Sunday, August 24, 2014

Naghma - Wa Grana -

Katy Perry - This Is How We Do

Libyan capital under Islamist control after Tripoli airport seized

Chris Stephen, and Anne Penketh
Libya has lurched ever closer to fragmentation and civil war this weekend after Islamist-led militias seized the airport in the capital, Tripoli, proclaimed their own government, and presented the world with yet another crisis.
Operation Dawn, a coalition of Islamist and Misrata forces, captured the airport on Saturday in fierce fighting against pro-government militias after a five-week siege that battered parts of the capital.
Television images from the scene showed jubilant, bearded, militias dancing on wrecked airliners, firing machine guns in the air and chanting "Allah O Akbar" ("God is great").
On Sunday, they set airport buildings ablaze, apparently intending to destroy rather than hold the site.
The victory, which secures Islamist control over Tripoli, was a culmination of weeks of fighting triggered by elections in July, lost by Islamist parties.
Rather than accept the elections result Islamist leaders in Libya accused the new parliament of being dominated by supporters of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and have sought to restore the old national congress.
"The general national congress will hold an emergency meeting in Tripoli to save the country," said Omar Ahmidan, a congress spokesman.
Libya's official parliament, the house of representatives, in the eastern city of Tobruk, denounced the attack as illegal, branding Dawn a "terrorist organisation" and announcing a state of war against the group. The move leaves Libya with two governments, one in Tripoli, and one in the east of the country, each battling for the hearts and minds of the country's myriad militias.
There are few regular forces for the government to call upon. The prime minister, Abdullah al-Thani, needs to persuade nationalist and tribal militias to try to recapture the capital. Dawn militias are consolidating their hold on the capital by rounding up government sympathisers and people from Zintan, whose militia defended the airport.
"Units from Gharyan and Abu Salem are circling the area looking for any Zintani they can find," said one frightened resident hiding at an address in the city.
Fighting is continuing to the west of Tripoli, while Islamist brigades in Benghazi, 400 miles east, are battling with army units and nationalist militias of the former general Khalifa Hiftar.
The weekend's developments threaten to tilt the country across the line from troubled post-Arab spring democracy to outright failed state.
Egypt and Sudan are known to be watching developments closely, and last week the French president, François Hollande, said that despite the crises in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine and Gaza, his "biggest concern at the moment is Libya".
Some officials in neighbouring countries fear militants could use planes at the three airports Dawn now controls for terror attacks on surrounding nations.
Those fears were heightened after Dawn officials vowed retaliation against Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whom they blame for air strikes by unidentified jets, Saturday morning, which killed 17 Misrata militias.
"The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression, we reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment," said Ahmed Hadia, a spokesman for Dawn.
Reports from Italy say Rome is working with the US, France and other nearby states to launch precautionary exercises. Algeria has deployed air defence missiles on its border while Egypt and Tunisia have banned flights from west Libya airports.
The security situation has become so parlous in Libya that the nation has been forced to withdraw as host for the African Cup of Nations in 2017.
Libyan officials have arrived in Egypt before a summit in Cairo on Monday at which they are expected to appeal for military support. Libya's foreign minister, Mohamed Abdul Aziz, launched a similar appeal at the UN in July, but found no support, with diplomats wary about new foreign intervention.
Dawn leaders insist they are not extremists, characterising themselves as patriots ensuring that the gains of the 2011 revolution are not lost. Many Libyans think fragmentation is now inevitable, with Islamist-led forces strong in Tripoli, and tribal and nationalists dominant in the east of the country. "It's gone into complete madness," said Hassan el Amin, a Libyan politician who fled to Britain after receiving death threats from Misrata militias. "There's another battle coming up, between east and west."
The key to victory could be as much economic as military. Libya's government might have lost control of the capital but for the moment it has international recognition, ensuring access to the country's rich oil reserves and foreign assets, worth an estimated £80bn.
French diplomats say that in the present power struggle involving rival armed factions, the UN security council should take a leading role to forge a political solution and prevent the country from splitting apart.
France sent two frigates to Tripoli to evacuate the remaining French nationals from Libya on 29 July. Forty-seven French nationals and a number of Britons were evacuated secretly in the night-time operation.
But experts say military intervention in Libya, at this time either by France or within a Nato coalition, looks unlikely.
Camille Grand, director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, said: "Nato's got its hands busy with Ukraine. And in France, everyone's looking at Iraq, Syria and the Sahel.
"Who would be the driving force? And what would be the trigger now that French nationals have been evacuated? There aren't any volunteers to get involved in a quagmire that looks like Somalia now."

Libya burns as politicians and militia groups vye for control

Five weeks of bombardment by grad rockets have devastated parts of the capital, which is suffering cuts to power, water and petrol. Hospitals are running short of vital drugs and thousands are fleeing the city as fighting rages on
Misratan and Islamist militia fighters captured Tripoli international airport in heavy fighting on Saturday, completing their conquest of the Libyan capital in an operation the country’s parliament denounced as “terrorism.” In a day of furious fighting that saw air strikes against Misrata units by unidentified jet bombers, units in pick-up trucks mounting machine guns surged into the airport after a five-week battle with its Zintan militia garrison. Television pictures showed militia jeeps racing along the tarmac past huge black plumes of black smoke from burning oil storage sites and wrecked airliners, as fighting continued on the airport perimeter. The Misratans, part of a militia alliance named Libya Dawn accused the Zintani militia of being supporters of the former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, deposed by both militias three years ago during the NATO-backed 2011 revolution. ”Libya dawn announces that it totally controls Tripoli International airport,” said a statement screened on An Nabaa television. But the victory may by phyric; The five week bombardment has left the airport wrecked, with smashed buildings, cratered runways and 21 passenger jets smashed on the apron.
Meanwhile, Libya’s new parliament, the House of Representatives, elected in June, condemned the attack, branding Libya Dawn a “terrorist organisation.”
And neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia have closed their air space to planes from western Libya after air strikes by mystery planes struck Misratan units in the capital, killing 17 militiamen.
The battle leaves Libya in a state of civil war, with fighting also raging between Islamist brigades and nationalist forces of a former general, Khalifa Hiftar, raging 400 miles away in the eastern city of Benghazi. There were reports that jets from Hiftar had struck and sunk a ship from Misrata trying to bring ammunition to Islamist brigades in the city.
In Tripoli, leaders of the former parliament, the Islamist-led General National Congress, announced they were reconvening the body, insisting it was the true sovereign government for Libya.
The fighting has left two parliaments vying for control of Libya; Congress, in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives in the eastern city of Tobruk. The country’s galaxy of militias are now lining up on either side of the divide.
Leaders from Zintan a town 90 miles south east of the capital, insisted its withdrawl from the airport was “tactical”, and its units remain west of Tripoli.
Earlier in the day, unidentified jet bombers struck Misratan positions for the second time in a week, hitting ammunition storage and headquarters sites and reportedly wounding two sons of a Misrata commander.
Operation Dawn officials denounced the raids, blaming Egypt and United Arab Emirates for what it called a “cowardly attack” and accusing the government of complicity. Television pictures showed pictures of an armoured car the Misratans said had been given to Zintan militias by the United Arab Emirates.
A spokesman for Hiftar, who has led a three-month offensive against Islamist units in Benghazi, insisted his forces launched the air strikes, but observers have noted that the bombing shows a precision Libya’s air force previously struggled to achieve.
Whoever is responsible for the air strikes, they have deepened the animosity in a country fast dividing into two armed camps, one tribal, the other led by Islamists.
Misrata and its allied Islamist militias appear to have won domination of the capital, but their opponents are massing for war to the east and west.
West of the capital, Zintan units are allied with tribal forces of the Washafani and Warfalla, and the majority of tribal leaders of the southern province of Fezzan have declared their support for the government.
In the eastern province of Cyrenaica, air strikes were reported on Islamist units in the coastal city of Derna.
Meanwhile, Libya is burning. Five weeks of bombardment by grad rockets have devastated parts of the capital, which is suffering cuts to power, water and petrol. Hospitals are running short of vital drugs and thousands are fleeing the city. Administration has broken down, making it impossible to determine how many are dead, with the figure likely to be in the hundreds. Most international embassies have already evacuated, and thousands of foreign workers continue to be be taken out by airlifts and warships.
Libya’s government, which fled to the eastern town of Bayda this month, lacking forces of its own, tried and failed to win international intervention from the United Nations Security Council in July.
Three years ago, the UN mandated air strikes by NATO which secured victory for rebel forces against Gaddafi. But with those same rebel units now battling each other, outside states are reluctant to intervene in a confused and tangled war.
Instead, a Libyan delegation is in Cairo, appealing for help from Egypt’s government which has already declared it will not tolerate “insecurity” on Libya’s borders. Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has overseen the mass arrest of Islamists in his own country, but has yet to comment on the war raging across the border.
In Tobruk, Libya’s parliament has chartered a ship to provide accommodation for lawmakers, leading some to observe that it provides a means of evacuation if war reaches this until-now untouched part of the country.
Libya Dawn was created by Misrata and Islamist militias in July, when it became clear that Islamists had suffered defeat in elections held in June. Dawn fighters accuse the new parliament of being dominated by supporters of Gaddafi.
They gained support last week from the Grand Mufti, Libya’s highest religious figure, Sheikh Sadiq Ghariani, who called Libya Dawn “heroes” and branded their opponents “criminals”.
For the parliament, the trump card may prove to be the international recognition it has been granted, which gives it control of the country’s bountiful oil revenues. A year-long militia oil blockade by eastern militias which cost Libya $30 billion has ended with oil deliveries resuming in a chain of four oil ports.
Ultimate victory for Operation Dawn forces may depend on gaining control of those ports, leading many to predict more fighting in the weeks to come.
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U.S. confirms release of journalist held in Syria

