Saturday, July 19, 2014
Children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are not usually diagnosed until they are at least two years old and starting to show relevant behavioural patterns. Now, experts at the University of London’s Birkbeck University Baby Lab are developing a test for six- to 10-month old babies based on brain activity, rather than behaviour. Sensors are placed on the babies’ scalps to measure brain activity while the infants are shown faces that switch between looking at them and looking away. Programme director Teodora Gliga explained how the experiment works: “We chose one of the most important objects in a baby’s environment which is faces. They become very quickly familiarised with their mother’s face and also eye gaze – where someone is looking – is also very important. When someone is looking at them it means they want to interact, when someone is looking away from them they may be telling them where to look, what to learn from the environment. “ Researchers found that six-month-old babies who later go on to develop autism show reduced brain activity in response to the movement of eyes. “A child that will not later on develop autism will make a difference between someone looking towards them or away from them, because they mean different things. What we see in those infants who later develop autism is that they do not have this difference,” Gliga said.Picking up on these early signs means there can now be earlier and more effective intervention, improving the quality of life for both children and their families. Experts are now trying to establish whether the test can be used for early diagnosis of ADHD as well as autism.
Once again, so it seems, Israel failed to evaluate Hamas properly. During the past few days of Operation Protective Edge, the political echelon approved emergency call-up orders for more than 40,000 reservists, and thousands of troops massed around the Gaza Strip on standby, waiting for orders to begin a ground offensive. Now, however, voices in Israel are telling the public that Hamas has already suffered a mortal blow. The public is told that the organization is browbeaten and desperately searching for some victory image it will never obtain. It is told that the Israeli air force has already done most of the work.
Representatives of the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office, battalion and unit commanders and even the army’s chief of intelligence have all briefed Israeli journalists. They provided them with data and numbers that were clearly intended to impress them, and to make it clear to the Israeli public that there was no reason to get mired down in the Gaza quagmire — or in plain language, in any military action on the ground. During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman used the number of Palestinian casualties as a gauge of the operation’s success and the achievements of its aims. This time, however, a different tack was taken, with the IDF releasing the number of strategic targets that were hit: 100, 200, 300. Each day the IDF released a numerical tally of targets that were attacked. On the eighth day of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF reported that over 1,400 targets in Gaza had been attacked, including rocket launchers, weapons stockpiles, the homes of activists and institutions associated with Hamas. Hitting these 1,400 targets was supposed to have been the IDF’s excuse to exit the operation, leading to a cease-fire. Still, past experience has shown that Hamas hardly considers attacks on infrastructure and rocket launch sites or the destruction of homes of activists as being especially damaging. The price is tolerable. Hamas can still rise from the ashes and grow even stronger from it. Not a single political or military leader of Hamas was hit. They were all safe and secure in their durable bunkers. The destruction of infrastructure or strikes on rocket stockpiles and launchers are hardly enough to eliminate an organization. All they do is weaken it for a limited time. If we may borrow an expression coined by Dan Halutz, former chief of the air force and chief of staff during the Second Lebanon War, Hamas barely received a light tap on its Qassam (literally, the acronym for “Islamic combatant force,” and meaning, the blow was not mortal). That is also why Hamas ignored Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire. At the moment of truth — in this case, 9 a.m. sharp, when the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect — Hamas continued to fire its rockets at Israel, as if to show that it did not suffer any mortal blow. It was not forced to surrender. It did not surrender, full stop. For anyone who needs further proof, it turns out that the military wing of Hamas has once again seized control of the movement. From now on, it will be the military wing dictating every move to the political echelon of Hamas. Actually, from the first day of the crisis, ever since the kidnapping of the three Israeli boys — Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach — the political wing has been consciously keeping a very low profile. As the days of the operation went by, with the reservists called up remaining outside Gaza, Hamas interpreted this reluctance as a sign of Israeli weakness. That is why, even if a cease-fire is reached, it will only be a brief pause in the hostilities, a preparation of sorts for the next round of bloodshed, which will be more complicated and more dangerous for Israel. Hamas will learn from what happened this time, just as it learned from the previous operations Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, and it will improve its capabilities. It is doubtful whether in the next conflict the air-defense Iron Dome missile system will provide the same hermetically sealed umbrella of protection, which has served the people of Israel so well. And so, the moment of truth has arrived. The question is whether the balance of deterrence that Israel hoped to achieve against Hamas with Operation Protective Edge really was effective. Was it enough of a deterrent? That rockets were fired at Israel just an hour after the cease-fire was to have gone into effect proves that it wasn’t. Gaza under Hamas rule poses a strategic security threat to Israel. It must therefore decide whether a cease-fire, which will last a year or two at best, is the right move. It must determine whether such a cease-fire can ensure the safety of its citizens. Israel has an opportunity — perhaps even one that will not repeat itself — to take advantage of Egypt's also considering Hamas to be its enemy. