Thursday, November 19, 2015

Video - U.S. House passes strict screening for Syrians

Video - Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau in Manila

Video - Hillary Clinton calls for increased airstrikes on ISIS

Hillary Clinton Presents Her Plan to Battle ISIS

By Amy Chozick
Republican presidential candidates wasted no time after the terrorist attacks in Paris to put forth their ideas for fighting the Islamic State. They’ve proposed bombing oil fields in the Middle East (Donald J. Trump), allowing only Christian refugees into the United States (Senator Ted Cruz of Texas) and sending 10,000 American troops to Iraq and Syria (Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina).
The Democratic presidential candidates, meanwhile, have been less vocal in how they would respond to the attacks that shook the French capital last Friday.On Thursday, however, Hillary Rodham Clinton said that more should be done to empower Iraqi ground forces to fight the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.“The ground campaign in Iraq will only succeed if more Iraqi Sunnis join the fight,” she said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
She also called for a no-fly zone in Syria, saying, “we should retool and ramp up our efforts to equip viable Syrian opposition efforts.”
“If we press forward on both sides of the border, in the air and on the ground as well as diplomatically, I do believe we can crush ISIS’s enclave of terror,” she said.
The Democrats so far have spoken mostly in broad platitudes, vowing to support France and stand with American allies in the fight against terrorism, but offering few specifics. In her speech, Mrs. Clinton faced the tricky dynamic of putting forth her own ideas without appearing to criticize President Obama, under whom she served as secretary of state for four years.
In the second Democratic debate in Des Moines on Saturday, Mrs. Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Martin O’Malley bowed their heads in a solemn moment of solidarity with the French and affirmed their commitment to joining a coalition to defeat the Islamic State. But the conversation quickly evolved into criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s 2002 vote as senator to authorize the Iraq War, and to her policies as secretary of state, including her push to oust Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya. (“I’m not a big fan of regime change,” Mr. Sanders said.)
But as Republicans have used the tragedy in France to highlight what they say are Mr. Obama’s significant weaknesses on foreign policy, Democrats have been loath to criticize his approach. Even as the party’s presidential candidates wade deeper into policies on Syria and Iraq, they must walk a careful line not to appear to be undermining Mr. Obama, who remains widely popular among Democratic primary voters.
The address marks the second time that Mrs. Clinton has delivered a wide-ranging foreign policy speech in a campaign heavily focused on economic issues. In September, she gave a substantial address about the Iran nuclear deal before a question-and-answer session at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

No political transition in Syria until terrorists are destroyed – Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said that the internationally agreed upon 18-month timeline for political transition in Syria may only begin after Islamic State and other terror groups are defeated in the country.

