Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Gita ban: Russia rejects India's complaints
Moscow, December 23, 2011: Russia has rejected as misplaced India’s complaints about the trial in the Siberian city of Tomsk against a translation of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was not the Bhagavad Gita as such that was on trial but some comments contained in a 20th-century Russian translation of the scripture.
Russian prosecutors are seeking a court ban on the book, which they claim is extremist and insulting to non-believers.
“I would like to emphasise that this is not about ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ a religious philosophical poem, which forms part of the great Indian epic Mahabharata and is one of the most famous pieces of the ancient Hindu literature. In Russia, the book was first published in Russian in 1788 and then went through many editions in different years and in various translations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
“The Tomsk court case is about classifying as extremist material the Russian-language edition of the ‘Bhagavad Gita. As It Is,’ written in 1968 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Mr. Lukashevich said in reply to a request from The Hindu to clarify the Russian official position on the Tomsk trial.
The statement came a day after India upped the ante in the controversy. “The Russian authorities have been approached at high levels to appropriately resolve this matter,” said Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra.
“The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most important and respected scripture in the world. First translated into Russian in 1788, it is not merely a religious text, but one of the defining treatises of Indian thought,” Mr. Malhotra said in a statement.
“The Bhagavad Gita has circulated freely across the world for centuries and there is not a single instance of it having encouraged extremism. So, the case before the Honourable Court in Tomsk is indeed absurd, bordering on the bizarre,” the Indian envoy added.
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that the Tomsk court was not trying the Bhagavad Gita.
“As evident from the testimony, the complaints of law enforcement authorities relate, not so much to the text of the book as such, even though its double translation contains some distortions, but rather to the author’s commentaries, which are considered to fall under Article 13 of the Federal Law ‘On Counteracting Extremist Activity’,” Mr. Lukashevich said.
On Monday the Tomsk court adjourned the case till December 28 as it agreed to hear testimony from the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights and Russian Indologist, who favour dismissal of the charges.
In Islamic law, Gingrich sees a mortal threat to U.S.
By SCOTT SHANE
Dec 21 2011
WASHINGTON Long before he announced his presidential run this year, Newt Gingrich had become the most prominent U.S. politician to embrace an alarming premise: that Shariah, or Islamic law, poses a threat to the United States as grave as or graver than terrorism.
“I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it,” Gingrich said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in July 2010 devoted to what he suggested were the hidden dangers of Islamic radicalism. “I think it’s that straightforward and that real.”
Gingrich was articulating a much-disputed thesis in vogue with some conservative thinkers but roundly rejected by many U.S. Muslims, scholars of Islam and counterterrorism officials. The anti-Shariah theorists say that just as communism posed an ideological and moral threat to America separate from the menace of Soviet missiles, so today radical Islamists are working to impose Shariah in a “stealth jihad” that is no less dangerous than the violent jihad of al-Qaida.
“Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools; violent jihadis use violence,” Gingrich said in the speech. “But in fact they’re both engaged in jihad, and they’re both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Shariah.”
Echoing some Republicans in Congress, Gingrich blasted the Obama administration’s policy of declining to label terrorism carried out in the name of militant Islam as “Islamic” or “jihadist.” Administration officials say such labels can imply religious justification for a distortion of doctrine that most Muslims abhor, thus smearing an entire faith.
But to Gingrich, whose campaign did not respond to a request for comment, the administration’s language smacks of the willful blindness of an earlier era. “The left’s refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union,” Gingrich said.
Shariah (literally, “the path to the watering place”) is a central concept in Islam. It is God’s law, as derived from the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and has far wider application than secular law. It is popularly associated with its most extreme application in societies like Afghanistan under the Taliban, including chopping off a hand as punishment for thievery.
But it has always been subject to interpretation by religious authorities, so its application has varied over time and geography, said Bernard G. Weiss, professor emeritus at the University of Utah and an authority on Islamic law.
“In the hands of terrorists, Shariah can be developed into a highly threatening, militant notion,” Weiss said. “In the hands of a contemporary Muslim thinker writing in the journal Religion and Law, Shariah becomes an essentially pacifist notion.”
The Arab Spring has set off a lively political and scholarly debate over the growing power of Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. But those are all overwhelmingly Muslim countries. The idea that Shariah poses a danger in the United States, where the census pegs Muslims as less than 1 percent of the population, strikes many scholars as quixotic.
Even within that 1 percent, most U.S. Muslims have no enthusiasm for replacing federal and state law with Shariah, as some conservatives fear, let alone adopting such ancient prescriptions as stoning for adulterers, said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, who spent a year traveling the United States and interviewing Muslims for his 2010 book “Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam.”
The notion of a threat from Shariah to the United States “takes your breath away, it’s so absurd,” Ahmed said. He sees political demagoguery in the anti-Shariah campaign, which fueled rallies against mosques in the last two years from Manhattan to Tennessee.
All of the Republican presidential candidates have been asked about the supposed threat from Shariah. Rep. Michele Bachmann told the conservative Family Research Council in a November speech that Shariah “must be resisted across the United States,” endorsing moves by several states to prohibit judges from considering Shariah.
Mitt Romney said in a June debate: “We’re not going to have Shariah law applied in U.S. courts. That’s never going to happen.” He immediately added, “People of all faiths are welcome in this country.”
For Gingrich, concern about Shariah has been a far more prominent theme. He and his wife, Callista, produced and narrated a 2010 film on the threat from radical Islam, “America at Risk,” that discusses the danger of both terrorism and Shariah against a lurid background of terrorist bombings, bloody victims, wailing sirens and chanting Muslim crowds. (Callista Gingrich does say, at one point, “This is not a battle with the majority of Muslims, who are peaceful.”)
One Muslim activist who is shown in the film calling for “separation of mosque and state,” Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, said he appreciated Gingrich’s support in an ideological contest with large Muslim advocacy groups in the United States that he believes have an Islamist slant.
But Jasser, a Phoenix, Ariz., physician and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said non-Muslims like Gingrich were not the most effective advocates for what he believes is really a debate within Islam.
“Unfortunately, as long as a non-Muslim opens the discussion, whether it’s Gingrich or someone else, it’s going to hit a brick wall in the Muslim community,” Jasser said.
Mohamed Elibiary, a Muslim and an adviser to law enforcement agencies in Texas and to the Department of Homeland Security, is a conservative Republican who said he once idolized Gingrich. He said he no longer did.
He said the anti-Shariah campaign in the United States was “propaganda for jihadists,” offering fuel for the idea of a titanic clash of faiths. Those who truly want to protect American values should talk to Muslims, he said, not demonize them.