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the new president of Egypt, considers the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization and would be very happy to see it defeated on the battlefield. This is the time for Israel to collaborate with Egypt and provide the Palestinian Authority (PA) with the possibility of returning to Gaza. Such an entry would be possible only if Hamas suffers a real blow; one that will send the movement’s leadership reeling in shock. That won’t happen if Israel continues to attack targets from the air. It can only happen if Israel fulfills its threats and sends in the tens of thousands of reservists called up under emergency provisions. To do so would not be an easy decision. Indeed, it would be complicated. On the other hand, the moment of “no-choice” in the war against Hamas has finally arrived. This might have been avoided had Israel acted wisely toward Hamas over the years, since it first won the election in 2006. Alternately, it could have been avoided even if Israel had acted wisely over the past few days. Now, however, there is no turning back. Conventional wisdom in Israel is that all of Gaza is a Hamas stronghold and that all the people of Gaza support the militant movement. But as this column has already noted, Hamas has brought little more than suffering, destruction and ruin on Gaza. Now that the military wing has also taken over the civil-political path, the future looks even bleaker for the residents of the Gaza Strip, as well as for Israel. The 1½ million people in the Gaza Strip who suffered through an eight-year-long nightmare of Hamas rule would be happy to finally get rid of the organization once and for all. Strategic collaboration between Israel and Egypt, with the PA of President Mahmoud Abbas standing behind the curtains, is actually a possibility. The Rafah crossing, Gaza’s vital lifeline, can only be reopened by Egypt if it is controlled by the PA under Abbas. Does anybody really think that the people of Gaza would refuse to allow Fatah supporters to control the border crossing there? Yes, it is complex. Initiating it will be complicated. On the other hand, after hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel, and not just at the cities in the south either, but also at the major metropolises of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, such a move is what is really needed. “Hamas is at fault, and Hamas will pay,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the current crisis. His statement must become more than just a slogan. Otherwise, this is only the beginning of the next round of violence. Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/07/hamas-gaza-protective-edge-iaf-idf-ceasefire-egypt.html#ixzz37y4Ys6l9
The self-anointing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi taps into jihadi nostalgia for a golden era of Islam
On 3 March 1924, the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul was surrounded by Republican Turkish troops. Inside, the last Ottoman caliph, Abdülmecid II, was reading the essays of Montaigne. Late that night, the prefect of police came to tell him that Ataturk's new assembly in Ankara had just voted to abolish the caliphate and that he was to leave the country at dawn. Photographs of the last caliph show an elderly, intellectual figure in a fez, kaftan and pince-nez, absorbed in the books of his library. Here he composed classical music and read the complete works of Victor Hugo, while cultivating his gardens and painting portraits of his family. But the following morning, he and his family were escorted into exile in Europe aboard the Orient Express, eventually settling in Nice. He was never allowed to return. A few years later, the last caliph was spotted by the correspondent of Time magazine. "He may be seen strolling with a mien of great dignity along the beach near Nice," the reporter wrote, "attired in swimming trunks only, carrying a large parasol." His daughter married into the family of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and whatever the dreams of the Islamic world, there has been little interest among Abdülmecid's family to revive the office that Ataturk took from them. In the absence of a descendant to fill the vacancy, the position of caliph was claimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during midday prayers just over a week ago in Mosul. Al-Baghdadi is the elusive leader of Isis, the group formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has self-contracted itself into the Islamic State. Clad in black robes, al-Baghdadi cut a rather different figure from his predecessor, whose favourite reading was the Revue des Deux Mondes. Instead, during his hour-long sermon in which "Caliph Ibrahim" announced his elevation, the only literary references given were to the Qur'an and the Hadiths. The restoration of the caliphate has been a dream of Islamic revivalists since at least the 1950s, when Hizb ut-Tahrir began calling for its resurrection. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar went as far as claiming for himself one of the caliph's traditional titles, Amir al-Mu'minin, the commander of the believers; the restoration of the caliphate was often mentioned by Osama bin Laden as his ultimate goal. But al-Baghdadi is the first Islamic leader since Abdülmecid to take the title, which, for many Muslims, distils deep millennial dreams of a great, just, pure multinational empire of faith – the nearest thing the Islamic world has ever seen, so the Islamists will insist, to heaven on Earth. Nostalgia for this lost world is directly associated with the golden age of early Islam, when under the leadership of the first four caliphs – the successors [of Muhammad] – Islam expanded from the Hejaz out through the Levant to borders of Sindh in the east and southern France in the west. As Edward Gibbon put it in one of his most celebrated passages: "A victorious line of march had been prolonged from the Rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Qur'an would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the truth of the Revelation of Mahomet." Yet, beyond this first century, the history of the caliphate is far more troubled, bloody and contested than many realise. For most of Islamic history the title of caliph has been disputed by a succession of Muslim leaders who were anxious to give sacral legitimacy to conquests already achieved – what the Israelis like to call "facts on the ground". As ever in the Middle East, religion is a useful mask assumed by the powerful as a way of holding on to power. By the early 10th century, the title of caliph was contested by the two leading Islamic polities of their day – the Shia Fatamid empire based in Cairo and the Sunni Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad. After Baghdad fell to the Mongols in 1261 and the last Abbasid caliph died in the sack of the city, the title was claimed by the Mameluks in Egypt on the basis of one stray descendant of the last Abbasid who had made his way to Cairo. When the Ottomans took Mameluk Egypt in 1517, they claimed the caliphate for themselves, though this was soon disputed by their rivals, the Great Mughals of India. In 1579, the Mughal emperor, Akbar, declared himself khalifatu'l-zaman, the caliph of his time, and khalifa remained one of the imperial title of the Mughals right up to 1858, when the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was packed off to exile in Rangoon by the British. In addition to these imperial leaders of huge Muslim empires, throughout Islamic history there has been a succession of eccentric millennial Islamist mystics who have briefly declared themselves caliph – the leaders of the Sokoto caliphate in 19th century Nigeria, for example – before being declared heretical and falling from power. It is too early to say to which of these traditions al-Baghdadi belongs and whether Isis represents a brief interlude of Islamist anarchy or marks the beginning of a permanent new jihadistan which will succeed in establishing itself on the map. Nevertheless, for all the eccentricity of the self-declaration or its flimsy legal basis, it cannot but have great resonance through the Islamic world, coming at a moment of such destabilisation, with Syria and Iraq ablaze, Egypt restive and Israel slaughtering the people of Gaza afresh. It will inevitably attract jihadis from across the globe to the Isis banner. It is no comfort that the terrible tragedy of Iraq is entirely a mess of our own creation.
