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Islamic World News ( 16 March 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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BJP Must Give Us Justice for Vote: Triple Talaq Victim

New Age Islam News Bureau

16 March 2017

Claire Blackman (centre L), wife of imprisoned marine Alexander Blackman, reacts as she poses for a photograph with supporters and members of her legal team on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice in central London on March 15, 2017. / AFP / ADRIAN DENNIS


 BJP Must Give Us Justice for Vote: Triple Talaq Victim

 Israel Imposes 'Apartheid Regime' On Palestinians: UN Report

 ‘All of Us Were ISIS Human Shields’: Survivors of Mosul Siege

 Islamic Cleric Threatens To Sue T.B. Joshua for Calling Jesus God

 Turkish FM Warns Of ‘Holy Wars’ In Europe in Remarks on Dutch Elections



 Two Islamic State Suspects Arrested In Manipur

 Pakistan becoming world’s terrorism factory: India at UNHRC

 'Modi certainly doesn't exclude Muslims from governance'

 India fast-tracks hydro projects in Kashmir

 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor challenge to India's sovereignty'

 Jammu and Kashmir: Withdraw AFSPA from some areas, says Mehbooba Mufti



 UK Soldier Wins Appeal of Taliban War Crime Conviction

 German Prosecutors Charge Man with Islamic State Membership

 Dutch anti-Islam politician Wilders promises firm opposition

 Cross purposes: Activists in German town protest mosque construction with crucifixes

 Muslims slam EU court’s Hijab ban

 Pope warns of ‘very grave sin’ when jobs are cut unjustly


Arab World

 Syria: At Least 30 Dead in Suicide Attacks in Damascus

 Soldier Killed By Shia ‘Terrorist Elements’ In Saudi Arabia

 Iraq car bombing: At least seven killed in Tikrit, say police

 Paramilitary forces kill 2 Islamic State members in western Mosul

 Chinese President Receives Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and hold official talks

 King Salman: Islamic World Challenges Require More Solidarity among Muslims

 Syrian Soldiers Clash Fiercely with ISIL in Eastern Aleppo, Repel Terrorists' Attack

 Al-Nusra Suffers Heavy Casualties in Field Attack on Syrian Army positions in Eastern Damascus

 Syrian President's Advisor: Turkey Facing Consequences of Wrong Policies in Region

 Majority of ISIL Terrorists Escape from Raqqa City to Eastern Syria

 Syria: Terrorists Withdraw from More Strongholds in Eastern Damascus

 Syrian Army Scores More Victories against ISIL in Eastern Homs



 Morocco’s King Mohammed VI Replaces PM Amid Post-Election Deadlock



 ‘Despicable Lie & Smear’: Israel Fires Back at UN’s ‘Apartheid Regime’ Report

 DM: Iran to Forcefully Increase Armed Forces' Combat, Operational Power in New Year

 Belgium rejects visa applications of Turkish imams



 Once Hit By Terror, Balochistan Becoming 'Economic Tiger of Pakistan': Nawaz

 Pakistan Set To Declare Gilgit-Baltistan as Fifth Province

 Pakistan launches first population census in 19 years amid tight security

 Pakistan rejects report about deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia

 Aziz discusses terror issue with Afghan NSA in London

 Interpol help sought to curb blasphemy online

 PM cautions against speculation about Panamagate case verdict

 11 Afghan nationals arrested in joint search operations: ISPR

 Pak-Afghan border tensions costing millions


South Asia

 Four ISIS-Linked Militants Killed In Raid in Bangladesh-Police

 Three Islamic Militants Blow Themselves Up In Bangladesh

 Taliban Leaders among 36 Killed In Latest Airstrikes In Helmand

 Women empowerment crucial for peace in Afghanistan: India

 No evidence hospital attack was insider job: Afghan defence ministry

 Jundullah’s explosives expert and Taliban’s key commander arrested in Samangan

 US Embassy says Afghan visa holders can visit US, rejects travel ban rumours


North America

 Trump: Assimilation of Muslims To Be Very Difficult In Western Countries

 President Trump Suffers Second Defeat as Revised Travel Ban on Hold

 Trade war will hurt US firms first, China says

 US plans for Syria include another 1,000 troops: US official


Southeast Asia

 Danger Rises as Foreign Conflicts Spill Over Into Malaysia

 Dozens killed in fresh clashes on Myanmar’s China border

 Myanmar refugees may be hurt most by Donald Trump resettlement cuts

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





BJP Must Give Us Justice for Vote: Triple Talaq Victim

Mar 16, 2017

Pankul Sharma

BAREILLY: Atiya Sabari, a Saharanpur woman who had approached the Supreme Court challenging triple Talaq given on a piece of paper by her husband, said she had voted for the BJP and now it was the party's turn to bring justice to women whose lives had "become hell" due to the Sharia law. She told TOI that thousands of Muslim women in circumstances similar to hers had supported the saffron party, and now awaited justice.

While expressing delight over the BJP's unprecedented mandate in UP, Sabari said, "Triple Talaq is a nightmare for any Muslim woman. Our Prime Minister had showed all Muslim women a ray of hope by saying that the practice should be opposed. So we voted for him and his party. I am extremely glad with BJP's remarkable victory in the state and I believe that the time has come for all Muslim women to get justice." She added that her entire family and relatives too had voted for the party.

In her petition to the apex court in January, the 30-year-old woman had made Darul Uloom seminary a party alleging it did not hear her before issuing a fatwa validating triple talaq. She had also made her ex-husband, in-laws and the Union government parties in her petition. The SC had asked the attorney general to file a consolidated submission of all such cases by March 30.



Israel Imposes 'Apartheid Regime' On Palestinians: UN Report

REUTERS 16 March 2017

A UN agency published a report on Wednesday accusing Israel of imposing an "apartheid regime" of racial discrimination on the Palestinian people, and said it was the first time a UN body had clearly made the charge.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman likened the report, which was published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), to Der Sturmer a Nazi propaganda publication that was strongly anti-Semitic.

The report concluded "Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole."

The accusation often directed at Israel by its critics is fiercely rejected by Israel.

UN Under-Secretary General and ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf said the report was the "first of its type" from a UN body that "clearly and frankly concludes that Israel is a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people".

ESCWA comprises 18 Arab states in Western Asia and aims to support economic and social development in member states, according to its website. The report was prepared at the request of member states, Khalaf said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York that the report was published without any prior consultation with the UN secretariat.

"The report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general (Antonio Guterres)," said Dujarric, adding that the report itself notes that it reflects the views of the authors.

The United States, an ally of Israel, said it was outraged by the report.

"The United Nations secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether," the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in a statement.

The Israeli ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, commenting on Twitter, also noted the report had not been endorsed by the UN secretary-general.

"The attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie," Israel's UN Ambassador Danny Danon said in a statement.

The report said it had established on the "basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid."

"However, only a ruling by an international tribunal in that sense would make such an assessment truly authoritative," it added.

The report said the "strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people" was the main method through which Israel imposes apartheid, with Palestinians divided into four groups oppressed through "distinct laws, policies and practices."

It identified the four sets of Palestinians as: Palestinian citizens of Israel; Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and Palestinians living as refugees or in exile.

ESCWA hoped the report would inform further deliberations on the root causes of the problem in the United Nations, among member states, and in society, Khalaf said at an event to launch the report at ESCWA's Beirut headquarters.

It was authored by Richard Falk, a former UN human rights investigator for the Palestinian territories, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University.

Before leaving his post as UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories in 2014, Falk said Israeli policies bore unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

The United States accused him of being biased against Israel.



‘All of Us Were ISIS Human Shields’: Survivors of Mosul Siege

16 Mar, 2017

The battle for Mosul has taken a heavy toll on civilians struggling to escape the crossfire between ISIS and the Iraqi army, survivors have told RT’s Murad Gazdiev. U.S and Iraqi officials, however, cannot evaluate the casualties, citing a lack of “visibility” on the situation.

A hospital in Erbil has received as many as 120 wounded every day since the beginning of the operation to retake western Mosul from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Injured civilians, who managed to escape the ongoing bloodshed are being treated in the hospital, but many others have died trying to do so. The RT crew visited the busy facility and heard the chilling tales of survival and daring escapes from the city.

Civilians are suffering at the hands of the both warring sides — as IS terrorists deliberately hide among them in order to attract US-backed coalition strikes and thus inflict as many casualties as possible among the population.

“We were five families together when ISIS fighters came to our house and went on the roof. We asked to be allowed to leave– we knew a jet would bomb the house, but they said no,” an injured man told RT. “The Iraqi army came and shot at our house with an Abrams tank. Seven civilians were killed and their bodies are still there. Everyone else fled —children, women, people with injuries — everyone ran where they could.”

“If ISIS has one great talent – it is their ability to kill people. If they take an area with a population of a thousand, in six months there will only be 500 left,” the man added. “Ask anyone in this hospital — and every single one will tell you that we were ISIS’s human shield.”

“The Iraqi soldiers didn’t know people were in the house. When they get shot at — they respond with fire. So when ISIS started shooting at them, they shoot back,” an Iraqi man said.

Many of those who managed to escape the carnage have paid a heavy price.

“We ran out of our home, and the army came to drive us away. When we got out of the cars, the shells started falling,” a girl in a wheelchair told RT.

Her legs were sprayed by shrapnel, but she got off lightly, compared to her mother. The woman has lost her eye, an arm and the ability to walk after being hit in an IS shelling, but the loss of relatives pains her the most.

“All I remember is everyone laying on the ground, covered in blood. I think my brother and his son were killed. They tell me they’re OK… but I’m his sister. I can feel it,” she said. “Perhaps I committed some sin to deserve this. But I don’t know what I did, I just don’t know…”

Besides the IS mortar and artillery shelling, US-led coalition airstrikes also cause heavy suffering among Mosul's civilians, according to survivors.

“We heard regularly of airstrikes hitting civilians. We ourselves spent two weeks on the floor, with the windows covered, so that no one would see us,” the maimed woman added.

A prominent Iraqi politician, Khamis Khanjar, warned the US-backed coalition on Monday that attempts to accelerate the battle would lead only to a surge in civilian deaths.

At least 3,500 civilians have already perished in west Mosul since the beginning of the latest offensive, according to Khanjar, who noted that most of the casualties have been inflicted by incessant coalition airstrikes and shelling.

“There were heavy casualties due to speeding up of military operations and we see this as a big mistake and residents who we are in touch with have much more fear than in the past of the ongoing military operations,” Reuters quoted Khanjar as saying. “We hope the US-led coalition doesn’t hurry up in this way without taking into consideration the human lives.”

US officials, however, could neither verify nor debunk these shocking figures, voiced by the Iraqi politician. The spokesman for the US State Department, Mark Toner, admitted that Washington has little data on what is really happening in Mosul.

“I just don’t have any kind of visibility on these exact allegations,” Toner told RT’s correspondent Gayane Chichakyan.

A lack of verified accounts, however, never prevented US officials from condemning reports of civilian sufferings and casualties during the Aleppo liberation. As many human rights advocates have noted, western mainstream media has also followed a similar pattern, citing all kinds of questionable sources to report casualties allegedly skyrocketing among eastern Aleppo residents.

The Mosul operation gets completely different coverage in the media than the Aleppo liberation did, as civilian losses and hardships are muffled, Bolivian documentary filmmaker and director of the “The Voice of Syria” Carla Ortiz told RT.

“Whatever the media was covering 24/7 was basically on every wrong move that the Syrian Army, or Russia, or Iran were making. Of course, there were many casualties as well because that’s why it’s a war,” Ortiz said. “But I think about Mosul we don’t have much information about what is really happening. There’s a lot of silence about it, and if you want to find out you have to really go deep in.”



Islamic Cleric Threatens To Sue T.B. Joshua for Calling Jesus God

16th March 2017

A Muslim cleric and front-line Islamic lecturer, Sheikh Hussaini Yusuf Mabera, has threatened to drag renowned Nigerian Pastor Trmitope Joshua to court.

In a message he shared on his Facebook wall, Mabera berated the pastor for regularly describing Jesus Christ as God.

He wrote: “I am filing a case to the Federal High Court of Nigeria against Pastor T.B. Joshua and co-pastors for speaking a lie against Jesus Christ by calling him God.”

The Islamic teacher said he regularly watched Joshua’s popular television channel Emmanuel TV, wondering why the prophet should address Jesus as God in front of thousands of his listeners.

He added: “I was completely aghast when I heard the ‘so-called’ Prophet T.B. Joshua of Emmanuel TV calling Jesus God in the presence of thousands of his audience, among whom were professors, doctors, reverend fathers and mothers, pastors and bishops.”

Sheikh Mabera said from his own findings, the Bible itself has so many evidences contradicting the belief that Jesus Christ is a spirit being.

Mabera, who owns an Islamic school where he trains other Muslims in the art of defending their faith, continued that T.B. Joshua and his ilk lacked “proper understanding” of Scriptural truths.

“As I was watching T.B. Joshua speaking through Emmanuel TV and his audience helplessly watching and listening to his accumulated lies and unfounded praise-singing directed at Jesus, I almost cried with automatic alacrity when he said that Jesus is Almighty God.

“My conclusion was that both TB Joshua and other Christians actually read their Bible without proper understanding of what they are reading”, he claimed.

Islamic cleric threatens court action against T.B Joshua for calling Jesus God

The fiery Islamic advocate then quoted several Scriptures to support his claims that Jesus Christ was a “servant of God”, not God Himself.

“There are millions of facts from the Scriptures and other rational facts that authentically proved that Jesus does not have even the least qualification of being God,” he opined.

Mabera ended his post by declaring that Joshua was “deceiving and misguiding” his “innocent followers” with “preposterous lies.

“Let us meet in the court of law and debate it out. Enough is Enough”, he declared.



