Tuesday, October 14, 2014
The Islamic State army’s unleashing of terror bombings and assassinations in Iraq last year is being played out by insurgents in Afghanistan who want to intimidate and destroy local forces as American troops exit. In late 2012 the Islamic State, anchored in Syria and with cells in northern and western Iraq, launched a campaign of terror. Its brutal strategy centered on detonating vehicle-born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) in crowded areas and killing local government and military leaders. Analysts see the same type of campaign from the Taliban and the allied Haqqani network viciously unfolding. Ten days ago, for example, a suicide bomber struck an army bus in Kabul, killing seven Afghan soldiers. “The parallel of what was going on in the end of 2012 to the middle of 2013 in western Iraq and northern Iraq that set the conditions for the collapse of Iraqi Security Forces — those patterns are starting to emerge in Afghanistan,” said retired ArmyLt. Gen. James Dubik, an analyst at Washington’s Institute for the Study of War. “The frequency, the lethality and the complexity of attacks in Kabul and in [the] east are disturbing,” he said. “These are attacks to either intimidate or kill leaders in the Afghan National Security Forces.” Are the Islamic extremist Taliban and Haqqani network, a family-led group of assassins who focus on bringing death and destruction to Kabul, copying the Islamic State? “The tactics are similar, but then again, terror and assassination and intimidation are common to almost all insurgencies,” Mr. Dubik said. “I would only make the minimum claim that ISIS, al Qaeda, Haqqanis, Taliban and their ilk all learn from each other.” Precise casualty figures for the Afghan army and police are somewhat elusive compared with the strict procedural count for U.S. and allied service members. But there is no doubt that the Taliban and Haqqanis have been killing more ANSF members over the past two years, attacking the police in particular. ArmyGen. John Campbell, the overall allied commander, said that of the 350,000-strong ANSF, 7,000 to 9,000 have been killed or wounded this year alone, an increase from 2013. Earlier this year, the Afghan government issued revised fatality figures that also showed a big jump for its troops. The increase is explained partly by the fact Afghans are taking the lead in military operations as U.S. troop strength, once at 100,000, will shrink to 9,800 by year’s end. By the end of 2016, all troops will be out, according to a schedule announced by President Obama, who said, “It’s time to turn the page.” Analysts see a concerted enemy effort to prepare for a planned takeover of Kabul by whittling down the ANSF day in and day out. “As we start departing from certain areas, the Taliban, Haqqani group, any insurgent groups, are going to start probing into real or perceived power vacuums — areas where we are departing — and they’re going to test the Afghan security forces to see how stout they are going to be,” said Jason Campbell, an analyst at the Rand Corp. “As a result of this the last couple of months,” said Mr. Campbell, who served as an adviser to the NATO command, “we’re seeing insurgent groups, instead of taking pot shots, in some cases two or three hundred fighters at a time attacking fixed positions, not just hitting and running.” This change was underscored in February, when the Taliban overran an army base in eastern Kunar province, bordering Pakistan, and killed 21 Afghan soldiers, some in their bunks. It was one of the Afghan army’s worst casualty days since its inception. Mr. Campbell said the ANSF has performed well in some attacks by hundreds of Taliban and not so well in others, as the Kunar invasion illustrated. Mr. Campbell said “there’s absolutely truth” to the analysis that the enemy in Afghanistan today is doing what the group then known as ISIL did in Iraq in 2012-2013. “They are indeed shaping the battlefield for a time when the coalition is completely out of Afghanistan,” he added. Gen. Campbell spoke to the Pentagon press corps on Oct. 2 and declared, “The last couple of weeks, there has been an uptick with the Taliban trying to make a statement as they close out the fighting season.” He reported a “big spike” in Afghan deaths the “last couple of weeks” due to heavy fighting in Helmand province, the Taliban’s birthplace, where they are trying to take back villages. “The Taliban may take over a district center or something, but only temporarily,” Gen. Campbell said. “Once the ANSF understands that piece of it [and] they go after that, they get the terrain back.” A year ago, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, Gen. Campbell’s predecessor, was less sanguine when talking about the ANSF’s burgeoning fatality rate, which had reached 100 deaths per month. “I’m not assuming that those casualties are sustainable,” he told The Guardian newspaper. Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/12/taliban-adopts-islamic-state-terror-tactics-as-us-/?page=2#ixzz3G7pMCT9D Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
