Modi & Sharif warm up after frosty start at SAARC

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif shook hands and met briefly during a retreat at the SAARC summit in Nepal on November 27, a day after Modi conspicuously avoided Sharif while he met five other South Asian leaders.

Nepal foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey confirmed that the pair had met and shook hands at Dhulikhel, where the retreat is being held on the second day of the two-day SAARC summit.

The host country is pushing for talks between India and Pakistan and at least a SAARC-related energy accord. But a planned meeting between the two South Asian leaders has yet to take place. As of now, both leaders have not met separately at the retreat, but Nepal and other SAARC members are pushing them to sit for talks.

Multiple diplomatic sources said that both the prime ministers were seen talking during an evening reception hosted by Nepalese prime minister Sushil Koirala on November 26 in honour of visiting SAARC heads of state and government.

Earlier, Modi had warned the summit that regional integration would happen ‘through SAARC or outside it’, if the grouping failed to agree on the pacts.

‘Is it because we are stuck behind the walls of our differences and hesitant to move out of the shadows of the past?’ he asked.

Prosecutors refuse to pursue treason case

Following the federal government’s reluctance to challenge the recent judgment issued by Pakistan’s special court, the prosecution team in former president Pervez Musharraf’s high treason trial has refused to pursue the case further.

According to sources privy to the development, the prosecutors have told the federal government that they had agreed to pursue the case against Musharraf only and that producing evidence against the former military ruler’s abettors ‘was not part of the deal’.

On November 21, the special court directed the government to include the names of former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, ex-federal minister Zahid Hamid and former chief justice Abdul Hameed Dogar in the case’s charge-sheet.

A source in the interior ministry and a member of government’s legal team said instead of challenging the special court’s order in the Supreme Court, the federal government is seriously considering filing a reference under article 186 of the Constitution before it. The reference will seek the top court’s opinion regarding the inclusion of Musharraf’s abettors in the high treason case.

The development was confirmed by Ikram Chaudhry, one of the prosecutors in the treason case.

On the other hand, a member of Musharraf’s defence team said the government and the prosecution team’s reaction confirmed the former president was being solely targeted in the case.

At the same time, other lawyers of Musharraf said in the aftermath of the special court order that the treason trial will not reach a conclusion during the PML-N government’s current term. They also claimed that a joint trial would be impossible in the absence of ex-premier Aziz, who is currently out of the country.

Brothers jailed for attending Syria terror camp

Two brothers have become the first Britons to be jailed for attending a terror training camp in Syria.

Prime instigator Mohommod Nawaz, 30, and 24-year-old Hamza Nawaz took photos and videos of their trip to the war-hit country, including the camp. Mohommod brought back AK-47 ammunition as a ‘trophy’.

The older brother was sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars while the younger sibling was given three years.

The pair were stopped by police in September last year as they arrived at the port of Dover from Calais. Officers said they searched their car and found five rounds of ammo, a balaclava, ‘heavy-duty clothing’, six mobile phones, and a SIM card containing images, video clips and text messages relating to training camps.

Among the evidence was a timetable, which included specific periods for physical training, military training, Islamic lessons and meals.
It was claimed the pair had driven from their home in Stratford, east London, to Calais, and then flown from Lyon to Turkey. From there they travelled into Syria.

Counter Terrorism Acting Commander Terri Nicholson said: ‘The first in a series of landmark sentences has today been handed down to two brothers who travelled to Syria to attend a terrorist training camp. The sentence highlights the critical work police and security services carry out to identify individuals returning from conflict zones.

‘This comes at a time when the global concern about the threat posed by returnees is intensifying. We need communities and families to bring to our attention anyone they perceive may be vulnerable, a danger or showing signs of radicalisation before they choose to travel.’

US commandos took part in Yemen raid

US special operations forces took part in a rescue mission that freed eight hostages held by al-Qaeda militants in Yemen, a senior defence official has claimed, deepening the mystery surrounding a rare raid by American commandos in the country.

In confirming the US troops’ involvement, the official said no American was rescued, without elaborating. Yemeni officials said that the operation took place in a vast deserted area dotted with dunes called Hagr al-Saiaar, an al-Qaeda safe haven where local tribes offer them protection near the Saudi border.

The operations, carried out joint with Yemeni security forces, come as US drone strikes still target suspected militants amid a Shiite rebel power grab in the impoverished nation and fierce battles between al-Qaeda and Shiite rebels.

The New York Times first reported on the US role in the operation, saying some two dozen American commandos took part. The US official. who talked to The Associated Press, spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss the secret mission.

