Sunday, March 22, 2015

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Human rights activists call for arrest of Bahraini prince accused of torture

Human rights campaigners have presented police with a 'dossier' of new evidence against a Bahraini prince accused of torture after he revealed on social media he was staying in London.
Prince Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, 27, accidentally let slip he was back in Britain on Thursday when he posted a video of himself running in Hyde Park.
The prince posted the video on Instagram alongside a squadron of the Life Guards of the Household Cavalry with the caption: 'That's how it feels and sounds when you run in Hyde Park, London.'

Today The Independent reported human rights lawyers acting for FF have delivered a 'dossier' of new evidence to Scotland Yard in a bid to have him charged following the revelation he is visiting the capital.
Previous allegations which gave rise to the diplomatic immunity row did not stick. No charges were brought against him due to a lack of evidence and both he and the government of Bahrain strongly deny the accusations.
The case arose after FF, who has been granted asylum in the UK, claims he was badly beaten - though not by the prince directly - and given a prison sentence after taking part in protests in the Gulf state in February 2011 which left dozens dead. 
Following the decision to revoke his diplomatic immunity in October last year, a spokeswoman for the Government of Bahrain said: 'As the British DPP has today affirmed, an arrest would have been improper given the absence of evidence of the conduct alleged.
'As Bahrain has never sought anonymity or sovereign immunity from the English Courts for anyone in respect of this case, it expresses no view on the DPP's statement that immunity was inappropriate.
'This has been an ill-targeted, politically-motivated and opportunistic attempt to misuse the British legal system. The Government of Bahrain again categorically denies the allegations against Sheikh Nasser.'
Lawyers for Prince Nasser said: 'The police have previously declined to investigate Prince Nasser on the basis of the insufficiency of the evidence against him. The submission of this new dossier at this time coincides with other attempts by opposition activists to use the British justice system to influence UK-Bahraini relations.' 
Prince Nasser, born in May 1987, is the eldest son of the King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and his second wife, Sheia bint Hasan Al-Khrayyesh Al-Ajmi of Kuwait.
He was educated in Bahrain at the Ibn Khuldoon National School, before commissioning from Royal Sandhurst Military Academy in August 2006, two terms after Prince William.
During his Sovereign's Parade, Prince Nasser was presented with the King Hussein Medal, awarded to the overseas officer cadet considered to be the most improved recruit.
He currently serves as commander of Bahrain's Royal Guard and as president of the Bahrain Olympic Committee.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, protesters in Bahrain had initially wanted to achieve greater political freedom and equality for the Shia muslims who form the majority of the population, as opposed to the ruling Sunni royal family. 
However, following an attack on protesters who had gathered at the Pearl Roundabout in Manama on February 17, 2011, demonstrators began to call for an end to Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa's rule.
The following month 1,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and 500 troops from UAE arrived in Bahrain to quell the protests, and on March 15 the king of Bahrain declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. 
A man identified only as FF was later granted refugee status in the UK, and from there, set about trying to bring charges against Prince Nasser.
Claiming the prince should be held responsible for his beating and imprisonment during the turmoil, his accusations were stopped when the prince was granted diplomatic immunity.
In October last year, this was overturned, creating the possibility - albeit an unlikely one - that he could be charged when travelling outside Bahrain. However, these charges collapsed due to a lack of evidence.

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Zardari, Bilawal pay tribute to Nusrat Bhutto

Maadr-e-Jamhooriat (mother of democracy) the late Begum Nusrat Bhutto was a woman of exceptional courage who faced great challenges and gone through unspeakable tragedies in the course of democratic struggle.

This has been stated by former president Asif Ali Zardari in a message on the eve of 86th birth anniversary of Begum Nusrat Bhutto falling today.

The scars of brutality and victimisation that she endured are shining today as glittering medallions ever worn by a woman in the course of democratic struggle, he said. He added that her example to lead from the front would continue to inspire generations to come, to aspire and struggle for lofty democratic ideals.

Zardari in his message said that Begum Nusrat Bhutto was not only the spouse of Pakistan’s first directly elected prime minister and the mother of twice elected and the Muslim world’s first directly elected prime minister but also a woman leader who herself led the struggle for democracy from the front. She will also be remembered for her services to the refugees pouring into Pakistan with little or no resources, he said.