Turkish FM Warns Of ‘Holy Wars’ In Europe in Remarks on Dutch Elections


Europe will soon be the site of “holy wars,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on March 16, in Ankara’s first comment on the general elections in the Netherlands that saw the victory of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal VVD.

“Now the election is over in the Netherlands ... When you look at the many parties you see there is no difference between the social democrats and fascist [Geert] Wilders. All have the same mentality. Where will you go? Where are you taking Europe? You have begun to collapse Europe. You are dragging Europe into the abyss. Holy wars will soon begin in Europe,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Meanwhile, French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron hailed the election defeat of far-right Dutch candidate Geert Wilders on March 16 as a win for 'progressives', but there was no immediate reaction from his rival Marine Le Pen.

"The Netherlands is showing us that a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum," said Macron, 39, who pledges to modernize French politics and transcend traditional left-versus-right divisions.





Two Islamic State suspects arrested in Manipur

16 March 2017

Assam Rifles have arrested two Islamic State suspects from a border town in Manipur, police sources said on Thursday.

The arrests were made at a border check post at Khudengthabi along the Trans Asian Highway No 1 on March 14 when the suspects were proceeding towards Imphal from the border town of Moreh.

The two were identified as Nazir Mohammad and Abu Bakir who told police that they were from Tamil Nadu.

The Assam Rifles personnel recovered 14 SIM cards and some handsets, besides Rs 75,130 in Indian currency and a huge amount in foreign currencies.

The two told police that they left Kolkata on March 9 and travelled through Assam and reached Dimapur railway station in Nagaland on March 10.

They then came to Imphal from where they went to Moreh. They further told police that this was their second visit to Manipur.

The police said they were investigating the real purpose of their visit and what they did in the border town.



Pakistan becoming world’s terrorism factory: India at UNHRC

It's (Pakistan) continued support for terror groups in J&K is main challenge to protecting human rights of our citizens in the state, said India.

March 16, 2017

“We ask Pakistan to stop inciting and supporting violence and terrorism in any part of India and refrain from meddling in our internal affairs in any manner,” the official said.

Calling Pakistan a terrorism factory, India on Wednesday lashed out at the neighbouring country saying its terror policies have alienated its own people through continued mistreatment of minorities. In the United Nation, India accused Pakistan of spreading terrorism and illegally occupying some territories in Kashmir.

Exercising its right to reply during a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the Indian Representative said Pakistan must rein in its “compulsive hostility” towards India. “We ask Pakistan to stop inciting and supporting violence and terrorism in any part of India and refrain from meddling in our internal affairs in any manner,” the official said.

India Slams Pakistan At UNHRC, Calls It A Terrorism Factory

Once again Pakistan’s delegation has chosen to misuse the Council to make fallacious references about internal matters pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir, the diplomat said.

Emphasising that terrorism is the grossest violation of human rights and should be so acknowledged by any impartial and objective observer, the Indian side said a part of the territories of Jammu and Kashmir remain under the forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan. “We also demand that Pakistan must fulfil its obligation to vacate illegal occupation of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK),” the diplomat said.

“It is unfortunate that in recent times the people of PoK have become victims of sectarian conflict, terrorism and extreme economic hardship because of Pakistan’s occupation and discriminatory policies,” the Indian side said.

“The Indian state of J&K is part of a pluralistic and secular democracy, where an independent judiciary, an active media and a vibrant civil society guarantee freedoms. In contrast, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is administered by a ‘deep state’ and has become a hub for the global export of terror,” the diplomat said.

The Indian side asserted that India does not accept attempts by Pakistan to denigrate the democratic choice that has been regularly exercised by the people of J&K over the last six decades since our independence. “Pakistan’s continued support for terror groups operating in J&K is the main challenge to protecting the human rights of our citizens in the State. Pakistan’s selective approach in tackling terror groups operating outside Pakistan and within, despite the numerous solemn promises made underscores the continuing unwillingness to acknowledge the truth,” the Indian Representative said.

The Indian side said apart from becoming “world’s terrorism factory”, Pakistan has alienated its own people through continued mistreatment of Hindus, Christians, Shias, Ahmadiyas and other minorities.

“In this Council, Pakistan has referred to situation of minorities in India. Minorities in India have been Prime Ministers, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, senior Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, cricket team captains, Bollywood superstars-can the minorities of Pakistan claim even a shadow of this? All they have are blasphemy laws and relentless abuse and violation of their human rights,” the Indian side said.



'Modi certainly doesn't exclude Muslims from governance'

March 16, 2017

Uttar Pradesh turned saffron on March 11 when the Bharatiya Janata Party won an astounding 312 seats in the 403-seat assembly.

Poll pundits were scratching their heads trying to decipher the triumph. For Dr A K Verma, director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur, Modi's victory wasn't much of a surprise.

Dr Verma explains to's Syed Firdaus Ashraf the implications of the victory for the BJP and where the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are headeded from here.

What's your take on the UP results?

Much of the results were on expected lines. We had anticipated a clear majority for the BJP. We were predicting the BJP would cross 'Mission 265,' but we weren't expecting this kind of victory -- crossing 300 seats.

How come few anticipated this Modi electoral tsunami?

No, it is not like that. I had written in the Economic and Political Weekly on December 31, 2016, about a third democratic upsurge in Uttar Pradesh.

In this democratic upsurge my hypothesis was there is a massive OBC (Other Backward Classes) shift towards the BJP, a very substantial shift of MBCs (Most Backward Castes) towards the BJP and a miniscule Muslim shift towards the BJP. That was published in EPW. We had no doubt about this wave.

What was the reason for this third upsurge of voters for the BJP?

One reason was that the marginal sections like the more backward and most backward sections had become disillusioned with identity politics.

They were actually craving for aspirational politics and they wanted development. They had enough of identity politics.

Identity politics did not bring in substantial and qualitative change in their lifestyles.

There was dissatisfaction.

Post 2014, the BJP was supported by all social denominations. The BJP sensed that it is not difficult to access all these marginalised sections which was earlier not in the BJP's constituency.

So they started wooing them and they wooed them very well.

First, they tried to rope them in Delhi's basic structure. They accommodated people like Anupriya Patel, in the Modi ministry.

They then appointed the most backward category person -- Keshav Prasad Maurya -- as president of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

They also gave some Dalit representation in Modi's ministry.

They tried to capture this resentment of these marginalised people.

The masterstroke was that while allocating tickets to BJP candidates they avoided 40 per cent tickets to the more backwards and the most backward sections, a share which the OBC has in the population of Uttar Pradesh.

Therefore, by integrating them both in the leadership structure and representation in assembly seats they captured UP.

The Modi government gave M J Akbar representation in the prestigious external affairs ministry. To say, the BJP is not giving tickets to Muslims is unfair.

The Opposition says communal polarisation led to the BJP win.

I think it would be unfair to the electorate of UP to say that it was communal polarisation because many people will not understand and accept that several Muslims voted for Modi.

Young educated Muslim women and lot of Muslims from the Terai belt areas openly said they will vote for the BJP because of the triple talaq issue.

In Fatehpur constituency, we found lots of Muslims supporting demonetisation.

On the ground, we found that the Muslim psyche was changing towards the BJP and it is unfair to call it communal polarisation.

The BJP did not field a single Muslim candidate. Modi spoke of qabristan and shamshan at his rallies. Swami Adityanath was campaigning on communal lines.

Don't you think we need strong evidence to show that Muslims voted for Modi in UP?

This is actually the general perception of people from outside Uttar Pradesh.

How can the BJP give Muslim candidate tickets if they don't have any good Muslim candidates?

I understand that the BJP wasn't doing any tokenism as far as Muslim representation is considered, but they certainly don't exclude Muslims from governance.

The Modi government gave M J Akbar representation in the prestigious external affairs ministry. There are other Muslim members in the Modi Cabinet.

To say the BJP is not giving tickets to Muslims is unfair.

I think the more the BJP becomes proactive in reaching out to Muslims, the greater would be the representation of Muslims in the BJP.

What was the change in the minds of the Muslims with regard to the BJP and Modi?

I do not know what is their perception and what is their frame, but certainly Muslims are happy at the grassroot level.

There are certain things which are going on at the grassroot level and the BJP's Muslim outreach is happening at the grassroot level.

The politics of communal polarisation is tokenism because you see the counter question -- are the parties which followed and pursued the politics of secularisation how Muslims look at them?

You see the result -- there is vehement rejection of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati and that speaks for itself of the changing Muslim perception about the BJP.

What went wrong with the Samajwadi Party? Did Congress become a burden for them?

From the very beginning, you have been talking to me about this and I have been telling you that the entire business (the family feud between Mulayam Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav) is structured and choreographed and it was going to be devastating for the SP.

People came to realise it was all a drama.

There was nothing wrong in the alliance for the Congress, but the Samajwadi Party tying up with the Congress was suicidal.

Secondly, the SP has always flourished on anti-Congress sentiments. So it couldn't explain the U-turn on the Congress.

The Socialist Party was founded on anti-Congress sentiments by Ram Manohar Lohia and he happened to be the only guide for the Samajwadi Party.

This party could never explain why it has come so close to the Congress.

Akhilesh was running a good government with a majority. By ceding 105 seats to the Congress, Akhilesh triggered a revolt in 105 constituencies. These candidates openly opposed the Congress.

The Bihar model did not take place in Uttar Pradesh because the Congress was nowhere near power since 1989. This, Akhilesh failed to realise.

The way they campaigned lacked any seriousness. It was all allegations and a reactionary campaign. They could not sell their development politics.

The caste factor and Muslim polarisation worked for Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar against the BJP in Bihar. Why did it not work for Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi in UP?

It is crystal clear. In Bihar, Lalu and Nitish were in power for so many years. They could also energise their cadres and get their votes transferred, but in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress had no cadre.

Whatever premise was there about the transfer of votes was absolutely flawed because Muslims or Yadavs were not interested in transferring their votes to the Congress and therefore they fared so badly.

The Congress has no stake in Uttar Pradesh; there was nothing wrong in the alliance for the Congress, but Samajwadi tying up with the Congress was suicidal.

What went wrong with Mayawati?

Since 2012, Mayawati has distanced herself from Uttar Pradesh and nursed national ambitions.

The Dalits of UP realised she is not interested in state politics.

Secondly, most backward classes always thought that Mayawati was unfair to them and favoured the Jatav community more within Dalit society. Therefore, they were not happy with her.

The Brahmin component was completely marginalised after the Daya Shankar episode. Brahmins, Thakurs and upper castes did not vote for the BSP.

Mayawati went for Muslim votes thinking that social engineering is like mechanical engineering, but it is not.

Dalit-Muslim bonhomie at the grassroot level was never there and suddenly on the eve of elections it was not to be found.

If she wants Muslims and Dalits to come together she will have to work more on that for some time. Only then you can see the results.

Do you think if the BSP and SP do not form an alliance for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it will lead to a Modi sweep in UP, just like it happened in 2014?

As far as I understand, the coming of the SP and BSP won't happen in UP though nothing is impossible in politics.

The BSP and SP not only represent antithesis as far as the leadership of Mayawati and Mulayam is concerned, they also represent two social denominations, which are positioned against each other.

OBCs normally are looked as exploitative by Dalits as they own land in villages and are dominant people. Dalits work on fields.

So, there is an economic clash between the two communities and therefore it is difficult for them to come together.

Moreover, both are not interested in coming together, so it is difficult to see this in the future.

More importantly, people these days do not appreciate the politics of negativism. Two people coming to remove the BJP. This was demonstrated by the Congress and SP and it failed in UP.



India fast-tracks hydro projects in Kashmir

Mar 16, 2017

NEW DELHI: India has fast-tracked hydropower projects worth $15 billion in Kashmir in recent months, three central and state officials said, ignoring warnings from Islamabad that power stations on rivers flowing into Pakistan will disrupt water supplies.

The swift approval of projects that had languished for years came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested last year that sharing the waterways could be conditional on Pakistan clamping down on anti-India militants it shelters.

Pakistan has opposed+ some of these projects before, saying they violate a World Bank-mediated treaty on the sharing of the Indus river and its tributaries upon which 80 percent of its irrigated agriculture depends.

The schemes, the largest of which is the 1,856 MW Sawalkote plant, will take years to complete, but their approval could prove a flashpoint between the nuclear-armed neighbours at a time when relations are at a low ebb.

"I say the way you look at these projects, it is not purely a hydro project. Broaden it to a strategic water management, border management problem, and then you put in money," said Pradeep Kumar Pujari, the top ranking official in the power ministry.

Pakistan denies any involvement in terrorism in Kashmir and has repeatedly urged New Delhi to hold talks to decide the future of the region.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said he would confer with the Ministry of Water and Power on the proposed Indian projects, saying it was a technical matter.

He noted, however, that India would be attending a regular meeting of the Indus Commission later this month in Lahore, even though the broader peace dialogue was on hold.

"It seems that finally India has realized the importance of this mechanism under the IWT (Indus Waters Treaty) for resolving water disputes related to the Indus water and its tributaries," Zakaria said.


Six hydro projects in Kashmir either cleared viability tests or the more advanced environment and forest expert approvals in the last three months, two officials in India's Water Resources Ministry and the Central Electricity Authority said separately.

Together these projects on the Chenab river, a tributary of the Indus, would triple hydropower generation in Jammu and Kashmir from the current level of 3,000 MW, the biggest jump in decades, added the officials, declining to be named because the approvals had not yet been made public.

"We have developed barely one-sixth of the hydropower capacity potential in the state in the last 50 years," the senior official at the Water Resources Ministry said.

Pakistan's water supply is dwindling because of climate change, outdated farming techniques and an exploding population.

A 2011 report by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said New Delhi could use these projects as a way to control Pakistan's supplies from the Indus, seen as its jugular vein.

"The cumulative effect of these projects could give India the ability to store enough water to limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season," it said.

