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Islamic World News ( 21 Dec 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Mosque Can’t Be Built On Encroached Land, Notes Pakistan SC Judge

New Age Islam News Bureau

21 Dec 2018

Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami logo



 Mosque Can’t Be Built On Encroached Land, Notes Pakistan SC Judge

 Bangladesh Jamaat e Islami Maintains Close Ties With ISI, Pakistan

 Uttar Pradesh Muslim BJP Leader Claims Lord Hanuman Was Muslim

 Films to Project Positive Image of Islam Urged: OIC Secretary-General

 Cleric Flees Uzbekistan after Muslim Headscarf Row, Due To Pressure from Security Services

 Beijing Slams Reports of Forced Labour in Muslim Detention Camps



 Mosque Can’t Be Built On Encroached Land, Notes Pakistan SC Judge

 Pakistani Christians Face an Uneasy Christmas in the Wake of Asia Bibi’s Release

 62 Pakistanis executed in Saudi Arabia over drug trafficking in the last five years

 Hope renewed for Afghan peace deal as Kabul ‘frees 9 Haqqani militants’

 Pak, KSA to sign accord on crown prince’s upcoming visit: Fawad

 Kartarpur land swap with India out of question: FO

 Pakistan being praised for role in US-Taliban talks: Qureshi

 Zardari-Nawaz meeting can’t be ruled out: Khursheed

 Dialogue only option to resolve Indo-Pak dispute: Qureshi


South Asia

 Bangladesh Jamaat e Islami Maintains Close Ties With ISI, Pakistan

 Bangladesh Islamists in the Backseat, Not In Front

 Myanmar launches new 'clearance operations' against Rohingya

 Another year of unresolved terror in Bangladesh

 BNP, Jamaat plan to kill police officers ahead of polls: PM

 Trump plans to withdraw more than 5,000 troops from Afghanistan

 Khalilzad met Afghan leaders after his meetings with Taliban in Abu Dhabi



 Uttar Pradesh Muslim BJP Leader Claims Lord Hanuman Was Muslim

 Naseeruddin Shah On Bulandshahr Violence: Cow’s Death More Significant Than Death Of Police Officer

 Jamaat-e-Islami to Meet TRS MPs Over Triple Talaq Bill

 Bulandshahr: Families of ‘Innocent’ Muslim Held Wrongly Struggling To Survive

 Lok Sabha to take up triple Talaq Bill next week

 Jinnah House India's property, Pakistan has no claim on it: MEA

 Pak should mind its own business: India on Imran Khan's comment on Pulwama deaths


Arab World

 Films to Project Positive Image of Islam Urged: OIC Secretary-General

 After Syria, US Plans For Over 5,000 Troops to Be Withdrawn From Afghanistan

 Egypt Says It Thwarted Attacks on Copts

 US To End Air War against ISIS in Syria Following Troops Withdrawal

 Khalid Bin Salman: We Will Continue To Work with Allies to Reach Afghanistan Peace

 Fears US pullout of Syria will aid Daesh

 Kurds to Free Thousands of ISIL Terrorists after US Withdrawal from Syria

 Parliamentary Official: US Forced to Withdraw from Syria after Failure in Plots

 SDF: Kurds "Stabbed in Back" by US Withdrawal from Syria

 Kurdish Commander Killed in Clashes with Civilians in Eastern Syria



 Cleric Flees Uzbekistan after Muslim Headscarf Row, Due To Pressure from Security Services

 Morocco says suspects in hikers' murder pledged allegiance to IS

 France to maintain participation in Syria, UK says ISIS remains a threat

 UK: Ex-envoy criticizes new definition of Islamophobia

 British Campaign to Criminalise Islamophobia Condemned As Dangerous


Southeast Asia

 Beijing Slams Reports of Forced Labour in Muslim Detention Camps

 Sarawak Muslim Leaders Slam Maszlee over ‘Dakwah’ Remark

 Buddhist Student Aces Islamic Classes

 Terengganu says won’t revise minimum marriage age for Muslims

 Indonesia: Muslim group urges UN action on Uighur abuse

 Can martial law end ISIS-inspired groups in the Philippines?

 China: Syria's future should be determined by Syrians



 Turkey Says Syrian Kurdish Militants Will Be Buried In Ditches

 UN monitor en route as Hodeidah truce hangs on knife edge

 Netanyahu: Israel to escalate fight against Iran in Syria after US exit

 Syrians rally in Hasakah to protest Turkey ‘threats’ of military offensive

 Israel begins destruction of Hezbollah tunnels

 Iranian Intelligence Ministry rejects Israeli PM’s ‘delusional’ claims

 Israeli troops kill Palestinian man in West Bank

 Palestinian cars vandalized amidst hate crime in occupied East Jerusalem



 Libyan Army Demands UN Investigation into 'Two Weapons Shipments from Turkey'

 Why governments should recognise religion’s role in governance


North America

 Donald Trump: US Won't Spend Lives and Dollars as Middle East Policeman

 US defence chief Mattis resigns after disagreement with Trump over Syria withdrawal

 Planned pullout of US troops from Syria worries Western allies

 Iraq gets 90-day Iran sanctions waiver from Washington

 Trump says 'all' US troops departing Syria

 Donald Trump's administration to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, say US officials

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Mosque Can’t Be Built On Encroached Land, Notes Pakistan SC Judge

Naeem Sahoutara

December 21, 2018

KARACHI: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday sought record of the private land where a mosque and seminary had been allegedly built on an encroached piece.

A three-judge bench, headed by Justice Gulzar Ahmed, issued this directive while hearing a civil application filed by a private company, International Brands (Private) Limited, against alleged attempts to encroach upon some portion of a piece of commercial land by the prayer leader of a mosque.

The counsel of the company, Arshad Mohsin Tayebaley, told the court that his client had purchased Plot number F/2 X in Trans Lyari Quarters, Site, from the Pakistan Tobacco Company Limited, which executed a deed of assignment in respect of the land in favour of the applicant in 1996.

According to the lawyer, in 1965 the PTC had constructed a mosque named Mubarak Masjid with a Hujra on 7,015 square feet for the religious benefit and use of the workers and appointed Maulana Noor Muhammad Qureshi as its Pesh Imam (prayer leader).

Later, the cleric started unauthorised construction for an accommodation for his family adjacent to the mosque, but it was demolished by the district magistrate concerned after an inquiry.

The counsel contended that the cleric still claimed the portion of the demolished structure and later involved religious organisations in this matter.

However, the Sindh High Court in Nov 2011 decreed a lawsuit instituted by the applicant in its favour, ordering the cleric to vacate the premises and refrain from interfering with the property.

The high court also restrained the applicant company from demolishing or disturbing the mosque or the seminary and told it to continue to use it for offering prayers and religious purposes.

However, the counsel submitted that in addition to the existence of the mosque and seminary now attempts were being made by the respondent to encroach upon the adjacent portion of the land for a graveyard.

During Thursday’s proceedings, a bench member, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, asked how prayers could be offered in a mosque allegedly built on an encroached piece of land. Justice Ahmed observed that whether the illegal occupation could be legitimised even after the passage of a century.

Addressing the respondent’s counsel, the judge asked whether they had forgotten the example of the Masjid-i-Nabvi and asked him to cite a single example where the Khulfa-i-Rashideen had built a mosque on encroached land.

The judge further observed that if anyone wanted to build a mosque, it must be done in a legal way as building a mosque on encroached land amounted to defaming the Islam.

The bench members noted that Allah had not permitted building of a mosque on government land or on the property of private persons.

The counsel said that the applicant company was ready to offer the portion of the land where the mosque and the seminary had been built, but requested the court to restrain the respondents from unlawfully occupying the rest of the land for a graveyard.

The judges told the counsel for the parties to submit the original documents relating to the land in question by the next hearing and adjourned the matter.



Bangladesh Jamaat e Islami Maintains Close Ties With ISI, Pakistan

December 20th, 2018

Jamaat leaders carry out political and organizational activities following Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency directives, according to investigations conducted in light of the agency’s recently amped up activities and involvement in Bangladesh politics

Jamaat-e-Islami is always ahead of its major political ally BNP, when it comes to greater kinship and closer ties to Pakistan’s military intelligence, according to findings of  a counterintelligence investigation.

Jamaat leaders carry out political and organizational activities following Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency directives, according to investigations conducted in light of the agency’s recently amped up activities and involvement in Bangladesh politics.

According to the Bangladesh intelligence community, the top brass of BNP and Jamaat in a bid to sway the polls results in their favour, have been in close contact with ISI regularly ahead of the 11th general election.

Even after losing its registration as a political party in Bangladesh in 2013, Jamaat is fielding at least 25 candidates in the December 30 polls with BNP’s blessing.

ISI-Jamaat meeting

Launched after a recently leaked telephone conversation between senior BNP leader Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain and ISI agent Shahid Mehmood Md Sharif, investigations have found that Mehmood and other ISI agents met with Jamaat Secretary General Dr Shafiqur Rahman and other party leaders in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on May 25 and 26.

At the meeting, Shafiqur discussed Bangladesh’s political situation and future strategies for the upcoming election, promised to maintain regular contact with ISI, and to meet again to discuss their financial needs after talking to his party chief.

He assured ISI that Jamaat will maintain its alliance with BNP at any cost, and hoped the Pakistani agency’s help in ensuring the sharing of seats with BNP during the polls will continue.

The Jamaat leader had also urged Pakistan to play a role in rallying international pressure, including from China, on the Awami League government as well.

Jamaat Secretary General Shafiqur was unavailable for comments regarding their ties to ISI found by Bangladesh’s counter intelligence agencies.

The party’s Nayeb-e-Ameer, Mia Golam Parwar, brushed off the accusations, saying Shafiqur had gone to Saudi Arabia in May to perform Umrah.

“We do not rely on any foreign intelligence agency to be in the political arena. We are not in contact with anybody,” he said.



Uttar Pradesh Muslim BJP Leader Claims Lord Hanuman Was Muslim

December 21, 2018

LUCKNOW: Weeks after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath kicked up a storm by branding Lord Hanuman as a Dalit; another BJP leader has come up with a different theory on the Hindu god's identity. Bukkal Nawab, a councillor with the ruling party in Uttar Pradesh, has said that Hanuman was actually a Muslim.

"Hanuman belonged to the entire world. He was loved by people of every religion, every sect, every community. But, as far as my beliefs go, he was a Muslim," news agency ANI quoted Mr Nawab as saying.

The politician's reason for arriving at this conclusion was equally curious. "I say Hanuman was a Muslim because the names of people in our religion, such as Rehman, Ramzan, Farman, Zishan and Qurban, rhyme with the god's," he said, before rattling off a few more Islamic names -- Imran, Furqan, Sultan and Sulaimaan -- to further buttress his claim.

This is not the first time the Uttar Pradesh politician has courted a controversy with his remarks. In 2017, while he was still a member of the opposition Samajwadi Party, the councillor spurred protests by saying that he will donate Rs. 15 crore for constructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister was campaigning for the BJP in the run-up to the Rajasthan assembly elections in Alwar last month when he allegedly claimed that Hanuman was a "deprived Dalit" who lived in the mountains. Even as protests broke out, with cabinet colleague Om Prakash Rajbhar saying that it is "wrong to divide gods on the basis of caste" and a right-wing group coming up with a legal notice, Mr Adityanath attempted damage control by claiming that he had been misquoted by the media.

The controversy, however, refused to die down. A few weeks later, former BJP parliamentarian Savitri Bai Phule adopted a similar line on the issue. "Lord Hanuman was a Dalit and a slave of the manuwadi people. He was a Dalit and a human. When he gave his all for Lord Ram, then why he was given a tail and his face blackened? Why was he made a monkey?" she questioned, asserting that Dalits should also be considered human.



Films to Project Positive Image of Islam Urged: OIC Secretary-General

December 20, 2018

JEDDAH: Strengthening and encouraging regional cinema production is vital for boosting mutual understanding among member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Yousef Al-Othaimeen, OIC secretary-general, made the statement during a meeting convened by a panel of experts to establish an OIC award for production companies that excel ahead of the Pan-African Film & Television Festival, which will be held in Burkina Faso.

“The OIC seeks to play a more effective role in promoting cultural exchange in an attempt to fight negative stereotypes associated with Islam,” he said.

“The recent summit held in Jeddah and the meeting convened by the OIC in Dhaka, Bangladesh in May both served as a catalyst to the recent measures. We also want to introduce an OIC film festival of our own.”

Al-Othaimeen delivered the speech on behalf Hesham Youssef, OIC assistant secretary-general for humanitarian, social and cultural affairs.

The current panel will discuss mechanisms to establish the award and devise the criteria for determining top production companies among member states during the upcoming festival, which is slated for February next year.



Cleric Flees Uzbekistan after Muslim Headscarf Row, Due To Pressure from Security Services

20 Dec 2018

ALMATY: An Uzbek imam who ran into trouble for urging President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to lift a school headscarf ban said he has left the mainly Muslim nation due to pressure from security services.

Fazliddin Parpiyev, former cleric at one of the capital Tashkent's mosques, was the first dissident to leave Uzbekistan under Mirziyoyev who has largely sought to liberalise the former Soviet republic and encouraged emigres to return.

The 32-year-old iman wrote on Facebook this week that he had been summoned by state prosecutors and no longer felt safe in Uzbekistan. He did not disclose his and his family's location, but said it was thousands of kilometres away.

In a case showing the limits of Uzbekistan's newly-proclaimed tolerance, Parpiyev was sacked after a Facebook video saying that despite recent reforms, Muslims were still being oppressed over religious symbols like hijabs and beards.

Security services detained several other bloggers who had criticised the school uniform regulations.

In his Facebook post on Thursday (Dec 20), Parpiyev said despite his flight, he still supported Mirziyoyev and policies such as cracking down on corruption.

"I wanted to contribute to his reforms," he said. "I followed his call for criticism. I still have confidence in him."

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office said it had summoned Parpiyev for a 20-minute conversation to warn him that one of his posts could breach laws against ethnic hate speech. She said the conversation involved no psychological intimidation and there was no criminal investigation.



Beijing slams reports of forced labour in Muslim detention camps

Crystal Reid

21 DECEMBER 2018

China has hit back at US media reports that Muslim detainees in its northwestern autonomous region of Xinjiang are being subjected to forced labour. 

In a scheduled press briefing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying branded the claims "a malicious attack that severely distorts the fact.”

She insisted that China’s re-education through labour programmes, a prominent form of punishment during the Cultural Revolution, had long been abolished, adding that she could understand why U.S. President Donald Trump complains so much about the media.

On Tuesday, the AP reported that Muslims held in internment camps in the troubled region were being forced to work in food and garment factories.

After tracking one factory shipment, reporters found clothing had been sent to Badger Sportswear, an American brand supplying jerseys and training shirts to university sports teams in the US.

In response to the claims, Badger CEO John Anton said the company would source clothing elsewhere while the matter is investigated.

As many as a million Uighur and other ethnic Muslims are held in Xinjiang camps, according to the estimates of a UN panel.

The camps, along with other security measures such as GPS checkpoints and facial-recognition scanners, were introduced to the region around two years ago in a bid to quell what Beijing says is a growth in religious extremism.

The Xinjiang region, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, has seen violent attacks in recent decades, with Uighur militants seeking greater autonomy or even independence from China killing hundreds.  

Among the detainees are said to be dozens of Pakistani women who have crossed over from its neighboring Gilgit-Baltistan region to marry Muslim men.

William Nee, from Amnesty International said: “The allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang appear to be highly credible – especially since China’s own state television has shown many people in such facilities engaging in work.

"Based on Amnesty International’s extensive research and media reports, there is no evidence to suggest that people who have been placed in “re-education centres” have been sent there as a result of a court ruling, and thus this form of labour is certainly qualifies as “forced labour” under international law. The Chinese authorities must move to quickly abolish this system”.