Meanwhile, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party has paid glowing tributes to Madir-e-Jamhuriyat Begum Nusrat Bhutto on her 86th birthday tomorrow. In a statement, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said sacrifices rendered by his grand-mother Begum Nusrat Bhutto during the struggle for restoration of democracy are unmatched and sources of inspiration for the Jiyalas and the masses. She suffered torture and imprisonments at the hands of dictatorial regime of Gen Zia but fought valiantly. PPP Chairman said Begum Nusrat Bhutto sacrificed almost her entire family including husband Prime Minister Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, two sons Shaheed Mir Murtaza Bhutto and Shaheed Shahnawaz Bhutto and even her beloved daughter Benazir Bhutto.

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Obama says it is now ‘hard to find a path’ on Israeli-Palestinian peace

President Barack Obama said that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu's pre-election disavowal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it “hard to find a path” to resolve the issue.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama also scolded Netanyahu over his remarks about Arab Israelis voting, making clear that the deep rift in relations between Israel and the United States, its most important ally, is not ending anytime soon.
In the interview, conducted on Friday and published on Saturday, Obama described his Thursday phone call with Netanyahu, two days after the Israeli leader was re-elected.
“I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic,” Obama said, in his first public comments on the issue.
“And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.”
The worst crisis in decades in US-Israeli relations was worsened by Netanyahu’s declaration just before Tuesday’s election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Netanyahu sought on Thursday to backtrack from that.
“Well, we take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” said Obama, whose administration sponsored failed talks aimed at creating a Palestinian state that would exist peacefully side-by-side with Israel.
The White House had said after Obama’s call on Thursday that the president had told Netanyahu Washington would “reassess” its options on US-Israel relations and Middle East diplomacy.
In the interview, Obama also expressed dismay over Netanyahu’s Election Day warning to his supporters about Arab Israeli voters going to the polls “in droves.”
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions, that although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” Obama said.
Obama underscored his support for Israel’s security, saying he would make sure that military and intelligence cooperation continues in order to keep the Israeli people safe.
“But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region,” Obama said, referring to the current state of affairs with the Palestinians.
The United States provides $3 billion in military aid annually.
Obama will continue seeking deal with Iran
Netanyahu’s tense relations with Obama have been strained over US efforts to reach an international agreement with Iran to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. Ties worsened when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to the US Congress two weeks before the Israeli election to criticise Obama’s quest for such a deal. Democrats assailed the speech as an insult to the presidency and a breach of protocol.
Obama told the Huffington Post that Netanyahu’s election win would not significantly affect his defence of any deal reached with Iran.
"I don't think it will have a significant impact," Obama said.
Iran and six world powers are in negotiations to clinch a landmark deal that would have the country scale back its controversial nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.
Western powers in London affirmed their "unity of purpose" in Iran nuclear talks Saturday, urging the Islamic Republic to take "difficult decisions."
Netanyahu opposes any accommodation with Tehran and told US lawmakers during his visit that the agreement under negotiation as a "bad deal."
Obama, however, was cautiously optimistic about the progress of the nuclear talks while acknowledging the bitterness between Iran and Israel.
"Obviously, there's significant scepticism in Israel generally about Iran, and understandably. Iran has made vile comments, anti-Semitic comments, comments about the destruction of Israel.

"It is precisely for that reason that even before I became president, I said Iran could not have a nuclear weapon," Obama added.
"What is going to have an effect on whether we get a deal done is, number one, is Iran prepared to show, to prove to the world that it is not developing a nuclear weapon, and can we verify that in an intrusive, consistent way," Obama said.
"Frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there's the possibility."
The complex deal on the table would likely involve Iran reducing its nuclear activities, allowing tight inspections, and limiting development of new nuclear machinery.
In exchange, Iran -- which denies wanting nuclear weapons -- would get relief from the mountain of painful sanctions that have strangled its oil exports and hammered its economy.