India says the projects are "run-of-the-river" schemes that use the river's flow and elevation to generate electricity rather than large reservoirs, and do not contravene the treaty.

Environmental groups have questioned whether the government has followed proper procedures in fast-tracking projects located in a highly seismic area.


Modi told a meeting of government officials on the Indus treaty last year that "blood and water cannot flow together", soon after Pakistan-based militants carried out a deadly attack on Kashmir last September.

Modi's message was two-fold, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said. Terrorism had to stop and India must fully utilise the economic potential available to it within the Indus treaty.

The projects that have won technical approvals in recent months are Sawalkote, Kwar, Pakal Dul, Bursar and Kirthai I and II.

Most of the projects have been held up for at least a decade awaiting multiple clearances. Sawalkote, which was cleared by a government-constituted environment committee in January, was first given techno-economic approval in 1991.

It is now up for forest clearance from the state authorities, after which the government will finalise financing and begin construction.

Some projects like Pakal Dul were stuck in litigation, but that has been resolved, Jammu and Kashmir's Power Minister Nirmal Singh told Reuters in the summer capital Srinagar. "Things are now in a position of take-off," he said.

In January, senior federal officials made a presentation on energy security to Modi in which they proposed interest subsidies and long-term loans for hydroprojects above 100 MW, according to the document seen by Reuters.

This is an effective step by PM Modi to stop militancy in Kashmir. Unless Pakistan is hit hard they will not come to terms.

But Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People, said some projects had been cleared without impact assessment studies and public consultation.

"It's on one river, the Chenab, where you are doing so many projects. This is a very vulnerable region. It's landslide-prone, it's flash flood-prone, earthquake-prone."



'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor challenge to India's sovereignty'

Rajat Pandit

Mar 16, 2017

NEW DELHI: India has expressed strong opposition to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor+ (CPEC) project, which is the key to Beijing's ambitious 'One-Belt, One-Road' initiative, even as it slammed Islamabad for not taking concrete steps to stop crossborder terrorism.

"The CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir challenges Indian sovereignty," said the Union defence ministry in its annual report submitted to Parliament on Wednesday.

In the past too, India has criticised the Chinese-funded CPEC, which links China's Muslim dominated Xinjiang province to the Gwadar deep-sea port+ in Pakistan, because it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in PoK, which New Delhi considers its own territory. During the G-20 summit at Hangzhou in September last year, PM Narendra Modi had expressed India's concerns over the CPEC in his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, holding that the two countries needed to be "sensitive" to each other's strategic interests.

Taking note of China's significant restructuring of its People's Liberation Army to boost its offensive military capabilities, the defence ministry also reiterated India's support for freedom of navigation and overflight, and unimpeached commerce, based on international laws in the contentious South China Sea.

New Delhi has taken to criticising Beijing's strongarm tactics in the South China Sea+ , even as it slowly but steadily builds military ties with countries like Vietnam, Malaysia and others locked in territorial disputes with China in the region.

"India undertakes various activities, including cooperation in the oil and gas sector, with littoral states of South China Sea (Vietnam, for instance)...India believes that states should resolve disputes through peaceful means....," said the MoD.

Turning to Pakistan, the MoD said: "Although the (Pakistani) military has made efforts to improve the security situation in the country, it has avoided taking action against jihadi and terror outfits that target Pakistan's neighbours."

"Support to such groups persists despite ongoing efforts by the international community, including India, to list the head of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammed, Masood Azhar, as an international terrorist," it added.

"Such outfits continued to be encouraged to infiltrate into India under the cover of massive cross-LoC and cross-border firing in J&K and other areas throughout the year.

China's hegemonic policy has to be challenged. Pakistan is selling land it does not have rights upon. POK issue has remained meaningless at the UN for far too long and with cross border terrorism inc... Read More

Pakistan-based terrorists attacked military bases in India, triggering an appropriate response by the Indian armed forces (the September 29 surgical strikes against terror launch pads in PoK)," it added.

As for the internal security situation in J&K, especially in the aftermath of the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani in July last year, the MoD said it is currently tense but under control. "Relentless counter-terrorist operations by the Army, along with other security forces, in the hinterland have thwarted the plans of Pakistan to give a fillip to the proxy war being waged against India," it said.



Jammu and Kashmir: Withdraw AFSPA from some areas, says Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba Mufti said, "We should not shy away from removing AFSPA when situation improves."

March 16, 2017

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday called for the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from some areas of her state. “We should not shy away from revocation of the AFSPA. When things improve, why not?” she asked at an Indian Foundation counter-terrorism conference in New Delhi.

“We do not shy away when the situation goes bad. We do not shy away from calling more forces…. But when the situation improves, we should not shy away from the fact that we need to start revocation of the AFSPA from some places and see what is the impact,” she said. Mehbooba advocated good governance to eradicate terrorism. She added that she required a “window of peace” for ensuring good governance to shrink the militant space.

She lauded former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his Kashmir policy and suggested there was a need for shifting security camps “away from public” once the situation improves.  Mehbooba asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to initiate talks with “all stakeholders” for a lasting solution in Kashmir. “We need to have dialogue as was done by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee,” she said.





UK Soldier Wins Appeal of Taliban War Crime Conviction

March 16th, 2017

LONDON: A London court on Wednesday reduced the conviction of a British soldier found guilty of killing an injured Taliban fighter to manslaughter from murder, in a high-profile case that has divided the country.

Alexander Blackman is currently in jail for shooting the fighter at close range in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province on Sep 15, 2011, after the Afghan was seriously injured by fire from an Apache helicopter.

“There you are. Shuffle off this mortal coil ... It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us,” Blackman was heard saying, paraphrasing Shakespeare Hamlet, in footage captured by a camera on a soldier’s helmet. “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere, fellas. I just broke the Geneva Convention,” he said to his fellow Royal Marines, a reference to international laws governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

Blackman was convicted by a court martial in 2013 and sentenced to life in prison with a 10-year minimum.

The sentence was later reduced to eight years to take into account the fact that he was suffering from combat stress disorder — the same reason given by the judges on Wednesday for downgrading his conviction. A further hearing, whose date has not been set, will decide what sentence he still has to serve.

His wife, Claire, who has spearheaded a public campaign involving best-selling author Frederick Forsyth and many veterans, said she was “delighted” by the ruling. “This is a crucial decision and one which better reflects the circumstances my husband found himself in during that terrible tour in Afghanistan,” she told reporters outside the court. She said she hoped for “a significant reduction” in Blackman’s sentence.

The case marked the first time since World War II that a British soldier was convicted of a murder carried out on the battlefield.

“You treated that Afghan man with contempt and murdered him in cold blood,” judge Jeff Blackett told Blackman at his court martial in 2013. “By doing so you have betrayed your corps and all British service personnel who have served in Afghanistan, and you have tarnished their reputation,” Blackett said. The conviction was supported by Britain’s chief of the defence staff at the time, Nicholas Houghton, who said: “Murder is murder, this is a heinous crime.”



German Prosecutors Charge Man with Islamic State Membership


16 Mar 2017

BERLIN (AP) — Federal prosecutors say they have charged a 23-year-old German man with membership in a terrorist organization for joining the Islamic State group in Syria.

In a statement Thursday, prosecutors said Anil O. traveled to Syria in August 2015 with the intention of working as a medic for the group.

Prosecutors said O., whose last name wasn’t published due to German privacy law, soon became disillusioned with IS after seeing how it treated fellow Muslims.

They said he tried several times to flee IS-held territory, succeeding in January. He returned to Germany in September last year and was arrested at Duesseldorf airport.



Dutch anti-Islam politician Wilders promises firm opposition

March 16, 2017

“I would rather have been the largest party,” he told reporters outside his office in parliament. “But we gained seats. That’s a result to be proud of.”

Even outside of government, his party’s influence on Dutch politics had been enormous, he added.

Dutch vote in key elections as far-right slips

Wilders said he did not understand Rutte’s comment that Dutch voters had said no to the “wrong kind of populists”.

“I don’t know what he means. He is implying there are good and bad populists. I don’t see myself as a populist but he is suggesting I am a bad populist and some kind of Nazi.”



Cross purposes: Activists in German town protest mosque construction with crucifixes

16 Mar, 2017

Wooden crosses several meters high have been installed by a group of protesters at a site in Erfurt, in the German region of Thuringia, where a local Muslim community plans to build a mosque.

In early March, the first 10-meter-high wooden cross was erected on a piece of private land owned by the local Muslim Ahmadiyya community. It was set up by a group called ‘Bürger für Erfurt’ (Citizens for Erfurt), aided by the anti-immigrant club ‘Ein Prozent’ (One Percent) from neighboring Saxony, which published a video-report of the action on its Facebook

The cross was later torn down by unknown persons, but re-erected shortly afterwards by the initiators – along with six more wooden crosses of varying sizes. The move came after the Ahmadiyya community announced plans to construct a mosque on the undeveloped grounds in a commercial zone in Erfurt-Marbach – the first such building in Thuringia.

Currently there are only a number of prayer rooms in several towns across the region. The building application is to be submitted to the municipal administration in the coming weeks, according to the local MDR news outlet.

Commenting on the incident, Erfurt mayor Katrin Böhlke said that legally the town’s authorities cannot act against the crosses’ installation, as they are not set up on the town’s land. She added, however, that she has been negotiating with activists, urging them to stick to peaceful protests.

“We talk with the citizens again and again. Legally, one cannot act against the crosses. It is not an urban area and is not governed by the town’s Agriculture Department. We can only appeal again and again that any protests against the mosque construction are peaceful,” Böhlke told MDR. She noted that the issue would surely be discussed at the next meeting of the district council.

A spokesman for the Ahmadiyya community in Erfurt, Mohammad Suleman Malik, said the community does not see the crosses themselves as provocative.

“The cross is not a provocation. On the contrary: It would be nice if churches, synagogues and mosques stood side by side. We would welcome a church construction in Marbach in the immediate vicinity [of the planned mosque],” Malik told Thuringen24. He was astonished, however, that “opponents expressing their aversion for the mosque’s construction through this action would utilize a religious symbol like this.”

Two major Thuringian churches have condemned the protest in a joint statement, speaking out “against abuse of the cross as a battle sign.”

“Whoever uses the cross to [protest] other thinking or other faiths misuses this Christian symbol. The [action] has nothing to do with the Christian message of charity and even love.“Our basic law is clear here: religious communities have the right to freely exercise their religion, and this right is also true when religion is expressed in architecture. We as Christian Churches welcome the mosque construction in Erfurt. Those who question the freedom of religion should ask themselves whether they act within the precepts of our basic law,” the Evangelical Church of Middle Germany and the Catholic Diocese of Erfurt said in a joint statement issued earlier this week.

The crosses also came under fire from local politicians, with the head of the Thuringian State Chancellery, Benjamin Hoff, tweeting: “Whoever wants to protest with a cross symbol against the mosque construction in Erfurt-Marbach does not understand anything about Christian charity.”

“And I actually thought the time of the Crusades was over…so much to the abuse of religious symbolism against the # mosque building # Erfurt,” local Greens Party Parliamentary Director and Erfurt Councilor Astrid Rothe-Beinlich tweeted.

Even among the locals opinions differ as to whether it is appropriate to protest against the mosque. A local citizen told RT’s Ruptly that the protest is justified.

“I think this is a justified protest. The citizens of Erfurt, who are against the construction of the mosque, should be able to express the protest in a peaceful manner,” he stated. Another man said he does not oppose the mosque personally, but understands the reasons for the action.

“I personally am not scared of the mosque’s construction. But I understand that the Marbach population is worried, that through the construction of a mosque the structure of the population will change in a few years, like we have seen in Berlin’s Kreuzberg, in Duisburg’s Marxrloh or in Brussels’ Molenbeek, where the indigenous population is being pushed out and have to leave their place. Because a mosque is always a ‘train station’ at the same time, where many people settle around it," he stated. Yet another local resident suggested further that in order to evade conflicts the town “should carry out a poll or a referendum like in Switzerland and then accept the decision of the population.”



Muslims Slam EU Court’s Hijab Ban

March 16, 2017

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim slammed the ruling saying that there was nothing acceptable about the decision, during an interview aired live on HaberTurk, Bloomberg HT and Show TV.

“This is so wrong. There is nothing acceptable about this [decision]. It is against the human rights, freedom of belief and freedom of dress,” Yildirim said.

In Germany, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany also sharply criticized the ruling, saying it was in contradiction with the basic freedoms guaranteed under the major European conventions on human rights.

“With their decision today the judges of the Court of Justice of the European Union have opened the door for further discrimination of Muslim women in Europe and they have further restricted the legal options for objecting such discriminatory measures,” the council said in a press release.

Bekir Altas, secretary general of the Islamic Community of Milli Gorus, one of the largest organizations of the Turkish-Muslim community in Germany has also condemned the court ruling.

“The ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union is a wrong decision. Moreover it is open to misuse,” he said.

‘Unacceptable situation’

Altas warned that following this ruling, more Muslim women would be further excluded from the labor market and lose their opportunity to gain their economic independence.

“This is an unacceptable situation. Politicians should immediately take necessary steps in the parliament to introduce measures to strengthen the struggle against discrimination,” he added.

Bekir Alboga, secretary general of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) said the right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf should be respected by all, as religious freedoms are protected by the German constitution.

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on Tuesday that employers can ban their workers from wearing any religious symbol, including headscarves worn by certain Muslim women.

In a ruling on two separate appeals made by Belgium and France over the headscarf ban, the court said companies could bar staff from “visible wearing of any political, philosophical or religious sign”.

The EU court further said the decision to ban such symbols at workplaces was not discriminatory.

Amel Yacef, European Network Against Racism (ENAR) Chair, criticized the decision describing it as “Muslim ban”

Yacef said in Brussels the decision would “effectively” keep away all Muslim women wearing a headscarf from the workplace.

In Turkey, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus joined the premier in describing it as a “disgrace” in an interview with CNN Turk.

