Monday, February 22, 2016

China - Foreign Minister's US visit set to 'tackle sensitive issues'

Foreign minister's trip this week also expected to boost 'pragmatic cooperation' Visit Ahead of Foreign Minister Wang Yi's US visit this week.

Beijing has noted the US defense deployment in Hawaii, hitting back at the latest US criticism that China's presence on its South China Sea islands is boosting "militarization".
"China's deploying necessary, limited defensive facilities on its own territory is not substantively different from the US defending Hawaii," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.
Hua confirmed at a daily news conference in Beijing that Wang will visit the US from Tuesday to Thursday, and said the visit will see efforts "to deepen pragmatic cooperation and to constructively tackle sensitive issues".
Although Beijing unveiled few details of the schedule, the visit is likely to bring the third meeting within a month between Wang and his counterpart, US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Responding to looming UN sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea for its rocket launches, Hua said that "China and the US are expected to exchange views on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue during Wang's visit".
All the parties are urged to bring the nuclear issue back onto the track of dialogue, to discuss a dual-track mechanism that seeks both the denuclearization of the peninsula and a shift from truce to peace, Hua added. Since January, diplomatic contacts between Beijing and Washington have geared up after a US Navy warship incursion into China's territorial waters in the South China Sea and Pyongyang's nuclear test. Kerry visited China and talked with Wang on Jan 27 in Beijing, and they met again in Munich, Germany, on Feb 12.
Asked what message Beijing will send to Washington on the South China Sea, Hua said the US is expected to be "fully committed to its promise of not taking positions on the relevant disputes". The US should "stop hyping the South China Sea issue and the tense atmosphere there" and should play a "constructive" role in the region rather than "making an issue", Hua said.
Teng Jianqun, a senior research fellow on US studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said Wang's expected visit is "needed and helpful" for more dialogue to tackle the issues. Teng said that the US forces "possibly will remain tough and will continue challenging China militarily as they have done recently".
Besides addressing hot spots, the senior diplomats need the meetings to prepare for annual bilateral events, such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and to discuss expected contacts between leaders on international occasions, Teng added.
The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said on its website that Wang will address the think tank's "Statesmen's Forum" on Thursday morning local time. Wang will be part of "a discussion on Chinese foreign policy and US-China relations", the center said.
Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, said that "competition and cooperation co-exist in China-US ties, and the reinforced competition in the South China Sea brings no change to such a big picture".
"The situation in the South China Sea is controllable, and so will it be in the future," Jin said, adding that the US allies in the region, unlike the US, are not likely to resort to military approaches there.

Video - Russian defense minister makes surprise visit to Iran

Video - Ceasefire Agreement: Syrian proposal to begin at midnight on Feb. 27th

Breaking down the US-Russia ceasefire plan for Syria

Following Moscow and Washington’s announcement of a joint ceasefire deal for Syria, the war-torn country may be on the verge of the biggest peacemaking breakthrough since fighting broke out there five years ago. Here is how the proposed truce should work:

When does it start?

The ceasefire will become official at midnight Damascus time on Saturday, February 27 (or on Friday at 22:00 GMT). Those who subscribe to the agreement have to publicly declare that they will desist from hostilities by a deadline 12 hours before the ceasefire comes into effect, and inform the White House or the Kremlin.

Who does it apply to?

It is clearer which parties it doesn’t apply to: “‘Daesh’ [Islamic State], ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’ [an al-Qaeda offshoot], or other terrorist organizations designated by the UN Security Council,” according to the Joint Statement. The Syrian government, as well as the oft-mentioned “moderate opposition” factions and the Kurds, will have to take it upon themselves to put down arms – or face consequences.

If the sides agree, what will be expected of them?

Participants are obligated to “cease attacks with any weapons, including rockets, mortars, and anti-tank guided missiles” and “refrain from acquiring or seeking to acquire territory from other parties to the ceasefire.” They must also allow “unhindered and sustained” access to humanitarian assistance missions and employ only “proportional force” in self-defense against those not party to the agreement.

How will the ceasefire function in practice?

Moscow and Washington will “work together to exchange pertinent information,” such as up-to-date maps indicating which sides have agreed to the ceasefire, and where they are located. The parties that are confirmed to have agreed to the ceasefire conditions should no longer come under fire from either side. The firepower is then expected to be concentrated on Islamic State and other jihadists.

How will it be monitored?