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Afghan president in U.S. today


As the Afghan president heads to the United States today on his first trip to Washington as head of state, the landmark visit offers a chance for both sides to start afresh and wipe the slate clean on the legacy of troubled U.S-Afghan relations.
Ashraf Ghani faces a daunting task — long-term, the visit could set the tone for years to come. More pressingly, Ghani needs firm commitment of American military support in his fight against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, which he and U.S. military leaders fear is finding a foothold in Afghanistan.
Ghani's relationship with Washington stands in stark contrast to that of his acrimonious predecessor, Hamid Karzai, whose antagonism toward the U.S. culminated in a refusal to sign security agreements with Washington and NATO before leaving office. Ghani signed the pacts within days of becoming president in September, and has since enjoyed a close relationship with U.S. diplomats and military leaders.
"It's important for Afghanistan that the United States has trust in the leaders of the country and uses this visit to show its support for the new government," said Afghan political analyst Jawed Khoistani. "A long-term American presence in Afghanistan is essential."
Ghani's week-long trip comes as the Afghan army is waging its first-ever solo offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province, their southern heartland, seeking a decisive victory ahead of the spring fighting season as evidence it can carry the battle without U.S. and NATO combat troops that withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Ghani, who was personally involved in planning the Helmand operation, launched in February, will ask the U.S. for enhanced backup in the offensive, including air support, several officials close to the Afghan president told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the upcoming visit.
There are 13,000 foreign soldiers still in Afghanistan, about 9,800 American troops and 3,000 from NATO — down from a peak of 140,000 in 2009-10. Those still here are involved in training and supporting Afghan security forces, with battlefield backup only when necessary. Also, half of the U.S. troops are engaged in counterterrorism operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida.
U.S. officials have said the Obama administration is set to abandon plans to draw down to 5,500 troops by year's end, bowing to military leaders' requests. And while no final decision on numbers has been made, the U.S is expected to allow many of the American troops to remain well into 2016.

Even more important is the presence of U.S. and NATO bases, which are to be dismantled in mid-2016, according to current plans — an undertaking that would take assets away from the fight.

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Afghan President Visiting U.S., To Address Congress

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Washington on March 22 for his first official visit since taking office.
Ghani is traveling with Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. The two men came to power in September as part of a power-sharing deal. 
The two Afghan leaders are due to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who will host them at Camp David on March 23. 
Talks are expected to focus on a range of issues, focusing largely on security including the withdrawal of U.S. troops, economic development, and U.S. support for the Afghan-led reconciliation process. 
During the trip, Ghani will also address a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
The visit also includes a stop in New York for talks at the United Nations. 
Ahead of the visit, Ghani has said his country faces a "difficult" spring in terms of security.

Unspoken Facts About Woman Beaten To Death and Burnt in Kabul

A latest report about 27-year-old woman, who was beaten to death and burnt over alleged burning of Holy Quran, contributes more to her innocence as her parents revealed the facts to TOLOnews.

Farkhunda was brutally beaten to death, burnt and thrown into muddy Kabul River by a mob on Thursday in Kabul in the presence of a number of policemen after a Mullah accused her of burning Quran which led the people to attack her with stones and sticks.

The incident followed huge criticisms from inside and outside the country after the video footages showing her being beaten harshly went viral on social media.

And when the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs (MoHRA) officials further disclosed that there was no evidence found to prove that Farkhunda burnt the Holy Quran, the tragic incident got new shapes, involving a Mullah of Shah-e-Do Shamshera Mosque into the case.

According to her parents, Farkhunda went to a Mullah to stop him from deceiving people by writing false Tawiz, a folded piece of paper containing the verses of Quran.

The practice of writing Tawiz is common in Afghanistan as the people wear Tawiz with a belief that it will remove any evil or affliction put on them through black magic, keep them safe and also bring them good luck.

The Mullah in order to save his job and life, reportedly began shouting and calling on people that the girl burnt the Quran.

According to the eyewitnesses, hundreds of angry civilians flocked to the mosque, dragged out Farkhunda and started beating her.
But her father engineer Nadir insisted on her daughter's innocence, saying she couldn't commit such an act because she was graduated from a religious school and also taught Quran to the children.

He called on the government to give ultimate punishment to the perpetrators.

"I want all the judicial institutions to prosecute the perpetrators," Nadir said breaking into tears. "I don't want blood of my daughter go in vain."

Farkhunda's mother also strongly denounced killing of her daughter and asked the government to ensure the safety of citizens, especially the safety of women who have already been the victim of various types of violence for decades.

"I am proud of my daughter because she didn't let my head go down," her mother said. "She sacrificed her life for the right path."
Farkhunda's relatives, who were very sad and angry, strongly criticized the government for failing to ensure the protection of citizens.
"If there was a government, the perpetrators would be asked why did they commit this crime," her neighbor said.