“This cannot be acceptable. The decision which does not comply with any standards of Europe, with any humanitarian values and freedom of human is a disgrace,” Kurtulmus said.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci also told Anadolu Agency in Turkey’s eastern province of Van that practices against human rights and freedom in Europe had become popular.



Pope warns of ‘very grave sin’ when jobs are cut unjustly

Francis has spoken out frequently about the need for dignified work for all, lamenting the high rate of unemployment and youth unemployment in Italy and elsewhere.

March 15, 2017

Pope Francis said Wednesday that employers who fire workers for unclear economic reasons are committing a “very grave sin” and should ensure dignified work for all their employees.

Francis made the comments at his general audience after appealing for a resolution to a labor dispute at Sky Italia, where employees are facing job cuts and relocation as the satellite channel moves offices from Rome to Milan.

Francis called for a solution that respects the rights of all, “especially families.” Speaking off-the-cuff, he added: “Those who for economic reasons or to conclude unclear negotiations, close factories and business ventures and take away jobs, this person is committing a very grave sin.”

Francis has spoken out frequently about the need for dignified work for all, lamenting the high rate of unemployment and youth unemployment in Italy and elsewhere.

The audience was marked by an emotional encounter at its start as a small group of Chinese pilgrims approached Francis on their knees and wept at his feet as he blessed them in St. Peter’s Square. The pilgrims said they were from Tianjin and brought with them a statue of the Madonna.

Francis has been working to improve relations with Beijing, particularly over the thorny issue of bishop nominations. China has an estimated 12 million Catholics, millions of whom are loyal to the pope and worship in independent congregations outside the control of the communist party’s Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.



Arab World


Syria: At Least 30 Dead in Suicide Attacks in Damascus

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but other, similar attacks in recent weeks were claimed by al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria.

 March 15, 2017

Suicide bombers Wednesday hit the main judicial building and a restaurant in Damascus, killing at least 30 people, according to state media, spreading fear across Syria’s capital as the country’s civil war enters its seventh year. The first attacker struck inside the Justice Palace, located near the famous and crowded Hamidiyeh market. The explosion left bodies lying amid pools of blood and shattered glass in the building’s main hall, adorned with a picture of President Bashar Assad hanging on one of the walls.

The official news agency, SANA, said another suicide explosion struck a restaurant in Rabweh district of Damascus, leading to multiple casualties, mostly women and children.

The Ikhbariyeh TV channel said the attacker was being chased by security agents when he ran into a restaurant and detonated his explosives’ vest there.

The bombings were the latest in a spate of deadly explosions and suicide attacks targeting government-controlled areas in Syria and its capital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for either attack, but other, similar attacks in recent weeks were claimed by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria.

The attacks came as Syrians mark the sixth anniversary of the country’s bitter civil war, which has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions of others.

The conflict began in March 2011 as a popular uprising against Assad’s rule but quickly descended into a full-blown civil war. The chaos allowed al-Qaeda and later the Islamic State group to gain a foothold in the war-torn nation.

The recent attacks have struck at highly symbolic targets, and may mark the start of a new insurgency campaign by al-Qaeda-linked militants to try and counter recent military advances by Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran.

According to Damascus police chief Mohammad Kheir Ismail, the Justice Palace attacker struck in the early afternoon. A man wearing a military uniform and carrying a shotgun and grenades arrived at the entrance to the palace, the police chief told state TV.

The guards stopped the man, took away his arms and tried to search him. At that point, the man hurled himself inside the building and detonated his explosives, the chief said.

Syria’s attorney general, Ahmad al-Sayed, who was in the building just a few meters away from the explosion, confirmed that account to state TV, saying that when the security guards tried to arrest the man, he threw himself inside the palace and blew himself up. He said 30 people were killed and 45 others wounded.

“This is a dirty action as people who enter the palace are innocent,” he said, noting that the timing of the explosion was planned to kill the largest number of lawyers, judges and other people who were there at the time.

In the second attack, in Rabweh district, SANA said a suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant, killing several people.

Today’s bombings followed twin attacks on Saturday near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in Damascus that killed at least 40 people. The attacks also came during a new round of peace talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana.



Soldier killed by Shia ‘terrorist elements’ in Saudi Arabia

March 15, 2017

A Saudi soldier was killed by gunmen late last night in the Eastern province’s city of Qatif, in an incident the interior ministry said was carried out by “terrorist elements”.

The security patrol came under fire upon approaching a suspicious vehicle, the statement carried by state news agency SPA said, adding that the gunmen fled the area.

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province is home to much of Saudi Arabia’s oil production as well as the majority of the country’s Shia population, who overall form a small minority in the conservative Sunni Muslim kingdom. Qatif has been the focal point of Shia unrest since protests in early 2011 calling for an end to discrimination, a charge that Saudi Arabia denies.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Extremist Shia militants, many of whom are backed by regional Shia power Iran and who claim to be angry at what they say is repression of their community, have attacked security forces in the Eastern province in the past.

The Daesh militant group, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq, has also claimed attacks on Saudi security forces as well as deadly bombings and shootings that target the kingdom’s Shia, attacks the Saudi authorities have condemned whilst also undertaking efforts to prevent Daesh extremists from killing Shia civilians.

Daesh, however, mainly attack Saudi officials, security personnel and civilians in predominantly Sunni areas. This includes the capital Riyadh and also the holy city of Medina, the second most sacred site in Islam, where a Daesh extremist killed a gathering of security personnel who offered to share their food with him before he murdered them.

In the past week, Saudi security forces killed two wanted men in separate incidents in Eastern province, after the authorities were attacked and killed at least one militant in the ensuing gunfight.



Iraq car bombing: At least seven killed in Tikrit, say police

The bombing hit Al-Ataba Street, which is home to medical clinics as well as shops, also wounding dozens of people, the sources said.

March 16, 2017

A car bomb ripped through a busy street in the Iraqi city of Tikrit today, killing at least seven people, police and a doctor said. The bombing hit Al-Ataba Street, which is home to medical clinics as well as shops, also wounding dozens of people, the sources said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State jihadist group carries out frequent bombings targeting civilians in Iraq. Tikrit, located north of Baghdad, was the first Iraqi city to be recaptured from IS, which overran large areas north and west of the capital in 2014.

Iraqi forces retook Tikrit in 2015, and while some of it was heavily damaged, civilians have since returned to the city. Baghdad’s forces went on to recapture the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, and are now battling to retake the western side of second city Mosul, after seizing its east from the jihadists earlier this year.



Paramilitary forces kill 2 Islamic State members in western Mosul

by Mohamed Mostafa

Mar 16, 2017

Nineveh ( Pro-Iraqi government paramilitary groups said Thursday they killed two Islamic State members in a foiled attack in western Mosul.

Al-Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Units) said through its media they killed two Islamic State attackers in western Mosul’s region of Tal Zalat, and destroyed their vehicle.

PMUs, an alliance of Shia militias which won recognition as a national armed force in November, have been actively taking part in operations against Islamic State extremists in western Mosul and other Iraqi provinces. They had made remarkable accomplishments over the past months, retaking Tal Afar airport and most recently taking part in the liberation of Badush region.

Al-Hashd has also claimed to have isolated Tal Afar, an outstanding IS bastion, from both Mosul and the group’s strongholds in Syria.

Iraqi commanders said recently they became in control over 60 percent of western Mosul since operations to recapture that area launched in February. The government said late January its forces fully retook the eastern side of the city. Forces are currently working to expel IS militants from central Mosul.

Military commanders had predicted to retake western Mosul within six months of operations.

Battles in the eastern side of the city have so far displaced more than 100.000 civilians.



Chinese President Receives Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and hold official talks


President Xi Jinping of the People s Republic of China, today received Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

An official welcoming ceremony was held for the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on the occasion of his current visit to China. Memorial photos were taken, the reception was attended by a number of princes.

Then, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China held a session of official talks at the Great Hall of the People.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques delivered a speech in which the King said, "We express our happiness about the level of relations reached between our two friendly countries, recalling with appreciation your Excellency's visit to your friendly country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in January 2016, during which we held fruitful meetings reflected positively on the joint cooperation in all fields.

Among the fruits of these meetings were the formation of high-level Saudi-Chinese Committee that will serve as a framework to promote relations between the two countries to the level of the strategic partnership.

On this occasion, I congratulate Your Excellency on the success of the 18th session of the Conference of the People's Congress which confirmed your position and wise leadership.

The world is witnessing today many challenges that threaten its security and stability topped by the phenomenon of terrorism, interference in States' internal affairs, the arms race, and the clash of cultures which necessitate that the international community exert more efforts and work together to confront these challenges and enhance international peace and security.

I would like to commend the positions of the friendly People's Republic of China in this area, looking forward to further coordination of positions and efforts between our two countries in this regard.

For his part, the President of the People's Republic of China delivered a speech in which he welcomed the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, considering this visit as reflecting the extent of the King's great interest in developing relations between the two friendly countries.

He talked about his previous visit to the Kingdom during which they reached concord and partnership between the two countries, expressing his thanks for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him in the Kingdom.

The Chinese President emphasized their keenness to strengthen and promote relations between the Kingdom and China to the highest levels, noting that they consider the visit of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to their country as an important opportunity to further advance comprehensive strategic relations between the two countries.

Then, they reviewed the relationships of friendship between the two countries, prospects of joint cooperation in various fields, and the latest developments at the international arena.

The Chinese President held a luncheon banquet in honor of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

The session of official talks was attended by Minister of State and Cabinet's Member Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, Minister of Economy and Planning Engineer Adel bin Mohammed Faqih, Minister of Education Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Issa, Minister of Transport Sulaiman bin Abdullah Al-Hamdan, Minister of Labor and Social Development Dr. Ali bin Nasser Al-Ghafis, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Nizar bin Obaid Madani, Assistant Special Secretary to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Tamim bin Abdulaziz Al-Salem, and Saudi Ambassador to China Turki Al-Madhi, and it was also attended by a number of Chinese ministers and officials.



King Salman: Islamic World Challenges Require More Solidarity among Muslims

Riyadh- Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud arrived in the People’s Republic of China Wednesday on an official visit. Before his departure from Tokyo, he received at his residence a number of Islamic figures in Japan.

In his speech, King Salman declared that the Islamic religion is a religion of love and peace that respects human dignity and preserves their rights.

King Salman stated, “This blessed meeting with you was preceded by similar meetings over the decades. Before eighty years, the late King Abdulaziz sent a representative to Japan to share with Muslims here the joy of the opening of the Tokyo Mosque in 1938, and these good, blessed meetings are still continuing.”

He added, “We should highlight that Islam calls for tolerance, moderation and fight against extremism and terrorism in all forms and we should recognize that the challenges faced by the Islamic world require more solidarity among Muslims. The kingdom, which is honored by God to serve the Two Holy Mosques, provides its best to serve Islam and is keen to reach out to Muslims around the globe.”

Imam and preacher of the Arabic Islamic Institute in Tokyo and member of the Muslim Association of Japan Sheikh Saeed Sato delivered a speech in which he expressed appreciation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Salman for its restless efforts to serve the Two Holy Mosques, pilgrims, visitors and Islam and Muslims in the world.

King Salman was welcomed by Yang Jiechi, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China, with an official welcoming ceremony at the airport in Beijing.



Syrian Soldiers Clash Fiercely with ISIL in Eastern Aleppo, Repel Terrorists' Attack

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army forces warded off ISIL's offensive South of the Air Force Academy, killing tens of terrorists and wounding many more.

The army units engaged in heavy fighting with ISIL terrorists in several fronts along the road connecting the village of a-Qatibeh Um Arkileh village.

The ISIL suffered tens of casualties and its military hardware sustained major damage in the failed attack.

In relevant developments in the province on Tuesday, the army units engaged in another round of intense battle with ISIL West of Deir Hafer and managed to recapture Hamimeh al-Saqireh settlement, killing and wounding a number of terrorists.

In the meantime, the Syrian Air Force carried out several combat flights over the positions and movements of ISIL in the Western direction of Deir Hafer, killing tens of terrorists and destroying several positions and military vehicles.

A local source said that the army's control over Hamimeh al-Kabireh and Hamimeh al-Saqireh reinvigorated security to Kuweires airbase.



Al-Nusra Suffers Heavy Casualties in Field Attack on Syrian Army positions in Eastern Damascus

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops fended off a heavy attack of Al-Nusra Front (Fatah al-Sham Front) on their positions in the Northeastern outskirts of Damascus city, killing or wounding a large number of terrorists.

The Al-Nusra terrorists launched their attack on Tishrin district's police building, media center building and the district's hospital.

The terrorists started their offensive with RPG rockets, while the group's snipers were also targeting army soldiers, followed by a raid. But they sustained heavy casualties and pulled back after facing tough resistance and the powerful defense of the Syrian army.

Army reports indicated death of, at least, three Al-Nusra snipers in the clashes.

In the meantime, an informed source denied terrorists' claims about their advances in Barzeh farms, and underlined that the army men foiled terrorists' plan to penetrate into Barzeh farms via their tunnels, killing four terrorists.

The sources said on Monday that the army men stormed the Al-Nusra positions and drove them out of al-Bostan (garden) pool that is located in Barzeh gardens and was one of the most important positions of Al-Nusra, and managed to advance against terrorists 700 meters in length and 500 meters in width South of the pool towards al-Hafez street in al-Qaboun district.

They added that the army soldiers took full control over al-Hafez street from the gardens of Barzeh and also seized full control over Darb al-Tawileh road that connects Barzeh district to al-Qaboun and Barzeh gardens.

The sources went on to say that with the army's control over Darb al-Tawileh road, Bostans are now under the full control of the army men, and Barzeh district has also been completely separated from gardens.



