Thursday, January 7, 2016

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Ottawa’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia about keeping royal family in power

Protect the king. The first rule of chess is the basic principle of Western policy on Saudi Arabia. It was Canada’s policy under the Conservatives, and it is Canada’s de facto policy under the Liberals. The new government has no plans to stop a $15-billion weapons contract.
Let’s be clear: These are weapons. The Canadian light armoured vehicles, or LAVs, that will be sold to Saudi Arabia are not jeeps. They are big, 8x8 armoured vehicles with gun turrets on top. And they are being sold to an internal security force, not Saudi Arabia’s regular army. That force, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, is tasked with protecting the royal family. It deploys its armoured vehicles at protests. There can be no assurance they will never be used against Saudi civilians.
Of course, money and jobs are at stake: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government does not want to cancel a massive contract for vehicles that would be built in London, Ont.
But the contract also fits with Canadian policy toward Saudi Arabia under both the Conservatives and now effectively under the Liberals: backing the Saudi regime despite its poor human-rights record. That is U.S. policy, and it has been Canadian policy, too. Western countries fear that if the royal family ever fell, it would lead to something worse: Islamist jihadis, or chaos.
That was very much the policy of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Yes, they liked the trade benefits of selling LAVs. But they were gung-ho about the foreign policy. They would support what one Conservative privately called a “stablish” Middle Eastern government that was reasonably friendly, and opposed to the country the Tories saw as the region’s real bad guy, Iran. The LAV deal was made to protect the Saudi royal family. “I’d sign it again today,” former foreign affairs minister John Baird told CBC News on Tuesday.
The Liberals are not gung-ho. But in practice, the policy is still to protect the king.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion condemned Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 people, including 43 al-Qaeda operatives and a prominent cleric, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, who had been a voice for the country’s Shia minority.
“We don’t support what they do to their population when they violate human rights, but when there’s progress, we underline it,” Mr. Dion said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. Saudi Arabia has also been a security partner, helping co-ordinate countries against terrorism and organizing Syrian opposition forces, he said. But he insisted that allowing the sale of LAVs is not support for the Saudi regime.
“It’s not a backing, it’s simply a private-company contract,” he said. The Saudi government has committed to not using the LAVs against civilian populations, he said. “If ever there was a breach of confidence, that would put future contracts in danger,” Mr. Dion said.
But it is hard to accept such assurances as guarantees. The LAVs will not go to Saudi Arabia’s regular army. They are for the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which is a parallel force tasked with protecting internal security as well as the royal family.
The SANG was developed separately from the regular army, recruited from loyal tribes, answering to its own ministry, not the defence ministry. The regular army has tanks to fight foreign forces; the SANG has armoured vehicles to move quickly through cities. It already has Canadian LAVs bought in the 1990s.
“They’ve deployed their armoured vehicles within the Shia areas in the east, Qatif and al-Awamiyah in particular. And the purpose of that was to intimidate the Shia protesters,” said Jacqueline Lopour, research associate at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. They were also deployed to Shia protests in neighbouring Bahrain in 2011.
What is more, the Saudi regime seems increasingly nervous. There are fears of Shia revolts, of Sunni extremists such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State, popular dissent, and royal family rivalries. Arab Spring dissent was quelled with rich benefits; now oil wealth is dipping.
Of course, there are conundrums. If Canada does not sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, someone will. Some countries are selective: Germany sold the Saudis patrol boats, but not tanks. The Liberal government is loathe to cancel a done deal. But there should be no doubt about the purpose of this sale: to protect the king.


The official website of Iran’s Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei,, has released a cartoon comparing Saudi Arabia to the terrorist group of ISIS (ISIL).
This comes after Riyadh, the terrorist capital of the planet, executed opposition Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr along with 46 others on Saturday, January 1, on bogus charges of terrorism. The picture shows Saudi and ISIS executioners standing side-by-side, with captions reading “Any differences?” is not the first website to draw comparisons between the head choppers of ISIS, who are rampaging through Syria and Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. They both espouse Wahhabi-Takfiri ideology and share comparable legal-criminal codes that go against International Human Rights Law.