An eyewitness of the scene, Najmuddin, told TOLOnews that Farkhunda was killed because of unreasonable sentiments of angry citizens.

"We were asking the people to stop beating her and let us ask what religion she belongs to," Najmuddin said. "But the people didn't listen to us and kept beating her."

But the prayer leader of Wazir Akbar Khan Mosque Dr. Ayaz Niazi, Senator Zulmai Zabuli and deputy minister of information and culture Simin Hasanzada were among those who justified Farkhunda's brutal killing and, to some extent, supported it.

"At such a situation, there is no need to go and check the girl whether she is sick or okay," Niazi warned. "Be careful O people! It will be a big mistake if they [perpetrators] were sent to the jail. The people will stand against this and then they cannot be controlled."

But unlike to Niazi's sentimental remarks, the religious scholars strongly criticized murder of Farkhunda, calling it against Islam and other religions.

"People come and execute a person arbitrarily, this is totally prohibited and unlawful," a religious scholar Haji Noor Ahmad said.

The brutal killing of Farkhunda followed huge criticism worldwide including a strong reaction by the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) against the negligence of police in the scene.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Interior Affairs (MoI) announced that nine men have been detained including those who posted their photos on the social media, admitting to have been involved in killing and setting Farkhunda on fire.

Why U.S. troops need to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2016

By Peter Bergen

The first state visit to the United States of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, which begins this week, was supposed to take place in early March. But the visit was delayed because Republican leaders had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress during the same time period.
According to two Afghan government officials involved in the planning for the visit, the Afghan government believed American media attention would be largely focused on Netanyahu, so the first U.S. visit of the new Afghan president was delayed by two weeks, which is a useful reminder that there is a sound reason why congressional leaders shouldn't unilaterally extend invitations to foreign leaders.
Ghani and Abdullah arrive in Washington on Sunday.
There will be much to discuss with the Obama administration. For the Afghan government, the timetable of President Barack Obama's proposed troop withdrawal is the key issue.
Obama says that the last American troops will leave Afghanistan at the end of 2016. This happens to roughly coincide with the end of his second term in office and also fulfills his campaign promise to wind down America's post-9/11 wars.
Ghani is clearly uncomfortable with the pace of this U.S. troop withdrawal, telling CBS' "60 Minutes" in January, "deadlines should not be dogmas" and that there should be a "willingness to reexamine" the withdrawal date.
    Is Obama's withdrawal plan a wise policy?
    Short answer: Of course not.
    One only has to look at the debacle that has unfolded in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011 to have a sneak preview of what could take place in an Afghanistan without some kind of residual American presence.
    Without American forces in the country, there is a strong possibility Afghanistan could host a reinvigorated Taliban allied to a reinvigorated al Qaeda, not to mention ISIS, which is gaining a foothold in the region.
    Needless to say, this would be a disaster for Afghanistan. But it would also be quite damaging to U.S. interests to have some kind of resurgent al Qaeda in the country where the group trained the hijackers for the 9/11 attacks.
    It would also be disastrous for the Democratic Party, should it win the presidency in 2016, to be the party that "lost" Afghanistan.
    After all, the Democratic Party is viewed by some as weaker on national security than the Republicans and it is inevitable that without some kind of residual American presence in Afghanistan, al Qaeda would gain sufficient strength to launch an attack from the Afghan-Pakistan border region against American interests somewhere in the world.