“There are plenty of American Muslim patriots who will defend American freedoms,” Elibiary said. “But you can’t be anti-Islam and find those allies.”
Pakistani army denies intention to oust government
ISLAMABAD Dec 23, 2011 — Pakistan's army chief has denied accusations that the military is seeking to oust the country's civilian government amid tension over a secret memo scandal.
Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kayani said in a statement released Friday the army would continue to support democracy and respect the constitution.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani claimed on Thursday there was a conspiracy under way to oust the government. He did not specifically point to the military, but said the army cannot operate as a "state within a state."
The army is the strongest institution in Pakistan and has ruled the country for much of its history after carrying out a series of coups.
Current tension was generated by a memo sent to Washington in May asking for help in averting a supposed coup.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani Taliban fighters attacked a paramilitary fort in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing one soldier and kidnapping 15 others, police said. The brazen attack was followed by a statement to media in which the militants said they would kill the abducted troops.
Armed with assault rifles, at least 35 militants targeted the Frontier Corps fort in Tank district before dawn, said local police chief Ejad Abid. The militants burned down buildings and captured a significant amount of weapons, he said.
One soldier was killed and two were wounded in the fighting, said Abid. Another 15 are still missing and believed to have been kidnapped, he said.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to The Associated Press and said it was carried out to avenge the death of a local Taliban commander. He claimed 30 soldiers were kidnapped.
But another Taliban commander who said he carried out the attack, Asmatullah Shaheen, told the AP that he had 15 soldiers in his custody. Some others managed to escape after the militants captured them, he said.
Abid, the police chief, said at least 22 soldiers were missing originally, but seven managed to return.
Shaheen said the militant commander being avenged, Taj Gul, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in October in South Waziristan, an important sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban next to Tank.
The militants attacked the Pakistani soldiers in response because of the country's alliance with the U.S., he said.
Ehsan, the Taliban spokesman, said the militants have no intention of bargaining for the kidnapped soldiers' release and intend to kill them.
"We are going to cut these soldiers into pieces one by one, and we will send these pieces to their commanders," said Ehsan.
Dawar reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.
Uyghur Political Prisoner Noor-ul-Islam Sherbaz Dies in Jail
RFA, 06 Dec 2011
A young Uyghur died in a Chinese jail in Xinjiang last month shortly after a visit from his mother, who reported signs of abuse, the young man’s father said.
“My son has died,” said Sherbaz Khan, a Pakistani, speaking in an interview with RFA. “Many, many Uyghur people are dying in Xinjiang.” Noor-ul-Islam Sherbaz, then 17, was detained following ethnic disturbances in the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, and was charged last year for what authorities said was his role in inciting the unrest. A Chinese consular officer in Pakistan surnamed Li had assured him that his son was in good health and would be released in five to six months, said Khan, who was deported from Xinjiang into Pakistan on June 10, 2010.
Li also warned him not to speak to reporters about his son’s situation. But a friend with connections to the Urumqi jail said that his son had been regularly beaten with electric batons.
“Many young Uyghur men and women are also badly beaten,” Khan said his contact told him. “They are beaten constantly. They are given only two hardened steam buns with boiled water to eat each day. Their cells are cold and tiny, with 20-25 people put into spaces meant to hold 4-5.”
On Nov. 13, Khan said, Chinese officials asked his wife—who lives in Xinjiang and whose younger sister is married to a high-ranking police officer—to come to the jail at 10:00 a.m. to visit her son. She was allowed to see him for only 20-30 minutes, Khan said.
“Later, we learned that on that same day, at around 10:00 p.m., my son had died … His mother saw him in the morning, and in the night he was gone. They said my son had died in the hospital,” Khan said. “I heard that they gave him a lethal injection.”
Khan said he instructed his wife not to take charge of their son’s body until he was able to come to Urumqi from Pakistan. “I applied for a visa, but the Chinese embassy in Pakistan told me to wait until they had ‘news from the top.’ We waited for three days. In the end, they insisted on burying him themselves. Police were everywhere, and they refused to let anybody see him.”
Though the Pakistani embassy in Beijing offered to arrange transportation and bring his son’s body to Pakistan, the Chinese authorities “did not agree,” Khan said. “They knew that I would arrange a postmortem examination to determine the cause of death. Now my son is dead,” Khan said. “My wife and I are now dead, too.”
Calls seeking comment from the Chinese consulate in Pakistan rang unanswered on Monday.
Representatives of all religions live as one family in Azerbaijan -President of Azerbaijan
23 December 2011
The Ajdarbay mosque opened after major repair and overhaul on 22 December.
The opening ceremony was attended by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and his spouse Mehriban Aliyeva.
The ceremony of the opening of the Ajdarbay mosque started with reading of ayat from Koran. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev spoke in the ceremony.
News.Az prints below the full text of the president's speech, reported by AzerTAj.
The speech of President Ilham Aliyev:
“Your Eminence sheikh!
Dear muftis of the republics of North Caucasus!
Dear religious leaders!
I cordially greet all of you. Today is a wonderful and memorable day. The Ajdarbay mosque opens its doors to the believers after major repair. This is a great and historic event. The mosque is our national treasure. This mosque was built a century ago by famous philanthropist Haji Ajdarbay Ashurbayov, After the October revolution it was closed, but in the 1940s it resumed its activity. However, in recent years, both external and internal appearance of the mosque demanded more money. A few years ago the reserve fund allocated means for the overhaul of the mosque. During the renovation, I repeatedly got acquainted with the situation, then at the suggestion of His Eminence Sheikh the area of the mosque was expanded. I can say that today the area of the mosque is at least 10 times more than before. All repair works and reconstruction were performed here with great taste and with great love. I am very pleased that this historic and religious monument has been repaired at a high level and now opens its doors to us.
The Azerbaijani people are extremely committed to their religious and historical traditions. Our religion, history, national and spiritual values are of utmost importance to us. In recent years, our historical and religious monuments have been repaired and reconstructed. The sanctuaries, temples are protected and repaired by the state. At the initiative of great leader Heydar Aliyev on 12 July 1998 we opened the main corps of the Bibieybat mosque. The Bibieybat sanctuary is great sanctuary. The mosque was built there in the 18th century. In the 1930’s by the order of the Soviet leadership the Bibieybat mosque was destroyed. It was restored at the initiative of the great leader, and as I have noted, the main corps opened in 1998. Other buildings of the mosque were commissioned in 10 years on 12 July 2008. The mosque was expanded and has now it is one of the most beautiful mosques in Azerbaijan.