As highlighted by the Western media outlets, the Saudis are brothers in arms with ISIS, sharing hyper-sectarian aims and gruesome methods, especially in Iraq and Syria. The Wahhabist Saudis and the Salafist terrorists justify sectarian persecution and bloodshed on the grounds that their victims are not true Muslims. They both slit throats, kill, stone, cut off hands, destroy humanity’s common heritage and despise archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The only difference is that the Saudis are better dressed and have a lot of petrodollar cash.

Striking enough, in the so-called “War on Terror,” the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial and double game, and it has a price: Backing an unelected regime that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends sectarian terrorism - the same thing that ISIS does and used as a pretext to carry out last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris – will only lead to further international isolation and condemnation. The attacks in Paris exposed this contradiction, but as happened before, it is being erased again from Western analyses and consciences.

For instance, the US media is treating the ISIL-like execution of Sheikh Nimr entirely Iran’s fault, all while spinning the soaring tensions as reaction to Iran not being okay with the Saudi crime! Some media outlets appear to even laud the Saudis, suggesting the crime was a smart move and that Iran, in not being okay with it, played into the Saudi hands and are again facing international outcry.

The outcry, of course, is unreal. A few US media outlets are lashing Iran, but that’s just their default position to appease Israel. Beyond them, a few nations are really backing the Saudis in this new charade. Elsewhere in the world, it is the House of Saud that faces public outcry and condemnation.

Angry protesters across the Muslim world and beyond say Western governments should no longer support a despotic regime like Saudi Arabia. They warn that ignoring the regime’s domestic oppression and international war crimes is ethically questionable and only increases the likelihood of blowback terrorism against the West from the victims of Saudi aggression.

As public protests suggest, the future does indeed look bleak for the biggest sectarian agitator in the world. No one today accepts that the unholy alliance of Saudi Arabia and ISIS possesses any basic goodness at all. This new public sentiment will undoubtedly exhaust Riyadh’s PR machine to leave the new political quagmire in one piece. The international civil society remains united in facing the House of Saud’s military reaction to popular demands in Arab countries for more representative and independent political orders, its unprovoked wars on Yemen and Syria, and its agents of sectarian violence and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi-led coalition used cluster bombs in Yemen: HRW

The Saudi-led coalition fighting in the conflict in Yemen dropped decades-old US-made cluster bombs in a civilian area, independent monitor Human Rights Watch said Thursday, branding it a war crime.
The group's report included a photograph of a section of casing from a CBU-58 cluster bomb, which it said showed it was manufactured in 1978 at a US ammunition plant in Tennessee.

The United States is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and supplies much of the ordnance its forces use, but it has not exported cluster bombs of the type found in Sanaa for many years.

The watchdog's report said the cluster bombs hit a residential neighborhood in Yemen's capital Sanaa and left the tell-tale pockmarks of multiple exploding bomblets on civilian buildings.

It was not immediately clear whether anyone was hurt, but such bombs are indiscriminate weapons.

This is especially true of older models such as the one found in Sanaa because they often contain dud rounds that linger in the area and explode long after the strike.

"The coalition's repeated use of cluster bombs in the middle of a crowded city suggests an intent to harm civilians, which is a war crime," said Steve Goose, arms director at HRW.

The United States said it was aware of the report and would continue to work closely with its allies to urge them to adopt tactics that would prevent the loss of innocent life.

"We continue to urge all sides in the conflict, including the Saudi-led coalition, to take pro-active measures to minimize harm to civilians and to investigate all credible allegations of civilian harm," State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

"We've previously discussed reports of alleged use of cluster munitions with the coalition, underscoring that such weapons should not be used in locations where civilians are known to be present."

Yemeni groups, the United Nations and other observers have been increasingly concerned by the mounting civilian toll in Yemen and the dire humanitarian crisis.

Yemen descended into chaos in March when the coalition began air strikes to push back Huthi rebels who had seized Sanaa.

