Thursday, June 12, 2014
Senior Haqqani Network and Taliban leaders were killed following a US drone strike in North Waziristan on Thursday morning. The Haqqani Network commander killed in the drone strike was recognized as Haji Gul, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Afghanistan is on the verge of being blacklisted internationally for its failure to pass an anti-money-laundering law. For the past three years, the Financial Action Task Force (F.A.T.F.), an intergovernmental body that helps to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism, has been pushing the country to adopt a law that meets global standards, and had finally warned Afghanistan that it will take action at its next plenary session, which begins on June 23rd, effectively setting a deadline. But the country’s government has left it to the last minute, and—with the final round of the Presidential election set for Saturday—it now seems all but impossible that parliament will pass the bill in time. Inclusion on the blacklist—technically known as the “high-risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions” list—would make it more difficult for international companies and financial institutions to do business with Afghanistan without legal risk to themselves. Afghanistan would join Syria and Myanmar, among others, on the list. Blacklisting would add to a growing consensus that the country’s greatest potential threat is not from the Taliban but from an economic and financial collapse sparked by a fall in foreign spending and the government’s extreme dysfunction and corruption. Afghanistan’s financial system nearly fell apart in 2010, when it came to light that nine hundred million dollars had been stolen from Kabul Bank, the country’s largest bank, by a handful of insiders who were closely linked to President Hamid Karzai and other top officials. (Dexter Filkins has written about the case.) Since then, the government has been struggling to restore confidence among international donors and investors. Its own moves haven’t helped. In March, 2011, Karzai banned U.S. government advisers from working with the Central Bank, and they have not returned. Around the same time, Muhammad Mustafa Massoudi, the head of FinTRACA, the central bank’s financial-crimes unit, was put on trial for allowing the Kabul Bank crisis to occur, in what many Western observers saw as a politically motivated reprisal for having dug too deeply. In November, 2011, at the behest of F.A.T.F., the International Monetary Fund completed a two-hundred-and-seventy-two-page report on the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing in Afghanistan. It contained a detailed list of recommendations that had to be carried out to make Afghanistan’s financial system F.A.T.F.-compliant—basic actions like establishing a system for freezing suspicious assets and criminalizing fund-raising for terrorist groups. The following summer, at a conference of Afghanistan’s biggest donors in Tokyo, the Afghan government promised, among other things, to implement those recommendations in return for sixteen billion dollars in aid pledges through 2015. But it never did implement them. F.A.T.F. finally got tired of waiting and, in February, listed Afghanistan as a “jurisdiction not making sufficient progress,” and warned that it faced being blacklisted in June. Jolted from its inertia, early last month, the Central Bank sent the anti-money-laundering law to the Afghan cabinet, which passed it on to the Ministry of Justice for further changes. But, when the bill was at last sent to the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, on May 24th, it had been modified to the point that it no longer met F.A.T.F. criteria. “They watered it down. They took away the independence of the financial-intelligence unit. Who knows why they did it?” a U.S. official who has monitored the process said. “There are a lot of vested interests, people thinking, ‘If this stuff is passed, they’ll know that I’m taking money.’ ” The bill must now be reworked in parliament, a less than ideal process given its highly technical subject matter. But many lawmakers have left town for the Presidential elections; on Monday, they failed to make a quorum, and may not convene until after the deadline. Afghanistan’s parliament is, even by the country’s own standards, an abysmally dysfunctional and corrupt institution, filled with warlords and businessmen who have grown rich off international military contracts. “Many are illiterate; many don’t have any educational qualifications,” a Westerm adviser to the Afghan government said. “It’s a very delicate message to convey, that we have to ram this down your throats.” If and when the bill is passed in the Wolesi Jirga, it must be approved by the upper house and then sent on to President Karzai to be signed into law. “Unless the Wolesi Jirga ignores quorum, which it has not done very often, then it is difficult to see this going through before the deadline.” The case of Hikmatullah Shadman illustrates some of the risks for financial institutions that wish to do business with Afghan banks. Shadman is a twenty-six-year-old former military translator turned logistics contractor whom the Department of Justice has accused of amassing $77.9 million in payments by bribing U.S. government subcontractors in Afghanistan to sign off on inflated logistics contracts. In November, 2012, a federal judge issued a warrant against Shadman’s account at Afghanistan International Bank, which is considered the country’s most reputable financial institution. (Shadman denies the allegations and is contesting them, along with the asset seizure, in a U.S. court.) The Department of Justice, with the help of the U.S. Embassy, was able to convince the Afghan attorney general’s office to recognize the warrant under Afghan law, and the account was frozen. “This was a major victory because it had never been done before,” a U.S. official familiar with the case said. But the celebrations were premature. After meeting with Karzai and making his case to Afghan officials, Shadman persuaded the attorney general’s office to lift the freeze. “They thumbed their nose at the D.C. District Court.” Shadman transferred the money to banks in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. But U.S. law allows, when the funds are not in the original accounts, for the courts to seize funds held in other accounts with the correspondent banks, the big international firms that serve as intermediaries for large, cross-border dollar transactions. Places like Standard Chartered and Deutsche Bank had to help “recover the money from the banks they transferred to,” the official said. (Asked for comment, Deutsche Bank said, “We understand the importance of complying with all court orders and seek to do so unfailingly”; Standard Charter declined to comment.) Already, a number of international banks have ceased or limited their business in the country, in order to avoid being exposed to what is perceived as an increasing risk of being unwittingly involved in money laundering or terrorist financing. Still, the blacklist will not mean the sudden, wholesale collapse of Afghanistan’s financial institutions. Given the turmoil of the past four years, many adaptations have been built into the financial system, which includes a large traditional money-changing sector of hawaladars, who courier bulk amounts of cash through methods of varying legality. But getting back off the list may take years, and, in the meantime, it will add to the country’s mounting economic woes. In many ways, despite the great drama of the troop surge, Afghanistan’s true tests have yet to come. Much of the foreign aid previously appropriated is still in the pipeline; the real decline won’t begin until next year. Opium cultivation—which has nearly doubled since 2000—remains untamed. The country desperately needs to attract foreign investment, but—even putting aside corruption and insecurity—has failed to pass the basic legislation needed to do so, most notably mining and banking laws, which have been languishing in parliament for more than a year. With projected revenues of around $2.5 billion this year against expenditures of $7.5 billion, Afghanistan will remain dependent on international aid for the foreseeable future. But international good will toward the Afghan government is at an all-time low, in part due to political fatigue in West and in part due to Karzai’s increasingly destructive and paranoid behavior. With President Obama having announced that almost all U.S. troops will be out by 2016, time is running short for the Afghan government to pull itself together. In the past year, Afghanistan’s Army has shown that it can hold its own against the insurgency, but it is reliant on $4.1 billion that must come each year from international donors. It is worth recalling that the demise of the Afghan Communist government was precipitated not by the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989 but by the collapse of the U.S.S.R. two years later, which led to a cutoff in financial support and the fragmentation of government security forces. The F.A.T.F. episode illuminates a stark fact: having been coddled for a decade as the problem children of a spendthrift international military-and-development mission, Afghanistan’s élites are still unwilling to take responsibility—even in a case in which their own self-interest and dollar-denominated bank accounts are so clearly at stake. Thus far, the government has inhabited a consequence-free zone, but running up against an institution like F.A.T.F.—an independent, technical body with no particular interest in the Afghan project—may give those élites a glimpse of life on their own. “F.A.T.F. doesn’t give a shit,” the U.S. official said. “It’s not to punish Afghanistan; it’s to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a global money-laundering center—which it might already be.”