Full Report at:
Quota for minorities: BJP warns of civil war, CPM seeks more reservation; Congress happy
NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW, Dec 23, 2011,: Terming the decision of carving a a sub-quota for minorities within the 27% reservation for OBCs as a "dangerous political game" of Congress, BJP on Friday said it could result in a "civil war" among different communities in the country.
"The quota within quota is Congress party's dangerous political game, which can lead to a civil war among the different communities and castes," said BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
The government had late last night cleared the proposal to allow a 4.5% quota for minorities within the 27% reservation for Other Backward Classes (OBCs).
The BJP leader said his party is in favour of socio-economic development of the Muslim community. He charged the ruling Congress party of exploiting the Muslim votes for political gains for the last 60 years.
"This quota within quota 'lollipop' is also part of the Congress' political exploitation campaign. This is the biggest fraud of the Congress and its government against the Muslims as well as the Constitution. On one hand, it is constitutionally wrong and on the other Muslims are not going to benefit by this," Naqvi said.
"By injecting the cocaine of quota, Congress is conspiring to hijack the Muslim votes. We will not allow this dirty and dangerous game succeed...," he added.
The decision of carving out a sub-quota within the OBC quota comes ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, which was cleared at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, paving the way for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for minorities as defined in section 2 (C) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992.
Full Report at:
Madrasa Teacher Arrested for Sodomising Student
Express News Service
CHENNAI, 22 Dec 2011 : In a shocking incident, a Madrasa teacher was arrested and charged with ‘immoral sex’ after inquiries revealed that he had sodomised his 11-year-old student.
The victim, who had to be hospitalised, is recovering.
M Talat (name changed) attended classes at a Madarasa on Raja Hyder Street in Anna Salai to learn Arabic and the Koran, Inspector Murugesan, the investigating officer, told ‘Express’.
A resident of Bangaru Naicken Street in the same locality, Talat was a class six student at a private school in Triplicane, he said. “Three sessions are conducted daily at the Madarasa and a total of 40 students attend them. The boy attended the 6 am - 7 am session,” the officer said. On December 19, Talat, as usual, attended class and on returning home, complained of rectal pain. But his family members did not pay much heed to it and the boy had gone to school.
“In the evening, the pain increased and his grandfather Hussain Basha took him to the GH in Royapettah and then to the children’s hospital in Egmore,” Murugesan said. When the doctors examined him, they found that his rectum was ruptured and suspected that the boy had been sodomised. Following this, Basha lodged a complaint with the Anna Salai police on Monday.
Upon questioning Talat, it came to light that he was sodomised by his teacher Mohammad Mehtab Alam.
Investigation revealed that Alam, after sending away all the students, asked Talat to stay back on December 19.
Alam, a native of Bihar, had been teaching at the Madarasa run by Altaf (55) for the last two-and-a-half years. “Inquiries revealed that he took the boy to his room and raped him,” the Inspector said.
On learning that the police were after him, Alam absconded, following which the police picked up Altaf and served an ultimatum on him to produce the teacher, sources said.
However, Alam gave himself up at the Anna Salai police station on Tuesday evening and was booked under Section 377 (immoral sex) and produced before the 13th Metropolitan Magistrate Court, which remanded him to judicial custody.
Militant Hamas agrees to join PLO umbrella in key step toward unifying Palestinian leadership
By Associated Press,
CAIRO, V, 2011 — The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas took an important step toward reconciliation on Thursday, announcing plans for the Islamic militants to join the umbrella group that has overseen two decades of on-and-off peace talks with Israel.
The deal to admit Hamas into the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization could have deep repercussions. Hamas has opposed the peace talks and rejects Israel’s right to exist. A strong Hamas voice in the group would further complicate the already troubled Mideast diplomatic process.
Israeli officials reacted with alarm to the emerging agreement.
Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also the head of Fatah, has ruled only the West Bank since then. The division has been an obstacle in peacemaking efforts with Israel, since Abbas does not speak for all the Palestinians.
A full reconciliation could solve that — or it could put Hamas in charge. The Islamist group won a parliamentary election in 2006, and a short-lived government Hamas formed with Fatah was shunned by Israel and the West, freezing peace efforts.
Under the agreement, Hamas’ supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, joined a committee that will prepare for elections of the PLO’s parliament in exile. He will serve alongside Abbas.
“The reconciliation has taken off. It might take time, but we have started,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, a top Fatah negotiator, after the talks in Cairo.
The election would clear the way for Hamas to become a full member of the body and gain an important voice in its decision making.
Any PLO election is likely years away because of logistics alone. The PLO represents all Palestinians, so the vote would have to include people spread throughout the world, including residents of refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. In addition, political battles are likely to hinder the process.
In a separate step toward reconciliation, the sides have tentatively agreed to hold separate elections next year in the West Bank and Gaza. That vote is meant to end the division and choose a single government for both territories, where Abbas hopes to establish an independent state.
Full Report at:
Iraq’s vice president accuses Iran of being involved in his arrest warrant
By Ben Birnbaum-The Washington Times
Dec 22, 2011
Iraq’s vice president says that Iran is “definitely” behind Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s move to jail him on terror charges, saying it is “not a coincidence” that his arrest warrant was announced the day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq.
“Definitely Iran was involved,” Tariq al-Hashemi told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview, speaking by phone late Wednesday from a Kurdish town in northern Iraq. “My dear friend, they have … staff now in the government and in the parliament. They are representing Iran.”
Mr. al-Hashemi said he has been a consistent critic of the “intervention of Iran in every respect of my country.”
“They are interfering in politics, in the economy, in social life, in education, in everything,” he said of Iran’s Shiite leadership. “They are becoming a major player in political decision-making. They are threatening our country’s sovereignty, so I was one of the major protesters against this policy.”
Mr. al-Maliki, a Shiite, issued an arrest warrant for Mr. al-Hashemi, a Sunni, on Monday, accusing the vice president of running “death squads” that assassinated Shiiite government officials during sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007.
Mr. al-Hashemi, who is staying in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, has vehemently denied the charges, but he told The Times that he believes he could never receive a fair trial from the Iraqi judiciary.
“All Iraqis are very much aware about the nature of our judicial system,” he said. “It is not transparent, it is not neutral, it is not independent. It’s become a puppet of the government and certainly al-Maliki.”
Mr. al-Hashemi said he is willing to face trial before “a neutral and more transparent and more professional, independent court, which I think is available here” in the Kurdish region.
