August

31 August 2013

 

Increased volatility in Indo-Pak relations

On July 31, India’s Ambassador in Kabul, Amar Sinha, received Intelligence inputs about the likelihood of an imminent attack on the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad in Southern Afghanistan. The Afghan security authorities were put on alert and were fully prepared when, according to the Police Commissioner of Jalalabad, a group of ten Punjabi-speaking Pakistani terrorists from Lashka-e-taiba entered the city to carry out the attack.

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Key cogs in terror wheel arrested

The seizure of key figures in a terror network in India has set the ball in motion for a tough government crackdown on militants.Yasin Bhatkal, co-founder of Indian Mujahideen and one of India’s most wanted terrorists, was arrested at the Indo-Nepal border in north Bihar on August 28, after being on the run for more than five years. Sources say he faces 16 charges, including those pertaining to his alleged role in the German Bakery bomb blast in Pune on February 13, 2010, which left 17 dead.

A ‘key aide’ of LeT operative Abdul Karim Tunda, Mohammad Abdul Bashir, was also arrested in eastern Bihar’s Katihar district. He was picked up late on August 23 from his native Signalpur village.

Official sources have described Bashir as a ‘critical cog’ in the terror-financing wheel of Tunda, the one-armed LeT bomber who was held recently in connection with over 40 cases of terror attacks in India. Bashir was arrested just two days after another Tunda associate, Md Alauddin, was seized from Karandighi.

In the wake of these arrests, the Indian government has vowed to hunt down all those who have waged war against India and said there would be no rest till all such terrorists are put behind bars.

Minister of State for Home R P N Singh said the UPA government has assured the country that it will pursue all terrorists operating from India’s soil as well as from abroad.

‘I once again reiterate our commitment to fight against terrorists. I hope there will be no politics as far as terror is concerned,’ he said.

Pakistan’s ruling party consolidates grip on power

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party has consolidated its hold on power, results from by-elections have shown, cementing its ability to push through unpopular reforms aimed at kick-starting the stagnating economy.

Sharif began a third term as premier after the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won a landslide victory in national polls in May. He has since been attempting to stamp his authority on a nation long plagued by instability and violence.

The results showed his party won at least another five seats in the 15 by-elections held on August 22, reinforcing its comfortable majority with at least 189 seats in the 342-seat National Assembly.

The by-elections were held in seats that were forced to annul results from the May vote because of violence or because candidates had since vacated their seats, among other reasons.

The populist Pakistan People’s Party, which had held power for five years before Sharif’s victory, won three seats, with corruption a lingering concern among voters. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricket start Imran Khan, also won two seats after promising to crack down on graft.

Turnout from the polling was generally lower than the May vote, and several areas reported problems. In Peshawar, the High Court intervened to stop vote counting in two areas and ordered polls to be held again amid reports that elders had prevented women from voting.

Another poll was postponed amid security fears in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, where a militant raid on a jail freed 250 prisoners last month.

In the financial centre of Karachi, a roadside bomb aimed at a military vehicle on election duty killed a soldier and a civilian, as well as wounding 20 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was their response to the government’s offer of peace talks if the militants put down their arms.

Afghan Taliban kill 12 ‘government’ workers

The Afghan Taliban have executed 12 Afghan workers in two provinces after accusing them of working for the government, officials said, the latest in a series of brutal attacks on civilians this year.

The Taliban are increasingly targeting civilians seen to be cooperating with the government, raising concerns about the prospects for peace after most foreign troops pull out next year.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings with a swipe at Pakistan, which he has been visiting for two days.

‘The killing of innocent engineers and workers shows that the Taliban and their foreign masters want Afghanistan to be a impoverished and underdeveloped country forever,’ he said in apparent reference to Islamabad, among others, which he has often accused of playing a double game in the 12-year-old war.

Karzai recently stressed the need for Pakistan’s help in arranging peace talks with the Taliban in a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

In Herat, one of Afghanistan’s most stable provinces whose small but promising private sector is driving the national economy, the Taliban kidnapped and killed four engineers and two workers on August 25, Governor Fazlullah Wahidi said.