More than 5,800 people have been killed and 27,000 wounded since then, according to UN figures.

Congressional Black Caucus chair Butterfield backs Clinton

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus - North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield - is backing Hillary Clinton for president.
Butterfield's office confirmed Thursday the congressman's endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate. The lawmaker announced his endorsement in a column on The Grio news website.
Butterfield wrote the former first lady and secretary of state "has the record, foresight, and passion to improve the lives of millions of African-Americans." Butterfield says Clinton has spoken out about systematic racism in the country and backs criminal justice reforms. He also cited her efforts to promote voting rights and economic recovery for the black community.
Butterfield was elected to the U.S. House in 2004 and is a super-delegate to the Democratic National Convention.

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Pentagon: US troops in 'combat situation' in Afghanistan

The Pentagon said Thursday that U.S. troops were in a combat "situation" — but not a combat role — in Afghanistan, despite a team of Green Berets getting pinned down in a firefight this week that resulted in one being killed and two injured.  
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said the soldiers were in a "support backup" role, training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, who lead in fighting the Taliban. 
"This is a combat situation, but they're not in the lead," Cook said during a briefing. 
The team from 19th Special Forces Group came under fire on Tuesday and were pinned down for hours before another military team came to their aid. 
Two medical evacuation helicopters were initially sent, but one was waved off after taking enemy fire. The other landed safely but could not take off, Pentagon officials said, because its rotor had struck a wall. 
Cook said that helicopter has been transported to Kandahar Air Field, the largest U.S. base in the area after Camp Bastion was turned over to the Afghan government. 
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a retired Navy SEAL, on Thursday requested a formal briefing from the Pentagon on the circumstances that led to the death of Army Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock. 
He said Special Forces members have told him that the response team was not allowed to launch immediately and that air support was withheld out of concern for civilian casualties. 
Cook said there was no delay in providing support for the pinned-down forces. 

Pathankot airbase - Jaish chief oversaw operation: India

Phone numbers of four handlers given as proof to Islamabad

India has identified the four handlers of Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), who were in touch with the six terrorists who stormed the Pathankot airbase early on January 1.
India has shared the telephone numbers and the identity of the handlers with Pakistan and has asked it to act on these individuals, a senior government official said.
Those identified by the Indian agencies are JeM founder Maulana Masood Azhar, his brother Abdul Rauf Asghar, Ashfaq Ahmed and Kashim Jaan, the official said.
While Azhar oversaw the operations, his brother Asghar and two others were in touch with the terrorists.
India has also given the details of two types of Pakistan-made drugs — Neuro Bedoxine and Dicloran — found on the bodies as evidence.
Panel to study gaps
A senior official said the government also decided to constitute a high-level committee to study the gaps in security along the Pakistan border, especially on the Punjab frontier. It is through a riverine stretch in the Bamiyal sector of Gurdaspur district that the terrorists involved in the Pathankot attack as well as the July 27 attack on the Dinanagar police station are believed to have sneaked into Indian territory.
IIT experts roped in
Experts of the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee have been tasked with finding solutions to detect intrusions from a riverine route.
A senior government official told The Hindu: “The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will appoint the committee and it will conduct a detailed study to examine the security along the border with Pakistan. It will have government representatives and experts from other fields.”
Mock drill conducted
The central intelligence agencies have also found evidence that the “conspiracy” to attack the Pathankot airbase was hatched near Lahore, and the terrorists were put through a mock drill by erecting a model of the airbase.
Doval shares details with Pakistan NSA
The details of the four handlers of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), who were in touch with the six terrorists who stormed the Pathankot airbase on January 1, have been shared with Pakistan “through proper channel.” India has pressed for stern action against them as a condition for any future talks with Pakistan, sources said.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is understood to have spoken to his Pakistani counterpart Gen. (retd.) Nasser Khan Janjua and shared all evidence, including voice data, an official said.
The Border Security Force has conducted five rounds of intense checking but has not found any breach in the fence. The BSF has ordered an internal inquiry and the DIG, Amritsar, will submit a report in 15 days.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is finalising new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to secure the border with Pakistan.