Over 70% wants Assad to remain in power, Le Figaro poll shows
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“There will be no point in deciding any timetable, because you cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria, and they’re going to be – they are already – the main obstacle of any real political advancement,” Assad said in an interview with Italy’s RAI UNO channel.
After the terrorists are defeated, the political transition in Syria won’t require a lot of time, the president stressed.
“One year and a half (18 months) to two years is enough for any transition. It’s enough. I mean if you want to talk about first of all having a new constitution, then a referendum, then parliamentarian elections, then any kind of other procedure, whether presidential or any other thing, doesn’t matter,” he explained.
However, Assad added that the timeline for a political settlement in the country would depend “on the agreement that we can reach as Syrians.”
“If we don’t reach it in 18 months, so what?” he wondered. “The most important part is that we’re going to sit with each other; then we’re going to set our schedule and our plan as Syrians.”
During a meeting in Vienna last week, foreign ministers of nearly 20 countries agreed on a transition plan for Syria that foresees the beginning of talks between the Syrian government and opposition before January 1 and holding a UN-supervised election within 18 months.
The Syrian leader stressed the importance of parliamentary elections in Syria as it’s “going to show which power of the political powers in Syria has real weight among the Syrian people, which one has real grassroots.”
“Now, anyone can say 'I’m opposition.' What does it mean, how do you translate it?.. Opposition could be defined not through your own opinion; it could be defined only through the elections, through the ballot box,” he explained.
The president reiterated his stance that those who are fighting the Syrian government with weapons in their hands can’t be regarded as opposition.
“Whoever holds a machinegun and terrorizes people and destroys private or public properties or kills innocents and whoever is a terrorist, he’s not opposition,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of holding a presidential vote, Assad replied that “if the Syrians, in their dialogue, they wanted to have presidential elections, there’s nothing called a red line, for example, regarding this. But it’s not my decision. It should be about what the consensus is among the Syrians.”
The president also disagreed with those who claim that Syria has become a breeding ground for Islamic State (IS, Daesh) terrorists.
“Till this moment, I can tell you Daesh doesn’t have the natural incubator, social incubator, within Syria. This is something very good and very assuring, but at the same time, if it’s becoming chronic, this kind of ideology can change the society,” he said.
According to Assad, Islamic State will have the ability to remain “strong as long as they have strong support from different states, whether Middle Eastern states or Western states.”
The Syrian leader also recalled his surprise visit to Moscow in mid-October, describing talks with Vladimir Putin and Russia’s defense and foreign ministers as productive.
“It was a trip to discuss the military situation, because it happened nearly two weeks after the Russians started the airstrikes, and to discuss the political process, because it was, again, a few days before Vienna 1. It was very fruitful, because the Russians understand very well this region, because they have historical relations, they have embassies, they have all kinds of necessary relations and means to play a role,” he said.
Russia has been bombing Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other terror groups in Syria at Assad’s request since September 30.
Commenting on the refugee crisis in Europe, Assad called every person who was forced to leave the country “a loss to Syria.”
He named three reasons why people are becoming refuges, including a “direct threat by terrorists,” “the influence of terrorists in destroying much of the infrastructure and affecting the livelihood of those people,” as well as “the Western embargo on Syria.”
Assad also expressed condolences to France for the IS attacks in Paris on November 13, calling them “a horrible crime.”
“We understand in Syria the meaning of losing a dear member of the family or a dear friend, or anyone you know, in such a horrible crime. We’ve been suffering from that for the past five years. We feel for the French as we feel for the Lebanese a few days before that, and for the Russians regarding the airplane that’s been shot down over Sinai, and for the Yemenis,” he stressed.


Upon directives of Federal Government, local administration of Islamabad is making agreements with Lal Masjid’s cleric Molvi Abdul Aziz. According to sources, a temporary agreement has been finalized between Islamabad’s local administration and Molvi Abdul Aziz and he has presented conditions to the administration for a permanent settlement which includes the release of his son-in-law, arrested from Lahore, freedom to go to Lal Masjid, and provision of security. Sources told that negotiations took place at a secret location and the agreement was made for two weeks and during this time period, Molvi Abdul Aziz would not go to Lal Masjid even for the Friday sermon. According to local administration, the agreement subsided the increasing Lal Masjid's threat for two weeks.

Bilawal’s historical reception a candid manifest of everlasting Bhuttoism

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sindh chapter Secretary Information Waqar Mehdi and Karachi Division Secretary Information Syed Manzoor Abbas said that the historical reception of PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at Badin, Thatta, Sujawal and Mithi has foiled all conspiracies that were hatched against the PPP. This historical reception by the masses is an undeniable proof of peoples’ trust in PPP leadership.
In a statement issued from the PPP Media Cell Sindh, they said it was not just a historical reception of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari but was also a candid manifest that they need no time-serving so-called leaders except the PPP. No other so-called leader could ever produce such a gigantic political canvass in Sindh except the PPP.
They said that the anti-PPP forces should better translate that historical reception as election sweeping gesture for the second phase of local government polls because the people of Sindh have following the first phase of local government polls manifested their aspirations that they are with the PPP.
They said that anti-PPP forces that never ceased to claim the PPP and Bhuttoism had disappeared from Sindh should now realise that the PPP and Bhuttoism do exist in the province with full force. The floods of the masses to see a glimpse of their beloved leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is a concrete testament that “Bhutto has lived in hearts of the people yesterday and would live forever”.

