Friday, July 25, 2014

Video: Hundreds march near Times Square calling for end to Israel-Gaza violence

Bahrain Regime Targets Opposition -- and the United States

Brian Dooley
After nearly three years in the job, the much-vilified U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain, Thomas Krajeski, will be replaced - if the U.S. Senate agrees to his confirmation - by William Roebuck, a middle east specialist at the State Department. After stints in embassies in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Israel, a spell with close U.S. ally Bahrain might seem like a relatively cushy number, but being American ambassador to Bahrain has become a nightmare job.
Krajeski and his staff have been regularly attacked in media loyal to the Bahrain government. Last year the cabinet, which includes the Prime Minister and the Crown Prince, approved a proposal to "put an end to the interference of U.S. Ambassador Thomas Krajeski in Bahrain's internal affairs."
One of the typical components of a U.S. Ambassador's job is meeting with the country's civil society and opposition groups. In Bahrain it's not that straightforward. Earlier this month Tom Malinowski, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, was expelled from the country after meeting leading figures of al Wefaq, a prominent opposition group. The Bahrain state news agency said Malinowski was unwelcome and had to immediately leave the country, due to "his interference in its internal affairs." In June last year the Bahrain government passed a bizarre law--not enforced until the Malinowski incident--requiring political groups to secure government permission in advance of meetings with foreign diplomats in Bahrain and abroad, and for a Foreign Ministry representative to be present.
This would be Roebuck's first ambassadorial post, and how he will engage with a broad spectrum of Bahraini society without "interfering in internal affairs" or violating this law is hard to fathom.
Members of Congress are beginning to wonder if it is time to reexamine the U.S.-Bahrain relationship. On July 18, a bipartisan group of 18 members wrote to the King of Bahrain pointing out that "Malinowski was in the country doing exactly what high-level diplomats are called on to do; meet with members of the government, opposition parties and members of the public to gain a deeper understanding."
Bahrain is behaving more like a volatile adversary than a reliable ally to the United States. This week Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who serves on the influential Armed Services Committee, suggested that "the Government of Bahrain is increasingly proving itself to be undependable and erratic - putting the long-term viability of our [Naval Base] presence in the country at risk."
The government's treatment of opposition group al Wefaq in recent weeks is an important feature of this "undependable and erratic" behavior. Although other opposition leaders remain in prison, al Wefaq has been the government's main negotiating partner in a series of cosmetic political talks since widespread unrest broke out three years ago during street protests for democracy in the kingdom. But now the two leaders of al Wefaq who met Malinowski have been charged with "violating the 2005 Law for Political Societies," and this week the Bahrain authorities went to court to seek the suspension of the al Wefaq group for three months "until it rectifies its illegal status following the annulment of four general assemblies for lack of a quorum and the non-commitment to the public and transparency requirements for holding them."
According to the local press, more opposition groups are to be similarly targeted. Every day seems to bring more news of the Bahrain regime moving against the opposition or against the United States. Washington needs to take a hard look at why it continues to arm and train Bahrain's military, and whether it's finally time to fundamentally change its relationship with the country's ruling family.

HRW blames Kiev army for indiscriminately killing civilians with missiles

The Ukrainian army is using indiscriminate Grad missiles to attack densely populated areas in Donetsk, which violates international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch alleged. It also blamed militia for taking cover in those areas.
The rights organization confirmed four rocket attacks by the Ukrainian military, or Kiev-allied paramilitary, on residential areas in or near Donetsk, which resulted in at least 16 civilian deaths and many more wounded. The attacks were carried out with Grad multiple rocket weapon systems, highly indiscriminate weapons that cannot be used against populated areas.
“Although Ukrainian government officials and the press service of the National Guard have denied using Grad rockets in Donetsk, a Human Rights Watch investigation on the ground strongly indicates that Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the attacks that occurred between July 12 and 21,” the group said on Friday.
Kiev routinely denies causing civilian deaths in its conflict with armed militias in the east of the country and put the blames for such deaths on the militias themselves. But the attack sites investigated by HRW clearly point to the Ukrainian military.
“The attacks’ proximity to the front line also makes it unlikely, and in some cases impossible, that insurgent forces were responsible for the attacks. In two of the attacks, rockets hit on or near insurgent bases and checkpoints at the same time as they hit residential areas, indicating government forces were responsible,” the report said.
HRW didn’t report any evidence that militias were responsible for any Grad attacks on civilian-populated areas, but warned that they should avoid operating in those areas. The group also blamed them for failing to keep civilians out of harm’s way.
“Insurgent forces have failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid deploying in densely populated areas, thereby endangering civilians in violation of the laws of war,” it said. “In one case, separatist forces moved their base closer to the center of the town when Grad rockets struck their base and a nearby residential area. Violations of the laws of war by one side to the conflict do not justify violations by the other side.”
Belligerent parties in Ukraine must keep in mind that they are responsible for keeping their hostilities within international humanitarian law, HRW warned. “Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Commanding officers on all sides should recognize that one day they could face legal consequences for their actions.”
Earlier the International Red Cross officially declared the hostilities in eastern Ukraine a civil war, which opened the way for prosecuting atrocities committed there in international courts.
Grad is a Russian-made rocket launcher used by the Ukrainian military, which fires volleys of unguided missiles from multiple tubes mounted on a rack. The weapon is meant to cause massive damage to enemy positions, with individual rocket capable of killing unprotected soldiers in a radius of up to 28 meters from impact.
Kiev troops are continuing their attacks on cities held by militia forces, using their aviation and heavy artillery to barrage defense forces. The outgunned militias try to compensate by maneuvering and taking cover among city buildings. The army is hesitant to advance into hostile urban areas, where their superiority in armor and heavy weapons would be irrelevant.