The price of war in Afghanistan has been staggering for American taxpayers, and as U.S. troops continue to withdraw, there is new information about wasted spending by the military. Eight inflatable boats were bought by the Pentagon in 2010 for $3 million, reports CBS News' Chip Reid. They were to be used by the Afghan National Police to patrol a key river separating Afghanistan from Uzbekistan. Today, however, they sit unused in a navy warehouse in Virginia. "It's like you gave your credit card to your teenage daughter or son and then you just never looked at the bills," said John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. The future of those boats is unclear. "They're probably going to be sold for scrap or sold for pennies on the dollar," Sopko said. More than $100 billion has been allocated for relief and reconstruction. Tracking that money has been next to impossible. "We don't even have a list from (the Defense Department) of where they spent the money. We have no centralized list of where the taxpayer money went in Afghanistan," Sopko said. He points to other examples such as an estimated $600 million for never-used C-27 aircraft sitting on runways in Kabul and Germany and a massive $34 million command center in Helmand. "It is the best constructed building I've seen in Afghanistan, and it will probably be leveled," Sopko said. It will be never used, he said, noting that, "The Afghans can't use it, they can't maintain it." In a statement to CBS News, the Pentagon said it strives "to ensure every reconstruction project is executed in a manner that demonstrates responsible stewardship of taxpayers' dollars. ... Working in a wartime environment such as Afghanistan brings with it many challenges, and we continually seek to improve our processes." Sopko said the Pentagon is being very cooperative now. Congress has also asked it for an itemized list of all spending for the war effort. Here is the full statement from Commander Elissa Smith, a Defense Department spokesperson: In 2010 the determination was made to purchase eight rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) for riverine use by the Afghan National Police using the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to support the requirements of the Afghan National Police at the time. Later it was determined that the patrol boats were no longer required. Section 1531 of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to transfer equipment bought for the Afghans but not transferred to them or no longer required by them to be converted into DoD stocks for alternate disposition. The RHIBs are currently being stored pending disposition. The Department of Defense (DoD) strives to ensure every reconstruction project is executed in a manner that demonstrates responsible stewardship of taxpayers' dollars. We value the oversight provided by inspectors general and audit agencies, and incorporate their findings and recommendations into subsequent efforts. Working in a war time environment such as Afghanistan brings with it many challenges, and we continually seek to improve our processes. We also are focused on building the capability and capacity of our Afghan partners to improve accountability and help instill sound financial management practices in daily operations while reducing the risk of fraud, waste and abuse. Our shared goal with the Afghan people is to ensure that the tremendous progress achieved over the past decade through the investments and sacrifices of the international community and Afghanistan is sustainable. The reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan are central to this. While there have been some instances of underperforming projects, these are vastly outweighed by the positive cumulative impact of the wide array of successful projects. Singling out a few underperforming projects-or misrepresenting or misconstruing the reasons why a project's results did not turn out as expected and drawing larger conclusion about the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts-detracts from an accurate understanding of the overall positive impact that reconstruction has had on Afghanistan.
Brazilian police and protesters clash, hours ahead of opening game of the World Cup, which has been marred by construction delays and political unrest
The events in Iraq are a result of the actions carried out by the US and the UK, and the situation has spiraled out of control, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists. “It has been reported that the UK foreign minister declared that the events in Iraq are, according to him, an illustration that terrorism is rampant in the region due to the absence of reconciliation in Syria,” Lavrov said. “We’ve known that our English colleagues have a unique ability to twist everything. But I didn’t expect such cynicism, because the events that are taking place in Iraq are an illustration of a complete failure of the venture started by the US and the UK that allowed it to spiral out of control completely.” “We express our solidarity with the Iraqi authorities, the Iraqi people who should restore peace and security in their country, but the actions of our Western partners raise a lot of questions,” Lavrov marked.
Lavrov noted that 11 years ago the US president announced the victory of democracy in Iraq, and that “the situation has deteriorated in geometrical progression.” “The unity of Iraq has been called into question. The rampant terrorism is taking place due to the fact that the occupation troops didn’t pay any attention to the interior political processes, didn’t help the national dialogue, and only pursued their own interests,” Lavrov said. On Monday night, the terrorists seized control of the town Mosul – the administrative center of the northern province of Nineveh. On Wednesday, the authorities informed the population about the fall of Tikrit, the hometown of former leader Saddam Hussein and just 150km from Baghdad. Sergey Lavrov has also touched on the developments in Ukraine. He said Moscow demands an immediate investigation into the reports of the use of banned weapons in Ukraine.
We emphasize concern over the reports about the use by the Ukrainian military of fire bombs and other indiscriminate weapons. Those reports must be urgently checked,” Lavrov stressed. He said the Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin “will be calling the OSCE mission which has observers in Ukraine, to establish facts [of using indiscriminate weapons], as well as will strive for the investigation into the tragedies in Odessa on May 2, in Mariupol on May 9, the ongoing actions in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, and the snipers’ case on Maidan in February – all those probes should be brought to a close.” “We know that the European Council is ready to be involved in the probe which the Ukrainian authorities carry out. We are convinced that this should be done,” Lavrov stressed. Russia is also submitting to the UN the draft resolution on Ukraine calling to follow the roadmap the OSCE previously proposed. “We’ve asked our UN envoy to submit to the UN Security Council the project on the resolution on the Ukrainian situation because the lack of progress on the halt of the violence and military actions since the start of the punitive operation causes concern,” Lavrov said. At the moment there is no talk about bringing peacemakers to Ukraine, Lavrov said. “We don’t think that the situation has reached that point yet. There is still hope for a declaration by [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko that the violence will be stopped and the negotiations will begin,” he added.
US President Barack Obama says his government is looking at "all options", including military action, to help Iraq fight Islamists militants.