Shia Muslims in Pakistan are angry about their government’s failure to provide enough security for them and protect their religious freedom. The anti-Taliban Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen group or M-W-M has held a press conference in Karachi over the ongoing killings of Shia activists and businessmen in Pakistan. Today's press conference of Shia leaders on law and order situation in the city clearly shows they are really worried about government's security measures. The Pakistani government says security has been beefed to avoid any security breach this year. They have also devised a strategy under the Ramazan-ul-Mubarik contingency plan to protect Shia processions and congregations in the holy month of Ramadan. Since Pakistanis Shias were also targeted during their ceremonies and processions last year, they’re demanding better security arrangements this year to prevent takfiri terrorists from causing havoc. Pakistani officials have decided to suspend cellular services in major urban centers including Karachi during major Shia ceremonies this year. And pillion riding will also be banned in some cities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin conveyed his condolences to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte over the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane that crashed in eastern Ukraine and said the tragedy needs to be investigated objectively. “The head of the Russian state emphasized that the tragedy that occurred once again confirms the necessity of a quick peaceful settlement to the acute crisis in Ukraine and said that all of the circumstances around the aircraft disaster need to be investigated carefully and objectively,” the Kremlin’s press service said. Earlier, Putin also expressed his condolences to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed near the town of Torez in the Donetsk Region on Thursday. There were 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board. Various sources speculated that the plane was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile. Soon after the crash, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Minister wrote on his Facebook page that a Buk surface-to-air missile system was indeed used to down the plane, but insisted that the independence supporters had done that. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of supplying arms to resistance forces in the east of Ukraine, although there has been no evidence to this effect. Ukrainian authorities and Malaysia Airlines are investigating the incident.
A number of Islamic and Muslim-majority nations impose brutal punishments for apostasy and blasphemy. Reports of Muslims and non-Muslims being sentenced to years in prison and even death are becoming increasingly common in the media. Are these laws relevant only to Muslim societies? Or should they be an international concern? Asking these questions, and others, The Diplomat recently spoke with Dr. Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., in the United States.
China’s foreign ministry claims the envoy will “ensure lasting peace, stability and development for Afghanistan.”
As the United States prepares to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year, China is increasingly interested in developing its diplomatic relationship with the Islamic Republic. Earlier this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a rare trip to Kabul to meet with his counterpart. During that encounter, both sides highlighted the importance of stability in Afghanistan not only for economic reasons, but for security outcomes in Central Asia — including China’s restive Xinjiang province. To that end, Beijing announced on Friday that it had appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan, under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The special envoy’s role will be primarily to ensure that China does all it can to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a safe-haven for South-Central Asian militants that may end up destabilizing China’s western provinces. The appointee to the new position is Sun Yuxi, a Chinese diplomat with ambassadorial experience in Afghanistan and India. He is familiar with Afghanistan, having established a rapport with the government there. A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement noted that ”China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors. China pays great attention to developments in Afghanistan and is committed to deepening both countries’ strategic partnership, and so decided to appoint a special envoy.” China has used special envoys in the past to manage its diplomacy in the Middle East. It appointed a special envoy “on the Middle East Issue” in 2002 to help facilitate the Arab-Israeli peace process. The incumbent in that position is Wu Sike. China has also appointed special envoys to Africa and Myanmar. The Foreign Ministry’s announcement justified the creation of a special envoy position by stating that it would ”ensure lasting peace, stability and development for Afghanistan and the region.” The statement did not provide any specifics on how Sun could possibly achieve this bilaterally. China’s diplomatic plan for Afghanistan post-2014 does not just include bilateral cooperation with the Afghan government. It has also hosted trilateral diplomatic meetings with Russian and Indian representatives on how their three countries might cooperate in Afghanistan following a U.S. withdrawal. All three powers support the signing of the delayed Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between the governments of Afghanistan and the United States as that agreement will allow a small contingency of U.S. troops to stay on in Afghanistan. China’s investments in Afghanistan over the past decade have largely benefited from the presence of U.S. and NATO troops. A big concern for China with the pending troop withdrawal is whether Afghanistan’s indigenous security forces will be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of the Taliban in the country. The issue of Uighur militancy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands will necessitate cooperation from the Pakistani government as well. China and Pakistan have begun to broach the subject of counter-terrorism cooperation. It is likely that Sun’s role as special envoy will also involve some interaction with Pakistan.