China has invested tens of billions of dollars into development in Pakistan but remains concerned that Muslim extremists linked to al-Qaeda could ghost into Xinjiang.

On Thursday, Mohammad Faisal, spokesman for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said foreign media accounts of the situation have been exaggerated.

“Some section of foreign media are trying to sensationalise the matter by spreading false information,” he said at a briefing in Islamabad.

Beijing calls the camps “vocational education centres”, insisting those interned are being trained in marketable skills on a voluntary basis in order to eliminate poverty and bring minorities into a “modern civilized” world.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch said: "China really is not convincing anyone with these hysterical denials of serious allegations of forced labor in the Uighur detention camps.

"Why? Because China has a long history of using the forced labor of political prisoners and persons out of favor with the government for its own purposes.

"If Beijing wants to people to believe their narrative, they should throw open the doors of these camps and let in UN and other international investigators conduct an independent and impartial investigation."





Pakistani Christians face an uneasy Christmas in the wake of Asia Bibi’s release

December 20, 2018

LAHORE, Pakistan (RNS) – For the first time in nine years, Asia Bibi will be with her husband on Christmas.

But many of her fellow Christians in Pakistan are afraid of a backlash this holiday season in the wake of Bibi’s October exoneration by the nation’s Supreme Court on blasphemy charges.

Recent cases of abductions, allegations of blasphemy and hate crimes against Christians, who make up 2 percent of the South Asian country’s population, have led churches to beef up security as parishioners sing carols around bonfires and watch Nativity dramas.

“This is the best time for us. We plan the Christmas play throughout the year and arrange several programs in the festive season,” said a 17-year-old college student in Lahore. “But it is a tense situation in the country. We hope that the government will facilitate us in marking our religious season.”

A mother of five, including three stepchildren, Bibi was arrested on blasphemy charges in 2010 after she allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammed during an argument over whether she should have drunk from the same water bucket used by her Muslim co-workers on a farm.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of the charges. That sparked unrest in Pakistan as Islamic hard-liners called for her death. She and her husband are now in hiding in a government safe house.

The backlash has led many Christians to tone down their celebrations this year.

“We used to conduct carol singing in our neighborhood every Christmas,” said Natasha Joseph, a 31-year-old housewife in Karachi. “This year we are scared to use loudspeakers as some Muslims might complain.”

Some Christians will stay inside this Christmas.

Ishtiaq Masih, a 47-year-old security guard in Lahore, usually takes his family to the zoo and then joins other relatives for a picnic in the city’s botanical garden after their Christmas festivities. Not this year.

“This has been our ritual for years,” he said. “There is a threat of attack in public spaces for my family.”

Last year, Islamic State suicide bombers stormed Sunday services at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the southwestern city of Quetta, killing nine people and injuring several others.

Christian survivors of that and other attacks feel unsafe participating in festivities.

“I have asked my family to just pray at home,” said Haroon Gill, 50, a schoolteacher in Quetta who was in the church. “There is no need to risk their lives. The children are upset. They won’t participate in the Christmas programs. I don’t have much of a choice knowing how our church was attacked last year and I was injured.”

It’s not the first time Christians have felt targeted for openly expressing their faith.

In 2016, on Easter Sunday, militants killed more than 90 people in a suicide bombing at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore. An affiliate of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaatul-ul-Ahrar, took responsibility, saying that it targeted the Christians.

“Ever since the Easter attack, we fear going to crowded places,” said Iqbal Masih, 42, an electrician who lost family members in the bombing. He said the climate has grown more fearful since the Bibi decision. “Muslims are angry at us. They don’t want to see us celebrating.”

The United States last week added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom over the treatment of minorities in the country.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he had designated Pakistan among “countries of particular concern” in a congressionally mandated annual report.

“In far too many places across the globe, individuals continue to face harassment, arrests or even death for simply living their lives in accordance with their beliefs,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States will not stand by as spectators in the face of such oppression.”

According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, about 40 people in Pakistan are currently jailed on blasphemy charges.

Shaista Malik, a 22-year-old Christian business student in Lahore, has experienced religious discrimination firsthand.

“We decorated our house with a Christmas tree. Our landlord made it an excuse to ask us to vacate the upper portion of the house,” said Malik. “Intolerance has increased in Pakistan.”

Human rights activist Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association criticized Pakistan’s government for not doing more to protect Christians. He noted that Bibi and her husband, Ashiq Masih, would spend their holiday away from her children, who are staying with a friend.

“Despite her joy at being free I cannot believe that Asia Bibi is feeling like much of a winner today,” said Chowdhry.



62 Pakistanis executed in Saudi Arabia over drug trafficking in the last five years

Dec 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A total of 62 Pakistanis had been executed in Saudi Arabia on charges of drug smuggling in the last five years, the foreign ministry said in a written reply, put up by Senator Mohsin Aziz.

The ministry said 17 Pakistan had been executed in 2018; 13 Pakistanis were hanged in Saudi Arabia on drug smuggling charges in 2017; followed by 5 Pakistanis in 2016; 14 in 2015 and 12 Pakistanis were executed in Saudi Arabia on drug smuggling charges in 2014.

As many as 1,764 Pakistanis have been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia on charges of drug trafficking, which is 47 per cent of the total Pakistani prisoners in the Kingdom.

A coordination office was working in the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad for formal liaison with anti-narcotics authorities. Moreover, a memorandum of understanding on controlling illicit drug trafficking and psychotropic substances is also under consideration between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for the control of drug trafficking.



Hope renewed for Afghan peace deal as Kabul ‘frees 9 Haqqani militants’

Dec 21, 2018

The Afghan government on Thursday reportedly freed nine members of the Haqqani militant network, including the younger brother of the faction’s chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, giving hope of a possible peace deal between the militants and US and Afghan governments, according to a media report.

The report claimed that the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), has released the inmates, including Anas Haqqani, who was arrested by the Afghan intelligence on October 14, 2014 from Afghanistan’s Khost province and was handed the death sentence on Aug 29, 2016.

According to the report, it is believed that the recent release is part of a prisoner exchange deal agreed between the two sides during the recent parleys arranged by Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) earlier this week.

Pakistan Today is making efforts to confirm this information independently.

On Monday, representatives from the Afghan Taliban met officials from the US in Abu Dhabi in another bid to find shared ground to end the 17-year war in Afghanistan. The meeting also included representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The crucial Islamabad-brokered talks are said to have made progress despite the insurgent group insistence that negotiations only focussed on withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan.

It was the first time that the Taliban’s both military and political leaders attended a negotiation as previously the Taliban were only represented by their political office in Qatar. The presence of the Taliban leaders like Mullah Amir Mutaqi, Qari Yahya, Mullah Mohibullah Hamas and Mullah Abbas Akhund at the UAE talks suggests seriousness of the insurgent group towards the latest round of discussions facilitated by Pakistan.

“Had productive meetings in the UAE with Afghan and international partners to promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict in #Afghanistan,” said, in a tweet, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the US side at the talks.

After conclusion of the talks, Khalilzad flew to Islamabad and met Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Just met with #Pakistan leaders to update them on the state of play following our meetings in the UAE. Looking forward to meeting Afghan leaders in Kabul, #Afghanistan tonight,” the US special envoy said before departing for Kabul.

The military’s media wing said that Khalilzad appreciated Pakistan’s efforts for Afghan peace process while Gen Qamar reiterated that peace in Afghanistan is important for Pakistan and assured continued efforts for bringing peace and stability in the region.

In a separate statement, the UAE government said it hosted the US-Taliban reconciliation talks in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. “The two-day Afghan reconciliation conference fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned,” the statement said.

According to the statement, another round of talks would be held in Abu Dhabi to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE extend their thanks to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as well as the US, Pakistani and Taliban delegations for their effective participation and support for ensuring the success of the conference,” according to the UAE’s state-run news agency .

No further details have been available as to what exactly transpired in the Abu Dhabi meetings.

The Taliban spokesperson, however, claimed that discussions focused on the complete withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan. The spokesperson dismissed reports that any proposal was under consideration regarding the setting up of interim government in Afghanistan or a 6-month ceasefire.

Many observers believe that the Taliban statement may just be meant for its foot soldiers and elements who are not in favour of striking a peace deal with the US or Afghan government.

Full report at:



Pak, KSA to sign accord on crown prince’s upcoming visit: Fawad

DECEMBER 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said on Thursday that the federal cabinet had directed the ministries to continue austerity measures and cut expenditures by 10 per cent to help overcome fiscal deficit.

He was briefing media persons about the decisions taken during the cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Fawad said a presentation was given to the prime minister on economic situation of the country, and he advised the ministers to limit their foreign visits.

The cabinet strongly condemned the ongoing genocide of Kashmiris by Indian occupation forces as well as imposition of Presidential Rule in the occupied state. The minister said that the prime minister would talk to the UN secretary general by telephone about the worsening situation in Occupied Kashmir.

Fawad announced that Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Prince Muhammad bin Salman and Crown Prince of United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan would visit Pakistan in February and January, respectively. During the Saudi crown prince’s visit, a historic agreement will be signed between the two countries on an oil refinery project, he said adding that it will be the single largest foreign investment in Pakistan’s history.

He said that the cabinet had directed the interior ministry to remove the names of three persons including two MNAs Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir from the Exit Control List.

He said that the prime minister had expressed displeasure over no change in culture at the airports as the expatriates and foreign investors continued to face problems as in the past. The prime minister issued directive to the Civil Aviation Authority and the interior ministry to rectify the situation, he said.

Further, Fawad said that the cabinet had decided that separate inquiries underway on escalation of the new Islamabad Airport’s cost estimate by the National Accountability Bureau, the Federal Investigation Agency, and the Civil Aviation Authority should be merged into a single probe. He said that the cabinet also gave approval for issuance of licences and renewal of licences for airlines including the Pakistan International Airlines. He said the prime minister issued directives that not a single penny should be deducted from funds allocated for the formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas as per agreement among all political parties that a three percent of the GDP was to be allocated for the region. Fawad regretted that the Sindh government claimed to be champions of the rights of small provinces but it was not cooperating on the issue.

The cabinet also discussed revision of the master plan of Islamabad, and decided that master plans of major cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces would also be prepared.

The minister said that the government wanted to simplify the visa regime to attract foreign tourists and investors. He said the Information Ministry had already approached the foreign and interior ministries for provision of facilities to foreign journalists.

The minister said that Pakistan had spent a $1 billion on the development of Afghanistan since 2002, and currently a 200-bed Jinnah Hospital in Kabul and Nishtar Kidney Centre in Lugar Province were being built by Pakistani assistance. That was part of the policy of compassion of the government along the lines of the policies implemented by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in the state of Medina.

Replying to questions, Fawad said Dr Ishrat Hussain’s committee was working on a restructuring plan and it would finalise its recommendations in due course of time, which would be implemented in phases.

To a question about the PPP and PML-N announcement of joint strategy against the arrest of leaders, he said that it was a strange approach to join hands and demand pardon in corruption cases.

Fawad made it clear that the government had no plan for retrenchment from government institutions.

He said that the prime minister’s statement about new elections was reported out of context as he had only said that if a new province was created in south Punjab, elections for provincial assembly could be held there.

Full report at:



Kartarpur land swap with India out of question: FO

Mateen Haider

DECEMBER 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday rejected a resolution passed by the Indian Punjab Assembly asking Islamabad to swap Kartarpur with India for another piece of land.

“There is absolutely no question of any land swap,” Pakistan Foreign Office Spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal told a news briefing in Islamabad.

The spokesman said Pakistan opened the corridor purely on humanitarian basis just to facilitate the Sikh community. There cannot be any swapping of land, he categorically stated.

When his attention was drawn to an Indian attempt of taking a Pakistani property – Jinnah House – in Mumbai under its control, Dr Faisal said that any attempt by India to take the House under its control would not be accepted. “India has already accepted that it (Jinnah House) belongs to Pakistan,” he told reporters.

The spokesman strongly condemned the ongoing killing spree by Indian occupation forces in held Kashmir and called upon the international community to take notice of the situation and press India to stop atrocities and bloodshed in the occupied territory. He asked India to allow international human rights organisations to visit Indian-held Kashmir to probe brutalities.

The FO spokesman said India was intentionally violating ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and the Working Boundary (WB) to divert the global attention from its worst atrocities in IHK. “Keeping in view the military escalations by Indian forces, India must allow the UN Military Observer Group on India and Pakistan to monitor the situation along the LoC and WB,” the spokesman added.

He reiterated Pakistan’s diplomatic and political support to the people of Kashmir and their just right to self-determination.

He said that Pakistan had also written letters to secretary generals of the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) to take notice of deteriorating situation in Kashmir.

When asked to comment on the recent demolishing of two mosques in Allahabad, India, the spokesperson called upon India to respect minorities’ rights.

Regarding the tripartite talks between Pakistan, China and Afghanistan, the Foreign Office spokesperson said that the three countries held positive discussions. During the second round of Pakistan-Afghanistan-China trilateral dialogue in Kabul, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding on anti-terrorism cooperation.

“All three parties have echoed their determination to curb terrorism. Pakistan has played its part in the Afghan peace process which is being hailed internationally,” Dr Faisal said.

On a recent dialogue between officials from the United States and Afghan Taliban held in UAE, Dr Faisal said Pakistan supports the talks and is hopeful of a peaceful result to the Afghan issue.

“Pakistan is playing its part for the establishment of peace in Afghanistan and wants to find a solution to the issue with the Afghan leadership,” he asserted.

Responding to a question regarding the plight of Pakistani prisoners in various countries, Dr Faisal said that the Pakistani high commissioner in Sri Lanka had met the prisoners and legal proceedings had been initiated to help the jailed Pakistanis.

Full report at:



Pakistan being praised for role in US-Taliban talks: Qureshi

Kalbe Ali

December 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Speaking about what he described as successes of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government in the country’s foreign affairs, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the Senate on Thursday that those lobbying against Pakistan had failed and the country was being praised for its role in the recently held talks between the United States and Taliban.

He was responding to a calling-attention notice by Senator Raza Rabbani of the Pakistan Peoples Party that the government was not taking parliament into confidence regarding decisions taken by it during recent visits by the country’s top leadership to Gulf countries, Malaysia and China.

The foreign minister said Pakistan had been successful in maintaining its neutrality and conveying its point of view even to those nations that were currently not enjoying cordial relations with one another.

Mr Qureshi considered it a success that while there was no change in Pakistan’s neutral stance in the Yemen conflict, “Prime Minister Imran Khan has had a state visit to Saudi Arabia in 30 years”.

He said that the role of Pakistan in the recent Taliban-US talks had been acknowledged by all.

Terming the talks a major shift in the American policy, the foreign minister said it had always been Pakistan’s stance that peace could only come through negotiations.

In his speech, Mr Rabbani criticised the government for what he called overplaying the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, saying that the Indian government had almost ridiculed Pakistan on the occasion and criticised it on other issues.

“The house has not even been informed about the details of the Taliban-US talks,” he added.

Mr Rabbani said there were reports that Pakistan had decided to support Saudi Arabia, wondering if it meant that the country was taking sides in the Yemen conflict and not maintaining neutrality.

The foreign minister began his speech in a calm tone by telling the house that he had briefed the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Relations headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz on all these issues.

“We are working on our policy lines,” he said, adding that some decisions had been made public and some were under discussion.

Kartarpur corridor

The foreign minister said Pakistan had gained a big diplomatic success through the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, adding that the event had improved the image of Pakistan among Sikh people all over the world. “India had to conduct the groundbreaking ceremony (of the Kartarpur corridor) a day earlier to remain in the limelight.”

The foreign minister criticised the Indian leadership for its aggressive statements against Pakistan.

Dismissing the impression being given by some quarters that the two Indian ministers, who attended the opening ceremony of the Kartarpur corridor, visited Pakistan in their personal capacity, Mr Qureshi said that such an occurrence was not possible in Pakistan-India context.

He criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party leadership for trying to use the event in the party’s favour in the local elections in India. The foreign minister said that because of the diplomacy of the PTI government, Pakistan’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar were improving.

Speaking about Pakistan’s relations with China, he said that some vested interests were trying to spread misconceptions about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The only change in the economic corridor project was that its focus was shifting from infrastructure development to industrial and agricultural growth, he added.

Full report at:



Zardari-Nawaz meeting can’t be ruled out: Khursheed

Amir Wasim

December 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Syed Khursheed Ahmed Shah has said that a meeting between former president Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supreme leader Nawaz Sharif in the near future cannot be ruled out and it can take place when both leaders are available in Islamabad.

Talking to reporters after his meeting with PML-N president and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shahbaz Sharif here on Thursday, Mr Shah also did not rule out the possibility of launching a joint protest movement against the government.

“Why can’t a meeting take place?” Mr Shah said when asked if a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari was possible, adding that Mr Zardari was not present in Islamabad and when he came here “the meeting will take place Insha Allah".

Responding to a question about the chances of launching a joint movement if Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari were arrested, the PPP leader said every party prepared its own strategy. However, he said, “if political situation takes us to this direction then everything is possible in politics”.

Interestingly, both Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif evaded the question about the meeting with Mr Zardari when they faced TV reporters after attending a PML-N meeting.

Nawaz Sharif only spoke about the party’s reorganisational matters whereas Shahbaz Sharif criticised the present government’s economic policies.

The PPP leader said they wanted this government to complete its term, but the rulers were themselves creating “uncertainties” through controversial statements and actions and by talking about mid-term elections.

“Is there a civil martial law or a jungle law is prevailing in the country?” he asked while responding to a question regarding the ongoing investigations against Mr Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in the fake bank accounts case.

In reply to a question about the reports that Sanam Bhutto, the sister of Benazir Bhutto, is being launched in politics, he said that she was the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and “her name cannot be separated from politics”.

PML-N meeting

Nawaz Sharif and PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif jointly presided over another consultative meeting of the senior party members at the Parliament House to discuss a host of issues, including reorganisation of the party.

Sources said the PML-N leadership had set March 23 deadline for completion of the party’s reorganisation down to the district level. The sources said that the vacant posts in the executive body of the party would be filled in the next few days through nominations.

Earlier, the two Sharifs had presided over a similar meeting on Tuesday in which the head of the party’s Central Organising Committee Ahsan Iqbal had made a detailed presentation about the party’s reorganisation matters.

Talking to reporters, Nawaz Sharif said the PML-N governments had always worked hard to improve the quality of life of Pakistanis but the PTI government put life beyond the means of hardworking people with skyrocketing inflation.

He said that major decisions regarding party organisations had been made in the meeting.

“The decisions made in the meeting will lead to effective organisation of the PML-N and will have progressive and productive long -term effects on Pakistani politics,” said Mr Sharif.

He also highlighted the achievements of his government, saying they eliminated terrorism and loadshedding from the country besides launching the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

He said even the international community acknowledged Pakistan as an emerging state during the time of the PML-N government.

The former prime minister said the PML-N had always looked out for national interest and the welfare of people and it would continue to do that. However, the current government had burdened the hard-working people of this country with unbearable inflation and exaggerated taxation, he added.

Full report at:



Dialogue only option to resolve Indo-Pak dispute: Qureshi

Dec 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has stated that dialogue is the only option to resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan.

Responding to a call attention notice in Senate, the minister said the premier immediately after assuming power offered India to come to dialogue table in order to remove illiteracy and poverty from the region. He said Pakistan needs peace at both eastern and western fronts.

Referring to the canceled meeting between foreign ministers of both counties on the sidelines of UN General Assembly session in New York earlier this year, he said India had initially agreed on the meeting but later backtracked due to domestic political compulsions. He said India’s political leadership was hesitant due to the upcoming general elections next year.

The foreign minister said the Pakistani response was very measured and mature in which it was said that Pakistan is willing to engage in the dialogue. Regarding the opening of Kartarpur Corridor, he said the gesture by Pakistan was made for peace and completing the longstanding demand of the Sikh community to visit one of their holy sites.

He said the Indian cabinet held a meeting and decided to reciprocate this gesture and did the groundbreaking a day earlier than Pakistan. They also sent two of their ministers to attend the ceremony in Pakistan. A group of 50 Indian journalists also attended the Kartarpur Corridor ceremony in Pakistan, he informed.

The FM said a stable and peaceful neighborhood is Pakistan’s requirement in order to improve the socio-economic conditions. He said India must realise the high price Pakistan paid in fighting the war against terror. He said no other nation has sacrificed 75,000 people in this war, besides suffering losses of billions of rupees. He said all credit goes to people and armed forces of Pakistan who have exhibited their resilience.

The house was informed that the government of Pakistan is regularly in touch with the Afghan government for access to information regarding Pakistani prisoners in Afghanistan and their repatriation to Pakistan.

Foreign Minister Qureshi in a written response during the question hour session said the government has raised this issue as one of the agenda points of all bilateral engagements with Afghanistan.

He said during the inaugural session of Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace held in Kabul in July this year, the issue was discussed during talks with Afghan deputy foreign minister.

Pakistan embassy in Kabul has arranged repatriation of 17 Pakistani prisoners released from Afghan jails from 20th February to 30th August this year. From the period August 20th to this month, four Pakistani prisoners were released and repatriated to Pakistan, he told the house.

Full report at:



South Asia


Bangladesh Islamists in the Backseat, Not In Front

December 21st, 2018

Groups like Hefazat and Jamaat are slowly starting to lose significance in politics

Earlier this month, as the coalitions for the upcoming battle on December 30 took more solid shapes, a curious feature became apparent. There are about 70 Islamist political parties in Bangladesh, 63 of them are now with the Awami League-led coalition, while only five are part of BNP-led alliance.

The massive irony of religious parties flocking under the wings of the “protector” of secularism in Bangladesh, could not escape even the most obtuse. However, as the popular saying goes, it’s not how many Islamist parties you have got, it’s about which Islamists you have.

Once again there is the gnashing of teeth, rending of garments from the usual suspects about the fact that BNP has given nominations to leaders of Jamaat. Once again, BNP acted as the last shelter of evils that stand between Bangladesh and all that is good.

However, the massive gathering of Islamic parties under the ruling regime generated furious alarms in the sincerer quarters also. They are regarding this as a definite sign of the inexorable Islamization of politics and society.

The mullahs are not just coming, they’re here.

I think that political developments in recent years in Bangladesh, and also in the Muslim world, are showing that political Islam is not a rising tide but may be an ebbing flood past its peak. Shafi Huzur and Hefazat accepting the patronship of the ruling party and joining the coalition show that ambition of madrassa-based organizations has remained at the bread and butter level.

They do not aspire to take charge of the large and complex polity, of whose gears and levers they have little understanding. Jamaat, the Islamic organization that has ambition of achieving reigning power one day near or distant, is now a shell of its former self.

The braggadocious Jamaat of the 90s and early 00s, when it claimed that the dedication and professionalism of its members made Jamaat sui generis of political organizations in Bangladesh, is no more.

Its pantheon of top leadership has been annihilated, the vaunted member-base couldn’t do anything to stop it despite suffering grievously in all-out efforts. Jamaat rank and file are confused, shell-shocked still. Obtaining state power, always a long-term ambition, has been postponed indefinitely into the future.

Nothing could display the inherent disarray of Islamic forces within Bangladesh more starkly than the chaotic-but-deadly clash of Tablig factions that occurred on the first of December.

Tablig, which was mostly known for its detachment in this world in preparation for the next, showed that it can be as scrappy as any other organization when fighting over worldly possessions. All these recent incidents only underscore the fact that nobody in Bangladesh regards political Islam ready for taking up governance any time soon. 

In this age, one cannot separate the domestic from the international, especially for movements with global pretentions like political Islam. Internationally, we are also witnessing an ebbing of Islam’s march on political power.

In Egypt, brutal state repression has broken and scattered the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), the global organization with which Jamaat have a long-standing affinity.

It’s not that MB is going away in Egypt or in other Arab countries, it is still the main non-government political organization in most of these countries. It is that MB supporters throughout the middle east and the world are introspecting why the suppression of the organization was so successful.

Why they couldn’t raise a groundswell of popular support for them and against the traditional rulers. In Tunisia, the main Islamist party, Ennahda, has compromised so much on secular governance that it is hardly distinguishable from a mainstream conservative party, rather than a political Islam project.

In Turkey, the Erdogan regime is increasingly transforming into strongman populism rather than embarking on political Islam.

A common theme behind the evolution and current state of MB and all affiliated organizations in various countries is that, while they invested decades in developing organizational and theological support, they did not invest in developing any form of “governance thinking.”

More honesty, more justice, more welfare, these platitudes do not make coherent political and economic thoughts capable of dealing with the modern world.

Unlike capitalism, liberalism, East-Asian authoritarianism, or even populist nationalism, political Islam has not yet been able to present successful governance systems. No rational leader or thinker in the Muslim world try to inspire fellow countrymen.

There is no denying that religion is becoming more important and influential in Muslim societies all over the world.

However, political organizations are discovering that support for religious principles and identities do not automatically translate in to support for religious politics, policies, and organizations. Most Muslims, in the modern world, also generally render unto Caesar things that are Caesar’s, and unto Church the things that are Church’s.

This article has so far been full of gross generalizations. After Fukuyama’s debacle, no one should be unaware of how tenuous it is to extrapolate current trends into long-term projections.

However, it is not shaky to argue that institutionalizing Islamic organizations into regular politics, particularly when they are weak and small, is a better way for the development of Muslim polity than excluding them or confining them into unconventional politics.

Political organizations don’t just dabble in politics -- politics also make them. The crucial thing is the way of doing politics.



Myanmar launches new 'clearance operations' against Rohingya

Dec 20, 2018

Myanmar forces are conducting new "clearance operations" in northern Rakhine state where thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been languishing in internal displacement camps.

Myanmar’s commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing's office said Thursday security forces have been carrying out "area clearance operations along Pyu Ma Creek" in Maungdaw township.

The operations, he claimed, was sparked after two ethnic Rakhine Buddhist men were found on the creek bank with their throats slit on December 17.

On the same day, Min said, two members of another ethnic Buddhist minority were attacked while fishing along the creek by six men "speaking Bengali language".

Myanmar refers to Rohingya as Bengali to falsely imply they are newly-arrived immigrants from Bangladesh.

The latest violence occurred in the same area where troops waged a bloody crackdown against the Rohingya last year.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017. More than 720,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following the crackdown.

Last week, a group advocating the cause of the persecuted Rohingya said a generation of the Muslims may be lost due to a lack of education for children and the youth at camps for the displaced in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

UN investigators want Myanmar's top brass prosecuted for genocide for alleged abuses carried out during the expulsion.

The campaign against the Rohingya, which the UN has described as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing, has seen mass killings, torture, and gang-rape of Muslims as well as arson attacks against their homes and farms in Rakhine.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have been languishing in internal displacement camps since a previous wave of violence in 2012.

Full report at:



Another year of unresolved terror in Bangladesh

December 20, 2018

Threats to Bangladesh’s internal security continue to emanate from groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS). The key groups operating in Bangladesh are the Jamma’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansar al-Islam. An IS-centric offshoot of JMB, often referred to as the Neo-JMB, is also active. Despite sustained counter-terrorism operations, these groups continue to adapt to the evolving security environment and form new alliances.

Since the IS-inspired attack in 2016, Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies have scaled up their operations across the country — 906 people have been arrested for their alleged involvement in Neo-JMB and around 100 militants were killed during these operations. This has created leadership disarray within Neo-JMB and drastically reduced its capacity to raise funds and carry out attacks.

As the year draws to a close, Neo-JMB appears weakened but not yet contained. The group has a new leader reviving the group. Recruitment continues and the group is allegedly planning terror attacks. There is also the possibility of lone-wolf or single actor attacks, as pro-IS propaganda materials are still available online and circulated through social media.

This year has also seen the re-emergence of JMB, which is gradually rebuilding its networks after the arrest of hundreds of JMB leaders and activists in 2005. According to Bangladeshi authorities, JMB and Ansar al-Islam (the Bangladeshi wing of al-Qaeda) are possibly working together, or at least have similar targets. The July 2018 killing of Shahjahan Bachchu — a writer, publisher and former left-wing politician — is a case in point. Bachchu came under the radar of both terrorist groups thanks to his secular blogs. The groups then worked in tandem to kill him: Ansar al-Islam conducted the reconnaissance while JMB eliminated him.

In mid-2018, JMB opened a new wing in India: Jama’atul Mujahedeen India (JMI). The group believes in using Qital (armed struggle) to ‘uproot polytheism and to establish Islam’ and that the Indian subcontinent is a future battlefield for establishing the caliphate.

The revival of JMB highlights the possibility of a new wave of terrorist activities in Bangladesh, especially as the country prepares for elections at the end of 2018. The group vehemently opposes and may try to target polling centres.

Bangladesh and India have carried out around 100 joint operations to dismantle JMB. But the success of this campaign will be limited unless a long-term strategy is formed to check Islamist militancy.

While the Bangladesh government’s response to terrorism in 2018 was largely operational, they have put in place a range of strategic initiatives. Authorities are focussing on the threat of cyber-radicalisation and mobilisation by militant groups. They are also engaging Muslim clerics to create greater awareness of extremism and terrorism and working to regulate Madrassa education.

Bangladeshi authorities continue to organise community engagement programs and inter-faith dialogues. Some agencies are currently working with academics to promote an in-depth understanding of preventing and countering violent extremism. Law enforcement agencies are also using mobile-apps to collect human intelligence and feedback from the community.

Bangladesh’s key challenge at this juncture is to build a well-structured counter-terrorism strategy and action plan. This should include cyber platforms for encouraging moderation and a policy for rehabilitating extremists.

Hampering Bangledesh’s efforts is the limited coordination between counter-terrorism agencies and the prison system. Quite often, terrorist detainees and inmates bribe prison officers to be transferred to prisons of their choice. This makes monitoring difficult.

One positive development has been the establishment of an Anti-Terrorism Tribunal (ATT) — under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Act — to more efficiently trial terrorist suspects. The ATT will be in charge of the Dhaka cafe attack trial. The second tribunal will be set up in Chittagong.

Notwithstanding the decline in attacks, the terrorist threat in Bangladesh remains real and the fight against it is likely to continue. Despite the sustained operational response, terrorist groups have been able to survive, re-organise and expand. Bangladesh’s response must be recalibrated. While police and other law enforcement agencies are doing their part in the operational realm, there is a need to ensure continuity and to rethink strategic options. As a new administration takes over in 2019, it remains to be seen how Bangladesh will work to reduce the threat.

Full report at:



BNP, Jamaat plan to kill police officers ahead of polls: PM

DECEMBER 20, 201

Dhaka, Dec 20 (UNB) – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday said BNP and Jamaat have worked out two plans ahead of the election -- killing police officers and woo them through bribes.

“They’ve chalked out these two plans. There’s a criminal in London who sends plans,” she said while addressing retired senior police officers at a function at her official residence Ganobhaban in the city.

A total of 88 police officers from IGP (Inspector General of Police) rank to ASP (Additional Superintendent of Police) at the function extended their support to Awami League for the 11th national election slated for December 30.

Of the retired police officers, 15 are ex-IGPs, one officer of Police Services of Pakistan (PSP), 19 additional IGPs, 24 DIGs, 3 additional DIGs, 11 AIGs and SPs and 15 additional SPs.

Pointing at BNP and Jamaat, Sheikh Hasina, also the President of Awami League, said now they have a target to kill some senior police officials ahead of the election.

About the violence and arson attacks unleashed by BNP-Jamaat during the last national election, she said the killers and arson attackers burnt and beat up police members to death mercilessly. “It can’t be thought how much dangerous deeds they can commit.” 

