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Pakistani Muslim Jailed for Burning Quran

New Age Islam News Bureau

15 March 2012

 Hindu girls being forcibly kept in Sindh madrasas’

 Pak Govt makes no effort to halt the persecution and killings of Ahmadis: AHRC

 Islamic groups object to gender equality in Malaysia

 74pc minority women faced sexual harassment in Pakistan

 Turkish PM asks Sarkozy not to incite Islamophobia

 Saudi Arabia closes embassy in Syria

 Iran window of diplomacy ‘shrinking’: Obama

 US soldier behind civilian killings flown out of Afghanistan

 22 held in Azerbaijan for Iran plot to attack US, Israel missions

 Another Syrian rebel town falls as UN appeals for peace

 Saudi troops attack student protesters, injure six

 Suicide bomber kills Pakistani police commander

 Six militants killed in Bara operation Ibrahim Shinwari, Pakistan

 Afghan dies after airfield drama mars Panetta visit

 116 dead, more missing in Bangladesh ferry sinking

 US expert advocates destruction of Lashkar-e-Taiba

 Libya offers lessons on Syria's uprising

 Imran urges India for Kashmir solution

 China develops cold feet on Iran-Pakistan pipeline project

 Pak civil, military leaders set to take decision on NATO routes

 Taliban release Swiss hostages in Pakistan

 Pakistan agrees to restore NATO supplies, revive ties

 Caller threatens to kill Mansoor Ijaz’s daughter

 Syria marks anniversary of uprising, violence grows

 Syrian Conflict Raises Walls for Brides Who Cross Border

 Iran strike imminent: Russian diplomat

 Iranian released from U.S. prison to be deported: U.S. official   

 With Arms for Yemen Rebels, Iran Seeks Wider Mideast Role

 Analysis: Afghanistan increasingly looks like Iraq

 Afghan vehicle catches fire as Panetta arrives at base

 Russia may give NATO a base for Afghan supply runs

 Afghanistan demands body of ex-Taliban minister

 US committed to engagement with Pakistan, Afghanistan: Clinton

 Taliban-linked Afghan convicted on drug charges

 US defence chief in Afghanistan as bombs kill 9

 High time to highlight Kashmir issue: Chairman Pakistan Senate

 Indian high commissioner calls on Imran Khan

Complied by New Age Islam News Bureau

Photo: 'Hindu girls being forcibly kept in Sindh madrasas'



Pakistani Muslim Jailed for Burning Quran


MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, March 15, 03 12 — A Pakistani court on Tuesday jailed a 42-year-old Muslim man for life for burning a Koran, officials said.

Naseem Ahmed, a father of three, was arrested last June on charges of desecrating Islam's holy book in Lasda village in Pakistani Kashmir, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of the regional capital Muzaffarabad.

The farmer was found guilty under the Muslim country's tough blasphemy laws that make defaming Islam punishable by death and which have been heavily criticised in the West, particularly over the persecution of a tiny non-Muslim minority.

"We heard up to 15 witnesses. His mother also testified against the accused and we have given him life imprisonment," Judge Ameerullah Khan told AFP.

Ahmed said he would appeal the sentence, professing his innocence and saying he had no idea that a Koran was among a pile of books he set alight.

"My younger brother and sister didn't care about their school books and used to leave them scattered around the house," Ahmed told AFP, speaking by telephone from custody.

"One day I came home and got angry at seeing the books scattered. I collected them up and burnt them. My mother admonished me, telling me that among the books I burnt, was a copy of Holy Koran," he said.

"The neighbour overheard and called the police. Members of a rival (Sunni Muslim) sect with whom I had been clashing in the past suddenly became active in this case that is why I have been convicted," he said.

Pakistan introduced its anti-blasphemy law in 1986 and it was adopted by Pakistani-administered Kashmir in 1993.

In late 2010, a Pakistani court sentenced a Christian mother to death for blasphemy. Her case was taken up by liberal politician Salman Taseer, who was shot dead in January 2011 over his calls to reform the blasphemy law.

Last month, reports that Americans set fire to Korans on an American base in neighbouring Afghanistan sparked riots that killed at least 40 people.


Hindu girls being forcibly kept in Sindh madrassas’

By Zahid Gishkori

ISLAMABAD: March 15, 2012, Hindu girls are being forcibly kept in various madrassas in Sindh and are later forced to marry Muslims, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MNA Dr Azra Fazl told the National Assembly on Thursday. She was speaking on issue of Faryal Shah (Rinkle Kumari) who was allegedly abducted and forced to marry and convert to Islam earlier this month in Sindh.

While speaking on the point of order, Fazl said that Hindus are facing a lot of challenges in Sindh. She stressed the need for legislation to protect minority rights and to end forced conversions.

Fazl, who is also the sister of President Asif Ali Zardari, highlighted the issue in the parliament at a time when her brother received a sharply-worded letter from California Congressman Brad Sherman urging him to take action to ensure the return of Faryal to her family, pursuant to reports that she had been abducted with the help of a PPP lawmaker.

Nafeesa Shah, another MNA from Sindh also endorsed her colleague’s idea and said that the parliament should introduce legislation on “forced conversions”.  Various non-Muslims were being forced to accept Islam as being reported by the media, she observed.

“Protection of the minorities should be ensured as enshrined in the Constitution,” Shah added.

Majority of lawmakers including Lal Chand and Mehish Kumar representing minorities in the parliament expressed concerns over the kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls. They said it was the right of every person to accept any religion but nobody can be forced in this regard.

MNA Justice (retd) Fakhar-un-Nisa stressed on the implementation of laws when it comes to solve the issue of minorities. “Minorities’ rights should be protected at all cost.”

Giving a policy statement on floor of the House, Minister of State for Interfaith Harmony and Minorities Affairs Akram Masih Gill said that the present government has taken unprecedented steps for the uplift and empowerment of minorities. He said these include fixation of five percent quota in government jobs and declaration of August 11 as the Minorities Day.

“Parliament should enact a law to avoid forced conversions,” he remarked.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Shehnaz Wazir Ali said that under the 18th Amendment, four seats have been reserved for minorities in the Upper House.

“During the last few years several laws have been enacted including Human Rights Commission for the protection of the rights of women and minorities.”

Forced Islamiat lessons for minorities

Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N) MNA Dr Araish Kumar added to the conversation by saying that the minorities were being forced to read Islamic studies in Pakistan.

“Our students are being forced to read subject Islamiat in the government schools,” Kumar said adding, “If they refuse to study Islamic studies, they are struck off by the school administration.”



Pak Govt makes no effort to halt the persecution and killings of Ahmadis | AHRC

March 12, 2012 in Home

The situation in Pakistan grows worse for the religious minority groups on a daily basis. The security and law and order situation has become so chaotic that the authorities seem to have no control over providing protection to these minorities. The fundamentalist Muslim leaders (Mullahs) have a free rein and relentlessly exploit the blasphemy laws for their personal interests and these laws were legislated to debilitate and undermine universal human rights. Members of all faiths have been victims of these merciless violations of human rights including Christians, Hindus and even Shiites. However, the main focus of this brutality is the Ahmadi and the killing of Ahmadis is not considered a crime by the state and the law of the land.

The persecution of the Ahmadis since they were declared non-Muslim by the Government of Pakistan in 1974 is overt and blatant. For Ahmadis, to profess Islam as their religion and practice it in any form is a crime in Pakistan punishable by imprisonment, fines, penalties and even death. Killing them is considered a great honour for Muslim fundamentalists which allows them direct entry into paradise.

Hundreds of Ahmadis have been murdered. In two separate instances alone, almost a hundred were killed when the two Ahmadi mosques were blown up by accomplices of the Mullahs in May 2010.

Since January 2011, another ten have been murdered. During the last two weeks more Ahmadis were shot and killed in Nawab Shah, Sindh province. The latest one to be killed was Dr Maqsood Ahmad, a homeopathic practitioner. He was a man that was always helpful, generous and kind to everyone regardless of their religion. Just a week earlier, another prominent Ahmadi, Mr. Ikram, was shot and killed. His grandson, Munib, was also shot and remains in hospital under treatment. He is a brilliant young man, just eighteen years of age and a student. There were quite a few others who were shot but escaped death. Some of them are suffering from severe trauma and other forms of stress related disability. The Government authorities, police and judiciary take absolutely no notice of such cruelty practiced upon the Ahmadis but on the other hand overtly support anti-Ahmadiyya activities and deny Ahmadis the right to even protect themselves.

There are thousands who have been prosecuted and linger in dark cells not knowing their fate and who fear imminent death.

Now however, there is a frightening surge in such incidents against Ahmadis. The Government of Pakistan needs to be cautioned about the consequences of such anarchy. Upholding justice and the fundamental freedoms of all is an essential obligation of democracy which includes human rights. Without fulfilling such obligations claiming to be a democratic state is no better than a farce.