Full Report at:
Delhi Police arrests 2 Babbar Khalsa International terrorists
FP Staff Dec 23, 2011
Two suspected terrorists of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) were arrested by the Delhi police on Friday. A senior police official said a team of Delhi Police’s Special Cell apprehended the duo.
The arrested have been identified as Sarvpreet and Jaswinder. One of them was arrested from Punjab, the other from north-west Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh.
Investigators claimed that three politicians and religious leaders in Delhi were on the terrorists’ target.
In October, Delhi Police had claimed to have foiled a terror strike, possibly in Delhi, ahead of Diwali after seizing over 5 kg explosives from a car outside Ambala Cant railway station.
Investigators had then pointed to the possibility of LeT and Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) joining hands to plot the attack.
A team of Delhi Police and their Haryana counterparts found the explosives in a car parked outside the railway station, about 200 km from Delhi, on 12 October. Following a probe into inputs provided by intelligence agencies, that a consignment of explosives is headed to a north Indian metro.
The duo arrested will be produced at Tees Hazari Court later today.
With inputs from PTI
Nuclear power being forced to surrender by rulers: Nawaz
South Asian News Agency (SANA) ·
CHISHTIAN, (SANA), December 22, 2011: Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz President Nawaz Sharif has said that the masses are dying from hunger and millions of rupees are being spent by the government, adding that the nuclear program of the country is being to surrender by the present rulers.
He said that the present rulers are involved in historical corruption and ministers are only making money.
Addressing a big public gathering on Thursday, he said that the conditions were far better in his government. The conditions are getting worse day by day due to corrupt practices of the government.
He said that masses are facing problems like shortage of gas, load-shedding, poverty and unemployment but government has no concern with people of country.
We would give soft loans to youth for their own business and would not allow any one to targeting masses, adding that Nuclear power Pakistan is being forced by the rulers to surrender but PML-N would not tolerate such activities of government.
Nawaz said that time has come to send corrupt rulers to their home, adding that we have not seen such a corrupt government.
He said that no one can see Pakistan with malicious eye, adding that PML-N after getting power would bring revolution. We had brought revolution in past and would brought revolution in future, he said.
Nawaz Sharif said that his party is ready to take any step for the supremacy of the civilian rule in the country.
He said that people were starving but the government was not concerned at all about this.
The PML-N president further said that he was ready to hold another long march to bring a revolution in the country and would work with the people to form a new Pakistan.
Sharif added that present situation in the country was unacceptable and that his party would support the people by winning the next elections.
Nawaz Sharif said that those who have been in government by mistake must go now, as it is time for them to go. It is time now for the PML-N to rule the country, Sharif said, adding that the corrupt minister deposited corruption money on orders of the supreme court and still the said minister is holding the minister ship.
He said that the Punjab government has established computer labs in 4500 schools of the province; meanwhile he announced to distribute one million laptops to the students of the Punjab soon. The students must be aware of fake leaders, he said.
Nawaz said he gave sacrifices for the country, went to jails but still want to serve the people of the country.
He said that if the vigour of masses is alive than Pakistan would remain forever on the map of the world, adding that Shabaz Sharif would ensure supply of water in canals of Bahawanagar.
67 killed as Shias hit in Baghdad blasts
BAGHDAD, Dec 23, 2011: A wave of bombings killed at least 67 people in Baghdad on Thursday, the first attacks since Iraq’s Shia-led government was engulfed in a crisis that risks fracturing the country along sectarian and ethnic fault lines.
The bombings, just days after the last United States troops left Iraq, marked a violent backlash against Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s move to sideline two Sunni rivals. The tensions threaten a relapse into the kind of sectarian bloodletting that drove Iraq to the brink of civil war a few years ago. At least 18 people were killed when a suicide bomber driving an ambulance detonated the vehicle near a government office in Baghdad’s mostly Shia Karrada district, sending up a huge smoke cloud and scattering car parts into a kindergarten, according to police and health officials.
Police and security sources said there were more than 10 explosions across Baghdad, mostly targeting Shia districts. A total of 194 people were wounded. Iraqi officials linked the attacks to the current crisis. “The timing of these crimes and the places where they were carried out confirm the political nature of the targets,” Maliki said in a statement. In the other Baghdad attacks, two roadside bombs struck the southwestern Amil district, killing at least seven people and wounding 21 others. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded in a Shia neighbourhood in Doura, killing three people and wounding six. More bombs ripped into the central Alawi area, Shaab and Shula in the north, all mainly Shia areas. Another roadside bomb killed one and wounded five near the Sunni neighbourhood of Adhamiya, police said.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombings, but analysts said Iraq’s Al Qaeda affiliate was probably hitting Shia targets in a bid to inflame sectarian conflict and show it was still capable of major attacks. The attacks come as Iraq’s fragile power-sharing government is grappling with its worst turmoil since its formation a year ago. Shia, Sunni and Kurdish blocs share out government posts in an unwieldy system that has been impaired by political infighting since it began.
The European Union (EU) led the global condemnation of the attacks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton “strongly” condemned the attacks and urged Iraqi leaders to engage in dialogue immediately to address their differences. reuters
Pakistan leaders near showdown with army: Newspapers
ISLAMABAD, Dec 23, 2011: Pakistan's powerful military and civilian leaders are headed for a showdown over a memo that accused the country's generals of plotting a coup, newspaper editorials predicted on Friday.
"A spectre is haunting Pakistan -- the spectre of a clash between the army and the government that threatens to turn fatal," said an editorial entitled "Point of no return?" in the News.
Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani has called for an investigation into who may have been behind the memo which could further undermine deeply unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.
The Supreme Court is looking into a petition demanding an inquiry into the matter.
Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on Oct. 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.
Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, who denied involvement but resigned over the controversy.
The military faced unprecedented public criticism over the bin Laden affair, widely seen as a violation of sovereignty.
But many Pakistanis rallied around the army after a Nov. 26 air attack by NATO forces in Afghanistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border. The memo has also helped boost the army's image at the expense of the government.
What has become known as "memogate" has made Zardari, who is close to Haqqani, more vulnerable than ever since taking office in 2008 in a country where anti-U.S. feeling runs high.
Full Report at:
Conflict Fears As Iraqi Power Balance Crumbles
By Abeer Mohammed, Dec 23, 2011
Just days after the last American troops left Iraq, mounting political battles threatened to destroy the balance of power on which the country’s fragile democratic system is founded. Some fear it could lead to a re-run of the bloody sectarian warfare that the United States withdrawal was supposed to mark the end of.
Despite protestations from the government, there is a perception that with the Americans out of the way, Shia politicians have moved fast to shove Sunnis out of government.