Sheikh Hasina hoped that people will cast votes for ‘Boat’ and her party will win the election again as it is now getting huge response from the voters. “So, we want a peaceful situation to prevail in the country and no chaos is created.”  

Without mentioning the names of Dr Kamal Hossain and other Oikyafront leaders, she criticized them for joining hands with the anti-liberation force.

“It’s painful that they have now joined hands with the anti-liberation force and war criminals. It’s very shameful,” Hasina said.

Returning to power through the 2008 election victory, her government started developing the socioeconomic status of people giving it utmost priority. 

Alongside the economic improvement, she said her government put the war criminals on trial and executed their sentence, though many could not imagine that it was possible.

At the beginning of the function PSP officer Mahbub Uddin Ahmed, Bir Bikram and four ex-IGPs, including AKM Shahidul Haque, on behalf of retired police officers, greeted the Prime Minister presenting her a bouquet.

Former IGP AKM Shahidul Haque conducted the function while several ex-IGPs spoke on the occasion expressing their solidarity with AL in the election.

The 15 former IGPs are AT Ahammedul Haque Chowdhury, Kutubur Rahman, Md Shamsher Alam, AKM Enayet Ullah Dewan, Md Abdur Rouf, Md Awlad Hossain Mia, Kazi Bazlur Rahman, Abul Kashem Hawlader, Md Abdul Hannan, Md Ruhul Amin, M Sanaul Haque, Md Nurul Anwar and AKM Shahidul Haq, Md Mominullah Patwari (ex-police officer and former secretary) and Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan (coordinator with status of IGP).

The 19 former additional IGPs include Md Sarwar Hossain, Mohammad Abdus Sattar, Md Abdur Rahim Khan, Md Nurul Alam, Md Ali Imam Chowdhury, Md Fazlul Haque, Md Abdur Rahim, Khandakar Mozammel Haq, Golam Mostafa, Md Lutfor Rahman Mia, Md Matiur Rahman, Md Abdul Mannan, Md Abdul Mabud, Amulya Bhushan Barua, Md Nazmul Haque, Fatema Begum, Binoy Krinshna Bala, Nowsher Ali and Md Abu Hanif.

The 24 retired Deputy Inspectors General include Dewan Habibullah, Md Shafiq Ullah, Khandakar Saheb Ali, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Md Mokhlesur Rahman, Shah Alam Sikder, PR Barua, Md Tofazzal Hossain, Md Waliur Rahman, Nibaran Kumar Chanda, Mostafa Zamal Uddin al Azad, Kazi Anwar Hossain, Md. Altaf Hossain Mollah, Chowdhury Ahsanul Kabir, Md Sazzad Hossain, Mostaq Hossain Khan, Shafiqur Rahman, Moqbul Hossain Bhuiyan, Md Obaidullah, Dr Muhammad Abdur Rahim, SM Mahfuzul Haq Nuruzzamn and Moniruzzaman.

The three former additional DIGs are Golam Kibria Bhuiyan, Syed Monirul Islam and Sattya Ranjan Baroi, and the 11 ex-AIGs, while the ex-SPs are Syed Bazlul Karim, Chowdhury AAG Kabir, Md Malik Khasru, Md Rahmat Jahan Sikder, Rafiqul Islam, Imamul Hossain Firoz, Khan Akramuzzaman, Abdul Khaleq, Mia Lutfor Rahman Chowdhury, Faruk Ahmed and Motiur Rahman.

Full report at:



Trump plans to withdraw more than 5,000 troops from Afghanistan

By KHAAMA PRESS - Fri Dec 21 2018

The U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan amid reports verbal orders have been given to start work on withdrawal plans.

A U.S. official speaking condition of anonymity has told Reuters that a decision had been made and verbal orders had been given to start planning for the drawdown.

The official has further added that timelines were being discussed but it could happen in weeks or months.

This comes as the U.S. President Donald Trump had earlier ordered the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Syria.

Reports regarding the withdrawal of more than 5,000 troops from Afghanistan emerge a day after U.S. and Taliban talks ended in Abu Dhabi of United Arab Emirates.

The Taliban group spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid had earlier said the three-day talks mainly focused on withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan although other reports had also emerged that other topics including a ceasefire and release of prisoners were also discussed.

Full report at:



Khalilzad met Afghan leaders after his meetings with Taliban in Abu Dhabi

Dec 20 2018

The U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad met with the leaders of the Government of National Unity after returning to Kabul from Abu Dhabi where he had met with the Taliban group leaders.

Ambassador Khalilzad said Thursday that he met with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Wednesday night.

He posted an online statement in his Twitter account and said the Abu Dhabi meetings were discussed during the meeting with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.

According to Ambassador Khalilzad, next steps regarding an intra-Afghan dialogue were also discussed during the meeting.

The third round of direct talks between the United States and Taliban ended on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi of United Arab Emirates.

Full report at:





Naseeruddin Shah on Bulandshahr violence: Cow’s death more significant than death of police officer

December 20, 2018

Referring to the Bulandshahr violence where a policeman lost his life to mob fury over alleged cow slaughter earlier this month, veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah has expressed concerns over how “the death of a cow has more significant than that of a police officer” and how he doesn’t see “the situation improving anytime soon”. “In many areas, we are witnessing that the death of a cow has more significant than that of a police officer,” Shah said.

The actor was speaking to Karwan-e-Mohabbat India when he also expressed concerns over the “impunity provided for those who take the law into their hands”. “The poison has already spread and it is difficult to put this jinn back into the bottle. There is complete impunity for those who take law into their own hands,” he said.

In the two-minute-ten-second video, Shah also expressed fears over his children’s response if they were asked about their religion. “I feel worried about my children. They do not have a religion. I had received religious education as a child. Ratna (his wife who is a Hindu) belongs to a liberal household, so she had received none,” he said.

The actor added, “I feel anxious for my children because tomorrow if a mob surrounds them and asks “are you a Hindu or a Muslim”, they will have no answer. It worries me because I don’t see the situation improving anytime soon.”

Asserting that the current situation “makes me angry”, he said, “I want every right-thinking person to feel angry and not scared. This is our home. Who can dare to evict us from here?” he said.

On December 3, inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was killed in mob violence over alleged cow slaughter in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr. Five people have been arrested so far. However, the main accused is absconding.



Jamaat-e-Islami to meet TRS MPs over triple talaq bill

DECEMBER 21, 2018

With the triple talaq bill being introduced in Parliament, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (Telangana and Odisha) will meet Telangana Rashtra Samithi parliamentarians to explain to them the nuances of divorce and also the stand of the organisation. The Jamaat hopes that TRS MPs will oppose the bill.

The triple talaq bill, known as The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, was introduced by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament on Monday.

According to sources, a delegation comprising Jamaat senior leadership, accompanied by Telangana Home Minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali, will meet the parliamentarians on Saturday.

Speaking to The Hindu on Thursday, Jamaat president Hamid Mohammed Khan said, “Before the elections, senior TRS members wanted us to explain to them what is instant triple talaq. Even Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao wanted some clarity on the subject. I have sent a file containing some details to almost all TRS MPs.”

Reiterating the Jamaat’s stand, Mr Khan said that the organisation considers the bill as a violation of Muslim personal laws. He also said that the bill is an infringement of Article 25, which provides for freedom of religion, and Article 14, which provides for equality before law and protection from discrimination on grounds of religion, gender, race, caste and place of birth.

Full report at:



Bulandshahr: Families of ‘Innocent’ Muslim Held Wrongly Struggling To Survive

Dec 20, 2018

BULANDSHAHR: After mob violence broke out in Bulandshahr leading to two deaths including that of an Inspector, the UP police arrested four Muslim men on charges of slaughtering cows.

The four men Sajid, Sarfuddin, Asif and Nanhe have been in custody and since then they were repeatedly pleaded that they were innocent.

Now, almost after two weeks, the UP police on Wednesday claimed that all the four are innocent and were falsely implicated following an FIR lodged by Yogesh Raj, a senior Bajrang Dal leader and a key suspect in the mob violence and Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh’s killing.

Sajid and three others were arrested 17 days ago and according to reports say their families are also suffering. The family are financially in debt and struggling to survive.

According to Sabir, Sajid’s father, more than a decade ago, his family had left Siyana village of Bulandshahr. The Indian Express quoted Sabir as saying, “We kept on saying that he (Sajid) wasn’t even present during the killings. The police did not pay heed. I have spent more than Rs 50,000 in the last two weeks on food, lodging and transport to visit the jail and police station multiple times. Even today, my cousin had to borrow Rs 800 on my behalf to sponsor the visit. This entire ordeal has set us back by six months. Our businesses have stopped.”

Two minors aged 11 and 12 were among seven Muslims named in the FIR. They were also kept at the police station for a few hours before being released.

The innocence of the four men was established after the SIT picked up three more people Kala, Nadeem and Raees on Tuesday who was involved in alleged cow slaughter in Mahaw village.

The violence had broken out after alleged recovery of some animal carcasses dumped by them resulting in the death of Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and Sumit.

Singh was attacked by the mob when he attempted to clear the traffic snarl caused by the vigilantes carrying the carcasses on tractor trolleys blocking a busy road.

Full report at:



Lok Sabha to take up triple Talaq Bill next week

Dec 21, 2018

New Delhi: A discussion on the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill 2018, or the Triple Talaq Bill, is expected to take place in Lok Sabha today during the ongoing Winter Session of Parliament.

The fresh bill, which prohibits divorce of Muslim couples by pronouncing ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times by their husbands, was first introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday to replace an ordinance issued in September. Under this proposed law, Muslim men giving instant triple talaq will attract imprisonment of three years.

According to the Lok Sabha’s revised business list, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad will introduce the bill in the lower house today. “Ravi Shankar Prasad to move that the Bill to protect the rights of married Muslim women and to prohibit divorce by pronouncing talaq by their husbands and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, be taken into consideration,” the document read.

The ordinance was passed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union Cabinet as this bill could not be tabled on the last day of the Monsoon session held in September, owing to a lack of consensus among political quarters.

The central government gave nod to a number of crucial amendments to the Ordinance, including a provision for bail to an accused before the commencement of trial. The other amendment cleared by the Centre includes allowing only a woman or her close kin to file a police case against her spouse for instant triple talaq.

As per the Ordinance, the victim is also allowed to drop the case if her spouse comes around later and they arrive at a compromise. It also mandates that the magistrate can decide on releasing the husband on bail only after hearing the wife’s stance.

In accordance with the Ordinance, a Muslim woman against whom talaq has been declared is entitled to get subsistence allowance from her spouse for herself and for her dependent children. The amount of the allowance will be determined by the Magistrate hearing the case.

The current Ordinance also allows victims to seek custody of her minor children; however, the manner of custody will be determined by the Magistrate. It also makes all declaration of talaq, including in written or electronic form, to be void (i.e. not enforceable in law) and illegal.

The issue of triple talaq was taken up in the Parliament after in August last year, a five-judge bench of the apex court ruled unconstitutional a law that allowed Muslim men to divorce their wives simply by uttering “talaq” three times in quick succession.

Full report at:



Jinnah House India's property, Pakistan has no claim on it: MEA

Dec 21, 2018

NEW DELHI: Even as Pakistan continued to claim ownership of Jinnah House in Mumbai, the government declared on Thursday that Islamabad had no locus standi on the issue as the property belonged to India.

"Pakistan has no locus standi as far as this property is concerned. It is a government of India property and we are in the process of renovating it and using it the way we use Hyderabad House in Delhi," MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said.

" Pakistan is not in the picture. I think our stand is very clear, this is our property and if there is somebody who contests, then I think this is something which we will have to fight," he added. Pakistan has been demanding that the property be handed over to it for housing its Mumbai consulate.

The comments came on a day Pakistan asserted that Jinnah House belonged to it and any attempt by India to take the building under its control would not be accepted.

"We have a claim over it (Jinnah House) and we do not accept that anyone tries to take custody of it. They (Indians) have already accepted that it belongs to Pakistan. We have record of it. They (Indians) have accepted that it belongs to Pakistan," Pakistan foreign office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal said.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, in a letter to Mumbai BJP legislator Mangal Prabhat Lodha, had said the government was in the process of renovating Jinnah House.

Jinnah's daughter Dina Wadia had approached the Bombay high court in August 2007 claiming that being the sole legal heir of Jinnah, she should get possession of the house. After her death, her son Nusli Neville Wadia is carrying on the litigation.

Full report at:



Pak should mind its own business: India on Imran Khan's comment on Pulwama deaths

Dec 20, 2018

NEW DELHI: Reacting sharply to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's comments on the death of seven civilians in Kashmir's Pulwama, India on Thursday said Islamabad should mind its own affairs which are in a "mess" instead of interfering in the affairs of its neighbors.

"I think it will be better if they mind their own business and look at the internal affairs which are in a mess," external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said during a media briefing when asked about Khan's remarks.

He said Pakistan has taken no action against terror groups operating from its soil and statements coming from its side demonstrate its "insincerity and duplicity".

On Sunday, Khan condemned the death of seven civilians in Kashmir's Pulwama and threatened to raise the issue at the UN.

Seven civilians died on Saturday when security forces opened fire at an unruly mob that had gathered at the site of an encounter in south Kashmir's Pulwama district.

Kumar said Pakistan must take action against terror groups operating from its soil instead of commenting on India's internal affairs.

"The statements coming from that side demonstrate their insincerity and duplicity.

Full report at:



Arab World


After Syria, US plans for over 5,000 troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan

21 December 2018

President Donald Trump is planning to withdraw more than 5,000 of the 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan, a US official said on Thursday, in the latest sign Trump’s patience is thinning with America’s longest war and overseas military interventions.

On Wednesday, Trump rebuffed top advisers and decided to pull all US troops out of Syria, a decision that contributed to US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly quitting on Thursday over significant policy differences with the president.

One official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had been made and verbal orders had been given to start planning for the drawdown. The official said timelines were being discussed but it could happen in weeks or months.

It is unclear how the United States with less than 9,000 forces in Afghanistan will be able to fulfill the full set of missions now underway, including training Afghan forces, advising them in the field, and waging an air campaign against the Taliban and other militant groups.

Instead, the United States almost certainly would have to curtail its missions, something that could provide an opportunity for a resurgent Taliban to expand their offensives across Afghanistan.

Mattis quits

Mattis had argued for maintaining a strong US military presence in Afghanistan to bolster diplomatic peace efforts. He resigned shortly after US officials raised the possibility that Trump would order the drawdown.

The decision on Syria has bewildered US allies and triggered harsh reaction from Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress. The Pentagon declined to comment on Afghanistan. Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House would not comment “on future strategic developments.”

US officials are currently engaged in talks with the Taliban, who now control a significant amount of territory. The Taliban insurgency has strengthened its grip over the past three years, with the government in Kabul controlling just 56 percent of Afghanistan, down from 72 percent in 2015, a US government report showed.

Trump privately has been grousing about US military involvement in Afghanistan, telling an ally as recently as Wednesday words to the effect of, “What are we doing there? We’ve been there all these years.”

The source, who asked to remain unidentified, said it appeared the president “has lost all patience” with the US military presence in Afghanistan.

17-year-old war

More than 2,400 US forces have died in the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan, and Pentagon officials have repeatedly warned that a precipitous exit would allow militants to develop new plots on America. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, often a vocal Trump ally, warned of possible danger to the United States if the drawdown goes through.

“The conditions in Afghanistan - at the present moment - make American troop withdrawals a high risk strategy. If we continue on our present course we are setting in motion the loss of all our gains and paving the way toward a second 9/11,” Graham said in a statement.

Trump last year approved an increase in US troops but acknowledged that he did so reluctantly. Late last month, at least 22 Afghan police were killed in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan’s western province of Farah, adding to the growing casualty toll on Afghan security forces.