With two high-profile attacks in the past three days — first on Tuesday, when a huge truck bomb killed at least 72 at a market in this remote eastern district, then on Thursday, when suicide attackers fired volleys of grenades on the Kabul airport — the feared Haqqani militant network has gone back on the offensive, Afghan intelligence and security officials said Thursday. The officials said that after a relative lull in recent months during the Afghan presidential election, both attacks carried all the signatures of the Haqqanis, close allies of the main Afghan Taliban branch. The resource-rich terrorist group is largely based in Pakistan, but has focused on staging dramatic attacks on Afghan cities and against Afghan and international security forces. An Afghan police officer walks past bloodstains on a wall after Taliban fighters stormed a government compound in Kandahar on Wednesday.Ground Battles in Afghanistan Contribute to Surge in Civilian Casualties, U.N. SaysJULY 9, 2014 Haqqani fighters may be enjoying more freedom to move within Afghanistan than ever. Local and tribal officials interviewed here on Wednesday, a day after the devastating truck bombing, said that more and more militants began moving in over the past year as American units began leaving border outposts.
Now, they said, the Taliban and its allies have taken over at least two former United States bases in the border area of Paktika Province, near Urgun. “I told the chief of staff and minister of defense to post army units there or the Taliban would take over, and that is what happened,” said Juma Din, a member of Parliament from Paktika, whose own district of Giyan is entirely under Taliban control. “And we told the Americans, ‘If you are going to leave, you are going to open a gate for the Taliban,' ” he said. “They made a free zone for the Taliban,” said an Afghan tribal elder from the region. “Pakistani and Afghan Taliban are coming over to this side.” He spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from the Taliban. For the Taliban, Paktika, which shares a long border with Pakistan’s tribal areas, is a particular prize. With its remote, largely unpoliced areas, the province provides the insurgents with staging areas and access to central Afghanistan with roads running into several adjoining provinces, and also links to a corridor that runs to Kabul. Thursday’s attack in Kabul was the sort of thing the Haqqani network has been staging for several years, sending in small groups of suicide bombers to blast their way into government buildings or compounds and fight to the death, creating as much damage and publicity as possible. Five fighters exploded a truck at the entrance to a construction site of residential apartment buildings opposite the military part of Kabul airport, according to witnesses and the police. They killed a guard and raced to the top of a building near the military side of the international airport, where they fired rocket-propelled grenades down into the compound, disrupting flights for hours. After a four-hour fight with Afghan special forces, the last attacker was killed.
In Urgun, the huge bomb blast that rendered a busy bazaar into a pile of rubble and bodies was the second to strike here in two weeks.
In the first, a suicide bomb attack wounded the local Afghan special forces commander, Azzizullah Karwan, and killed several police officers, including the district’s deputy commander.
Then came the truck bomb. It exploded near a religious school, but locals believe the bomber may have been heading for the district governor’s office nearby, or to the compound for the National Directorate of Security, the main Afghan intelligence agency.
“This is the result of the free zone,” the tribal elder said. “In a few days, they will try to take power in Urgun.”
Urgun has been one of the best-guarded spots in Paktika: It is home to a large Afghan Army base, and to C.I.A.-trained counterterrorism units now run by the directorate.
The leader of those units here, whose name was withheld by government request, is from the Waziri tribe that lives on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border, and wears his hair long in a style favored by the Taliban. He shrugged off concerns that the Taliban would take over Urgun, but acknowledged that things had become much more difficult since the units’ American mentors pulled out a year ago.
