure to take out these violent men. An optimistic view of the situation suggests that although the negotiations process has not produced the desired results, it may have provided the government a better understanding of who from amongst the 40 odd groups operating under the TTP umbrella are reconcilable. This would surely be useful in developing a strategy to separate them from the irreconcilable ones with ideological agenda of their own. One in the latter category, of course, is Omar Khorasani-led Mohmand Agency-based group which in an extreme act of barbarity beheaded 23 FC soldiers and played football with their severed heads. Khorasani, in fact, had announced ending ceasefire at least two weeks before the present TTP decision. Such people will have to be eliminated sooner or later through the use of force. Hopefully, the Cabinet Committee on National Security during its Thursday's meeting formulated a firm plan to deal with such violent men.

Pakistan: Terminal decay?

By: Lal Khan
The irony is that this whole conflict of terror and counter-terror is all about financial matters. Ideology and religion are hardly the real issue behind this fallout between these former allies and cronies in the dollar jihad against communism
The continuous, vicious downward spiral of the economic crisis has exposed the hypocrisy and impotency of the elite. In a macabre scenario Pakistan seems to be plunging deeper and deeper into an irredeemable abyss of mayhem and devastation. The rulers are running out of excuses and diversions. Their indifference, callousness and utter contempt for the masses are so flagrant. Shahidullah Shahid, spokesperson of the Pakistani Taliban has announced that the 40-day ceasefire has been called off as the Pakistani government has continued to arrest people and has killed more than 50 people associated with the group. He goes on to say: “The talks will continue with sincerity and seriousness and in case there is clear progress from the government side, [the Taliban] will not hesitate to take a serious step.” The announcement comes three days after Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, said the process was about to enter a “comprehensive” phase.
The Taliban have demanded the release of hundreds of men and complete withdrawal of Pakistani troops from FATA, declaring it a “peace” area to be run by the Taliban. In other words, what the Taliban are demanding is a mini-state under their total influence where they can practice their outdated and obscurantist ideology.
In response to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) decision not to extend the ceasefire, the government has decided to ‘slow down’ the dialogue process and adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy, following a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The committee decided that dialogue with the militants would only be continued if held peacefully without terror attacks launched by the TTP, otherwise force would be used. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Rashad Mahmood, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief Tahir Rafique Butt, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Mohammad Asif Sandila, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam and Intelligence Bureau Director General Aftab Sultan were present at the meeting.
What a pathetic response from the gallant custodians of this unfortunate country. If more than 60,000 people had not been butchered and many thousands maimed, these reports would have been farcical. There was already widespread scepticism about the chances for success of these so-called talks, given the Taliban’s outlandish demands. Even the most vociferous analysts of the elite never took these talks seriously, although in their line of duty they continued to indulge in raucous, meaningless and never-ending debates on the electronic media. Meanwhile, this semi-religious right wing regime of the PML-N and corporate media granted free airtime to the most bigoted and reactionary clerics to vent their venal and hate mongering sermons to further plunge society into the morass of reaction, fear and despair.
During the 40-day ‘truce’ there was hardly any respite in terrorist acts and after the expiry of this façade of a ceasefire these incursions will not abate. The whole exercise of talks was a deception and deceit on the part of the squabbling and obtuse strategists of the state. The Taliban at least got some of their terrorists out while they conceded nothing to the regime. Are the Taliban better negotiators or were the government negotiators in complicity with their ideological cohorts? The demand to release prominent children of famed politicians kidnapped by the Taliban was not even mentioned by the regime’s team in these negotiations. After all, this ransom income is their source of bread and butter. Financial issues were not on the agenda. The irony is that this whole conflict of terror and counter-terror is all about financial matters. Ideology and religion are hardly the real issue behind this fallout between these former allies and cronies in the dollar jihad against communism. The mentors and their renegade Frankenstein monsters were the product of the biggest covert operation ever launched by the CIA to defeat Afghanistan’s Saur Revolution of April 1978, which was a blow for landlordism, medieval tribal despotism, oppression of women, capitalist relations and the stranglehold of imperialism. However, after the imperialists left with the fall of the USSR, these forces of dark reaction continued to develop the financial resources of heroin manufacture and smuggling, ransom, extortion and other criminal methods of amassing black capital. Where there is ill-gotten wealth, there is the inevitability of bloody fallout of the different vying factions of these primitive bandits. The various proxies of the state in this war of attrition for a greater share of the booty dragged the patronising factions of the state into these conflicts.
The imperialist aggression and occupation of Afghanistan and their deep intrusions into Pakistan through the mercenary Blackwater, DynCorp and other corporate war and espionage contractors, further convoluted and aggravated this conflict. The corruption and debilitated condition of Pakistan’s bourgeois political elite made its so-called democratic regimes subservient and accomplices to the state and its agencies, which controlled the foreign and internal security policies. Hence these ‘Taliban’ are a misnomer for these different criminal gangs, proxies of vying regional and western imperialist powers, simultaneously at war with the US, the Indians, the Pakistani state and in internecine bloody feuds amongst themselves. To pose such diverse groups as a single entity and confer respectability through bilateral talks is scandalous. The rhetoric of talks and military operation against such a widespread and conflict-ridden spectrum of criminal mafias is deceptive and treacherous.
However, this is creating fissures within the armed forces. The military high command is facing enormous resentment and outrage from the young officers and the ranks that are fighting this war where nobody really knows who the real enemy is and where. Loyalties change in no time. Proxies split and the splinter groups are more vicious and become dreadful in their brutality to enhance their fear of terror, essential to boost their earnings from criminal businesses, extortions and ransom. The moneyed political elite are growing hoarse with the nauseating cliché of ‘protection of democracy’. Although there was some grumbling by the military elite on certain statements, the threat of an imminent coup is too farfetched. The Zardari and Sharif photo session only reinforces the political elite’s contempt for the suffering masses as their panacea of democracy has exacerbated misery, poverty and deprivation. These obsolete, repulsive and hated clichés and leaders have become repugnant to the masses.
Alterations between military and civilian regimes have only deepened the crisis of this system and its state, which are now in the throes of terminal decay. Without its transformation nothing can really change for the better. Society will deteriorate even more. How can there be any peace, tranquillity and prosperity in a system socially tattered, economically cataclysmic and historically doomed?

