Monday, April 20, 2015

Video Report - Does ISIL Exist in Afghanistan?

Pakistan - Terrorist Sufi Muhammad To Walk

When the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted and the military was invited to invade the judicial process and set up military courts, the nation and human rights groups were assured that only “jet-black” terrorists would be executed. Since then, it seems the term “jet-black” does not involve militants with the clout and influence to wipe out evidence against them. In other words, within the parallel society of hardcore terrorists, there is a militant elite that cannot be touched, and that we have seen consistently acquitted by anti-terrorism courts. Inside a process absolutely devoid of transparency, with first details of executions reported via two-part tweets, a process that silently and conveniently ignores men like Lakhvi and Mumtaz Qadri, Sufi Muhammad, chief of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) and father-in-law to Mullah Fazlullah has had 16 terrorism charges against him dropped (all of which were registered under the Anti-terrorism Act), by a special anti-terrorism court in Peshawar. The sedition charges against him have been moved to a sessions court in Swat, which is by and large, as good as an acquittal.
TSNM was declared a terrorist outfit and banned in 2002. Sufi Muhammad has been under arrest since 2009. His son in law, Mullah Fazlullah, leader of the banned Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has headed the TSNM in the absence of Sufi. And yet, it would seem that despite these facts, Sufi Muhammad cannot be labeled a jet-black terrorist, whereas petty thieves and underage criminals can. Is it not common sense to assume that a man heading a banned terrorist organisation is by definition a terrorist? A “jet-black” one at that? Under the vast jurisdiction and obscure conditions of the Protection of Pakistan Act, Sufi Muhammad is absolutely a terrorist. Yet he will walk free in Swat, because the state could not produce a shred of evidence against him. How is this possible? It only proves that the Anti-terrorism court is not powerful enough to do the job it is tasked to do. It does not have the means, the empowerment, perhaps even the will, to do the real dirty work. It is one thing executing nameless, anonymous militants. It is entirely another thing taking a mastermind with the family clout of Sufi Muhammad to task. It is a travesty that every terrorism charge against him has been rubbished. In doing so, the anti-terrorism courts have rubbished themselves.

Ex-envoy opposes US arms for Pakistan to fight extremism
Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, has strongly opposed the use of American military aid to fight extremists in Pakistan and said instead it will fuel conflict in South Asia.
The Obama administration announced this month to sell almost $1 billion worth of attack helicopters, missiles and other equipment to Pakistan.
Mr Haqqani said that: “Pakistan’s failure to tackle its jihadist challenge is not the result of a lack of arms but reflects an absence of will.
He said: “With nuclear weapons, Pakistan no longer has any reason to feel insecure about being overrun by a larger Indian conventional force.
For the US to continue supplying a Pakistani military that is much larger than the country can afford, will only invigorate Pakistani militancy and militarism at the expense of its 200 million people, one-third of whom continue to live at less than a dollar a day per household.”
The former ambassador said that unless Pakistan changes its worldview, American weapons will end up being used to fight or menace India and perceived domestic enemies instead of being deployed against jihadists.
“Competition with India remains the overriding consideration in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policies. By aiding Pakistan over the years—some $40 billion since 1950, according to the Congressional Research Service—the US has fed Pakistan’s delusion of being India’s regional military equal.
Seeking security against a much larger neighbour is a rational objective but seeking parity with it on a constant basis is not.
Instead of selling more military equipment to Pakistan, Mr Haqqani said, US officials should convince Pakistan that its ambitions of rivaling India are akin to Belgium trying to rival France or Germany.

Pakistan faces dilemma as Saudi bills come due

Islamabad caught in a quandry over demand for troops to join war in Yemen

Was it a yes, a no or a "perhaps later"? For the past two weeks, Pakistan was locked in an anguished debate over how to respond to an appeal from Saudi Arabia for troops to fight in the war now raging in Yemen.

When the Saudi appeal first came, it seemed that the dispatch of Pakistani soldiers to the Gulf was imminent: "Any threat to the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia will be met with a firm response," read a communique from Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

But soon thereafter, Pakistan's foreign ministry issued a denial that any of the country's military was engaged in Yemen, though the Pakistani flag continued to fly alongside that of Arab nations at the Saudi-based headquarters of Yemen operations.