The White House on Sunday confirmed the release of an American journalist held captive in Syria for the past two years.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Peter Theo Curtis, who was kidnapped by militants near the Syria-Turkey border in October 2012, "is now safe outside of Syria."
"Today, we join his family and loved ones in welcoming his freedom," Rice said in a statement. "We expect he will be reunited with his family shortly."
The news came after another U.S. journalist James Foley, who was abducted by militants in Syria in November 2012, was beheaded by the Islamic State as shown in a video released online early last week by the militant group.
The Islamic State, which has seized a large swath of territory in western and northern Iraq in recent months, also threatened to kill another man shown on the video said to be American freelancer Steven Sotloff to avenge ongoing U.S. airstrikes on its targets in northern Iraq.
"Just as we celebrate Theo's freedom, we hold in our thoughts and prayers the Americans who remain in captivity in Syria," Rice said. "As President (Barack) Obama said, we have and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal to see that the remaining American hostages are freed."
The Obama administration sent special operations troops into Syria this summer to rescue Foley and other American hostages, but failed to find them, officials told the press.
The U.S. warplanes on Sunday conducted two air raids on Islamic State targets, destroying a Humvee near the Mosul Dam and an armed vehicle near Erbil, capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
It said the U.S. military has conducted a total of 96 airstrikes in Iraq since Aug.8, one day after Obama gave the order.

OSCE Chief Urges Kiev to Address Concerns of Russian Minority in Ukraine

OSCE Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier urged Ukraine on Sunday not to discriminate against ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, since it was the attack on the Russian language, among other things, that snowballed into a full-scale armed conflict in the country’s east.
“I asked the Special Monitoring Mission to report how Russian communities are feeling in Ukraine. After Maidan the parliament attempted to pass a law downgrading the status of the Russian language. That was one element that created the antagonizing approach in Ukraine,” Zannier said at the European Forum Alpbach in Austria.
He stressed that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was aware of complaints coming from majority Russian areas in Ukraine about having less access to social services and dwindling press freedoms.
“We hear that there are not enough schools, not enough kindergartens. This is something that the international community should work on. And to create more space for the communities that do not feel at home. It is important to work on access to the media for everybody. There is quite a lot of work for the international community to do in this area,” the OSCE secretary-general said. Lamberto Zannier also said the European Union was seeking to create a “common security area from Vancouver to Vladivostok.” He emphasized that there were two “dimensions” to it – transatlantic and Eurasian. Russia has been building a Eurasian Union, while the European Union’s has been moving in the transatlantic direction.
“The EU obviously moves in one of these directions – transatlantic one. It helped us in the Balkans where the attractions of the EU are strong. As we move to Ukraine, the situation changes,” he said.

'E. Ukraine independence vote could be a compromise' - Sir Richard Branson

Music Video: Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

President Obama has spent less time on vacation than his predecessors did

The President has taken flak for vacationing in Martha's Vineyard during world crises, but George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan all spent more time away from the White House than Obama has.
President Obama, who has faced sharp criticism this week for vacationing and golfing amid crises around the world, actually has spent less time away from the White House than his immediate predecessors.
As of Friday, Obama had spent all or part of 138 days on vacation.
By the same point in his second term, President George W. Bush had spent 381 partial or complete days at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, and 26 days at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
During his eight years in office, Bill Clinton spent all or part of 174 days on vacation. Of those, 100 days were summers in Martha’s Vineyard or Jackson Hole, Wyo.
And Ronald Reagan spent all or part of 349 days at his ranch in Santa Barbara, Calif., according to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller’s widely respected record keeping on the presidency.

Northern California earthquake is area's strongest in 25 years

By Josh Levs, Susanna Capelouto and Joshua Berlinge
The strongest earthquake in 25 years in Northern California struck early Sunday, injuring more than 100 people, damaging historic buildings in downtown Napa and turning fireplaces into rubble.
The 6.0-magnitude quake struck just six miles southwest of Napa, California's famed wine country.
"Everything and everyone in Napa was affected by the quake. My house, along with everybody else's, is a disaster. It looks like somebody broke in and ravaged the place, room by room," said CNN iReporter Malissa Koven, who was awakened by the shaking at about 3:20 a.m.
"Anything and everything that could fall, did," she said.
One child was hurt when a fireplace collapsed and was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center, hospital spokeswoman Vanessa deGier told CNN.
More than 170 people were treated at the emergency room at Queen of the Valley Hospital, though hospital CEO Walt Mickens could not confirm that all of those patients had injuries resulting from the earthquake.
Of the 172 patients, 13 people were admitted for orthopedic issues and medical conditions, according to Mickens. The remainder were treated and released, suffering from bruises and lacerations, he said. By Sunday night, only one patient was still in critical condition.
Assessing the aftermath
The damage in Napa is "fairly significant," said Glenn Pomeroy, the CEO of the California Earthquake Authority, who surveyed the area Sunday afternoon.
At least 15,000 customers in and around Sonoma, Napa and Santa Rosa lost power, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Roughly 7,300 were still without power as of Sunday evening.
In historic downtown Napa, the bricks and beams that once made up buildings' facades lay splayed in the street. Shattered glassware covered the floor of a local restaurant. One home had visible charring from a fire that occurred in the aftermath of the quake. Gas leaks and downed power lines were also reported.
"The post office building had cracked, the local hardware store was destroyed with layers of shelves that had fallen over and busted the windows, multiple buildings had fallen apart, and all the local businesses looked trashed on the inside and out," Koven said.
Pomeroy said that downtown was particularly hard hit "probably because of the age of construction." However, the damage "is not as bad as it could have been," Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said at a news conference Sunday.
Putting out the fires
To help with the recovery Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.
"We're here for the long run," Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN. "Not just when we're putting out fires -- literally."
The earthquake triggered six major fires that destroyed several mobile homes, said Napa Division Fire Chief John Callanan. Napa Public Works Director Jack Rochelle said it might take up to a week to get the water system back to normal after dozens of water main breaks were reported. The water that is still flowing is safe to drink, he said. How did it feel?
Sunday's earthquake struck four miles northwest of American Canyon, six miles southwest of Napa and nine miles southeast of Sonoma, according to the USGS.
The USGS estimated that based on their locations, 15,000 people experienced severe shaking, 106,000 people felt very strong shaking, 176,000 felt strong shaking and 738,000 felt moderate shaking.
For those in Napa, close to the epicenter, the quake jolted downtown residents such as Karen Lynch. "It was not like other quakes we have felt," Lynch told CNN. "This was a violent quake."
Although the quake has not resulted in any deaths so far, many residents were surprised by how strong it was. "Honestly it felt much worse than the '89 earthquake," CNN iReporter Garret Gauer said. "The refrigerator relocated itself to the other side of the kitchen"
Farther south of the epicenter in San Francisco, CNN producer Augie Martin felt the quake differently. "It was a fairly good shake, about 25 or 30 seconds. It was a softer rolling type earthquake," he said. The quake struck about seven miles deep and was considered "strong" by the USGS. Major quakes start at a 7.0 magnitude, according to the USGS scale.
More than 60 aftershocks struck in the hours following the quake, according to the USGS, ranging from 0.6 to 3.6 magnitude. The economic loss is likely to be more than $1 billion, according to USGS pager data.
Wine country hit
"I've got a lot of broken wine, being here in Napa," said Emily Massimi, who was woken up by the quake. "We tend to collect wine, so I have wine all over my kitchen, and glass, and pictures off the wall and books off of bookshelves," she told CNN.
At Silver Oak Winery, owner David Duncan spent the morning cleaning up hundreds of broken wine bottles that fell off the shelves. "Those bottles were very unique," he said. They were part of his private collection and worth hundreds of dollars. Duncan said he plans to open the winery today.
But it's not just the wine economy that will feel the pain.
"There's a mythology about Napa, that it's all fancy wineries," Newsom said. "But underneath that there are a lot of folks here -- very low income -- that are going to need support."
25 years later
The quake was the strongest to hit the Bay Area since 1989, when a 6.9-magnitude one struck during the World Series. The Loma Prieta earthquake caused 63 deaths, 3,757 injuries and an estimated $6 billion in property damage, according to the USGS. The damage from Sunday's earthquake was relatively minor compared with the buckled highways and destroyed homes that scattered the Bay area in the aftermath of the quake 25 years ago.
The 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California was nearly as deadly -- 60 people were killed and more than 7,000 were injured. The USGS says 20,000 people were left homeless in its aftermath.