For some years now, Ahmadi elites in Pakistan have been targeted. Several businessmen, engineers, doctors, academics and others have been either killed or kidnapped. Some have been ransomed at a very high cost and there are others, who have not been traced and the authorities have shown no interest in their recovery.

Ahmadi teachers have been discriminated against and even terminated because of their faith. Some of them were known to be of excellent calibre but they have been deprived the opportunity to serve the youth of the nation.

In the current resurgence of religious persecution and hate mongering, the role of the media is equally frustrating. Everywhere in Pakistan, walls are littered with writings and posters exhorting people to kill Ahmadis. Mullahs are free to organise and lead anti-Ahmadiyya processions and conferences which are painfully indecent and abusive. The media has a critical responsibility to be absolutely just, neutral, truthful and contribute to the development of an enlightened and harmonious society imbued with the spirit of unity, cooperation, tolerance and understanding.

For Pakistan, human rights, justice, respect, safety and security of its citizens is in a perilous situation and presents a serious challenge for the government of President Zardari. In order to sustain and solidify democracy it must build up a joint and solid foundation of the dignity and deployment of human rights.



Islamic groups object to gender equality in Malaysia

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta


Six major Islamic organizations have voiced objections to the gender fairness and equality bill, saying that some articles may harm Islamic values.

The objections were made during a consultation meeting between the organizations and the House’s religion and social affairs commission.

The criticisms came from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the Indonesian Consultative Council for Muslim Women Organizations (BMO-IWI), Aisyiah, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), the Islamic Community Party (PUI) and Muslimat NU.

The representatives, who were all women, said that the bill could further violate Islamic law on inheritance sharing, marriage and women’s rights to be a mother and housewife.

They said that the bill’s article 12, for example, which stipulated that every man and woman could freely choose a husband or wife, contradicted Islamic law that suggests the bride and groom be of the same religion.

Eneng Zubaedah from the MUI said that Islam, as a religion, strictly regulated the proportion of inheritance between a man and a woman, which was two to one.

“We have to realize that it may also contradict the idea behind the bill,” Eneng Zubaedah said.

HTI spokesman Iffah Ainur Rochmah said that gender equality that encouraged women to work would eventually cause more conflicts within marriages.

“In 2009, statistics from Jakarta revealed that the divorce rate of teachers went up mainly because wives had better salaries, and thus felt superior,” she said.

Commission head Ida Fauziyah said that she appreciated the insights and promised that the House would pay serious attention to the concerns. (yps/dic)


74pc minority women faced sexual harassment  in Pakistan

 “Moreover, 27 per cent minority women (Christian and Hindu) faced discrimination in admissions to educational institutions and were forced to take Islamic studies for absence of any alternative subject,” National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) Executive Director Peter Jacob disclosed this while launching a study titled ‘Life on the Margins’ conducted by the commission with rights activists, media and people from various walks of life at a local hotel on Wednesday.

The research, which was based on interviews of minority women, was led by Jennifer Jag Jivan and Mr Jacob while it was assessed by three prominent minority women, MNA Asiya Nasir, Ernestine C. Pinto and Pushpa Kumari, with the coordination of Sobia John.

Giving a briefing, Mr Jacob said the study looked into social, political and economic conditions of the minority women with the help of a baseline survey conducted in 26 districts of Punjab and Sindh, the two provinces where 95 per cent of minorities in the country lived.

“As many as 1,000 Hindu and Christian women were interviewed – the two communities forming 92 per cent of the entire minority population in Pakistan,” he added.

He said the study reviewed the literature available on minority women. Issues such as legal disparity, review of personal laws concerning minorities, religious and gender biases, forced conversions, lack of policy focus and segregated data were part of this study that affected everyday life of the minority women, he said.

The NCJP chief said during the study it revealed that only 47 per cent of the minority women were found educated, lower than the national average (57 per cent national literacy rate) and far behind the urban literacy among women, which was above 65 per cent as 70 per cent of the respondents belonged to urban areas.

He said the data showed a higher infant mortality rate among minorities than national ratio.

He said the living (housing, civic facilities) and economic conditions of women, assessed through income, saving, health, education also placed minority women on the margins of social and economic development. Though 55 per cent of the minority women saw the social environment as conducive to multi-religious living, around 62 per cent of respondents were of the view that in the wake of a religious disturbance like those in Shantinagar (Khanewal), Gojra, Korian and Sialkot etc, a majority of people would not stand with them. He said besides stressing a thorough review of laws and policies to root out religious and gender discrimination, the study noted that a lack of official data on minorities could actually help civil society and government assess development and make interventions to improve the conditions and bringing minority women to mainstream.

He said the study while noting the discrimination relating to the Constitution of Pakistan, Hudood Ordinance, blasphemy laws, personal laws and education policy and curriculum and analyzing the consequences of these discriminations, recommended practical policy corrections and institutional ways of improving integrating of minority women and safeguarding their rights.

HRCP Secretary-General I.A. Rehman urged the Pakistan government, provincial governments, social and rights activists and intellectuals to take up these serious issues.

“As the Constitution protects rights of all citizens including minorities on the basis of equality, we should address these issues to protect rights of minorities in Pakistan,” he said.

He said the provincial government, after the 18 Amendment, should focus on minority issues on a priority basis in order to protect their rights by all means.

He appreciated the report and congratulated the NCJP team for revealing the problems the minority women were facing.

Justice Nasira Javaid Iqbal (retired), Hina Jilani, Bushra Khaliq, Wajahat Masood and Emmanuel Yousaf also spoke on the occasion.



Turkish PM asks Sarkozy not to incite Islamophobia

March, 15, 2012

Ankara—PM Recep Tayyip Erdoðan said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is inciting racism and Islamophobia in France in order to get re-elected in the upcoming presidential elections. Erdoðan said resorting to xenophobia, particularly Islamophobia, to win elections is highly irresponsible.

Turkish Prime Minister also added that “Sarkozy is making xenophobia a matter of domestic politics, and issuing threatening remarks against foreigners in his country. This is in violation of the EU’s universal values and fundamental principles.    

Depicting a recent bill Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP initiated seeking to penalize the denial of Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as an acts of inciting the French to xenophobia.

Erdoðan said the current president adopted a more aggressive stance after the bill was passed into law but by the French Constitutional Council, declared it unconstitutional. Erdoðan said the council had corrected a historic mistake by cancelling the law.—AP



Saudi Arabia closes embassy in Syria

Mar 15, 2012,

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia says it has closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled out its diplomats and staff as Syrian President Bashar Assad steps up attacks against the opposition.

The kingdom has become one of the leading Arab supporters of the Syrian rebels and has appealed for international efforts to study ways to provide aid and weapons to anti-Assad forces. The embassy closure was announced late on Wednesday on the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia is a main regional rival of Iran, which is a close ally of Assad.

Last month, the Gulf Cooperation Council proposed that all Arab League nations withdraw their ambassadors from Damascus. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.


Iran window of diplomacy ‘shrinking’: Obama

March 15, 2012

WASHINGTON  - US President Barack Obama on Wednesday warned Iran that the window for diplomacy to solve a nuclear showdown was ‘shrinking’, stiffening his rhetoric ahead of looming talks on the issue.

Obama sent a public message to Iran as preparations went ahead for a new round of dialogue between global powers and the Islamic Republic, amid rising fears of a military confrontation, possibly triggered by Israel.

“In the past, there has been a tendency for Iran in these negotiations to delay, to stall, to do a lot of talking but not actually move the ball forward,” Obama said at the White House. “I think they should understand ... that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking.”

“We will do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically but ultimately we’ve got to have somebody on the other side of the table who is taking this seriously and I hope that the Iranian regime understands that,” he said.

Obama also predicted at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron that a punishing new set of sanctions on Iran would ‘begin to bite even harder this summer’ and would further hurt Tehran’s economy.

Both Obama and Britain have signalled that they do not believe that the time is right for military action against Iran’s nuclear programme yet, amid fierce speculation about the possibility of an Israeli strike in the next few months.

In a letter to EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton earlier Wednesday, Iran made a formal request for a date and venue to be fixed for talks with the P5+1 group of world powers, comprising the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

Responding to a question, Obama said he expected no ‘sudden’ changes to troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, as he and British Prime Minister Cameron vowed not to ‘give up’ the mission.

Obama, confirming that NATO planned to transition to a support role in Afghanistan in 2013, before a full withdrawal in 2014, said his existing plan - to bring home an additional 23,000 troops this summer - still stood. “I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Obama said.

Obama promised a ‘robust’ coalition presence in Afghanistan during this year’s fighting season to stop the Taliban regaining momentum, but left open the option of looking at the size of the foreign troop footprint after that.

Both leaders insisted the painful sacrifices endured by both their militaries had been justified by the rout of Al-Qaeda, which had prevented terror plots against their countries.