Earlier this week, US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives held talks in Abu Dhabi on a deal that would end the war. Officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also took part.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Khalid bin Salman, tweeted on Thursday that the discussions had been productive and would bring “very positive results by the beginning of next year.”

But a former senior State Department official familiar with the issue said that the Taliban representatives rejected a proposal by Khalilzad for a ceasefire and demanded that the talks focus on a US withdrawal.



Egypt says it thwarted attacks on Copts

20 December 2018

Egyptian police have killed eight suspected Islamist militants in shootouts in and around Cairo, the interior ministry said Thursday.

It said those killed belonged to the Hasm group, believed to be a breakaway faction of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and added that four others were arrested in a raid on hideout in the capital.

The operations in Cairo and the capital's Giza district were based on intelligence of planned attacks during celebrations for Coptic Christmas, which is marked on January 7, the ministry said in a statement.

It did not give dates for the operations.

Hasm group has claimed deadly attacks on security forces as well as assassination attempts targeting a pro-government Muslim cleric and Egypt's deputy prosecutor general.

Young Egyptian Copt loses his life defending Muslim woman from thief

Egypt has launched a crackdown on Islamists following the 2013 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, who was a senior Brotherhood figure.

Coptic Christians, who account for around 10 percent of Egypt's 96-million population, have been a key target of ISIS group.

Full report at:



US to end air war against ISIS in Syria following troops withdrawal

20 December 2018

US President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw US troops from Syria also signifies an end to the US air campaign against ISIS there, US officials told Reuters on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US-led air war has been critical to rolling back ISIS and keeping pressure on the militant group in Iraq and Syria, with more than 100,000 bombs and missiles fired at targets in the two countries since 2015, according to Air Force data.

US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that ISIS has been defeated in Syria, adding that this was the sole reason of American military presence in the country.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency,” Trump tweeted.

Full report at:



Khalid bin Salman: We will continue to work with allies to reach Afghanistan peace

20 December 2018

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, said that Saudi Arabia and the UAE will continue to work with the US to find an end to the conflict in Afghanistan, in a tweet on Thursday.

In a previous tweet, the prince had said that the peace talks held in the UAE will help with dialogue and reconciliation between the Afghani warring parties.

— Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud) December 20, 2018

He also said that the talks were “productive and will help promote intra-Afghan dialogue towards ending the conflict.

The UAE had hosted, early this week, the US-Taliban reconciliation talks in Abu Dhabi, with the participation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The two-day Afghan reconciliation conference fructified in tangible results that are positive for all parties concerned.

Full report at:



Fears US pullout of Syria will aid Daesh

December 20, 2018

ANKARA: President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria could result in a deadly resurgence of the terror group Daesh, allies fear.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Trump’s announcement, saying a US military presence there was no longer needed.

Trump’s claim to have defeated Daesh on Thursday prompted an angry response from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main US ally in the Syria conflict.

In a strongly worded statement, the SDF said a premature US pullout would have dangerous repercussions, including a resurgence of Daesh and a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

“The war against terrorism has not ended and (Daesh) has not been defeated,” the statement said. It added that the fight against Daesh was at a “decisive” stage that required even more support from the US-led coalition.

Trump’s decision has rattled Washington’s Kurdish allies, who are its most reliable partner in Syria and among the most effective ground forces battling Daesh.

With US air support, the Kurds drove Daesh from much of northern and eastern Syria in a costly four-year campaign.

“The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces,” the SDF statement said.

Among responses reportedly being looked into by Kurdish officials and commanders is the release of thousands of Daesh militants and their families being detained in SDF-run prisons and camps.

Arin Sheikhmos, a Kurdish journalist and commentator, told AP: “We have every right to be afraid.” He predicted that a US military withdrawal would result in massacres and millions of refugees.

The US announcement came at a particularly tense moment in northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a new offensive against the Kurds, but in recent days he has stepped up the rhetoric, saying an assault could begin “at any moment.”

The US pullout is expected to be completed within 60 to 100 days. But Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Project, expressed caution about tying the decision too closely to recent developments in US-Turkish relations.

“Washington’s inability to develop and follow a coherent long-term plan in Syria has denied it the potential benefits of both leaving sooner and staying longer,” he told Arab News.

The US military said any claims of a change in American policy in Syria were “false” and “designed to sow confusion and chaos.”

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said the US is planning to train thousands of Syrian local fighters to maintain stability in areas captured from Daesh.

Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat who chairs the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy, described Trump’s decision as unexpected but not surprising.

Experts say it will have consequences for regional dynamics too, with Syrian President Bashar Assad gaining more territory and Russia increasing its regional clout by filling the vacuum. It may also trigger a Turkish offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish forces.

“It will force the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish party in Syria, to accelerate its dialogue with Damascus and possibly allow Damascus to re-establish territorial control over the Kurdish-held region,” Ulgen said.

Ankara seemed to welcome Trump’s decision, but remains cautious about its repercussions on the ground. 

“The decision weakens the PYD, so Ankara can now control the timing of its diplomatic and military activities,” said Ulgen.

“A military operation can now be done with more ease and less risk given that there won’t be an issue of getting into confrontation with US troops. But Ankara may also decide to allow the regime to establish its control over this territory.”

That way, Ulgen said, Ankara would have a formal counterpart that would undertake commitments to ensure that the region does not present a security threat to Turkey.

“That would require a scenario where Turkey would decide to establish formal relations with Assad and his regime, as declared recently by Foreign Minister (Mevlut) Cavusoglu,” Ulgen added.

Full report at:



Kurds to Free Thousands of ISIL Terrorists after US Withdrawal from Syria

Dec 20, 2018

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Thursday that the SDF political and military commanders in Eastern Euphrates held a long meeting recently to study freedom of 3,200 ISIL members and their family members with Arab, Asian, western, US and Latin American nationalities.

It added that the Kurds have made a serious decision to retreat from the fight against the ISIL terrorists and transfer all their forces to the combat fronts against Turkey at Northern borders.

A number of military experts believe that this decision was made in reaction to the US betrayal of the SDF and withdrawal of American forces from Syria following an agreement with Turkey.

US President Donald Trump claimed on Wednesday that he will withdraw the American forces from Syria after what he called victory against the ISIL and inflicting heavy defeat on the terrorist group.

Despite the US claims, the ISIL still occupies some regions in Eastern Euphrates, including the towns of al-Souseh, al-Sha'afeh and al-Baqouz as well as the villages of al-Shajleh, al-Safafiyeh, al-Budran, Albu Khater, Abu Hassan and al-Morashedeh in Eastern Deir Ezzur.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that the operations in Northern Syria are imminent and they would continue until the last of the terrorists cleared, adding that Trump had given a positive response to Ankara's operation East of the Euphrates.

Turkey would launch a military operation East of the Euphrates River "any moment now", Erdogan stated at the mass opening ceremony at Mevlana Square in central Konya province on Monday, Middle East News reported.

Erdogan said the army completed preparations for the planned operation, adding that Turkey will do "what is necessary" regarding terror corridors East of the Euphrates River.

"We talked to [US President Donald] Trump. These terrorists have to leave areas East of the Euphrates. If they do not leave, we will dispatch them. Because they are disturbing us," he stressed.

Erdogan announced that Trump gave a positive response to Turkey's operation.

A Turkish daily reported on Tuesday that the US forces had pulled back from observation posts at Syria-Turkey border and handed over them to the Washington-backed Kurdish militias on the brink of Turkish Forces' operation on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

Yeni Safak paper reported that the US forces, deployed in Tal Abyadh region in Northern Raqqa near the border with Turkey, have hand over their observation posts to the Kurdish gunmen after Ankara declared an imminent assault on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River against the Kurds.

Full report at:



Parliamentary Official: US Forced to Withdraw from Syria after Failure in Plots

Dec 20, 2018

Abboud was quoted as saying by the Arabic-language service of Sputnik news agency on Thursday that the US decision to retreat from Syria was the result of its major defeat in the region, specially in plots against Damascus.

He added that Syria is the key to regional stability, noting that the US has lost all instruments used against Damascus.

Abboud said that Washington had no other option but to declare withdrawal from Syria after loosing all its keys and tools to attain goals.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that all US troops were to be pulled out of the country as they near what he called as the end of their campaign to retake territory once held by the ISIL.

Trump, who previously stated that he wanted to bring troops home as soon as possible, claimed in a tweet on Wednesday that "we have defeated ISIS (ISIL) in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency".

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior officials had previously backed the idea of staying in Syria.

After Trump's remarks, UK Defense Minister Tobias Ellwood stated that the US president is wrong to claim Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) group has been "defeated" in Syria.

Full report at:



SDF: Kurds "Stabbed in Back" by US Withdrawal from Syria

Dec 20, 2018

An official of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) blasted the US decision to withdraw its military forces from Northeastern Syria, terming it betrayal and stab in the back.

Meantime, Jeihan Ahmed, the SDF spokesman, stressed that the Kurds will continue resistance against Turkey without reliance on any sides, warning that they would enter a deadly war with Ankara.

Meantime, Syria's Arabic-language al-Watan newspaper quoted local sources in Hasaka as saying that the US and French military convoys along with several military vehicles have retreated from the bordering town of Ra'as al-Ein in Hasaka towards the village of al-Aliyeh on the international road of Hasaka-Aleppo in the Southern parts of the town of Tal Tamar.

According to the report, the US forces have also left some regions in Manbij in Northeastern Aleppo and Ain Issa and the town of Salouk in Northern Raqqa.

Meantime, the Turkish army sent a large number of its forces to the bordering points with Eastern Euphrates to launch military operations against the Kurds in Syria.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that the operations in Northern Syria are imminent and they would continue until the last of the terrorists cleared, adding that US President Donald Trump had given a positive response to Ankara's operation East of the Euphrates.

Turkey would launch a military operation East of the Euphrates River "any moment now", Erdogan stated at the mass opening ceremony at Mevlana Square in central Konya province on Monday, Middle East News reported.

Erdogan said the army completed preparations for the planned operation, adding that Turkey will do "what is necessary" regarding terror corridors East of the Euphrates River.

"We talked to (US President Donald) Trump. These terrorists have to leave areas East of the Euphrates. If they do not leave, we will dispatch them. Because they are disturbing us," he stressed.

Erdogan announced that Trump gave a positive response to Turkey's operation.

A Turkish daily reported on Tuesday that the US forces had pulled back from observation posts at Syria-Turkey border and handed over them to the Washington-backed Kurdish militias on the brink of Turkish Forces' operation on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

Yeni Safak paper reported that the US forces, deployed in Tal Abyadh region in Northern Raqqa near the border with Turkey, have hand over their observation posts to the Kurdish gunmen after Ankara declared an imminent assault on the Eastern bank of the Euphrates River against the Kurds.

The paper further said that the Turkish army is planning to target the observation posts at the first phase of its major operation against the Kurds in Northern Syria.

The daily went on to say that the US army has also handed over the most modern military hardware and advanced radars to the Kurds.

Full report at:



Kurdish Commander Killed in Clashes with Civilians in Eastern Syria

Dec 20, 2018

Media activists in Eastern Syria reported that a large number of residents of the towns of Sweidan Jazirah, al-Hawayej, Doranj and Zayban in Southeastern Deir Ezzur held rallies against the SDF on Thursday.

They added that the popular uprising started after the SDF refrained from supplying the people with heating fuel and detained a number of them, noting that the Kurdish forces fired at the civilians, killing 2 of them and wounding at least 15 others.

Meantime, residents of these regions engaged in heavy clashes with the SDF forces, killing one of their commanders namely Thamer al-Makhlaf in the town of Doranj.

Also, the SDF dispatched a large military convoy from al-Tanak oilfield to the two villages of Doranj and Sweidan.

Reports said 5 Kurdish forces were also killed after unknown assailants fired at their patrolling vehicle in the town of Zayaban.

People in Eastern Deir Ezzur controlled by the SDF are suffering from drinking water, electric power and fuel shortages.

In a relevant development on Wednesday, tribal people in Eastern Deir Ezzur staged a vast demonstration against the US-backed SDF, protesting against their brutalities, including hording fuel.

Tens of people in the small town of al-Shoheil in Eastern Deir Ezzur took to the main street and protested against the SDF's fuel plundering in the region.

The protestors closed off the streets and engaged in armed clash with the SDF, killing two of them and wounding several more.

The protestors further moved towards al-Umar oilfield, but, the SDF blocked their access to the oilfield, cordoning off the area.

Full report at:





Morocco says suspects in hikers' murder pledged allegiance to IS

21 Dec 2018

RABAT: Moroccan authorities said on Thursday (Dec 20) four suspects arrested following the murder of two young Scandinavian hikers in southern Morocco had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS)

Three of the four suspects were arrested on Thursday over the grisly killing of the two hikers, as investigators probed a link to Islamic extremism.

"The video showing the arrested individuals ... pledging allegiance to Daesh was recorded last week before the execution of the criminal acts we are investigating," the Rabat prosecutor said in a statement using the using alternative name for IS and confirming the authenticity of the video.

Government spokesman Mustapha Khalfi described the killings as a "criminal and terrorist act", while Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani called them a "stab in the back of Morocco and Moroccans".

That was in reference to the likely negative impact the murders will have on the North African country's vital tourism sector - which accounts for 10 per cent of national income.

The arrests in the city of Marrakesh follow a first arrest on Monday of a man suspected of belonging to an Islamic extremist group, hours after the discovery of the two women's bodies in the High Atlas mountains of southern Morocco.

"The suspects have been arrested" and investigators were in the process of "verifying the terrorist motive, which is supported by the evidence and the findings of inquiries," said the central judicial investigations office.

The bodies of Danish student Louisa Vesterager Jespersen, 24, and 28-year-old Maren Ueland from Norway were found on Monday, after the two friends had pitched their tent at an isolated mountain site two hours' walk from the tourist village of Imlil.

Police have focused on the terrorism line of inquiry since arresting the first suspect in a poor neighbourhood of the region's main city of Marrakesh, which is a magnet for foreign tourists.

"The radical Islamist line has not been removed, because of the profile of the (first) suspect arrested and the three" others, who have links to radical Islamic circles, a source close to the investigation told AFP on Wednesday.

Investigators released pictures of three of those arrested, who were identified as Rachid Afatti, Ouaziad Younes and Ejjoud Abdessamad.


In one of the black and white photos circulated by the authorities, a suspect wears white robes and a white skullcap, and has a long beard.

The second suspect also has a long beard, while the third has a thin face and a goatee.

But in another picture released by police after they were detained, the three are freshly shaven and wearing plain clothes.

All three hail from Marrakesh, and one of them had "a court record linked to terrorist acts", police spokesman Boubker Sabik said.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen denounced what he called a "beastly crime".

Addressing reporters, Rasmussen said "like the whole world, we react with consternation, disgust and a profound sadness."

Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg condemned what she called a "brutal and meaningless attack on innocents".

In Rabat, the government spokesman highlighted the efforts of the security services in the fight against terrorism by hailing the arrest in "record time" of the alleged suspects in the double murder.


Moroccan authorities were still working to determine the authenticity of a video posted on social media networks allegedly showing the murder of one of the tourists, a prosecutor said in a statement.

The killings have sparked fears of a hit to Morocco's crucial tourist sector as the kingdom's relative security has always been a major selling point.

"What most of us had feared - that is to say a terrorist angle to the double crime in the region of Imlil, has been confirmed," said leading news website Medias 24.

"Shock, sadness and revulsion are perceptible in Morocco," it added.

Traumatised by the murders, residents of Imlil are deeply fearful for their livelihoods, and have helped investigators in identifying suspects, a tourism sector source told AFP.

Morocco has been spared militant attacks since 2011, when a bomb attack on a cafe in Marrakesh's famed Jamaa El Fna Square killed 17 people, most of them European tourists.

An attack in the North African state's financial capital Casablanca killed 33 people in 2003.



France to maintain participation in Syria, UK says ISIS remains a threat

20 December 2018

Britain has insisted “much remains to be done” in fighting the ISIS group in Syria, amid reports Thursday it was not given prior warning of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out US ground troops.