Music: Katy Perry - Hot n Cold

Isis surges towards the borders of Turkey as west mulls options

Martin Chulov
Islamic State fighters mass on Syria's north-western frontier as it seeks to reopen its main artery for foreign fighters
Islamic State extremists are pushing to secure the border between Turkey and north-western Syria as the main gateway for recruits to join the caliphate they have imposed across much of eastern Syria and western Iraq.
Large numbers of jihadists from Islamic State (formerly Isis) are moving this weekend towards the Turkish border area, about 60 miles north of Aleppo, in columns of armoured trucks that they looted from abandoned Iraqi military bases. The area is now one of the most active front lines in the group's attempt to redraw the borders of the Levant, a campaign that will have huge ramifications for Turkey.
Residents and Syrian opposition militants in the town of Marea, close to the Turkish border, on Saturday said that Isis had advanced to within sight of the town and had sent envoys to negotiate access.
"They could storm in like the Mongols, if they wanted to," said a fighter from Syrian rebel group Islamic Front. "But they're trying to be nice. We have dealt with them before. There is no reconciling with them. We will have to fight."
The Syrian opposition fought a bitter and costly war with Isis in the same area in January, ousting them from ground they had used as a rallying point for foreign fighters and for a successful push into Iraq. The six-week battle cost the lives of more than 2,500 opposition fighters and allowed the Syrian regime, together with its proxies, to slowly encircle Aleppo from the north-west, a move which is likely to prove decisive in the Syrian civil war.
Since that battle, the flow of foreign fighters from across the Turkish border to Isis has slowed. Isis now wants to reverse that, making it easier for anyone who wants to join them to cross a 130-mile strip of the frontier that has been used by the vast majority of foreign fighters, including British and European jihadists.
"The Turkish border is the only way to smuggle oil, weapons and foreign fighters into [Iraq and Syria]," said Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert on Isis. "If it's closed, it will cut three things: funding, an entrance for the foreign fighters and links to Europe which they are trying to open. If those plans are destroyed, they will aim for another gate to Lebanon."
Isis's self-declared new caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has urged bureaucrats, judges, administrators and doctors to relocate to what he claims will be an autonomous area across much of Iraq and Syria that is ruled by hardline Islamic law and pays no heed to existing borders.
European governments and the US have for the last 18 months been urging Turkey, which is a Nato member, to do more to stop jihadists who cross into Syria. Officials in Ankara had at first insisted that there was little that they could do to distinguish between religious pilgrims travelling to Turkey and those who intended to join a jihad.
Intelligence officials insisted that countries concerned that their citizens might be extremists should sound the alarm before they travel. However, European governments have been increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as Turkey's lack of will to confront the jihadists, given that they were destabilising the Assad regime.
Some agencies believe the Turkish National Police are more willing to interdict Isis than the country's national intelligence agency, MIT. However, sources have told the Observer that the police have been sidelined in a power struggle with president-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose circle has given responsibility for jihadists to MIT.
Western officials told the Observer that they were obliged to tread carefully when talking to the Turks about foreign passport holders suspected of trying to travel to Syria through Turkey. Using the term "extremist" or "terrorist" in official correspondence would generally lead nowhere, but Turkish officials were more forthcoming when inquiries were made about "those who abuse religion".
The battle over semantics underscores the deepening sensitivity surrounding the fast-growing regional extremist threat that some senior figures in the Middle East and Europe say Turkey has facilitated either through neglect or undeclared policy.
"Let's see how they react to the latest Isis advance," said one regional leader on Saturday. "For more than a year now people have been telling them this has got out of control. They have to seal their border now. This so-called caliphate cannot be allowed to stand."
Al-Hashimi said Ankara would now be forced to act. "This time Turkey will do something and block the borders because they don't trust Isis any more after they attacked Kurdistan. They understand now that Isis could turn on them."
The stretch of border used by jihadists to infiltrate Syria is a mix of flat plains and rugged ranges, much of it difficult to patrol. Since May 2012, Turkish officials have allowed weapons and supplies destined for recognised Syrian opposition groups to cross. Isis has not relied on a foreign patron to build its capacity, instead looting from armouries, state-owned enterprises and banks. However, it has sold oil from fields that it commands in eastern Syria to Turkish officials, and to regime connections in Damascus.
Isis continues to alarm the region with its capacity to fight concurrent battles on several fronts – a trait on display in the last three days in Syria, where the advance on the north is taking place as the group also tries to seize the regime's last remaining airbase in eastern Syria.
Regime reinforcements were on Saturday continuing to defend the base, known as Tabqa, where 800 to 1,000 soldiers and airmen, as well as fighter jets, remain stationed. The base's isolation, however, will make holding it difficult.