Raymond Ibrahim

The U.S. State Department lists only nine nations as “Countries of Particular Concern” -- a designation for those nations considered to be the worst violators of religious freedom. These include governments that “engage in or tolerate” systematic, ongoing, and unspeakable violations of religious freedom.
According to many human rights activists, this list is far from complete: “the State Department has seemed unwilling to recognize the grave unspeakable abuses of religious freedom in a number of Muslim-dominated countries that the USCIRF [U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom] considers CPCs: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Tajikistan.”
Accordingly, on October 21, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a press release calling on “the State Department to further expand its CPC list to reflect the severe violations occurring in other countries, such as Pakistan, which USCIRF has called the worst situation in the world for religious freedom for countries not currently designated by the U.S. government as CPCs.”
To understand why Pakistan was highlighted, consider the following 10 accounts, all of which took place in the month of October—the same month that the U.S. State Dept. was being urged to include Pakistan and other countries in its list.
On October 23, a deaf, married Christian woman was gang-raped after three Muslim men broke into her home while her husband was out working.  Despite her screams, no one came to help her. Although one man was arrested, rights activists say he will eventually be released.   According to Pakistani activist Sardar Mushtaq Gill, “Often in these cases the police take no action or, worse, side with the rapists.  Christian families or witnesses are pressured to withdraw complaints.”
In fact, on October 15, eight days before the deaf woman was raped, two Muslim men, both named Muhammad, who had earlier raped two teenage Christian sisters at gunpoint, were acquitted in court. Not only did a key witness change his statement after receiving a bribe, but according to the girls’ father, “The lawyer didn’t fight the case very well and with commitment. Mostly, he stayed absent from the hearings of the case during the proceedings. The lawyer didn’t even participate in the cross-questioning with the culprits in the court….  We face serious life threats from the culprits now, as they are being released from jail.”
Another report from October 5 cites three separate incidents in which five young Christian girls were abducted and sexually abused:  Two were kidnapped and gang-raped by a group of Muslim men; a 13-year-old Christian girl was kidnapped and raped; and two other Christian girls were abducted and abused by a group of human traffickers who forced them into prostitution.
Nabila Bibi, a Christian woman who had been engaged to a Christian man for a year and was preparing to marry him in a few weeks’ time, was abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and then married to a Muslim man named Allah Rakha.  After discovering her whereabouts, her fiancé went to the kidnapper’s home on October 15 and demanded to see her.  Rakha, who had 15-20 other Muslims with him, refused, and warned the Christian that because his fiancée was now Muslim, he must never seek her out again, or else suffer “dire consequences.”  The report adds that such Christian abductees “may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse or discarded from home after passing some time.”
On October 23, Sonia Bibi, a 20-year-old Christian woman, was set on fire and almost burned to death after she refused to marry an ex-boyfriend, a Muslim.  According to the woman’s testimony, when she turned down his proposal, Latif Ahmed sprinkled her with petrol and set her alight.  Burns covered nearly half of her body.
On October 5, Saddique Azam, a Catholic teacher appointed headmaster at a primary school in a small village, was beaten and tortured by a group of three Muslim teachers who resented being under the authority of an “infidel.”  The Muslims barged into Azam’s office and ordered him to resign. When he refused, they beat him so severely that he needed to be hospitalized.
According to an October 14 report, rights activists said they were concerned for the life of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been on death row since 2010.  A Muslim woman, apparently with a personal vendetta against Bibi, had accused her of speaking blasphemy against the prophet of Islam, Muhammad.  “She could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful,” said an official. Bibi was put in solitary confinement, where her health has been steadily deteriorating. “She was vomiting blood last month and having difficulty walking.”
An October 19 report tells of a Christian family— a father, mother, and two daughters— who have been on the run since 2006.  Their “crime” was that the woman, formerly a Muslim, converted to Christianity and married a Christian man. This prompted threats and attacks from Muslims, including her family: “Jobless and desperate, they are unable to meet their own needs, as they continue to be threatened, hounded, and attacked because they want to live a Christian life and raise their children in accordance with Christ’s teachings,” notes the report.  Due to the stressful experiences and unsanitary conditions they are forced to hide in, the woman has miscarried their third child.   The father was shot in the leg and run over by a motorcycle.   Even so, “Attempts to file a case against their tormentors have fallen on deaf police ears.”
An October 23 report titled, “Christians required only as sweepers” notes that “Christians make up most of the non-Muslim minority in central Punjab and account for 1.5 per cent of the total population. Their representation in sanitation work, however, is above 80 percent.” After noting that Pakistan was named “Land of the Pure” in reference to its Muslim identity (as opposed to that of its largely Hindu neighbor, India), the report adds, “The attitude of forcing Christians into degrading occupations based on their descent continues and owes its existence to this long-entrenched dichotomy of ‘pure’ and ‘impure.’”
On October 7, more than 1,000 Christians gathered in front of the Punjab assembly to protest an “anti-minority” bill “that denies voting rights to women” and “does not allow religious minorities to elect their own representatives.”  Religious minorities argued that a selected official “cannot do anything” except to “become a puppet in the hand of their party.”
These ten accounts from October alone are a typical sampling of what Christians, who reportedly make up roughly 1% of Pakistan’s Muslim majority population, routinely experience.
Worse, the majority of atrocities, according to human rights activists, never get reported for fear of reprisals.  It took five years for the account of a two-year-old toddler who was savagely raped because her Christian father refused to convert to Islam took five years to become public. She has undergone five surgeries and still remains disfigured. Her family lives in constant fear and in hiding.
According to rights activist Gill, who is involved with many of the above mentioned cases, “Violence against women and children of religious minorities, the weak and vulnerable, is widespread in Pakistan and is often carried out in silence.  These cases and the stories do not come to light and when victims talk about it they are intimidated.”
In light of all this, it’s high time for Pakistan to be labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S.  Department of State.  Otherwise, the crucial question remains:  Why is it not?
UPDTATE: As mentioned, the above anecdotes were limited to the month of October alone.  An incomplete list of the savagery experienced by Pakistani Christians in the following month, November, follows:

  • Sana John, a 13-year-old Christian girl, was kidnapped and converted to Islam by force in Haji Pura, near Silakot.   On November 9, Muslim men stopped the girl while she was returning home from school and seized her. The Christian family was threatened not to file a complaint.  According to her father, “In Pakistan there is no justice for the poor and, above all, no one cares for Christians, no one has heard my cry. The police do not pursue the culprits, no one is doing anything for us.”
  • A few days later, a Muslim family kidnapped, beat and left naked on the streets an 8-year-old Christian girl, as a way to “punish” her uncle for pursuing a relationship with a female member of the Muslim family.  The Muslims kidnapped the Christian girl, named Parwasha, on her way home from school, after which she was stripped naked and beaten.  When the girl ran home to her family, they went to local police, only to find that the Muslim family had already filed a complaint against the entire Christian family for “shaming” the Muslim family.
  • Another 8-year-old girl, Sara Bibi, was scolded, beaten and locked in a school bathroom by her Muslim head teacher for using the same toilet as Muslims.  Headmistress of the school, Zahida Rana, locked Sara in the bathroom and then shouted at her: “You are a Christian, an infidel. How dare you use the same toilet as Muslim girls?”  Despite vigorously pleading her innocence Sara was beaten and only released from the toilet 3 hours later at the end of the school day.  The girl has since been expelled from the school.   
  • A Christian activist, Aslam Masih, was shot in the legs by four Muslims in Lahore. The episode, says Christian lawyer Sardar Mushtaq Gill, “is a clear sign of intimidation towards our work.”  Before shooting, the criminals asked him to withdraw a complaint that the police had registered. When he refused they opened fire. 
  • A group of masked men set fire to a Christian broadcasting outlet, Gawahi TV, in Karachi. The building collapsed. Gawahi television was established in February 2013 in a joint collaboration between Catholic and Protestant communities, to “spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of all religions who live in Pakistan.” As reported by the television website, about 12 million people watched it regularly.   Despite many threats and many requests for security, police did not comply.