A Task Force will be set up, co-chaired by Moscow and Washington, which will “promote compliance and rapidly de-escalate tensions,” serve as an arbiter to “resolve allegations of non-compliance,” and refer “persistent” truce-breakers to senior officials to “determine appropriate action, including the exclusion of such parties from the arrangements of the cessation of hostilities.” A direct hotline will be set up between Moscow and Washington to avoid internal squabbles and improve contact inside the Task Force. The statement also leaves a role for public institutions and journalists in keeping the peace, promising that the ceasefire “will be monitored in an impartial and transparent manner and with broad media coverage.”

President - Putin: Syrian truce is real chance to end bloodshed

A ceasefire in Syria will come into effect on February 27, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, said in a special address, in which he also expressed hope that all of the warring parties will support the action plan agreed upon by Moscow and Washington.
The statement was first published on the Kremlin’s official website on Monday. This is the full text:
I just had a telephone conversation with President of the United States of America Barack Obama. The phone call was initiated by the Russian side, but the interest was certainly mutual.
During our conversation, we approved joint statements of Russia and the US, as co-chairs of the ISSG, on the cessation of hostilities in Syria. Adoption of the statement was preceded by intensive work by Russian and American experts. We also made use of the positive experience we accumulated over the course of cooperation in eliminating chemical weapons in Syria.

Our negotiators held several rounds of closed consultations. As a result, we were able to reach an important, specific result. It was agreed that the cessation of hostilities in Syria commences at 00:00 (Damascus time) on February 27, 2016 on terms and conditions that are a part of the Russian-American statement.
The essence of these conditions is as follows: by 12:00 pm on February 26, 2016, all parties warring in Syria must indicate to the Russian Federation or our American partners their commitment to the cessation of hostilities. Russian and American troops will jointly delineate the territories where these groups are active. No military action will be taken against them by the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, Russian Armed Forces and the US-led coalition. In turn, the opposition will cease all military action against the Armed Forces of the Syrian Arab Republic and other groups supporting them.
ISIS, Jabhat Al-Nursa, and other terrorist organisations designated by the United Nations Security Council, are excluded from the cessation of hostilities. Strikes against them will continue.
It is fundamentally important that Russia and the US, as co-chairs of the ISSG, are prepared to launch effective mechanisms to promote and monitor compliance with the ceasefire by both the Syrian Government and the armed opposition groups.
To achieve this goal, we will establish a communication hotline and, if necessary, a working group to exchange relevant information. Russia will conduct the necessary work with Damascus and the legitimate Syrian leadership. We expect that the United States will do the same with regard to their allies and the groups they support.
I am sure that the joint actions agreed upon with the American side will be enough to radically reverse the crisis situation in Syria. We are finally seeing a real chance to bring an end to the long-standing bloodshed and violence. As a result, humanitarian access to all Syrian citizens in need should be made easier.
Most important is the creation of conditions for launching a long-term political process through a broad inter-Syrian dialogue in Geneva, under the auspices of the UN.
Unfortunately, recent history has many examples where one-sided actions not sanctioned by the UN, which favour short-term political or opportunistic interests, have led to dramatic results. These examples are on everyone’s lips: Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Yemen.
Against this background, Russian-American agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and their joint implementation in coordination with all nations participating in the International Syria Support Group, can become an example of responsible actions the global community takes against the threat of terrorism, which are based on international law and UN principles.
I would like to hope that the Syrian leadership and all our partners in the region and beyond will support the set of actions chosen by representatives of Russia and the US.

Music Video - Rihanna - Work (Explicit) ft. Drake

Video Report - After Bush v. Gore

The dramatic controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election led to sweeping voting reforms, but opened the door to a new set of problems that continue to impact elections today.

Hillary Clinton Receives Unanimous Endorsement from Columbus City Council

Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton has received an unanimous endorsement from members of the Columbus City Council.
“As a public servant, father, and Ohioan, I’m proud to join each of my colleagues on the Columbus City Council and endorse Hillary Clinton for president,” Columbus City Council President Zach Klein said.
Klein said he knows that Hillary Clinton is the only candidate capable of getting things done in Washington so Ohioans back home can get ahead and stay ahead.
“Hillary Clinton is a progressive who will fight for every American to have the equal opportunity to succeed, so students can afford college, and parents can put food on the table for their loved ones. That is why I urge every Columbus citizen to help move our country forward by voting for Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton has also received endorsements from Ohio politicians Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Joyce Beatty, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.