An obvious first step – close the jihadis' highway

World View: The best way to stop UK fighters reaching Isis is to catch them at Turkey's border with Syria
The murder of the US journalist James Foley by a British jihadi has reignited the barren debate in Britain about new government powers to tackle extremist Islamic groups. Dubious counter-terrorism specialists, the exact nature of their expertise frequently elusive, speak of the effectiveness of new controls in thwarting actual or potential jihadis. Much of what is said is irrelevant to the real circumstances in which Muslims leave Britain or other foreign countries to fight in Syria and Iraq. The discussion, driven by politicians responding to media hysteria, produces a sort of intellectual fog in which effective measures that can be taken swiftly disappear from view.
The point at which jihadis should be best identified, intercepted and stopped is not within Britain or even Europe, but as they cross from Turkey into Syria. The Turks have a 560-mile border with Syria and it is across this that jihadis must travel if they are to reach their destination, primarily but not exclusively the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), to offer their services. Those who head for Iraq must also take what Turkish journalists call "the Jihadist Highway", a network of roads across Turkey and Syria.
A glance at the map might appear to show that there are other ways of reaching the battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq, but in practice Turkey is the only feasible route for jihadis to the Sunni heartlands of both countries. They can no longer travel through Lebanon since the Syrian army and Hezbollah captured Qusayr, near Homs, and took control of the Syrian Lebanese border last year. Saudi Arabia may once have encouraged or turned a blind eye to its citizens going on jihad to Syria, but it never allowed them to travel directly from Saudi territory to Iraq. Jordan, while trying as usual to keep in with all sides, has always been nervous of being in the front line of aiding the anti-Assad opposition in Syria.
It is down the "Jihadist Highway" through Turkey that the foreign fighters have flowed in their thousands over the past three years. Turkey's open border was crucial to sustaining the Sunni armed uprising which arose out of the mostly peaceful anti-government protests of 2011. It has played the same role as the open Pakistan-Afghan border does in sustaining the Taliban. So long as Taliban fighters could retreat back into Pakistan over the 1,500-mile frontier, they could have a safe haven or sanctuary to rest and resupply before returning to the war.
For the first two years of the Syrian civil war, the route of the foreign fighters was unimpeded. According to Iraqi intelligence officials, who interrogated captured fighters, they would arrive at Istanbul or Ankara airports, move to safe houses, then travel freely by car or bus over the border crossing points into Syria. Arms and ammunition for the rebels, mostly paid for by Qatar and private donors in the Gulf, took the same route, the whole supply operation monitored and to a degree orchestrated by the CIA.
It was only in the middle of 2013 that foreign governments began to get cold feet as it became evident that armed opposition movements in Syria had become dominated by home-grown and foreign jihadis. There was a surge of reports in the foreign media, which had previously been highly supportive of the Syrian uprising, that rebel wounded were being treated in Turkish hospitals. The online journal Al-Monitor quoted a Turkish MP from the border town of Reyhani as saying that "it's only after the Salafists [Sunni fundamentalists] took over the border crossings and the Obama administration took fright that the Western media decided to report on Turkey's support for extremist groups".
Over the past year, Turkey has done something, but not nearly enough to close the border to jihadis. The problem is that the US, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others have pretended that they are backing a powerful non-jihadi opposition movement capable of displacing Assad. This was the justification for keeping the border at least partly open. But the rebels are dominated by Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra (the official al-Qa'ida affiliate), Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadis. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has still not quite taken on board that his campaign to get rid of Assad by backing the jihadis is bankrupt and has failed. Countries such as the US and Britain are loath to admit that they went along with this policy for too long, contributing much to the rise of Isis, and the Turkish border may now be very difficult to close.
The Turkish government protests that it gets 34 million tourists a year and cannot arrest everybody with a beard. But this does not quite ring true, since few of the tourists will be seeing the sights on the Syrian border.
Smuggling has become one of the few ways of eking out a living in these dangerous borderlands. There are 700,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey and a further 100,000-200,000 maintained by Turkey on the other side of the frontier. Fuel is heavily taxed in Turkey, so cheaper products from Isis-controlled oil wells, crudely distilled, is shipped back into Turkey. Smugglers, of course, are equally willing to use the same covert networks to move jihadis in and out of Syria.
Nevertheless, putting heavy pressure on Turkey to deploy its security forces to close this border is the most effective way to stop Isis establishing a network of adherents across the world. So far, Turkey has built a few miles of wall in a token effort to secure the border, but this will not be enough. It is unlikely that the US and its allies will ever formally ally themselves with Assad, but to isolate Isis they will have to undermine those opposed to him. It has always been absurd to imagine that it is possible to draw a line distinguishing carefully vetted anti-jihadi rebels from Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and the others.
The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, has rebuffed the idea of an alliance or co-operation with Assad, but this was never likely, or even necessary. The American and British policy of saying, as they did at the time of the Geneva 11 talks at the start of the year, that the only topic for negotiations should be about "transition" in Damascus never made much sense. Of the 14 provincial capitals in Syria, 13 are held by the government and the 14th, Raqqa, is ruled by Isis. Assad was never going to step down voluntarily, and the rebels were never going to be strong enough to force him to do so. Demanding his departure as the only subject of negotiations has proved a recipe for the war continuing.
Isis, its caliphate, and the flood of foreign jihadis into Syria and Iraq are the children of this war. Towards the end of 2012, a senior British diplomat told me that he felt the belief that "the Syrian war will spread" was much exaggerated. This was the great miscalculation in Washington and London, for which Iraqis, Syrians, Turks and many others are now paying a heavy price.

Turkey’s Failed Foreign Policy

In 2002, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., turned to Ahmet Davutoglu, then an obscure academic, to help craft its new foreign policy.
In 2009, he became foreign minister and was soon attempting to resolve the region’s numerous crises. His foreign policy vision guided Turkey’s approach to the Arab Spring uprisings and has served as the basis for Turkey’s handling of the Syrian civil war.
With the Foreign Ministry under his stewardship, Turkey has both been hailed as a democratic beacon for the Islamic world, and denounced as an irresponsible regional power for allowing foreign fighters to transit its territory en route to battlefields in Syria.
After initially receiving accolades, Mr. Davutoglu’s decision-making has become a source of controversy in the West. And in the Middle East, Turkey’s embrace of religiously conservative political movements has run afoul of several Persian Gulf states and now Egypt, contributing to its political isolation.
Now Mr. Davutoglu has risen to the premiership, filling the shoes vacated by President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Unfortunately, we should not expect any changes to Turkey’s failed foreign policy. Mr. Davutoglu believes his vision will eventually be vindicated.
Mr. Davutoglu has argued for decades that Turkey should embrace its Ottoman imperial past and use its unique geography to expand its influence throughout the Balkans, the Middle East and Central Asia. This “strategic depth” represented a departure from the country’s historic emphasis on maintaining close ties with its NATO allies in the West. Mr. Davutoglu envisioned that this policy, once implemented, would eventually result in Turkey having “zero problems with neighbors.”
Turkey’s efforts in this regard have been decidedly problematic. The country currently does not have an ambassador in Syria, Egypt or Israel. Moreover, Ankara’s relations with the Gulf States are strained, owing to the A.K.P.’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood. And diplomatic ties with Iraq are near non-existent after Turkey opted to side with the Kurdistan Regional Government and facilitate the export of Kurdish oil without Baghdad’s approval.
The incoming prime minister’s approach is based on four assumptions. First, he believes that the “era of nationalism” will come to an end in the Middle East and a new crop of religiously conservative leaders will emerge. Second, these new religiously conservative leaders will look to Turkey — and more specifically, to the A.K.P. — as a source of political inspiration. Third, wider religious conservatism will allow Turkey to expand its influence via its shared religious identity with like-minded states. And fourth, the West, especially America, has an interest in preventing democratic change in the region.
These assumptions underpin the A.K.P.’s understanding of recent regional events since the Arab uprisings. In the Arab world, the swift overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and their subsequent replacement with political parties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, was seen as a confirmation of Mr. Davutoglu’s predictions. The A.K.P. believed it could share its own experience with states undergoing transitions to democracy.
However, Turkey’s efforts to help Egypt draft a secular constitution were rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood when it was still in power. Turkey’s eager attempts to influence the political process in Cairo were viewed as an encroachment on Egyptian sovereignty and a potential source of political weakness that opponents of the Brotherhood used to cast the party as under foreign influence before forcibly ousting it. Turkey’s influence in Egypt is now near zero.
The A.K.P., however, believes that its embrace of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated parties in Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia was politically prudent, morally correct and pro-democratic, and that it will help strengthen Turkish influence abroad. This approach is built on the idea that the A.K.P. has overseen the transformation of Turkish domestic politics and has led the way to making Turkey a more democratic country.
The same logic explains Turkey’s support for Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The A.K.P. blames the West for isolating the militant group after its election victory in 2006 and logically contends that this isolation is one of the drivers of tumult in Palestine. However, Turkey’s efforts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have failed because it is no longer seen as a neutral party. In much the same way, Turkey has chastised America for its handling of the July 2013 coup in Egypt, and has lambasted the West for its reluctance to intervene in Syria.
The A.K.P. views the Persian Gulf states as corrupt, illegitimate and destined to fall. Mr. Davutoglu believes that the dynamics that led to the Arab revolts are still present, and that Turkey is therefore playing a “long game” with its support for the struggling Islamist forces in Palestine and Egypt while the West hopes to restore the region’s autocratic status quo ante by relying on a small cadre of corrupt political and military elites who have lost all legitimacy.
For Mr. Davutoglu, these issues are black and white: Either you support democracy, or you don’t. Turkey is on the “right side of history” and is standing up for democratic change in the region. The United States and Europe are not.
These assumptions are flawed. First, they assume that a shared religious identity will be able to transcend nationalism. Turkey’s recent history in Egypt suggests that this is easier said than done. Second, the nationalism that Mr. Davutoglu predicts will fail has proven to be far more resilient than initially anticipated. Third, in states described as being in Turkey’s “natural hinterland,” these nationalist movements are mostly based on a rejection of colonial rule — including that of the Ottomans. Turkey’s efforts to expand its influence, therefore, will not be so easy.
Yet the A.K.P. is undeterred. It believes in its own strategic and moral rectitude and views its recent troubles as temporary. As Mr. Davutoglu assumes the premiership, Turkey is likely to continue pursuing the flawed foreign policy he has conceived and constructed.