The men, all Afghan, worked for a World Bank-funded programme created by the Karzai government that aims to improve local project management.

The killings came within hours of the discovery of the bodies of six Afghans in the restive eastern province of Paktia. The six, all drivers, were killed by Taliban because they were working with the government, deputy provincial governor Abdul Wali Sehee said.

EU urges China to free arrested activist Xu Zhiyong

The European Union has called on China to release one of the country’s most prominent rights activists, Xu Zhiyong, telling Beijing to respect international standards on freedom of expression.

Police arrested Xu — who has called for officials to disclose their wealth — thus raising the stakes in the government’s crackdown on anti-graft campaigners.

‘The EU calls on the Chinese authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression… and to release Xu Zhiyong as well as all other activists who have been detained or put under house arrest for peacefully expressing their views,’ Europe’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

Western governments have sparred repeatedly with Beijing over human rights and the United States raised Xu’s case this month during its annual rights dialogue with China.

Beijing police arrested Xu on a charge of ‘gathering a crowd to disturb order in a public place,’ one of Xu’s lawyers said at the time. He was detained last month on the same charge. Before that, he had been under house arrest for three months, with no reason given by the authorities.

China has detained at least 16 activists involved in pushing for asset disclosure by officials, in what rights groups say is a new, coordinated crackdown by the ruling Communist Party against graft campaigners.

West could hit Syria in days, envoys tell rebels

Western powers could attack Syria within days, envoys from the United States and its allies have told rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

US forces in the region are ‘ready to go’, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said, as Washington and its European and Middle Eastern partners honed plans to punish Assad for a major poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

Several sources who attended a meeting in Istanbul on August 26 between Syrian opposition leaders and diplomats from Washington and other governments said that the rebels were told to expect military action and to get ready to negotiate a peace.

‘The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,’ one of the sources said.

Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, met envoys from 11 states in the Friends of Syria group, including Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria, at an Istanbul hotel.

United Nations chemical weapons investigators, who have finally crossed the frontline to take samples, put off a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. Washington said it already held Assad responsible for a ‘moral obscenity’ and President Barack Obama would hold him to account for it.

Tunisian PM says state must stay strong amid jihadi threat

Tunisia’s Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has said he is ready to step aside for a caretaker cabinet to hold new elections, but would not create a power vacuum while the country faced serious security and economic challenges.

He said this after announcing Tunis had proof the jihadist group Ansar al-Sharia had assassinated two secular politicians and killed eight soldiers in recent months and so had now officially classified it ‘as a terrorist group’.

Larayedh, speaking amid intense speculation about the future of democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts, said the drafting of a new constitution must be finished and all parties must agree on the election plan before he stepped down.

‘We are not playing politics with the security of the country,’ he told a news conference, anticipating the reaction that promptly came from opposition critics who have long accused his Islamist Ennahda party of being lax with Muslim radicals.

‘I am ready to step down if that can resolve the problem,’ he said, referring to a stalemate paralysing Tunisian politics since the second assassination this year and the killing of eight soldiers near the Algerian border, both in July.

‘But we think a caretaker government would not be the best solution in this critical phase on the security and economic fronts,’ he added.
Tunisia, struggling to save its nascent democracy amid popular discontent and the Egyptian army’s ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood government there, has seen mounting pressure on the unpopular Ennahda party to step aside for new polls.

Egypt Islamists vow further protests amid crackdown

Supporters of Egypt’s deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi have vowed to hold more rallies and called for marches, despite a harsh police crackdown on their movement.

An August 29 call for further protests, as police continue rounding up Islamists, was immediately followed by an interior ministry warning that live ammunition will be used on protesters who attack public institutions.

‘We welcome any calls for calm, but we will continue protesting in a peaceful manner,’ Salah Gomaa, a member of the Anti-Coup Alliance led by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, told a news conference.

The Islamist coalition has held almost daily rallies following a deadly police operation on August 14 to disperse their two protest camps in Cairo. More than 1,000 people were killed in the operation and ensuing violence, and police have rounded up more than 2,000 Islamists, according to security sources.