Syrian President's Advisor: Turkey Facing Consequences of Wrong Policies in Region

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- Bouthaina Shaaban, advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, underlined that Turkey which one day wanted to occupy the Arab states by its soft neo-Ottoman policies and then by supporting terrorism and violence, is now facing the consequences of its wrong policies.

The problems created for Turkey recently have made Erdogan to stress his commitment to Syria's territorial integrity and joint efforts to fight against terrorism in his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Shaaban wrote in the news website of al-Mayadeen channel on Wednesday.

"The dire situation in Turkey is not just witnessed in its retreat from positions on the Syrian issue and the country is now facing different security, economic and political problems too," she added.

Shaaban also referred to Turkey's darkened ties with Europe and the US, and said Erdogan was dreaming about finding control over Arab regions in the past few years, but now his ultimate goal is improving Turkey's weakened economy.

In relevant remarks on Tuesday, a senior leader of the Syrian Democratic Union Party underlined that the Turkish government's wrong policies in the region have damaged the world states' trust in Ankara.

"We can say that the world countries have lost trust in Turkey and its supporters who call themselves as moderate dissidents in Syria, as Turkey is not yet neutral in the Syrian issue and is after spreading extremist thoughts in the region with the help of its Syrian and Arab mercenaries," Ebrahim, the media official of the Syrian Democratic Union Party in Europe, told FNA.

Noting that Turkey is not after annihilating the ISIL, he said Ankara wants to suppress the Kurds and their friends in other Syrian tribes.

His remarks came after Dutch authorities banned two ministers from campaigning for Turkey’s April constitutional referendum which seeks to extend Erdogan's powers.

Erdogan has warned that the Netherlands will “pay the price” for its “shameless” treatment of Turkey’s ministers.

Several German municipalities have also canceled rallies by Turkish ministers campaigning for a “yes” vote in the April referendum.



Majority of ISIL Terrorists Escape from Raqqa City to Eastern Syria

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- Local sources in Northeastern Syria said that 75 percent of ISIL members have left Raqqa city for Deir Ezzur province, adding that the terrorist group is digging more trenches around the city to slow down the anti-ISIL front's rapid advances.

The source said in spite of digging more trenches and building more bunkers in the Eastern, Northern and Western outskirts of Raqqa, the entire commanders and a large part of ISIL terrorists have left the city, adding that the remaining pockets of the terrorists are residents of Raqqa and Aleppo provinces.

They added that the ISIL has pardoned all the people whose documents had been seized by the terrorist group for actions harmful to the ISIL or violating its rules.

The sources went on to say that the ISIL has built a long moat along the al-Qatar street in the Northern part of Raqqa city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Sunday that hundreds of the family members of ISIL terrorists and commanders escaped from Raqqa to Deir Ezzur and Hama provinces after the terrorist group suffered heavy defeats in clashes with Kurdish fighters in different battlefields.

SOHR reported that over 300 family members of ISIL terrorists and commanders left Raqqa city for Deir Ezzur and Eastern Hama.

SOHR added that the ISIL terrorists' family members moved towards the Southern banks of the Euphrates River on ferry.



Syria: Terrorists Withdraw from More Strongholds in Eastern Damascus

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army forces continued to attack the positions of Al-Nusra Front (Fatah al-Sham Front) in Eastern Ghouta, driving the terrorists out of more strategic positions in al-Qaboun district.

The army soldiers engaged in fierce clashes with Al-Nusra Front Northeast of al-Qaboun district and managed to seize back the mosques of al-Na'aman, al-Qasem and al-Hossein and most of residential complexes.

Local sources, meantime, said that a number of militants of Liwa al-Awal are about to join the peace agreement with the Syrian government, adding that during a meeting held amongst the militant group's commanders, some of the militants showed their intention to join the peace process and leave al-Qaboun with their individual guns, but some others insisted on continuing the clashes.

In relevant development in Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, the army soldiers engaged in fierce clashes with Al-Nusra terrorists and managed to recapture the entire Bostans in al-Qaboun district Northeast of Damascus city after taking control over al-Mohaba Sports Stadium.

Local sources said that the army soldiers also discovered and seized tens of tunnels of the terrorists in al-Qaboun's Bostans connecting the district to Harasta and Arbin towns.

The sources added that almost 200 terrorists have thus far been killed in clashes with the army men in al-Qaboun district.

Elsewhere in the province, the army units opened fire at the movements of the terrorists in al-Sanawiyeh square in Harasta town, destroying two of their positions, including a telecommunication center equipped with modern equipment.



Syrian Army Scores More Victories against ISIL in Eastern Homs

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian Army troops continued their advances against ISIL in energy-rich regions Northeast of the newly-freed city of Palmyra (Tadmur) and managed to take back more key positions.

The army soldiers engaged in heavy fighting with ISIL in Badiyeh al-Sharqi of Palmyra after taking back the key region of al-Sawameh on Tuesday.

The army men further attacked ISIL's defense lines and took full control over Jabal (mount) al-Mostadireh and its nearby areas, killing a number of terrorists. 

Also, the army men engaged in fierce clashes with ISIL Northeast of the newly-liberated city of Palmyra and pushed the terrorists back from the strategic region of al-Sawameh along the road to Arak oilfield on Tuesday.

In the meantime, the army soldiers took back al-Qabab region North of Tal (hill) al-Ameriyeh and Palmyra from ISIL.

A military source said, meantime, that the army's control over the Northeastern and Southern fronts, Sabkhat al-Mouh, power convertor station, al-Kaziyeh and Maktab al-Dowar Southeast of Palmyra, will restore more security to the ancient city.

The source further added that a large number of ISIL terrorists were killed and a number of its vehicles equipped with heavy machinegunswere destroyed in the army attacks, including a vehicle with license plate number registered in Saudi Arabia.





Morocco’s King Mohammed VI Replaces PM Amid Post-Election Deadlock

Morocco: Benkirane had been reappointed after the PJD, which first came to power in 2011

March 16, 2017

Moroccan King Mohammed VI is replacing Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and will ask another member of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) to form a government after five months of post-election deadlock, a statement from the royal cabinet said on Wednesday. The king took the decision “in the absence of signs that suggest an imminent formation” of a government and due to “his concern about overcoming the current blockage” in political negotiations, the royal statement said. It did not say who he would name to replace Benkirane.

Benkirane had been reappointed after the PJD, which first came to power in 2011, increased its share of the vote in October elections, maintaining its position as the biggest party. Under Morocco’s election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments a necessity in a system where the king still holds ultimate power.

But the PJD’s relations with a former coalition partner, the conservative Istiqlal party, soured over economic reforms, and talks over formation of a government with the centre-right National Rally of Independence (RNI) stalled. Benkirane’s efforts have met with resistance from parties that critics say are too close to the palace. Royalist supporters have been reluctant to share power with Islamists since the king ceded some powers in 2011 to ease protests.

The palace says the king maintains the equal distance from all parties and dismisses claims of royal interference. Concern has mounted about the impact of the political impasse on Morocco’s economy. This year’s budget, which should have been approved by parliament by the end of 2016, cannot be passed until a government is in place. Speculation had been building that King Mohammed would attempt to break the political deadlock following his return on Tuesday from a tour of African states.

The palace statement said the king would receive the new prime minister soon, and would task him with forming a government. The king thanked Benkirane for his service as prime minister, praising him for his “effectiveness, competence and self-sacrifice”. A source in the PJD told Reuters the party will be meeting Thursday morning to discuss the king’s decision, which Benkirane said he accepted. “This is our king and he came to a decision under the framework of the constitution, which I’ve always expressed support for,” he told Reuters. “I’m going to perform ablution, pray, and continue working on the ground.”





‘Despicable lie & smear’: Israel fires back at UN’s ‘apartheid regime’ report

16 Mar, 2017

Israel has denounced a new UN report which accuses Tel Aviv of crimes against humanity for running "apartheid policies" against the Palestinians. Israel's UN envoy has called the document an attempt to “falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East.”

The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report published Wednesday accuses Israel “beyond a reasonable doubt” of being guilty of “policies and practices that constitute the crime of apartheid” against the Palestinian people.

The report says that Israel is guilty of pursuing a policy of “strategic fragmentation” of the Palestinians as the “principal method” by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime.

“This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance,” the Beirut-based commission report said.

Israel, the report says, is trying to dominate over the 1.7 million Palestinians who are citizens of Israel by offering them inferior services, limited budget allocations and restrictions on jobs and professional opportunities. Some 300,000 Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem suffer discrimination from inadequate access to education, health care, employment, in addition to residency and building rights.

“They also suffer from expulsions and home demolitions, which serve the Israeli policy of 'demographic balance' in favor of Jewish residents,” the report says.

Those 4.7 million Palestinians who live in West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip, the report claims, suffer the most, as they are governed by military law, while some 350,000 Jewish settlers are accountable to Israeli civil law.

“The territory is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative ‘inhuman act’ listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank,” the commission discovered.

Furthermore, millions of Palestinian refugees are “prohibited” from returning to their homes and are being deterred from doing so in a “frankly racist language.” According to the authors of the report, Israel justifies the policy by saying that Palestinians constitute a “demographic threat” and that their return would “alter the demographic character of Israel to the point of eliminating it as a Jewish State.”

The ESCWA report concludes that Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, “which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity.”

The Israeli UN ambassador Danny Danon immediately denounced the damning ESCWA report calling the findings a “despicable lie.”

The report is an “attempt to smear and falsely label the only true democracy in the Middle East by creating a false analogy is despicable and constitutes a blatant lie,” Danon said.

He accused the authors of the report of bias, and the envoy specifically singled out the ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian national.

“It comes as no surprise that an organization headed by an individual who has called for boycotts against Israel, and compared our democracy to the most terrible regimes of the twentieth century, would publish such a report,” the ambassador noted, as reported by the Times of Israel.

The UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres was quick to distance himself from ESCWA document. His spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that “the report as it stands does not reflect the views of the secretary-general” and was issued without consultations with the UN secretariat.

The United States also criticized the report calling its findings "biased" and labeling it as "anti-Israel propaganda."

“The United States stands with our ally Israel and will continue to oppose biased and anti-Israel actions across the UN system and around the world,” UN ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement late Wednesday.

Haley has also called on the UN to withdraw the report, as she went after one of the authors of the probe, Richard Falk, a Princeton professor emeritus.

“That it was drafted by Richard Falk, a man who has repeatedly made biased and deeply offensive comments about Israel and espoused ridiculous conspiracy theories, including about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is equally unsurprising," Haley said. "The United Nations Secretariat was right to distance itself from this report, but it must go further and withdraw the report altogether."

Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, compared ESCWA's findings to Nazi propaganda.

“Friendly advice — don’t read it without anti-nausea pills,” he tweeted.



DM: Iran to Forcefully Increase Armed Forces' Combat, Operational Power in New Year

Wed Mar 15, 2017

TEHRAN (FNA)- Iran's Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan announced plans to bolster the country's defense capabilities and the Armed Forces' combat and operational power in the Iranian new year (to start on March 21).

New home-made weapons and equipment will be produced in the new year and "the combat and operational power of the Armed Forces will boost remarkably", General Dehqan said on Wednesday.

He also referred to the achievements and measures adopted in the current year, and said the defense industries' capacity in area of warfare tools and weapons has folded 45 times.

General Dehqan said that the defense industries have taken major steps in different missile, aerospace, telecommunications, electronics, optics and engineering fields in recent years.

His remarks came a few days after Iran unveiled the country's newly-manufactured state-of-the-art tank named 'Karrar' and launched its mass-production line.

"The tank can compete with the most advanced tanks in the world in the three main areas of power, precision and mobility as well as maintenance and durability in the battleground," General Dehqan said, addressing the ceremony.

Noting that the tank is equipped with electro-optical fire control system, laser rangefinder, ballistic computer and enjoys the capability to fire at stable and mobile targets in day and night, he said, "Karrar has the capability to fire missiles and precisely guide them (towards the target)."

General Dehqan added that the tank can also move through pits and rivers and is capable of moving even under water, and said Karrar is equipped with navigation and telecommunication systems and is resistant to electronic warfare.

He underscored that the tank is also equipped with armored protection resistant to different types of anti-armor weapons.



Belgium rejects visa applications of Turkish imams


The Belgian authorities have rejected the visa applications of four Turkish imams who requested long-term visas to work in the country.

The Belgian Foreign Affairs Council supported the rejection decision given by Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Theo Francken, German daily Deutsche Welle reported on March 16.

According to Belgian media reports, Francken has declined the applications of 12 imams this year, saying they wanted to preach sermons in mosques unrecognized by the state. The Belgian Foreign Affairs Council also supported Francken’s stance on unrecognized mosques.

Ten of the imams appealed against the decision, saying their religious freedom was being restricted. However, the council said the issue could not be handled within the scope of Belgian law due to the imams living outside Belgium.

The imams have the right to apply to the Belgian Supreme Administrative Court and then carry the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

According to Belgian daily La Libre, there are 65 mosques in the country with links to Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet). Another Belgian daily, Grenzecho, said there were 300 mosques in the country as of 2015 but only 82 were recognized by the state.

The Belgian state undertakes part of the salaries of a number of imams on duty in mosques accepted by the state. The country’s government on February announced plans to reserve 3.3 million euros of resources in order to support the training of imams.





Once hit by terror, Balochistan becoming 'economic tiger of Pakistan': Nawaz

March 16, 2017

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday said Balochistan is fast becoming a centre of development for the rest of the country.

“Once hit by terrorism, this province is now witnessing development to change the fate of the country and itself,” the premier said while addressing a public gathering in Gwadar on Thursday.

“Pakistan will soon become an Asian tiger while Balochistan will prove to be the country’s economic tiger soon,” he added.

Countries cannot prosper without education, health and trade and these cannot take place without building infrastructure and roads, Nawaz said in a thinly veiled jibe at his political rivals.