He said the US had an interest in making sure jihadists did not gain a foothold in Iraq. His remarks came after the cities of Mosul and Tikrit fell to Sunni Islamist insurgents during a lightning advance. A parliamentary vote to grant PM Nouri Maliki emergency powers was delayed earlier after MPs failed to turn up. Just 128 out of the 325 MPs were present for the vote. Led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the insurgents are believed to be planning to push further south to the capital, Baghdad, and regions dominated by Iraq's Shia Muslim majority, whom they regard as "infidels". Insurgent advance "There will be some short-term immediate things that need to be done militarily," Mr Obama told reporters at the White House as he met Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. "I don't rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in Iraq, or Syria for that matter." Parts of Kirkuk province were overrun by the Sunni Islamists this week. Government forces slowed the insurgents' advance on Wednesday outside Samarra, a city just 110km (68 miles) north of Baghdad. But reports have emerged of the rebels bypassing Samarra and seizing the town of Dhuluiya, 90km north-west of Baghdad. The insurgents also control a large swathe of territory in eastern Syria, amid a campaign to set up a Sunni militant enclave straddling the border.
Iraqi Kurdish forces took control of the northern oil city of Kirkuk on Thursday, after government troops abandoned their posts in the face of a triumphant Sunni Islamist rebel march towards Baghdad that threatens Iraq's future as a unified state. In Mosul, Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant staged a parade of American Humvee patrol cars seized from a collapsing Iraqi army in the two days since ISIL fighters drove out of the desert and overran the northern metropolis. At Baiji, near Kirkuk, they surrounded Iraq's largest oil refinery. At Mosul, which had a population close to two million before the weeks events forced hundreds of thousands to flee, witnesses saw ISIL fly two helicopters over the parade, apparently the first time the militant group has obtained aircraft in years of waging insurgency on both sides of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. State television showed what it said was aerial footage of Iraqi aircraft firing missiles at insurgent targets in Mosul. The targets could be seen exploding in black clouds. Further south, the fighters extended their lightning advance to towns only about an hour's drive from the capital Baghdad, where Shi'ite militia are mobilising for a potential replay of the ethnic and sectarian bloodbath of 2006-2007. Trucks carrying Shi'ite volunteers in uniform rumbled towards the front lines to defend the capital. The stunning advance of ISIL, which aims to build a caliphate ruled on medieval Sunni Islamic principles across Syria and Iraq, is the biggest threat to Iraq since U.S. troops withdrew in 2011. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in fear as the militants seized the main cities of the Tigris valley north of Baghdad in a matter of days. The security forces of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish north, known as the peshmerga, or "those who confront death", took over bases in Kirkuk vacated by the army, a spokesman said. "The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga," said peshmerga spokesman Jabbar Yawar. "No Iraqi army remains in Kirkuk now." Kurds have long dreamed of taking Kirkuk and its huge oil reserves. They regard the city, just outside their autonomous region, as their historical capital, and peshmerga units were already present in an uneasy balance with government forces. The swift move by their highly organised security forces to seize full control demonstrates how this week's sudden advance by ISIL has redrawn Iraq's map - and potentially that of the entire Middle East. Since Tuesday, black clad ISIL fighters who do not recognise the region's modern borders have seized Mosul and Tikrit, home town of former dictator Saddam Hussein, as well as other towns and cities north of Baghdad. The army of the Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government in Baghdad has essentially evaporated in the face of the onslaught, abandoning bases and U.S.-provided weapons. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has come under fire for failing to do enough to shore up the government in Baghdad before pulling out its troops. Security and police sources said Sunni militants now controlled parts of the small town of Udhaim, 90 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, after most of the army troops left their positions and withdrew towards the nearby town of Khalis. “We are waiting for supporting troops and we are determined not to let them take control. We are afraid that terrorists are seeking to cut the main highway that links Baghdad to the north," said a police officer in Udhaim. ISIL and its allies took control of Falluja at the start of the year. It lies just 50 km (30 miles) from Maliki's office. OIL PRICE SURGE The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet later on Thursday. Iraq's ambassador to France said it would call for weapons and air support. "We need equipment, extra aviation and drones," Fareed Yasseen said on French radio. The Council "must support Iraq, because what is happening is not just a threat for Iraq but the entire region." The global oil benchmark jumped about $2 on Thursday, as concerns mounted that the violence could disrupt supplies from the OPEC exporter. Iraq's main oil export facilities are in the largely Shi'ite areas in the south and were "very, very safe", oil minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi said. ISIL fighters have overrun the town of Baiji, site of the main oil refinery which meets Iraq's domestic demand for fuel. Luaibi said the refinery itself was still in government hands but late on Thursday police and an engineer inside the plant said insurgents were surrounding it. In Tikrit, video footage showed dozens of members of a police special forces battalion held prisoner, paraded before a crowd by fighters who overran their base. Militants have set up military councils to run the towns they captured, residents said. “They came in hundreds to my town and said they are not here for blood or revenge but they seek reforms and to impose justice. They picked a retired general to run the town,” said a tribal figure from the town of Alam, north of Tikrit. “'Our final destination will be Baghdad, the decisive battle will be there,' that’s what their leader of the militants' group kept repeating," the tribal figure said. Security was stepped up in Baghdad to prevent the Sunni militants from reaching the capital, which is itself divided into Sunni and Shi'ite neighbourhoods and saw ferocious sectarian street fighting in 2006-2007 under U.S. occupation. By midday on Thursday insurgents had not entered Samarra, the next big city in their path on the Tigris north of Baghdad. “The situation inside Samarra is very calm today and I can’t see any presence of the militants. Life is normal here,” said Wisam Jamal, a government employee in the mainly Sunni city which houses a major Shi'ite pilgrimage site. LOW MORALE The million-strong Iraqi army, trained by the United States at a cost of nearly $25 billion, is hobbled by low morale and corruption. Its effectiveness is hurt by the perception in Sunni areas that it pursues the hostile interests of Maliki's Shi'ite-led government. During the U.S. occupation, Washington encouraged Maliki to reach out to the Sunni minority that lost power after Saddam's fall. But since the U.S. withdrawal, Maliki pushed Sunnis out of his ruling coalition, creating resentment insurgents exploit. The Obama administration had tried to keep a contingent of troops in Iraq beyond 2011 to prevent a return of insurgents, but failed to reach a deal with Maliki's government. In Washington, an administration official said Maliki's government had in the past sought U.S. air strikes against ISIL positions. The White House suggested such strikes were not being considered and Washington's main focus now is on building up government forces. Iraq's parliament was meant to hold an extraordinary session on Thursday to vote on declaring a state of emergency, but failed to reach a quorum, a sign of the sectarian political dysfunction that has paralysed decision-making in Baghdad. About 500,000 Iraqis have fled Mosul, home to 2 million people, and the surrounding province, many seeking safety in autonomous Kurdistan, a region that has prospered while patrolled by the powerful peshmerga, avoiding the violence that has plagued the rest of Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. The Kurdish capture of Kirkuk overturns a fragile balance of power that has held Iraq together since Saddam's fall. Iraq's Kurds