Lwara has a Taliban flag,” he said, naming one important former American base on the border. Another base, in the village of Marga, is now “like Miram Shah,” he said, referring to the Taliban’s longtime center of operations in North Waziristan. Foreign fighters, including Uzbeks and Pakistani Taliban, were now using the Marga base, he said. Officials say there has been an increased flow of militants into the Afghan side of the border regions in recent months. That is likely to continue as the Pakistani Army maintains its push into the militant stronghold of North Waziristan right on the other side. Reports from Waziristan say that many armed militant fighters left the region well ahead of the offensive, and are escaping the brunt of it. Afghan civilians and security officials who were interviewed are convinced that the Pakistani military, which has long maintained ties to Afghan-focused militants, is purposefully trying to spare the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani fighters as it advances, despite its promises to disrupt all militant groups in Waziristan. Pakistani officials insist that Taliban militants focused on attacking the Pakistani government and military have found a safe haven on the Afghan side. The Afghan Army still maintains two outposts on the Afghan side in Paktika, and the counterterrorism units have two bases on the border. Yet, the commander said, the situation has become increasingly difficult. He said Pakistani militants were moving in quickly, occupying an outpost on Tuesday that used to be maintained by the Afghan Army. The commander’s unit had information that a suicide bomber, a boy of only 11 or 12, had crossed in from Pakistan, but the military failed to find him in time. Two more bombers were also on their way, he said. A full day after the truck bombing, townspeople here rained curses on the district governor and police chief when the officials visited the bomb site with journalists, accusing them of failing to secure the town and its citizens. The bomb gouged a crater four yards across in the road, smashed rows of shops and splintered trees. Twisted wrecks of a dozen cars were flung aside. “There were no cars, no ambulances, people were just lying wounded here on the ground and everyone was trying to help,” said Amin Gul, 30, who stood in the wreckage of his pharmacy. “Day by day, the security situation is getting really bad,” he added. “We do not believe in the governor, he is a thief.” President Hamid Karzai was expected to visit Urgun this week. But in a sign of how dangerous the area is, the presidential protective service was ambushed on Thursday on its way here to coordinate security for the visit, officials said. Three soldiers who were escorting them were killed and four were wounded, said Gen. Zulmai Oryakhail, police chief of Paktia Province.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that international airlines are planning to suspend flights to Afghanistan over deteriorating security situation.
An official in the Ministry of Transportation and Aviation of Afghanistan has confirmed that there are rumours regarding the suspension of flights by international airlines to Afghanistan. Hikmatullah Qwanch, a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation and Aviation told Reuters ther are rumours that Turkish Airlines, FlyDubai and Emirates also want to suspend their flights to Afghanistan until the security situation gets better. Qwanch further added, “If there are more attacks on the airports and Afghanistan’s sky is not safe, then it will soon affect operations.” This comes as the Indian airline – SpiceJet temporarily halted flights to capital Kabul following Thursday’s failed attack on Kabul airport which ended with the death of assailant militants only and no damages were incurred to the airport. However, a Turkish Airlines official has told Reuters for now there were no such plans, while an Emirates official said all flights were operating normally.
“If the situation gets worse or attacks on Kabul airport become routine then we will stop our flights to Kabul,” the Emirates official said.
Afghanistan's disputed election and Iraq's unraveling are giving members of Congress and U.S. allies in the region reason to think President Barack should rethink his decision to withdraw virtually all Americans troops from Afghanistan by the close of 2016. The White House says Afghanistan is different from Iraq, mired in sectarian violence since shortly after U.S. troops left, and that the drawdown decision a done deal. Some lawmakers, however, are uncomfortable with Obama's plan, which responds to the American public's war fatigue and his desire to be credited with pulling the U.S. from two conflicts. Ten senators, Republicans and Democrats, raised the drawdown issue at a congressional hearing Thursday. They argued that it's too risky to withdraw American troops out so quickly, especially with the Afghan presidential election in the balance. They don't want to see Afghanistan go the way of Iraq, and they fear that the Afghan security force, while making substantial gains, won't be ready for solo duty by the end of 2016. Under Obama's plan, announced in May before Sunni militants seized control of much of Iraq, some 20,200 American troops will leave Afghanistan during the next five months, dropping the U.S. force to 9,800 by year's end. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015, with only about 1,000 remaining in Kabul after the end of 2016. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, testified this past week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He spoke highly of the 352,000-strong Afghan security force that assumed responsibility for the country in June 2013 and lauded them for keeping violence down during the recent election. "We had over 300 campaign events involving thousands of people, some as large as 20,000," Dunford said. "The Afghan forces secured all of those campaign events." The U.S. withdrawal plan, however, is based on being able to fix the Afghan security force's shortcomings by the end of 2016. Dunford described gaps in planning, programming, budgeting, delivering spare parts, fuel payment systems — things the U.S. military takes for granted. Afghanistan also needs to brush up its intelligence operation and develop the nascent air force. Dunford laid out his best-case scenario under the current plan: —The Afghan presidential election is resolved. —Afghan security forces continue to improve and are sustainable by 2017 so a small U.S. presence inside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul — a "security cooperation office" — is sufficient.