Taliban Kill 14 Shiites in Afghanistan Road Attack

Taliban insurgents halted minibuses in western Afghanistan, identified 14 Shiite passengers and shot them dead by the side of the road overnight Friday, an official said.
The busses were traveling from Kabul and carrying around 30 passengers, many of whom had gone to the capital to shop ahead of the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said Sayed Anwar Rahmati, the governor of the western Ghor province, where the attack took place.
After questioning the passengers, the Islamic militants identified 14, including three women, as Hazara Shiites. The insurgents then bound the passengers' hands, led them away and shot them, Rahmati said, adding that the other passengers were released. The dead included a couple who were engaged and two relatives travelling with them, he said.
The Taliban, like other Sunni extremist groups, view the country's minority Shiite community as apostates, and have targeted Hazaras in the past with suicide bombings and other attacks.

'Mini-Marshal Law': Pakistan Hands Army Raft of Powers

Pakistan's mighty military has been handed a raft of powers that critics say will deprive citizens of their freedom to challenge authority. The move "empowers the army to implement a mini martial law and suspends the fundamental rights of citizens," lawyer and talk show host Fawad Chaudhry told NBC News on Friday. "It doesn't let the courts, or anyone else for that matter, challenge anything the soldiers do," added the former adviser to the ex-military dictator Pervez Musharraf.
An official from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office countered that enforcing the "Aid to Civil Power" clause from the constitution will allow the army to better help the government keep order. "This may include sensitive and strategic government buildings and installations," said the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A senior military official told NBC News that the deployment was broader. "This is to preempt retaliation and blowback from our ongoing operation in Waziristan... This [law] just gives us legal cover for that duty," he said, referring to an ongoing operation aimed at routing militants on the Afghan border.

Pakistan: Asif Ali Zardari pays glowing tributes to youngest pilot Haris Suleman
Former President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed profound grief and shock over the death in air crash of the 17 year old American- Pakistani pilot Haris Suleman along with his father Babar Suleman the other day.
Both Haris and his father were killed when their plane crashed in the sea from Hawai to California as the young pilot was seeking to set a world record in circling the world in a single engine aircraft in thirty days to raise money for the education of disadvantaged youth in Pakistan.
Young Haris has died along with his father in the pursuit of a noble cause namely, to equip the underprivileged youth of the country with the steel armor of education, the former President said in a condolence message.
‘In dying for the cause of education Haris innocently made a dramatic political statement that change and revolution in the country of his origin will come about not through slogans but by making education a national priority, massively investing in it and even dying for it”.
Asif Ali Zardari said that Haris daring flight in the cause of education came close on the heels of a nationwide survey that showed that 47 percent of the children numbering over 25 million are out of school. Nearly two third of these left out children have never entered a school gate while one third who entered it soon dropped out due to poverty and other reasons.
The survey also revealed that tribal areas were at the lowest rung of the ladder of education and some other areas were fast slipping down the ladder despite tall claims to usher in change.
The heart rendering statements in the cause of education made first by young Malala and now by teen ager Haris shows the penchant of our youth for books and their determination to bring change through education without waiting for others, he said.
Asif Ali Zardari also prayed for eternal rest to the souls of Haris Suleman and his father Babar Suleman and for patience to members of the bereaved family to bear the loss with equanimity.

