Archive for December 2, 2014

August 12, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Ahead of planned massive anti-government protests, Pakistan’s capital feels like a city preparing for a siege.

Shipping containers block roads leading into central Islamabad, placed by security forces hoping to halt protesters supporting either a fiery anti-government cleric or a cricket star-turned-politician. Police in riot gear can be seen taking up positions across the city as authorities suspended mobile phone service in some areas. Meanwhile, those worried the government may cut off fuel shipments to slow demonstrators have lined up at gas stations.

The protests Thursday represent the strongest challenge yet to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, just a year after he took office in the first democratic transfer of power in a country long plagued by military coups. And how the country reacts to calls for Sharif’s ouster will show how far its nascent democracy has come.

“I think there is going to be a test of wills in Islamabad,” said Rasul Bakhsh Rais, who heads the Institute for Strategic Studies. Two men are at the forefront of challenges to Sharif. The first is Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Pakistani cleric who’s also a Canadian national. He commands a loyal following of thousands through his network of mosques and religious schools in Pakistan. Last year, Qadri held a protest in the capital calling for vaguely worded election reforms ahead of the country’s May poll, grinding life in Islamabad to a halt. His followers already clashed with police this weekend.

The other is Pakistan’s former cricket legend Imran Khan. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party is the third-largest political bloc in parliament. Khan’s attempts to win followers in Punjab province, the power base for Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N, have rattled the ruling party.

Both men want the government to step down and new elections be held. Khan alleges last year’s vote is invalid due to widespread rigging by government supporters. “A sea of people is coming to Islamabad and they are peaceful and you cannot stop them,” Khan said Tuesday.

Both men picked Pakistan’s Independence Day for their rallies, the day marking when the country became its own nation carved out of India in 1947. In the opaque world of Pakistani politics, where security services remain powerful, there has been wide speculation that the two men have other internal support, something they’ve denied.

Their representatives met Tuesday to discuss their strategy. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister backing Khan, said after the meeting that protesters would not resort to violence, but would resist any effort to impose martial law.

“We are working on a national agenda to bring real democracy in the country,” Qureshi said. Sharif, himself overthrown in the 1999 coup that brought former army chief Pervez Musharraf to power, is taking no chances. He has met regularly with top advisers, and the government has invoked a rarely-used article in the constitution allowing the military to step in to maintain law and order if needed.

In a televised address Tuesday, Sharif said a Supreme Court committee would look into claims of fraud in last year’s election. He also warned that “no one will be allowed to create anarchy and play with the constitution.”

“It is not possible that in presence of parliament, decision should be taken on streets,” he said. “Here is nobody’s monarchy nor here is there any dictatorship.” After Sharif’s address, Khan said the prime minister would have to resign before any probe.

Hanging over the planned rallies has been the question of whether the Pakistani military has had any role in fomenting opposition to a government with which they have increasingly been at odds. This nuclear-armed country of 180 million people has had three military coups since independence. The military hasn’t commented on Khan or Qadri but generally says it does not meddle in politics.

Relations between Sharif and the military frayed when the government decided late last year to prosecute Musharraf for high treason. The military also has bristled at accusations that its powerful spy chief was behind the assassination attempt of a powerful television anchor.

Sharif and the military also are believed to be at odds with opening up trade with India, which it has fought in three wars, as well as whether to negotiate with Taliban militants. But regardless of who is behind the protests, many believe Sharif won’t back down from the challenge.

“This time around he is going to stand his ground, firm and polite, no matter what the consequences,” said Rais, the analyst.

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan contributed to this report.

April 24, 2014

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s powerful army has asked a government regulator to shut down a leading private news channel over what the military calls “false” reports that the country’s intelligence service shot one of its top anchors.

Press freedom advocates on Wednesday decried the move against Geo News TV, whose popular talk show host Hamid Mir suffered multiple gunshot in the attack last Saturday. Mir’s shooting has sparked protests by journalists in Pakistan, a country considered one of the world’s most dangerous postings for reporters and where its military and intelligence services still hold tremendous power despite its transition to democracy.

The complaint, posted on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the army wanted the station closed because of its “false and scandalous campaign” against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or the ISI. Mir’s brother, Amir Mir, appeared on the station after the shooting and blamed the ISI for trying to kill his brother, saying he told his family about threats made by the service against him.

Since then, the station repeatedly aired the accusations against the spy agency, blaming it for the “assassination attempt” against Mir. The ISI, which has no public spokesman, has not comment publicly about the allegations.