Pakistan - ‘IS threat’ leaflets found in girls school

The administration of a girls high school in Dinga town have found some leaflets carrying a school closure warning from the militant Islamic State group.
However, personnel of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) say the hand-written pamphlets might be a move of some naughty students to create panic. But the matter is being thoroughly probed.
Reports said when the school was opened on Jan 5, the management found some pamphlets bearing a hand-written warning, “We are the followers of Osama Bin Laden, so close the school otherwise you will be responsible for any loss to 1,000 students.”
The school management informed the local police about the matter and a contingent of Elite Force commandos cordoned of the area. The LEAs thoroughly examined the school building.
Dinga police have lodged a case No. 11 against some unidentified people under section 506 of the PPC and started investigation.
A senior LEAs official told Dawn that it looked like a naughty move by some students of the school because the warning was written by hand on some answer sheets of the examinations “but it would never be taken lightly and the issue would be probed.”
The intelligence agencies have already warned the respective authorities of possible presence of some anti-state elements in Gujrat district where the LEAs had arrested some key militants and some alleged militants were killed during encounters with local police during the last one and a half years.

Pakistan - Rehabilitating FATA

As Operation Zarb-e-Azb enters its last phase in FATA, with military officials claiming that only 1.5 percent of the area of the region remains to be cleared, it is time for the country to start treating the area as its own. The biggest hurdle that faces this integration is the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The draconian law, which has collective punishment as one of its salient features, has been used to subjugate people in the tribal areas since the colonial period. The fact that one person’s crime can be used to punish an entire family or even a tribe bears testament to all that is wrong with FATA’s laws.
There are positive developments underway, however minimal they might be. There were only 16 reported cases of polio this year, an amazing feat if the previous years’ abysmal performance is taken into account. The FATA Secretariat also recently formed a Grievances Redressal System (GRS), aimed at enabling the people of FATA to express their complaints and concerns against the system, but how useful that will be under the current legal system is debatable. Apart from reforming laws and scrapping the FCR, the state needs to establish courts in the region as well, to ensure that some modicum of justice is available to the people. The government however, both provincial and federal are more inclined towards merging FATA with the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of KPK.
One of the best initiatives so far is the FATA Education Foundation’s move to train teachers from 45 private schools, providing psychological assistance to children that have been traumatised. The two-day workshop is barely scratching the surface however, if serious efforts are to be made to rehabilitate children that have suffered greatly at the hands of the war. Provision of services and public goods should also be made a priority, because terrorists often use problems in the system to their advantage for radicalisation.
The rehabilitation of FATA does not merely mean that sending the people back will mean the work is done. The state now has to ensure that militants can never find safe havens in FATA, or else all the hard work will be pointless. The real hard work starts now, and the state needs to establish a real presence, one that does not involve guns to coerce the population into subjugation. The curtailment of basic rights and liberties cannot continue, and the people of FATA must no longer be treated like second-class citizens.

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Chinese pressure sees Pakistan mull constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan

Pakistan is mulling upgrading the constitutional status of its northern Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is also claimed by India, in a bid to provide legal cover to a multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan, officials said Thursday.
The move could signal a historic shift in Pakistan’s position on the future of the wider Kashmir region, observers have said, dealing another potential blow to fragile peace talk efforts that received a boost after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lahore in December.
The proposal would see the mountainous region mentioned by name for the first time in Pakistan’s constitution, bringing it one step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province.
Islamabad has historically insisted the parts of Kashmir it controls are semi-autonomous and has not formally integrated them into the country, in line with its position that a referendum should be carried out across the whole of the region.
Sajjadul Haq, spokesperson for the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, told AFP: “A high level committee formed by the prime minister is working on the issue, you will hear good news soon.”
Rehman, who arrived in Islamabad Thursday, was working on the finishing touches to the agreement, a senior official said, adding the document could be unveiled “in a few days”.
In addition to being named in the constitution, Gilgit-Baltistan would also send two lawmakers to sit in the federal parliament — though they would be given observer status only.
A third top government official from Gilgit-Baltistan said the move was in response to concerns raised by Beijing about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, an ambitious $46 billion infrastructure plan set to link China’s western city of Kashgar to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.
“China cannot afford to invest billions of dollars on a road that passes through a disputed territory claimed both by India and Pakistan,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
The corridor plans have been strongly criticised by New Delhi, with India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in June calling the project “unacceptable” for crossing through Indian-claimed territory.
India and Pakistan have fought two full-scale wars over Kashmir, and any changes to the status quo could prove a further setback to hopes for dialogue that were revived after Modi made the historic Lahore visit.
Those efforts were already seen as fragile following a deadly attack on an Indian air base near the Pakistan border Saturday that was followed by a 25-hour siege on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan on Monday.
But according to Pakistani strategic analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, the move could also signal Islamabad’s desire to end the Kashmir conflict by formally absorbing the territory it controls — and, by extension, recognising New Delhi’s claims to parts of the region it controls, such as the Kashmir valley.
“If we begin to absorb it so can India. It legitimises their absorption of the Valley,” she said.

Talks uncertain as India says Pakistan must first hunt militants

India called on Pakistan on Thursday to take "prompt and decisive" action against militants it blames for an attack on an air base, days before fraught peace talks between the nuclear-armed neighbors are scheduled to resume.
A meeting between the foreign secretaries of both nations had been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 15, but it is unclear if it will still happen after the weekend attack on the Indian Air Force base near the Pakistan border. India's foreign ministry said Islamabad has been given actionable intelligence that those who planned the assault came from Pakistan.
"As far as we are concerned the ball is now in Pakistan's court," spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters when asked if the talks were on. "The immediate issue in front of us is Pakistan's response to the terrorist attack."
A senior Pakistani official said India provided intelligence that included telephone numbers, call intercepts, and locations where they believe the attackers or their handlers were.
Pakistan is following up the leads, the official said, and hopes that the talks would not be canceled while it explores them.
Prime ministers Narendra Modi of India and Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan are struggling to keep their renewed dialogue on track after the militant attack killed seven Indian military personnel and wounded 22.Modi made a surprise stopover in Pakistan last month, the first time an Indian premier has visited in over a decade.
The standoff after the apparent thaw is part of a pattern over the years. Attempts to restart talks have been frequently thwarted by attacks between the two countries, which have fought three wars since becoming separate nations in 1947.
With such an eventuality in mind, the national security advisers of the two countries agreed on a process during a meeting in early December to keep dialogue going in case of a potential disruption, the Pakistani official said.
As a result, Indian NSA Ajit Doval has spoken at least three times by phone with his Pakistani counterpart, Naseer Khan Janjua, since the attack, including last Saturday evening when the fighting was still ongoing, the Pakistani official said.
India's security establishment has blamed the attack on militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, alleged to have been behind an assault on the country's parliament in 2001 that almost brought the two countries to war for a fourth time. The Pakistani official said Pakistan could temporarily arrest Jaish-e-Mohammad's leader Masood Azhar to appease India, but only if the leads checked out.

Pakistan also expects DNA evidence, bodies and other forms of identification from India "within days", the official said.Sharif met senior ministers and his national security advisers on Thursday and discussed "issues pertaining to national and regional security", according to a statement from his office.


Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has formed a 4-member PPP delegation led by Senator Farhatullah Babar to attend the All Parties Conference (APC) being organized by Balochistan National Party (Mengal) in Islamabad on January 10.
The delegation will also include Senator Taj Haider and Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah from Sindh and PPP Senator Yousuf Baloch from Balochistan.
It may be recalled that a BNP (M) team led by former MNA Abdul Rauf Mengal had called on PPP Chairman at Bilawal House on Tuesday to extend invitation for attending All Parties Conference to be held under the subject of “CPEC & Gwadar: Future Prospects for Balochistan” in Islamabad on January 10, 2016.