Pakistan: Shah criticizes Govt decision to hand over Islamabad to Army

Opposition leader Khurshid Shah has criticized Chaudhary Nisar’s statement of handing over Islamabad to army and termed it sad. Talking to Media in Sukkur, the opposition leader Khurshid Shah said that the government, which is unable to handle a 1.5 million population city will certainly not be able to handle the country, hence he added that if the objective of handing over Islamabad to army is just to stop Imran Khan march, then the step is against democratic values. Talking about Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, he said that Qadri’s revolution has already reached to the conclusion after meeting with Governor Punjab on his day of arrival. Talking about Musharaf, he said that he will go abroad in a day or two.

Pakistan: Article 245 imposed: Army to take control of Islamabad's security
Interior Ministry has invoked Article 245 of the constitution in Islamabad for next three months. Under this article, the army has been given powers to maintain law and order in the federal capital. Addressing the media outside parliament’s house, the interior minister confirmed that the security of Islamabad will be handed over to the armed forces from August 1. The army has been called in to maintain law and order from August till October, he explained. Regarding Imran Khan s long march, Chaudhry Nisar said that the PTI hasn t submitted any application to Islamabad’s deputy commissioner in this regard. The decision to allow PTI will be taken after the party formally requests to hold long march, he added.

United States could do more to intercept militants, Pakistan says

By Karen DeYoung
U.S. forces in Afghanistan and their Afghan allies, have failed to intercept Taliban and other militants fleeing across the border from an ongoing Pakistani military offensive, a senior Pakistani official said Thursday.
“Please do not permit these people to disappear,” said the official, in Washington for talks with the Obama administration. “Take them out. Eliminate them.  . . . There should be a hammer and anvil,” the official said, but the “Pakistan hammer saw no evidence of the anvil on the other side.”
The complaint came as U.S. forces have been withdrawn from positions near the border in eastern Afghanistan and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan are still solidifying their positions there.
Administration officials and skeptical lawmakers, while supporting the offensive in the tribal region of North Waziristan, have questioned whether Pakistan’s campaign to rout militants in the region includes members of the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban-allied group that has been responsible for numerous cross-border attacks on U.S. forces.
The United States has long charged Pakistani intelligence with supporting and maintaining ties with the Haqqanis. Lawmakers have included a restriction on funds to Pakistan in the fiscal 2015 defense budget unless Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel certifies that Pakistani military operations “have significantly disrupted the safe haven and freedom of movement of the Haqqani network.”
The Pakistani official said that no militant group will be immune from the offensive, which began a month ago with extensive airstrikes and is continuing with about 150,000 ground troops. The government has evacuated hundreds of thousands of civilians from the region.
“How can you carry out a military operation that is costing the lives of hundreds of soldiers and officers, and costing us hundreds of millions of dollars, and for us to let any one particular group . . . escape?” he said. “Everyone has to be taken out.
“If there are any militants that are found fleeing into Afghanistan, we would love to see them taken out by the U.S., ISAF [the U.S.-led international force] and Afghan forces,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic conversations with the United States.
The Pakistan-headquartered Afghan Taliban maintains close ties with the Pakistani Taliban, whose objective is to overthrow Pakistan’s elected government and impose strict Islamic law. The U.S. defense budget includes nearly $1 billion in aid to Pakistan, most of it designated for development and economic assistance. Restrictions proposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) would apply to hundreds of millions of dollars the United States is due to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism operations.
While Pakistan seeks no additional funds for its military operations, the official said, it would like more intelligence sharing to aid in the counterterrorism operations.

Mehdi Hassan - Zindagi Mein To Sabhi Piyaar Kia Karte Hain

Pakistan: Twin blasts rock Jamrud

Twin blasts in a short span of time create fear among the residents of Jamrud however no causality was reported. Basts occurred outside houses in Tehsil Bara and Jamrud of Khyber Agency while two persons were injured when a rocket was fired in Charsadda. According to security forces, a blast occurred outside a house in Achani area of Tehsil Bara that partially damaged the house. Another blast occurred outside a house in Wazirdand area of Tehsil Jamrud. Fortunately, no loss of life was reported in both the blasts. On the other hand, a rocket was fired from an unknown location that descended in the Shab Qadar area of Chasadda and injured two persons who were shifted to a hospital for treatment. Security forces cordoned off the area and started search operation after the incident.