However, the defense ministry filed the complaint late Tuesday against Geo to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority, spokesman Fakhruddin Mughal said. The complaint accuses the station of “undermining the integrity and tarnishing the image of (a) state institution and its officers and falsely linking it with the terrorist outfits.”

“The reporting made and the programs aired cannot be viewed as a single event,” the complaint reads. “Geo Network has a history of acting illegally in furtherance of the anti-Pakistan agenda.” The complaint asks the authority to revoke Geo’s licenses. Mughal said the authority’s legal team was meeting in Islamabad to examine the request and could make a statement later Wednesday.

Mir suffered six gunshot wounds to the stomach and legs in the attack in the port city of Karachi. Last year, authorities found a bomb under Mir’s car but he escaped unharmed. In recent weeks, Mir’s show gave prominent coverage to a group campaigning against the disappearances and torture of insurgents and their supporters in southwestern Baluchistan province — allegedly at the hands of ISI.

Both the military and the ISI wield tremendous power in Pakistan, even after a successful transition of civilian power last year. The ISI has been accused of harassing and even killing journalists in the past, including Saleem Shahzad in 2011. U.S. officials have said Pakistan’s military and intelligence service authorized Shahzad’s torture and murder. Pakistani officials have denied involvement in Shahzad’s death.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, which recently urged the government in Islamabad to do more to protect journalists, warned Wednesday the complaint against Geo amounted to censorship. “We call on Pakistan’s security services to recognize the critical role of the media and exercise tolerance and maturity,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The ISI is free to rebut allegations in the media but should not try to censor coverage.”

Meanwhile, a top cleric representing Pakistani Taliban met with government negotiators in Islamabad on Wednesday to discuss ongoing peace talks. The meeting with cleric Maulana Samiul Haq took place a week after the Taliban refused to renew a cease-fire they declared for the talks.

After the meeting, Haq said he was still trying to arrange a second round of direct talks between the Taliban and the government.

Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP)

April 16, 2014

The Pakistani Taliban Wednesday said they would not extend a ceasefire called to help peace negotiations with the government, but insisted they were still committed to the talks process.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced a one-month ceasefire at the start of March as the government sought a negotiated end to their bloody seven-year insurgency.

The TTP extended the ceasefire to April 10, but complained there had been “complete silence” from the government since then and hinted that the military was trying to thwart talks.

“TTP’s central shura (council) has unanimously agreed not to extend the ceasefire,” the group said in a statement.

“However, the talks process will continue with complete sincerity and seriousness, and whenever a clear development comes from the government side, the TTP will not hesitate to respond with a serious move.”

The announcement comes three days after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the process was about to enter a “comprehensive” phase.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government began negotiations with the TTP through intermediaries in February to try to end the Islamists’ insurgency.

Since the TTP’s fight began in 2007, more than 6,800 people have been killed in bomb and gun attacks around Pakistan, according to an AFP tally, destabilizing the nuclear-armed state.

The umbrella militant group has demanded the release of what they call “non-combatant” prisoners and the establishment of a “peace zone” where security forces would not be present.

The government freed 19 tribesmen based in South Waziristan district last week and on Sunday Khan said 13 more of what he called “non-combatant Taliban” prisoners would be released to help the peace process.

South Waziristan is one of seven restive semi-autonomous areas along the Afghan border that are havens for the militants.

The TTP statement said there had been “no development” from the government on the militants’ demands.

The government has also taken up the issue of the release of a senior academic — Professor Mohammad Ajmal — as well the sons of slain former Punjab governor Salman Taseer and former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in return for its concessions to the TTP’s demands.

– Skepticism –

Talks were a key campaign pledge for Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.

But some analysts have voiced skepticism about their chances for success, given the Taliban’s demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.

Regional deals struck in the past between the military and the Taliban have failed and some have accused the militants of using them as a means to regroup and rearm.

Not all militant factions are signed up to the peace process — a group calling itself Ahrar-ul-Hind claimed a major attack on an Islamabad courthouse just days after the ceasefire was originally announced.

Further evidence of discord within the militant ranks came last week with fierce clashes between rival TTP factions which left more than 60 people dead.

Source: Space War.


Islamabad (AFP)

April 16, 2013

Pervez Musharraf was Tuesday disqualified from contesting Pakistani elections next month, crushing his ambition to “save” the troubled nuclear-armed country just weeks after his return from exile.