Pakistan was created to fight religious persecution: Nawaz Sharif

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan has been calling for purging the country of corruption and a scrutiny of the Sharif family’s alleged offshore accounts exposed by Panama Papers leaks.

Nawaz announced to allocate Rs1billion to build a university, a state of the art 300-bed hospital and an exemplary university for the people of Gwadar. “500 acres of land has been acquired to build the university,” he added.

Gwadar, he added, is being linked with China through 100-kilometre of road links and highways. “The city will be turned into a model port,” PM remarked. He said that roads links are also being established in the areas of the province hit by terrorism. “Roads are also being built and improved in the rest of the country.”

“We will provide five million gallons of clean drinking water to Gwadar while Rs1billion will be spent to improve the sewerage system in the city.”

PM Nawaz calls out PML-N leader for being overweight

“No one paid attention to Gwadar during 1993 and 1997,” the premier said. He added that the incumbent government was now initiating projects that the city deserved.

The people of the province, he added, will be provided with free health cards which will enable them to avail free of cost treatment across the country.

“Moreover, 50 outstanding students of the city will get admissions in prestigious varsities of the country.” Nawaz also announced to send 50 students to China to learn Chinese language.

Nawaz reiterated that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Gwadar will prove a game changer for Pakistan.



Pakistan set to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as fifth province

Mar 15, 2017

ISLAMABAD: In a move that may raise concerns in India, reports suggest that Pakistan is planning to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region also known as Northern Areas as its fifth province.

Pakistan's minister for inter-provincial coordination Riaz Hussain Pirzada told Geo TV that a committee headed by advisor of foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz had proposed giving the status of a province to Gilgit-Baltistan.

"The committee recommended that Gilgit-Baltistan should be made a province of Pakistan," Pirzada said on Wednesday.

He also said that a constitutional amendment would be made to change the status of the region, through which the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes.

The four provinces that are presently under Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Gilgit-Baltistan shares a geographical boundary with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and India considers it as part of the undivided Jammu and Kashmir, while Pakistan sees it as a separate from PoK.

The USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through this region, and reports said Pakistan was mulling to elevate the constitutional status of the region in a bid to provide legal cover to the CPEC.

Reports also said China's concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan prompted Pakistan to change its status.

According to an earlier report in Dawn newspaper, Pakistan was mulling to elevate the constitutional status of the region in a bid to provide legal cover to the CPEC.

The move could signal a historic shift in the country's position on the future of the wider Kashmir region, the paper had quoted experts as saying.



Pakistan launches first population census in 19 years amid tight security

Pakistan last conducted a census in 1998, which recorded a national population of nearly 180 million.

March 15, 2017

Pakistan Friday launched a countrywide census, the first in nearly two decades, amidst security fears and concerns about the political fallout of the massive exercise for which some two lakh soldiers have been deployed.

Chief Statistician Asif Bajwa inaugurated the process of 6th census from Attock district in Pakistan’s largest province of Punjab. Some 119,000 officials including 84,000 enumerators are taking part in the census with 200,000 troops providing security and monitoring the process to ensure authenticity.

Pakistan last conducted a census in 1998, which recorded a national population of nearly 180 million. Pakistan now has about 200 million people, becoming the sixth most populous country in the world. The first phase of housing and population census will continue till April 15, followed by a 10-day break and then the second phase will begin from April 25 and continue till May 25.

Bajwa said that in the first phase the census will be completed in 63 districts of the country, including 16 in Punjab, 8 in Sindh, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one in tribal region, 15 districts in Balochistan and 5 each in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan.

In the second phase, census will be conducted in 21 each districts of Punjab and in Sindh, 18 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 17 in Balochistan, Islamabad Capital Territory, and five each in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan. Bajwa urged the people to enthusiastically participate in the census process and cooperate with the officials.

Under the constitution, census should be held every 10 years to determine the exact population and allocation of resources among provinces on the basis number of people, but it had been delayed due to security concerns and political wrangling. It has become political issue as Punjab province, the country’s largest, fears that its share in the national resources may diminish as population of other provinces might have increased.

The smallest province of Balochistan fears that local Baloch may become a minority due to the presence of Afghan refugees who are believed to have got citizenship in droves through fraud. The final outcome of the census would be known by July and it may lead to demarcation of constituencies ahead of general elections next year. The census will show the exact number of people living in Muslim-majority Pakistan.



Pakistan rejects report about deployment of troops in Saudi Arabia

Pakistan had to face displeasure of Saudi Arabia and its ally UAE after refusing to send the troops in 2015.

March 15, 2017

Defence Minister Khawaja Asif Wednesday said Pakistan has no plans to send troops to Saudi Arabia as he rejected media reports about the deployment of the Pakistani soldiers in the Gulf Kingdom to guard its southern border in the ongoing conflict with Yemen.

Asif spoke in the National Assembly in response to a question raised by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Shafqat Mahmood, who referred to media reports that an army brigade was being sent to the Kingdom.

“No military personnel have been sent to Saudi Arabia in perspective of the Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict,” Asif said.

“It is our policy not to get involved in Saudi Arabia-Yemen conflict. If any decision had to be taken, it will flow through the parliament,” he said.

The parliament had asked government not to get involved in Yemen conflict after a policy debate in 2015. Saudi had pressed Pakistan to join its coalition which carried out deadly air strikes against Sanaa. Asif said that Pakistan would not play a partisan role in the war but try to be a peace-maker if needed.

The minister also informed the house that under a 1982 agreement between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, about 1,000 Pakistanis security personnel including technicians, doctors and engineers were in that country.

Pakistan had to face displeasure of Saudi Arabia and its ally UAE after refusing to send the troops in 2015.

Earlier, an online news site had reported that Pakistan was sending a brigade of combat troops to shore up Saudi’s vulnerable southern border from reprisal attacks mounted by the Houthis in Yemen.



Aziz discusses terror issue with Afghan NSA in London

March 16th, 2017

LONDON: The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has met Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, Hanif Atmar, in London to discuss complaints that Afghan-based militants are mounting attacks on Pakistani soil.

It was the highest level face-to-face discussion between representatives of the two countries since Islamabad closed down border crossings with Afghanistan. The two men were hosted by the UK’s National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant.

Last month the Pakistan military shelled a militant training camp on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. Military sources said the militants it targeted — within a few hundred metres of the border — were from Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. Complaining about a breach of its sovereignty, the Afghan foreign ministry said Pakistan should stop all cross-border military activity.



Interpol help sought to curb blasphemy online

March 16th, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Inves­tigation Agency (FIA) is in touch with Interpol to identify social media pages that contain inflammatory and sacrilegious content that violates international laws.

In addition, the agency has sent a formal request to social networking site Facebook in the light of recent court rulings regarding the blocking of blasphemous material online, FIA officials told a high-level meeting on Wednesday.

Chaired by Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, the meeting was held to review ongoing investigations into the circulation of blasphemous content on social media sites, in the light of the prime minister’s instructions to ensure the immediate blocking of all such content and swift punishment of those behind these acts.

An interior ministry statement said that at least 11 persons, who were involved in uploading and sharing objectionable material, had been identified and were being questioned, adding that FIA would also seek help from Interpol in questioning some of the suspects — indicating that some of the suspects may not be in the country.

The minister also directed FIA to seek help from intelligence agencies to identify the culprits who had uploaded the blasphemous material.

In addition, a senior diplomat at Pakistan’s embassy in Washington has been tasked with contacting Face­book to seek the requisite information under US Right to Information laws.

The statement said the government was considering hiring noted legal expert Farrukh Kareem to pursue the matter in international judicial forums to push Facebook to remove the content that is hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims.

The minister was quoted as saying that the government would use all available options to ensure the removal of blasphemous material from social media sites.

“I hope that the management of Facebook will respect the religious sentiments of 200 million Pakistanis and tens of millions of users of Facebook in Pakistan and will cooperate in that regard,” the statement quoted him as saying.

An FIA official told the meeting that while it had established contact with Facebook as per court orders, the social media site’s management had yet to respond. The meeting was attended by officers of the interior ministry, National Counter Terrorism Authority, National Database and Registration Authority and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.



PM cautions against speculation about Panamagate case verdict

March 16th, 2017

GWADAR: In rare remarks about the Panama Papers leaks case whose verdict was reserved by the Supreme Court late last month, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif emphasised on Wednesday the sensitivity of the matter and the effect that speculation could possibly cause to the imminent judgement.

According to TV reports, Mr Sharif while talking informally to journalists soon after arrival from Pasni in the fast-developing port city of Gwadar by road said that speculation over the reserved verdict could be “detrimental to judicial decorum”.

On Feb 23, the apex court while closing prolonged proceedings reserved its ruling, saying it’s not possible to announce a short order in such a case.

“We will take some time to deliberate and ponder over every possible aspect,” Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who headed the five-member bench that heard the case against the members of the prime minister’s family, had observed.

“We will decide the case strictly in accordance with the law and the Constitution, unfazed by any outside clamouring and unmindful of whether it pleases or displeases someone,” Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, a member of the bench, had said.

Since Feb 23, plaintiff opposition parties led by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf as well as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz have been saying they would accept whatever judgement the court would announce, but both have also made no secret of their expectations as both have been publicly claiming that the verdict would eventually vindicate their respective position on the controversy.

The other important point that PM Sharif spoke about was the under-construction China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and uplift projects of Gwadar.

“The development [projects] of Gwadar and CPEC are important part of my priorities and will be completed as soon as possible,” he said, adding that with the completion of these projects Pakistan, particularly Balochistan, would have been developed on a large scale.

Later, presiding over a meeting, Mr Sharif said his government was paying full attention to the improvement of infrastructure, projects aimed at the availability of health and energy facilities and development of social and economic lives of the people of Balochistan.

He said his government was committed to protecting the rights of locals and would take all steps to ensure their legitimate rights. “Local people should be given priority in the development projects,” he directed the authorities concerned.

Mr Sharif expressed satisfaction over the security of development projects. He said that the expressway, Gwadar international airport, free zone and business complex would attract investors. He assured the meeting that the federal government would continue to help Balochistan in its development and bring it on a par with other provinces.

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri expressed the hope that all projects would be completed in time.

Gwadar Development Authority director general Sajjad Hussain briefed the meeting about the water supply, electricity, road and economic zone projects.

Earlier, the premier reached Gwadar for a two-day visit by the newly-built 136km Pasni-Gwadar road so that he could inspect the quality of work on various projects.

The new road is part of the Makran Coastal Highway project. He lauded the standard of the highway and appreciated the efforts of the authorities concerned and workers who took part in its construction.

Federal ministers Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Khawaja Saad Rafique, Ahsan Iqbal and Abdul Qadir Baloch accompanied the prime minister.



11 Afghan nationals arrested in joint search operations: ISPR

March 16th, 2017

Security officials on Wednesday apprehended 26 suspects including 11 Afghan nationals in joint search operations in various cities, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) stated in a press release.

Punjab Rangers, police and intelligence officials conducted search operations in Islamabad and Rawalpindi as well as different cities of Punjab, including Dera Ghazi Khan, Lahore, Sialkot, Attock, Hassanabdal, Narowal, Shakargarh and Rajanpur.

Weapons, ammunition, improvised explosive devices as well as material required to build suicide jackets such as circuits were also confiscated during the operation.

The development is part of Operation Raddul Fasaad, which translates roughly to 'elimination of discord'.

The Pakistan Army launched the operation in February 2017 following a spate of terror attacks that claimed more than 100 lives in Pakistan.

The military action is aimed at indiscriminately eliminating the "residual/latent threat of terrorism", consolidating the gains made in other military operations, and further ensuring the security of Pakistan's borders.

Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Civil Armed Forces (CAF) and other security and law enforcing agencies (LEAs) will be part of the operation, which is intended to be a continuation of National Action Plan (NAP).

According to a recent progress report on NAP, shared by Minister of State for Interior Balighur with the Senate, so far some 1,865 suspected terrorists have killed and over 5,000 arrested.



Pak-Afghan border tensions costing millions

The closure of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is more than inconvenient; it is costly.

Officials on both sides of the border say in just one month, the closure has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost trade, and tonnes of perishable goods have rotted in stranded trucks.

The two countries accuse the other of harbouring their militant enemies.

Both countries deny the other's charges.

This longstanding tension reached a breaking point when Pakistan closed all border crossings on Feb 16 after a string of brutal suicide attacks last month that killed more than 125 people. Islamabad claims the attacks were orchestrated from safe havens in Afghanistan.

Kabul too has been battered by horrific attacks, the latest a coordinated assault against a military hospital that killed more than 30 people.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal has asked Pakistan's political leadership to reconsider the closure.

Pakistan recently agreed, but only for two days to allow an estimated 35,000 stranded Afghans and Pakistanis to return to their homes.

Border traffic routinely gets disrupted, sometimes to protest against US action in the region, but the closures are rarely protracted. The one exception and only for trucks carrying goods destined for Nato soldiers occurred in 2011 when Pakistan protested a US attack on a military outpost that killed 24 soldiers. The closure lasted seven months.

Otherwise, lengthy border closures lasting more than a week or two are rare.

Aside from the political back-and-forth and personal inconveniences, this closure is hurting business in the region.

The border is one of the most lucrative trade crossings in South Asia.

Cross-border trade includes everything from supplies destined for Nato troops still stationed in Afghanistan to Afghan goods transiting through Pakistan to Karachi destined for international markets, said senior Pakistani customs officer Samad Khan.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, senior vice president of the Afghanistan/Pakistan Joint Chamber of Commerce, said the annual trade target of $2 billion has plunged to $1.5bn because of frequent border closures. The real potential, if the two neighbours could get along, is up to $4bn in annual trade, Sarhadi said.

"We understand the sensitivities," Sarhadi said in a telephone interview, referring to border security. However the closures are already creating shortages of goods in Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan depends on Pakistan for everything from needles to helicopters," he said.

Some of the Afghan members of Sarhadi's organisation called the closure both illegal and illogical.