have done well since 2003, running their own affairs while being given a fixed percentage of the country's overall oil revenue. But with full control of Kirkuk - and the vast oil deposits beneath it - they could earn more on their own, eliminating the incentive to remain part of a failing Iraq. Maliki's army already lost control of much of the Euphrates valley west of the capital to ISIL last year, and with the evaporation of the army in the Tigris valley to the north, the government could be left with just Baghdad and areas south. The Sunni surge also potentially leaves the long desert frontier between Iraq and Syria effectively in ISIL hands, advancing its stated goal of erasing the border and creating a single state ruled according to mediaeval Islamic principles. Iran, which funds and arms Shi'ite groups in Iraq, could be brought deeper into the conflict, as could Turkey. In Mosul, 80 Turkish citizens were being held hostage by ISIL after its consulate there was overrun. Turkey threatened to retaliate if any of the group, which included special forces soldiers, diplomats and children, were harmed. Maliki described the fall of Mosul as a "conspiracy" and said the security forces who had abandoned their posts would be punished. He also said Iraqis were volunteering in several provinces to join army brigades to fight ISIL. In a statement on its Twitter account, ISIL said it had taken Mosul as part of a plan "to conquer the entire state and cleanse it from the apostates", referring to the province of Nineveh of which the city is the capital. Militants were reported to have executed soldiers and policemen after their seizure of some towns. Ambassadors of the NATO defence alliance held an emergency meeting in Brussels at Turkey's request and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan held talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden about the developments. ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke with al Qaeda's international leader, Osama bin Laden's former lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahri, and has clashed with al Qaeda fighters in Syria. In Syria it controls swathes of territory, funding its advances through taxing local businesses, seizing aid and selling oil. In Iraq, it has carried out regular bombings against Shi'ite civilians, killing hundreds a month.
The Islamist militants advancing toward Baghdad have Iraqi and Western officials scrambling to avert a broader crisis. While the seizure of Iraq’s key cities of Mosul and Tikrit has catapulted the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) – onto the world’s radar, the Sunni group has been around for years. ISIS earned their stripes against U.S. forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein and initially operated under the mantle of al Qaeda in Iraq.
HOW WAS IT ESTABLISHED?
Al Qaeda in Iraq took shape once Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – who had moved to Iraq after a stint in Afghanistan – declared his allegiance to Osama bin Laden after years of building up a network of Sunni fighters to take aim at international forces and the government. Since Zarqawi’s death in 2006, al Qaeda in Iraq adopted at least one other name – Islamic State of Iraq – and has continued on its bloody drive to wage war against Shiite institutions.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged as leader in 2010, transforming the militants into a well-oiled and organized fighting force. “We have a group there that’s really proven itself over a long period of time,” said Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at London's Royal United Services Institute think tank. “They’ve got well-honed operations.” Al Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for the majority of the 7,000 Iraqi civilians killed last year – the highest number since 2008, according to the State Department. WHAT ARE ITS BROADER REGIONAL AMBITIONS? The group changed its name (again) in April 2013 to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant when Baghdadi, declared his fighters also were operating in Syria. However, the group is also known as ISIS. The move signaled the group’s broader ambitions and goal of establishing a large Islamic caliphate straddling the border of Iraq and Syria – plus the strict enforcement of Shariah law. In a June 2013 audio statement, Baghdadi – who claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad - vowed to erase the “Western imposed border with Syria” and called on his followers to “tear apart” the governments in both countries and their regional backers.
The U.S. has put a $10 million bounty on Baghdadi's head. Under his leadership, ISIS has stepped up its bloody campaign of suicide attacks and car bombings in an attempt to sow fear among the population and weaken the Shiite-led government. In November 2013, Iraq witnessed 50 suicide attacks, compared with only three in November 2012, according to testimony given by Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk given in a February House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
Baghdadi also declared a campaign dubbed “Break the Walls” to make freeing imprisoned militants a priority. In July, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on the notorious Abu Ghraib prison that killed more than a dozen people and freed hundreds of prisoners. For months, the group has been fighting for control of the mostly Sunni areas of western Iraq. ISIS seized the city of Fallujah earlier this year and for a time held control of parts of Ramadi in the desert west of Baghdad.
The campaign to free prisoners also appears to be alive and well: ISIS reportedly freed hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners from jail in Mosul and Tikrit during this week’s offensive. That creates a huge pool of new recruits that ISIS can potentially tap into, according to experts. Earlier this year, NBC News reported that ISIS was forcing Christians to live under 7th-century laws and had been known to cut off the hands of thieves in the Syrian city of Raqqa, which the militants controlled. HOW MANY MILITANTS? Experts say that ISIS is the largest terror organization in Iraq, placing the number of fighters in the thousands. ISIS has presented itself as a champion of the Sunni cause, capitalizing on the rampant disenfranchisement many Sunnis feel under the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That unhappiness, experts say, has given the group moderate support in parts of Iraq and also made victory in overtaking Sunni-dominated cities easier to achieve even while the militants are vastly outnumbered by Iraqi security forces. ISIS, though, is far from a “ragtag” army, according to Hayder al-Khoei, an Iraq analyst for London-based think tank Chatham House. “They’re more like a conventional army – rockets, missiles and the like,” he explained.
The civil war in Syria has only helped ISIS fighters hone their craft – giving them battlefield skills plus staging and training grounds across the border that make the group even more dangerous. By taking Mosul, the physical border with Syria becomes even less relevant for ISIS. “It’s given them a stepping stone from the north,” al-Khoei said. “Their territory is much more consolidated.. They control a lot of Syrian territory on the other side of the border so taking Mosul gives them more ability to maneuver.” In addition to his reputation for brutality, Baghdadi is particularly concerning to the West given his acceptance of scores of foreign fighters - who could one day take their skills back home to the U.S. or Europe and wage jihad. WHERE DO THEY GET THEIR WEAPONS? Much of the group’s funding is derived from well-established criminal networks such as extortion rackets, and ISIS benefits from a steady flow across the Iraq-Syria border of fighters, recruits and equipment. ISIS militants picked up heavy weaponry – guns, armored vehicles and even a possible helicopter – when Iraqi forces fled their posts in Mosul, a fact analysts say is not a game-changer but will certainly give the group a boost. “It means they don’t have to go buy weapons and will be armed and able to launch more substantial attacks in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq,” explained Pantucci. “It’s a strengthener rather than a game changer.” WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Iraq's government is scrambling to coordinate a response to the assaults on Mosul, Tikrit and other key cities. It has asked the U.S. government for assistance - which thus far has not been granted. In a recording spokesman released shortly after Tikrit fell to militant hands, an ISIS spokesman praised militant gains and urged fighters to march on Baghdad. "Do not give up one span of land that you have liberated," spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani says. "March to Baghdad... We have a score to settle."
