31 October 2012

Pakistan’s threat within: the Sunni-Shia divide

InGilgit,Pakistanand elsewhere across the country, hit squads dressed as Pakistani soldiers but in fact linked to the Sunni Muslim extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) have been singling out Shi’ites for slaughter as violent Sunni radicals are on the march against the nation’s Shi’ite minority.

With a few hundred hard-core cadres, the highly secretive LeJ aims to trigger sectarian violence that would pave the way for a Sunni theocracy in US-alliedPakistan, say Pakistani police and intelligence officials. Its immediate goal, they say, is to stoke the intense Sunni-Shi’ite violence that has pushed countries likeIraqclose to civil war.

More than 300 Shi’ites have been killed inPakistanso far this year in sectarian conflict, according to human rights groups. The campaign is gathering pace in rural as well as urban areas such asKarachi,Pakistan’s biggest city. The Shi’ites are a big target, accounting for up to 20 per cent of this nation of 180 million.

In January, LeJ claimed responsibility for a homemade bomb that exploded in a crowd of Shi’ites inPunjabprovince, killing 18 and wounding 30. LeJ’s reach extends beyondPakistan: Late last year, it claimed responsibility for bombings inAfghanistanthat killed 59 people, the worst sectarian attacks since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

‘No doubt – (LeJ) are the most dangerous group,’ said Chaudhry Aslam, a top counter-terrorism police commando based inKarachi, whose house was blown up by the LeJ. ‘We will fight them until the last drop of blood.’

For an outlawed group accused of fomenting such mayhem, the leader of LeJ is surprisingly easy to find.

Malik Ishaq spent 14 years in jail in connection with dozens of murder and terrorism cases. He was released after the charges could not be proved – partly because of witness intimidation, officials say – and showered with rose petals by hundreds of supporters when he left prison in July 2011.

Obama campaign regains momentum

USPresident Barack Obama has launched an unprecedented campaign blitz through eight states in 39 hours in his bid to secure a second term in the White House.

He is travelling more than 6,000 miles across four time zones in what he has described as a ‘marathon extravaganza’ to encourage voters to the polls. His trip includes swing statesIowa,Colorado,Nevada,Florida,Ohioand Virginia and he held a conference call with 9,000 undecided voters from aboard the presidential jet Air Force One.

The President is neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Mitt Romney with 12 days to go until election day.

Both campaigns have now unleashed what they call their ‘ground game’ of knocking on doors and calling undecided voters in swing states.

Senior advisors believe Obama has regained the momentum after a sticky patch after the first televised debate. They say he has a ‘clear path’ towards securing the 270 electoral college votes he needs.

Obama campaign advisor David Plouffe told reporters: ‘We win the election if it were held today. Our view is that in all the battleground states we’ve contested, every single one of them, we have a credible pathway to 50 per c.ent’

The campaign believes the key is keeping the pressure on people who voted for Obama in 2008 to come out and do it again.

InIowa, 3,500 people packed into Mississippi Valley Fairground to stand under autumnal leaves and hear the President.

He told them: ‘This is where it all began four years ago, on your front porches, in your backyards. This is where the movement for change began. AndIowa, you will once again choose the path ahead.

‘We can’t afford to go back to what got us into this mess. We’ve got to stick with policies that are getting out of this mess.’

Sudan‘terrorist state’, saysIsraelofficial after raid

Sudanis a ‘dangerous terrorist state’, a top Israeli defence official has said, after the Sudanese government accusedIsraelof carrying out a deadly missile strike on a military factory inKhartoum.

Sudanese officials say the attack on the Yarmouk facility south ofKhartoum, which took place at around midnight on October 23 and killed two people, was carried out by four radar-evading aircraft.

Israel, which has long accusedKhartoumof serving as a base of support for militants from the Islamist Hamas movement which rulesGaza, has refused all comment on the claim.

‘Sudanis a dangerous terrorist state. To know exactly what happened (there), it will take some time to understand,’ Amos Gilad toldIsrael’s army radio.

Asked directly whetherIsraelwas involved in the attack, Gilad, who serves as director of policy and political-military affairs at the defence ministry, refused to reply directly.

‘Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is regarded as a war criminal.Sudanhas also served as the operational base for (the late al-Qaeda chief Osama) bin Laden,’ Gilad pointed out.

‘The regime is supported byIranand it serves as a route for the transfer, via Egyptian territory, of Iranian weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists,’ he told the radio.