The bulk of the trade between the two countries is construction material, meat, poultry, fresh and dry fruits. And the real victims, Sarhadi said, are the small traders for whom a truckload or two that spoils while waiting at the border could be devastating.

Since last month's decision, more than 2,000 trucks have been stranded at the Torkham crossing on Afghanistan's northwest border.

The prolonged closure "has affected us badly," said Lal Raheem Shinwari, president of the Traders Association in the nearby Pakistani town of Landi Kotal.

"We, the residents and traders, are the worst affected."

The government won't say when the border might re-open.

Each country has given the other a list of militants they want apprehended and handed over. Afghanistan has also identified 32 alleged terrorist training centres in Pakistan that it wants closed.

In Kabul, Azrakhsh Hafizi, a member of the international relations committee of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce, said the two countries need a regional cooperation agreement.

Politics, he said, is devastating the business communities in both nations. In the markets in Kabul, prices are already soaring, Hafizi said.

'All the time we are facing many many challenges because of politics," he said. "The business community suffers a lot of losses and a lot of problems. We need to find a solution to this."



South Asia


Four ISIS-Linked Militants Killed In Raid in Bangladesh-Police

March 16, 2017

Four suspected militants, including a woman, from a group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State were killed in a shootout on Thursday when Bangladesh police raided their hideout in the southeast, a senior police official said. Police said those killed were members of a faction of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh group, known as New JMB, which they believe were linked to an attack on a cafe in the capital, Dhaka, last July that killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.

New JMB has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attack on the cafe in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter.

Two policemen were wounded when the militants inside a two-storey building in Chittagong, about 200 km (120 miles) southeast of Dhaka, attacked them with at least a dozen grenades, police official Mohammad Moniruzzaman told Reuters.

It was not clear whether the militants were killed in a shootout with police or had detonated suicide vests they were wearing, Moniruzzaman said. “The operation is over. Our intelligence and bomb disposal units are now working,” he said.

The raid on the building began on Wednesday night and 20 members of seven families trapped inside were taken to safety before the final assault began early on Thursday, Moniruzzaman said. Live bombs were found inside the building, he said.

Bangladesh has been hit by a spate of killings of liberals and members of religious minorities in the past few years. Police have killed more than 50 suspected militants in shootouts since the cafe attack, including the man they say was its main planner, Bangladesh-born Canadian citizen Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury.



Three Islamic Militants Blow Themselves Up In Bangladesh

March 16, 2017

At least three Islamic militants blew themselves on Thursday in Bangladesh when police raided their hideout outside the port city of Chittagong as part of an intensified crackdown on militants. The operation ‘Assault 16’ was jointly carried out by Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit, Special Weapon and Tactic Team (SWAT), Rapid Action Battalion and Chittagong district police in Sitakunda.

The gunfight began after police stormed a two-storey building where militants were staying as tenants. According to media reports, the suspected militants were apparently killed in “suicide explosions”.

The extremists believed to be operatives of banned Neo-Jamaat ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), hurled grenades and fired gunshots before blowing themselves up. Two policemen also injured during the raid.

Ambulances were seen coming out from the site carrying wounded policemen with officials. “Police launched an operation when the militants started blasting grenades…explosions rocked the neighbourhood for nearly 10 minutes,” a journalist told PTI.

“Several families were living in that house and they were freed after spending the night as hostages,” the journalist said. The building has been cordoned off.

Neo-JMB is said to be inclined to the Islamic State terror outfit which has claimed the responsibility for the deadly July 1, 2016 attack on a Dhaka cafe in which 22 people, including an Indian, were killed.

Earlier, a couple was arrested from a suspected militant hideout at Chittagong’s Sitakunda. A police spokesman in Dhaka told PTI the law enforcement agencies have launched countrywide “block raids” targeting presumed militant hideout since last Thursday. Eighty militants have been killed in these raids so far.

Bangladesh witnessed a spate of attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities since 2013. The country launched a massive crackdown on militants specially after the Dhaka cafe attack.



Taliban leaders among 36 killed in latest airstrikes in Helmand

Thu Mar 16 2017

At least thirty six Taliban insurgents were killed in the latest airstrikes conducted in the restive Helmand province in South of Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) said the militants were killed during the airstrikes conducted in the vicinity of Nad-e-Ali district.

The Taliban leaders killed in the airstrikes have been identified as Mullah Esmat who was also famous as Sur Gul and Sefat, both belonging to a single family.

At least eight Taliban insurgents were also wounded during the airstrikes, the Ministry of Defense added.

Helmand is among the volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgents are actively operating in its various districts and often carry out insurgency activities.

Taliban insurgents have carried out numerous large attacks to capture the key districts of Helmand including the provincial capital of Lashkargah city during the recent months.

This comes as the defense officials and local officials in Helmand said at least thirty two people including personnel of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces were rescued from a Taliban jail in Lashkargah city.

According to the officials, the prisoners were released during a special military operation conducted by the Afghan commandos on Monday night.



Women empowerment crucial for peace in Afghanistan: India

So far nearly 4,000 poor women and widows have benefited from the program and thousands more will receive the training in the second phase of the project by next year, said UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin

March 16, 2017

India has stressed that gender euality and women empowerment are essential factors for the success of the peace process in Afghanistan. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin cited the example of an Indian NGO named Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) which is working with the women in Afghanistan and providing vocational training in areas of food processing, garment stitching and embroidery.

“Women empowerment and gender equality are essential to peace building,” he said during a session here yesterday on opportunities for women’s economic empowerment in insecure areas of Afghanistan.

So far nearly 4,000 poor women and widows have benefited from the program and thousands more will receive the training in the second phase of the project by next year, he said.

He said that under the project Afghan a federation named Sabah Bagh-e-khazanah, which has 22 women’s groups who formulate their business plans, run their production centers and sell their products in the local markets.

Initially about 45 local master trainers received training from visiting SEWA teams from India. They also visited India for vocational training and in turn imparted the skills to thousands of Afghan women, particularly war widows and destitute women, he added.

The total cost of the project was about USD 2 million.

Akbaruddin pointed out that in the second phase, the project has spread beyond Kabul and attracted other funds such as from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to train master trainers from Mazar-e-Sharif, Baghlan and Parwan Provinces.

Over 3,000 women would benefit in this phase which would run through mid-2018, he said.



No evidence hospital attack was insider job: Afghan defence ministry

Afghanistan's defence ministry Wednesday shrugged off allegations that insiders were involved in a catastrophic insurgent attack on the country's largest military hospital, as it faces scathing public criticism over the assault.

Despite an earlier statement that the attack was inside job, the ministry says no evidence have been found to substantiate claims.

Gunmen disguised as doctors stormed Sardar Daud Khan hospital in Kabul last Wednesday, with multiple surviving staff telling AFP that insiders including two interns were among the attackers.

The carnage inside the heavily guarded hospital points at a spectacular intelligence failure and spotlights how insurgents have managed to infiltrate top government and military institutions in Afghanistan.

"We have no evidence it was an insider job," Deputy Defence Minister Helaludin Helal, head of a government investigation team, told reporters.

"The attackers entered the hospital using a Corolla car. One blew himself up and four others entered the building."

But his comment contradicts an earlier statement from his own ministry's spokesman Mohammad Radmanish, who conceded that "the attack was carried out from both outside and inside".

"This could not have been possible without the help of people inside," Radmanish said on Sunday.

Public anger has grown over the episode, with speculation swirling on social media that such a brazen attack on the tightly guarded hospital could not have happened without the complicity of high-ranking officials.

"The government is trying to cover up its embarrassing security failures and pretend there was no help from within," one Afghan said on Facebook Wednesday, echoing a deluge of similar comments.

Also read: Afghan security leadership under fire over hospital attack

The Afghan security leadership has also come under bitter criticism from lawmakers.

MPs are calling for the impeachment of Afghanistan's defence and interior ministers and the intelligence chief, as the country braces for an intense fighting season in the spring.

For his part, Helal said 24 hospital and military officials accused of "negligence of duty" are being prosecuted.

He added 50 people were killed by five attackers. But security sources and the survivors, some of whom counted dead bodies, previously told AFP that the death toll exceeded 100.

The savagery of the assault was characterised by how the assailants stabbed bed-ridden patients, threw grenades into crowded wards and shot people from point-blank range.

The militant Islamic State group claimed it was behind the attack via its propaganda agency Amaq hours after the Taliban denied responsibility.

But the survivors AFP spoke to said some of the attackers "were in phone contact with handlers whom they addressed as Mullah Sahib", and attacked all but two wards on the hospital's first floor where Taliban patients were admitted.



Jundullah’s explosives expert and Taliban’s key commander arrested in Samangan

Thu Mar 16 2017

An explosives expert of Jundullah terrorist group was arrested along with a key Taliban commander in northern Samangan province of Afghanistan.

The Ministry of Interior (MoI) said the two militant leaders were arrested during the counter-terrorism operations.

The Jundullah explosives expert was involved in manufacturing Improvised Explosive Device to carry out roadside bombings in this province, MoI said, adding that an Ak-47 rifle was also confiscated from him together with a motorcycle.

According to MoI, the Taliban leader arrested during the operation has been identified as Esmatullah who was also famous as Jalali and was leading a group consisting twenty insurgents.

He was held during an operation conducted in the vicinity of Hazrat Sultan district, the ministry added.

The anti-government armed militant groups have not commented regarding the reports so far.

Samangan has been among the relatively calm provinces since the fall of the Taliban regime in northern Afghanistan but the anti-government armed militant groups have increased their presence and insurgency activities in some of its district as they continue to attempt in spreading violence in northern provinces of the country.



US Embassy says Afghan visa holders can visit US, rejects travel ban rumors

Thu Mar 16 2017

The Embassy of the United States of America in Kabul has said the Afghan nationals holding valid visa can travel to the country, rejecting rumors circulating regarding the travel ban on Afghans to US.

“Contrary to social media rumors about the U.S. Executive Order on Immigration, #Afghans with valid visas may travel to the United States,” according to a short statement posted online by the Embassy.

This comes as the latest executive order by President Donald Trump sparked concerns among the people that the travel ban could also affect the Afghans.

According to the executive order, the travel ban has been temporarily imposed on Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

Reports indicate that the travel ban has been imposed for a period of at least 90 days.

The difference between the previous executive order and the latest one is the exclusion of Iraq from the list.

The executive order is expected to be full executed from 16th March.

The two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, are having large numbers of applicants who have applied for the special immigration visa for working alongside the US government and forces.



North America


Trump: Assimilation of Muslims to be very difficult in Western countries


Assimilation of Muslims to be very difficult in Western countries, U.S. President Donald Trump told Fox News.

During the interview the host of the Fox News TV channel asked the president whether it is possible to integrate Muslims into Western civilization, CBS News reported.

“The assimilation has been very, very hard,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s been a very, very difficult process. I want this country to be safe. ”

Trump also added that “many Muslims love our country”.

At the same time the head of the state suggested “to look at what’s going on in Germany, Sweden, Brussels and many other places.”

“It has been a very hard process. We are going to try very, very hard to make it work,” he said.

The interview was recorded before the news of the court ruling to suspend Trump’s immigration order broke shortly before Trump addressed supporters at an evening rally in Nashville, Tennessee.



President Trump suffers second defeat as revised travel ban on hold<

US District Judge Derrick Watson criticized what he called the "illogic'' of the government's arguments and cited ``significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus'' behind the travel ban

March 16, 2017

Watson criticized what he called the “illogic” of the government’s arguments and cited “significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus” behind the travel ban. He also noted that while courts should not examine the “veiled psyche” and “secret motives” of government decision-makers, “the remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry.”

“For instance, there is nothing `veiled’ about this press release: `Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” Watson wrote, referring to a statement Trump issued as a candidate.

Trump called the ruling an example of “unprecedented judicial overreach” and said his administration would appeal it to the US Supreme Court. He also called his new travel ban a watered-down version of the first one, which he said he wished he could implement.

“We’re going to win. We’re going to keep our citizens safe,” the president said at a rally in Nashville. “The danger is clear. The law is clear. The need for my executive order is clear.”

If the administration seeks an emergency stay of Watson’s decision at the 9th Circuit, the matter would be heard by different judges from the three who ruled on the case last month. That’s because the panel of judges assigned to such cases rotates every month, said court spokesman David Madden.

The 9th Circuit on Wednesday declined to reconsider the 3-0 decision not to reinstate the original ban. In a dissent, five judges said they considered that decision incorrect and wanted it vacated.

“Whatever we, as individuals, may feel about the president or the executive order, the president’s decision was well within the powers of the presidency,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the five.

Watson issued his 43-page ruling less than two hours after hearing Hawaii’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the ban from being put into practice.

The hearing was one of three held Wednesday in federal courts around the country. US District Judge James Robart in Seattle, who blocked the initial travel ban last month, did not immediately rule on a request from an immigrant-rights group to block the revised version. Neither was there a ruling from US District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland in a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

In all, more than half a dozen states are trying to stop the ban. A case brought by Washington state argues that the new order harms residents, universities and businesses, especially tech companies such as Washington state-based Microsoft and Amazon, which rely on foreign workers. California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon have joined the claim.

Trump’s initial travel ban, issued on a Friday in late January, brought chaos and protests to airports around the country as travelers from seven nations Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen were barred from entering even if they had prior permission to come to the US The State Department canceled up to 60,000 visas, but later reversed that decision.

Robart ordered the government to stop enforcing the ban, which also suspended the nation’s acceptance of refugees from around the world, and a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declined to reinstate the ban.

The administration subsequently rewrote the ban, emphasizing more of a national security rationale, dropping Iraq from the list of banned countries and spelling out some reasons that travelers from the listed nations might be granted waivers allowing them into the US despite the policy. The new ban does not apply to travelers who already have visas.