    There are some welcome indications that the Obama administration is already rethinking at least some aspects of its drawdown plan. Reuters reported on Thursday that key U.S. bases in Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south of the country may not be shut down at the end of 2015 as was previously planned.
    These bases play an important role in the campaign against al Qaeda and allied groups, which are largely based along eastern Afghanistan's border with Pakistan and against the Afghan Taliban, which is concentrated in southern Afghanistan.
    And on Friday the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is rethinking the overall pace of its planned withdrawal because of rising Taliban violence.
    But neither or these welcome potential developments change the central issue, which is the Obama administration's withdrawal date of December 2016 for all U.S. forces.
    Merely because the Obama administration will be almost out the door at the end of 2016 doesn't mean that suddenly at the same time that the Taliban will lay down their arms, nor that the Afghan army will be able to fight the Taliban completely unaided. Nor does it mean that al Qaeda -- and ISIS, which is beginning to establish small cells in Afghanistan -- would cease to be a threat.
    An easy way for potential Democratic presidential candidates such as Hillary Clinton to distinguish their national security policies from Obama's would be to say that they are in favor of some kind of long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and to argue that it would be needed to avoid an Iraq-style outcome.
    Similarly, as the Republican Party starts ramping up for the 2016 campaign, potential candidates such as Jeb Bush can distinguish themselves from the isolationist Rand Paul wing of the party by saying that they are committed to a long-term presence in Afghanistan.
    This U.S. military presence in Afghanistan doesn't have to be a large, nor does it need to play a combat role, but U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan to advise the Afghan army and provide intelligence support.
    Such a long-term commitment of several thousand American troops is exactly the kind of force that the Obama administration was forced to deploy to Iraq following ISIS's lightning advances there over the past year.
    Selling a longer-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan would be pushing against an open door with that nation's government. Consider that within 24 hours of being installed, the new Afghan government led by Ghani and Abdullah signed the basing agreement that allows American troops to stay in Afghanistan until December 2016.
    Consider also that the Afghan government has already negotiated a strategic partnership agreement with the United States lasting until 2024 that would provide the framework for a longer term U.S. military presence. Consider also that many Afghans see a relatively small, but long-term international troop presence as a guarantor of their stability.
    It is also not in Pakistan's interests for Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban or be thrust into another civil war. The Pakistanis have seen for themselves repeatedly the folly of allowing the Taliban to flourish on their own soil, most recently in the Taliban attack in December on the army school in Peshawar that killed 132 children.
    It is in Pakistan's own interest that the Afghan army is able to fight effectively against the Taliban, which is more likely if they continue to have American advisers at their side.
    Other regional powers such as the Chinese worry about Chinese Uighur separatists establishing themselves on Afghan soil. The Russians are similarly worried about Islamist terrorist groups located in Afghanistan and so will not stand in the way of a small long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan as that would dovetail with their own security concerns about the country.
    Keeping a relatively small, predominantly U.S. Special Forces, presence in Afghanistan to continue to train the Afghan army past December 2016 is a wise policy that would benefit both Afghans and Americans.
    Both the Democratic and Republican parties should adopt such a plan in their platforms as they gear up for the 2016 campaign. And Obama should do his successor a favor by leaving this important decision up to the next President.