Meanwhile,Khartoumhas said it found evidence of Israeli involvement among the remnants of the explosives at the blast site.

‘We thinkIsraeldid the bombing,’ Culture and Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman said, adding: ‘We reserve the right to react at a place and time we choose.’

Khartoum, which has close ties with Hamas, is seeking the removal ofUSsanctions imposed in 1997 over its alleged support for international terrorism, its human rights record and other concerns.

Tymoshenko’s daughter warns of ‘dictatorship’ in Ukraine

The daughter ofYulia Tymoshenko,Ukraine’s jailed former prime minister, has warned that the upcoming parliamentary elections could lead to an irreversible ‘dictatorship’.

The elections will be the first national vote in Ukraine since President Viktor Yanukovych beat Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential poll.

Since then, 51-year-old Tymoshenko, a promoter of Western-leaning policies, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abusing office charges. She and Western states view it as a way of putting her on the sideline from politics.

‘If the democratic world and the observer missions (do) not state at the end of the day that these elections) are not free and not fair, we might see the legitimisation of a Ukrainian dictatorship, of a Yanukovych dictatorship,’ Yevgenia Tymoshenko said inGeneva. ‘And then it will be really too late to saveUkrainedemocracy.’

Yulia Tymoshenko is helping uniteUkraine’s fractured opposition parties from theRailwayHospitalin Kharkiv (250 miles east ofKiev), where she is being treated at the moment, hoping the current regime will be forced out and her release will be secured.

Studies suggest that no more than nine per cent of Ukrainians are expecting a fair ballot and 47 per cent say they would not be surprised to find widescale or significant fraud.

IndiaCast launches new channel in UK

Named after a Bollywood film directed by Indra Kumar, ‘Rishtey’ is a new channel that has just been launched in theUKby Viacom18, under the new distribution platform IndiaCast. It is a new mass entertainment Hindi entertainment channel whose aim is to set off Viacom18’s existing flagship channel, Colors, and to showcase content from a spectrum of genres including format shows, fiction, music and news.

‘Rishtey’, whose unique selling point is that it is free-to-air (FTA), will be available on Sky Channel No. 831 and will air re-runs of Colors shows, as well as original content. It is the latest addition to the Viacom18 bouquet of channels, which currently includes six entertainment channels – MTV, Nickelodeon, Vh1, COLORS, SONIC and Comedy Central – as well as the film business Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

Commenting on the development, Sudhanshu Vats, Group CEO of Viacom18, said, “While we have a horizontal presence across television entertainment, with the launch of ‘Rishtey’, we now begin the phase of strengthening our presence in each vertical as well.”

Speaking about ‘Rishtey’, Raj Nayak, CEO of Colors, said, “With ‘Rishtey’ we intend to create a new category within the General Entertainment space, and given the rich mine of content within the Viacom18 Group, we’re confident of ‘Rishtey’ resonating well with both – viewers as well as advertisers.”

Launching ‘Rishtey’ in theUK, Gaurav Gandhi, COO, IndiaCast, said “‘Rishtey’ offers a wide range of variety entertainment programming that will engage, entertain and delight the South Asian audiences in theUK. As a free-to-air service, Rishtey perfectly complements our flagship brand Colors, by reaching out to a much wider audience base and giving them a taste of our much loved programming.”

UK’s richest man honoured at third annual Sikh Awards

The Sikh Awards, held this year at the Park Plaza Hotel inLondonon Sunday 21 October, recognise Sikh contributions and excellence in a variety of fields from nominations received from around the world.

This year, theUK’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal, received the Special Recognition Award from the world Sikh community for his joint venture between the state-owned Hindustan Petroleum Corporation and Mittal Energy Ltd, in the Punjab region ofIndia.

Acknowledging the award, Mittal said he was very proud to be associated with the project in Bhatinda,Punjab. ‘I have seen a great deal of motivation and dedication from the community inPunjab,’ he said, rededicating the award to the 45,000 people who are now working on this new site. He also acknowledged the support of the Indian government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in making the project a reality and helping develop the economy of the region.

In response to the awards being held in London, Mayor Boris Johnson said, ‘I consider London to be the most multicultural city in the world, and have seen first-hand the hard work, dedication and religious strength that sits at the heart of everything the Sikh community do. Sikhs are a credit to this city and bring pride and respect wherever they go in the world through their actions, deeds and unique identity.’

The gala ceremony was presented by former Mayoral advisor Kulveer Ranger and model/actress Anu Singh. Over 750 guests attended, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the BBC’s Head of religious programming Tommy Nagra, Charlotte Leslie MP, Paul Uppal MP and Dr Kate Wharton from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office.