And Obama took issue at commentary that the US Afghan war plan was unraveling and that hopes of leaving a functioning Afghanistan able to take care of its own security were unraveling.

“If we maintain a steady, responsible transition process, which is what we’ve designed, then I am confident that we can put Afghans in a position where they can deal with their own security,” said Obama.

“We have made progress.”

Cameron said while Afghanistan was ‘very difficult’ the country was in a better state than it was a few years ago. “I think what we’re trying to do by the end of 2014 is achievable and doable,” he said. “We will not give up on this mission, because Afghanistan must never again be a safe haven for Al-Qaeda to launch attacks against us.”

Obama added: “We’re going to complete this mission and we’re going to do it responsibly,” but, with an eye on political conditions as he seeks reelection in November, he said he understood public weariness over the war.

“Why is it that poll numbers indicate people are interested in ending the war in Afghanistan? It’s because we’ve been there for 10 years, and people get weary,” he said. “They know friends and neighbors who have lost loved ones as a consequence of war. No one wants war.”

But he argued that people on both sides of the Atlantic understood that the war was launched over a decade ago to wipe out Al-Qaeda, which masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and was now weakened.



US soldier behind civilian killings flown out of Afghanistan

Mar 15, 2012,

WASHINGTON: The US staff sergeant who killed over a dozen Afghan villagers this week has been flown out of Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.

The commander of US and Afghan forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, made the decision to fly the soldier, whose name has not been released, out of Afghanistan based on a legal recommendation, a US official said.


22 held in Azerbaijan for Iran plot to attack US, Israel missions

Mar 15, 2012, 0

BAKU: Azerbaijan has arrested 22 people on suspicion of plotting attacks on the US and Israeli embassies in Baku on behalf of neighbouring Iran, the national security ministry said on Wednesday.

The arrests come two months after two men were arrested in Azerbaijan, Iran's northern neighbour, on suspicion of plotting to attack foreigners , including the Israeli ambassador and a rabbi, and after bomb plots in India, Thailand and Georgia that Israel blamed on Tehran.

"Twenty-two citizens of Azerbaijan have been arrested by the national security ministry for cooperating with the Iranian Sepah," its statement said, referring to the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards. "On orders of the Sepah they were to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees," it said.

The ministry said that the suspects were recruited from 1999 onwards and trained in the use of weapons and spy techniques at military camps in Iran to enable them to gather information on foreign embassies , organizations and companies in Azerbaijan and stage attacks.

"Firearms, cartridges, explosives and espionage equipment were found during the arrest," the statement said, without specifying when or how the arrests were made.

Tensions between the Islamic republic Azerbaijan have risen in recent months, with a series of arrests in Baku of attack plot suspects with alleged links to Tehran. Iran has been angered by ex-Soviet Azerbaijan's ties to Israel and its reported purchase weapons from the Jewish state.


Another Syrian rebel town falls as UN appeals for peace

14 MARCH 2012

Regime forces seized another rebel city, activists said on Wednesday, as UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan and Russia urged President Bashar al-Assad to speed up efforts to end the bloodletting in Syria.

On the eve of the first anniversary of an anti-Assad revolt, the opposition suffered setbacks on both the military and political fronts as its Syrian National Council (SNC) coalition was hit by resignations.

International peace envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, said he had received Assad’s response to proposals which he submitted in talks with the Syrian leader last week but had more questions which needed to be addressed without delay.

Annan has “questions and is seeking answers,” his spokesman said.

“But given the grave and tragic situation on the ground, everyone must realise that time is of the essence. As he said in the region, this crisis cannot be allowed to drag on,” the spokesman added.

On the ground, “Since last night there has been no more fighting,” said Noureddin al-Abdo, an activist in Idlib, confirming that the city in northwestern Syria had fallen after a four-day assault by regime forces.

The outgunned, rebel “Free Syrian Army (FSA) has withdrawn and regime forces have stormed the entire city and are carrying out house-to-house searches,” said Abdo, reached by telephone from Beirut.

The army launched its assault on the rebellious province of Idlib near the Turkish border on Saturday, bombarding the city of the same name and outlying areas in a bid to root out armed insurgents.


Saudi troops attack student protesters, injure six  

14 March 2012

Hundreds of Saudi students have gathered inside a college campus in the southwestern province of Asir to protest against poor services.

On Wednesday, they protested against high food prices and poor education provided by the ministry of education.

The students said they want the government to acknowledge its setbacks in the education system and put an end to mistreatment by teachers and morality police.

The protest came one day after university students in the capital, Riyadh, held a rally and boycotted classes to protest against poor educational facilities.

They also called for university teachers and security guards to treat students well.

Over the past few days, students across the country have been holding sit-ins in several universities, demanding better treatment by teachers and the morality police.

On March 7, dozens of student were injured after security forces broke up a protest at King Khalid University in Abha in the Asir Province.

Meanwhile, 128 pilots from Saudi Airlines have called for a strike. Last year a similar strike caused disruptions in many flights.

Riyadh is facing growing calls for justice and release of political prisoners since last year.

Several people have been killed and many more injured or detained in Riyadh's crackdown on protests.


Suicide bomber kills Pakistani police commander

15 March 2012

 PESHAWAR — A suicide attack on Thursday killed a senior Pakistani police officer and wounded his bodyguard in the northwestern city of Peshawar, troubled by a new wave of violence, police said.

“Police Superintendent Kalam Khan died in the blast and his driver and a guard were injured,” police officer Tahir Ayub said.

“The bomber came on foot and detonated explosives strapped to his body near Khan’s jeep,” bomb disposal squad chief Hukum Khan said.

“We have found the bomber’s head,” he added.

The incident took place on a road under construction in Peshawar’s Pishta Khara neighbourhood that meant Khan’s car had to drive slowly, police said.

Khan had been on his way to work in the suburban town of Badaber, where a suicide attack killed 15 people at a funeral on Sunday.

It lies close to Bara town, a stronghold of local warlord Mangal Bagh, who is linked to Islamist militants.

Peshawar has a population of 2.5 million people and has long been on the frontline of violence blamed on an insurgency led by Taliban militants opposed to Islamabad’s alliance with the United States.

Militants have killed more than 4,900 people across Pakistan since government troops raided an extremist mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.


Six militants killed in Bara operation Ibrahim Shinwari, Pakistan

BY Ibrahim Shinwari

March, 15, 2012

LANDI KOTAL, March 14: Security forces killed at least six suspected militants and dynamited three hideouts in Sipah area of Bara tehsil, Khyber Agency, on Wednesday.

Officials said that security forces carried out a search and cordon operation in Speen Qamar, Yousuf Talab, Jansi, Mandai Kas and Dawra localities of Sipah on Wednesday. They said that the operation started in the morning and continued till late in the evening.

They said that during a raid on a house, six suspected militants, including an Afghan national, were killed. The forces also destroyed three hideouts of militants and blew up the houses of five local militant commanders, including Nek Amal, Shah Faisal, Khalid and Sakhi. Houses of three civilians Wilayat Zakhakhel, Sardar Sipah and Kaki Jan Qamarkhel were also raised to the ground.

Local sources said that at least eight civilians, including women and children, were killed and 21 others were injured due to intense artillery firing by the security forces during the operation.

Haroon Afridi, general secretary of Khidmat-i-Khalq Committee, Sipah area, told Dawn on phone from Speen Qamar that almost all area residents were shut in their houses, as the forces had imposed an indefinite curfew in the area before the start of the operation.

Mr Afridi said that the civilians killed in the artillery firing could not be taken to the nearby graveyard and were buried inside their houses. He said that the forces did not allow the residents to take their injured to hospital for treatment or move their women and children to safer places.

SCHOOL DESTROYED: Unidentified miscreants have blown up a government high school in Akkakhel here.

Bara political tehsildar Mohammad Farooq told Dawn that militants detonated explosive material inside two rooms of government high school Mawaz Khan Kallay in Akkakhel on Wednesday morning, which damaged the rooms. Militants had targeted the same school in a similar fashion a year ago. Most schools in Bara are closed since Sept 2009 when a military operation was started.

Also, body of an unidentified tribesman was recovered in Alamgudar area on Wednesday. Reason for his killing could not be immediately known.


Afghan dies after airfield drama mars Panetta visit

15 March 2012

 KABUL - An Afghan man who emerged ablaze from a stolen pickup truck as an aircraft carrying US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta landed at a base in Afghanistan has died from burns suffered in the incident, a US commander said on Thursday.

The incident, an extraordinary security breach inside a military base in Afghanistan’s south, coincided with the unannounced visit of the Pentagon chief on Wednesday.

It came three days after 16 villagers, most of them women and children, were killed in a shooting rampage blamed on a US soldier that has raised questions about Western strategy in Afghanistan and heightened calls for an early withdrawal.