The interior ministry said in a statement that it would forcefully confront any ‘attempt to affect the stability of public security’.
‘In light of calls by wanted leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood for protests on Friday June 30… the interior ministry affirms its forces’ readiness to confront any violation of the law,’ it said.

In a statement, the Anti-Coup Alliance called for the release of prisoners and demanded a probe into the violence over the past month.
After arresting much of the movement’s leadership, the police have begun rounding up mid-level operatives around the country. The crackdown on the Islamists has severely impacted their ability to muster supporters on the street.

 Hagel issues warning over Asian maritime disputes

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel has warned fellow defence ministers that a growing number of maritime incidents and tensions in disputed Asian waters increase the risk of a dangerous international confrontation.

Hagel pressed ahead with a second day of talks in Brunei even as the US prepares for a possible military strike to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

China has faced increasing accusations of bullying tactics in asserting its claim to nearly the whole of the strategic South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by several Southeast Asian countries.

Elsewhere, Tokyo and Beijing have played cat and mouse in the East China Sea over disputed islands. Japan recently scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese government plane approached airspace Japan claims as it own.

US Defence Secretary Hagel issued a warning over the simmering tensions at the talks involving defence ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, China, South Korea, the United States, Russia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

‘Actions at sea to advance territorial claims do not strengthen any party’s legal claim. Instead, they increase the risk of confrontation, undermine regional stability, and dim the prospects for diplomacy,’ Hagel said, according to a prepared text of his remarks.

Macedonia overcomes political impasse and averts election

Macedonia’s government and opposition has resolved a row over responsibility for a parliamentary brawl that had threatened to trigger a snap election and further damage the country’s attempt to start European Union membership talks.

Setting aside their differences, both sides signed up to a report drafted by an ad hoc commission tasked with investigating the incident in December when opposition legislators were ejected from parliament for brawling.

Though largely inconclusive, the report nevertheless appears to apportion most of the blame to the government. Conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski recently threatened to force an election two years ahead of schedule rather than sign up to the findings, but backed down.

‘We decided that, in the interests of the state, and even if it costs us, we will vote and sign the commission’s report the way the opposition wants,’ he said.

Government and opposition representatives on the committee inked the report on August 26.
‘I’m happy that the interest of the citizens was put above the parties,’ said commission president Borce Davidkovski, who was nominated to the post by the opposition. ‘The hard work is finished and I would like to thank the European Union expert who gave everything for this report to be final.’

The commission was formed under EU pressure, after the row triggered an opposition boycott of parliament and threatened to undermine a local election. It was aided in its work by an EU official.

 Syria says ‘terrorists’ will strike Europe with chemical weapons

Syria’s deputy foreign minister has said that the United States, Britain and France helped ‘terrorists’ use chemical weapons in Syria, and that the same groups would soon use them against Europe.

Speaking to reporters outside the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, Faisal Maqdad said he had presented UN chemical weapons inspectors with evidence that ‘armed terrorist groups’ had used sarin gas in all the sites of alleged attacks.

‘We repeat that the terrorist groups are the ones that used (chemical weapons) with the help of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, and this has to stop,’ he said. ‘This means these chemical weapons will soon be used by the same groups against the people of Europe,’ he added.

 Women’s rights in Afghanistan: a global issue

The Democracy Forum is hosting its second seminar of 2013 on Monday September 9 (2pm-5pm) at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Women’s rights in Afghanistan and their broader global impact will be the focus of the seminar, which aims to encourage public debate about this important subject.

Former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison will be chairing the event, and the speakers will be Amnesty International’s Karla McLaren; Shaista Gohir MBE from the Muslim Women’s Network UK; Nazifa Haqpal of the Human Rights & Women’s Affairs Desk at the Afghan Embassy in London; and Carron Mann from Women for Women International.

The event is free to interested members of the public. For an invitation, please contact info@thedemocracyforumltd.com
Details of other seminars hosted by the Forum can be found at our website: www.thedemocracyforumltd.com