Pakistan goes to the polls on May 11 for an election that will mark the first time a civilian government has handed over power at the ballot box after completing a full term in office in a country used to extended periods of military rule.

The Pakistan election campaign has got off to a lacklustre start and been marred by violence and Taliban threats. On Tuesday, a bomb targeted a convoy of the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party, killing four people.

Officials disqualified Musharraf just one day after he unveiled his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) party manifesto at a press conference overshadowed by questions about legal cases dating back to his nine years in power.

The retired general is on bail over the 2007 killing of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the 2006 death of a rebel leader from the region of Baluchistan, and for sacking judges when he imposed emergency rule in 2007.

But he told reporters Monday: “The only thing in my heart was to save Pakistan and now I am here I have the same commitment, that I will save Pakistan.”

The Taliban threatened to assassinate him on the eve of his return to Pakistan on March 24, where he was welcomed by only a few hundred ardent supporters.

The 69-year-old applied to run for parliament in four seats but was rejected immediately from all but the northern district of Chitral, on the Afghan border.

Lawyers appealed against his approval in Chitral and on Tuesday a court official said Musharraf’s nomination had been thrown out on the grounds that he violated the constitution in 2007.

Musharraf’s team have vowed to appeal against the decision in the Supreme Court, which is also hearing a separate petition from lawyers demanding that Musharraf face trial for treason dating back to his 1999-2008 rule.

Lawyer Ahmed Raza Kasuri said the decision was an insult to “an internationally known person” and would show the world “what democracy we have”.

“Let us see what the Supreme Court decides. We are hopeful we will get justice,” APML candidate in Islamabad, Mohammad Amjad, told AFP, denying that the decision would have any impact on the party’s campaign.

But commentators said Musharraf was finished, given the hostility in the Supreme Court to the man who dismissed the current chief justice in 2007.

“Politically he never had any future,” said political analyst Hasan Askari.

“I think he miscalculated his position and his advisers really fooled him advising him to come back… I think he should sit back in Dubai and the UK, and write another book.”

Election observers from the European Union were sent to constituencies around Pakistan on Tuesday, the mission said, to begin long-term monitoring work ahead of the polls.

Tuesday’s attack in the Khuzdar district of southwestern province Baluchistan was the third deadly attack on politicians or political parties in as many days.

Sanaullah Zehri, head of the PML-N in Baluchistan, survived, but his son, brother, nephew and their guard were all killed, officials said.

“An improvised explosive device went off as Zehri, leading a convoy of more than 20 vehicles, left his home to campaign in Khuzdar,” provincial home secretary Akbar Durrani told AFP.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have said they were behind two deadly bomb attacks in the northwest on Sunday and the killing of a candidate for the secular Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Thursday.

Zehri survived a murder attempt two years ago that was claimed by the rebel Baluch Liberation Front.

A candidate for the Pakistan People’s Party of President Asif Ali Zardari told AFP he escaped a grenade attack at his home in Peshawar unhurt on Tuesday.

On Monday gunmen killed two election campaigners for an independent candidate running in the lawless northwestern tribal regions.

Pakistan’s caretaker interim prime minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso ordered an immediate tightening of security for all candidates in the wake of that shooting.

Source: Space War.


23 September 2014 Tuesday

One of the important features of the Palestinian cause has always been art and cinema in which their sufferings struggle for freedom and justice are portrayed

The third film festival held in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, shares the same aim of deploying Palestinians’ message to people all around the world. Four Palestinian female artists who attended the festival with their works are working on creating awareness on the fight for peace, justice and independence taking place in their homeland.

Surely, the last Israeli attacks targeting Gaza have given special meaning to their artistic works on the Palestinian cause and interest towards the artists have risen sharply.

Viva Palestine, a non-governmental organization based in Malaysia, organized the event which focuses this year on a female approach to the Palestinian problem. Specifically the focal point of movies are peace, justice and freedom in Palestine as Dr. Datuk Musa the head of Viva Palestine said in his opening speech.

The event is not composed of only movies. It also includes a ‘bazaar’ in which traditional Palestinian dresses, foods and other accessories are sold. All the revenue will be sent to Palestine.

Deputy Head of Viva Palestine Siti Jamila said “In this third annual film festival, our aim is to present Palestinian culture with its all aspects.” Another woman who attended the festival from Italy, Jasmine Perni, said about Siti Jamila “She helps us a lot by reaching out to the Christian community in Malaysia.