—Shortfalls in the Afghan forces are addressed. —The U.S. and other donor nations continue to fund the Afghan government, security forces and development projects. —Afghan-Pakistani relations improve and the two nations have adequate capabilities — and the will — to counter terrorism. His worst-case scenario: The election remains unresolved; Afghan-Pakistan relations sour and both countries fall short of battling extremist militants; al-Qaida or other militant groups regain their footing in the border region and plot attacks against the U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of Obama's plan, said trying to meet the goals for a successful outcome was like "kicking a 65-yard field goal into the wind." "There's a disaster in the making to our homeland and to losing all the gains we fought for inside of Afghanistan by drawing down too quick and not being able to help the Afghans in a reasonable fashion," Graham said. Earlier this month, Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that despite declining security in Iraq, the president was not "presently disposed to reconsider the decision." "Afghanistan isn't Iraq," Dobbins said. "In Iraq, the people didn't want us, and not a single Iraqi politician was prepared to advocate our staying. In Afghanistan, the people overwhelmingly want us to stay, and every single contender in the presidential election said they would sign the bilateral security agreement" with the United States. "In Iraq, they could get along without us, at least temporarily, because they had plenty of money. In Afghanistan they can't possibly get along without us," he said. Sen. Robert Menendez, the committee chairman, said it was still hard not to draw the comparison. "When the administration announced plans to completely draw down forces from Afghanistan by 2016, I was concerned about the plan, and I still have concerns," said Menendez, D-N.J. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, said he was happy that Obama had decided to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year. But Corker was against putting a two-year timeline on a virtual complete withdrawal. "It's amazing. When we talk to people within the administration that know things like this — and are pretty tuned in — they say, 'Hey guys, don't worry about this, this is just a plan, we're going to reassess.' But you're telling me, as a special envoy, this is concrete — right now this is not just a plan, but this is the way it's going to be." "I think this reflects the president's intentions," Dobbins said. He acknowledged that other countries in the region support the continuation of a U.S. and NATO military mission in Afghanistan for at least several more years. "Pakistan, Uzbekistan and China all fear Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for their own hostile militant groups," he said. "India fears Afghanistan again becoming a training ground for terrorist groups targeting them. Russia remains concerned about the flow of narcotics. Iran and Pakistan fear new floods of refugees." A senior Pakistan defense official, visiting Washington last week, told The Associated Press that the entire basis of the drawdown has not been met. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly on U.S. policy, said the withdrawal plan was based on having a peaceful transition from outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai to a new government, Afghanistan signing the security agreement and assurances the Afghan security forces will be able to hold the country together once the international forces leave. "Tell me, has any one of them been met?" he asked. He said he had come to Washington carrying a message: Pakistan wants the president to take another look.
The Pakistan People’s Party on Friday demanded better facilities from internally displaced persons of North Waziristan in Bannu, end to power outages at their camps and dispatch of Frontier Constabulary troops to the district for better security. The demand came during a visit of PPP leaders led by former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the district. Other visitors included Syed Khursheed Shah, Qamar Zaman Kaira, Khanzada Khan, Faisal Karim Kundi, Zamarud Khan, Nafeesa Begum, Robina Khalid, Fakhar Azam. They visited IDP camps, distributed relief goods to displaced persons, attended a briefing at the Commissioner’s House and addressed a tribal jirga in the district. The PPP delegation reached Bannu on the directives of party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by a helicopter from Islamabad to evaluate the needs for IDPs. Gilani told reporters here that the mass displacement from North Waziristan was a national issue, which could be addressed if the nation remained united. He said there was a need to mitigate the sufferings of IDPs. The former prime minister said armed forces and IDPs were rendering great sacrifices for the future of the motherland. He urged the government to end loadshedding in Bannu forthwith, deploy FC personnel in the district for better security and send more policemen to maintain law and order in the wake of the arrival of over one million IDPs from North Waziristan. Gilani said PPP would stand by displaced tribesmen in the current testing times and would help them in every possible way. He announced the party would ensure repair of 25 faulty tubewells and hand pumps for IDPs, while money would be provided to the administration for sinking more tubewells and pressure pumps to supply potable water to the displaced families. The former prime minister also demanded uninterrupted supply of water and power at IDP camps. He also appealed to the international community to come forward for the help of IDPs. Other PPP leaders, too, expressed concern over the lack of facilities at IDP camps and problems faced by displaced persons. They urged the government to exempt Bannu district from loadshedding saying around 50 IDPs lived in a room, which has the capacity for five people only. The PPP leaders said their party’s federal government had provided all possible facilities to the people displaced from Swat and Malakand due to military operation against militants in those areas. They said the PPP government ensured completion of Swat operation in 90 days and ensured the IDPs’ honourable return to their homes. The PPP leaders urged the government to ensure early end to the North Waziristan operation and the subsequent speedy repatriation of IDPs. They appreciated the Bannu residents for hosting one million IDPs. Earlier, a tribal jirga from North Waziristan apprised PPP leaders about the IDPs’ problems. Khursheed Shah said he would take up the matter with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for corrective measures, while his party would provide every possible help and assistance to the displaced persons.