Video - #TEERChalayGa: Aseefa Bhutto Zardari casts her first vote

Asifa Bhutto cast her first vote by arynews

Pakistan's Army Chief Is in Washington -- Embarrassing His Prime Minister


Why is General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan's army chief, visiting Washington right now? Wasn't his Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in the nation's capital less than a month ago? I know you are confident about your guess: The Americans must have invited him to come and discuss the unfinished war on terror. Oops! You got it wrong.According to the Voice of America, the United States government has not invited Pakistan's powerful army chief. To borrow a phrase from the Hindustan Times, Raheel has invited himself to the U.S. The invitation does not matter much but this trip once again highlights the army's brazenly tight grip on the country's democratic government, specifically its foreign policy. A smug Raheel is in Washington with a straightforward message to D.C.'s policymakers: Forget about what was discussed between President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif last month. Let's talk again. I decide my country's foreign policy, not the prime minister.
Before his arrival to Washington, Raheel's army, on November 10th, had solely taken credit for the "improved security situation" but rebuked the democratic administration that the "progress" it had made in the fight against terrorism could not be "sustained without matching betterment in governance and administration."
Although the army has historically been in full control of Pakistan's external relations, Raheel, since becoming the army chief, has staged sort of a foreign policy coup. Prime Minister Sharif, a victim of a military coup in 1999, has been so cautious in avoiding another military takeover that he has even not appointed a foreign minister two years after becoming the prime minister for a third term. On the foreign policy front, the army is explicitly intimidating the prime minister. He cannot take bold decisions or fulfill the promises he makes during meetings with foreign heads of government. The army chief has entered into an undeclared competition with the prime minister over foreign trips.
According to Zahid Hussain, a senior Pakistani journalist, the army chief "has perhaps travelled to more world capitals over the last two years than even the prime minister, reinforcing the perception that not only does the military call the shots on security matters it is also actively directing the country's foreign policy."
"From a democratic perspective," wrote the respected Dawn newspaper, Raheel's trip to D.C. "is discouraging."
Every time the United States negotiates with a general while snubbing a democratic government, it becomes complicit in undermining democracy in Pakistan. The United States has designated Pakistan as one of its non-NATO allies but it does everything that is in contrary to making Pakistan as democratic as its western allies. In a democratic Pakistan, the army chief should practically be answerable to Secretary and Minister of Defense, whose boss, the Prime Minister, is elected by the people of Pakistan. The civilian government's alleged incompetence is no excuse to allow the generals dictate domestic or foreign policies. After all, the United States did not call the National Guard when incompetence and obduracy on behalf of the Republicans and Democrats literally led the United States to a two-week long government shutdown in 2013. The generals at the Pentagon did not intervene or take control of Congress. We let Congress figure it out. That's how you, slowly but steadily, learn the art of democracy.
While justifying Raheel's trip to Washington, veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid, surprisingly cited the army chief's "excellent reputation" because of his "highly effective military operation" against the Taliban. Writing in the Financial Times, Rashid argues, "terrorism across the country [in Pakistan] is much reduced since the army action began 18 months ago."
Let me dispute Rashid's flattering account of Raheel's excellence.
For several decades, Pakistani lobbyists and scholars sympathetic to the army in Washington have convinced American policy makers to do businesses with the army because it is quicker and more efficient than the democratic governments to "deliver". Deliver? Deliver what? That's where we need to step back and see what the two countries actually expect from each other. The United States wants Islamabad to fight "terrorism". The people and the neighbors of Pakistan want it to fight "terrorism" and Pakistan also claims to be fighting "terrorism". But all of the three parties are referring to absolutely different kinds of "terrorism". Amid all this confusion, [fighting] terrorism has transformed into a profitable industry for the Pakistani army that continues to receive hefty American amounts to fight the elusive war on terror. Hence, those receiving monetary benefits keep perpetuating the menace of terrorism so that flow of American dollars is not interrupted.