Polio is surging again in Pakistan, frustrating world health officials trying to wipe out the disease.Last week, the country reported 202 cases of paralysis, the first time in 14 years the figure topped 200. Pakistan is the only country where the virus is spreading fast. Eight of Afghanistan’s 10 cases are linked to Pakistan, said Dr. Elias Durry, who directs the World Health Organization’s response in Pakistan. Both Nigeria and Somalia have fewer than 10 cases each, and Africa may be polio-free by 2015, he said. But in Pakistan, he said, “the virus is laughing at us and doing whatever it wants.” The fight against Ebola in Africa is not hurting the polio drive, Dr. Durry said; the problem is a lack of political leadership. The polio virus is now showing up in sewage samples all over Karachi, the country’s largest city, and not just in a few districts. Relatives of Nasima Bibi, a worker in a polio vaccination drive, at a hospital morgue in Karachi.Attackers in Pakistan Kill Anti-Polio WorkersDEC. 18, 2012 No immunization has taken place for several years in wide swaths of Waziristan, where the army is fighting tribes aligned with the Taliban. As many as 350,000 unvaccinated children driven out of those areas now live in slums all over the country, and 50 vaccinators or their police escorts have been killed since 2012. Last week, India warned Pakistanis applying for travel visas that if they were caught offering forged polio-vaccination certificates, then they would be denied entry and might be permanently banned from travel to India, which was officially declared polio-free this year.
Thus the two Award winners wasted no time in floating the idea of bringing the leadership of two warring states together at the prize ceremony in Stockholm in December where they would be given awards. Certainly, it is a good idea that needs world support to break the ice and end their aloofness of the two states. At least the arch rivals will come back to the talking terms. The volatile spiral on the Line of Control and Working Boundary has jeopardized the regional peace and more so the future of millions children living in there. After their first meeting, the two award winners also expressed their resolve to build a relationship between India and Pakistan where they will make a joint effort to ensure education and justice for every child. Amidst the on-going military confrontation in the subcontinent, the Nobel Award winners have pumped in some fresh breeze in an atmosphere where the peoples on the both sides of the border are forced to breath in a stinky air. Their persuasion to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan for peace is welcome move and a significant contribution that will cherish peace desire of millions of people living on the both sides of the strain border. In days to come, the two joint winners-Malala and Satyarthi-may form a strong voice for children living in total despair and extreme poverty. If Malala has become a role model for millions of disadvantaged girls in India and and Satyarthi will become beacon for millions of children who are facing nightmare in their early childhood in Pakistan as well. If the two work together against the bonded labour and for education, they will become a force to reckon with for unheard children irrespective of origin, caste and religion. By all means, their success is a lovely surprise for the both nations after all they are pride of their respective nations; and if she succeeds in hosting a Nawaz-Modi moot, her contribution to resolving border conflict between India and Pakistan will write new leaf in the history of the subcontinent.
Tavi Gevinson, the 18-year-old fashion writer and founder of popular online magazine Rookie, was noted as emblematic of the contemporary teen in the Internet age, while transgender activist Jazz Jennings, 14, also made the list.The dominant categories were athletes, actors and singers. Actors taking center stage were Kiernan Shipka, 14, of “Mad Men,” Rico Rodriguez, 16, of “Modern Family” and “The Equalizer’s” Chloe Grace Moretz, 17. Pop singers Becky G, 17, and Austin Mahone, 18, earned plaudits as did New Zealand pro golfer Lydia Ko, 17, and Afghan National Cycling Team member Salma Kakar, 17. Teens noted for business success include 15-year-old Erik Finman, founder of the online tutoring site Botangle.com; YouTube fashion star Bethany Mota, 18, and actress-turned-stockpicker Rachel Fox, 18. Irish trio Ciara Judge, 16, Emer Hickey, 17, and Sophie Healy-Thow, 17, were noted for their discovery of bacteria that deposits nitrogen from the atmosphere into soil. Los Angeles teen chef Flynn McGarry, 15, joined stars of Twitter’s Vine short-form video service, Nash Grier, and singer Shawn Mendes, both 16. Jaden Smith, 16, son of actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, was recognized for acting and his Twitter following, while reality TV stars the Jenner sisters Kendall, 18, and Kylie, 17, were noted for their burgeoning Hollywood and merchandising careers. Also in the spotlight were 19-year-olds Megan Grassell, founded of the Yellowberry clothing company that makes bras for teens, and South African-Australian YouTube star and actor-musician Troye Sivan.