    Viewpoint: A clean slate for US and Afghanistan

    As Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah prepare to visit Washington, DC, the prospects are much improved for a sustainable US-Afghan partnership.
    To be sure, there are risks. Afghan corruption remains serious and national governance is weak. US President Barack Obama is anxious to wrap up the US military mission to Afghanistan by the end of his own presidency.
    The aid budget for Afghanistan has already been whittled away by a US Congress that finds it unusually large in light of Afghanistan's challenges in using it well, not to mention broader US fiscal pressures.
    But all that said, compared with a year ago, times have changed for the better.
    Whatever his contributions to his own country, and whatever the American flaws that also deserve a share of the blame for Afghanistan's enduring challenges, the previous president, Hamid Karzai, had became a major problem in Afghanistan's relationship with the West, becoming far too prickly even when there was sometimes a logic to some of his positions.
    This attitude did not sit well with a United States that was sending its sons and daughters to fight and sometimes die in the Hindu Kush, while also turning Afghanistan into America's largest aid recipient.
    Then, a disputed presidential race where both sides accused each other of fraud threatened the very essence of Afghan democracy while taking the country towards the precipice of sectarian conflict.
    Meanwhile, Nato forces reduced their combined military strength in Afghanistan to just 10% of what it had been at peak, even as the Taliban remained resilient.
    'Wise man'
    Compared with all these circumstances, the situation today is much more promising in terms of American political support for the Afghan project.
    There are still important tasks in front of Mr Ghani, Mr Abdullah, and American lawmakers during the visit. But the die is cast for a successful outcome.
    Mr Ghani is a wise man who understands America, having lived here a long time and also having handled many aspects of the modern US-Afghan relationship in various government jobs in Kabul over the past decade and a half.
    He is also a kind and gracious man who will surely thank Americans for their sacrifice on behalf of his country, and is a committed reformer who will be able to cite progress in some areas of Afghan governance, even while acknowledging that there is a great deal more work to do.
    The Afghan president is a worthy commander-in-chief who appreciates not only the efforts of Nato troops, but the sacrifices made - and the tenacity displayed - by his own army and police.
    I am sure he will say all these things.
    Meanwhile, on a somewhat smaller but still important stage, Mr Abdullah will play his part as well.
    He will embody the fact that Afghanistan continues to co-operate across ethnic and sectarian lines, despite the tensions, in a way that much of the Middle East today does not.
    He too will have ideas on reform and improvement of Afghan governance - indeed, he ran for president on just such a platform in both 2009 and 2014.
    The US Congress will generally like what it hears.
    To be sure, it may whittle away modestly at the Afghanistan aid request, especially on the economic side, as it has before.
    But with the Middle East in turmoil, and America's military departure from Iraq in 2011 looking like a clear mistake, few will be anxious to repeat the error in Afghanistan, or to cut off aid precipitously after so much joint spilling of sweat, blood, tears, and financial resources there since 2001.
    US needs bases
    President Obama is actually the greater challenge on the US side.
    Even if he agrees to slow down the planned cuts to US forces in Afghanistan this year, his intention of taking all operational American military forces from the country by the end of next year remains on the books.
    It is a big mistake, and needs to be changed.
    The US needs counterterrorism tools - meaning military bases - on an enduring basis from which to strike al Qaeda, perhaps Islamic State, and other extremists in the region even after 2016.
    It also needs to sustain a kind of presence, and thus leverage, that it squandered in Iraq in 2011 (admittedly, the Iraqis had a hand in that too).
    With its leverage weakened, Washington was far less able to influence former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's increasingly misguided and sectarian rule.
    Again, no repeat performance of such a policy is desirable in Afghanistan.
    The US should keep two to three bases in Afghanistan indefinitely, as part of an enduring presence and partnership.
    So while Congress is important on this one, it's the White House reaction to the Afghan leaders' visit that we should watch most closely.