While Washington's emphasis continues to remain on action against the Haqqani Network and the Pakistani army keeps flaunting over its successes against the Pakistani Taliban, here is why journalist Ahmed Rashid is wrong in arguing that [extremist] violence has decreased under the leadership of General Sharif.
• On October 23rd, 2015, 22 Shia Muslims were killed in a suicide bomb blast in Jacobabad, a district in the Sindh province. 
On October 22nd, 2015, 10 people, all Shia Muslims, were killed in a suicide bomb blast in Bolan District of Balochistan province. 
• On May 13th, 2015, 43 Ismaili Muslims were killed in Sindh province when religious extremists opened fire on pilgrims.
• On June 9th, 2014, 23 Shia pilgrims were killed in an attack on their bus by militants affiliated to the Jaish-ul-Islam in Balochistan province. 
• On January 21st, 2014, 22 Shia pilgrims were killed in a bus bombing in Balochistan province.
The dates and figures cited above will probably not worry or surprise the policymakers in Washington because neither the attackers were America's direct enemies (such as Al-Qaeda) nor were the victims Americans. However, these events are important to review as they reflect the larger gruesome picture of Jihadist infrastructure that still exists in Pakistan. By receiving money from the United States and fighting the local Taliban, the Pakistani army is apparently working as a mercenary force for the Americans. Inaction against Jihadist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Sunni extremist group the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi suggests that Pakistan is selectively fighting the war against Islamic extremism. This approach will eventually pave the way for a new grand alliance between these relatively small jihadist groups and the big ones such as the Islamic State (I.S.) and the Taliban. At this point, these groups appear different and disconnected from each other in their organizational structure, areas of operations but let's not forget that they all mostly have similar backgrounds (for instance, education from the same conservative seminaries) and identical end goals (imposing radical Islam through brute force). In the United States and the West, these Jihadist networks see a common enemy and in radical Islam they find a common binding force.
Thus, those who believe Washington should patronize Raheel for his heroic contributions in the war against Islamists because, in journalist Rashid's word's, the Prime Minister is "slow and overweight and never deviates from his written text", they are making a historic blunder.
Military actions are helpful as long as they remain only one component of a larger strategy to eliminate religious extremism. In the long run, Pakistan needs liberal education, curriculum reforms, democratic stability, civil liberties, stiff action against mosques and clerics who preach hatred, religious schools (madrassa) that mostly produce jihadists and provide sanctuary, food and shelter to some of the world's dreaded terrorists.
No military action is needed to curb and freeze the funding channels for these terrorist organizations. These are administrative measures that the civilian government should take. The task becomes much complicated or unachievable when units of the Pakistani military covertly collaborate with the same terrorist groups. The army must come clean in order to disprove charges of collusion with Islamist terrorist groups, playing double standards while working with the United States and simultaneously abetting the Haqqani Network. Remember the frustrated Admiral Mike Mullen who called Haqqani Network a "veritable arm" of the ISI, Pakistan's primer intelligence agency?
Pakistan needs an army that is transparent and accountable to the Parliament. In order to be a strong and confident country that is capable of fighting Islamic extremists, Pakistan needs strong democratic institutions, separation of the majority religion (Islam) from politics, and deeper commitment to fight terrorism perpetrated in the name of religion. This should be done not for the United States but for the better future of the people of Pakistan. On its part, the United States should help Pakistan achieve democratic stability and the supremacy of the Parliament instead of vanquishing the dreams of its democracy-loving people who voted for a Prime Minister, not an army chief, to represent them overseas.