This "now-you-see-it, now-you-don't" game ended only when Pakistan's Parliament voted against the dispatch of troops. Still, the episode shed light on the murky world of Pakistani-Saudi relations, a link which looks destined to shape the security map of the Middle East for years to come.

Bereft of friends and under a constant fear of being dwarfed by India, Pakistani politicians have a tendency to over-hype every alliance their country forges.

"Higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, dearer than eyesight, sweeter than honey" was how one senior Pakistani diplomat described relations with China.

However, while the Sino-Pakistani link remains overt and powerful as yesterday's arrival of president Xi Jinping in Islamabad indicates, the ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are still hidden from publicity.

Saudi-Pakistani relations took off in the 1970s due to a variety of reasons, which include natural affinity between big Islamic states, Pakistan's ability to export labourers to the Gulf and the US-led response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which transformed both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan into the Cold War's front-line states.

From the start of this relationship, two things were clear: that Saudi Arabia viewed Pakistan as a unique military partner able to plug the desert kingdom's inherent security vulnerabilities and, second, that the Saudis were determined to cement this alliance through the funding of a vast network of personal, commercial and business partnerships which ultimately drew in most of Pakistan's ruling elite.

Saudi Arabia bankrolled large chunks of Pakistan's nuclear programme precisely because the Saudis saw it as their own route to eventual nuclear power status, should Iran acquire such a capability.

Saudi credits also allowed Pakistan to withstand the economic sanctions, which followed. The man who was central to Pakistan's nuclear decision-making at the time is the same Nawaz Sharif who rules the country's destiny today.

But Saudi Arabia's support for Sharif is also of a more personal nature. During his decade-long political exile, it was the desert kingdom that provided him with home and necessary financial resources.

The Saudi largesse goes much further: At key points during the military rule of Pervez Musharraf, all of Pakistan's exiled politicians were hosted by the Saudis.

The Saudis understood that an alliance with Pakistan works best when that country's national interests coincide with the private interests of its politicians. But, while until fairly recently the Saudis were content not to ask for much in return, now they are beginning to demand their payback.

In 2011, when Bahrain's royal family was critically endangered by local Shi'ite protesters who had Iran's encouragement, it was Saudi Arabia which put pressure on Pakistan to send thousands of Pakistani ex-policemen and soldiers to Bahrain to quell the revolt.

In the years that followed, Pakistan was also asked to provide training and equipment for a variety of Saudi-financed fighters in Syria and Iraq. But it was the recent demand to supply Pakistani troops for the war in Yemen that plunged Pakistan into its biggest dilemma.

It is easy to see why the Saudis turned to Pakistan for help. Saudi Arabia wants to portray the fight against the Shi'ite rebels in Yemen as a confrontation between the whole of the Muslim world and Iran, which supports the rebellion in that country, and the inclusion of Pakistan into such a coalition helps.

From the Saudi perspective, the important advantage of Pakistan's engagement in the Yemen conflict is strategic: It will act as a reminder that, while Iran attempts to corner Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia can also corner Iran from the east, with the help of Pakistan, which shares a 900km border with Iran.

The snag for Pakistan is that any overt involvement in Saudi Arabia's wars will come at a heavy cost.

After Iran itself, the largest concentration of Shi'ite Muslims is in Pakistan, where they account for around 26 million out of the country's 190 million inhabitants.

Pakistan is already suffering from unprecedented levels of sectarian violence, and that would clearly intensify if the country's rulers are seen as engaging directly in the Sunni-Shi'ite war which now tears the Middle East apart.

Iran can also retaliate against Pakistan at little cost to itself, by encouraging mayhem in Afghanistan, and cross-border incursions into Pakistan itself; these are the well-honed techniques by which the Iranians have expanded their influence throughout the Middle East.

That will bring closer the nightmare Pakistan's military planners fear most: Instability on all of the country's borders at the same time.

The Pakistanis are trying to sweeten the pill of their refusal: Sharif sent his close aide Sartaj Aziz and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, to meet Saudi leaders in order to reassure them that, despite the refusal, Pakistan remains Saudi Arabia's loyal ally.