By DOUG BANDOW
The world is aflame, and religious minorities are among those who suffer most from increasing conflict. Pakistan is notable for its failure to protect religious liberty, the most basic right of conscience. The U.S. State Department recently reported on Pakistan that, “The constitution and other laws and policies officially restrict religious freedom and, in practice, the government enforced many of these restrictions. The government’s respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom continued to be poor.” Minority faiths frequently face violent attack. Although Islamabad does not launch these assaults, it does little to prevent or redress them. “The government’s limited capacity and will to investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of increasing extremist attacks against religious minorities and on members of the Muslim majority promoting tolerance, allowed the climate of impunity to continue,” explained the State Department.
The campaign in Pakistan to contain an uncontrolled outbreak of polio hit an alarming point this week when the nation’s tally of new cases exceeded last year’s total of 93, with months to go in the emergency effort to vaccinate children over fierce opposition from the Taliban. Fifty-five of the 94 cases reported thus far have occurred in North Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold along the Afghanistan border where hundreds of thousands of people have become refugees since the Pakistani government began a crackdown last month to root out militants. Reports suggest that the refugees are compounding the problem by avoiding special government camps where vaccination is offered, preferring sanctuary with scattered relatives. For the past two years, parents and health workers have been intimidated by Taliban leaders who banned vaccination under threat of death in retaliation for America’s drone strikes against militant leaders. Dozens of vaccination workers have been murdered by Taliban gunmen. Wary parents are repeatedly reminded that American intelligence faked a vaccination program in the search for Osama bin Laden, a practice the White House has promised will never be used again. The worsening refugee crisis is turning the polio threat into a global health emergency, the World Health Organization says. Experts warn that neighboring India, which succeeded in shedding its label as a polio-endemic nation three years ago, could face serious cross-border infection. Sensibly, Pakistan is requiring travelers, young and old, to be vaccinated at hundreds of emergency transit stations when leaving the country. But medical teams are clearly unable to make thorough rounds on trains, according to a recent report in The Guardian. Meanwhile, many parents remain susceptible to propaganda demonizing vaccination as a Western plot to undermine the nation. Far more attention is required from the international community if this health threat is to be contained.
TOTAL NUMBER OF INFECTED IN FIRST SEVEN MONTHS OF 2014 NOW AT 99, COMPARED TO 91 IN ALL OF 2013.
Pakistan’s National Institute of Health (NIH) on Saturday confirmed that five new cases of the poliovirus had been discovered, raising the total number of infected so far this year to 99, compared to 91 in all of 2013. The new cases consist of a 24-month-old child who was administered three doses of the polio virus vaccine, and an 18-month-old who was never vaccinated from North Waziristan; an 18-month-old from South Waziristan who was never vaccinated; a 24-month-old from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province whose family refused to allow health workers to administer the oral polio vaccine; and a 21-month-old from Karachi who was administered five doses of the polio vaccine. The Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell has warned that the polio outbreak in Pakistan can only be beaten back if health workers are allowed access to children in the country’s tribal areas with the support of all relevant stakeholders. Polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended in the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies since June 2012 due to the ongoing security threat. The military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, causing over 900,000 residents of North Waziristan to seek refuge in Bannu. Army checkpoints on the route administer polio vaccinations to all incoming tribesmen. However, the polio vaccine administered at the checkpoints is merely the first dose for the majority of fleeing tribesmen. Public health officials say this is insufficient to respond to the outbreak. According to the polio monitoring cell, there have been 73 cases of polio reported from the tribal areas—six in South Waziristan, 57 in North Waziristan, eight in Khyber Agency, and two in Bannu—with another 17 from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, and nine from Sindh province. On June 1, Pakistan adopted new guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization and now requires travelers visiting or leaving Pakistan to be vaccinated for polio at least four weeks prior to any tour.
Pakistan's Minority: As A Religious Minority Member I Feel 200 Percent More Insecure Than An Ordinary Muslim Pakistani
A Pakistani Christian writes a letter to a national newspaper expressing his insecurities as one alienated from the society.