Fears of conflict were strengthened on December 22 when a series of bombs hit the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing at least 60 people killed and injuring nearly 200, most of them civilians, according to Iraqi officials.
No one has claimed responsibility, but the surge in violence is a clear sign that extremist groups see the security situation as weaker now that the Americans have gone and plan to exploit it.
The bombings came as Sunni politicians in top positions came under severe pressure.
On December 18, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki requested the dismissal of his deputy, Saleh al-Mutlaq.
Full Report at:
Forty killed and 100 wounded in suicide bombings in Syria
Damascus, Dec 23, 2011: State TV says several people were killed, mostly civilians, in a double suicide car bombing targeting security and intelligence buildings in the Syrian capital today.
The government has long depicted the uprising as the work of terrorists and armed gangs. AP
The blasts are the first such attack in the Syrian capital since the start of the uprising against President Bashar Assad in March and came a day after an advance team of Arab League observers arrived in the country on a mission to try to resolve.
The government has long depicted the uprising as the work of terrorists and armed gangs.
The TV report does not give exact numbers of deaths, saying only “a number of military personnel and civilians, mostly civilians,” died.
The TV says the blasts targeted the state security building and an intelligence building.
3 Somali aid workers killed, including 2 with World Food Program, after returning from camp
By Associated Press,
HARGEISA, Somalia, December 23— A resident of a refugee camp shot and killed three aid workers in central Somalia on Friday, including two workers with the U.N.’s World Food Program, a town elder said.
Mataban town elder Mohamud Sheik Abdi said the three Somalis were shot and killed Friday morning as they returned from a camp for families displaced by violence and famine. Abdi said the shooting appeared to have been over a personal matter.
WFP confirmed the killing of two of its staff members and the death of a third person working for a cooperating aid group.
“The individual then gave himself up and is currently in the custody of the local authorities. WFP operations have been temporarily suspended in Mataban,” the statement said.
Hassan Madar, an eyewitness to the shootings, said the aid workers had been counting refugees in the camp.
“They were supervising the camps since yesterday. The murderer surrendered to Ahlu Sunna fighters after the killings and he was then taken to another location,” Madar said, referring to a Somali militia.
Al-Shabab — the Islamist fighters who rule much of the country’s southern and central regions — last month barred 16 aid groups from operating in areas under their control. The militants accused aid groups of espionage or anti-Islamic activities.
Somalia hasn’t had a fully functioning government since 1991.
Three men gunned down in Mastung, Pak
Dec 23, 2011
QUETTA: Three people were killed and two others injured when unidentified assailants opened fire on a car in Deringer area of Mastung, some 40 kilometres from the provincial capital, on Thursday night. According to the Balochistan Levies, unidentified men on two motorcycles opened fire at a pick up truck in Deringer area. Resultantly, three people were killed on the spot and two passers-by sustained injuries. Balochistan Levies rushed to the scene soon after the incident and cordoned off the area. The deceased and injured were shifted to Civil Hospital Mastung. Those killed were identified as Master Noroz Bangulzai, Nasar-ul-dine Raisani and 15-year-old Muhammad Umar. The passers-by were identified as Aziz Ahmed and Babul Khan. “Levies have registered a case and begun investigating the incident. The motive behind these murders has not been ascertained yet,” a Balochistan Levies official said. Earlier on Thursday, a man was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Killi Jumma area of Dasht district of Mastung. A Levies official said, “The motive behind the killing could be an old enmity.” staff report
US $10m bounty for 'al-Qaeda man' based in Iran
22 Dec 2011
The United States has offered a reward of $10m (£6.3m) for information leading to the arrest of a man they say is a key al-Qaeda facilitator and financier.
Officials said Yasin al-Suri, also known as Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, was a Syrian national operating from Iran.
The bounty aims to disrupt a financial network that, they said, had operated from within Iran's borders since 2005.
The state department said it was the first time a "terrorist financier" has been targeted in such a way.
"He is a dedicated terrorist working in support of al-Qaeda with the support of the government of Iran," spokesman Robert Hartung said, according to the Associated Press.
"As a key fundraiser for the al-Qaeda terrorist network, he is a continuing danger to the interests of the United States."
He added that Mr Suri, operated under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the government of Iran, moving money and recruits through the country to the network in neighbouring countries - specifically Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.
He was blacklisted along with five other members of his network by the US treasury department in July.
Mr Hartung said that, since 1984, the US Rewards for Justice programme has paid more than $100m to more than 70 people who provided credible information that either prevented attacks or helped bring those accused to justice.
US offers solatia payments to Pak
WASHINGTON, Dec 23, 2011: In keeping with its practice in Afghanistan, the US is willing to offer solatia payments to the families of Pakistani soldiers killed in a cross-border NATO strike last month as it tries to resolve the crisis generated in its aftermath, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
The airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers and hit the fragile US-Pakistan ties hard, following which Pakistan shut down its NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in protest.
"In keeping with our normal practices in Afghanistan, the United States is willing to offer solatia payments as a sign of our regret for the loss of life," Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told PTI.
"This is not necessarily a legal form of compensation, but it is a sign of regret for the loss of life," Little said in response to a question, adding that an offer has to be made and accepted in accordance with the normal practice for payments be made to each of the 24 families.
He said the US had accepted responsibility for the "mistakes" and admitted "shortcomings" after a thorough investigation.
"We have expressed our deepest regret for loss of life and extended our condolences," Little said when asked about the Pakistani demand that US should issue a formal apology.
"We have expressed our regret," he said. Earlier at a news conference, the Pentagon Press Secretary said the findings of the report would soon be shared with the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, both of whom have already been briefed about it.
Egypt premier urges dialogue to end crisis
Says ruling military is eager to cede power
By Sarah El Deeb -Associated Press
CAIRO, Dec 22, 2011 —Egypt's military-appointed prime minister on Thursday called for national dialogue to resolve the country’s political crisis and pleaded for a two-month calm to restore security after weeks of protests and bloodshed.
Kamal el-Ganzouri also told a news conference that the ruling military is eager to relinquish power and deliver the country to civilian rule, as demanded by activists and protesters in the streets around Cairo's Tahrir Square.
“They want to leave today, not tomorrow,” he said without elaborating.
Few, if any, of the activists demanding an immediate end to military rule are likely to take up the offer of dialogue.
Instead, they are focused on finding ways to persuade and pressure the generals to quickly step aside, such as offering them immunity from prosecution over the deaths of protesters killed in recent clashes with soldiers and police or calling for presidential elections by next month.
At least 100 people have been killed in such confrontations and in sectarian violence since the military took power after the ouster of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February.