Pakistani army chief's 'futile' US visit

When Pakistani leaders meet US officials, they express strong commitment to fighting Islamic extremism. Experts say it is usually a hollow exercise, and the Pakistani army chief's five-day US visit is a perfect example.
Pakistan's military chief, Raheel Sharif, who is touted by much of the Pakistani media as the "savior" of the Islamic country, is wrapping up his five-day visit to the United States. The military's supporters, including a number of journalists and analysts, claim Sharif's US trip is far more significant in terms of strategic and defense ties than Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington in October.
Their claim is not entirely wrong: General Sharif  holds the real power in Pakistan, whereas PM Sharif, despite being the constitutional head of the government, has almost no say in matters related to foreign policy and defense.
The dichotomy of power in Pakistan has always put the US in a dilemma. On the one hand, it wants to strengthen civilian democracy in the country, on the other, it knows it has to deal with the powerful Pakistani army, if it wants to get the work done.
For Washington, there are too many things on the table regarding Islamabad: peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan; Pakistan's rapidly expanding nuclear stockpile, its continued support of Islamic militants in the region; and the Islamic nation's deteriorating ties with neighboring India.
The Obama administration, however, has been stricter with the Pakistani military than previous US governments have. This is why PM Sharif's visit not only preceded General Sharif's tour, but also why his arrival in Washington was given far more importance in comparison to General Sharif's low-key trip. Some reports even suggest that General Sharif went to the US on his own request.
"COAS Gen Raheel Sharif is travelling to Washington D.C. of his own volition and DoD (Department of Defense) officials are meeting (him) at his request," a US defense official told the media on November 12.
Islamabad-based journalist Abdul Agha says General Sharif should work on tackling and eradicating Islamist extremism in his country rather than wasting time in the US on a "futile trip."
"His boss, PM Sharif, must have told him (Raheel Sharif) about the US demands. Then why did the general feel the need to go to Washington?" Agha asked.
History of mistrust
Regardless of whether General Sharif's US visit was unsolicited or not, he has met with a number of high-ranking US officials in the past four days. On November 19, he held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and is expected to meet Vice-President Joe Biden before heading to Brazil and Ivory Coast.
"Secretary Kerry met with Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif to follow up on some of the security-related conversations that he had with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October," a State Department spokesperson told reporters.
"General Sharif's consultations in Washington are part of our regular, ongoing bilateral discussions with a broad range of Pakistani officials, and we appreciate the productive discussions we had regarding our bilateral defense and security relationship," the spokesperson added, without specifying issues that were discussed during the meeting.
The US is wary of Islamabad's reluctance to go after the militant Haqqani Network in the North Waziristan region close to the Afghan border. Some US officials believe the Pakistani army continues to back the Taliban to destabilize President Ashraf Ghani's government in Kabul.
But experts say the Obama administration is aware that it is unlikely that Raheel Sharif will address US concerns when he returns home. "The US knows the situation. But nothing will change on the ground as the Pakistani army will not give up its decades-old regional policies," Farooq Sulehria, a London-based Pakistani researcher, told DW.
However, Ali K. Chishti, a security analyst in Karachi, says the assumption that Washington doesn't have faith in Pakistan's commitment to peace in Afghanistan is misplaced. "The US and Pakistan have been on the same page on this issue ever since the Qatar talks were initiated during President Hamid Karzai's tenure."
Pakistan's nuclear safety
Washington has also been worried about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration, therefore, wants to ensure better security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and limit the numbers of nuclear weapons.
A report by two US think tanks stated that Pakistan could have the world's third-largest nuclear stockpile within a decade. Pakistan has a history of nuclear proliferation, and despite public statements by US officials that the Islamic country's nuclear weapons are safe, there are growing fears that they could fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.
"The Pakistani nukes have been on the US watch list ever since former President Pervez Musharaff set up a nuclear command and control authority in the country and introduced safeguards. Since then, Washington hasn't shown any serious concern," Chishti said.
"The US is only worried about smaller nuclear warheads and the speed of its production," he added.
Most analysts are of the view that General Sharif won't concede to the US on this issue either.
The military's obsession with Kashmir
Another major issue during General Sharif's talks with US officials was the increased tension between Pakistan and India. There have been border skirmishes between the two countries in the recent months, and their leaders have ratcheted up war rhetoric substantially.
The situation is worrisome for the US, which wants Islamabad to focus more on fighting home-grown Islamists rather than on scaling up tensions with New Delhi.
Security analyst Chishti believes General Sharif was justified in raising the issue with the US military leadership because Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not willing to cooperate with the Pakistani leadership.
But Arif Jamal, a US-based scholar on Islamic extremism, says the tensions are largely because of Pakistan's anti-India policies and support for jihadists. "The US has always pressed Pakistan to abandon the use of jihadists as an instrument of foreign policy. It needs to press Islamabad even harder," he told DW.
It is likely that US military officials pressed General Sharif "harder" this time. But will it be enough to pressure Pakistan to change its policies? Experts say this is highly unlikely.