Pakistan: Winning a battle but not the war

In a nod to efficient police work of the kind we hardly get to witness here, a gang of six Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) terrorists have been apprehended in Lahore. It is being reported that these men have been involved in a number of high profile attacks on prominent members of civil society and the media, including last month’s attack on journalist Raza Rumi. That they have been captured will provide a sigh of relief but it is imperative to understand that this gang is only the tip of the iceberg when one considers the magnitude of the problem this country is up against.
The LeJ is a very extreme sectarian group, murderous in nature and prolific because of the nature and scale of attacks against the Shia community in Pakistan. It is the LeJ that was responsible for the catastrophic attacks against the Hazara community in Quetta last year, killing hundreds. It is the LeJ that regularly targets Iranian pilgrims when they cross the border into Balochistan. It is an organisation committed to the extermination of the Shia minority in Pakistan. This is a fact that has escaped no one but what has indeed flustered many is why nothing substantial has been done about it. The attack on Raza Rumi was a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone move: Raza is Shia and is also a journalist with liberal views, unafraid to call a spade a spade. If one looks at the list of people targeted by this group of six, it can be seen that the attacks have occurred over a couple of years.
It is encouraging that they have been arrested by nothing more than good old police work. However, as is the case with the law enforcement agencies in Pakistan, such spurts of success do not last long. With these six sectarian murderers in custody, the police must waste no time in apprehending more terrorists part of and affiliated with the LeJ network, which is spread far and wide. Troubling news is just coming in from Karachi that journalist Hamid Mir has been attacked in Karachi by a hail of gunfire. He is in the hospital and is recovering but the malaise has run deep and wide.
Whilst the LeJ has not claimed responsibility for this attack, one cannot discount that such a high profile strike has been perpetrated by them. Hamid Mir is high profile and it has been known that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan outsource their hits to outfits such as the LeJ. That could explain why some of the names found on the hitlist of the LeJ are Sunnis as well. It is a complete travesty that while the LeJ mastermind Malik Ishaque is in jail, the LeJ continues to function and flourish right under the noses of the authorities. This must not be allowed to continue. Terrorism in urban areas, such as the kind the LeJ is known for carrying out, can only be scotched by the efficiency and competence of the police, which must not cower in the face of this threat. Routine success can rout out these killers, nothing less. The entrails of the LeJ network must be picked up and steadily dissected to get to the root of the menace. The LeJ poses a threat not just to Shias but to any moderate voice of sanity out there as has been demonstrated by the many attacks on the media. Such operations must not be limited to Punjab but must be coordinated across the country, especially in Karachi where target killing is alive and well.

