Islamic State claims Pakistan and Afghanistan for its ‘caliphate’

The Islamic State is challenging the Taliban and al-Qaeda in its Afghanistan and Pakistan heartlands and claiming both countries as part of its ‘caliphate’.

IS leaflets proclaiming the group’s intention to bring its barbaric form of Islam to Pakistan and Afghanistan were posted throughout Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa frontier province, during the early days of September, and have also been distributed to nearby Afghan refugee camps. They called for unity among Muslims and committed themselves to victory or martyrdom in their fight to recreate the ‘caliphate’.

The group appears to have some powerful allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including one former Guantánamo Bay inmate and some commanders loyal to the Afghan insurgency leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

IS’s arrival in Pakistan is expected to provoke a power struggle among Islamic militants in the area who have traditionally owed allegiance to the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, whose supporters regard him as the true ‘caliph’.

The group’s presence emerged shortly before al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced it had established a branch of its terror organisation in India to wage a holy war to establish its own ‘caliphate’. Al-Zawahiri said its new holy war would bring justice for Muslims in India and singled out Gujarat, where India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, was chief minister for 12 years. He also said the new group would operate from Kashmir to Assam and Burma, where Muslim minorities have suffered communal attacks.

Michael Semple, former deputy European Union envoy to Afghanistan and a leading expert on Jihadist groups, said Islamic militants regarded the Indian subcontinent as a part of the old caliphate and that it was to be expected that ‘you will see it (IS) trying to cover South Asia. Before it goes public with that, al Zawahiri is trying to snap up volunteers for al-Qaeda.’

LHC to hear petition against Islamabad sit-ins

The Lahore High Court (LHC) is set to hear a petition against the Islamabad sit-ins staged recently by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).

A request filed by Advocate A K Dogar said that both protesting parties were stopped by the LHC from carrying on with their unconstitutional sit-ins in the Pakistan capital. Dogar demanded that legal action be taken against PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT chief Dr Tahir ul-Qadri.

A three-member bench of LHC, headed by Justice Ijaz-ul-Hassan, will hear the case on Friday 12 September. Earlier in August, the court had restrained PTI and PAT from holding the ‘Azadi’ or ‘Inqilab’ march.

Obama holds talks with Iraq PM over ‘common enemy’

Barack Obama has held talks with Iraq’s new prime minister to discuss the country’s fledgling new government’s fight against Islamic State militants.

In a telephone call on September 8, the US president and Haider al Abadi spoke about the need to address grievances that have triggered violence in Iraq.

In a statement the White House said: ‘The Prime Minister expressed his commitment to work with all communities in Iraq as well as regional and international partners to strengthen Iraq’s capabilities to fight against this common enemy.’

Iraq’s parliament officially named Mr al Abadi as the country’s prime minister and approved most of his proposed candidates for cabinet roles, including members of the country’s minority Sunni and Kurdish communities.

The West has been pushing Iraq for a more representative government that will ease anger among Sunnis who felt marginalised by former Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his administration. The anger among Sunnis has helped to fuel the seizure of territory by the Islamic State (IS) across much of north and western Iraq since June.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is set to travel to the region later to discuss the formation of a global coalition ‘to defeat IS’, said the formation of a new government in Baghdad was a ‘major milestone’ for Iraq. Mr Obama is expected to address the US approach against IS during his speech on September 10 – the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Amnesty report says torture still rife in Mexico

Torture is still rife in Mexico and is routinely used to extract confessions, according to a new report by human rights organisation Amnesty International.

The report says that complaints have risen by a staggering 600 per cent over the past 10 years. The methods used by Mexican police and armed forces include beatings, electric shocks and sexual assaults, it adds. The government says it has been taking steps to eradicate torture.

The Amnesty report, entitled ‘Out of Control’, alleges that from 2010 to 2013, Mexico’s National Commission for Human Rights received more than 7,000 complaints. It adds that the judicial system still accepts confessions obtained under extreme duress, despite the fact that torture is

forbidden by law. The organisation is demanding an explanation of why, despite the numerous complaints, there have been only seven convictions in cases of torture in recent years.

After an official visit by UN special Envoy on Torture, Juan Mendez, earlier this year, the Mexican authorities said that protecting human rights was a government priority.

Pro-Beijing activists scuffle with Hong Kong democracy supporters

Masked pro-Beijing activists scuffled with Hong Kong democracy protesters on September 9 with one demonstrator taken to hospital as tensions grow ahead of a mass protest to push China to allow full democracy in the former British colony.

China’s parliament last month said it would tightly control the nomination of candidates for a landmark election in Hong Kong in 2017, a move that Hong Kong’s so-called ‘Occupy Central’ activists said would trigger a mass sit-in of the city’s Central business district in protest.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a policy of ‘one country, two systems’. The pro-democracy activists want universal suffrage, but Communist Party rulers in Beijing say any candidate for the territory’s chief executive has to be screened first.