Although the crime of blasphemy is punishable by law in a majority of Muslim countries, Pakistan is the only country that has made headlines because of its increasing misuse of this law against religious minorities.Recently, Irish Minister Aodhan O Riordain told the Irish parliament to announce a referendum to remove the blasphemy law from the Irish constitution. It was last used in 1855. Although no date has been announced for the prospective referendum, the government’s inclination to reach such a decision is a big step in itself. There is a great chance that the law will be repealed because 61 percent of the constitutional convention members voted in favour of abolition. Astoundingly, I have not heard of any protest, agitation or life threats towards those who still want the blasphemy law or towards those who are in favour of removal. There are over 50 percent who want to replace the offence in the constitution with a new general provision to include incitement of religious hatred. No matter what happens, I am sure it will all happen in a peaceful and democratic way and will be acceptable to the Irish public, as we have recently seen in the Scottish referendum. A majority of the population is Catholic but, under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, people have a right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression. That is why there are some people who are campaigning to repeal the blasphemy law from the Irish constitution without any fear of being attacked or killed, something that is not possible in Pakistan. Pakistan has ratified dozens of international treaties, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and is under obligation to bring its domestic laws in line with these treaties so people can practice their right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and freedom of expression. But, despite international calls, the Pakistani government does not have any such intentions. There are a very few countries left in the west that still have the blasphemy law on their statute books; the majority of countries have abolished them. Where these laws still exist, they are almost redundant, and I have never heard of blasphemy cases in these countries. This is because blasphemy laws are not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights, and limit freedom of speech and expression. The Council of Europe has already stated in its report that the offence of blasphemy should be abolished. In the US, some states still have this law but nobody can be prosecuted because of the first amendment to the constitution. The UK abolished its blasphemy law on March 5, 2008, with the consultation of the Church of England. On May 8, 2008, the bill received royal assent and, on July 8, 2008, it came into force. The last person in the UK to be imprisoned for blasphemy was John William Gott from Bradford in December 1921. He had three previous convictions for blasphemy when he was prosecuted for publishing two pamphlets ridiculing Jesus. He was sentenced to nine months hard labour by the Old Bailey Court. Thomas Aikenhead, a Scottish student from Edinburgh, was the last person who was prosecuted and executed at the age of 20 on a charge of blasphemy. But now there are some British Muslims who are demanding the reintroduction of the blasphemy law and are lobbying with the MPs and collecting petitions. However, I do not think they will be successful as the legislature, including Prime Minister David Cameron, are well aware of the consequences of this law. Almost all western governments, the UN, Commonwealth, European parliament and world church leaders have raised their concern about the continuing misuse of the blasphemy law against religious minorities in Pakistan. But it is all falling on the deaf ears of the government and politicians alike. Pakistan even supported the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) in its attempts to globalise the crime of blasphemy and, in 2009, the European Union opposed Pakistan’s submission. Pakistan first needs to stop the growing misuse of the blasphemy law within its own borders, which has attracted international criticism on many occasions. Although the crime of blasphemy is punishable by law in a majority of Muslim countries, Pakistan is the only country that has made headlines because of its increasing misuse of this law against religious minorities. Minorities are living under constant fear for life and demanding its repeal, or at least for it to be amended appropriately. Because of the inattention of past and present governments, it has become a sensitive issue and now we have even failed to discuss this matter in parliament. That is why, when Sherry Rehman submitted a private member’s bill for the amendment of the blasphemy law, she received life threats. Earlier, minority MP Mr Bhandara’s proposal was rejected and Minister Sher Afgan said, “M P Bhandara should not have presented this amendment. Pakistan is an Islamic republic. We cannot tolerate anything on the sensitive issue of defiling the Prophethood.” If we cannot discuss the increasing misuse of the blasphemy law in our parliament then what other platform do we have? This is the Pakistani parliament’s responsibility and now we have the example of Ireland in front of us. All over the world new legislation and amendments are made in parliament, and the Pakistani parliament has to do the same, otherwise attacks on churches and temples will continue, incidents of vigilante killings and mob justice will continue. No one knows what will be next as we have seen some high profile people charged under this law. According to reports, at least 17 people are on death row, including UK citizen Muhammad Asghar in Adiala jail. He was recently shot by a policeman but survived because of timely medical treatment. Now is the time to learn from Ireland and bring this matter to parliament. If the law cannot be repealed, at the very least safeguards should be introduced to stop the continuous misuse of this law. Pakistan should take the example set by Ireland and many other countries that have abolished their blasphemy laws, and realise that it is no longer acceptable to punish others for their religious beliefs.