    Pakistan - Minority report

    By Naseer Memon

    With the withering State authority, violence against minorities keeps rising by the day.
    Amnesty International, in its recent annual report, has berated Pakistan for its ignominious record on the rights of minorities. The report laments that “religious minorities continued to face laws and practices that resulted in their discrimination and persecution. Abuses connected with the blasphemy laws occurred regularly during the year as demonstrated in several high profile cases”.
    Another international human rights body, Human Rights Watch (HRW), also lambasted Pakistan on the same account in its World Report 2015. The report underlined the plight of minorities by saying that “Pakistan’s government did little to stop the rising toll of killings and repression by extremist groups that target religious minorities”. It further reads “the government is failing at the most basic duty of government — to protect the safety of its citizens and enforce rule of law. Institutionalised discrimination fostered violent attacks on religious minorities”.
    The annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) only reinforced the above. It notes that “Pakistan’s record in protecting members of its religious and sectarian minorities from faith-based violence and discrimination has been far from impressive in recent years. In fact, the year under review saw continuation of the recent trend of violence and impunity that seemed to reinforce each other. The growing problems for the minorities came from extremist militant groups seeking to justify violence and brutalities in the name of religion. Secondly, the challenges came from the local factors; and finally, from the government’s failure to protect members of minority religions and sects from faith-based violence or to confront hate speech, intimidation or intolerance. This year also nothing was done to weed out discrimination against non-Muslim citizens written into law or to introduce safeguards widely acknowledged to be needed in order to prevent abuse of the blasphemy law”.
    While reports of national and international human rights bodies are conveniently dismissed by some sections, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s views must be heeded in this regard. In a suo moto case regarding Peshawar Church attack incident, the Supreme Court echoed the same concerns in its verdict issued in June 2014. The verdict reads “we find that the incident of desecration of places of worship of minorities could be warded off if the authorities concerned had taken preventive measures at the appropriate time.”
    Minorities impugn the rhetoric of equal citizenship. Obsession with pan-Islamism has generated a whirlwind that has made life parlous for religious minorities in Pakistan.
    These observations on indolence and criminal inaction of authorities evoke the memories of the horrendous Joseph Colony incident of 2013 when a violent mob torched a Christian neighbourhood. The Punjab government admitted in the Supreme Court that the police had deliberately avoided engaging a charged and violent mob lest it snowballed into a national crisis had a Muslim been killed in the scuffle. The police also admitted that their commanding officer took refuge in a godown when the miscreants pelted them with stones. The cowardice of the police paved the way for setting ablaze more than 150 houses of the hapless Christian community by an insane swarm.
    In the aforementioned verdict, the court also asked the government to establish a special police force with professional training to protect the places of worship of minorities. The court order just added one more in the long queue of yet-to-be implemented instructions.
    Such kind of apathy on part of successive governments has left the minorities at the mercy of mauling mobs.
    Oodles of references can be cited from the Constitution of Pakistan that proffer explicit guarantees to protect the rights of non-Muslim citizens. Article 20 reads “every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion; and (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”. Article 21(1) stipulates “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”
    The role of state has been categorically explained in Article 36, saying “the State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities.” Jinnah’s August 11 speech is a much repeated promise of the founder of Pakistan, which is violated ab initio.
    In spite of constitutional and religious stipulations, minorities are constantly demonised and persecuted by a self-proclaimed sanctimonious brigade. Sectarian and religious minorities are incessantly stalked and maltreated. It is practised brazenly and justified through outrageous misinterpretations of religion. In a stunning interview, head of a proscribed group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Maulana Ludhyanvi, did not mince a word to declare Shias as infidels by invoking edicts of unnamed clerics. He unambiguously endorsed the decree that declared Shias as infidels. Ahmadis and Bahais were already declared non-Muslim in the constitution of 1973.
    A known liberal and progressive Bhutto could not withstand the commotion of political clerics and resorted to ostracism of Ahmadis and Bahais to appease and lure enraged religious parties. Whereas the Constitution generously guarantees rights of minorities, it has a glaring paradox on the right to hold the offices of the president and the prime minister. Article 25 of the Constitution promises that all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Yet in the subsequent clauses non-Muslims are denied the right to become president or prime minister of Pakistan. This untenable contradiction is incomprehensible.
    Minorities genuinely impugn the rhetoric of equal citizenship. Mania for an Islamic state and obsession with pan-Islamism has generated a whirlwind that has made life parlous for sectarian and religious minorities in Pakistan. Those who have arrogated for themselves the guardianship of Islam are completely callous towards the rights of other Pakistanis as enshrined in Islam and the Constitution. They misconstrue and distort scriptures to vilify people with different faith. They legitimise extermination of minorities under flimsy excuses. From text books to pulpits, every mean is used to proliferate hate speech against minorities.
    As a corollary to that, minority people are savagely targeted under unverified accusations. This vulnerability is exploited by other vested interest groups as well. There are instances when land grabbers used the decoy of blasphemy charges to evict minority communities from their ancestral abodes. Extortionists, abductors and land mafia orchestrated similar episodes to dislodge minority communities.
    Desperate to emigrate, the minority communities often had to auction their prime properties to these mafias on low prices.
    Religiosity, used by the establishment for decades as a foreign policy tool, has now afflicted the whole spectrum of society. India-centric foreign policy adopted since the formative years and Afghan jihad in the subsequent years have injected the venom of extremism across generations. The jihad mania has thrived on hatred for Hindus and other religious and sectarian minorities.
    Official textbooks have been emblazoned with contemptuous pejoratives for Hindus to glorify an elusive two-nation theory. Invaders and plunderers are extolled as heroes of Islam. On the other hand, sectarian seminaries fuel acrimony for opposite sects. This fire of religious and sectarian animosity has insidiously engulfed every nook and corner of the country converting it into a fireball.
    The authority of the State is withering with every passing moment. Consequently, the susceptibility of minorities is spiralling. Frequent grisly incidents continue to heap torment and trauma on their lives. Minorities are flagrantly ostracised and reviled by their compatriots. Thousands of their families have emigrated and the remaining ones are breathing under a perennial despair for their posterity. This treatment meted out to minorities has not just alienated them but has also blotted the image of the country among the civilised international community. 