It's worth noting that Adnani's message is not the first time ISIS has urged fighters to march toward the capital. Baghdadi, too, issued a similar decree in January: “As for ISIS in Iraq: Be in the frontlines against the Shia, and march toward Baghdad and the South," he said, according to testimony given to the House Foreign Affairs committee. At the time, he also gave a further, equally chilling pledge: “Our last message is to the Americans. Soon we will be in direct confrontation. So watch, for we are with you, watching.”
A Pakistani court backs ex-military ruler Pervez Musharraf's request to leave the country.
Allama Syed Sajid Naqvi, Chief of Shia Ulema Pakistan, has said that innocent Shia scholar and leader Ghulam Raza Naqvi was behind the bars but the Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorists were being released. “Due to underhand deals with the banned Yazidi takfiri nasbi terrorist outfits, their ringleaders had been released but Shia leader Ghulam Raza Naqvi was still behind the bars despite the fact that he was granted bail in all cases,” he said speaking at a press conference in Sialkot. He said that he knew well that Allama Ghulam Raza Naqvi was an innocent person and he was implicated in a false case was wrongly convicted because of anti-Shia bias. He said that the said biased policy was source of disappointment for Shia Pakistanis. “I confirm that a baseless case was registered against Allama Ghulam Raza Naqvi. Takfiri elements are once again being patronized that is not in the interest of Pakistan. Rule of law requires reversal of this biased policy,” he urged.
In its investigative report “Forced Marriages & Forced Conversions in the Christian Community of Pakistan” the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) classifies a pattern. It states that in maximum of these kidnapping cases the parents of Christian women file a police report, but in response the kidnapper’s relatives or friends file another police complaint on behalf of the kidnapped Christian woman, accepting that she deliberately married and converted to Islam, and that her parents are now “harassing” her unlawfully. Out of Pakistan’s approximate 185 million population, around 95 percent are Muslims—20-30 percent Shia, the majority Sunni. Christians make up about 2 percent of the total population and about the same number are Hindus. And the last 1 percent are of other religious minorities. The report signifies that after kidnapping, these Christian women are exposed to “sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse”. When they are produced before the court and asked to testify if they were captured, these women (and sometimes children) give statements in favor of their abductors fearing of threats to their life and family. MSP states the report is based on field research assembled by legal expert, Emad Ansari, during the summer of 2012. It is based upon numerous interviews with local CSOs, national policymakers and diverse stakeholders from amongst the Pakistani judiciary. The esteemed national Pakistani daily paper ‘Dawn’ has also showed a study of such an incident backing up MSP’s research; parents of a poor Hindu girl registered a police complaint about her forced conversion. It shows that similarly Hindus also suffer kidnapping of their women and forcible conversion to Islam. The analysis shows that it is to a certain extent difficult to truly say whether the marriage was contracted with complete deliberate agreement. A Catholic organization working in Pakistan, The National Commission for Justice and Peace, noted 624 media reports of Christians’ conversion to Islam between the years 2000 and 2012. The MSP remarks that, it is hard to estimate from these media reports how many conversions were of a forced nature. Nevertheless, it records that “The line between willful and coerced conversions becomes further blurred when the reasons for conversion include a need for security, escape from discrimination, or fear of future violence”. (Life can clearly appear to be easier for women who marry ‘above their station’ through conversion). However, the MSP report signifies with stress that “coercive evangelization and targeted conversions are taking place”. Albert David, the chairman of the Pakistan United Christian Movement, stressed that the government must take actions to stop forceful conversion. He also appealed to the chief justice of Pakistan to take stern action if the government remains unsuccessful to introduce special measures. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/hundreds-of-christian-girls-kidnapped-and-forced-to-convert-each-year/#sthash.U1kCZNSW.dpuf
Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued a statement today revealing that it has received information about a former Shia Muslim who has by his own choice, converted to Ahmadi Muslim sect is now facing threats to his life. According to the information received by the AHRC, Mr. Sharafat Din, 35 years of age, the son of Ahmed Mir and a resident of Gilgit-Baltistan province Pakistan, who hails from the Shia Sect of Islam, on his own choice joined the Ahmadi faith in June of 2013. The Shia Sect is the second largest sect of Islam. Further according to the information, Din's family members have kidnapped his wife and his child as punishment for joining Ahmadiyya Islam. The community where he resides has declared him an infidel and has deemed that he is to be killed by the community due to his religious beliefs. Din's nephew has filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the Police, accusing him of spreading hate against Muslims and for 'preaching Ahmedi ideology' in the community. According to reports the police have, in turn filed a criminal case against Din for instigating a sectarian violence. Din is hiding in different cities as his name and photos have been distributed to different religious groups advertising that he is an infidel. The AHRC noted with concern, the persecution of Ahmadi's by religious fundamentalists in Pakistan, which has to date continued unabated and they have viewed conversions into the Ahmadi sect as one of the biggest crimes against Islamic principles. Pakistan has officially declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and in their freedom of religion has been curtailed by a series of ordinances, acts and constitutional amendments. The Ahmadi sect was declared un-Islamic by a constitutional amendment in 1974 and all other Islamic sects continue to discriminate against the Ahmadiyya community so much so that they are not even allowed to perform any Islamic rituals. Ahmadis are barred by law from worshiping in public places, or in structures identified as mosques, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public and or publicly quoting from the Quran. Any Ahmadi found engaged in any Islamic activity is meted with the ultimate punishment of death by Pakistani courts or by public killings by Islamist mobs.
Nawab Khair Baksh Marri, the prominent Baloch nationalist leader finally passed away without brokering a deal with any of the Pakistani governments to end the ongoing conflict in Balochistan. The veteran Baloch leader, who passed away on Tuesday, remained firm on his demand for a free Baloch country. His commitment to his principles has transformed him into one of the most revered leaders of Balochistan ever. The respect Nawab Marri enjoyed among the young pro-independence Baloch youth could easily be felt through the widespread public mourning over his demise on social media. If there was ever a theory of Islamabad being able to buy off a Baloch leader by bribing him or offering him a top government position, Nawab Marri refused to be that leader. He will carry with himself a legacy that will distinguish him from his contemporaries such as Ghaus Baskh Bizenjo and Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. While Bizenjo, during the last days of his life, softened his stance against the federation of Pakistan, Nawab Bugti, on the contrary, turned into a hero after he took a strict position against Islamabad and was eventually killed in a military operation. Nawab Marri stands different from the rest of his contemporaries as he lived all his life as a strong Baloch leader who was never apologetic about his political beliefs and demands. He did not contribute much to Balochistan’s street politics nor did he form a political party to advance his mission. His was a role of a political philosopher for the Baloch nationalist movement who continued to convince his followers through lectures and study circles as to why it was important for the Baloch to have their own country. He insisted that Pakistan had occupied Balochistan and expanded injustices against the Baloch people, in addition to exploiting their mineral wealth.