Pakistan: Many Peshawar schools have decrepit buildings

Dozens of government schools have been functioning in Peshawar’s dilapidated buildings endangering the lives of thousands of students, it is learnt.
Several such schools have already been closed down over the communication and works department’s warning, according to the sources in the elementary and secondary education department.
The sources said such school buildings, mostly built in 1950s and 1960s, had lived longer than their natural life, while some put up 10 to 15 years ago had developed cracks due to use of substandard material.
According to the sources, 80 per cent of the Government High School, Budhni’s building is in dilapidated condition.
Also, there are many schools, whose almost 50 per cent buildings need demolition.
Noted among them are Government High School for Girls, Gulbahar; Government Higher Secondary School for Boys, Gulbahar; Government Higher Secondary School for Boys, Chamkani; Government High School, Urmar Payan; Government High School, Zaryab Colony; Government High School, Tehkal; Government High School, Sufaid Dheri; Government High School, Maryamzai; Government High School, Telaband; Government High School, Hazarkhwani, and Government High School, Gulshan Rehman Colony.
Also, a large number of middle and primary schools for boys and girls in the provincial capital have long been functioning in very old and dilapidated buildings. According to the sources, steel bars are visible in the roofs of classrooms of Government High School for Girls, Gulbahar showing the poor condition of the building.
They said a block of the building of Government High School, Gulshan Rehman Colony on Kohat Road consisting of four rooms had been abandoned since 2005 for being in dilapidated condition.
The sources said the block was vacated soon after the 2005 devastating earthquake but the government had yet to reconstruct it.
Currently, Government High School, Gulshan Rehman Colony is functioning in five rooms, which have 100 to 120 students each.
There have been no enrolments in the school for many years due to unavailability of classrooms.
The sources said a tender for the four classrooms’ reconstruction was floated in July 2008 but work on the building had yet to get underway.
Former ANP MPA Alamgir Khan Khalil had also promised to get the block rebuilt from his development funds. However, the promise remained unfulfilled due to the end of the ANP government. The sources said the building of Government High Secondary School No 2, Peshawar city had archeological importance as it was more than 100 years old but the relevant department had yet to repair big cracks, which had appeared in it.
When contacted, District Education Officer (Male), Peshawar Sharif Gul said he recently asked the communication and works department for technical advice about the condition of the GHSS No 2 Peshawar City and GHS Gulbahar but the response was awaited.
“Several reminders have been issued to the communication and works department as schools have decrepit buildings and could prove harmful for students, but to no avail,” he said.

Pakistan: Zardari calls for a check on misuse of blasphemy law
Former president and co-chairman of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari appealed to the scholars to deliberate to find out a way for checking the misuse of the blasphemy law against minorities.
Zardari, in a message release by PPP media cell on Easter eve, urged the religious scholars, political parties and civil society to show concern towards the grave issues.
“It is deeply worrying that the right to adequate defence is steadily eroding for those charged with religion-related offences,” said the former president.
“The PPP will continue to fight the ideology of religion-inspired violence that lay at the heart of terrorism,” he said.
The PPP co-chairman added that his party was committed to ensure equality and justice for minorities, including Christians as per the promise of the constitution of Pakistan.