    Pakistan's Cold Heart Toward Christian Minorities: No Gov't Minister Honored Dead Church Bomb Victims


    Few years ago, I visited Youhanabad, one of the largest Christian neighborhood in Punjab, Pakistan. I remember the long terrain of endless houses that had an acute sense of love and unity in the air. Today this sense of a peaceful community has gone and instead blood, violence and destruction show their grim presence after 15 innocent people, including 7 Muslims, died last week in the wake of suicide Church bomb attacks on March 15, 2015.
    The unfortunate history of minorities in Pakistan is littered with violence and institutional discrimination at all levels. Minorities receive a "step mother love" from the land they belong to. Their patriotism is questioned and their loyalty to the country is often mingled with doubt and suspicion. Are Christians alienated in their own country?
    In Pakistan, the history of minorities in general and Christians in particular is reddened with blood of innocents with endless catalogues of persecution. The memories of the unspeakable horrors of 1997 in Shanti Nagar are still fresh. The attack by thousands of violent fundamentalists destroyed 785 homes and 4 churches and subsequently 2,500 people fled persecution. A similar event took place in 2009 when the Christian villages of Gojra and Korian were hit by religiously motivated violence. Nine Christians were burnt to death when their homes were attacked with chemical fire bombs locals had made themselves. The worst attack to date, took place in March 2013 in Peshawar when the All Saints Church was hit by a twin suicide bomb attack which left more than 100 dead and no less than 250 injured. In November 2014 the Christian couple Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi were beaten to death by a Muslim mob after being accused of desecrating a copy of Koran.
    In the midst of this ever-increasing persecution the terror-stricken Christians have no hope but to clamour for help to the Government which seem to have no ears at all. Christians find no protection of the law as their vulnerability is even exploited by the laws itself since they give room for the wide misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws, which further compounds their precariousness, disillusionment and alienation.
    In most liberal democracies around the world, the law of the land should be the life blood for its citizens. It protects and promotes basic and fundamental rights of its citizens regardless of race, religion, language or any other background. However, in Pakistan, laws are more often than not used to spite the weak and the vulnerable and they often support the strong.
    Laws should be equally applied to everyone, but how far government has provided protection and justice to the victims of persecution? How many of those who killed Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi have been charged with murder or terrorism? Who among the attackers of Shanti Nagar or of Gojra and Korian has ever been prosecuted? To fully understand the two-faced nature of Pakistan's approach to justice system a recent statement of Pakistan Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar is worth to mention here. Commenting on the post Lahore Church blasts violence which saw two Muslim men burnt to death by violent Christians Nisar said: "Lynching is the worst form of terrorism."
    Without doubt it is true that no one has a right to take law in its own hand and those who perpetrated this heinous crime of lynching two men should be brought to justice. Nevertheless, it is equally important to treat all citizens with justice. True rule of law does not allow any sense of alienation or stigmatisation.
    What further punctuates the sense of alienation among Christian community is the cold reaction of political elite in Pakistan who tend to disengage themselves from the horrors Christians frequently suffer. It stokes the sense of alienation which leaves millions of Christians discouraged, dispirited and disillusioned.
    When terror attacks happen around the world, the government officials rush to the scenes of violence including the premiers. The iconic presence of a premier in the midst of terror stricken people provides them the moral courage they need it the most. When France faced the horrors of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and on a Jewish Supermarket in Paris in January this year, President Francois Hollande not only showed presence at the scenes of violence he further invited other heads of government to march with him and the French people in unity against terrorism. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on contrast was more interested in celebrating a multi-million motorway project rather than to give condolences to the victims in person.
    To cap it all, no government minister attended the bereaved families of Youhanabad at the time of writing these lines let alone the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
    Pakistani Christians have long suffered the scars of persecution in the guise of misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws to the terrorist bomb blasts in their places of worship, never before in the history Pakistani Christians took law in their hands, let alone killed innocent people on the whims. We have to ask ourselves and the government of Pakistan how it could come this far. Why are Christians so much alienated so that they resort to such violent acts of lynching to vent their helplessness?
    Has their cup of patience overflowed or the pangs of persecution have become so unbearable that the violent acts of lynching seem to be the only chance to draw attention?
    It is the first and foremost responsibility of the echelons of any state to provide legislation which serves the weak and the strong alike. They have to ensure that laws are applied equally to all citizens and that the justice system neither favors nor discriminates anyone on grounds of their race, religion, language or any other background. Only then alienation will stop and persecution be eliminated so that Pakistan as nation can find its peace and prosperity in unity to combat the challenges of the 21st century.