Also on the night, which was hosted by the media organisation The Sikh Directory, the first Sikh 100 power list detailing the most prominent Sikhs in the global community was launched.

ISI in bid to raise Khalistan funds

An extensive fund-raising campaign is being undertaken by secessionist Sikh groups in Europe and North America, allegedly at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI, to revive terrorism in Punjab.

Sources in security agencies have been informed about the movement of the banned Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) terror groups in Western countries such as theUS,Canada, theUK,France,GermanyandBelgium, with the aim of radicalising Sikh youth by showing them doctored footage of Operation Blue Star and other propaganda material.

The attack on Lt Gen (ret’d) K S Brar, who led the operation in 1984, and the disruption of Indian Independence Day celebrations in London this year were the results of activities of such anti-India elements, the sources claimed.

Besides  the BKI and KCF, radical groups like Dal Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation are also working to radicalise the youth, said the sources, which added that funds are being raised for the Khalistan cause from Sikhs settled in Pakistan and the next generation is being lured into the ideology of extremist groups.

There are more than 50 social networking groups and over 20 websites which propagate an independent Khalistan and openly encourage the revival of the movement.

‘These are disturbing developments,’ a source said. ‘We want foreign governments to curb these anti-India elements. But unfortunately, due to the liberal policies of these countries, no significant step has been taken so far against these groups.’

Recently,India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, Jitendra Singh, told Lok Sabha: ‘Available inputs indicate the patronage and assistance provided byPakistan’s ISI to leaders of various Sikh terrorist groups, including BKI, based inPakistan.’

Intelligence Bureau Chief Nehchal Sandhu said that, due to the external support, ‘terrorist groups, including those focusing onPunjaband neighbouring states, are likely to pose a challenge’.


As world roots for Malala, Afghans ask: ‘What about us?’

The global attention bestowed on a Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban has sparked outcry amongst many Afghans dismayed by what they say is the unequal response to the plight of their women and children.

Malala Yousufzai, shot by Taliban gunmen for advocating girls’ education, was flown fromPakistantoBritainto receive treatment after the recent attack, which drew widespread condemnation and an international outpouring of support.

‘Every day an Afghan girl is abused, raped, has acid thrown on her face and mutilated. Yet no one remembers or acknowledges these girls,’ said Elay Ershad, who represents the nomadic Kuchi people in the Afghan parliament.

Echoing concerns of other prominent Afghan women, Ershad said the government took no real interest in women’s rights, instead using the issue for political gain and currying favour with Western backers, a claimKabulhas dismissed as untrue.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly condemned Yousufzai’s shooting, even using it to address women’s rights in his country: ‘The people of Afghanistan … see this attempt not only against (Yousufzai) but also against all Afghan girls,’ he said recently.

The closest Karzai has come this year to condemning violence against women in Afghanistan, as seen on the scale he has done with Yousufzai, was in July when gunmen publicly executed a 22-year-old woman for alleged adultery, which prompted an international outcry.

‘If the president does not care about Afghan women in general, why does he suddenly care about Malala?’ Ershad asked. ‘No one (here) ever seeks justice once the television cameras are turned off.’

TheUnited Arab Emiratesprovided the plane taking Yousufzai toBritain, while British officials said the Pakistani government was footing the bill for her lengthy treatment inBirmingham.

Karzai has told Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that the attack was proof the two needed to tackle a common enemy, a move widely seen as an attempt to soothe ties between the neighbours amid bickering over Pakistani shelling across the countries’ lawless border.

Thirteenth arrest over General Brar stabbing

A thirteenth person has been arrested in connection with an attack on an Indian general during a visit toLondon.

Lt-Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar, 78, was stabbed inOld Quebec Street, near Marble Arch, on 30 September. He led Operation Blue Star, the 1984 raid on Sikhism’s holiest shrine, which saw hundreds die when troops flushed Sikh separatist militants out of theGoldenTempleinAmritsarinPunjabstate.

A 27-year-old man has been arrested in westLondonon suspicion of conspiracy to murder. Two other men have appeared in court charged with wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm on the retired officer.

Barjinder Singh Sangha, 33, of Wolverhampton, and Mandeep Singh Sandhu, 34 of Great Barr,Birmingham, appeared at Westminster Magistrates Court earlier. Mr Singh Sangha is also charged with common assault in relation to Mr Singh Brar’s wife Meena.