According to Abdul Basit, an associate research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Pakistan has also offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran; the effort could mirror the mediation efforts which Pakistan undertook with great success between the US and China at the height of the Cold War.

But neither the Saudis nor the Iranians are in any mood for negotiations, so mediation offers will get nowhere.

Meanwhile, the Pakistanis seem destined to come under heavier pressure from their Arab allies: A minister in the United Arab Emirates has already threatened that Pakistan would "pay a heavy price" for its continued neutrality.

Nor can it be excluded that, sooner rather than later, the Saudis will address to Pakistan the demand Pakistani leaders fear most: A request for the transfer of nuclear weapons know-how.

The Pakistanis have spent decades hoping to have their cake and eat it, assuming that they can get Saudi financial help with no strings attached. They are now discovering that, sadly, bills do

Pakistan: Cybercrime Bill Threatens Rights

Lawmakers Should Reject Bill to Ensure Free Expression.
 Pakistani lawmakers should reject a new cybercrime prevention bill which contains provisions which threaten rights of privacy and freedom of expression.

In a joint statement published on April 20 and distributed to Pakistani members of parliament, Human Rights Watch joined nongovernmental organizations Article 19, Bolo Bhi, Bytes for All, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan for All, and Privacy International in expressing deep concern about elements of the new Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015 (PECA) bill which violate Pakistan's commitments to universal human rights standards.

“The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act bill neither protects the public from legitimate online security concerns nor respects fundamental human rights,” said Phelim Kine, Asia division deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “In its present form, Pakistan's cybercrime prevention bill will instead institutionalize unacceptable violations of basic rights with a thin veneer of legality.”

The bill's abusive elements include provisions that allow the government to censor online content and to criminalize Internet user activity under extremely broad criteria which could be susceptible to abusive interpretation. The bill also permits government authorities access to the data of Internet users without any form of judicial review process to justify that access.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication approved the bill on April 16 and it now awaits consideration by the National Assembly and the Senate. Minister of State for Information Technology Advocate Anusha Rehman Khan has defended the bill as a means to prevent cybercrime, defend national security, and boost and protect information technology, e-commerce, and e-payments systems.

However, provisions of the bill which pose a threat to human rights and the security of internet users include the following:
  • Article 9 criminalizes anyone who “prepares or disseminates” any type of electronic communication with the intent to praise a person simply “accused of a crime,” or to “advance religious, ethnic or sectarian hatred,” as well as the more conventional intent to praise terrorism or proscribed organizations. The ambiguity of these categories of “glorification” invites abusive interpretation; for example, someone could be prosecuted for merely blogging about persons arrested, in violation of freedom of expression and the presumption of innocence.
  • Article 10 defines “Cyber-terrorism” as including “glorification” of crime (article 9 above) or unauthorized access to, copying, or transmission of “critical” information with intent to create a sense of fear or insecurity in the government or the public or to advance religious, ethnic, or sectarian hatred. These vague definitions create a serious potential threat to whistleblowers who may seek to publicly reveal intelligence that shows abuses by government officials or agencies.
  • Article 28 gives an “authorized officer” the unilateral and unchecked power to order the provision of data or the preservation of data whenever the officer believes it is “reasonably required for the purposes of a criminal investigation” and there is risk the data may be later inaccessible. While the authorized officer is required to notify a court of such requests, the provision does not require the court to examine the legitimacy of the request or impose any particular safeguards for rights. When combined with expansive data retention requirements under article 29, this article raises serious concerns about unrestrained government access to private communications and chilling of the freedom of expression and association.
  • Article 34 enables broad government powers of censorship, including authorizing blocking or removing online content if it considers it “necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act.” The bill does not require an approval from a court, and undermines any ability to safeguard against misuse of the provision. This article's sweeping scope violates freedom of expression and could be used to purge virtually anything the government doesn't like.
“Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes bill constitutes a clear and present danger to human rights on the pretext of addressing legitimate fears about cybercrime,” Kine said. “If Pakistan's government is serious about protecting its citizens from online threats to their rights and security, it should start by overhauling the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act bill to remove its potentially abusive provisions.”