President Obama's Weekly Address: The Export-Import Bank

Pashto music video : Ramin Atash's - TORA BULBUL

Afghanistan: Delay in Signing BSA Leads Country to Instability

The Minister of Defense pities the fact that the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) has not been signed with Washington expressing that the delay in signing the agreement has led the country to instability with insecurity on the rise.
Minister of Defense Bismillah Mohammadi who is now on the frontlines of the Kunduz operation says that the Taliban have conducted its bloodiest operations in the country since the past three months.
Mohammadi continued to emphasis that it is unfortunate that the BSA has not been signed yet adding that the state of the country is worsening because of the delay in signing the agreement.
"Sadly, the BSA has not been signed and the elections lasted longer than expected resulting in political and economic chaos," he deplored. "Pakistan's ISI took advantage of the condition and began targeting different parts of the country."
Currently, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are conducting 21 operations throughout the country against illegal armed groups and are fighting to restore security and peace in the affected areas.
Analysts believe that Afghanistan's government has missed several opportunities leading the country to further uncertainty and fissures in the nation.
"The current condition of Afghanistan is because of the government's negligence for not signing the agreement," Head of the Defense Commission at the House of Representatives, Humayun Humayun said. "This agreement guarantees the security of Afghanistan."
In the past two years talks of the BSA has witnessed a roller coaster of an experience even surpassing a Loya Jirga. Though the BSA was criticized, many believe that signing the agreement will protect Afghanistan against foreign infringement and would be useful taming illegal armed groups and securing the nation.

In Afghan Election, Signs of Systemic Fraud Cast Doubt on Many Votes

Carlotta Gall
When the campaign team led by Manawar Shah came under threat on the day of the Afghan presidential runoff, it was not from the Taliban, he said, but from the people who were supposed to be keeping order: an alliance of government officials, security forces and supporters of the candidate Ashraf Ghani.
Beaten and prevented from using their video equipment and cellphones, Mr. Shah’s team members, working for the candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Khost Province, spent June 14 watching fraud but unable to document it. In one polling center, Mr. Shah said, they saw just 500 voters and election officials casting multiple ballots, for a total of 10,531 votes.
That episode and others like it led Mr. Abdullah to level accusations of a conspiracy by Mr. Ghani, election officials and President Hamid Karzai to rig the vote, plunging the country into crisis and creating a new threat of factional violence. After years of Western aid spent building it, the Afghan state is suddenly at risk of collapsing just as American troops are leaving.
The impasse grew so grave that some senior Afghan officials considered imposing an interim government — a move tantamount to a coup, but one that the officials insisted might be needed to head off violence.
Mr. Ghani and Mr. Karzai have denied Mr. Abdullah’s accusations. But interviews with Afghan and international officials support some of the most serious of Mr. Abdullah’s claims, offering new details of a broad effort to push the runoff to Mr. Ghani, including a pressure campaign by election and palace officials and ballot-box stuffing orchestrated by an ally of Mr. Karzai. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid offending senior Afghan officials.
The huge scale of the fraud — involving perhaps more than two million ballots out of roughly eight million reported cast, according to independent international estimates — has stymied efforts to achieve a democratic transition. Secretary of State John Kerry has intervened twice to keep the campaigns in agreement on a unity government and a complete audit of the vote, but the process has repeatedly broken down in disputes.
Despite the hopes that drove millions of Afghans to cast legitimate votes to choose a president, the extent of the fraud has ensured that even if the process comes to a peaceful conclusion, the result will look less like an election correction than a brokered result. And in recent days, officials have quietly expressed worries that even keeping the peace may be difficult.
The warning signs have been there since the 2009 presidential election between Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah, when 1.3 million fraudulent ballots were thrown out. Deeply angered by Western handling of that election, Mr. Karzai pushed changes to the election commissions and the electoral law, removing international delegates from the complaints commission, appointing new commissioners and outlawing a statistical method used for identifying fraud.
As the election approached, Mr. Karzai avoided public statements for or against any specific candidate and insisted he was staying out of the process. The president did, however, make an important introduction.
Early on, Mr. Karzai referred an operations officer to the Independent Election Commission, describing him as his “nephew” — an expression of his favor rather than of actual kinship. The official was Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail, an energetic young officer who had worked in the field operations of the commission for two years and knew his way around the system.
He was promptly appointed head of the secretariat of the commission, putting him in charge of electoral operations. One official who works inside the election commission said Mr. Amarkhail met frequently with senior aides to the president at the palace, though election officials were supposed to guard their independence.
Early in the election dispute, Abdullah campaign officials offered a series of audio recordings in which they said Mr. Amarkhail, other election officials and Ghani campaign workers could be heard directing various officials in ballot-box stuffing. That identification has been supported by a number of Western and Afghan officials who say the tapes are from direct intercepts of telephone calls.
Mr. Amarkhail insisted that the recordings were faked but resigned from his post. Mr. Abdullah and his aides have refused to explain how they gained possession of the recordings.
The Abdullah campaign also had an energetic election operator on its side, Fazil Ahmad Manawi, a former election commissioner and Supreme Court judge who is now a senior adviser to Mr. Abdullah. Like Mr. Amarkhail, Mr. Manawi has been accused of orchestrating fraud in both rounds of this election.
Mr. Manawi had a front-row seat as an election commissioner during the 2009 presidential election and then served three years as the chairman of the commission, overseeing the parliamentary elections, which were also riddled with accusations of corruption. As the current dispute unfolded, he was on the front lines of Mr. Abdullah’s fight with the commission.
“It was different from 2009; then it was the original warlords that committed the fraud. This time it was the Independent Election Commission that did it,” Mr. Manawi said. “This time the ballot stuffing even went on inside the provincial election offices.”
Mr. Manawi’s accusations resonate with details from current and former Afghan officials in Kabul and several other provinces. Some of these officials are critics of Mr. Karzai and Mr. Ghani, but others witnessed or even had a hand in the fraud.
Those officials said that the fraud had been directed by a coterie of presidential aides and ministers and managed in each province by government, election and security officials.
“It was fraud. The governor, the police chief and election commission all did it together,” Malik Muhammad Hasham, a tribal elder in the eastern district of Orgun, said within earshot of those officials. Orgun is in Paktika Province, where results were hugely in favor of Mr. Ghani.