The scuffles took place during a ceremony in which the three main organisers of the ‘Occupy’ campaign shaved their heads to symbolise being pushed to the brink by Beijing, and to express their determination to keep fighting for a genuinely democratic vote for Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017. The scuffle, though small, was another sign of rising social tensions in the financial hub that has been hit by protests and counter-protests in a battle over democratic development.

Hong Kong’s leader appealed to democrats to accept China’s decision and back down from the mass protests.

Scottish independence: pro-Union parties back Scotland powers timetable

The Scottish leaders of the three main pro-Union parties have announced their backing for more powers for Scotland following polls that show a surge in the ‘Yes’ campaign for an independent Scotland.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie made a statement in Edinburgh, in which Ms Lamont said she was ‘delighted’ to endorse the ‘delivery plan’ set out by former prime minister Gordon Brown.

The announcement of backing for Mr Brown’s timetable came as a new poll ahead of the September 18 vote suggested there was very little between the two sides in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.

Ms Lamont said: ‘It is possible to vote no on 18 September and also say you are voting for change, for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.’
Scottish Conservative leader Ms Davidson said Gordon Brown had outlined a plan, which would come into effect in the result of a ‘No’ vote, and Prime Minister David Cameron had endorsed it.

Mr Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said: ‘All three parties are coming together as this is so important.’ He added: ‘We are going to commit to delivering on more taxation and more welfare, that’s the commitment that we are standing here to give.’

But speaking at a ‘Yes Scotland’ event on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said the ‘No’ campaign had ‘fallen apart at the seams’. He said the plan unveiled by Mr Brown and backed by the Scottish party leaders was ‘a retreading, a repackaging, a re-timetabling of what they said in the spring’.

France ready to participate in Iraq airstrikes

France has offered to take part in airstrikes against extremist fighters in Iraq if needed, but insisted on a more careful tack for Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called for international mobilisation against militants from the Islamic State group, which he called ‘this transnational danger that could reach all the way to our soil’.

The French gesture came before President Barack Obama is expected to outline Washington’s plans for fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

France, which has pushed for action against militants in Iraq and Syria, has said it would join a US-led coalition but has been cautious about what role it would play.

The French president and foreign minister are going to Iraq on September 12, and on September 15, France is hosting an international conference on Iraq.

‘We will participate, if necessary, in military air action in Iraq,’ Fabius said, according to a text provided by the French Foreign Ministry.

Singapore bans documentary on political exiles

Singapore has banned a documentary on political exiles who have lived abroad for decades, saying the film undermines national security, highlighting the wealthy city-state’s uneasiness over public debate on politics.

Singapore has poured money into nurturing its arts and creative industries in recent years, but it discourages dissent while steering public opinion, mostly through state-linked media, as furious debates on topics from immigration to gay rights play out on social media. Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, director and producer of ‘To Singapore, With Love’, said she was very disappointed with the decision by the regulator, the Media Development Authority (MDA).

‘By doing this, MDA is taking away an opportunity for us Singaporeans (to) see it and to have a conversation about it, and our past, that this film could have started or contributed to,’ Tan said in a posting on the film’s Facebook page.

The 70-minute film features interviews with nine Singaporeans who left the city-state between the 1960s and 1980s to escape possible prosecution by British colonial authorities and later, by the Singapore government, the film’s website says.

HRW report slams Israel on African migrant rights

Human Rights Watch issued a report on September 9 heavily critical of Israel’s treatment of thousands of African migrants, saying it is forcing them to leave the country at grave personal risk. The report says Israeli authorities have coerced almost 7,000 Eritrean and Sudanese to return to their homes, where they may face serious abuse.

In response, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said Israel was dealing with the challenge of the migrants in a legal and appropriate way. ‘The growth in the voluntary repatriation of the migrants by three times from 2013 to 2014 proves that the policy is working,’ she said.

The HRW report says that some returning Sudanese have faced torture, arbitrary detention, and treason charges at the hands of the anti-Israel Sudanese government, while returning Eritreans also risk harassment.

For the past several years Israel has been placing thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants in hardscrabble detention centres in the Negev desert. HRW says the aim of the policy is to make life so intolerable that the migrants leave Israel of their own volition.

Since 2006 some 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai desert, causing great consternation in the mainly poor Israeli neighbourhoods where they have settled. Residents say the migrants engage in petty crime and help turn the areas into slums.

Like many economically advanced countries in Europe and elsewhere facing their own migrant influxes, Israel offers poor African migrants relatively good opportunities to improve their economic standing.

Russia: threat to ban international flights in response to new sanctions

Russia has threatened to close its airspace to international flights as it hit back against fresh EU sanctions.

Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said on September 8 that Russia would ‘respond asymmetrically’ — raising the possibility of the flight ban. He claimed ‘friendly airlines’ would still be allowed to fly over Russia while insisting, ‘This is not the way to go. We just hope our partners realise this at some point.’

Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic would be among airlines hit by the ban. There are about 1,600 flights operated by 39 carriers across Siberia alone every week, with half of these provided by 14 EU airlines. The route saves western airlines at least four hours of flying time between Europe and Asia.

The sanctions are the latest measure that Europe hopes will end the fighting between Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels. A ceasefire was agreed on September 5 but was tested by fighting that broke out in eastern Ukraine that same weekend.

Mr Medvedev, once seen as the liberally minded foil to President Vladimir Putin, is now delivering increasingly harsh messages and said leaders in Ukraine should seize on Russian proposals for a peace plan which would leave separatists in control of large areas of territory in the east.

Rights group calls on Thai junta to end repression

An international human rights group has called for Thailand’s ruling military to end what it says is a ‘disturbing pattern of repression’ in the country since the army seized power in a May coup.

Amnesty International made the appeal in a new report, saying it has received credible reports that detainees have been tortured. The military has denied such allegations. Junta spokesmen did not respond to repeated phone calls for comment.

‘Three months since the coup, a picture emerges from our investigations of widespread and far-reaching human rights violations perpetrated by the military government that are ongoing,’ Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director, wrote in the report.

‘The Thai authorities should end this disturbing pattern of repression, end human rights violations, respect its international human rights obligations and allow open debate and discussion — all of which are vital to the country’s future.’

The army said the May 22 takeover was needed to restore stability after half a year of political protests which had paralysed the former government and triggered sporadic violence which left dozens of people dead and close to 1,000 injured.

Libyan PM seeks support against terrorism

Islamist militants in Libya are likely to have kidnapped up to 25 soldiers and killed five others in the eastern city of Benghazi, an army commander has said, as the prime minister travelled to the United Arab Emirates to seek support for his embattled government.

Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has called for the international community to help fight terrorism in the oil-producing country, which has slid towards anarchy three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Last month, the capital, Tripoli, fell to an armed group, forcing the elected parliament to relocate to the remote eastern town of Tobruk.

In Benghazi, Islamist fighters have been trying to seize the city’s civilian and military airport.

Five soldiers were killed and seven others wounded when Islamist fighters belonging to a group called Majlis al-Shoura attacked an army checkpoint in Benghazi on 9 September, according to Fadhil al-Hasi, a special forces commander.

Majlis al-Shoura refers to an alliance of Islamist fighters in Benghazi that includes Ansar al-Sharia. Washington says the group was behind the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi two years ago, in which the American ambassador was killed.

‘Twenty-five soldiers are missing,’ Hasi said, adding that Islamists had most likely abducted them at checkpoints.

News in Brief

Pakistan: Taliban claim attack on naval dockyard in south
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility on September 9 for an attack carried out on September 6 on a naval dockyard in the country’s south, in which at least one official was killed. The dockyard attack came against the backdrop of a full-scale operation launched by Pakistan’s military against Taliban militants in the lawless region of North Waziristan following a deadly June attack on Karachi Airport. At least two militants were killed and four were captured during a six-hour battle, media reported.

Africa Union to send medical support in fight against Ebola
The African Union is to send medical support teams to the West African countries affected by Ebola for a six-month mission. An Ebola outbreak that began in Guinea has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal, killing more than 2,000 people. The hardest hit countries — Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — desperately need more health care and humanitarian workers to respond to the crisis. The European Union promised 5 million euros ($6.4 million) to fund the mission following an emergency meeting of the continental bloc on September 8.

French defence chief urges global action in Libya
France’s defence minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, says he is seeking support from European counterparts for joint action in Libya to stem violence and uproot terrorists who have established a foothold there. He said France could move troops it has from nearby countries toward the Libyan border and was appealing to European defence ministers meeting in Milan on September 9 for action. He also suggested a similar push at the UN General Assembly later this month.

Myanmar cancels by-election for 35 parliamentary seats
On September 7 Myanmar’s Election Commission cancelled the upcoming second by-election scheduled for the end of this year. The by-election was due to be held for 35 open parliamentary seats. U Tin Aye, chairman of the Commission, made the announcement after meeting dozens of Yangon-based political parties at the Myanmar Peace Centre. The decision to cancel the by-election was made because of the upcoming ASEAN Summit to be hosted by Myanmar in November, as well as the parliament session. Political parties expressed no objection to the Commission’s decision.

Truce talks to resume mid-September, says Hamas
Hamas will resume Egyptian-hosted truce negotiations with Israel in mid-September, the group’s deputy leader has said. When Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce on August 26, both sides agreed to postpone discussing the more controversial points critical to any longer term cessation of hostilities, such as Hamas’ demand for a port and airport, prisoner exchanges and Israel’s call for the disarmament of Gaza.