Opposition leader in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah on Wednesday asked New Delhi to explain how Taliban terrorists got Indian weapons which were used in Karachi airport attack. Speaking to reporters, the PPP leader said that the banned terrorist outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) access to Indian weapons is a great matter of concern and the government must raise the issue with the Modi-led government in Delhi. He said the Indian government should explain how Indian Army’s Factor-8 injection and weapons reached to the Taliban terrorists. Shah said the Indian spy agencies were creating problems on Pakistani soil by supporting militants in Balochistan and now providing arms to TTP terrorists. Earlier, security forces had claimed that the Taliban terrorists who ambushed Karachi airport on Sunday night were using Indian weapons and special injections Factor-8 which the Indian Army’s advance troops use in frontline combat to avoid bleeding and are not available in international market. The PPP leader said all opposition parties in parliament would give their collective output on election reforms. He said opposition parties have agreed to take hard stance over quorum issue in the National Assembly.
It was the shoes that betrayed Corporal Faiz Mohammad’s would-be killers.
When 10 Taliban militants attacked Pakistan’s busiest airport on Sunday night, sparking a five-hour gun battle that killed at least 34 people, Mohammad and his fellow officers from the Airports Security Force (ASF) were the first line of defense. “There was a moment of confusion because the militants had the same ASF uniforms as us,” said Mohammad, 30. “But then we saw their shoes.” ASF officers wear black leather shoes, but the men who stormed Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan’s chaotic commercial capital, wore white-soled sneakers. All 10 militants were dead by dawn, shot down by the security forces or blown up by their own suicide vests. That the Taliban failed in its main objective – to hijack an aircraft and hold its passengers hostage – should bring no comfort to embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, since the attack signals an alarming shift in tactics by an increasingly formidable foe.
AS the shock and distress over the Karachi airport attack refuses to subside quickly and the numbing questions the attack has raised refuse to go away, this much is clear: the state, both civil and military, has failed to reassure the public or demonstrate that it really does have a plan to keep the country safe. Even the post-attack restoration of calm has been shattered. How, for example, did the security forces declare the airport secured when there were still some civilians to be recovered? How was it possible for a second attack — rejected as an attack altogether by some sections of the security forces — to be launched and for all the attackers to simply melt away hours after the initial attack? Where has the leadership been at the provincial and federal levels? For the Sindh government to foist all responsibility on the federal government simply because airports fall in the federal domain of responsibility is absurd. Surely, with the central leadership so shockingly absent, a quick Sindh government response would have been both appreciated and accepted. Yet, much of the attention must rightly turn to the two principal actors in the state’s fight against militancy: the army and the federal government. Start with the army — if only because it seems keen on action against some militants, where the government is not. For days before the Karachi attack, military action in North Waziristan had targeted hubs of foreign militants. Then, elements among the foreign militants turned around and hit the Karachi airport. Can anyone be surprised by this? And yet, it seems the military was, even though, after the split in the outlawed TTP, military officials themselves talked privately of the threat to Karachi. So, was the army-run intelligence apparatus in Karachi put in overdrive? Were all decks on hand and every spare resource dedicated to monitoring and intercepting communications among militants and movement of terrorist cells? Even now, what exactly is the plan? More retaliation it seems, according to media reports sourced from army officials. If retaliation didn’t work before, why will it work now? And does more retaliation mean the army will this time put its vast intelligence network on the highest state of alert to try and thwart another Karachi airport-style attack? As for the federal government, it has taken inaction and indecision to truly tragic levels. The interior minister talks of the country being in a state of war now, but says nothing about what his government is doing to prepare for or fight that war. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has given dialogue his all — but it hasn’t worked. Mr Sharif is the prime minister of Pakistan — and the buck stops at his desk. It is time for him to display some qualities of statesmanship and reassure an alarmed nation that the government will not tolerate such incidents and will take strict action against all those responsible for the growing violence and acts of terrorism from the tribal areas to Karachi.
Pakistan: Federal Govt accused of giving away Rs 104 billion tax exemptions to ”powerful” businessmen
The opposition in Senate Tuesday rejected the federal budget, saying it was influenced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Opening the debate on the federal budget 2014-15, Pakistan People”s Party (PPP) leader Mian Raza Rabbani said the SRO regime is not being allowed to be done away with by influential lobbies, crony capitalists and big businesshouses who avail exemptions but do not pay taxes. He said the incumbent government, which promised to phase out the SRO regime over a period of three years, had issued over 90 SROs in the first nine months [July to March] of the current fiscal year to benefit influential people. He said SROs are notified in violation of Article 162 of the Constitution. He referred to a study, according to which a yearly tax exemption of Rs 478 billion has been given to influential people while the amount could be utilised to generate 1700 MW electricity. Within the first six months in power, he said, the incumbent government has given away Rs 104 billion tax exemptions to powerful businessmen. He said that till February 2014, the government allowed customs duty exemptions of Rs 92 billion, Rs 7.3 billion worth of sales tax and Rs 2.4 billion income tax; and all these exemptions were given through SROs to powerful business lobbies. Rabbani said the partial exemptions on sugar loan ranging from Rs 10 billion and Rs 20 billion were given to benefit a handful “cronies.” He said the customs exemptions are estimated at Rs 136 billion while other exemptions cost the national exchequer around Rs 96 billion; these were mostly for the influential businessmen, manufacturers, vendors of automobiles, export companies specific items, conditional import of raw material and components. He said the tax exemptions enjoyed by industrialists, feudal lords and companies rose by a staggering 99 percent during this fiscal year at a time when the FBR witnessed a shortfall of Rs 2 billion in revenue collection. He also opposed a 10 percent decrease in duty on 1800cc vehicles manufactured in the country, saying that the step has been taken to benefit a particular business house. He said the IPPs were given income tax exemptions of Rs 52.03 billion during the current fiscal year as compared to the last year”s Rs 48.6 billion, showing an increase of Rs 3.43 billion. Referring to the issue of circular debt, Rabbani said the circular debt has re-emerged and a ”crony capitalist” who owns a particular IPP has threatened the Ministry of Water and Power through a letter asking the ministry to release Rs 3 billion or face 12- to 14-hour loadshedding. He said circular debt, is once again hovering around Rs 300 billion. He said the government has borrowed Rs 31 billion from commercial banks to clear circular debts but loadshedding continues for 15 hours in urban and 20 hours in the rural areas. Referring to supplementary grants, he said the government is seeking approval of unprecedentedly high supplementary expenditures for the current financial year because of huge expenditure overruns and diversions of higher budget debt servicing. He pointed out that Rs 1.54 billion supplementary expenditures were made by the cabinet division to purchase two BMW 76 Li high security sedans and appropriate security apparatus for the VIP and to train IB officials. Similarly, he said that Rs 69 million is being sought for the garden of the Prime Minster”s Secretariat. He also questioned the amount of Rs 1.4 