Critics of the ban said the changes made it more palatable, but they still argued that it violated both the Constitution and federal immigration law, and they tweaked their lawsuits to target the revised order.

Watson is a 2012 appointee of President Barack Obama. He is the only Native Hawaiian currently sitting as a federal judge and the fourth in U.S. history. He received his law degree from Harvard in 1991.

In his order, he found little evidence the travel ban would aid national security, noting a point brought up by the state: that a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security found nationality to be an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats.

Watson made it clear that his decision applied nationwide, ruling that the ban could not be enforced at any US borders or ports of entry or in the issuance of visas.

In the Hawaii case, the federal government said there was no need to issue an emergency restraining order because Hawaii officials offered only “generalized allegations” of harm.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed the lawsuit that succeeded in blocking the first ban, cheered the Hawaii judge’s ruling.

“It’s very exciting,” Ferguson said. “At this point it’s a team effort multiple lawsuits and multiple states.”



Trade war will hurt US firms first, China says

Mar 16, 2017

Saibal Dasgupta

BEIJING: Chinese premier Li Keqiang warned the US on Wednesday that American companies would be the first to be hit in the case of a trade war between the two nations.

US president Donald Trump has promised to impose heavy duties on Chinese goods sold in that country.

The warning assumes significance because a meeting between Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping is in the offing in April.

Speaking at the annual session of the National People's Conference, Li said, "A trade war would not make our trade fairer." Li said that "a closed-door policy or beggar thy neighbour approach will not make anyone the winner." This is seen as a reference to Trump's "America first" policy.

Li also made a plea to the European Union to relax its restrictions on export of high technology to China. On the South China Sea, he said, "China and the US have been cooperating for a long time in the Asia-Pacific and we have common interests."



US plans for Syria include another 1,000 troops: US official


Up to 1,000 additional US troops could deploy to northern Syria under provisional plans drawn up by the Pentagon, a US defense official said on March 15.

The plans, which still need to be approved by President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, would mark a significant uptick in US boots on the ground in Syria as part of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

Currently, the troop level is capped at 500 in Syria, but that number has become increasingly meaningless as commanders flow extra "temporary" forces in as needed -- such as last week's deployment of a Marine artillery battery near Raqa.

The actual number of American troops in the war-torn country is likely now between 800 and 900, and a US defense official said the new plans would allow for up to 1,000 more.    

"That's one of the proposals that's on the table for discussion," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The possible deployment was first reported by the Washington Post, which said the extra forces would come from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

The official said the troops would not be in direct combat, but rather serve in support roles for any additional capabilities the military requires in northern Syria, where a US-led coalition is training and backing a local Kurdish-Arab alliance to fight the jihadist group.

Such missions could include additional artillery batteries and the use of rocket launchers known as HIMARS that can provide round-the-clock bombardment in the battle to recapture Raqqa from ISIL.

Former president Barack Obama was loath to deploy combat troops into Syria and Iraq to fight ISIL, arguing the battle could only be meaningfully won by local forces.

Trump has said he wants to quicken the defeat of ISIL and told the Pentagon to come up with a range of plans that could accomplish that goal.

Syria is marking the sixth anniversary of its brutal civil war, which began with anti-government protests in March 2011 and has killed more than 320,000 people.

The civil war and the anti-IS fight are interconnected but for the most part have played out in separate parts of Syria.

The "United States does remain committed to finding a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the Syrian conflict," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "All of us know how hard that is.



Southeast Asia


Danger rises as foreign conflicts spill over into Malaysia

March 15, 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s welcoming policies are laudable, but they may now be making the country unsafe.

Not only has Malaysia become a way station for conspirators to plot terror attacks abroad, conflicts in other country’s are now spilling over onto Malaysian streets, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

It quoted security analysts as saying that for decades, Malaysia had attracted transnational criminals and political exiles.

The main reason for this was Malaysia’s open-border policy and apathy, according to experts quoted by the WSJ.

It cited two recent major terror-linked plots: The murder of Kim Jong Nam, blamed on a North Korean-led hit team, and an alleged Islamic State-linked attempt to attack Saudi King Salman’s visiting delegation last week with a car bomb.

In June 2016, Islamic State-influenced militants carried out a grenade attack at a nightclub in Puchong, injuring eight people. Police said it was the first ever successful IS attack in Malaysia.

WSJ quoted Rohan Gunaratna, a professor of security studies at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, as saying: “In the past, terrorists did not target Malaysia, but today the threat has changed. Malaysia has become a really important target.”

Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told WSJ that authorities had raised the alert level since the two plots in February but that “people are free to move and do their routine”.

It quoted the words of James Chin, director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, who wrote in a recent article: “As long as Malaysia allows political exiles who are still active to live in Malaysia, political violence not related to Malaysia will occur on Malaysian soil. The Kim killing was not the first and will not be the last.”

Malaysia, said WSJ, was among the most welcoming nations, extending visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 164 countries and territories. In comparison, the US does so for 43 countries and France, 91.

WSJ noted that when many Western nations curbed travel from some Middle Eastern states after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US, Malaysia eased travel privileges for the region, drawing millions of new visitors. However, it did take new security precautions.

And until the diplomatic spat with Pyongyang, North Koreans enjoyed visa-free travel to Malaysia.

WSJ said Malaysia’s National Security Council last year proposed restoring visa requirements for several Middle East nations, citing the need for greater controls following an Islamic State-linked attack, but that the Cabinet threw it aside.

The proposal was rejected, added the report, because the Cabinet felt it was discriminatory, diplomatically complex and bad for the economy.

WSJ gave several examples of transnational criminals and political exiles finding Malaysia a conducive place to meet and discuss plots and issues.

US officials had previously said that the Sept 11 attacks and the USS Cole bombing in the Gulf of Aden were partly planned by al-Qaeda operatives meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

The 9/11 Commission Report said militants linked to Osama bin Laden saw Malaysia as an ideal place for wounded militants to recover.

It noted that Indonesians Abu Bakar Bashir, spiritual head of a Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, and Riduan Isamuddin – known as Hambali – once Southeast Asia’s most-wanted terrorist, both lived in Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bashir was convicted and imprisoned in Indonesia while Hambali is a Guantanamo Bay detainee.

It said leaders of an Indonesian separatist movement in the Aceh region had also set up base in Malaysia, but did not give details.

Another regular Malaysia visitor, the WSJ noted, was Zakir Naik, an India national “who has urged all Muslims to be terrorists, praised bin Laden and called for the death penalty for homosexuality”.

WSJ said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

“Malaysia is a place where local and international networks of all sorts are built and seeds are sowed slowly and steadily because of its peaceful and apathetic setting,” it quoted Achmad Sukarsono, an analyst with Washington DC-based Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy, as saying.

“As long as they lie low, stay quiet and act normal, people with extreme ideas can connect with like-minded others.”



Dozens killed in fresh clashes on Myanmar’s China border

Thousands of people have since fled to China to escape the ensuing gun battles, artillery strikes and fires, leaving Laukkai deserted.

March 15, 2017

Raging battles on Myanmar’s border with China have claimed dozens more lives, military and official sources said on Wednesday, as the mounting death toll landed a fresh blow to the government’s faltering peace process. Fighting broke out between troops and ethnic minority rebels in the Chinese-speaking Kokang border region in northeastern Shan State this month when insurgents dressed in police uniforms launched a surprise raid on security forces.

Thousands of people have since fled to China to escape the ensuing gun battles, artillery strikes and fires, leaving Laukkai deserted.

Military sources said 28 civilians and police have been killed, while the commander in chief’s office has reported at least 46 insurgents have also died.

Troops “found the bodies of 17 enemies and seized 27 weapons” between March 6-14, it said in a statement.

Three more rebels were killed today during an army offensive in which “some military officers and other (lower) rank soldiers were killed and injured,” it added.

A military source who asked not to be named said the figures were in addition to 26 rebels the government said had been killed in a statement on March 6.

State media reported on Tuesday that “dozens of soldiers” had also been killed in the escalating clashes.

The bloodshed has threatened to derail de facto leader Suu Kyi’s efforts to seal a peace deal with Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, some of which have been fighting the state for decades.

The UN said at least 50,000 people have fled their homes in Shan and Kachin States since September to escape some of the worst violence to grip Myanmar’s restive border regions for decades.

A second round of peace talks initially scheduled for late February have now been pushed back to May.

This month’s clashes in the Kokang region have also raised tensions with Beijing, which fears the deadly unrest will spill across its borders as it did in 2015.

The people of Kokang have strong bonds with Myanmar’s giant neighbour — locals speak a Chinese dialect and the yuan is the common currency.

Observers believe Beijing also holds significant sway over the ethnic fighters and has been angling to leverage its key role in the government’s peace process.

Last week China called for an immediate ceasefire and this week officials have reportedly been holding talks with rebel groups in a bid to calm the fighting.



Myanmar refugees may be hurt most by Donald Trump resettlement cuts

President Donald Trump's 16-page travel ban "to keep the bad dudes out" bars new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries and shuts down America's refugee program through mid-July.

March 16, 2017

Tin, her husband and five children have cleared years of refugee hurdles to come to the US: blood tests, interviews, DNA and fingerprints, background checks. She has her one must-bring possession within reach, a well-worn Bible, and keeps their phone charged for the U.S. Embassy to call.

But the odds of that happening dropped precipitously.

President Donald Trump’s 16-page travel ban “to keep the bad dudes out” bars new visas for people from six Muslim-majority countries and shuts down America’s refugee program through mid-July. His executive order had been set to take effect Thursday, but a federal judge put it on hold hours before it was to take effect.

The order also includes a 55 percent reduction in refugee visas overall, from a planned 110,000 to 50,000 this year. This means, in some of the most desperate places in the world, 60,000 refugee visas are not going to be issued after all.

Who are the 60,000 people who may have lost their chance to resettle in the U.S. by September? An Associated Press analysis of 10 years of refugee data suggests that their most common country of origin is not any of the six nations in the travel ban, but Myanmar, also known as Burma. Thousands, like Tin and her family, are Christians who were persecuted in their native country.

They expected to resettle before September in the U.S., a place they consider home. More than 160,000 Burmese have resettled in the US in the past decade, more than any other group. They account for nearly 25 percent of new U.S. refugees since 2007.

“America is really our fatherland in terms of religion,” said Tin, 38. “They sent their missionaries to our country and taught us to be Christians. And now we had to escape. All we want is to be safe.”

Under an authoritarian regime in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, Christians face religious and political discrimination. Tin and her community fled Chin state, where Human Rights Watch says more than 90 percent of the residents were adhering to the tenets the American Baptist Church by 2009, pitting them against a military campaign to elevate Buddhism over all other religions.

Tin and others said that when they gathered for family prayers, people threw rocks at them. Soldiers busted into church services. They hid their precious Bibles for fear of attack.

School teacher Sang, 29, a Burmese refugee who learned English as a theology student, meticulously read through a copy of Trump’s executive order last week and then looked up, nodding.

He said that while he agreed with the need to keep terrorists out of the U.S., “We are not terrorists, we are Christians. We will never be a problem in the United States. We will get educations, we will work hard. We only seek safety.”

Tin and Sang are among more than 100,000 Christian Burmese refugees forced to flee in recent years. They live out of suitcases in abject poverty in Malaysia. Their kids can’t go to school, and they risk deportation or detention if they try to report a crime.

And it’s not just Christians. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have also been forced to escape the country of 51 million, where soldiers torched homes, raped women and killed them in a crackdown that began in October.

Trump’s “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States,” says lowering the cap is necessary to US interests. But the swift reduction in refugee visas interrupts work underway by federal law enforcement agencies and nonprofits around the world to vet 110,000 people in 2017, the highest number in decades. It was an attempt to put a small dent in the record 65 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons worldwide.

Nearly 38,000 have been admitted so far. Another 72,000 were preparing to arrive before the fiscal year ends in September. Instead, under Trump’s order just 12,000 more will be allowed in. Exceptions can be made if the secretaries of State and Homeland Security agree.

“The safety and security of the American people is our highest priority,” said a State Department official who provided a statement on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk on the record about it.

The US defines refugees as people of “special humanitarian concern” who have been persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

An AP analysis found that nearly half the refugees who have arrived in fiscal year 2017 came from the seven majority Muslim countries named in an earlier executive order. Refugees from Syria, in particular, have arrived in greater numbers in the past twelve months. Burma’s share has dropped from 26 percent of all spots in 2015 to just 8 percent of the refugee caseload so far this fiscal year.

The AP also found refugees from Bhutan and Afghanistan make up a smaller proportion admitted in 2017 than in previous years.

About 210,000 refugees, largely Vietnamese and Cambodians, came to the U.S. in 1980, the most in any year. Refugee arrivals dropped to less than 30,000 after 9/11 prompted strict new immigration rules. But they have increased fairly steadily since 2004, and overall refugee admissions reached 85,000 last year.

The journeys of Burmese refugees begin in some of the poorest places on Earth: remote villages in strife-ridden regions. They pay smugglers upward of $500 for the harrowing two-week journey. Some end up in Thailand, where an estimated 100,000 live in refugee camps, known locally as “temporary shelters.” Thai officials did not allow AP to visit.

In Malaysia there are about 130,000 Burmese refugees awaiting resettlement. They live in Kuala Lumpur’s poorest neighborhoods, their makeshift plywood walls dividing ordinary two-bedroom apartment into a half dozen stifling family units, a stark contrast to city’s glimmering skyscrapers. They can stay for years, their belongings packed in baggage, so they can be near the United Nations and U.S. Embassy if called to get stamps on documents or meet with officials.

Earlier this week, Tin _ the mother waiting for the Embassy to call _ dropped off her youngest son at a volunteer-run school. A teacher wrote words on the board, and asked students for three descriptive phrases.

Bauri Ram, 11, stared at his word, President.

“Donald Trump,” someone had written. “Help other people.”

Bauri Ram took up the blue marker: “They help refugees.”





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