India hits back at Pakistan after attack on 22 border posts

It seems Pakistan is back to its sinister ways and peace is not on its agenda. For some time now Pakistani Rangers have been shelling Indian positions in Jammu and Kashmir, and it got escalated early on Saturday, and continued even late in the evening when reports last came in. Pak troopers targeted 22 border outposts, killing two civilians-a father and a son-and injuring six others. However, Pakistan once again got the taste of India's firepower, as Indian forces retaliated effectively, causing massive damage across the border.
This comes less than a week after India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks with Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government in Delhi played hard ball with Pakistan, red-flagging the talks between Pak envoy to India and Kashmiri separatists. And there are clear indications that NDA government has the political will to give a fitting reply to Pakistan's misadventures. Observers say it is not something that Pakistan can swallow easily. Moreover, Pakistan is once again going through political turmoil as opposition leaders and their supporters there have been demanding resignation of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. All of it, say analysts, seems to have acted as a catalyst to ceasefire violations.
The latest ceasefire violations, which began after midnight, targeted Border Security Force (BSF) posts near the international border in Jammu district. A BSF official, who did not want to be identified, said the Pakistan Rangers targeted 22 BSF posts in R S Pura and Arnia sectors. Pakistani forces used small arms, heavy machine guns and 82mm mortars. "They also used long range mortars. We gave a befitting reply to them and fired back using similar weapons, causing severe damage to them," he said.
The firing continued for over seven hours. Thirteen villages were hit by the firing, which injured six persons, including four members of a family and a BSF trooper. Nearly 3,000 people living in border hamlets close to the zero line were moved to safer places, said Ajit Kumar Sahu, the Deputy Commissioner of Jammu. Sahu told Mail Today some 30 villages were affected by the ceasefire violations in R S Pura sector. "Earlier also, ceasefire violations would take place in R S Pura sector but people would not move out. Today's killings, however, created a panic and forced people to move out to spend the night at shelters," he said.
Pakistan soldiers also violated the ceasefire twice along the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch district by firing with automatic and small arms in Hamirpur sub-sector.
BSF officials said the latest violations of the 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan marked the heaviest and most indiscriminate firing by the Pakistan Rangers along the border in Jammu region this year.
The Pakistan Rangers have targeted 40 border posts and over 20 villages during 16 ceasefire violations in the past 12 days, officials said.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Hari Om described the violations as an attempt by Pakistan to divert the attention of its people from the real issues confronting that country.
Speaking with reporters on the sidelines of a function in Vishakhapatnam to commission a warship, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said: "This is a fact that of late these ceasefire violations by Pakistan have increased. But let everybody be assured that both our Army and BSF, who are guarding the LoC and the international border, are fully vigilant".
"They effectively respond to each violation and... the country must have full faith that they are effectively protecting both our territory and national interest," he added. Family grief
Randhir Singh, Superintendent of Police (Jammu headquarters), told Mail Today that Muhammad Akram and his seven-year-old son Aslam were killed and four members of Akram's family, including his wife, and a BSF constable were wounded in R S Pura sector at 1.44 am. The causalities occurred when a Pakistani shell exploded near the home of Akram, who was hiding behind a wall along with his family.
Since 2003, when India and Pakistan agreed on the truce, people near the LoC have lived peacefully. But frequent skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops this year have frightened the villagers. They fear a return of the pre-ceasefire era, when both armies regularly used heavy artillery to target each other's positions.
Jammu Kashmir's Minister of State for Home Sajjad Ahmed Kichloo visited border hamlets and met the relatives of the dead. He said the state government will take every step to ensure the safety and security of lives and property in the border areas.
National Conference leader Devender Singh Rana said he was anguished over the continued shelling from across the border and loss of life in Jammu region. He sought the resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan to end border skirmishes. Rana attributed the ceasefire violations to the recent cancellation of talks and said the fallout of hostilities was being felt in Jammu and Kashmir.
Interacting with the media in Jammu after meeting the injured in hospital, Rana, who is a confidant of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said the National Conference stands for peace between India and Pakistan as the scars of border skirmishes are felt only in Jammu and Kashmir, and not in Islamabad or New Delhi.
However, the BJP strongly reacted to the firing and accused Pakistan of testing the patience of the NDA government. BJP leader Hari Om said Pakistan should stop violating the ceasefire as India could take strong action against it.
BJP MP Jugal Kishore Sharma, who visited the border areas, said, "It is well known to the entire nation that unprovoked ceasefire violations have been continuously taking place by the Pakistan Army, which appears to be emboldened by the statements of the Pakistani envoy in Delhi."
Pak defiant
Pakistan rejected India's assertions about the ceasefire violations and suggested that an urgent meeting of the Directors General of Military Operations should be held to discuss the situation and to halt the firing.
"DGMOs of both countries should meet immediately to discuss ways and means to stop the current spate of firing along the working boundary and Pakistan is sending a proposal to India for the meeting," said Sartaj Aziz, the Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister on National Security.
Expressing concern at the firing by BSF personnel, Aziz said the issue was affecting bilateral ties and peace in the region. Aziz said the last meeting at the military-level helped in normalising the situation along the LoC.
Pakistani officials said two civilians, a woman and a 60-year-old-man, were killed in the firing near Sialkot.
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By Jai Kumar Verma
Pakistani High Commissioner Abdul Basit continued his meetings with irrelevant Kashmiri separatists in defiance of a clear warning from India’s Ministry of External Affairs, that meeting with All-Party Hurriyat Conference leaders would imperil the scheduled talks between Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries in Islamabad on Aug 25.
Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh herself called Basit after his meeting with Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah on Aug 18 that the meetings with Kashmir separatists are tantamount to his interference in the internal affairs of India and it is “unacceptable”. She also told him that “Either talk to separatists or talk to us.”
The Pakistan High Commissioner remained impervious and met Hurriyat leaders Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik on Aug 19 in utter disregard of the Indian foreign secretary’s request.
The Kashmiri separatist leaders appreciated the stand taken by the Pakistani envoy of talking to Kashmiri leaders, in preference to representative of Government of India. The spokesman of Geelani, who advocates amalgamation of Kashmir with Pakistan, mentioned that both Geelani and Basit met for more than one and a half hours. All Kashmiri separatists’ leaders condemned India and its decision of cancelling secretary level talks. They reiterated that Kashmir is a disputed territory and that their leaders were meeting the Pakistani High Commissioner regularly. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah also criticized the Modi government for cancelling the talks.
Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, stated that by meeting Kashmiri separatists the Pakistani High Commissioner gave a clear indication that Pakistan is not sincere towards the negotiations and also showed its negative approach and interfered in the internal affairs of India.
On Aug 25 the foreign secretaries of both the countries would have discussed about the resumption of dialogue and stoppage of ceasefire violations on the border. Now the talks are postponed for an indefinite period.
The critics say that in the past Pakistani leaders and diplomats were meeting Kashmiri separatists. Not only this, in April 2005 Shyam Saran, the then Indian foreign secretary, stated that India is a democratic country and Pakistani leaders can meet Hurriyat leaders. Kashmiri separatist leaders met several Pakistani visiting dignitaries, including then president Pervez Musharraf, foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar etc. They point out that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had taken the strong action because of pressure from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, lack of experience in diplomacy and in view of the forthcoming Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections.
However this is a wrong allegation. The decision of cancelling the secretary level talks was decided after hectic negotiations between the Prime Minister’s Office and officers of the Ministry of External Affairs. India gave a tough message that constant border violations, meeting with separatists, continuation of low intensity war, fuelling of terrorists will not be tolerated in future. The peace talks should not be a ritual, and some progress in the right direction must be made.
Analysts say that Islamabad is under seige, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and Canadian national and a populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have entered the Red Zone in Islamabad with thousands of their supporters and are demanding the resignation of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. No large scale demonstration in Islamabad is feasible unless it has the blessings of the all-powerful Pakistani army. Both Imran Khan and Qadri are proxies of the Pakistan army. Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif wants to weaken Nawaz Sharif as the relationship between both is not cordial.
The agitation has challenged and undermined the position of Nawaz Sharif in particular and of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in general. In reality not only has the position of Sharif declined but the importance of democratic forces is also diminished. Once the status of democratic forces dwindles the position of Pakistani army enhances as the saviour of the country.
It is further mentioned that the Pakistan army is not getting the desired success against various terrorist groups under Operation “Zarb-e-Azb” in North Waziristan. Hence it wants to detract the attention of the masses against the failure of the army. Not only this. The army is aware that if it is not able to achieve success against terrorists Nawaz Sharif and his government will become stronger at the cost of the army. Hence the army has weakened Sharif before he can point out the failures of army.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan army is also projecting the danger from India. Therefore there is a spurt in ceasefire violations by Pakistani security forces from last few weeks. When India has only retorted these violations by firing, the army instructed Basit to meet Kashmiri separatist leaders with a view to provoke India. These separatists have few following and still less credibility among Kashmiris. Here it is important to note that when Nawaz Sharif himself visited India in May 2014 he did not meet any Hurriyat leader.
The nefarious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is infiltrating Pakistan trained terrorists into India. The Pakistan army has increased firing and violations at the border because it is giving cover to infiltrators so that they can enter India. It is reported that about 200 Pakistani-trained terrorists are waiting at the Indo-Pak border to enter India in small groups. Once they enter they would execute terrorist activities so that the relations between India and Pakistan deteriorate. The Pakistan army does not want cordial relations with India because it flourishes on the bogey of animosity and danger from India. It is the reason that any time India and the democratically elected government of Pakistan make efforts to improve relations, the Pakistan army jeopardizes the efforts.
Some analysts rightly commented that in the present circumstances Pakistan should care for Islamabad instead of Kashmir. The Pakistani High Commissioner has acted undiplomatically on the instructions of the Pakistani Army. In this way he caused damage to the democratically elected government of his country as well as jeopardized the forthcoming talks between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan: 400 protesters booked for anti-govt rallies