“The global coalition against ISIS has made huge progress,” said a government statement issued late Wednesday.

“Since military operations began, the coalition and its partners in Syria and Iraq have recaptured the vast majority of ISIS territory and important advances have been made in recent days in the last area of eastern Syria which ISIS has occupied.

“But much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose. Even without territory, ISIS will remain a threat.” Junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood was more blunt, retweeting a message from Trump that the militants had been defeated in Syria with the words: “I strongly disagree.

“It has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive.” Trump declared on Wednesday that ISIS had been “beaten” in Syria and announced the pullout of American ground forces from the war-ravaged nation.

France to maintain participation

France will maintain its participation in the coalition fighting ISIS in Syria, government officials said Thursday after President Donald Trump surprised Washington’s allies by ordering US troops home.

“For now of course we remain in Syria,” France’s European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau said on CNews television, adding "the fight against terrorism is not over.”

“It’s true that the coalition has made significant progress in Syria, but this fight continues, and we will continue it,” she said. France has stationed fighter jets in Jordan and artillery along the Syrian border in Iraq as part of the US-led coalition, as well as an undisclosed number of special forces on the ground.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on Twitter Thursday that the group “has not been wiped of the map, nor have its roots.” “We must definitively defeat the last pockets of this terrorist organization,” she said.

Kurdish force

A Syria troop pullout announced by the White House could allow the ISIS to rebuild, the Kurdish-dominated force battling the militants on the ground warned on Thursday.

“It will have a negative impact on the counterterrorism campaign,” the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-led coalition’s main military partner in the battle against ISIS, said in a statement.

Full report at:



UK: Ex-envoy criticizes new definition of Islamophobia


By Muhammad Mussa


A former diplomat has criticized the new working definition of Islamophobia outlined by a parliamentary group on British Muslims last month.

In a report by think tank Policy Exchange, titled ‘Defining Islamophobia’, Sir John Jenkins is critical of the definition and questioned the nature of the research carried out by the parliamentary group.

On Nov. 27, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims published a working definition on Islamophobia, concluding that ”Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

“There is no doubt that the MPs involved had – and have – the best of intentions. Anti-Muslim hatred and bigotry is a problem that needs to be addressed both politically, societally and individually. But the proposed definition of Islamophobia is not only inadequate but divisive and potentially damaging to social cohesion,” he said.

He also warned that should the government adopt this definition, it would endanger free speech, press freedoms and allow open attack on counter-extremism policy.

Jenkins, the former ambassador to Libya, Syria and Myanmar, also said “many questions need to be asked about how the report was compiled; whether due diligence was carried out on its authors and their sources; and what the definition of Islamophobia could mean in practice.”

The critical report also mentions how the new definition could be used by Islamist groups to protect themselves from criticism and use the definition as a front to further their cause.

Full report at:



British campaign to criminalise Islamophobia condemned as dangerous

Damien McElroy

December 20, 2018

A leading British think tank has warned of the dangers of adopting new laws that would criminalise an offence of Islamophobia as racism.

A Policy Exchange report on Thursday said the move would give a platform to special interest groups that could exploit the existence of a race-based crime to pursue their own agenda.

The position paper was drawn up after a group of British MPs gave their backing to calls for an official definition of Islamophobia that would threat any instances as racist in nature.

Britain has extensive hate crime laws that outlaw attacks such as Islamophobia or anti-Semitism without making additional links to racism.

One of the authors of the study, former diplomat Sir John Jenkins, said the process that produced the findings appeared to be deeply flawed. “It should be beyond question that anti-Muslim hatred must be tackled with the same determination as any other form of prejudice, bigotry or racism in Britain,” he wrote. “The question that matters, however, is whether this initiative will help or hinder that broader effort. There are important questions about the report itself – and how it was compiled – that need to be asked, especially by those in Government who are being urged to adopt the definition it proposes.”

A leading campaigner who headed Britain’s former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Sir Trevor Philips gave his backing to the warning, as someone who had embraced the terms more than two decades earlier.

“What exactly is “Islamophobia”? In 1997, when I was chair of the Runnymede Trust, we published the report that introduced the word into Britain’s political lexicon,” he said. “It encompassed the overt, covert and sometimes unwittingly unfavourable treatment of people from a Muslim background."

Classifying Islamophobic attacks as racism undermines the allegiances of many Muslims in Britain who have no wish to make such a distinction, he said.

“It reduces the lives of British Muslims – the vast majority of whom feel strongly attached to the UK – to the status of perpetual victims and pawns in some wider battle,” he said. “British Muslims are so much more than this, and before the Government or any institution adopts a definition that treats them in this way, much deeper thought is required.

“The spectacular misreading of both Muslim needs and non-Muslim attitudes to which the APPG’s report has fallen prey may well serve the interests of sectarians and those hostile to integration between Britain’s communities, especially the Far Right and Islamists; but it will do little to advance the prospects of those who follow the faith.”

The report itself questions the credentials of those who gave written or personal evidence that was used to draw up the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.

“What the APPG report does not confront is the possibility that the definition it proposes and the processes for managing and applying it may be manipulated in order to control the boundaries of public debate in the service of sectional agendas,” it said. “One can already see this in the way that “Islamophobia” has sometimes been deployed in Britain in the recent past.”

Anna Soubry, a co-chair of the group, explained their findings last month. “Overwhelmingly Islamophobia is rooted in racism and therefore is, racist,” she said. “This definition recognises this truth and I hope it will now enable the serious work that needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia.”

But by broadening the scope of the laws there is a danger that new opportunities would open up for activists to take advantage of controversies to further political goals. “The charge of Islamophobia has been used to attack positions that cannot be said to reach any threshold for a plausible definition of anti-Muslim hatred,” it said. “Those who have exploited the use of this term in this way include groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) – highly vocal supporters of the APPG recommendation – but it is used far more widely than by these groups.”

Victoria Atkins, a British government minister, rejected the report findings when asked for a response in the House of Commons. “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring systems of all race-hate crimes,” she said.

One of the pitfalls identified by the report is that groups like the MCB seek “yet another expansion of a divisive form of identity”.

“This only creates new opportunities for self-appointed gatekeepers. The Muslim Council of Britain, for example, which only a small minority of British Muslims regards as representing them, have pursued this approach to gain influence over the Government in the past.”

The witnesses identified by the MPs are also linked to controversial campaign groups, such as Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). “Antonio Perra, an academic based at King’s College London, was a senior policy analyst at MEND,” it said. “Professor Salman Sayyid, the Leeds-based academic who suggested the one-line definition adopted by the APPG has held at least three public events with the IHRC (Islamic Human Rights Commission).

Full report at:



Southeast Asia


Sarawak Muslim leaders slam Maszlee over ‘dakwah’ remark

Tracy Patrick

December 20, 2018

KOTA KINABALU: Several Sarawak Muslim leaders have joined the chorus of criticism against Education Minister Maszlee Malik for using the term “dakwah”, or Islamic propagation, when urging religious teachers from the peninsula to remain in Sabah and Sarawak.

Speaking to FMT today, former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri said Maszlee’s statement was insensitive and offensive, especially to non-Muslims.

“As the minister of education, he should be mindful of his policy and his statements as these may cause fear among parents sending their children to government schools. It’s time for the minister to introduce good values to children as well as to teachers.

“In Sarawak, there are inter-marriages among families from different religions yet they still live with their families of other faiths.

“They live happily, they know how to adjust themselves well. So, Maszlee ought to learn the Sarawak way of living in order to be a true Malaysian.

“Do not use teachers to propagate religion in Sarawak. It is clear that in the Federal Constitution, although we recognise Islam as the religion of the federation, we should also respect other religions practised in Malaysia,” she said.

Nancy said Maszlee’s statement proved that some ministers in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) did not understand Sarawak.

Compared to them, she said, Sarawak leaders had always been cautious in dealing with people from other cultures and faiths and they had a higher tolerance level due to the state’s culture which promotes mutual respect.

Maszlee’s statement, she said also proved why Sarawak was right when the state government, under the late chief minister Adenan Satem, presented a memorandum to the then prime minister Najib Razak on power devolution.

“At that time, myself, together with Anifah Aman (former foreign minister), were co-chairmen for a committee called Devolution of Power. Among the matters that Sarawak raised with Najib were 13 administrative points.

“These included Sarawak’s request that 90% of teachers in the state must be Sarawakians which the federal government agreed. The reason for this was because only Sarawakians would understand Sarawak well,” she said.

Earlier today, Maszlee said his statement was actually misunderstood and the term “dakwah” which he used should be seen in a wider context, saying it was not just about Islamisation or converting non-Muslims into Islam.

“This is narrow thinking as ‘dakwah’ in Islam is universal in character; it does not just revolve around converting anyone into the religion,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Tourism, Arts, Culture and Youth Minister Karim Hamzah said he personally felt that Maszlee’s statement was insensitive to the feelings of the multi-religious communities in Sarawak.

“If Maszlee is just a youth leader, a wrong usage of words or statement is excusable. But as a minister, he must be more careful in what he says as the public is unlikely to be forgiving, especially if it relates to a religious subject matter.”



Buddhist student aces Islamic classes

20 December 2018

KUALA NERUS, Dec 20 — Por Hui Ling, 11, a student of SK Tok Jiring here scored all As in this year’s Kafa Class Assessment Test (UPKK).

The subjects were Ulum Syariah (Syariah Knowledge), Jawi (language), Khat (calligraphy), Arabic Language, Islamic Lifestyle Appreciation, Adab (morals), prayer practical, and Quran.

Although she comes from a Buddhist family, Hui Ling is not the first to take up the class as her elder brother, Por Jie Hua, 14, earned 5As and 3Bs in the examination three years ago.

Hui Ling, when met by Bernama, said she started taking the Kafa classes during Year Two after being encouraged by her parents to learn something new and to strengthen her relationship with friends at school.

Despite facing many difficulties in the early stages, through hard work, guidance and the help of teachers and her other friends, Hui Ling was able to master reading and writing Jawi well.

“At first I was reluctant to go to the Kafa classes but my parents and brothers always encouraged me, as if a Malay student can learn Chinese well, why can’t we (learn their language and customs well).

“After all, learning Kafa (for me) is to gain knowledge and it has nothing to do with the beliefs and teachings of Buddhism that our family adheres to.

“I also teach my youngest brother, Por Jing Yi, 6, to write Jawi at home, and it seems that she is also interested in joining the Kafa classes in another two years’ time, as she is currently in pre-school,” Hui Ling, who can also read the Quran.

Hui Ling said her parents, Por Kim Sin, 62, and Yeap Bee Fai, 43, have never considered religious differences as a barrier to learning something new.

Therefore, they didn’t mind sending their children to Kafa classes in the afternoon after school with their other Muslim friends to get to know the religion better.

“I initially did not expect to achieve excellent results in the UPKK examination, but I am proud to be able to prove my ability to my family members who have supported me,” she said.

She said learning Arabic and Jawi was fun and she found them to be easier than Mandarin.

“It only seemed difficult at first, but after a year (of taking the classes) I was able to write and read Jawi, as well as recite the Quran a little.

Full report at:



Terengganu says won’t revise minimum marriage age for Muslims

20 December 2018

KUALA TERENGGANU, Dec 20 — The minimum age limit for Muslims in Terengganu to marry remains at 18 years for men and 16 for women, as stipulated under Section 8 of the Family Law (Terengganu) Enactment 2017.

Terengganu Shariah Court Chief Judge Wan Mohd Zakri Wan Mohd, however, said the court will not easily allow applications for underage marriages except for three factors, namely if the woman had delivered a child, was pregnant, or the couple had sex before marriage.

He said between 2013 and 2018, the court had received only 444 applications for underage marriages, and of these, 397 were approved.

“Approval will only be given based on these three factors because it has an effect on the child in terms of inheritance, wali (person who can give away a bride in Muslim marriages) and faraid (Islamic law on wealth distribution). Other than that, we will not accept their reasons even if the wedding invitation cards have been sent out,” he said.

Wan Mohd Zakri was speaking to reporters after the second donation presentation ceremony for this year held by the Terengganu Shariah Court Department launched by the State Shariah Implementation, Education and Higher Studies Committee deputy chairman Maliaman Kassim here today.

According to the records of the Terengganu Shariah Court Department, the 444 applications for underage marriages involved 522 children, of whom 155 were 17 years old, 40 (16 years), 277 (15 years), 40 (14 years) and 10 (13 years).

Wan Mohd Zakri said among the reasons commonly given for these underage marriages were mutual attraction, desire to get married, reducing the burden of the families, and avoiding adultery.

“Of the 444 applications, 405 involved one underage party (usually the woman), while in 39 other cases, both parties were underaged.

Full report at:



Indonesia: Muslim group urges UN action on Uighur abuse


A leading Indonesian Muslim group has urged the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to hold an emergency meeting on Uighur Muslims and take further steps in accordance with international regulations.

The Turkic-speaking community lives in China's western region of Xinjiang and has faced discrimination at the hands of Chinese authorities.

Haedar Nashir, chairman of non-governmental organization Muhammadiyah, said the UN and OIC have a responsibility toward creating peace in all parts of the world.

He urged the Indonesian government to take steps in this regard.

"Muhammadiyah is ready to mobilize humanitarian and material support for peace in Xinjiang, especially for the Uighur community," said Nashir.

Human Rights Watch has condemned the Chinese government for a “systematic campaign of human rights violations” against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country.

According to a 117-page report published in September, the Chinese government conducted “mass arbitrary detention, torture and mistreatment” of Uighur Turks in the region.

The report is based on interviews with 58 former residents of Xinjiang, including former detainees and relatives of detainees, it said.

“Throughout the region, the Turkic Muslim population of 13 million is subjected to forced political indoctrination, collective punishment, restrictions on movement and communications, heightened religious restrictions and mass surveillance in violation of international human rights law,” it added.

The Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uighurs where the world's most extensive electronic surveillance program is in place, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Men are banned from growing beards and women from wearing veils.

Full report at:



Can martial law end ISIS-inspired groups in the Philippines?

21 December 2018

The proposal to extend martial law in southern Philippines until the end of 2019 has drawn mixed response from Philippine lawmakers.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies in the bicameral legislature justified the marital law request after citing violent bomb attacks in Lamitan City, Isulan Town and General Santos City in the Southern Philippine this year.

The case for martial law

Duterte has sought the support of his political allies to extend martial law in Mindanao to quell ISIS-inspired-terror groups who continue to perpetrate hostile activities.

The government has also cited intelligence reports that militants are regrouping after the defeat of the Maute Terrorist Group in Marawi city last year. Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo has said that martial law is a necessity because government is at the cusp of ending rebellion in Mindanao.

But not all lawmakers are convinced by the martial law request. Philippine opposition lawmaker Edcel Lagman stressed that the call for extending martial law manifests failure on part of the military and police to end the rebellion.

“Requesting the martial law extension is an admission that they (military and police) have failed to achieve the supposed objectives of martial law that was first declared in 2017 to quell rising terrorism in the Southern Philippines, particularly in Marawi city”, Lagman said.

Another group of lawmakers feared that the extension of martial could lead to human rights violations in Mindanao. The legislators who opposed martial law were Ariel Casilao, Carlos Zarate and Emmi De Jesus.

Military upgrade

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has allocated $3.4 billion for a military upgrade in the 2019 military budget. According to the defense department this is the biggest military budget in Philippine history. The said budget is 34 percent of the government budget pie for 2019.

The budget will go to defense operation programs that include border security, illegal incursions, transnational crimes and raising salaries of military personnel to attract young and talented recruits to the Armed Forces, police and other security agencies of the Philippines.

The step is in line with the government’s policy to make the country’s safety and security an essential pillar for sustained economic growth. The military hardware listed in the budget include multi-role fighter aircraft, airlifters, maritime patrol aircraft, combat utility helicopters and heavy lift helicopters for the Air Force.