Source: World Bulletin.


November 30, 2014

CAIRO (AP) — A judge dismissed murder charges Saturday against former President Hosni Mubarak and acquitted his security chief over the killing of protesters during Egypt’s 2011 uprising, crushing any hope of a judicial reckoning on behalf of the hundreds victims of the revolt that toppled him.

Yet instead of outrage, a largely muted initial reaction greeted the decision in an Egypt where unlicensed protests draw stiff prison terms and many remain fearful over their security four years after the nation’s Arab Spring revolt.

Some 2,000 young people protested the verdict near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising closed off Saturday by soldiers and police, though open a day earlier despite widespread fears of violent Islamist protests. They chanted against the military, whose former chief, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is now the president.

“The people want to bring down the regime!” they shouted, using one of the chief slogans in the 18-day, anti-Mubarak uprising. In the evening, police broke up the gathering, firing water cannon and tear gas and driving protesters into side streets after supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood joined the protest. An Interior Ministry statement said that Brotherhood supporters pelted security forces with rocks and fought with the protesters.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to brief reporters, said police arrested 29 people. A statement from the health ministry early Sunday said one person was killed and nine were injured in the clashes.

The dispersal of protesters contrasted with the jubilant well-wishers who greeted Mubarak after the decision when he returned to his temporary home at a Nile-side military hospital. He later triumphantly waved back to supporters from his hospital window.

A television interviewer reached him by telephone, asking whether he had ordered the killing. “I did not do anything at all,” replied Mubarak, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2012 on charges related to the killing of protesters. The verdict was overturned on appeal the following year.

The monarch of close U.S. ally Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, also called to congratulate Mubarak, according to the official news agency of the Gulf Arab island nation. Mubarak, who assumed Egypt’s highest office in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat, has spent virtually all the time since he was detained in April 2011 in hospitals due to poor health. On Saturday, he came to the courtroom on a gurney, wearing dark glasses, a navy blue tie and a matching cardigan.

In his ruling, judge Mahmoud al-Rashidi cited the “inadmissibility” of the case against Mubarak due to a technicality. He said Mubarak’s May 2011 referral to trial by prosecutors ignored the “implicit” decision that no criminal charges be filed against him when his security chief and six of his top aides were referred to trial by the same prosecutors two months earlier.

After the decision, Cairo resident Nermine Fathy simply asked: “Who killed the martyrs? I want to know who killed the martyrs.” That question likely won’t be answered in Egypt’s courts. Already, nearly 170 police officers and security officials put on trial in connection to the killings have either been acquitted for lack of evidence or were found to have acted in self-defense. Some received short, suspended sentences.

The Mubarak trial, however, was concerned only with the killing of 239 protesters whose names were cited in charge documents, not the nearly 900 killed in total during the 18 days of the revolt. Saturday’s ruling marks another major setback for the young activists who led the 2011 Egyptian uprising, many of whom are now in prison or have withdrawn from politics. It likely will reinforce the perception that Mubarak’s autocratic state remains in place, albeit led by el-Sissi, the former military chief who later led the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

It concludes Mubarak’s retrial along with his two sons, his security chief Habib el-Adly and six top security commanders, who were all acquitted. Also acquitted was wealthy businessman Hussein Salem, a longtime Mubarak friend tried in absentia.

Hossam Bahgat, a prominent human rights advocate, said Saturday’s verdict would be used by the government to signal the end of the upheavals associated with the 2011 revolt. “The regime’s message: It’s time to look forward, time to move on, time to focus on building the nation. But I doubt this will work. It will deepen the grievance and feeling of injustice felt by many young people,” Bahgat said by telephone from New York.

Mubarak was also acquitted of corruption charges that he faced along with his sons Alaa and Gamal — his one-time heir apparent — over the statute of limitations in the case running out. The case involves their purchase from Salem of luxury villas in a Red Sea resort at a vastly discounted price, something that the prosecution had said amounted to bribery. The two sons face a separate trial on charges of insider trading.

All the rulings can be appealed. It was not immediately clear whether Mubarak would now walk free since he is serving a three-year jail term for separate corruption charges he was convicted of in May. He has been in detention since April 2011, but it is unclear if the past 3 1/2 years will be treated as time served.

Al-Rashidi, the judge, said the dismissal of the charges did not absolve Mubarak of the corruption and “feebleness” of the latter years of his 29-year rule. The judge praised the 2011 uprising, saying that its goals — freedom, bread and social justice — were legitimate.