Pakistan: Serfdom

Two days ago, a ten year-old boy’s arms were severed by the son of an influential landowner in Gujarat. Although one suspect has been arrested by the police over the incident, any hope of justice being upheld is slim. Pakistan’s agro-based economy is dependent on landlords that own huge swathes of land and workers that do the brunt of the work in exchange for just enough to survive on, but never enough to break free from the system. Tenants tend to the lands, but do not reap any profit from the crops themselves. Entire generations of families have been oppressed by this modern version of serfdom, with children and parents equally enslaved by the overlord for his/her benefit. Bonded labour is yet another form of slavery in which the landowners grant loans to workers who cannot pay them back, thereby ensuring that the worker swears his unswerving loyalty to the landowner.
To most feudal lords, the people that work for them are objects of fancy and amusement, to be punished at will. The dismemberment of this child and other heinous crimes such as the rapes and murders for which landlords walk free, reflect that mindset, and is repeatedly fuelled by Pakistan’s socio-political structures. Child labour laws are non-existent, and the survival of children depends on them working from an early age. This culture has been allowed to thrive for various social and political motivations; the landowner is the master, the provider, the judge, jury, and in many cases the spiritual leader. Entire villages are willing to lay down their lives for these wealthy, exploitative feudals, who then use this support for political clout. These people comprise much of parliament, and hence ensure that the feudal system and power stays intact. In January, JUI-F’s Sardar Ahmed Kethran was charged with torturing five policeman in his own private prison. On the 21st of this month, over a 100 people were freed from a private prison of a landlord in Hafizabad after information was received from an escaped inmate over four years ago. How many more of these barbaric acts have to surface, before reforms become necessary, before the government stops being complicit and actively works to end this oppression occurring in plain sight?

Pakistan: Protests over load shedding

Just as we had predicted in this space, the people have started raging and expressing their anger openly on the streets against the crippling load shedding and power outages that have brought life and productivity to a grinding halt. Punjab was the scene of violent protests on Wednesday when residents of Lahore and Multan decided they had had enough of the government’s false claims and empty rhetoric as far as the energy crisis is concerned. Angry protesters in Batapur area of Lahore burnt tyres, pelted passing cars with stones and ransacked a nearby office of the Lahore Electric Supply Company (LESCO). They were miserable because of the massive power outages, reaching as much as 18 unbearable hours in rural and far-flung urban areas. Add to this the statement by Federal Minister for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali that the government could not promise zero load shedding on Eid and we have a recipe for disaster on our hands.
The sad fact remains that there is an enormous gap between supply and demand, with the demand for electricity exceeding a hefty 21,000 MW. It is also unfortunate that we have a government that has laid all its hope in promises it had no means of keeping. While there are some new power generation projects being inaugurated, none of them will generate actual energy for quite a few years to come. The immediate solution for all our energy woes, as stated by Khwaja Asif, the federal minister for defence, water and power, seems to be offering prayers to the Almighty and beseeching Him for rain. Prayers are as close to realism as the PML-N government has come so far in relation to the power crisis. Since its election campaign, when it loudly boomed that it would rid the nation of the electricity problem within days to promising that Ramzan would see lesser outages than usual, we have been betrayed by its failure to deliver. These protests are the result of the self-inflicted wounds over the past one year that the government has failed to address. The PML-N has not duped the people but itself also by putting political advantage before the truth. It is time to own up to the fact that the government has been found wanting in fulfilling the most crucial demand of the nation. We have a national grid that cannot handle more than 15,000 MW of electricity and the summer months have caused it more strain than it can handle. The government must tell the people the truth: it has done nothing to amend the current situation so far as this will inevitably take time. If it does not come clean, these protests will become angrier and more violent.