For the army, the weapons and hardware on the list cover artillery, light tanks and multiple rocket launchers. The list of naval forces speaks of the acquisition of two corvettes and multi-role offshore patrol vessels, while the Marine’s list includes anti-submarine helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles.

The acquisition of these weapons will most likely be used in the next year’s campaign to end terrorism, with the aid of martial law provisions. In the Philippines, martial law is a prerogative of the government that can be used against a rebellion.

With martial law in effect, the government suspends the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, such as in Mindanao. This means security forces can arrest terror suspects even in the absence of a warrant issued by a court.

Ongoing violence

These government measures are being taken even as sporadic violence continues in the province of Sulu between Philippine security forces and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Last week’s battle was among the deadliest this month when three Abu Sayyaf militants and one foot soldier were killed in a surprise encounter.

The encounter happened when 50 Abu Sayyaf militants fired at patrolling security forces in the municipality of Patikul in Sulu. Two marine soldiers were also reported wounded in the firefight while M-14 rifles believed to be of the Abu Sayyaf were also recovered.

Full report at:



China: Syria's future should be determined by Syrians

Dec 20, 2018

China says the future of Syria should be independently decided by its people and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the country respected.

"Thanks to the joint efforts of the international community over a period of time, terrorist and extremist organizations in Syria have been under serious attacks," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday.

"Now the Syrian issue is at a new and critical juncture, with a rising momentum of political settlement," she said.

Over the past few months, Syrian troops have made sweeping gains against foreign-sponsored Takfiri elements who have been wreaking havoc in the Arab country since 2011.

In her remarks, the Chinese spokeswoman underlined the importance of finding a political solution to the ongoing crisis in the Arab country.

"Under the current situations, we hope that all the relevant sides in Syria will join hands to facilitate the inclusive Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political process as soon as possible, so as to promote the proper settlement of the Syrian issue at an early date. It serves common interests of the international community."

China earlier this year indicated its willingness to deploy troops to Syria to fight against foreign-backed terrorists.

The latest remarks by the Chinese spokeswoman come one day after the administration of US President Donald Trump announced that it had started withdrawing troops from Syria.

Trump's sudden announcement on Wednesday that US troops had defeated Daesh terrorists in Syria and that he sought to pull some 2,000 US troops out of Syria took many Americans by surprise.

Reacting to the development, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said the US pullout creates good prospects for a political solution in Syria.

US forces in Syria were becoming a dangerous obstacle to finding a peace settlement, she said.

A report in late October said Daesh members were being provided with advanced weapons by the United States in Syria, revealing Washington’s support for terrorists in the Arab country.

In September, the US-led coalition purportedly fighting Daesh airlifted to a safe sanctuary several commanders of the terror outfit from a region in Syria’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr.

The US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against what are said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

The military alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. It has also been largely incapable of achieving its declared goal of destroying Daesh.

The foreign-backed militancy in Syria, which enjoys vigorous Western support, has been plaguing the Arab country for the past seven years, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions.

Full report at:





Turkey says Syrian Kurdish militants will be buried in ditches

December 20, 2018

ISTANBUL: Turkey said Kurdish militants east of the Euphrates in Syria “will be buried in their ditches when the time comes,” after President Donald Trump began what will be a total withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

Trump’s decision to pull out completely was confirmed by US officials and is expected in the coming months. The move stunned US lawmakers and allies and upends American policy in the Middle East. For NATO ally Turkey, however, the news is likely to be welcome.

The two countries have long had their relations strained by differences over Syria, where the United States has backed the Syrian Kurdish YPG in the fight against Daesh. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“Now we have Manbij and the east of the Euphrates in front of us. We are working intensively on this subject,” state-owned Anadolu news agency on Thursday reported Defense Minister Hulusi Akar as saying during a visit to a Qatari-Turkish joint military base in Doha.

“Right now it is being said that some ditches, tunnels were dug in Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates. They can dig tunnels or ditches if they want, they can go underground if they want, when the time and place comes they will buried in the ditches they dug. No one should doubt this.”

It was not clear when Akar was speaking.

President Tayyip Erdogan said this week that Turkey may start a new military operation in Syria at any moment, touting support from Trump even though the Pentagon had issued a stern warning to Ankara.

The Pentagon had said that unilateral military action by any party in northeast Syria, where US forces operate, would be unacceptable.

Turkey has already intervened to sweep YPG and Daesh fighters from territory west of the Euphrates over the past two years. It has not gone east of the river, partly to avoid direct confrontation with US forces.



UN monitor en route as Hodeidah truce hangs on knife edge

December 20, 2018

JEDDAH: Chief UN observer Patrick Cammaert arrives in Jordan on Friday en route to Yemen to monitor a cease-fire in the Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

He travels with the truce on a knife edge, after the Saudi-led coalition said the peace deal was “a dead duck” unless the UN acted to curb violations by Iran-backed Houthi militias.

Cammaert, a retired Dutch general and former military adviser to the UN secretary-general, heads a Redeployment Coordination Committee set up as part of a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden.

He chaired the committee’s first meeting by videoconference from New York on Wednesday “to discuss the general outlines of its work, including agreement of a code of conduct,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

UN chief Antonio Guterres was “breathing down the neck” of officials to make sure the UN observers were deployed as soon as possible, Dujarric said.

Cammaert’s “departure to Yemen depends on logistics arrangements and flight availability,” a UN official said.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Al-Kokbani, a Yemeni government representative on the committee, said the videoconference with Cammaert covered the bases of the committee’s mission. “Cammaert asked members of the team to work diligently in calming the situation and to reject any violations,” he said.

An uneasy calm returned to Hodeidah on Thursday after further overnight skirmishes. There has been intermittent fighting between Saudi-backed government forces and Houthi militias since the cease-fire came into effect on Tuesday.

Full report at:



Netanyahu: Israel to escalate fight against Iran in Syria after US exit

20 December 2018

Israel will escalate its fight against Iranian-aligned forces in Syria after the withdrawal of US troops from the country, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Some Israeli officials have said US President Donald Trump’s move, announced on Wednesday, could help Iran by removing a US garrison that stems the movement of Iranian forces and weaponry into Syria from Iraq.

Israel also worries that its main ally's exit could reduce its diplomatic leverage with Russia, the Syrian governments big-power backer.

“We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran’s efforts to entrench in Syria,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks, referring to an Israeli air campaign in Syria against Iranian deployments and arms transfers to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, carried out with Moscow often turning a blind eye.

Intensifying efforts

“We do not intend to reduce our efforts. We will intensify them, and I know that we do so with the full support and backing of the United States.”

Trump cited what he described as victory over ISIS militants in Syria as warranting the US withdrawal. Israel has long tried to persuade Washington that Iran pose the greater threat.

“ISIS has indeed been defeated in Syria, and this is greatly thanks to America,” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said in a statement to Reuters. “But Iran are already moving in, and they are a threat to the whole free world.”

Full report at:



Syrians rally in Hasakah to protest Turkey ‘threats’ of military offensive

Dec 20, 2018

Syrians have rallied in the northeastern province of al-Hasakah, protesting “threats” posed to their country after Turkey announced another possible military operation in the north of the Arab state.

The demonstrations took place in the province’s capital of the same name and the city of Qamishili on Thursday, the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported.

The protesters condemned the “aggressive statements [made by Turkey] regarding the unity and territorial integrity of Syria and its people,” the agency added.

They also voiced “their solidarity with the Syrian Arab Army which is confronting terrorism and its supporters.”

The Syrian demonstrators also “expressed rejection of the illegal presence of the Turkish troops on Syrian soil,” echoing Damascus’ standpoint on the continued illegal deployment of Turkish troops on the Arab country’s soil.

On December 12, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would launch “a new operation” against Syria-based US-backed Kurdish militants.

Ankara has already launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive dubbed "Euphrates Shield" began in August 2016 to stop the advance of Kurdish militia forces.

Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces launched another cross-border military operation inside Syria, code-named “Operation Olive Branch,” with the declared aim of eliminating militants of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) from northern Syria, particularly the Afrin region.

In March, the operation was completed with the capture of Afrin city, with Turkey threatening to take the battle to nearby Manbij, west of the Euphrates.

Reports on Wednesday said a convoy of Turkish military trucks had passed by the town of Islahiye in southeastern Turkey, heading in the direction of the Syrian border.

Turkey has been infuriated by US support for the YPG, which forms the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an anti-Damascus alliance of predominantly Kurdish militants.

Full report at:



Israel begins destruction of Hezbollah tunnels

December 20, 2018

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military says it has begun destroying a network of cross-border tunnels built by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.

Israel this month announced the discovery of the tunnels, which it says were part of a Hezbollah attack plot. So far, it has uncovered four tunnels in an open-ended operation meant to destroy the entire network.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Thursday that forces have begun destroying the tunnels in a new phase of the operation.

He would not say how many tunnels were being targeted, but said forces were working at more than one location.

He says each tunnel will take many hours to destroy, and all activity is taking place in Israeli territory.

Full report at:



Iranian Intelligence Ministry rejects Israeli PM’s ‘delusional’ claims

Dec 20, 2018

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry rejects the Israeli premier’s claim that Tel Aviv’s agents routinely visit the country for spying on its nuclear program, saying such “delusional remarks” are merely meant to ease the pressure on him over recent revelations about the Islamic Republic’s successful infiltration of the regime’s espionage services.

Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israeli spies have been working “all over the world in regards to Iran’s nuclear program,” claiming, “We also visit there periodically… to ‘catch up,’” without providing details.

In response, the director general for counter-espionage at the Iranian Intelligence Ministry told the ISNA news agency that Netanyahu “has the right to spin yards” of the regime’s spying operations.

Netanyahu, the official added, “has come under the most intense internal and foreign pressure due to leaks about an Israeli minister spying for Iran as well as the large-scale infiltration of the Zionist regime’s intelligence services by those of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The official was referring to the arrest in June of former Israeli energy minister Gonen Segev on charges of spying for Iran, giving the Islamic Republic information about the regime’s energy sector, security sites and the identity of officials in the security and political establishments, among other things.

Investigators found that Segev had made contact with officials in the Iranian Embassy in Nigeria in 2012 and visited Iran twice to meet intelligence officials.

The Iranian official said that Netanyahu had recently ordered Israel’s so-called Security Agency, better known by the acronym Shabak or the Shin Bet, to check on all political, parliamentary and intelligence officials for possible contacts with Iranian intelligence services.

“This order is indicative of the realities that do not need explanations,” the official added.

The hawkish Israeli premier, a staunch opponent of the 2015 Iran deal, has long been lobbying against diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear program.

The deal placed Iran’s nuclear program under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has repeatedly confirmed the peaceful of nature of Tehran’s nuclear work and praised Tehran for its full compliance with the nuclear deal.

Netanyahu has on several occasions drawn ridicule globally by using his showman skills and fabricating scenarios about the Mossad spy agency’s capabilities and what the regime calls Iran’s “secret” nuclear activities.

In late April, Netanyahu unveiled what he claimed to be “conclusive proof of the secret” Iranian nuclear program during a televised address from Israel’s ministry for military affairs.

During another dramatic performance in early May, Netanyahu claimed Mossad agents had managed to break into the warehouse in an overnight operation and bring back “half a ton of the material” consisting of 55,000 pages and another 55,000 files on 183 CDs. Months later, Netanyahu went to the UN with more theatrics and put on show pictures of an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons storage site.

Except in the US, Netanyahu's claims, however, have fallen on deaf ears.

The IAEA said in October that it does not take intelligence presented to it by Israel “at face value.”

“The agency sends inspectors to sites and locations only when needed. The agency uses all safeguards relevant to information available to it but it does not take any information at face value,” Director General Yukiya Amano said in a statement in early October.

Full report at:



Israeli troops kill Palestinian man in West Bank

Dec 21, 2018

Israeli forces have shot dead a young Palestinian near a checkpoint at the northern entrance of the occupied West Bank city of al-Bireh, local sources said on Thursday.

Soldiers stationed at the checkpoint reportedly opened gunfire at the unidentified man, who was driving a private vehicle and reportedly attempting to pass through the checkpoint.

The man was critically injured by live bullets, and later succumbed to his wounds, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported.

Israeli officials say the victim attempted to attack the checkpoint. They also claim the man was on the run for a shooting incident in an Israeli settlement.

The killing came a few days after Israeli troops shot dead another Palestinian man in the industrial area of al-Bireh, alleging that he attempted to ram his car into the regime’s forces.

According to other reports, the 60-year-old man, who had owned an aluminum factory in the neighborhood, was shot by Israeli soldiers on Dec. 13 when his vehicle deviated from its path.

The Ma’an news agency, citing a number of eyewitnesses, reported that the incident had been merely a car accident, as the driver saw the unexpected presence of the Israeli soldiers in his way and attempted to turn away from them before they heavily opened fire at him.

However, the Israeli military said in a statement that the victim “attempted to run over” soldiers, lightly injuring one.

It has also refused to return the body of the slain businessman since last Thursday, according to Israeli media.

Last Friday, a teenager was also shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians on Saturday held a funeral procession for Mahmoud Nakhla, 18, who was killed during clashes in Jalazone refugee camp in Ramallah.

Tensions have been running high in the occupied Palestinian territories as a result of Israel's expansionist policies and its crackdown on peaceful protests.

Full report at:



Palestinian cars vandalized amidst hate crime in occupied East Jerusalem

Dec 20, 2018

Scores of extremist Jewish settlers have vandalized private Palestinian vehicles in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, slashing the tires of more than two dozen parked cars and spraying racist graffiti on a wall.

Locals said Israeli settlers raided the al-Gharableh area of Beit Hanina neighborhood, located eight kilometers north of central Jerusalem al-Quds, early on Thursday, puncturing the tires of at least 27 Palestinian-owned vehicles and spray-painting Hebrew slogans on an adjacent wall.

The phrases “Death to Murderers” and “We Will Not Sleep While God’s Name Is Being Desecrated” were found graffitied at the scene.

Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, released CCTV footage and photos showing young men puncturing tires of parked Palestinian cars.

An unnamed Israeli police spokesman said an investigation had been opened into the incident, and that officers were searching for the perpetrators.

The incident came only two days after nearly two dozen Palestinian cars had their tires slashed, and the wall of a mosque was graffitied in the Palestinian village of Yasuf.

“I Cannot Fall Asleep While Blood Is Being Spilled” was found sprayed on the wall of the mosque, and a car was daubed with the Hebrew slogan “Jews, Wake Up!”

Back on October 12, Aisha Muhammad Talal al-Rabi, 47, a mother of eight children, was killed and her husband suffered injuries after Israeli settlers hurled rocks at their vehicle near the Zaatara checkpoint in Nablus.

Also on August 19, a Palestinian man and his three children suffered injuries when a group of extremist settlers violently pelted their car with stones in the northern part of the occupied West Bank.

Local sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Palestinian Information Center that Munder Mousa, a resident of Tulkarm City, and his children were traveling along a road south of Nablus, located approximately 49 kilometers north of Jerusalem al-Quds, when settlers from Yitzhar settlement, who had laid an ambush, started hurling stones at the car.

The settlers also used a vehicle to block the road before carrying out their assault.

Mousa finally managed to drive away with his children. He arrived in Madama village, located 4.78 kilometers south of Nablus, and was given first aid before being transported to Rafidia Hospital in Nablus.

Price tag attacks are acts of vandalism and violence against Palestinians and their property as well as Islamic holy sites by Israeli settlers.

Full report at:





Libyan army demands UN investigation into 'two weapons shipments from Turkey'

Dec 20, 2018

The Libyan National Army has called on the United Nations Security Council to launch an immediate investigation into what it says are two shipments of military hardware from Turkey to the North African country.

The army, in a statement released late on Wednesday, voiced deep concern over the arrival of shipments, carrying various types of rifles and munitions, at the western Libyan port city of al-Khoms on Monday and Tuesday.