Video - President Obama Addresses the National Governors Association

#BlackHistoryMonth - 106 years old Virginia McLaurin fulfill her dream of meeting President Obama

Pakistan Teen Killed In 'Terror' Campaign Against Christian Women, Girls

Rights activists say Christian women and girls in Pakistan are facing a wave of terror that has already claimed at least one life and injured two others this year alone.

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) says the terror has included a January 13 deadly incident in the city of Lahore where three young Christian girls, identified as Kiran, 17, Shamroza, 18, and Sumble, 20, were approached at night while walking home by four allegedly drunk Muslim men in a car.

Because the girls refused their sexual advances the men became enraged to the point that the driver targeted them with the car, according to investigators. Kiran died after she landed on the hood of the car, which had increased in speed before coming to an abrupt halt. Christians said the teen was catapulted through the air before falling to the ground.

The two other women received severe injuries and broken bones, rights activists said.

"Women have a low status in Pakistan, but none more so than Christian women who find themselves under the grip or terror, especially after this attack." added Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA. "Evidence exists that some rogue imams declare that such acts of conversion through violence are rewarded in heaven, what a terrifying thought."


This isn't an isolated incident. Last year in November, American Center for Law and Justice affiliated group Organization for Legal Aid in Pakistan, reportedly prepared charges in the case of an 8-year-old Christian girl who was beaten and left naked on the streets by a Muslim family that wanted to punish her uncle for an interreligious relationship.

BPCA says it has started a petition for victims like Kiran, and set up a donations fund where people can financially contribute to the work that goes into helping Christian families.

"This act of violence should be met with the strong arm of the law. In any other nation the perpetrators would be arrested, convicted for murder and sentenced for a long term. In Pakistan, however, the poor go to prison and the wealthy commit whatever crime they wish with impunity. Violence against Christians is rarely
investigated and highly unlikely to be met with justice," Chowdhry complained.

Additionally the BCPA says it has written to the British Embassy and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, both in Pakistan's capital Islamabad, urging them to give a persecuted Christian mother of three a humanitarian visa and "allow her safety in the West".

Fouzia Sadiq, 30, was allegedly abducted by a Muslim man who forced her to marry him and "convert" to Islam following an impromptu request for cleaning services at his home on July 23 2015. "Two days ago Fouzia Sadiq with the help of her brother Paris, was able to escape the clutches of Muhammed Nazir, 60, who
had tortured, raped and subjected her to a life of personal servitude."


BosNewsLife published the names of the victim and suspect as they were already publicly identified.

At least 700 Christian women and girls in Pakistan are abducted, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year – almost two a day, according to Christian rights groups.

Some of them have been accused of blasphemy against Islam, including Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been on death row for nearly six years and faces execution by hanging under the country's controversial blasphemy legislation.

Advocacy and aid group Open Doors says these and other incidents contributed to its decision to place the Asian nation number 8 on its annual World Watch List of 50 countries where it says Christians face severe persecution.

Pakistan - NAB criticism

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) criticism of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) continues unabated, with Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif joining his brother Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif in voicing his disapproval of the watchdog organisation. Tersely, the CM warned NAB to “stay within its limits”, adding in the same breath that the government would not allow any department to influence “projects of national importance”. Shahbaz Sharif was of course responding to NAB’s recent interest in auditing the CM’s pet projects, i.e. the Metro Bus Service and the Orange Line Metro Train. With this latest statement, it has become manifestly clear what was behind the sudden change of tone of the PM and the ruling PML-N vis-à-vis NAB.

The controversy began on February 16 when PM Sharif, while making a speech in Bahawalpur, took aim at NAB and warned it against the “wrongful persecution” of ‘honest’ government employees, stating that the watchdog had been descending on the offices and houses of innocent people, harassing and discrediting them under the guise of ensuring accountability. This rebuke was surprising to many, and started a still ongoing debate about the nature of accountability and the need for an empowered watchdog organisation. The surprising aspect about the PM’s criticism was precisely its novelty — for multiple months the PML-N leadership dismissed similar concerns and allegations of an overreaching NAB and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) expressed by leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the government of Sindh. The Sharif brothers and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had steadfastly rejected criticism that federal organisations were targeting the governments of other provinces. Chaudhry Nisar even went as far as to threaten governor’s rule in Sindh if the provincial government persisted in passing legislation that curbed the powers of Rangers and the FIA to raid government and party offices without a warrant. But now that the shoe is on the other foot and Punjab and PML-N officials have come under scrutiny, the federal government has predictably altered its stance and opened itself to fresh accusations of having double standards.