The shootings, and Wednesday’s airfield incident, underscored the instability in Afghanistan more than 10 years into an increasingly unpopular war. They are the latest in a series of incidents that have added to anger among Afghans over the prolonged foreign presence.

The Afghan, a contractor who worked as a translator, had apparently tried to ram the truck into a group of US Marines standing on a runway ramp at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, US Lieutenant General Curtis Scaparrotti said.

Scaparrotti, second in command of US forces in Afghanistan, told reporters travelling with Panetta he doubted the man had any idea Panetta was arriving at the heavily guarded base. Panetta and his delegation were unharmed.

“I personally don’t believe that it had any connection with the secretary’s arrival,” Scaparrotti said.

“My personal opinion is yes, that he had an intent to harm, that he tried to hit the people on the ramp,” he said.

Panetta is the highest-ranking US official to visit Afghanistan since the shooting rampage in Kandahar province, which is next to Helmand and is the birthplace of the Taliban.

Although Panetta’s trip was planned before the shooting, it comes as Afghan civilians and members of parliament demand answers.

Foremost among their demands is that the soldier responsible be tried in Afghanistan over the shooting, one of the worst of its kind since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring the Al Qaeda masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

Despite that, the US staff sergeant accused of killing the 16 civilians had been flown out of Afghanistan, according to officials, as Washington scrambled to soothe anger over the massacre.

The New York Times, citing an unidentified senior US official, said the soldier had been flown to Kuwait. CNN also reported the sergeant had been taken there.

Panetta told US troops after he arrived the shooting must not deter them from their mission to secure Afghanistan ahead of a 2014 NATO deadline for the withdrawal of foreign combat troops.

Tension has risen sharply across Afghanistan since the attack and the inadvertent burning of copies of the Koran at the main NATO base last month, adding urgency to Panetta’s visit. Panetta was to hold talks with Karzai and other Afghan leaders.

Bombs, threats, protest

The Taliban threatened to retaliate for Sunday’s shooting by beheading US personnel, while insurgents also attacked investigating Afghan officials on Tuesday.

US soldiers are likely to be among those targeted in any reprisal attacks, although other Westerners have also been attacked after similar incidents and Afghan civilians invariably bear the brunt of upsurges in violence.

On Wednesday, at least nine people were killed in two separate bombings in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

That followed demonstrations on Tuesday in an east Afghan city where protesters called on President Hamid Karzai to reject a strategic pact that would allow US advisers and possibly special forces to remain beyond 2014.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said after meeting British Prime Minister David Cameron he did not anticipate any sudden change in plans for the pace of withdrawing troops.

Obama described the Kandahar massacre as tragic but emphasised at a briefing with Cameron that both nations remained committed to completing the Afghan mission “responsibly”.

“In terms of pace, I don’t anticipate at this stage that we’re going to be making any sudden additional changes to the plan that we currently have,” Obama said.

NATO leaders gathering in Obama’s home city of Chicago on May 20-21 will decide the next phase of the planned transition to Afghan forces, which is already under way.

Scaparrotti offered a few more details about the airfield incident, saying it appeared the contractor had been carrying some kind of container that may have had fuel in it.

“Those who were (there) described to me that (there was) a puff of smoke, and then the individual came out engulfed in flames. The security detachment there doused the flames and we took him for medical care,” he said.


116 dead, more missing in Bangladesh ferry sinking

March 15, 2012

The death toll in this week’s ferry disaster rose to 116 on Thursday when villagers found four more bodies floating in the water, authorities said.

The decomposing bodies surfaced near the scene of the accident hours after the double-deck ferry was salvaged and the rescue operation was called off, local police chief Mohammad Shahabuddin Khan said. Rescuers recovered 112 bodies from inside the sunken boat Tuesday and Wednesday.

The ferry carrying about 200 people collided with a cargo boat and sank early Tuesday, sending scores of people into the Meghna River, just south of Dhaka. Mr. Khan said about 35 survivors were plucked from the water, while local media reported that another 40 managed to swim to shore.

Local media said dozens of people were still missing.

Parul said she had been waiting at the shore since Tuesday night for news of her newly married brother, who was returning on the ferry with 16 others from his wedding party. She said only four of the 17 had apparently survived. Two bodies had been recovered, but the bridegroom and others were still missing.

“Bring my brother back. Give them all back,” Ms. Parul wailed as she beat her chest. “I want to see their faces. Please take me to them.”

Rescue workers and divers called off the search late Wednesday after raising the wreckage, but police planned to stay in the area. “There are no more bodies inside the ferry but police will remain deployed to check if there are any more bodies around,” Mr. Khan said.

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, a low-lying delta nation crisscrossed by more than 230 rivers. They are often blamed on overcrowding, faulty vessels and lax rules. In 2009, about 150 people died in three ferry accidents.

MR. Khan could not specify how many people were still missing. Many passengers buy their tickets on board, and ferry operators rarely keep accurate passenger lists.

The MV Shariatpur-1 was traveling to Dhaka from Shariatpur district to the southwest. The accident occurred in Munshiganj district, about 32 kilometres south of Dhaka.


US expert advocates destruction of Lashkar-e-Taiba

Mar 15, 2012 |

Describing Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) as the most dangerous terrorist group operating in South Asia after Al Qaeda, a US expert has advocated its destruction by the US with or without Pakistan's help.

"Though India and Kashmir have been LeT's primary area of operations so far, the group has an unsettling presence internationally," Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate South Asia Programme at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, wrote.

"Though India's proximity to Pakistan has resulted in New Delhi absorbing most of the blows unleashed by LeT, the carnage in Mumbai demonstrates that the terrorism facing India is not simply a problem for New Delhi alone," he wrote.

"An attack could even reach US soil," warned Tellis, who specialises in international security, defence, and Asian strategic issues and was intimately involved in the negotiations associated with the US-India civil nuclear agreement.

"The only reasonable objective for the United States is the permanent evisceration of LeT and other vicious South Asian terrorist groups-with Pakistani cooperation if possible, but without it if necessary," he wrote.

Though the international community first began taking notice of LeT after the Nov 2008, Mumbai terror attacks, Tellis noted the group was established in 1987 at a time when Pakistan was in the throes of Islamic ferment, Tellis noted.

"Then, LeT had access to a steady supply of volunteers, funding, and-most important of all - concerted state support," he said

"Long bolstered by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, this Wahhabi group promotes the vision of a universal Islamic caliphate through tableegh and jihad-preaching and armed struggle," Tellis wrote.

'It is clear that after Al Qaeda, LeT is the most dangerous terrorist group operating in South Asia' because of 'its loyalty to Pakistan and willingness to protect its patron state against domestic opponents,' he said.

"LeT is a formidable and highly adaptable adversary with a genuinely global reach and the ability to grow roots and sustain operations in countries far removed from its primary theatre of activity in South Asia," he warned.



Libya offers lessons on Syria's uprising

Thursday, 15 March 2012

More than a year has passed since Libyans revolted against their country's strongman and ruler for four decades Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

What started as a peaceful uprising quickly transformed into an armed struggle. But unlike other mass protests linked to the phenomenon of the Arab Spring, Libya presented itself as a unique case.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution that provided an excuse for direct foreign military intervention in the form of NATO aerial strikes against Qaddafi’s militias and strongholds. Soon anti-government rebels began to militarize and the peaceful rebellion turned into a bloody and brutal military confrontation.

It is now clear that without foreign intervention the Libyan uprising would have taken a different route. Qaddafi and his sons were determined to fight until the end. They had the means to crush the uprising. But NATO bombings, which the Russians and the Chinese saw as illegal, provided an incomparable advantage to the rebels. They were able to drive back Qaddafi militias and finally claim victory.

Libya presents itself as a stand-alone case study in relation to what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. It certainly provides food for thought as the Arabs and the rest of the world contemplate their next move in Syria, a country that has been caught in a cycle of violence for almost a year now.

There are many lessons that Libya can provide.

First, while foreign intervention played a direct and decisive role in sealing the fate of the Qaddafi regime, Libya's troubles are far from over. The extent of destruction, by NATO and at the hands of the rebels, of cities like Sirte is a grim reminder that the liberation of Libya was achieved at a high human cost. Months after the end of hostilities Libyans are yet to launch a viable political and economic process.

Rebuilding Libya's most devastated cities like Misrata, Sirte, Al Zawiyeh and others has not started yet and many Libyans are complaining of mismanagement by the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the new government.

Second, disarming the rebels has proved to be one of the most challenging missions for the government.

Hundreds of thousands of heavily armed rebels have refused to hand over their arms and join the army or the security forces. In effect, the central government in Tripoli is dysfunctional. It is unable to extend its authority over a vast country where tribal differences and old rivalries have resurfaced.

Third, a weak government that has been unable to launch a political process and the presence of thousands of armed rebels have resulted in numerous incidents of human rights abuses against suspected Qaddafi loyalists.