“The ammunition in those shipments included more than 4.2 million bullets, enough to kill nearly 80 percent of the Libyan people, as well as pistols and rifles with their accessories, including silencers used for assassinations. This is a proof that the purpose (of those arms) is to be used for terrorist operations in the Libyan territories,” the statement said.

It added, “The general command of the army demands the UN Security Council, the United Nations, and the United Nations Mission in Libya to condemn the Turkish Republic and start an immediate investigation into it.”

Turkish authorities have not yet commented on the Libyan statement.

Reports about Turkey’s role in the Libyan conflict began to emerge in January 2013, when Turkish-language newspaper Hurriyet reported that Greek authorities had found Turkish weapons on a ship heading to Libya, after it stopped in Greece due to bad weather.

In December 2013, Egyptian media outlets reported that the Egyptian Customs Authority had monitored four containers full of arms coming from Turkey and believed to be heading to Libyan militants.

In August 2014, Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar ordered his forces to shell a ship loaded with weapons coming from Turkey, and heading towards the Libyan port of Derna.

A Libyan army official said in January 2015 that both Turkey and Qatar were supplying the “Dawn of Libya” militant group with arms through Sudan, in flagrant violation of the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya since 2011.

Moreover, Turkey has been accused of harboring Takfiri terrorists in Libya.

In January 2017, according to Libyan media, al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia militant group said its leader Mohammed al-Zahawi had died at a Turkish hospital, where he was receiving treatment for “an injury sustained in the battles of Benghazi.” His body was sent back to the northwestern Libyan city of Misrata for burial, the reports said.



Why governments should recognise religion’s role in governance

21 December 2018

The need for governments at all levels to critically observe the role of religion in governance has been stressed, with optimism that dealing with various religious beliefs in fairness, equity and balance would engender peace and stability in the polity.

The Islamic Welfare Foundation (IWF) in a communique issued at the end of 2018 Conference on Islam in Nigeria (COIN) held at Crescent University, Abeokuta, said Nigerians are a very religious people and they desire that their different religions reflect in both the private and public lives, hence governments should recognize the role of religion in governance.

It stated: “While much of Christianity had been embedded in Nigeria’s legal and social fabrics since the colonial era, it is not the same with Islam. This is what causes agitation among Muslims who feel short-changed by the system. Equity and fairness in the Nigerian nation as well as trust and mutual understanding between the people, will be enhanced if a level playing field is created for all religions in the affairs of the nation.

“This is the only way Nigeria would evolve as a truly multi-religious nation as against her present status as a nation dominated by the religion of those who colonised the country. Our national creed going forward should be, “equal opportunity for all” it stated.

The group however implored religious leaders to promote ethical values, urging them to always seek balanced, transparent and patriotic intervention in national issues as religiosity and patriotism are mutually reinforcing.

The coneference which paraded speakers like Judge Abdul-Jabbar Bola Ajibola, Alhaji Sarafa Ishola, the Baba Adini of Yoruba Land, Edo and Delta and Mallam Yusuf Ali, Professor Ishaq Lakin Akintola and Reverend Clement Taiye Omidiora, appraised of the current situation in Nigeria regarding Islamic theocracy and modernism.

It was however observed that there is no contradiction between theocracy and modernism as both share common values such as freedom, peace, progress, morality, good conscience and good governance; the two major religions in Nigeria, Islam and Christianity, support theocracy and both uphold its applicability in contemporary Nigeria; and that Islamic Theocracy once governed some parts of Nigeria to the admiration of both local and international observers.

Full report at:



North America


Donald Trump: US won't spend lives and dollars as Middle East policeman

December 20, 2018

The United States will no longer play an active security role in the Middle East, President Donald Trump suggested on Thursday, the day after he ordered the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing?” the US president tweeted, following criticism of his order to withdraw more than 2,000 US troops in Syria.

His decision on Wednesday upended US Middle East policy and appeared to surprise US officials and alienate core allies, including the Kurdish-led forces that have done most of the fighting against ISIS in Syria. But while Syrian Kurds and other traditional allies rebuked the US president, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Mr Trump's move, saying he believed that a serious blow had been struck against ISS.

“Donald is right, I agree with him,” the Russian president said at his year-end press conference on Thursday.

“If the USA made that decision [to withdraw], then it’s the right one,” Mr Putin said, arguing that the US military presence in Syria was illegal, as it was not there under a United Nations mandate or Syrian invitation.

Even on Wednesday, Mr Trump’s claim that “we’ve won against ISIS” appeared to be contradicted by the group itself, which carried out a counterattack on the town of Hajin near the Iraqi border, which was captured by the SDF last week after weeks of heavy fighting.

Mr Trump’s decision followed a phone call to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday, and is likely to be welcomed by the Nato ally. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish YPG – which forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – as a terrorist group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and has bridled at the group carving out a statelet on the Turkish border.

US officials said the troops could be withdrawn within 60 to 100 days, and already on Wednesday evening convoys of American vehicles were rolling eastwards towards the Iraqi border, while SDF sources reported that American positions around Manbij had been abandoned overnight. The withdrawal also signifies the end of the US air campaign against ISIS there, US officials told Reuters.

Last week Mr Erdogan warned that he would soon send troops to fight Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates and on Thursday, the Turkey's defence minister warned they would be “buried in their ditches when the time comes”.

“Now we have Manbij and the east of the Euphrates in front of us. We are working intensively on this subject,” state-owned Anadolu news agency reported Defence Minister Hulusi Akar as saying.

The alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters leading the US-led coalition's fight against ISIS in Syria warned Mr Trump on Thursday that the war was not finished, and that the US withdrawal could lead to an ISIS resurgence. In a statement, the SDF said it would “have a negative impact on the counter-terrorism campaign”.

"It will give terrorism ... the momentum to recover and conduct a terrorist campaign in the region," the group said.

Officials in the United Kingdom, France and Germany all expressed disagreement with Mr Trump’s assessment that ISIS was defeated.

"Islamic State has not been wiped from the map nor have its roots,” said Florence Parly, the French defence minister. France intends to keep roughly 1,000 troops deployed in Syria.

“We more than ever need the American commitment to a political solution in Syria," said French ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre. "There is no doubt about it.”

A British junior defence minister said on Wednesday he strongly disagreed with Mr Trump. ISIS "has morphed into other forms of extremism and the threat is very much alive," Tobias Ellwood said in a tweet.

While ISIS has been pushed back, “the threat is not yet over”, German Foreign Minsiter Heiko Maas said on Thursday. "The abrupt change of course by the American side comes as a surprise not only for us."

Israel expressed concern about growing Iranian influence in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would "intensify" its activity in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment following the withdrawal of American forces. “We will continue to act very aggressively against Iran's attempts to establish itself in Syria,” he said on Thursday.

Israel’s finance minister Moshe Kahlon was more direct. “The American decision is not good,” he told reporters.

Mr Trump defended his position on Thursday. “Getting out of Syria was no surprise,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work.”

Fearful that the US withdrawal might be followed by a Turkish military offensive, many international NGOs operating in north-east Syria have moved foreign staff towards the Iraqi border.

Syrian Kurds meanwhile have expressed feelings of betrayal. Demonstrators gathered outside a US military base in Kobane on Thursday to call on Washington to reconsider the withdrawal. “Our courageous fighters who got martyred against ISIS can never be forgotten,” one banner read. “USA and coalition fighters must respect their sacrifices.”



US defence chief Mattis resigns after disagreement with Trump over Syria withdrawal

Anwar Iqbal

December 21, 2018

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigned on Thursday, stating in a letter to President Donald Trump that he was stepping down because his world view was different from that of the president.

The US media reported that Secretary Mattis went to the White House on Thursday afternoon to persuade Trump to keep American troops in Syria but when he was rebuffed, he gave his resignation letter to the president.

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues,” Secretary Mattis wrote.

“We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances,” he added.

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”

Secretary Mattis, however, said that he would stay till February 28 to allow sufficient time for a successor to be nominated and confirmed.

He wrote that he also wanted to ensure the change occurs well in advance of the transition of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September in order to ensure stability within the Defence Department.

Soon after Mattis left the White House, President Trump sent out two tweets, confirming that the Pentagon chief will leave at the end of February.

Various US media outlets, however, reported that although Secretary Mattis differed with the president on several major issue, Trump’s decision to withdraw 2,000 American troops from Syria convinced him that now was the time to leave.

The reports claimed that Secretary Mattis and senior US generals were also upset with Trump for using his Twitter account even to announce a decision of huge global implications.

In Washington, Secretary Mattis’s experience and stability were widely seen as a balance to an unpredictable president and his departure would add to the chaos and unease that surrounds the Trump administration.

Trump, who is seen in Washington as an outsider, had included several four-star generals in his cabinet and proudly called them “my generals.” By the time Secretary Mattis’s resignation takes effect at the end of February, all of Trump’s generals would be gone.

CNN reported on Thursday evening that after President Trump’s Syria tweet, senior US defence officials were also bracing themselves for another surprise announcement: the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

The withdrawal, if announced, would have even greater impact on global affairs than the expected pullout from Syria.

Administration sources told CNN that President Trump had not yet made a final decision on Afghanistan, but officials “are concerned and convinced that he might do so, and soon.”

The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan, to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.

Full report at:



Planned pullout of US troops from Syria worries Western allies

December 21, 2018

PARIS: Britain, Germany and France, three of the United States’ main allies in the war against the militant Islamic State (IS) group, reacted with alarm on Thursday to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria — a move hailed by Russia.

France and Britain pledged to keep their forces in the field, warning that, contrary to Trump’s claim that IS had been “beaten badly”, the fight was far from over.

Around 2,000 US personnel are in the country, most of them on a train-and-advise mission to support local forces fighting IS. London and Paris have not disclosed how many military personnel they have in the region.

“We remain committed to the global coalition and the campaign to deny Daesh territory and ensure its enduring defeat, working alongside our critical regional partners in Syria and beyond,” a spokesman for Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May said, using an alternative name for IS.

“The global coalition against Daesh has made huge progress, but much remains to be done and we must not lose sight of the threat they pose,” he added.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the Kurdish-dominated force leading the fight against the militants said the move could jeopardise the gains made against the extremists, who still control small parts of eastern Syria.

A withdrawal could also have wider geopolitical ramifications.

Some US lawmakers warned it could encourage Turkey to attack the Kurdish forces that the US has been supporting in the fight against IS.

Trump on Wednesday abruptly ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 US soldiers, mainly special forces, deployed in north-eastern Syria, in a short video posted on Twitter.

“We’ve won against ISIS.... We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land. And now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” he said.

The announcement, which appeared to surprise both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, left unanswered a number of questions, notably as to the timing of the pullout and whether the US would continue to offer air support to its allies in the region.

Trump did not address the air campaign, in which the United States and partner nations, including France and Britain, have spent years pounding IS targets across the country.

Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said the US would continue its air war while American soldiers were in Syria — but would not say if the campaign would continue afterward.

Full report at:



Iraq gets 90-day Iran sanctions waiver from Washington

Dec 20, 2018

The United States has granted Iraq a 90-day extension to an exemption from sanctions re-imposed on neighboring Iran to keep importing electricity and natural gas and meet its energy needs.

Senior officials close to negotiations, requesting anonymity, said on Thursday that a delegation of Iraqi officials had managed to secure the wavier just as the previous 45-day one expired.

The temporary relief from the sanctions provides additional time for Iraq to determine ways to pay Iran for the imports of natural gas and energy supplies in denominations other than dollar without violating US sanctions.

On December 11, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said the Baghdad government would send a delegation to the US to explore avenues for a waiver over Iran sanctions.

Hayan Abdul Ghani, head of state-run South Gas Co. (SGC), told reporters on December 6 that Iraq needed at least two years to boost the country’s gas production to stop importing Iranian gas.

“Iraq’s current production of gas is not enough to meet our power stations’ demand and therefore we are still importing gas from Iran. We need at least 24 months to operate new gas projects and start production,” he said.

The US said last month that Iraq could continue to import natural gas and energy supplies from Iran for a period of 45 days as long as it did not pay Iran in US dollars. Sanctions on Iran’s oil sector took effect on November 5.

According to the terms of an agreement struck between Tehran and Baghdad, Iran is to supply 35 million cubic meters of natural gas on a daily basis to the Iraqi capital city Baghdad gradually in three phases, while up to 25 million cubic meters of gas per day is supposed to be exported to the southern city of Basra.

However, there are reports that Iran is currently exporting only 25 million cubic meters of gas per day to Bagdad and only 5 million cubic meters to Basra.

Trade between Iran and Iraq stands at $12 billion, but Baghdad is reportedly under pressure from the US to stop business dealings with Tehran.

Iran is currently Iraq's top trade partner, having sharply increased their trade exchanges in recent months despite US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi said late last month that the two neighbors planned to raise their trade to $20 billion a year.

Full report at:



Trump says 'all' US troops departing Syria


By Michael Hernandez


All of the U.S.'s roughly 2,000 troops in Syria will be leaving, President Donald Trump said Wednesday in a major policy departure for Washington.

Trump earlier in the day declared victory over the Daesh terrorist group, saying its defeat was the sole reason for the U.S.'s presence in the country under his administration.

"It's time for our troops to come back home," Trump said in a pre-recorded video message posted on Twitter. "Our boys, our young women, our men -- they're all coming back, and they're coming back now."

The U.S. began its air campaign in Syria in 2014, deploying troops to the country to assist in the anti-Daesh fight alongside local partners the year after.

The president's announcement had come as a shock to many after several top administration officials, including National Security Advisor John Bolton, insisted the U.S. would not be removing its forces until Iran exited Syria.

Reports have suggested all State Department personnel would depart Syria within the next 24 hours while U.S. forces will leave within 60 to 100 days.

It is unclear from Trump's statement if "they're coming back now" means all troops are being immediately extracted or if there is a gradual scale for their withdrawal.

The White House had earlier stressed that recent military victories against Daesh "do not signal the end of the Global Coalition or its campaign".

"We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next steps of this campaign," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. "The United States and our allies stand ready to re-engage at all levels to defend American interests whenever necessary."

Those reassurances were met with skepticism from some of Trump's key Capitol Hill allies, who warned Daesh is far from final defeat.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham said the decision "is a disaster on multiple fronts."

"Mr. President, I too want our troops to come home. But I don't want to tell the American people we are secure when I don't think we are," said Graham, a close political ally of the president. "If we do follow through with this withdrawal, Americans all over the world and here at home will be at risk."

Graham had earlier drawn parallels between Trump's decision and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq under former President Barack Obama -- a development many Republicans link to the rise of Daesh.

Trump's decision is a "grave error that is going to have incredible consequences that potentially have not been fully thought through," said Republican Senator Marco Rubio in a Facebook Live video, echoing Graham's sentiment.

The withdrawal follows a military operation in northeastern Syria vowed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan against the YPG/PKK. Ankara has carried out two separate military operations in northern Syria in the past.

Full report at:



Donald Trump's administration to withdraw 7,000 troops from Afghanistan, say US officials

December 21, 2018

President Donald Trump has decided to pull a significant number of troops from Afghanistan, US officials told US media, a day after he announced a withdrawal from Syria.

"That decision has been made. There will be a significant withdrawal," one official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan working either with a NATO mission to support Afghan forces or in separate counter-terrorism operations. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported that around half that number will be withdrawn.

Mr Trump made his decision on Tuesday, the same time he told the Pentagon he wanted to pull all US forces out of Syria.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quit earlier on Thursday, saying his views were no longer reconcilable with Trump's.

The president's twin foreign policy decisions on Syria and Afghanistan could unleash a series of cascading and unpredictable events across the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Mr Mattis and other top military advisers last year persuaded Trump to commit thousands of new troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban were slaughtering local forces in the thousands and making major gains.

Mr Trump at the time said his instinct was to get out of Afghanistan.

Full report at:




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