A copy of his letter is below: Sir, Social evils destroy societies. Pakistan is amongst one of those countries that are facing various social evils affecting national harmony and peace.As a religious minority member, I feel 200 percent more insecure than an ordinary Muslim. Heinous crimes have been committed against the religious minorities lately, such as violence in the name of blasphemy, rape, extrajudicial killings and burning down of slums. Justice is still pending in countless cases while the state has failed to deliver equality and justice for all. Development is not the function of economic growth only. Where is Pakistan ranked as a nation fulfilling its constitutional duties towards the minorities? Sometimes I feel nothing can stir the conscience of the people. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ordered the federal government to form a National Council of Minorities’ Rights (NCMR) for the protection of minority rights and ensuring religious harmony. The order further stated that those responsible that those responsible for hate speech on social media must be brought to justice and children who face harassment at schools because of their religious beliefs should be protected. The apex court also ordered the formation of a special force to protect the places of worship of the minorities.Chief Justice (CJ) Tassaduq Hussain Jillani ordered the federal and provincial governments to fulfil the employment quota for minorities in all services. The court asked the registrar to form a three-member bench to ensure the order is carried out. The new bench will also take up any case related to discrimination against minorities. The said rulings were made in the detailed judgment of a suo motu case taken on the suicide bombing attack on a church in Peshawar in September 2013. Pakistani Christians have welcomed the CJ’s orders. We can only hope that after clear instructions from the CJ, the government takes positive steps towards making minorities feel secure in the country. - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/as-a-religious-minority-member-i-feel-200-percent-more-insecure-than-an-ordinary-muslim/#sthash.wMKWy4Ax.dpuf
Shortly before the end of his seven month term and following the Peshawar Church bombing last year which left more than 100 people dead, the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani, in a case suo motu ( of his own accord) on the 19th of June 2014 , issued a landmark judgment concerning the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan. In the 32-page judgment, Justice Jillani takes a tough stand against “hate speech and abuses perpetrated on citizens, based on their faith”. The Supreme Court judgement ordered the government to establish a National Council for the Rights of Minorities and set up a special “Task Force” to protect the places of worships of religious minorities. The judgement also instructs the government to put in place immediate measures for registering criminal cases against desecrators of places of worship and prepare appropriate and religiously unbiased curricula used in schools and colleges across the country.
A U.S. drone strike in volatile northwestern Pakistan killed 11 militants today, a Taliban commander and security officials said, as Pakistani security forces press ahead with an offensive in a Taliban stronghold near the Afghan border. Two missiles slammed into a house in the village of Doga Madakhel of the Datta Khel area in the border region of North Waziristan, intelligence officials said. Drone strikes in Pakistan resumed in June after a hiatus of six months, during which the Pakistani government pursued peace talks with the Taliban. Pakistan announced an anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan within days of the resumption. The United States has long urged Pakistan to crack down on the Taliban stronghold in remote, mountainous North Waziristan. The Taliban use the region to prepare bombs, hold kidnap victims, stage public executions, and as a launching pad for attacks on Afghan and NATO troops across the border. The military ordered the entire civilian population of North Waziristan to leave before launching the ground offensive but residents said most of the militants also moved out. U.S. lawmakers have said Pakistan will have to prove it is cracking down on the Haqqanis or have $300 million sliced off its military aid package. Datta Khel is controlled by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Taliban commander who is considered friendly to Pakistani forces but supports attacks in Afghanistan. He announced a ceasefire against Pakistani troops after they said they would clear North Waziristan of Taliban fighters. Before Saturday’s attack, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes using media reports, said at least 35 people had been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan since they restarted in June.
Another case of polio virus reported here on Saturday, bringing the toll to eight in the city this year. According to police, a child, resident of Gadap Town UC 8 Sultanabad, was detected with the polio virus.
Khurshid Shah, on the occasion vowed to bring the problems being faced by the IDPs into Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s notice. He said the operation-affected would also be provided help and assistance from the PPP platform. - See more at: http://www.saach.tv/2014/07/18/army-and-idps-are-sacrificing-for-country-says-gillani/#sthash.Cw9WSX2X.dpuf
THE killing of two suspected militants and the arrest of another during a raid by security forces on their hideout in the outskirts of Lahore on Thursday morning has removed at least one link in the long and still largely unrecognised terror chain. The security personnel must be commended for a job well done. But does this make the people of Lahore, of Punjab or, for that matter, the rest of the country any safer today than they were before? This is a tough question, made more difficult by the usual official resort to reticence in discussions about militancy and terrorism. That the suspects were living in a house in close proximity to the Raiwind residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for about two months without raising suspicion is a sign of danger. Of late there has been some improvement in how the police and other security agencies approach this serious issue. Both the security and intelligence agencies are visibly more active than before since the militant groups warned of reprisal attacks against the ruling party’s leadership and its political base following the launch of the military operation in North Waziristan. These efforts are said to have led to some successes in the shape of arrests of individual suspects that later led the intelligence outfits to Raiwind Road. However, the police and intelligence agencies are still to achieve a major breakthrough and cause a big dent in the militants’ network in Punjab. Simply put, the gang is far from busted. In Punjab, the government of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has repeatedly been accused of not acting against militant groups for fear of a backlash. There is also no dearth of critics who argue that Mr Sharif’s policy of ‘appeasing’ groups with links to the Taliban in the tribal area and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has turned parts of the province, especially some of its southern districts, into nurseries for militant groups. The government denies these allegations, but its reluctance to root out militant outfits shows through its inaction. The Raiwind raid shows the expanse and reach of the problem, spelling out a clear threat not only to ordinary people but also to the leadership of the ruling PML-N. The raid must lead to a drive aimed at rooting out dangerous elements whose presence is alarming not only for Punjab, but for the entire country.
A US drone strike targeting a Pakistani Taliban compound on Saturday killed eleven insurgents in Data Khel area of North Waziristan near the border with Afghanistan, officials said. The attack came in North Waziristan, where for the past month the Pakistani military has been fighting to wipe out longstanding bases of Taliban and other militants.