Journalism in Pakistan, a threatened existence

Rabia Mehmood
Journalists in Pakistan face threats and violent attacks while trying to report on sensitive subjects.
"I cannot believe that a life has been lost because of me, how will I live with myself?" This was the first sentence my friend, journalist Raza Rumi, uttered when I went to see him the night he survived an assassination attempt, which killed his driver on March 28. Rumi was surrounded by his other friends, journalists who came to see him, as police officers walked in and out of his house. While narrating that he had the sense to duck when he heard the first gunshot, listlessly, he would mourn Mustafa, his 25-year-old driver who took two out of 11 bullets sprayed on his car.
Rumi's name was on a list issued by the Pakistani Taliban in February which warned of repercussions for journalists who opposed the government's dialogue with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, a militant outfit behind hundreds of terrorist attacks in the country in the last eight years). He had been getting threats for a year, and often struggled with the decision of leaving Pakistan. "Why should I leave my country and cede space to the extremists?" was his argument always.
While the attack on Rumi had not been claimed by anyone, police had admitted in private that it had finger prints of the banned anti-Shia militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and has now arrested the mastermind of the attack. LeJ, which has carried out many terrorist attacks and bombings across Pakistan, has targeted primarily Shia individuals including doctors, lawyers and a playwright. Rumi, not a Shia himself, has been calling for state action against this organisation.
Repeated attacks
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, evidence and data collated by Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and rights organisations have demonstrated. Be it impunity, threats by intelligence agencies or attacks by non-state actors, all point towards an environment not just disallowing free speech but insistent on eliminating any dissent. In March, before the Raza Rumi attack, PM Nawaz Sharif promised a CPJ delegation cooperation on making Pakistan safer for journalists. And God knows how and when this promise would result in an effective implementation, considering the track record of Pakistani governments on media freedom. Rumi has left Pakistan for sometime because his security was not guaranteed by the police.
Jamshed Baghwan, Peshawar bureau chief of Express News, an Urdu language network where Rumi hosted his talk-show (currently he is off-air) has been targeted twice this year. A bag with 2.5kg of explosives was found outside his house, and on April 6, grenades were thrown at his residence. Baghwan says every day his mother and colleagues tell him to leave the country. "All that I have ever done is journalism, I started as a proof reader and have no other skills or money for supporting my family", he said to me in a personal conversation.
Earlier in 2014 Express News live van was fired at in Karachi, and three of its news crew died. The attack was claimed by TTP on live television the same day. Fear of getting bombed and ratings competition between news outlets have discouraged a united front against violent oppression of journalists. Journalists in some incidents have also feared standing with their comrades due to the others' religious sect.
More than one enemy
Pakistani journalists face more than one enemy. If the state ever decides to actually tackle the journalist's lack of security, which enemy would it deal with first? A friend, who is a multimedia producer with an international news outlet, got frequent calls from a "private number" in November 2013, when he covered the story of Baloch families protesting human rights violations by Pakistan's army.
The fact that he is an Ahmadi - a persecuted religious minority - made him more vulnerable to any surveillance or a threat which came his way. This is the reason he is not named in this article.
Private number calls are mostly from intelligence agency officers who choose to threaten or just intimidate. It is an open secret among journalists across the country that their phones are either tapped or can be by the intelligence, whenever they feel like it. At times reporters get repeated missed calls from private numbers only, which is probably the least aggressive intimidation tactic.
In my friend's case though, he was told clearly that if he would not stop reporting on the plight of Baloch people, his religious affiliation will be made public. Most Ahmadis in Pakistan avoid declaring their faith publically, as it can result in a variety of reactions, from social boycotts to murders and blasphemy cases against them. My friend then informed his bureau about the threats, and skipped work for a few days. When he finally rejoined, he changed his route to work, stopped going to the gym and meeting friends outside his house. "I felt like someone was following me all the time," is what he told me of his fear then.
Eventually the organisation he works for transferred him to a station outside Pakistan for some time. While international media outlets provide security training to their employees and have mechanisms to implement protection policies, in Pakistan such cautions are almost unheard of. Another journalist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) currently works between his hometown and another city, where he has had to move to. In KP, the province worst hit by militancy, terrorism is the most focused story, which cannot be investigated or explored fully due to security concerns of journalists, as they cannot criticise either the militants or the military openly. This limitation and the trauma of reporting on bloodshed have taken on toll on the said journalist's work. "At times journalists are killed here and we have no idea about who or why," he tells me via a phone call on fixed lines, because he avoids cell phones as much as he can. They can be tapped.
Journalists across the country continue to report on vital stories with varying degrees of censorship mostly dictated by the language of reportage, for it can provide the journalists with a shield or make them more vulnerable. Rumi was attacked because he is one of the few journalists who brought an assertive conversation against Pakistan government's decision to dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban to primetime Urdu network from the op-ed sections of English-language dailies and social media. Urdu-language TV has a wide mass viewership in the country as compared to the English dailies and is more influential in building public opinion.
Journalists who have reported on stories against narratives built and sustained by the right wing majority in establishment, government, clergy and academia have only been able to report and write commentary in English-language outlets. In a way the war between journalists and the right wing elements in society reflects the warring narratives between the secular and the religious-right.
After Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's assassination by his police guard for defending a Christian woman charged with blasphemy in 2011, a wide section of liberals as we call them here, thought their struggle will not recover. Since then many who are advocating less popular i.e. progressive causes have been targeted in different ways and an attempt at Rumi's life reinforces the familiar insecurity that the religious right cannot even be debated with.

Punjab govt accused of being soft on militants

Although the law-enforcement agencies in Lahore busted a sectarian group this week, it is still not clear if this indicates a change of strategy on the part of Punjab government, which until now has turned a blind eye to militant activity in the province despite worrying reports and assessments.
Senior officials point out that the Punjab government has been “sleeping over” regular reports being sent to them by intelligence agencies about the increasing presence of sleeper cells of proscribed militant organisations.
More than one intelligence official involved in the preparation of these reports told Dawn that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were aware of the militant threat present in Punjab, but they were not taking strict measures to counter them.
According to the intelligence officials, the provincial government only reacts to terrorist attacks after they happen in what can be called an ad hoc manner; it has no long-term counter-terrorism strategy.
Specific incidents are investigated, its culprits are traced but this can be called a reactive policy at best. “Whenever there is a meeting on security, the chief minister and other officials of his government acknowledge that sleeper cells of armed militants are now entrenched in Lahore and the rest of the province. However, this discussion does not lead to a consensus on taking concrete steps,” remarked an official of a federal intelligence agency.
He pointed out that South Punjab was already home to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Taiba. But of late their presence in central and northern Punjab towns has also been noticed and the information conveyed to the provincial government.
“The most worrisome part is their ability to carry out armed operations in the upper part of the province.”