billion to be utilised for donation to Sultana Foundation on the advertisements, publicity, video conferencing facility and rent of residential buildings. Furthermore, he claimed that Rs 195 million was spent on the purchase of six sniffer dogs for security at Prime Minister”s House. He said that the royals of the UAE and Qatar have been exempted from import duties on all items including vehicles which they would bring to Pakistan for different projects. Earlier, the combined opposition including PPP, MQM and ANP staged a walkout from the house against what they felt that the government was not paying any heed to the Upper House. Before initiating a debate, Rabbani said that no minister was present in the house for taking notes of the budget debate. “The government is not giving any importance to the debate of the house and we are going to stage a walkout unless the ministers ensure their presence,” Rabbani said while leading a walk out. ANP senator Zahid Khan while speaking on a point of order said that instead of initiating a debate on the budget the house should start a debate on Karachi situation where militants are playing havoc with the lives of people. MQM”s Colonel Tahir Hussain Mashhadi (Retd) said that Karachi has been left at the mercy of militants where Taliban have established their camps with the support of the banned sectarian outfits while the government is reluctant to launch a decisive crackdown against terrorists
By D Suba Chandran Karachi has been generally referred as the City of Lights. But this Sunday, unfortunately it became the City of Flames – literally and figuratively, with its airport being attacked by the Pakistani Taliban and smoke spiralling out. While in the coming days there are likely to be multiple analyses on this attack, two simple questions need to be addressed – what does the attack say of what is happening, and what does it mean for the events to come. Just a week before the attack on Karachi Airport, the social, print and electronic media was full of reports discussing the split within the Taliban, especially in Waziristan. One of the Mehsud factions led by Said Khan Sajna announced in public that they are leaving the TTP fold; one of the spokespersons of the Sajna faction was reported to have announced the following as the reason for the split: “The central leadership has gone into the hands of unseen forces, sectarian issues and extortion in the name of Taliban…We have decided to go our own way.” Following the above difference, there was a general belief and expectation that the Pakistani Taliban under the leadership of Fazlullah would be weakened and easy to target by the State forces. The fact that Sajna, who had announced the split belongs to the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan made many to believe that with the Mehsuds, the most powerful groups within the TTP deciding to part ways, the TTP would lose its impact and importance. Immediately, following the above announcement, the government also announced a group of tribal elders in Waziristan to evict all the foreign fighters from the region; the State gave them a 15 days ultimatum. The attack on Karachi airport by the Pakistani Taliban should be interpreted in the above background. Days within the announcement of the split and the ultimatum, the TTP decided to answer to those two developments in an appalling manner. From New York Times and Washington Post in the US to the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, every news agency – print and electronic covered the horror and gave substantial space to what had happened in their front pages and editorials. So, the Pakistani Taliban has sent a strong and powerful statement not only to the State in Pakistan, but also the rest of international community, that neither the split within the ranks, nor the announcement of an impended attack would frighten them. This seems to be the first major statement of the TTP’s attack on the Karachi Airport. Second, the attack in Karachi, far away from what is believed to its nerve center – the tribal agencies of the FATA along the Durand Line also convey the reach of the TTP. And this is not the first attack in Karachi. Few years earlier, in May 2011, the Taliban carried out a similar spectacular attack on the PNS Mehran, a Naval base in Karachi, destroying warplanes and also a P-3C Orion using just rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine gun fire. A similar strategy was used few days ago in the Karachi airport attack as well. Third, the attack also reveals the ability of the TTP to carry out high profile attacks on a regular basis. Consider the following attacks after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto since 2007 – on the GHQ in Rawalpindi (2009), PNS Mehran in Karachi (2011), Minhas Airbase in Kamra (2012) and Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar (2012). And in almost all these cases, it was not a huge attack, in terms of numbers; almost like the fidayeen attacks that J&K witnessed during the last decade – a small group of well trained and battle hardened militants (in the case of Karachi Airport attack – ten militants) creating a huge mayhem, leaving security, economy and regular life in tatters. It clearly reveals a pattern in terms of both the reach and ability of the TTP; and also perhaps it highlights the failure of the security and intelligence agencies. Worse, some analysts within Pakistan even consider, that there could be some information from inside. A targeted suicide attack of two military/intelligence officers near Islamabad few days ago, by the bombers dressed as beggars in a railway crossing make a section suspect that the TTP could be getting some insider information. Besides what has happened, what this attack means for the future is also equally important. The Karachi Airport is no ordinary one in the region; it is the largest international airport in Pakistan, acting as a powerful connectivity hub and economic gateway to the country. All leading airlines and cargo planes have Karachi as their main destination than Lahore or Islamabad. The security situation in the rest of Pakistan had already made many of the airlines and related agencies to cut down their operations. With this attack very much inside the Airport, one is likely to see further curtailing of international airlines from Europe in particular, which further acts as a hub to North America. With the recent budget announcement and the expectation to revive the economy and foreign direct investment, the Airport attack is likely to leave huge trails in the subsequent months on the potential to attract investment, thereby improve the country’s economy. With bad news spreading all over the world about what is happening within Pakistan, any decline in the air traffic further means limited travel to know and understand the ground situation. This connectivity is important for any major corporation to make any investment in Pakistan. The Karachi Airport attack would also mean the end of peace talks between the government and the TTP, which was actually being dragged during the last few months. Early this year, there were so many expectations within a section, especially within the Sharif government that the talks between the TTP and the government would ultimately yield to peace. Both sides announced multiple committees and even few ceasefires. There were even few reports that the military was not totally happy with what was happening in terms of the talks between the TTP and the political leadership. A section within the Civil Society even suspected that the TTP would only use this opportunity to hit back at a later stage. It appears, that is what has happened. The dialogue between the TTP and the government is now in tatters. Will the civilian and military leadership come together now, and start a full blown war against the militants and militancy within Pakistan? Will Pakistan stand up against violence and militancy? In the past, as explained earlier in this commentary, there were numerous instances of high profile attacks led by the TTP, even on military targets for example the bases of Air force and Navy, and also on the GHQ in Rawalpindi. There was even a suicide attack on the President. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s response to militancy so far has been divided with one section strongly advocating negotiations as a means. The State should attempt the same as a strategy; but when such an approach does not yield the desired result, it should also be open to pursue a military strategy. Perhaps, a section in Pakistan, even within the Establishment believes that these non-State actors would be an asset elsewhere in the near future. What has happened in Karachi Airport shows the reach and resolve of the TTP to continue its violent march.