International organizations have documented reports of widespread human rights violations including torture and extrajudicial executions. The NTC has been unable to arrive at national reconciliation while reports of a rise in the power and influence of radicals is causing regional and international concern.

Fourth, in the absence of an all encompassing viable political process to bring all Libyans together, a group of tribal heads has declared the oil-rich region of the east semi-autonomous under the name of Cyrenaica or Berqa. They chose a cousin of the last monarch of Libya, Sharif Ahmad El Senussi, as head of this new federal region.

The move was denounced by president of the NTC Ahmad Abdel Jalil and thousands of people marched in the streets of Benghazi and Tripoli to warn that the move was aimed at splitting the country. There are fears that the Berber population of the Western Mountain region may now be encouraged to do the same. The demise of the Qaddafi regime has revealed the country's diverse tribal and ethnic differences.

These and other lessons must be absorbed fully as we look at the Syrian crisis. While there is no doubt that the Syrian uprising is genuine and that the regime is ruthlessly trying to crush it by all means available, one cannot but hesitate to condone a repeat of the Libyan model. Foreign intervention in Syria may be key in stopping the regime's killing machine, but at what cost to the civilian population that will certainly be caught in the middle?

In addition, arming the rebels, as some Arab and foreign states are demanding, will bring the Syrians closer to a civil war scenario. And just like in Libya the big challenge will be to disarm hundreds of thousands of militiamen after the toppling of the regime. There are no guarantees that a

victory for anti-government forces will not lead to massive acts of retribution against regime loyalists and extrajudicial executions.

Furthermore, the Syrian opposition is divided and is unlikely to unite after the fall of the regime. A political power vacuum will give way to separatist movements in a country that has diverse ethnic, religious and tribal groups.

The division of post revolution Syria is not far-fetched and with an armed population civil war could easily erupt. Syria poses a serious challenge to regional and world security. Doing nothing as the regime butchers its own population is not an option. But the Libyan case must be taken into consideration when weighing other options.

For now, diplomacy in the form of the joint UN-Arab League initiative undertaken by Kofi Annan, is the only practical, albeit doubtful, approach.

Diplomatic efforts should instead focus on Syria's superpower allies, namely Russia and China, to convince the regime to stop its killing spree and opt for a political solution.


Imran urges India for Kashmir solution

March, 15, 2012

Sharat Sabharwal says people on both sides want peace

Islamabad—The Indian High Commissioner, Sharat Sabharwal, called on PTI Chairman Imran Khan here Wednesday.

Khurshid Kasuri, Dr Shireen Mazari and Ahmad Jawad were present on the occasion.

The High Commissioner said he wanted to learn about Khan’s vision for Pakistan.

Imran Khan remarked that Kashmir must be recognized as a political issue which must be resolved at the dialogue table. He said what is needed are two strong leaders who can carry their people with them. “We need a bold leadership to explain to people the gains from developing the full potential of the subcontinent.

We have to sell the idea of dividends of peace and to get out of the past.”

Imran Khan referred him to Dr Mazari’s bold idea of civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and India which was further explained by Dr Shireen Mazari.

“ PTI wants “ peace with honour” on Kashmir,” Kasuri said.

Khan reiterated the need for dialogue on Kashmir and a roadmap which will help disarm the militants and help reduce the Indian military presence in Indian Occupied Kashmir.

Dr Mazari raised the waters issue and the High Commissioner said, there is gross misinformation.

The High Commissioner also recognised that the urge for peace has widened amongst the people and issues should not be created needlessly.


China develops cold feet on Iran-Pakistan pipeline project

March 14, 2012

Anita Joshua

Ananth Krishnan

Geo-political situation could be reason: Islamabad

The state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) seems to have backed out of its offer to provide financial advisory services to the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project that is being stiffly opposed by the U.S. and faces the threat of sanctions owing to the stalemate over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The ICBC had been leading a consortium which was to sign a contract with the Inter-State Gas Systems in January. Though the other members of the consortium — Habib Bank and Ernst&Young Ford Rhodes Sidat Hyder — signed up, ICBC had not signed the contract till date, as a result of which the other two companies had developed cold feet, said Pakistan Petroleum Secretary Ejaz Chaudhury.

According to a summary presented by the Petroleum Ministry to the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet on Tuesday, “it is apprehended that a probable reason for not signing the agreement [to act as financial adviser for the project] till date could be [the] geo-political situation in the region”.

Eager to go ahead with the project despite the hiccups and the threat of sanctions, the Pakistan federal government has begun to explore other options. These include opting for another consortium that would be responsible for arranging the funds required for the project, funding through the Gas Infrastructure Development Cess and government-to-government arrangements with China, Russia or Iran.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions from The Hindu about this development. Though unaware of ICBC's decision, senior South Asia scholar at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies Zhao Gangcheng said the Chinese government was “quite cautious about investments where there are a lot of concerns” and it “would not encourage any risky business”. Such concerns, he said, had been heightened after Chinese companies suffered huge losses following the unrest in Libya.

In Pakistan, the development has evoked disappointment as Islamabad regards China to be its “all-weather friend”. The headlines in the media reflected this disappointment with newspapers describing it as China “ditches”, “backs off”, “run away” from a project to which Pakistan recently reiterated its commitment during a visit of the Iranian President.


Pak civil, military leaders set to take decision on NATO routes

Mar 15 2012,

Islamabad : Pakistan is inching towards a decision on reopening NATO supply routes, which were closed following a cross-border air strike in November, though it is expected to impose "tough conditions" like a hefty transit fee for the movement of container trucks and oil tankers.

The issue of allowing the US and its allies to resume using Pakistani routes for transporting supplies to foreign troops in Afghanistan figured at a meeting of leaders of the ruling coalition and top military officials, including army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that was chaired by President Asif Zardari last night.

The civil and military leadership evolved consensus on lifting the nearly four-month-old blockade later this month but "tough conditions" are expected to be imposed by Pakistan, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted its sources as saying.

"There was a general consensus among the participants that we now have to reopen the NATO supply routes," an unnamed official told the daily.

"For once, we have conveyed our principled position to the US regarding our red lines and we believe that it is very well-received in Washington," the official added.

Few details have emerged of the conditions Pakistan is expected to impose for allowing the US and its allies to transport supplies through its territory.

However, the government is expected to levy a hefty transit fee for NATO container trucks and tankers.

Islamabad closed the supply routes in protest against a cross-border NATO air strike in Mohmand tribal region that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The US said the attack was unintentional but this explanation was rejected by the Pakistani military.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani subsequently ordered a Parliamentary review of Pakistan-US ties. The supply routes are expected to be reopened after a joint session of both houses of Parliament approves new "terms of engagement" for the US and NATO later this month.

A Parliamentary panel's recommendations for resetting ties with the US are expected to be discussed by the Senate and National Assembly sometime next week. Yesterday's meeting at the presidency, which was also attended by Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani, was briefed on foreign policy and security-related issues, an official statement said.

The meeting also reviewed the Parliamentary Committee on National Security's recommendations for new terms of engagement with the US.

This was the first time the civil and military leadership jointly discussed the draft proposals.

The US has privately expressed its "frustration" over the delay in the parliamentary review as alternative routes for NATO supplies are costlier than the land routes offered by Pakistan, The Express Tribune reported.

Key US officials, including Central Command chief Gen James Mattis and Special Envoy Marc Grossman, are expected to travel to Pakistan once the parliamentary review is completed.

Islamabad had recently turned down a request from Grossman to visit the country, saying such a trip would not be productive till the review is completed.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar said a decision on reopening the NATO supply routes would be taken by Parliament.

Ahead of the joint session of Parliament, the government will also take into confidence opposition parties, including the PML-N led by former premier Nawaz Sharif, on the issue of reopening the supply routes.


Taliban release Swiss hostages in Pakistan

March, 15, 2012

ISLAMABAD - The Pakistani Taliban have released two Swiss hostages kidnapped more than eight months ago while travelling through the country's volatile southwest, the army said Thursday.

"They are safe and sound. We shifted them to Peshawar," Pakistani army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP, referring to the northwestern city that abuts Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where they were held captive.

Olivier David Och, 31, and Daniela Widmer, 28, were abducted at gunpoint in Baluchistan on July 1.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed the abduction soon after, demanding that they be exchanged for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuro-scientist sentenced in 2010 in New York for the attempted murder of US government agents in Afghanistan.

In October, a video had emerged showing the couple -- apparently in relatively good health -- flanked by four masked gunmen pointing rifles at their heads.

Baluchistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, attracts few tourists due to separatist violence and Taliban activity.


Pakistan agrees to restore NATO supplies, revive ties

March, 14, 2012

WASHINGTON - Senior US officials say they have been informed by Pakistani authorities that a high-level meeting in Islamabad on Wednesday agreed in principle to restore supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan and to revive normal relationship.