Confusion surrounding the raid began after Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee announced it had been carried out early in the morning of November 25, without elaborating.

A security official in Yemen first said the raid targeted an al-Qaeda militant hideout near the al-Annad military air base in Yemen’s southern Lahj province. Al-Annad base is where American and European military advisers help Yemen battle the country’s local al-Qaeda branch through drone strikes and logistical support.

Hong Kong riot police clear protest site

Hong Kong police have cleared one of the largest protest sites that has choked the city for months, arresting scores of pro-democracy activists in what could be a turning point in the fight to wrest greater political freedom from Beijing’s control.

Riot police clashed with protesters late into the evening on November 25 as activists sought to regroup and regain lost ground.

Student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum were among those arrested as hundreds of officers swept through the bustling area of Mong Kok, clearing barricades and tents that had blocked key roads in the Chinese-controlled city for more than two months.

Some among the pockets of demonstrators still out on the streets denied the setback marked the beginning of the end of the occupation, and it was not clear if or when police might try to remove the remaining protest sites elsewhere in the city.

Scuffles broke out when riot police moved against hundreds of protesters on Nathan Road in Mong Kok, witnesses said, though there was no serious violence, and after about three hours the operation was complete and traffic was flowing through the area where demonstrators had camped out since late September to call for greater democracy in the former British colony.

Mong Kok has been a flashpoint for clashes between students and mobs intent on breaking up the protests, which have posed one of the biggest challenges to China’s Communist Party leaders since the crushing of student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989.

Life sentence for Uighur academic upheld in China

A Chinese court has upheld a life sentence for internationally respected Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, angering human rights groups and many in the academic and diplomatic communities who describe him as a voice of moderation during ongoing ethnic unrest in China’s far west.

Mr. Tohti, a Professor in Beijing, has been in and out of detention and house arrest since 2006, when he started an online forum to discuss Uighur life in China. He was arrested last January and sent to Urumqi, where in September he was put on trial behind closed doors. Charged with ‘splittism’ and ‘inciting hatred’ he was given a life sentence. The harshness of the ruling was condemned by American and European governments and leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The decision came amid ongoing violence between the ethnic Uighur and Han communities in China’s western Xinjiang Province — and state media appeared to paint Tohti as an abetter of terrorism. Tohti’s supporters argued vociferously that the opposite is true. In media campaigns and online discussions, they say he is a rare voice for dialogue, is against the separation of Xinjiang from China, and that beyond him, there are few prominent moderate Uighur voices to shape a debate on one of China’s more contested internal issues.

According to a Reuters report, China under President Xi Jinping ‘has convicted and detained hundreds of people in what rights groups say is the most severe assault on human rights in China since the 1989 crackdown on a pro-democracy movement in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square’.

Confusion over Sharia and English law in a school criticised by Ofsted

Ofsted inspectors found that pupils at a private London Muslim school were not able to tell the difference between Sharia law and English law.

Inspectors concluded that young people at Mazahirul Uloom School in Tower Hamlets were being taught a narrow curriculum regularly focusing only on the Islamic faith and culture. Many pupils told Ofsted that learning about other religions was wrong; some pupils told the watchdog that it was a woman’s job to ‘stay at home and clean and look after the children’, while others, when talking about Sharia law and English law, were unable to say which laws they should follow and which were more important.

The report, in which Ofsted concluded that children were not being prepared for life in a ‘diverse British society’, is one of seven published on schools in the east London borough, including one state school and six independent schools, all of which have links to Islam.

Ofsted’s chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said pupils at the independent schools inspected may be ‘vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalisation.’

The report into state school Sir John Cass found that leaders had organised separate boys’ and girls’ entrances and exits, and there were segregated outdoor and indoor spaces at break and lunchtimes. It also said that the school had not responded appropriately to police concerns about a social media website bearing the name of a school sixth-form society which had links to individuals associated with extremism.

Thai junta chief denies damaging country

Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has vigorously defended his position as leader more than six months after he seized power in a bloodless coup, as US-based rights group Human Rights Watch said the country had fallen into an ‘apparently bottomless pit’.

Thailand has seen a fresh wave of resistance to the junta recently, with dozens detained and arrested for flashing anti-coup signs in public at the prime minister and for distributing anti-coup leaflets in the capital, Bangkok.

Critics of the coup had largely gone to ground following an army crackdown aimed at silencing dissenters. Those who express disagreement face a possible two-year prison term.

Prayuth, who as army chief seized power from an elected government in May and was appointed prime minister in August, defended his role as PM and vowed not to use force against dissenters.