The deaths, coupled with the brutality shown by army troops against protesters, including women, have prompted some activists to consider suing the generals in local courts or try to have them put on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
About 3,000 students from Ain Shams University in Cairo marched Thursday after a prayer service for a student killed in the recent clashes. Students carried a symbolic coffin, Egyptian flags and a large picture of Mr. Mubarak in a noose.
A Cairo protest rally, called “Regaining honor and defending the revolution,” is scheduled for Friday.
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Iran, India, Pak should help Afghan reconciliation: Velayati
New Delhi,Dec 23,2011, Iran today pitched for a regional solution to the Afghan problem, saying countries like India and Pakistan can help in the reconciliation process in the war-torn nation. The situation in Afghanistan came for discussion during the meeting between visiting Iranian leader Ali Akbar Velayati and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh where both sides agreed that the two countries could help in bringing peace and tranquility in the region. "We have to look for solution within the region. Iran believes that people of the region are also eager to find a solution to the Afghan problem," Velayati, who is the advisor on International Affairs to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, told reporters here, a day after his meeting with the Prime Minister. During his media interaction, Velayati talked about the issue of India's payment to Iran for oil imports, prospect of Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, India's stand on Iran's nuclear programme and situation in West Asia. Asked about specific areas of cooperation on Afghanistan, Velayati said India, Iran, Pakistan and some Central Asian countries should help in arranging the reconciliation process among various Afghan groups. "Neighbouring countries of Afghanistan should help in bringing peace and development in the country. We believe that the people of Afghanistan should decide their future and India and Iran should help them in the process," he said. However, he made it clear that it did not mean that "we want to interfere in the internal matters of Afghanistan". About the decision of the international forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, Velayati said they had no other choice but to take such a step sooner or later. If the US forces continue to remain there, they would have faced the same situation as they faced in Vietnam, he said. (More)
Emirates strips 6 of citizenship over security fears, but those targeted see political motive
By Associated Press,
DUBAI, Dec 23, 2011,United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates said Thursday it is taking the rare step of revoking the citizenship of six supporters of an Islamist group because of security concerns, but the men say they are being unjustly targeted for their political views.
The order was issued by President Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan earlier this month, according to an announcement by state news agency WAM.
It is likely to renew debate about the UAE’s handling of calls for reform in the wake of this year’s Arab Spring uprisings. The U.S.-allied Gulf nation has not seen any of the street protests that have rocked other countries in the region, though officials have taken steps to tamp down signs of dissent.
The six men, along with one other Emirati who said he had also been stripped of citizenship, denounced the move in a statement posted online.
One of them, Islamic scholar Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq, said in an interview that he and others losing their passports signed a petition earlier this year calling for legislative changes and freer elections.
He said he believes they were “targeted because we demanded political reforms.”
In the online statement, the men described themselves as members of an Islamist organization known as the Reform and Social Guidance Association. They urged the UAE’s leaders to “stop all oppressive measures against advocates of reform in the country.”
The state news agency quoted an unnamed source at the General Administration for Naturalization, Residency and Ports Affairs who said the six men had acted to threaten “the national security of the UAE through their connection with suspicious regional and international organizations and personalities.”
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Boko Haram, Gaddafi’s fall boost Christian population- Bishop Okah
BY FESTUS AHON
DECEMBER 17, 2011 · in WORSHIP, As Nigeria battles to stem activities of the dreaded Islamic sect, Boko Haram, Warri based Reverend (Dr) Simeon Okah, Bishop of the Flock of Christ Mission, says the sect’s activities are inadvertently helping to convert more people to Christianity as Nigerians and elsewhere do not like to be associated with violence. He also speaks on insecurity and other issues of national interest. Excerpts:
It is reported that you believe that Boko Haram is working in favour of the expansion of the gospel. Can you throw more light on this?
I know, for the interest of those who understand the power of the gospel and how the gospel itself moves. I know that the gospel itself is a gospel of peace. When there is peace, then we can have more effect in terms of Boko Haram, knowing well it is extremism on the part of Islam. Right now, the youths in Europe are scared of Islam, because you know they are more civilized.
They are also more economically opportune. A religious body where the extremists are always killing human beings without thinking twice; it is difficult to get a younger person into Islam in Europe and I believe that the same thing is already happening here in the Northern part of Nigeria.
A lot of youths who are Muslims are turning to Christ; turning en mass to Christ. A young person will be looking for a place where you can give him hope; where you can give him job and so on and so forth. That is why I feel that this violence will make Muslims lose. In the time past, they were losing members, not to talk of now when there is all kind of violence and wickedness.
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ISLAMABAD: Islamic calligraphy exhibition kicks off at Jharoka
Dec 23, 2011
ISLAMABAD: In order not to let the centuries old tradition of Islamic calligraphy fade into oblivion, Jharoka Art Gallery (JAG) is exhibiting the works of three artists to show their skill and creativity in this field of visual art on Thursday.
Artists Arif Khan, Hamid Nasir and Muhammad Anwar have displayed 31 pieces of Islamic calligraphy. For the pure visual effect, artists used numerous traditional arts in his work including decorative art that is not only used to visually beautify the work but to capture the spirit of the written words.
Khan has 14 pieces in this exhibition, which shows his hard work and seniority. He is working on leather for quite a long time but this time he has used 22 kg gold for gold leafing that gives a lot of strength to his calligraphy.
Nasir, a Karachi-based artist who was born in 1965, is basically a self-tought artist and exhibiting his calligraphy works since 1998. There are six paintings of Hamid in this exhibition, which show his skill and command on calligraphy. He says Quranic calligraphy is the greatest blessing and such kind of calligraphy is scared, respect, worthy and a honourable task. The Quranic calligraphy gives me spiritual conciliation and satisfaction, he added.
Anwar, who belongs to Peshawar and born in 1975, is currently living in Rawalpindi. It is his first exhibition in Islamabad in which he has 11 artworks. The different masters of calligraphy in Pakistan inspire him. He is experimenting and always giving a new edge to his work and has done a lot of work in Peshawar.
Talking about the work, the artist said creative calligraphy art portrays divine rhythmic beauty and exaltation in the spiritual domain. We describe beauty through painting techniques and magnificently blend the modern art with cultural and religious values.
JAG Director Nahida Raza said in almost all Muslim societies, almost every household was decorated with some kind of Islamic calligraphy, featuring different verses from the Holy Quran. Here in Islamabad, we are just trying to offer a wide variety of the art and giving people a chance to learn from masters like Khan and Nasir.