Attempts are underway to curb the powers of NAB and clip its wings; given the history of the PML-N’s respect for parliamentary procedures it is likely that the government will once again employ the steamroller. NAB’s response to the criticism has been mixed; on the one hand the NAB chairman has taken a deferential tone, almost meekly apologising to the PM, while on the other hand there are reports emerging that NAB is set to continue its investigations and unearth reports regarding mega scams that are bound to embarrass and anger the government, as well as the PPP. As such, the PPP and PML-N once again find themselves converged on the same side of a thorny issue. Since it can provide support to the PML-N in its endeavours to change the standard operating procedures of NAB, the PPP is jumping at the opportunity and using these developments to push for a judicial inquiry.

Discussions of double standards and political opportunism aside, the NAB episode has once again brought the topic of accountability to the forefront. For instance, the Orange Line Metro Train as well as CM Sharif’s other mega infrastructure projects that take up a substantial amount of public resources have proved to be deeply divisive and contentious. By most accounts, the CM is assailed on all corners for belligerently pursuing such projects without seeking consensus. In this sense, it is imperative that such projects are scrutinised and audited so that the public is aware of how funds are being spent and directed. Principled arguments in favour of accountability aside, it is also useful to be mindful of the reality and history of NAB and other accountability drives in Pakistan. The entire concept of accountability is tainted by a history of political targeting and score settling. The scope of accountability is limited only to politicians. For ‘accountability’ to be authentic it should encompass politicians, bureaucrats, judges and generals equally. To solve this problem, it is imperative under the given circumstances to have a parliamentary committee overseeing NAB’s affairs. 


Federal Interior Ministry has asked the interior ministry of Punjab for details regarding extremist groups, including Daesh, in accordance with NAP. Security agencies have started collecting the data about mosques, Imambargahs and people living on rent in Punjab, in order to ensure security in the province and a major operation is also expected in Punjan during the month of March.
According to online sources, Punjab government has started collecting all the details regarding extremist organizations, mosques, imambargahs and people living on rent in Punjab, upon directives of federal interior ministry, in order to ensure implementation of NAP and citizens have been directed to submit complete details in police stations within two weeks’ time. Serious measures would be taken against those who try to hide the details or would not submit it within the designated time.
Sources told that the details include number of citizens, proof of residence, details of people living on rent, number of people studying and residing in mosques and madarsas, complete addresses of offices and details about bank accounts.
Sources also told that a major operation is also expected in Punjab during the month of March under the NAP for which security agencies will be provided with all the material. Rangers will also take part in the operation.

US drones target jihadist ‘hideouts’ in Pakistan’s tribal areas


The US targeted a jihadist safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal agency of Kurram today. The drone strike, which possibly targeted the Haqqani Network, is just the second reported inside Pakistan this year.
The remotely piloted Reapers fired four missiles at “suspected militant hideouts,” according to Dawn. Three jihadist encampments and two vehicles were destroyed in the airstrike. Additionally, “three suspected militants,” whose identities were not disclosed, were killed during the US attack, Xinhua reported.
The strike took place in the Shahidano Dhand area in Kurram. US drones rarely target jihadists outside of the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan.
Haqqani Network operates in Kurram
While the target of the strike has not been disclosed, the Haqqani Network – a Taliban subgroup closely allied with al Qaeda which operates in both Pakistan and Afghanistan – is known to shelter in Kurram. The Haqqanis also are supported by Pakistan’s military and the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
The Haqqani Notwork moved its base of operations from North Waziristan to Kurram after the Pakistani military launched an operation against select jihadist groups in June 2014. The Haqqanis were not targeted in the Pakistani military operation, despite claims to the contrary. No Haqqani commanders have been killed or captured since the operation was launched.
The US has targeted the Haqqani Network in many drone strikes inside Pakistan since first launching the program in 2004. Of the 391 strikes recorded by The Long War Journal, at least 93 have focused on the Haqqanis or took place in areas administered by the group.
Several top Haqqani leaders have been killed by the US inside Pakistan, including Badruddin Haqqani – the top deputy and a brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operational commander of the network who is also the deputy emir of the Taliban. The last Haqqani commander reportedly killed inside Pakistan wasAbdullah Haqqani, who served as the group’s director of suicide operations for Pakistan.
Strikes in Pakistan continue to taper off
Today’s drone attack in Kurram is just the second recorded inside Pakistan in 2016. On Jan. 9, the US issaid to have killed five members of the al Qaeda-linked Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in a strike in South Waziristan.
Drone strikes have dramatically tapered off since reaching their peak in 2010, with 117 recorded by The Long War Journal. The US launched 64 the following year, 46 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 24 in 2014, and 11 in 2015.
One explanation for the reduction in strikes is that US intelligence officials have claimed that al Qaeda, a primary target of the program, has been “decimated” and “neutralized” in Pakistan and Afghanistan and its global operations have been rendered ineffective. However the data does not support these assertions. For instance, al Qaeda is know to have operated at least three training camps in Afghanistan in 2015, including a massive facility that covered 30 square miles. The existence of these camps was only disclosed after US military officials reported on raids against two camps in Shorabak.
Al Qaeda has responded to the US drone campaign, which is primarily focused on North and South Waziristan (of the 391 strikes, only 21 have taken place outside of these two tribal agencies), by moving personnel to other locations. Osama bin Laden directed that al Qaeda move key personnel from Waziristan into Afghan provinces. Additionally, al Qaeda maintains a large footprint inside Pakistan, far from the tribal agencies.