Pakistan: Parliament Watch: As threats loom, Sharif charms his way back into GHQ

Ramazan is also known as the month of peace; perhaps that is why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s close aides and colleagues are claiming that the party leadership has mended its relationship with the military establishment.
According to them, the prime minister has turned on the charm to woo the irked military leadership.
In other words, Sharif senior and his knights are no longer in favour of sticking to any issue that will anger the Pindi-wallahs. At least, this is what the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is at pains to tell everyone who is willing to listen.
In the past few months, it had become apparent that some government policies had made the military leadership deeply uncomfortable; such as Sharif’s insistence on talking peace with the Taliban.
However, other issues simply added to the problems: such as the government’s intransigence on Musharraf (continuing with his trial for treason as well as opposing his efforts to leave the country); its support for Geo TV (which had accused the Inter-Services Intelligence of trying to assassinate anchor Hamid Mir). Another issue was said to be some of Khawaja Asif’s fiery statements against the military around the time that Musharraf was indicted.
“The government has fallen into line; in the future, confrontation will be avoided,” an office bearer of the ruling party who is close to the top leadership told Dawn.
He argued that the party hawks who had been in favour of sending out “the message of civilian supremacy” to the military too have realised that it is better to tread cautiously in the face of increasing pressure.
Some television anchor-soothsayers agree. “As Imran Khan continues to breathe down the government’s neck with his demands of recounts and electoral reforms and Tahirul Qadri rages on, the PML-N must have thought it appropriate to mend its fences with the military,” remarked one of them.
The fog that surrounds civil-military relations makes it difficult to confirm such issues publicly.
However, military officials are willing to concede that some efforts have been made to mend fences.
For one, the launch of the operation in North Waziristan and the manner in which the military is controlling the narrative on it indicates that the government has conceded on matters of terrorism and national security.
A serving senior military official, who has been engaged with the meetings between the two sides, referred to the July 17 visit of the prime minister to GHQ. Sharif visited the headquarters for four hours – the official said that the extended visit would not have been possible unless the ice had been broken.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Adviser to the PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz and Special Assistant to the PM Tariq Fatemi accompanied the prime minister.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif met the prime minister at the latter’s office twice - on July 9 and 16 – before the military extended the formal invitation to the prime minister to visit the GHQ.
“Though the primary focus of these meetings was Zarb-i-Azb, the ongoing military offences in North Waziristan, the two must have discussed other issues as well,” added the military official.
On General Musharraf, the PML-N source said, his case was already in the Supreme Court and if the Court provided relief to the former dictator by removing his name from the ECL, the government would not contest it.
In mid-June, the Sindh High Court had accepted retired general Pervez Musharraf’s petition and ordered that he be allowed to travel abroad but the government appealed against this order in the SC.
Another PML-N official claims that this appeal was one reason for the rift between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Sharif.
Whether or not Khawaja Mohammad Asif will continue with the additional portfolio of minister of defence, those within the PML-N argue that in recent weeks Mr Asif has emerged as a staunch defender of the armed forces; he has given multiple interviews in which he praised the forces and was duly critical of Geo.
However, some still say that if there is a hint from the right quarters, he might be replaced to clear the air further.
What remains a little unclear is whether or not the government and the military are on the same page as far as Geo is concerned. Ruling party sources say that the issue seems to have been settled as the news channel was fined Rs10 million and forced to close down for 15 days. Time will tell if this will satisfy the military.
Even if the two sides agree on this matter, this is not to say that the political government and the military will now live happily ever after. The relationship is inherently tense. What is to be seen is how the government handles the relationship and any possible points of friction that will crop up in the future.

Bilawal Bhutto asks PPP leaders & workers to celebrate Eid with families of Soldiers
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party has directed his Party leaders and workers to spend their Eid with families of soldiers who are fighting the terrorists in Zarb-e-Azb Operation to protect us and our country.
“Soldiers of Pakistan Army are rendering great sacrifices in their jehad against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan and PPP leaders and workers should join their families back home as sons and daughters to celebrate Eidul Fitr together,” he said in statement on the eve of Eidul Fitr.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said rejoicing Eid with the families of our soldiers as well as the IDPs shall clearly show the world that Pakistani nation stands united in the face of onslaught of terrorism.
PPP Patron-In-Chief also called upon the Pakistani nation to open their hearts and generously support around one million IDPs of Zarb-e-Azb on the holy occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr as part of their religious obligation of extending charity and sharing happiness.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that entire nation is fighting the cancer of terrorism which gulped several thousand innocent lives, including common citizens and soldiers. This Eid has come at a time when God has put our generosity and charity to a test because circumstances have forced around a million of people of North Waziristan to celebrate Eid in camps while thousands of our soldiers are fighting in the frontline against the forces of darkness and killers of Pakistanis, he added.
PPP Patron-In-Chief said sharing the pain of the victims of terrorism, sectarianism and extremism in true spirit of the religion should be motto of our Eid celebrations. “Let us spread love, affinity and tolerance to celebrate Eid in a joyous way,” he stated.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari asked PPP leaders and workers to celebrate their Eid with our brave soldiers, their families as well as the victims of terrorism and IDPs who are offering sacrifices for restoration of peace and elimination of terrorism from our country.