He also said Mubarak, like any other human, erred at times and suggested that his old age should have spared him a criminal trial. “To rule for or against him after he has become old will be left to history and the Judge of Judges, … (God), who will question him about his rule,” the judge said.

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Merrit Kennedy contributed to this report.

Baku (AFP)

Nov 28, 2014

Azerbaijan’s parliament on Friday approved a 2015 budget that sharply boosted military spending in apparent response to rising tensions with neighbor Armenia over the disputed Nagorny Karabakh region.

The oil-rich Caucasus country’s defense outlays will rise by 8.6 percent to more than 1.78 billion Azerbaijani manats ($2.3 billion, 1.8 billion euros).

The budget also expects the economy to expand by 3.6 percent this year and 4.4 percent in 2015.

Azerbaijan is locked in a long-simmering conflict with Armenia over Karabakh.

Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan had seized control of the territory during a 1990s war that left some 30,000 dead, and no peace deal has yet been signed.

An unprecedented spat of violence has erupted this year with the arch-foes’ forces regularly exchanging fire across their border and along the Karabakh frontline, sparking fears of a major escalation in the conflict.

Baku, whose military spending exceeds Armenia’s entire state budget, has threatened to take back the region by force if negotiations fail to yield results. Armenia, which is heavily armed by Russia, says it could crush any offensive.

Source: Space War.


Kabul (AFP)

Nov 27, 2014

Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament on Thursday approved two agreements with the US and NATO allowing about 12,500 troops to remain in the country next year as concerns grow over the worsening insurgency.

The Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, and a similar pact with NATO, were approved by the lower house of parliament on Sunday before being sent to the senate.

Both documents were the source of huge friction between the Afghan government and its allies under previous president Hamid Karzai.

But President Ashraf Ghani, who came to power in September, reset ties by signing the long-awaited deals on his first day in power.

“We approved both documents today,” Belgis Roshan, a senator, told AFP.

Qadamuddin Nekpa, a parliamentary media officer, said only seven MPs voted against the deals.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the ratification, saying it meant the alliance “now has the legal basis needed to move forward with our non-combat mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces from 1 January”.

US-led NATO combat operations will finish at the end of this year, but the Taliban have launched a series of recent offensives and suicide attacks that have severely tested Afghan soldiers and police.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-packed car into a British embassy vehicle in Kabul, killing one British citizen and at least five Afghans.

Five children were among more than 30 bystanders injured in the blast, officials said.

Source: Space War.


November 30, 2014

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Pro-government candidates took the majority of contested seats in Bahrain’s parliamentary election on Sunday, although 13 independent Shiite candidates won mandates despite a boycott by the main opposition group, official results showed.

The Shiites, a majority in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, lost seats compared to the previous vote four years ago, in large part due to the boycott by the al-Wefaq group. In total, only five candidates from established political organizations won seats — the lowest number since elections in 2006.

It was the country’s first full parliamentary elections since Shiite-led protests against the Sunni monarchy erupted in February 2011. Bahrain’s parliament, or National Assembly, is comprised of 80 seats — 40 royally-appointed in the upper house and 40 elected seats in the lower house. The lower house has limited powers to question ministers. Its members cannot pass laws unless the king signs off.

Among the winners were three women, all of them Shiite. Four seats also went to male candidates from Sunni Islamist blocs, including two from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Menbar group. The Western-allied Arab nation hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and is part of the U.S.-led coalition striking the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The United States called the elections “an important opportunity to address the legitimate aspirations of all Bahrainis” even though some mainstream political groups did not participate, according to a statement released by State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. She added that the U.S. encouraged the Bahraini government and political organizations “to continue to work towards national reconciliation” and “work in good faith to resolve existing tensions.”

Bahrain has been roiled by low-level unrest over the past nearly four years. Shiites say the government is failing to enact political reforms and address other grievances in the wake of the protests. Justice Minister Khalid Bin Ali hailed the elections as a sign that citizens want to be represented in parliament and not on the streets.

Al-Wefaq dismissed the elections as a “sham” and said voter turnout did not exceed 30 percent. The government says voter turnout was 52.6 percent. “Bahrainis deserve a country that they can truly participate in the decision-making of. They do not deserve and will not accept elections that further marginalize them,” the group said in a statement.

The constitution requires that all members of parliament swear loyalty to the country and the king.