She said that the art of calligraphy dated back to a period when the writing began. It is a type of visual art, which is often called as the art of fancy lettering. A contemporary definition of calligraphic practice is ‘the art of giving a form to signs in an expressive, harmonious and skilful manner’.
In early Islam, the sanctity of the Arabic writing was accepted among Arabs and non-Arabs alike, and its use in sacred and official texts gave rise to a wonderful profusion of scripts, and a calligraphic tradition, she added.
This exhibition will continue till December 31, 2011 at JAG, F-8/3 Islamabad.
Pakistan's U.S. "memo" haunts gov't as army calls it reality
by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, 2011-12-22 (Xinhua) -- The Pakistani government faces an uphill task to deal with a looming crisis over a memo delivered to the then American military chief on behalf of Pakistan's ex- ambassador in Washington Hussain Haqqani, seeking U.S. help to rein the powerful army.
A Pakistani-American business tycoon Mansoor Ijaz stunned the Pakistani government and the people when he disclosed that after the May 2 U.S. raid on a compound of Osama bin Laden he had been asked by Haqqani to convey the memo to ask for U.S. help to avert a possible military coup.
Haqqani had denied drafting any memo but Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani recalled him to Islamabad and asked him to resign. But the resignation could not resolve the issue and main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took the issue to the Supreme Court.
A nine-member larger bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is hearing the case, now one of the most important cases in the country's history.
Pakistani media call the issue as a "Memogate Scandal" and all eyes are now on the apex court as the opposition refused to refer it to the parliament and preferred to seek the judges verdicts to fix responsibility as to who was responsible to seek U.S. help against the army. The opposition insists that the memo was delivered on behalf of President Asif Ali Zardari, a charge which has been denied by the Presidential spokesman.
Prime Minister Gilani had opposed the issue to be referred to the Supreme Court and insisted that the Parliament Committee on National Security should investigate the matter but the opposition disagreed.
Pakistan Rejects US Probe on Lethal Strikes
ISLAMABAD, Dec 23, 2011: Pakistan on Friday rejected a US probe into American air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, providing little sign of a swift resolution to the worst crisis in the countries’ fragile alliance.
“Pakistan’s army does not agree with the findings of the US/Nato inquiry as being reported in the media. The inquiry report is short on facts,” the military said in a short statement.
“A detailed response will be given as and when the formal report is received,” it said.
The inquiry, headed by a US Air Force general, blamed US and Pakistani forces for a series of mistakes that led to “tragic” air strikes on November 26, the deadliest single cross-border attack of the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
The Americans acknowledged for the first time significant responsibility for the strikes, but insisted their troops responded only after coming under heavy machine-gun and mortar fire, angering Islamabad, which has denied any such thing.
The probe portrayed a disastrous spate of errors and botched communication in which both sides failed to tell the other about their operational plans or location of troops, exposing deep distrust.
Pakistan refused to take part in the inquiry, having criticised previous investigations into cross-border attacks as worthless. Instead, it has sought a formal apology from US President Barack Obama.
Islamabad has kept its Afghan border closed to Nato convoys since November 26, boycotted the Bonn conference on Afghanistan and ordered Americans to leave an air base understood to have been a hub for CIA drone strikes on the Taliban.
The 28-day border closure is unprecedented in the 10-year US-led war in Afghanistan, shutting down the quickest and cheapest supply line for 140,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban.
Analysts in Pakistan saw little in the report that would repair relations, particularly with the government and military in a standoff over alleged attempts by one of the president’s aides to rein in the power of the military.
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Pakistani Premier Warns of Plotting by Military
ISLAMABAD, Dec 23, 2011, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani lashed out against his country’s powerful military on Thursday, warning of conspiracies against the civilian government. His accusations threw a spotlight on swirling rumors that the military might have plotted a coup after being humiliated by the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Mr. Gilani, usually a soft-spoken politician, complained Thursday that “conspiracies are being hatched to pack up the elected government.” Later, speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, he said that his government had supported the Pakistani military during several crises, including the Bin Laden case, but that the same generals had turned against the civilian government.
“They cannot be a state within a state,” Mr. Gilani said. “They are answerable to the Parliament.”
The rumors of a coup plot have been building for months, since an American businessman of Pakistani origin wrote an op-ed article for The Financial Times saying that a Pakistani diplomat asked him to deliver a memo to Adm. Mike Mullen, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, after Bin Laden was killed. He described the memo as saying that the civilian government sought help in preventing a possible coup, offering in exchange to dismantle part of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, and Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the ISI chief, have insisted that the Supreme Court investigate the memo.
The furor grew last week when the British newspaper The Independent published a blog post with more hints. The post quotes the same businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, as saying that American intelligence sources told him General Pasha traveled to the Persian Gulf after the Bin Laden raid to muster support for a coup in Pakistan. The ensuing media and political storm raised calls for General Pasha’s resignation. Husain Haqqani, the former envoy to the United States who was accused of being behind the memo to Admiral Mullen, was forced to step down. Mr. Haqqani denies involvement, and denies accusations that he gave visas to hundreds of American spies.
Mr. Gilani referred obliquely to those accusations on Thursday, saying he wanted to know what kind of visa Bin Laden had that allowed him to live in Pakistan for six years.
“We want to ask how he entered Pakistan,” Mr. Gilani said, in a jab clearly aimed at General Pasha. “Why was the security not taken care of?”
A petition seeking General Pasha’s removal was filed this week with the Supreme Court, which is also weighing whether to open an investigation into the memo.
Pakistan top judge rules out military takeover
By Masroor Gilani (AFP)
ISLAMABAD, Dec, 23, 2011 — Pakistan's top judge on Friday ruled out any possibility of a military coup as the Supreme Court deliberated a scandal that has significantly escalated tensions between the government and the military.
"Rest assured... in this country there is no question of (military) takeover because the people trust the apex court now," said Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, while hearing petitions calling for an investigation into the scandal.
The hearing reconvened one day after embattled Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani delivered an unprecedented tirade against Pakistan's powerful military and accused "conspirators" of plotting to bring down his government.
A nine-judge panel headed by Chaudhry is deliberating whether to order an investigation into allegations that a close aide of the president wrote asking for US help to prevent a feared coup and reign in the military's power in May.
Rampant speculation has refused to die that President Asif Ali Zardari could be forced out of office over the scandal and a recent illness, despite his return to the capital following two weeks of medical treatment in Dubai.
On Thursday, Gilani said the military could not be "a state within a state". The armed forces has carried out three coups in Pakistan and is considered the chief arbiter of power in the country of 174 million.