President Asif Ali Zardari presided over the meeting that was attended by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani Air Chief Marshal Qamar Suleman and ISI DG Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

The meeting of the country’s top civilian and military leadership as well as key allies was called just days ahead of the joint session of parliament that will mark the new parliamentary year but will mainly focus on the debate on the future relationship with the US and NATO allies. Although the government spokesmen told the media that the meeting reiterated the government’s earlier stance that parliament will take the decision on the NATO supply and relationship with the US, the leaders agreed to restore land route for NATO and revive normal ties with the US.

Senior US officials in Washington said they had been conveyed about the decisions after the Islamabad meeting. In return the US will also allow the equipments delivery to Pakistan which had been blocked after Islamabad blocked NATO supply line in November. The meeting also decided to receive the top US visitors whenever they wanted to visit Pakistan and they agreed with the proposed visit of the US CENTCOM chief General Mathis, who is likely to visit later this month.

General Mathis told reporters in Washington last week that he will discus, besides other important issues, the plan of using Pakistan land route for the American troops at the time of withdrawal from Afghanistan. “This has also been conveyed to the U.S. authorities in Washington,” the US sources said. The US plans to withdraw several thousands troops this year as part of its Afghan exit strategy. The summoning of long-awaited joint session of the parliament to meet on March 17 is also in line with the understanding reached in Wednesday’s meeting, sources told Online in Islamabad.

The Parliamentary Committee on National Security had been tasked with giving recommendations to reevaluate ties with the US/NATO and ISAF following NATO, which had already submitted its recommendations.

Participants of the meeting were of the view that the coalition will have no problem in dominating the join session of parliament during the debate on the US ties as they were now in complete command of both houses of parliament, official sources in Islamabad said.

The army chief told the meeting that the military will fully respect the decision by the parliament and civilian leadership, sources in Islamabad said.


Caller threatens to kill Mansoor Ijaz’s daughter

March, 15, 2012

LONDON - An unknown caller has allegedly threatened to kidnap and kill the daughter of the key character of “memogate”, Mansoor Ijaz. According to reports, Mansoor’s son received the threatening call on his cell phone. Scotland Yard has initiated investigation to trace down the suspect through phone call records. Moreover, heavy security has also been deployed at the house of Ijaz.


Syrian Conflict Raises Walls for Brides Who Cross Border


March 14, 2012

NUSAYBIN — From the roof of the mud-brick compound where she lives with her husband of two years, his sons and his 22 grandchildren, Sahnaz Ete, 36, strained last week to make out her home town of Amuda in the distance.

“I miss my mother and father and all my relatives over there, and I’m worried about them,” she said, speaking in Kurdish, as she peered from her perch in the Turkish village of Yukariyenikoy across the mined border into Syria, where Amuda was just discernible in a haze about five kilometers, or three miles, away.


Iran strike imminent: Russian diplomat


March 14, 2012

Israel will attack Iran this year if a new round of talks scheduled for April fail, a leading Russian newspaper reported quoting a senior Russian diplomat.

Russian diplomats at the United Nations believe the strike against Iran is “a matter of when, not if,” the Kommersant daily said on Wednesday.

“The attack will be mounted before the end of this year. Israel is blackmailing [U.S. President Barack] Obama by confronting him with a dilemma: either he supports the war option or will lose the support [of the U.S. Jews],” a high-ranking official of the Russian Foreign Ministry told the newspaper ahead of the U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria on Monday.

After the meeting, the Russian diplomat said the attack could come earlier, any time after April when the six-nation group holds new talks with Iran.

The Kommersant quoted the diplomat as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to warn Iran that the talks were a “last chance for Tehran” to avoid the attack.

The newspaper said that a precise date and location for the talks was still being discussed. Iran on Tuesday confirmed that the talks would take place soon and said Turkey had been suggested as the venue.

The coming strike against Iran will save Syria from foreign military intervention, the unnamed Russian diplomat told the Kommersant.

“Americans realise that Israel will attack Iran and it would be too much to have two wars in the region,” the diplomat said explaining Washington’s consent to let U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan pursue his peace efforts in Syria.



Iranian released from U.S. prison to be deported: U.S. official   

14 March 2012

TEHRAN – An Iranian national, who served a five year prison sentence over the allegation that he smuggled arms, is undergoing deportation proceedings, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Amir Hossein Ardebili, who was arrested in October 2007 in the Republic of Georgia and extradited to the United States in 2008, was released in February.


With Arms for Yemen Rebels, Iran Seeks Wider Mideast Role


March 15, 2012

WASHINGTON — In the past several months, Iran appears to have increased its political outreach and arms shipments to rebels and other political figures in Yemen as part of what American military and intelligence officials say is a widening Iranian effort to extend its influence across the greater Middle East.

Iranian smugglers backed by the Quds Force, an elite international operations unit within Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, are using small boats to ship AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades and other arms to replace older weapons used by the rebels, a senior American official said. Using intercepted cellphone conversations between the smugglers and Quds Force operatives provided by the Americans, the Yemeni and Indian coastal authorities have seized some shipments, according to the American official and a senior Indian official.

The scale of Iran’s involvement remains unclear, and some Yemeni officials and analysts remain skeptical about the impact of any weapons shipments, citing a long history of dubious accusations by Saudi Arabia — Iran’s regional nemesis — and Saudi allies in Yemen.

But American officials — who had sometimes dismissed such accusations as propaganda — say there now appears to be at least limited material support from the Iranians.

Earlier this year, Iran tried to send to Yemen material used to make explosive devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, or E.F.P.’s, according to a high-ranking Yemeni security official. The material was shipped in freighters from Turkey and Egypt that docked in Aden.

The cargo was destined for Yemeni businessmen affiliated with the rebels, known as the Houthis, but was intercepted by the government, the Yemeni official said. American officials said Iran supplied the same lethal roadside bombs to insurgents in Iraq during the worst of the violence there, an accusation that Iran has consistently denied.

“Iran is really trying to play a big role in Yemen now,” the Yemeni official said from his office in Sana, the country’s capital.

American officials say the Iranian aid to Yemen — a relatively small but steady stream of automatic rifles, grenade launchers, bomb-making material and several million dollars in cash — mirrors the kind of weapons and training the Quds Force is providing the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. It also reflects a broader campaign that includes what American officials say was a failed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in October, and what appears to have been a coordinated effort by Iran to attack Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia earlier this year. Iran has denied any role in the attacks.

“They’re fighting basically a shadow war every day,” Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of the military’s Central Command, told a Senate hearing last week.

“They are working earnestly to keep Assad in power,” he said, explaining that in addition to arms and scores of Quds Force trainers and Iranian intelligence agents, Iran is providing the Syrian security services with electronic eavesdropping equipment “to try and pick up where the opposition networks are.”

In early January, American intelligence officials said, the Quds Force commander, Qassim Suleimani, visited Damascus, Syria, raising suspicions that Iran was advising Mr. Assad on how to quash the uprising. “What we’re seeing is a much more aggressive Iranian effort to become involved in a number of areas and activities,” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, said in a recent interview.

The authorities in Azerbaijan announced Wednesday that they had arrested 22 Azeri citizens suspected of spying for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and plotting to attack the United States and Israeli Embassies and the British oil company BP, according to Reuters, citing the country’s National Security Ministry.

Analysts say Yemen could be highly useful in any effort by Iran to retaliate against an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The country’s longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, formally stepped down earlier this year after a year of widespread protests and violence, but Yemen remains highly volatile, with its political elite divided and much of the country outside the control of the government. Militants linked to Al Qaeda continue to battle the Yemeni military in the south, and much of the north is under the control of the Houthi rebels.


Analysis: Afghanistan increasingly looks like Iraq

Mar 15 2012,

Washington : Afghanistan is not Iraq, US officials have been fond of saying from the first days of Barack Obama's presidency.

The difference, they said, was that one war Obama inherited, in Afghanistan, was worth fighting while the other, in Iraq, was best ended as fast as possible.

Now, Afghanistan has turned into Iraq: an inconclusive slog in which the United States cannot always tell enemy from friend. And like Iraq, Obama has concluded that Afghanistan is best put to rest.

Just as he patterned his troop "surge'' in Afghanistan on a successful military strategy in Iraq, now Obama is patterning his withdrawal from Afghanistan on the Iraq template as well.

Obama and British Prime Minster David Cameron said Wednesday that NATO forces would hand over the lead combat role to Afghanistan forces next year as the US and its allies aim to get out by the end of 2014.

It's a gradual step away from the front lines, while pushing indigenous forces to take greater and greater responsibility. It's also a gradual lowering of expectations for a country whose internal divisions and customs bewildered the Americans sent to help and where the US national security goals were often poorly understood.