‘I did not seize power for my benefit. We do not want to abuse power and we do not want to use force,’ he said. ‘My being in this position has not damaged the country.’

The army took power after months of street protests that helped to oust the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The coup was widely condemned by the West.

As part of its crackdown, the junta has also vowed to ramp up prosecutions of critics of the monarchy.

In a rare move, three senior policemen were charged recently with violating Thailand’s strict lese-majesty laws, which make it a crime to insult or threaten the king, queen, heir to the throne or regent.

Jordan prince calls for tolerance

Moderate Muslims must take a stand against religious extremists who violate the core values of Islam, a brother of Jordan’s king has said.

Prince Feisal al-Hussein also said that Jordan is trying to defuse religious tensions at a major Jerusalem shrine that is sacred to Muslims and Jews.

Jordan serves as custodian of the Muslim-run shrine, which sits on the fault-line of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Jordan is also part of a US-led military coalition against the Islamic State group, which holds territory across Syria and Iraq.

The prince is chairman of ‘Generations for Peace’ a group promoting peaceful conflict resolution. He said the organisation he founded in 2007 has reached more than 200,000 young people in 50 countries.

‘We need more of these programmes around the world, but in combating religious extremism, it requires the moderates to stand up and say this (has) nothing to do with our religion. What we are seeing practised supposedly in the name of Islam… has nothing to do with Islam. It goes against the core values,’ he said.

Feisal said extremism isn’t just a problem in the Muslim world. ‘I think the real battle that will define this century, at least, will be the fight against extremism.’

Meanwhile, Jordan is concerned about the growing religious tensions in Jerusalem, the prince said. Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, and the Palestinians seek it as the capital of a future state.

The contested shrine, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, is located in east Jerusalem’s walled Old City. Muslims continued to administer the site after 1967, but some Israeli politicians demand a greater Jewish presence there.

‘We want to calm the situation because it can be very volatile,’ the prince said. ‘It should be a kingdom of peace for… Muslims, Christians and Jews.’

North Koreans protest against UN resolution on human rights

North Korea has held a mass rally in Pyongyang to protest against a United Nations resolution condemning its human rights record.

Thousands of protesters in Kim Il-sung Square carried banners praising their leaders and condemning the United States. Such mass rallies are organised by the government and are used to express its official line.

North Korea has denounced the UN resolution, which is the first to urge the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. That would open the possibility of its leader, Kim Jong-un, being targeted by prosecutors. The non-binding resolution is to come before the UN General Assembly in the coming weeks.

North Korea says the UN move is based on trumped-up allegations by defectors and backed by the United States and other countries seeking to overthrow its ruling regime.

State media KCNA have been producing articles critical of the human rights situation in the United States and threatening severe retaliation against any attempts to bring down its government.

The resolution followed a UN commission of inquiry report early this year that said North Korea’s human rights situation ‘exceeds all others in duration, intensity and horror’.

News in Brief

In memory of Mumbai terror attack
Indian police officers guarded the Chhatrapati Shivaji train station in Mumbai on the sixth anniversary of the 2008 terror attack. The rampage by Pakistani gunmen at the train station and other locations in India’s financial capital killed 166 people and shattered relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours. At a recent regional summit in Nepal, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said: ‘Today, as we remember the horror of the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, we feel the endless pain of loss of lives. Let us work together to fulfil the pledge we have taken to combat terrorism and trans-national crimes.’

Obama to meet Modi in January for constitution ceremony
US President Barack Obama will travel to India in January for a celebration marking the adoption of the Indian constitution, the White House has announced. Obama was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will be the first US president to attend a Republic Day celebration, which marks the enactment of India’s constitution on January 26, 1950. The White House said Obama will meet with Mr Modi and other Indian officials to strengthen and expand the US-India relationship.

Afghanistan: suicide bomber kills 45
A suicide bomber has detonated their explosive vest at a volleyball tournament in Afghanistan’s Paktika province, killing some 45 spectators. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is one of the most dangerous areas in the world and is inhabited by jihadists.

Turkish military to train 2,000 Syrian rebels
American and Turkish military forces will train some 2,000 Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official has declared. US Vice President Joe Biden recently met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul to discuss Ankara’s role in combating the militant group. Turkey has previously been reluctant to join the fight against the Islamic State because it does not want to become the group’s next target.

Iran’s leader: West failed to prevail in talks
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released an online statement on his official website on November 25, saying the West had failed to defeat Iran in nuclear negotiations. Khamenei said the United States and European countries tried to bring Iran to its knees, but were unsuccessful. Following the extension of a deadline for a nuclear deal, both the United States and Iran are putting positive spins on the outcome.