"We assume that nothing will occur and only the constitutional order will prevail," Chaudhry told the court.
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India, Pakistan officials discuss border infrastructure development issues
ATTARI, 22 DEC, 2011, : Infrastructure development issues to facilitate cross-border travel and trade between India and Pakistan was today discussed at a meeting held between the two countries on this of the Wagah border.
The Indian team was led by K K Mittal, Border Management Secretary in Ministry of Home Affairs, and Amritsar Commissioner Customs Ranjit Singh, officials said.
The 11-member Pakistani delegation was led by Foreign Affair joint secretary Rabina Akhtar.
Issues relating to development of infrastructure, including construction of Integrated Check Post (ICPs) at Wagah border for travel and trade facilitation between the two countries, were discussed in the meeting, the officials said.
During the meeting, it was decided that the location of the second gate at the zero line as proposed by Pakistan shall be adhered to. It was also agreed upon that India would align the road passing through ICP on its side to meet the alignment of road passing through the second gate in Pakistan, they said.
The ambitious ICP project at the Attari border, spread over 130 acres and built with a cost of Rs 120 crore, would be operational by April next year, the officials said.
According to data, on an average 200 trucks laden with Indian merchandise cross the Wagah border daily at present. With the completion of the ICP, the infrastructure will enable 10 times the number of trucks to pass conveniently.
India, Pakistan to review CBMs after four years
NEW DELHI, December 23, 2011, Next week's talks will be followed by a convention on peace
After a four-year gap, India and Pakistan will hold talks next week in Islamabad on improving and expanding the set of nuclear and conventional confidence-building measures (CBMs), said Foreign Office officials.
Conventional CBMs will be discussed on Monday, with the Indian team led by senior diplomat Yash Sinha. Nuclear CBMs will be the topic the next day with Venkatesh Verma leading the team.
The meeting will end two days before the joint convention of the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFD), a mass-based initiative to promote people-to-people contacts. The forum's seventh convention will be held in Allahabad.
Diplomats here were tight-lipped about the likely outcome of the bilateral meeting but sources said the two sides would discuss the expansion of conventional CBMs to include avoiding incidents at sea. Other issues on the table are promoting trade and movement of people across the Line of Control (LoC); an India-China kind of pact for removing heavy weapons along the LoC; and closer interaction to remove the aggressive edge from their respective war doctrines.
The sources said the possibility of an India-Pakistan no-war pact looked remote now.
The conventional CBMs discussed till 2007 – till the Kabul Embassy bombing and Mumbai attacks intervened – have ensured cessation of mortar and small arms firing along the LoC and quick return of inadvertent border crossers.
In the area of nuclear CBMs, a further expansion could include pre-notification of cruise missile launches and discussions to tackle a Fukushima-type incident and eliciting a no-first-use commitment from Islamabad.
The meetings will extensively review the existing CBMs to make them more effective such as the practice of holding flag meetings on the border, not constructing new posts (both sides periodically claim violation by the other) and the practice of exchanging lists of nuclear installations.
Informed sources said the PIPFD convention, taking place after six years, was facilitated due to the positive vibes since talks began in real earnest earlier this year. It helped India issue close to 300 visas though peace activists claim it came a bit late in the day for them to prepare the logistics in a way befitting the long-delayed event. The activists had planned to hold this convention in 2008 but the Mumbai attacks vitiated the atmosphere, a fate that also befell talks on nuclear and conventional CBMs.
Pakistan terms Biden's remarks 'important'
23 December, 2011
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan says that the statement of US Vice President Joe Biden that the Taliban are not the enemy of the United States is "important" but it would offer no further comments at this time.
Biden had told Newseek, "Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That's critical. There is not a single statement that the President (Obama) has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy, because it threatens US interests."
During the weekly media briefing at the Foreign Office, the spokesman was asked about Biden's comments, to which he replied, "Vice President Joe Biden has made an important statement and at this stage I have no comment to offer."
Biden's remarks had led to questions as to which 'enemy' Nato has been fighting for so many years in Afghanistan. The News (a local Newspaper) understands that one view why Pakistan finds Biden's statement 'important' is because the US recognises the fact that without engaging with the Taliban there can be no peace inside Afghanistan.
Biden also (as Pakistan has stressed in the past), did not put any preconditions on the Taliban. When the spokesman was asked whether Pakistan sees the Taliban's activities in Afghanistan as "legitimate resistance" against foreign occupants, he did not give a direct response but said, "I would say that it is for the Afghan people to decide about the reconciliation process.
We have been saying this all along. It is rather insignificant what other countries think. Afghanistan is a sovereign country. They should lead this process. Our interest is that peace and stability should return to Afghanistan sooner rather than later".
Since Pakistan alleges that it was an Afghan refugee that attacked Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, the spokesman was questioned about the millions of these refugees still in Pakistan. He replied that Pakistan definitely wanted their return.
"We want them to go back but we want this to happen in a dignified manner because they have been our guests for over three decades. We would very much like them to go back to their home country. There is no doubt about that and we are trying to work out arrangements with the UNHCR. We hope that they return to their homeland quickly but with dignity and honour," he added.
Gujarat HC directs Centre to approach ICJ for 54 Indian POWs
AHMEDABAD, Dec 23, 2011: The Gujarat High Court today directed the Union of India to approach the International Court of Justice within two months for the release of 54 1971 prisoners of war (POWs) languishing in Pakistani jails.
Observing that there was an alleged breach of Simla Agreement by Pakistan, division bench of acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B Pardiwala also directed the Union of India to pay next to the kin of 54 POWs full salary and retirement benefits within three months.
The court further directed that once the POWs are released the next to kin would have to return the compensation amount to them.
It also observed that by not approaching the ICJ, it was inaction on the part of central government for not protecting rights of citizens who protect country's boundaries.
The petition was filed in 1999 by late Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Arora who had sought direction from the court for the Central government for release of POWs of 1971 war languishing in Pakistan prisons.
Arora had prayed that the POWs be treated as soldiers on duty and their families be given adequate compensation.
The Gujarat High Court in January 2010 had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000, twice, on the Ministry of Defense for not filing appropriate reply in the case for over 10 years despite repeated notices from the court.
According to the Shimla Agreement, India has sent back Pakistani POWs while the neighbouring country also sent 632 soldiers.
But in 1999, it was found that 54 POWs were still languishing in Pakistani jails out of which two are from Gujarat-- Kalyan Rathod from Sabarkantha and pilot N Shanker from Vadodara.
Other Indian prisoners who came back from Pakistan jails gave details of those who are still lodged there ,along with their names and origin.