A delegation of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), with its chairperson Zohra Yusuf addressed a press conference in Quetta, expressed its concern regarding the existing security conditions of Balochistan. The HRCP chief brought up the issue of religious minorities living in Balochistan, who are victims of the growing terrorism that is being spread by armed extremist religious organisations. The result of this persistent insecurity and government’s inability to protect the victims is forcing these minorities to emigrate. As many as 300,000 people, including Shias, Hindus and Zikris, have migrated either to other parts of the country or have managed to obtain asylum abroad. Zohra Yusuf claimed that the real motive of these religious organisations is to weaken the Baloch nationalist movement but alongside the targeted prey of their atrocities, other innocent citizens who belong to different religions are falling victim to this mounting religious extremism. The state on the other hand, which is still dealing with the Baloch insurgents with its kill-and-dump policy, has given carte blanche to these militants. These groups forcibly shut down many private schools in Panjgur. The HRCP delegation also visited the Quetta Press Club where it discussed the dismal condition of the journalist community. A province where 40 journalists have been assassinated over the last few years remains one of the most dangerous places for media personnel in the world, squeezed as they are between state and non-state actors. As many as 10 editors and journalists are facing anti-terrorism cases registered by the ex-Chief Justice of the Balochistan High Court for publishing statements of the banned organisations on pain of death. The government it seems is not willing to solve these long standing problems of Balochistan peacefully. A situation where the Shia Hazaras are being massacred and journalists and members of religious minorities are being assassinated is worsening day by day and not a single culprit has been brought to justice. The Baloch insurgency and the state’s response seem to be an unending tale of violence where the obvious victim and the loser is the common citizen. The provincial government, even under the leadership of moderate nationalists, has its hands tied and has failed to provide the promised peace. Zohra Yusuf on this occasion urged the government to adopt a dialogue process with the insurgents to end this civil war. That no doubt is the best solution.
A DECADE of insecurity in Balochistan has had a grim effect on the troubled province’s demographics. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of citizens belonging to religious minority groups as well as settlers from other parts of Pakistan have left Balochistan, thanks to an atmosphere of hostility and violence, which has been shaped by sectarian death squads, separatist militants, and, sadly enough, the state. Part of an HRCP delegation that recently visited Balochistan, the group’s chairperson Zohra Yusuf told the media on Sunday that Shias, Hindus and Zikris have been leaving the province in droves over the past nine years, relocating elsewhere in the country and abroad. The human rights group gathered this information by conducting interviews and recording testimonials. The HRCP chief also raised the issue of violence faced by journalists in the volatile region; over the last decade, around 40 media persons have been killed, though none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. There are numerous actors responsible for violence in Balochistan. Amongst the most lethal are sectarian groups that have unleashed their weapons on Shias — mostly Hazaras — while the small Zikri community has also found itself in their cross hairs. The most troubling aspect is that the religious extremists are perceived as being tolerated — if not supported — by the establishment to checkmate Baloch separatists. Meanwhile, the latter are responsible for violence of their own. Along with targeting symbols of the state, they have also turned their guns on settlers in the province. And apart from violence motivated by sectarian and ethno-nationalist considerations, the state, too, has ferociously come down on the separatists and Baloch political activists. While the HRCP said violence had decreased to some extent under the current provincial government’s watch, it is a troubling reality that the dumping of mutilated bodies continues. All the while, the media — which can independently help determine the facts in Balochistan — are being cowed through murder and intimidation. As local journalists point out, they face pressure from both the state and the separatists. An exodus of religious minorities as well as settlers spells disaster for diversity in Balochistan. Due to this flight, the people of Balochistan will suffer the most. After all, among those who have left there are educated professionals, tradesmen, educators etc who are crucial to the functioning of a vibrant society. Perhaps there is still time to stem such negative trends if a genuine effort is made to bring all estranged parties to the table and solve Balochistan’s problems through dialogue. But for that to happen the elected government needs to be given full authority to operate, as barely below the surface it is still the security establishment that calls the shots in Balochistan. It is the establishment which needs to reflect on why its policies have failed to bring peace to the province.