The suspects were arrested by counter-terrorism officers following searches at addresses inLondonand theMidlands. The thirteenth suspect remains in custody at a police station in southLondonand the ten others have been bailed to dates in November.

Following the attack, Mr Brar was taken to hospital with a neck wound and has since been discharged.

USsaysMyanmar‘on right track’ overNorth Koreaarms ties

TheUnited Statesbelieves thatMyanmaris on the right track towards giving up its remaining military ties withNorth Koreabut recognises it will take time, theUSenvoy for the North Korean nuclear dispute has said.

US Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies told reporters inBeijingthatWashingtoncontinued to be worried about that relationship and it was an issue raised with their counterparts in the formerBurma.

‘I think that Burma’s on the right path, that they have made a strategic decision to fundamentally alter their relationship with the DPRK and to ultimately end these relationships with North Korea,’ Davies said, using the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

‘But it’s a work in process. It was a long relationship that the two countries had and so it does take some time to work through it.’

Myanmarbegan sweeping reforms last year as it emerges from decades of isolation and military rule, freeing political prisoners, holding elections and normalising relations with theUnited Stateswhich has moved to lift sanctions.

The Southeast Asian country’s defence minister said in June thatMyanmarhad abandoned research on a nuclear programme that never progressed very far and had stepped back from close military and political ties withNorth Korea.

News reports two years ago indicatedMyanmarhad obtained technology for enriching uranium fromNorth Koreaalong with parts for a nuclear weapons programme.

A UN panel that monitors compliance with sanctions onNorth Koreahas also investigated reports of possible weapons-related deals betweenPyongyangandSyriaandMyanmar.

North Korearemains under heavy UN sanctions for its nuclear programme that have cut off its previously lucrative arms trade and further isolated the state after its failed 2009 missile test drew sharp rebukes, even from its one major ally,China.

Danger of political vacuum inLebanon

TheUnited Statesand the European Union have expressed concern at the political situation inLebanon, where the opposition has called for the premier to step down over a deadly blast blamed onSyria.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has cautioned against a political vacuum inLebanonat the end of a visit to the country, echoing comments from the State Department.

Ashton also warned that ‘there are some who are trying to divert attention from the situation in the region by causing problems inLebanon’, without saying who,Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA) reported.

Her concerns were highlighted when an opposition MP said he and four colleagues had received texted death threats from a Syrian telephone number before and after the October 19 car bombing inBeirut.

The blast killed police intelligence chief General Wissam al-Hassan, who had led a series of investigations linking the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to political assassinations inLebanon.

‘This attack is a terrible thing; we are concerned about the stability ofLebanon,’ Ashton was quoted as saying after meeting Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saidWashingtonbacked efforts by President Michel Sleiman and other leaders to build an effective government.

‘President Sleiman is engaged in discussions with all parties to form a new government,’ she said. ‘We support that process. In the interim, we don’t want to see a vacuum.’

Europe must helpMaliagainst Islamist rebels

Europe must help restore security inMali, hit by an Islamist insurgency in its north, and could lend support through military training to an African-led mission, according toGermany’s Foreign Minister.

Guido Westerwelle said after talks inBerlinwith the UN’s envoy to theSahel, Romano Prodi, he was extremely worried about the situation.

‘From the north ofMaliyou need to cross only one international border and you are at theMediterranean. If the north collapses, if terrorist training camps spring up and it becomes a haven for global terrorism, this won’t just endanger Mali and North Africa, it will also threaten us in Europe.’

‘There will be support fromGermanyandEurope, it is not about fighting troops but support through the training of an African mission,’ he added.

Regional leaders and international organisations including the African Union met inMali’s capitalBamakorecently to seek a response to the occupation of the north by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, but failed to resolve differences on how to tackle the growing security threat.

‘InMaliwe have the division of a country which in fact wants to and must be reunited. I absolutely agree with Minister Westerwelle that there cannot be a direct intervention byEurope. It’s a problem that needs above all to be solved by the Africans,’ Prodi said.

‘We need to look at all alternatives and not fixate on a military option,’ he added.

Malidescended into chaos in March this year when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that enabled Tuareg rebels to seize two-thirds of the country. But Islamist extremists, some allied with al Qaeda, hijacked the revolt and then imposed harsh Islamic law in a desert region the size ofFrance.

Mali, West African regional body ECOWAS and the African Union have asked the UN Security Council to back an international military intervention to helpMalireclaim the north. But the 15-member council wants a more detailed plan before it will approve such an operation.