From Egypt to Indonesia, all Islamic nations must learn from Pakistan’s mistakes

Farahnaz Ispahani
When Pakistan was founded in 1947, its secular founding fathers did not speak of an Islamic state.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, recognized as Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader), clearly declared that non-Muslims would be equal citizens in the new country. Reflecting his secular views, Jinnah—himself a Shia—nominated a Hindu, several Shias and an Ahmadi to Pakistan’s first cabinet. Now, non-Muslim representation at the Cabinet level is limited to symbolic appointments, while Shias face smear campaigns from Sunni Muslims that declare them non-Muslims. And the Ahmadis—who were some of Jinnah’s most ardent supporters in his quest for a Muslim homeland on the subcontinent—are completely unrepresented; they live as virtual outcasts in modern Pakistan.

In his famous speech of 11 August 1947, Jinnah had stated that, in order to make Pakistan ‘happy and prosperous’, every person living in the country, ‘no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, [should be] first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations’. His speech advanced the case for a secular, albeit Muslim-majority, Pakistan: ‘I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community … will vanish.’

Jinnah also declared,

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.
The vision outlined by Pakistan’s founder remains unfulfilled. Indeed, it appears further from realization than at any time since this hopeful declaration of religious pluralism was made. At the time of partition in 1947, almost 23% of Pakistan’s population (which then included Bangladesh) comprised non-Muslim citizens. The proportion of non-Muslims has since fallen to approximately 3%.
Furthermore, the distinctions among Muslim denominations have become far more accentuated over the years. Muslim groups such as the Shias, which account for approximately 20-25% of Pakistan’s Muslim population, are often targeted by violent extremists. Ahmadis, barely 1% of the Muslim population, have been declared non-Muslim by the writ of the state. Non-Muslim minorities such as Christians, Hindus and Sikhs have been the victims of suicide bomb attacks on their neighbourhoods, and their community members have been converted to Islam against their will. Houses of worship of non-Muslims as well as of Muslim minority sects have been attacked and bombed while filled with worshippers.

Pakistan has descended to its current state of religious intolerance through a series of political decisions by Jinnah’s successors. The descent began in 1949 with the Constituent Assembly declaring the objective of Pakistan’s Constitution to be the creation of an Islamic state. It reached a nadir with the ‘Islamization’ drive under General Zia during the 1980s. Now, the country is dealing with armed militias and terrorist groups—many of which were sponsored by the state under the Zia regime and in the civil and military governments since—each intent on imposing its version of Islam by violent means.

Pakistan’s most prominent human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, warns that the worst is yet to come. ‘Past experience has shown that the Islamists gain space when civilian authority weakens,’ she pointed out in an article a few years ago. ‘The proliferation of arms and official sanction for jihad have made militant groups a frightening challenge for the government. Pakistan’s future remains uncertain and its will to fight against rising religious intolerance is waning.’ The purpose of examining Pakistan’s embrace of religious extremism is not revealed merely in the recognition of the country’s ill treatment of its religious minorities.

In the context of a Muslim world comprising a youthful population of somewhere in the order of 1.4 billion people, it is equally critical to note the actions of state-sponsored organizations or extremist groups against religious minorities in all Muslim countries. Attacks on religious minorities occur in several Muslim-majority nations, from Egypt to Indonesia, just as they do in Pakistan. But as Pakistan is the first country to declare itself an Islamic republic in modern times, the study of Pakistan’s handling of its minorities can be a helpful guide in understanding and anticipating the threats that would arise wherever Islamist militancy is on the ascendant.