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign for a month during which a probe into the alleged poll rigging will be completed, even as 400 PTI protestors were booked for anti-government rallies and blocking traffic in Punjab province, media reported Sunday.
Imran Khan made this demand Saturday after the third round of talks between the government and PTI faced a deadlock over the issue of Sharif's resignation, the Nation reported.
Addressing supporters in Islamabad, Imran Khan reiterated his resolve to continue his sit-in in front of parliament till Sharif's resignation and the initiation of new elections. He said he would not let his party function till the government meets his latest demand.
He said Sharif could return to his office after 30 days if the judicial commission could not prove the allegations of rigging against him.
On Saturday, a group of PTI lawyers joined Imran Khan to protest against the government. The PTI chief asked the lawyers to file petitions against the government's illegal activities including blocking of roads.
Imran Khan once again asked supporters to gather in Islamabad Sunday, saying he would make an important speech. Meanwhile, at least 400 PTI protestors were booked for staging anti-government rallies and blocking traffic for five hours in Faisalabad city of Punjab province.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was scheduled to organise a pro-government rally in Faisalabad Sunday.
The protests that began Aug 15 went on for the ninth day Sunday.
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Pakistan: Hindus Appeal Against Demolishing Of An Ancient Temple
Hindu Community appeals against demolishing of a historic temple.
‘Balaknash Temple’ built in 1935, also known as ‘Maharishi Walmeck Sawami Jee Temple’is situated in Gracy Lines Rawalpindi. The decision for demolishing the temple has caused panic, anger, and fear among the local Hindu community. This temple is the hub of religious activities of the Hindu community.
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Pakistan: Islamic Extremists Use Rape as an 'Instrument Of Power' over Christian Female
By Leah Marieann Klett
The Christian community of Lahore is outraged following the rape of a 12-year-old Christian girl who was kidnapped by a Muslim gang and repeatedly assaulted. Muqadas Masih and her older sister Asma were returning home from work when Muqadas was kidnapped by two Muslim men and three women. They took her inside a school and the two men, identified as Ashraf Alias Achi and Ghaffor Alias Paida raped her repeatedly in turn. When they had finished, they abandoned the young girl. Although Muquadas' family filed a complaint with local police, they have received threats from Muslim extremists if they do not withdraw the complaint. Christian advocates have said Muslims often use sexual violence as a means of controlling the Christian population, especially women and girls. "In Pakistan rape is used as an instrument of arbitrary power over Christian girls, who come from poor and marginalized families. It is a form of violence that wants to reiterate the submission to Muslims. The rest of society is not outraged because the victims mostly belong to religious minorities, who are the most vulnerable," explains Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, who heads LEAD (Legal Evangelical Association Development)
"Rarely rapists are punished." But almost more horrifying is the lack of care appropriate care given to girls following such assaults. "Rape victims face terrible difficulties; they do not receive adequate medical treatment for sexual assault. Many girls are traumatized and become depressed and in need of psychological assistance," continued Gill. Religious minorities face extreme persecution in Pakistan. According to the persecution watchdog group Open Doors, Christians in particular "are caught in the crossfire between Islamic militant organizations that routinely target Christians, and an Islamizing culture that leaves Christians isolated from the rest of the population." In addition, Pakistan's blasphemy laws have "devastating consequences for minorities, including Christians" and that Islamic extremism and organized corruption are two of the main sources of persecution. "Women and girls from minority groups are particularly vulnerable, and sexual assaults against underage Christian girls by Muslim men continue to be reported," the group continued. LEAD and other Christian organizations continue to fight for the rights of religious minorities within the country-an endeavor that often seems hopeless. "We often get discouraged, as human rights abuses happen every minute of every day in Pakistan," explained one Open Doors aid worker. "But if we can help even one persecuted citizen, it's a worthwhile endeavor. Only prayer is powerful enough to fight the monstrous abuses occurring within the country. " "We will do everything so that this violence does not go unpunished," added Gill.
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Pakistan: What is forced conversion?

Sarmad Ali
The environment in Pakistan does not allow conversion to any other religion from Islam, which is treated as apostasy, punishable by death
The landmark judgment delivered on June 19, 2014 by a full bench of the Supreme Court (SC) of Pakistan concerning the bomb attack on Peshawar’s All Saints Church is a milestone in the country’s history. The judgment said that there is a need to guarantee equal rights to minorities in Pakistan. The 32-page judgement said that the constitution of Pakistan promises freedom of religion and that no citizen has a right to impose his or her beliefs on others. The judgment is undoubtedly an excellent example for every institution of Pakistan and even for the courts to follow when considering minorities’ issues of any sort. There is one more crucial issue that has not received due consideration among intellectuals and human rights organisations: forced conversion. In a previous article of mine, ‘Domestic violence should be a crime’ (Daily Times, June 10, 2014), I opined that domestic violence is a crime and an act must be passed sooner rather than later dealing with domestic violence-related issues. I also believe that there is a need to enact laws that prohibit forced conversion through any means. This discussion article discusses the forced conversion issue in Pakistan, a big problem in southern Punjab and interior Sindh.
First, it is pertinent to demonstrate what forced conversion actually is. Forced conversion is a religious conversion generally without the consent or acceptance of the subject. Theoretically, there is no bar on changing one’s religion in Pakistan. However, in Pakistan a right to conversion means conversion to Islam. The environment in Pakistan does not allow conversion to any other religion from Islam, which is treated as apostasy, punishable by death according to common interpretations of sharia law. Historically, when the Arabs came to Sindh in 711 CE under Mohammad bin Qasim, they quickly destroyed the Sindhi forts to conquer Sindh. The people here had been practicing Buddhism and Hinduism for many years. Many Hindus chose to flee Sindh and move to Punjab and Kutch. Those who stayed behind were asked to convert to Islam and those who refused to convert to Islam had heavy taxes and penalties levied against them, and their properties were taken from them just to punish them for not being Muslims.
Forced conversion was a major part of the Christianisation of the Roman Empire. In 392, Emperor Theodosius I decreed that Christianity was the only legal religion of the Roman Empire, forbidding pagan practices by law. Here, I opine that forced conversion was common in ancient and medieval societies but the forced conversion phenomenon was in practice in the subcontinent too. Forced conversion is still prevalent in Pakistan and has not yet gathered the attention of human rights groups. In a number of cases, minority women (Christian, Hindu and Sikh) and minor girls have been abducted and converted to Islam through Islamic marriage. Contact with their families becomes impossible due to conversion to Islam. Minor girls and minority women under undue influence and stress have been known to produce a statement under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CRPC) in a court that no force had been exerted and that they had, with their own understanding, converted to Islam. It is not out of place to mention that, generally, the lower courts ignored the circumstances surrounding the statement, i.e. lack of involvement with the family, crime involved, etc. It is fair to mention that the court should always, before considering the statement produced by the minority girl, first determine the age and apply the objective test of whether a minor can take the step of converting to Islam.
The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) recently published a booklet called Forced Marriages: Situation in Pakistan. It contains instances where minority non-Muslim girls were abducted by their Muslim neighbours and forcefully converted to Islam without their consent. For instance, in 1997, three sisters from Rawalpindi were abducted by their Muslim neighbour who converted them to Islam. They were 15, 13 and 11 years old. Their Christian parents approached the local magistrate about the abduction of their daughters. The magistrate gave custody of the girls to their Muslim neighbours instead of their parents on the pretext of their conversion to Islam. In 2003, a minor girl, who was six years old, was kidnapped by Afridi tribesmen in Khyber Agency. The tribe converted her to Islam and said that she could not be handed back to her parents after converting. To date, no serious efforts have been made to recover the girl.
Forced conversion is very common in the cities: three Hindu sisters were kidnapped in Karachi in the year 2005 from their house. Their parents reported the disappearance of their daughters to the local police. The police lodged a report against Muslim boys who were their neighbours and charged them with abduction but later set them free. The parents found out that their daughters were staying in a religious institute. It was believed by the parents that they had been converted to Islam and sent to a religious seminary. The SC ordered the police to provide security to the girls and shift them to an Edhi orphanage from the seminary. I have just quoted some of the known cases of forced conversions from a long list of cases.
In culmination, it is submitted that forced conversion should be confirmed as a crime by enacting legislation. The provisions relating to forced conversion must be incorporated in the CRPC. A parliamentary panel committee recommended legislation on forced conversions in 2012. The report held local police officers, tribal chiefs and politicians responsible for not helping minorities recover their kidnapped community members. Since then, no measure, administratively or in legislation, is planned for discussion in parliament. The government of Pakistan should seriously take up the issues of the minorities of Pakistan. Minorities and women in Pakistan are not safe at all. The constitution is a supreme document and promises equality and freedom of faith to each and every citizen of Pakistan. These fundamental human rights only exist on paper; in practice, they have been used by people with deep pockets and radicals for undermining the minorities of Pakistan. Let us make Pakistan a safe place for minorities and women by ensuring equal rights and freedom to faith. The judgment of the SC is an excellent example and should be conveyed to the general public for awareness.