"Why is it that poll numbers indicate people are interested in ending the war in Afghanistan?'' a contemplative Obama asked during a Rose Garden news conference Wednesday. "It's because we've been there for 10 years, and people get weary.''

Obama and Cameron stressed that they will not walk out on Afghanistan, whose uneven military is not up to the task of defending the entire country. But Obama in particular seemed keen to show he does not have a tin ear.

Afghanistan is Obama's war – the one he willingly expanded and redefined as a frontal assault on al-Qaida – but like Iraq for former President George W. Bush, the Afghanistan war is becoming political baggage.

Americans have little enthusiasm for the Afghanistan mission in this election year, and a string of violent or distasteful incidents involving US forces have refocused national attention on whether the war is achieving its goals.

The resentment and contempt each side feels for the other appears to have reached some breaking point in Afghanistan, with a rising number of killings of American troops by Afghan recruits this year. The relationship was far from perfect in Iraq, but fratricide was rare by comparison.

Six in 10 Americans see the war as not worth its costs, in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, before news of a massacre of Afghan civilians apparently by a US soldier.

That was nearly twice the 35 percent that said the war has been worthwhile. More Americans have opposed the war than supported it for nearly two years, but the implications are stark eight months before the presidential election.

pposition to the war is bipartisan, and for the first time the Post-ABC poll showed more Republicans "strongly'' see the war as not worth fighting as say the opposite.

"When I came into office there has been drift in the Afghanistan strategy, in part because we had spent a lot of time focusing on Iraq instead,'' Obama said, a bit defensively.

"Over the last three years we have refocused attention on getting Afghanistan right. Would my preference had been that we started some of that earlier? Absolutely. But that's not the cards that were dealt.''

He claimed that his strategy has brought the war around the corner. He was careful not to predict victory, or use any of the traditional language of war.

"We're making progress, and I believe that we're going to be able to make our – achieve our – objectives in 2014,'' he said.

In the same poll, a majority of Americans said they think a majority of Afghans are opposed to what the NATO-led mission is trying to accomplish in their country. A majority also said the United States should withdraw troops even before the Afghan army is able to stand on its own.

Obama used Cameron's visit to endorse a shift toward a back seat advisory role for US forces in Afghanistan next year, although the war will go on for another year or more. That follows the model of Iraq in 2010, when US forces symbolically pulled back and placed their Iraqi hosts in charge.

He said any sudden drawdown of US forces in unlikely in Afghanistan. If he follows the Iraq model, the reduction will be steady and permanent, and taken with an absence of fanfare. The United States has roughly 90,000 troops in Afghanistan. Obama plans to drop that number to 68,000 by late September but has offered no specific withdrawal plan after that. Britain has the second-largest force in Afghanistan with about 9,500 troops.

Britain is pulling about 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, leaving around 9,000 personnel, mainly based in the center of the southern Helmand province.

Officials in London have already cautioned against public hopes that large numbers of troops will be able to leave in the first half of 2013.

Cameron emphasized the scaling back of ambitions since 2001, acknowledging "we will not build a perfect Afghanistan'' by the time international forces withdraw from the country. Where his predecessors hailed efforts to improve education, health care and governance, Cameron took office in 2010 saying he would accelerate the training of Afghan troops and police.

He said Britain and the US were now "in the final phases of our military mission,'' but – like Obama – did not suggest the timetable for British troops to withdraw would be accelerated.

Like Iraq, the Afghanistan war has been given an artificial expiration date. US and NATO forces will close out their current mission and leave by the end of 2014. The surge forces Obama added will be gone by the end of September.

Obama came into office with an end date in Iraq already set by his predecessor – Dec. 31, 2011. Obama stuck to that schedule but added his own "end of combat'' date – Aug. 31, 2010. That gave US forces the remaining months to hand off security control to the Iraqis. By the end, American casualties were rare and US troops often had little to do.

The US and its allies have not yet set a precise "end of combat'' date in Afghanistan, although the mid-2013 target Obama articulated Wednesday looks to be the same thing. That calendar would give approximately the same amount of time – roughly 15 months – for US and allied forces to complete the security handoff to Afghan forces.

Like Iraq, fighting is sure to continue in Afghanistan after the transition to an "advise and assist'' role for US forces and after US forces quit the country altogether. The relationship between the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government is even more tenuous than it was in Iraq, making it more difficult to ensure that security will hold up after the Americans leave.

By the time the US forces switched to the advisory role in Iraq, the back of the Sunni insurgency had been broken. The same cannot be said for the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, which causes most of the US casualties and functions as the main enemy even if Obama's preferred opponent is the al-Qaida terror network the Taliban once harbored.



Afghan vehicle catches fire as Panetta arrives at base

Mar 15 2012,

Kabul : An Afghan stole a vehicle at a major NATO base and drove it onto a runway ramp around the time US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta arrived on an unannounced visit on Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman said.

The driver of the vehicle at Camp Bastion airbase caught fire, but it was unclear how and the spokesman denied reports in Afghan media that the vehicle caught on fire or exploded. “The Secretary, we believe, was never in danger,” said George Little, a Pentagon spokesman who is travelling with the Secretary, adding that the driver’s motives were unclear. The driver is being treated for burns.

Panetta arrived in Afghanistan as the US tried to contain fallout from a massacre of 16 Afghans by a US soldier. A motorcycle bomb went off in Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan, killing an Afghan intelligence soldier and wounding two, as well as a civilian, while a roadside bomb killed 8 civilians in neighbouring Helmand province, officials said, as Panetta kicked off a two-day trip by visiting troops.

Afghans investigating the incident had been shown video of the soldier taken from a security camera at his base, an Afghan security official said. The video had been shown to dispel a belief among Afghans that more than one soldier was involved in the incident.

Russia may allow US to use air base

oscow: A new deal allowing the US and its NATO allies to use a Russian air base for transit of troops and military cargo to Afghanistan would help ensure Russia’s security, Russia’s foreign minister said Wednesday. Sergey Lavrov said a plan to permit NATO nations to use the base in Ulyanovsk on the Volga River will soon be considered by the Russian Cabinet. The deal could help repair Russian ties with the US.


Russia may give NATO a base for Afghan supply runs

Mar 15, 2012

Russia's foreign minister on Wednesday endorsed a proposal to allow NATO use of a southern Russian air base as a hub for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and suggested it was premature to withdraw troops from the war-torn country.

Sergei Lavrov said the proposal to lease NATO an air base in the Volga River city of Ulyanovsk for non-lethal NATO supply transits to Afghanistan via Central Asia must get formal government approval but is in Russia's 'national interest'.

It would be the first deal allowing U.S.-led coalition forces a logistical base on Russian territory rather than simply a corridor for Afghan supply transports.

The proposal to use the base for a 'combined' air, road and rail traffic to Afghanistan came originally from NATO in May 2011. It requires the Russian cabinet's go-ahead but no date for a meeting on the issue has been set.

Lavrov called the deal "a means to assist those who are eradicating the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking in Afghanistan."

"We are helping the coalition... primarily out of our own national interest," Lavrov told lawmakers in a speech to Russia's lower house of parliament.

He also voiced concern that a premature troop withdrawal would lead to a security vacuum near Russia's border in Afghanistan, where Moscow fought a disastrous 1979-89 war which still haunts Russian and killed 15,000 Soviet troops.

"We are not happy with the artificial deadlines announced as a reference point for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan," he said. "First, it is necessary to achieve a basic level of order maintained by Afghan security forces."

Russia has allowed Afghan-bound NATO transports through its territory since 2009 as an alternative supply route to convoys through Pakistan that have been pry to militant attacks. But it has stopped short of allowing weapons transports.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Ulyanovsk would serve as a base for NATO to transfer cargos of 'mineral water, napkins and other military cargoes' onto planes.

"The Russian budget will get money from it," he said in support of the plan, posting on his Twitter feed on Tuesday.


Afghanistan demands body of ex-Taliban minister

March, 15, 2012

PESHAWAR - The Afghan government has asked Pakistan to hand over the body of former Afghan minister and Taliban leader Mullah Obaid Ullah. Around a month ago, Pakistani authorities had confirmed that former defence minister Mullah Obaid Ullah died as a result of illness inside a prison house. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan Mohammad Omar Daudzai on Wednesday called on Jalil Abbass Jillani, minister of state for external affairs. During the meeting, they discussed in depth matters pertaining to bilateral issues. According to the Afghan embassy, Pakistan’s minister of state and Afghan ambassador discussed in depth matters regarding Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA). The Afghan embassy also said that during the meeting, Ambassador Daudzai asked Pakistan’s minister of state for handing over the dead body of Afghanistan’s ex-defence minister Mullah Obaid Ullah Akhund to his relatives. In this respect, the Afghan government has already placed a request to Pakistan.


US committed to engagement with Pakistan, Afghanistan: Clinton

March, 15, 2012

WASHINGTON: United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reaffirmed Washington's commitment to remain engaged with both Afghanistan and Pakistan even as the US works to end the Afghan war.