Pakistan's 'City of Artisans' sees number of tradesmen decline as the militancy has cut back on the number of tourists.
More than a decade of unrelenting terrorism has wrought serious damage to the artistic tradition of Peshawar, a city that in the times of Gandhara (1500 BCE to 1000 CE) was known as the "City of Artisans."
For centuries, artisans from many countries and kingdoms would visit Peshawar to present their artefacts at exhibitions. The city's name comes from the word "Pehsa-war," meaning "City of Artisans" in Urdu, some historians say. Various bazaars in the city bear the names of various trades, like Misgran (copper engravers) and Sarafa (goldsmiths). The main bazaar, Qissa Khwani, became known as the "story-tellers' bazaar" because traders would gather to exchange stories of their homelands over tea. Terrorism attacks city's legacy However, the wave of terrorism that hit Pakistan starting in 2003 has badly eroded the city's traditional strength in those artisanal trades. In olden times, "the journey of almost every foreigner ... was incomplete without a visit to the traditional bazaars of Peshawar," Zahoor Durrani, a tour operator with several decades' experience. Now, though, almost no foreign tourists come to Peshawar or to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), he said. Gone are the days when someone passing through the Misgran bazaar would hear the rhythmic hammer blows of copper engravers decorating copper or brass utensils. In Misgran, "most of the craftsmen have switched over to other businesses because of falling sales," Siddiq, a shopkeeper in the bazaar, said. With a lack of visitors, the artisans have had to find other livelihoods, he said. Lahori Gate, a hub of wood engravers, has fallen on similarly hard times. Where it once had a dozen stalls selling woodwork, only two remain. Pottery also has suffered near-extinction in Peshawar. "The biggest blow by terrorism on the traditional arts of Peshawar was the shutdown of the Peshawar Pottery shop," Dr. Adil Zareef, a social worker and head of the Sarhad Conservation Network (SCN), an NGO supporting the conservation of KP's heritage, said. Peshawar Pottery's earthen glazed pots used to be presented as gifts for foreign dignitaries. The 150-year-old business, though, closed in 2011 because terrorism drove away customers. Authorities recognise the problem Authorities recognise what Peshawar has lost and want to restore it. "The KP government realises the damage inflicted by militancy and bombings on traditional arts of the region," Mushtaq Ahmad Khan, managing director of the KP Tourism Corporation (KPTC), said. The KPTC has drawn up a plan to revive the dying artisanal trades by letting craftsmen set up stalls at the historic Gor Khatri site. Gor Khatri is perhaps the oldest citadel in the ancient city of Peshawar and Buddha's begging bowl was displayed there in the days when Buddhism flourished in the area. Products created at Gor Khatri will go on exhibition nationwide, while the KPTC will arrange for tourist visits to the site, he added. The KPTC is active on other fronts. It arranges events like the "Huner Mela" art exhibit at Nishtar Hall in Peshawar to allow craftspeople from across KP to promote their products, he said. In 2011-2012, the KP government began offering interest-free loans to local artisans under the Riwaiti Hunarmand Rozgar Scheme, with seed money of Rs. 150m (US $1.5m), he added.
It has been a week of stunning advances by Islamic militants across a belt from Iraq to Pakistan. In Iraq, jihadi fighters rampaged through the country's second-largest city and swept farther south in their drive to establish an extremist enclave stretching into Syria. Pakistan's largest airport was paralyzed and rocked by explosions as gunmen stormed it in a dramatic show of strength. More than a decade after the U.S. launched its "war on terrorism," Islamic militant groups are bolder than ever, exploiting the erosion or collapse of central government control in a string of nations — Syria, Iraq and Pakistan — that are more strategically vital than the relatively failed states where al-Qaeda set up its bases in the past: Somalia, Yemen and 1990s Afghanistan. Most galling to Washington, the crumbling state power has come in countries that the United States has spent billions of dollars trying to strengthen during the past 13 years. Policy failings by those governments have contributed to giving militants an opening. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has alienated the country's Sunni community, which feels sidelined by his Shiite-led government. That has pushed some Sunnis into supporting the militants and has undermined the military, which includes many Sunnis. Pakistan's authority always has been tenuous in its rugged, tribal-dominated and underdeveloped northwest, near the Afghan border — and for years that was where militant groups, from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, operated. Now, the Pakistani Taliban have expanded to develop a strong presence in the country's largest city, Karachi, where the airport attack took place and where police are gunned down almost daily. The Afghan Taliban won a diplomatic victory of its own when the U.S. freed five Taliban detainees last month in a swap for the release of the only remaining U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. U.S. policies have shrunk its options in all these regions. American forces left Iraq more than two years ago without winning agreement on a longer presence from Maliki's government. Combat troops are on their way out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, which could have a similar effect as the Afghan government takes the lead in fighting the Taliban insurgency. In Syria, the Obama administration has resisted calls to more strongly arm and finance rebels fighting against President Bashar Assad, in part because of fears of inadvertently aiding Islamic radicals rather than moderate forces. As a result, better-armed and better-funded extremists have risen to prominence anyway. "A common theme is the inability of the international community ... to help local actors, local leadership to create more viable institutionally based societies, especially on the security side," said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. As a result, "weak and fragile states" have been unable to create "viable political systems of government, a political culture which is able to manage diversity and pluralism, and a security environment which is there to ... protect rather than to intimidate and impose order," he said. Nothing illustrates the potential for Islamic militants to rearrange the region's map more than the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which this week took over much of Mosul then swept into the Iraqi city of Tikrit, farther south. This year, it captured the Syrian provincial capital of Raqqa, where it imposed strict Shariah rule, carrying out executions in public squares, smashing liquor stores and extracting "taxes" from local businesses. It captured the Iraqi city of Fallujah in January and has now seized the bigger prize of Mosul. Pakistan presents a host of separate, complicated issues for the United States. A nominal ally against al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, its military-backed governments have bristled at U.S. pressure to fight militants in the border regions and have railed against American drone strikes on insurgent hideouts. During the weekend, militant gunmen stormed Karachi's airport and while the fighters ultimately were killed, the attack — and another in the city afterward — illustrated the confidence of the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. In a country that touts itself as a homeland for Muslims, authorities are reluctant to denounce an ideology championing Islam. So militants often are viewed not as enemies but as misguided Muslims, Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain said. "The narrative is basically controlled by the radicals in Pakistan, and that is their biggest victory," he said.