Pakistan: Above The Law

On Friday, Information Minister Pervez Rashid filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) challenging the orders given by a Session court in Lahore. On 17 August, a Session court judge had ordered the SHO of Faisal Town Police Station to register a FIR against 21 persons from Punjab Police and PML-N, including PM Nawaz Sharif and Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, over the June 17 Model Town incident, which left at least 12 Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) supporters dead and several injured. Now, the accused are well within their rights to challenge the Session court’s decision. The law permits them. What the law does not allow them to do is defy specific court orders simply because they disapprove of them. That is exactly what has been happening at the Faisal Town Police Station, and there should be no doubt that the PML-N has everything to do with it.
For a good six days, the Session court verdict remained unchallenged. What that means is that the SHO was bound by law to register the FIR unless ordered otherwise by a superior court. For six days, the SHO refused and remained absent, in direct violation of court orders. Furthermore, as per the law, the SHO is neither the only one authorized to register the FIR nor required to be present at the time. Why then were the orders not followed? Why are they still not being followed since the LHC is yet to decide on Pervez Rashid’s petition? If not the court, whose orders is the SHO following? Such blatant disregard for law by the powerful is the reason why the public has little faith in the justice system. This is why Tahir-ul-Qadri sells. This is where he is right, and the government is dead wrong.
Does CM Shahbaz Sharif really expect the public to believe that the Punjab Police is acting independently and according to law? Is he above the law? Is the Prime Minister? As far as this case is concerned, its clear that they really are, and refuse to follow what they preach. That they want to make laws but not be subject to them. That 12 people can be killed and many others wounded in broad daylight and even a FIR will not be lodged against the accused. The Sharif brothers cannot be allowed to take cover behind the wall of democracy. The struggle is for a democratic system where the rule of law is guaranteed, not for safeguarding the interests of some political family. Before anything else, the LHC should ask Pervez Rashid to explain the reasons for failing to follow the Session court’s orders, and issue contempt notices if his answers fail to satisfy. Then, we can plan where to go from there.

Pakistan: Zardari’s support to Sharif irks PPP Punjab cadres

PPP co-chairman chooses to support PML-N govt despite stiff resistance from leaders like Gilani and Kaira who wanted party to back Imran Khan and Qadri
Former PPP MNA says party workers in Punjab are in favour of poll audit, believe PML-N stole their mandate
Despite hectic lobbying by some senior Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leaders to convince their co-chairman, Asif Ali Zardari against extending support to the embattled Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, the former president made it clear Saturday that he was standing firm behind Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“During the recent meeting of the PPP top leadership held in Dubai last week, top PPP leaders from Punjab, including Yousaf Raza Gilani and Qamar Zaman Kaira, had urged the party leadership to support the demands of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). However, by avoiding meetings with PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, Zardari has made it clear which side of the fence he is standing in this political impasse,” said a senior PPP leader, asking not to be named.
The former president spent a busy day in Lahore during which he had a luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Sharif at his Jaati Umra estate followed by a one-on-one and then delegation-level meetings. Zardari then called on Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq at Mansoora and also visited the residence of the Chaudhrys of Gujrat in Gulberg. Siraj’s JI is a coalition partner of PTI in KP government while the Chaudhrys are supporting Qadri’s PAT.
The PPP leader who spoke to Pakistan Today, believed that Zardari should have shown neutrality in the current political standoff and he should have flown to Islamabad to meet Imran Khan and Qadri.
He said the PPP leaders would voice their concerns over the matter during the upcoming meeting of the party’s central executive committee (CEC) scheduled to be held in Bilawal House on Monday.
Commenting on the issue, former PPP member of the National Assembly, Nadeem Afzal Gondal said that 99 per cent of the party’s workers in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan “hated” Nawaz Sharif and they wanted the party leadership to take a stand against the alleged rigging in the 2013 elections.
“The party workers believe that Nawaz Sharif has always (mis)used the Establishment against the PPP leadership to remain in power. Now the same Nawaz Sharif wants the PPP to save it from the Establishment’s ire,” he said, adding that the party workers also feel that the PML-N has stolen the mandate of the people in the 2013 elections and a vote audit must be conducted.
Political commentator Dr Rasool Bux Raees said that by not meeting either Imran or Qadri, Zardari had sent a clear message that he stands by the political forces supporting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
He added that the PPP leader had clearly stated that his party would support a dialogue which would be held under the constitutional parameters and guidelines prescribed by the political parties having representation in the parliament.

Pakistan: Saving the Prime Minister?

By Farhan Bokhari
As the political storm led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri continues in Islamabad, the illustrious members of Pakistan’s parliament have rallied behind Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, supporting his belief that his position cannot be up for grabs. But saving the prime minister may be far easier said than done.
Sharif appears convinced of Pakistan’s inevitable downhill journey if he is forced out eventually. However, with or without his survival in the face of the country’s increasingly troublesome and treacherous politics, Sharif’s future as a relevant member of the power structure may have been compromised.
Parliamentarians from both sides of the political divide are backing Sharif on the grounds of preventing a dangerous precedent where a mob forces out a democratically elected chief executive. What is there to stop a repeat of a similar episode in future, goes the argument.
Yet, while there is no doubt that their concerns are valid, especially in view of Pakistan’s turbulent history, the broader context of Pakistan’s political realities cannot be overlooked. In the heat of the moment, many may forget an important aspect of the prime minister’s position in the power structure. The prime minister wears not just one but two hats, the other being the top leader of the ruling PML-N.
In over two months since the June 17 killings of 14 of Tahirul Qadri’s supporters in Lahore’s Model Town neighbourhood, the ruling structure in the province led by Shahbaz Sharif conveniently ignored calls for the registration of police cases against key members of the local ruling structure. The fact that the onus was on the PML-N government to investigate the killings and take action was sidelined.
Without the storm now gathered in Islamabad, it was conceivable that those 14 deaths would be conveniently forgotten, and lost among the numerous cases of victims across Pakistan whose stories eventually fall into the dustbin of history. While the prime minister’s brother remained beyond reproach and Sharif maintained silence on the killings, the matter cannot be dismissed.
As the ruling structure scrambles to launch a political rescue mission by reaching out to friends and foes alike, the issue is not just about saving the prime minister and simultaneously saving a government that has been tainted by the Model Town killings. It is equally about the future of a party leader who appears to have done little when the moment of reckoning came on June 17.
Moreover, in the early part of his tenure, Sharif’s failure to tackle some of the worst challenges surrounding Pakistan is indefensible. Nowhere was the disconnect more obvious than the tail end of Ramazan. Sharif’s 10-day spiritual journey to Saudi Arabia was quickly followed by a five-day sojourn to Raiwind, conveniently detaching the prime minister from Pakistan’s mainstream challenges.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s ongoing bloody battle with the Taliban militants and the scores of lives already lost in the fight, the record points towards a government in Islamabad with little capacity to lead Pakistan from the front in an all-out war.
Meanwhile, the PML-N’s failure to mount its own show of popular support in the face of the gathering storm is raising questions about its apparent inability to reach out to the grass-roots. Clearly, the much bandied about economic choices which remain a bedrock of the PML-N’s politics, have failed to ignite the popular spark.
During its first year in power, the regime has remained obsessed with the launching of one infrastructure project after another. If the plans conclude successfully, Pakistan will see more motorways, fancy bus projects and speedy urban trains, goes the argument from Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Ironically, however, the matter of the crisis-stricken energy sector is yet to show a long-awaited light at the end of the tunnel as frequent power breakdowns and long hours of load-shedding take a toll on both industry and the people.
For the moment, it is difficult to precisely predict the final outcome of the turmoil. For Sharif’s political allies in parliament, saving Pakistan’s democracy appears to be synonymoust with saving the prime minister’s job — and given the situation their stance is understandable. But judged from the many other vantage points, and going beyond the current crisis, the long-term view of the PML-N’s rule might be different.
It’s not surprising that both Khan and Qadri, now camped for more than a week with thousands of followers across the road from parliament, have managed to sustain crowds in Islamabad’s sizzling summer temperatures, barring the temporary relief brought by the intermittent monsoon spells. It is not just about Sharif’s future as Pakistan’s first ever prime minister elected thrice to the job. Equally vital is his record as leader of a party that has become mired in controversy after the Model Town affair.