Speaking at the US State Department, Clinton said they are making plans to end a decade of armed conflict but added that when all of their troops return, thousands of State Department and USAID employees and local staff would still be there on the frontlines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Clinton said these people will be working under very difficult conditions to advance “our vital interests through civilian power.”

The chief US diplomat also told a conference of American ambassadors that the US will continue to work closely with Pakistan, which is "vital" to American policies in the region.

Clinton said there are multiple overlapping worlds in Pakistan and they have to deal with all of them simultaneously, adding that the “country is vital to our counterterrorism operations, economic and regional stability.”

She said the US will continue to engage where its has its legitimate concerns and disagreements.

Regarding Afghanistan, Hillary Clinton said a critical element of the path forward in Afghanistan will be the success of the Afghans in securing and leading their country for themselves.

She said Afghan government will need help and asked the ambassadors to pledge substantial financial support to the Afghan security forces for the period beyond 2014, saying that such support is a major element of US President Barack Obama’s policy.

The 2014 deadline is expected to see NATO handover its combat operations in Afghanistan and hand over full security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain Jack Kirby, said the United States looked forward to having a good partnership with Pakistan, saying it was critical for the region and for the mission in Afghanistan.

In response to a question, he said the US army is also looked forward to working with the new ISI chief, Lt General Zaheerul Islam. The spokesman added the appointment of new ISI chief is decision of the Pakistani leadership and it is not for the US to make comments on Pakistan's internal matters. app\03\15\story_15-3-2012_pg7_34


Taliban-linked Afghan convicted on drug charges

March, 15, 2012

WASHINGTON: An Afghan man linked to the Taliban, who was one of the largest heroin traffickers in the world, was convicted on Tuesday on charges of importing and distributing heroin and for narco-terrorism, federal officials said.

Officials with the US Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said Haji Bagcho was convicted by a federal jury in Washington. They said he manufactured the drugs in secret laboratories along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

According to the department, he sent heroin to more than 20 countries, including the United States, and proceeds from his heroin trafficking were then used to support high-level members of the Taliban and their insurgency in Afghanistan.

Beginning in 2005 and continuing for five years, the DEA, in cooperation with Afghan authorities, conducted an investigation of Bagcho's organisation.

With the help of cooperating witnesses, the DEA purchased heroin directly from the organisation on two occasions, which Bagcho understood was destined for the United States, according to a Justice Department news release.

Investigators also conducted several searches of residences belonging to Bagcho and his associates, recovering evidence of drug trafficking.

During one search, ledgers belonging to the defendant were found. One ledger, cataloguing Bagcho's activities during 2006, reflected heroin transactions worth more than $250 million. Based on heroin production statistics compiled by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for 2006, the defendant's trafficking accounted for approximately 20 percent of the world's total production for that year. Bagcho was captured and brought to the United States in June 2009. ap\03\15\story_15-3-2012_pg7_29


US defence chief in Afghanistan as bombs kill 9

March, 15, 2012

* Most senior US official to visit since shooting

* Panetta says no need to alter Afghan war strategy

CAMP LEATHERNECK: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit on Wednesday, as the United States tried to contain fallout from a massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier.

A motorcycle bomb went off in Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan, killing an Afghan intelligence soldier and wounding two, as well as a civilian, while a roadside bomb killed eight civilians in neighbouring Helmand province, officials said, as Panetta kicked off a two-day trip by visiting the troops. Panetta told them the weekend killings by what US and Afghan officials have said was a lone rogue soldier would not undermine relations with Afghanistan. "As tragic as these acts of violence have been, they do not define the relationship between the coalition and Afghan forces, and the Afghan people," he told soldiers at Camp Leatherneck, the main Marine base in the volatile southern province.

"We will be tested, we will be challenged. We'll be challenged by our enemy, we'll be challenged by ourselves, we'll be challenged by the hell of war," Panetta said.

Panetta's trip had been scheduled before Sunday's shootings in two villages in Kandahar province, but gained added urgency as political pressure mounted on Afghan and US officials over the unpopular war, now in its 11th year. American soldiers are the likely targets of any backlash over the killings of villagers, who included nine children and three women, by a lone American soldier. The Afghan Taliban threatened to retaliate by beheading US personnel. But Panetta, the most senior US official to visit Afghanistan since the shootings, said the massacre would not alter US withdrawal plans and strategy.

Afghans investigating the incident had been shown video of the soldier, said to be a US Army staff sergeant, taken from a security camera mounted on a blimp above his base, an Afghan security official who could not be identified told reporters.

The footage showed the uniformed soldier with his weapon covered by a cloth, approaching the gates of the Belandai special forces base and throwing his arms up in surrender, the official said.

The video had been shown to investigators to help dispel a widely held belief among Afghans, including many members of parliament, that more than one soldier must have been involved because of the high death toll, the official said.

Panetta was to hold talks with Afghan leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as tension remains high following a spate of incidents, including the burning of the holy Quran at the main NATO base in the country last month. Panetta's arrival in Helmand – where US Marines and British soldiers are battling a resilient insurgency – came a day after the first protests over Sunday's massacre flared in the eastern city of Jalalabad. Some 2,000 demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and demanded Karzai reject a planned strategic pact that would allow US advisers and possibly special forces to remain beyond the pullout of most NATO combat troops by the end of 2014.

The US military hopes to withdraw about 23,000 soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of the coming summer fighting season, leaving about 68,000.

In the two Panjwai district villages where the weekend massacre took place, US troops remained confined to the compound where the soldier was based, and people in the area demanded a trial in Afghanistan under Afghan law. reuters\03\15\story_15-3-2012_pg7_28



High time to highlight Kashmir issue: Chairman Pakistan Senate

March 15, 2012

ISLAMABAD - Chairman Senate, Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari, has said that it is high time to highlight Kashmir issue as well as atrocities being committed against innocent unarmed Kashmiri people and human rights violations taking place in Indian Occupied Kashmir at the international level.

The Chairman Senate reiterated that Parliament had always played vital role to bring Kashmir issue to forefront both at national and international level. He expressed his resolve to broaden this parliamentary role for seeking ultimate resolution of this crucial and critical issue that can lead to regional peace and prosperity. He was expressing these views while talking to AJK President Sardar  Yaqoob who Wednesday met him at Parliament House Chairman Senate said that due to determined efforts under the leadership of Sardar M Yaqoob Khan, AJK was witnessing continuous progress and prosperity. Mr Bokhari expressed best wishes for AJK President and hoped that his struggle would continue for uplift of Kashmiri people.

AJK President congratulated Syed Nayyar Hussain Bokhari for his unopposed election as Chairman Senate and conveyed heartiest felicitations and deep sentiments on behalf of Kashmiri people. He appreciated Pakistan’s unending support and cooperation vis-à-vis Kashmir issue and expected that this support and assistance would continue for highlighting Kashmir cause at every forum and for seeking its ultimate solution.

He further said that under the Chairmanship of Nayyar Bokhari, Senate would play crucial role in smooth running of legislative business and other related matters.



Indian high commissioner calls on Imran Khan

March, 15, 2012

ISLAMABAD: Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal called on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan at the PTI office on Wednesday. Former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, Dr Shireen Mazari and Ahmad Jawad were also present on the occasion.

The purpose of the visit was regarded as the Indian High Commission wanted to know about Khan's vision for Pakistan in regional prospective. Imran Khan remarked that Kashmir must be recognised as a political issue which must be resolved at the dialogue table.

"We have to sell the idea of dividends of peace and to get out of the past," Imran Khan said. He referred Sabharwal to Dr Mazari's bold idea of civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and India which was further explained by the latter. The high commissioner admitted that Mumbai was a major setback for relations between the two countries. But he said that commercial relations were on track. He said the Indians were also looking at making an easier visa regime.

Sabharwal said trade was now a wide agenda and both sides were trying to address each other's concerns. He said that non-tariff barriers in India were not Pakistan-specific. He recognised three issues of concern for Pakistan: customs, lab testing, and absence of a mechanism for addressing of grievances. India was addressing these issues as well as discussing the issue of market access. Imran Khan reiterated the need for dialogue on Kashmir and a roadmap which would help disarm the militants and help reduce the Indian military presence in Indian-held Kashmir.

Imran Khan also talked of the need for truth and reconciliation in FATA to win the favour of tribal people. The high commissioner asked for Imran’s view about Pakistan's economy. "We also need good governance for investment and have poverty alleviation," he said, adding that Pakistan was also facing the energy crisis as an emergency. Dr Mazari raised the water issue and the high commissioner said that the Indus Water Treaty did well so far but two issues, centring on some issues of implementation and a matter of trust to implement the treaty. He also claimed that there was gross misinformation.\03\15\story_15-3-2012_pg7_13