Pakistan radical cleric building a militia in Islamabad

maulana Abdul Aziz, the Red Mosque cleric and one of Pakistan’s most dangerous men, said at a news conference in Islamabad on February 6 that if the country does not implement Islamic law, he and his followers ‘will solve it’.

Pakistan’s intelligence services believe he is building a new militia, grabbing land for more madrassas and preparing for another attempt at forcing the country to adopt strict Islamic law. Eyewitnesses said they had seen 30 to 40 heavily armed men from the militant group Sipah-e-Sahaba inside the mosque.

Pakistan’s intelligence services believe Aziz is in control of an armed militia. A senior Inter-Services Intelligence official said: ‘It’s evident that he is following an agenda of reviving Lal Masjid mafia in the heart of the federal capital. His links with the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and land grabbers poses a security threat to law and order.’

Seven years ago, the radical cleric led heavily armed al-Qaeda gunmen in a bloody siege at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid in Urdu, which left more than a hundred children, soldiers and militants dead. The brutal denouement, including the killing of his brother and son, set off a wave of Taliban suicide bombings which struck at the heart of Pakistan’s military establishment.

Aziz’s latest threat is a reminder that one of the West’s most important allies against the forces of terror has a problem dealing with militant voices even in the middle of its own capital. In December, a Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant for Aziz but the police have been unable to enforce it. His defiance challenges the government’s repeated promises to fight terrorism following the Peshawar school attack. Since the killings in December, more than 8,000 people have been arrested and a number of terrorists executed.

Sri Lanka’s new president to make four-day visit to India from February 15

Sri Lanka looks forward to elevating its engagement with India and taking it to ‘greater heights’ for the mutual benefit of its peoples, newly elected Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has said.

In response to Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s message of congratulations on his election as Sri Lanka’s new President, Sirisena said on February 10: ‘I share very much your desire to further strengthen the excellent bilateral relations and look forward to earnestly work together to elevate our engagement to greater heights for the mutual benefit of our peoples.

‘I deeply appreciate your message of felicitation on my election as the President of Sri Lanka. India and Sri Lanka enjoy a deep and abiding relationship founded on ancient civilisational and cultural links, shared histories, close centuries-old people-to-people contact, complemented substantially by shared values of pluralism and democracy.’ He also wished prosperity for the ‘friendly people of India’.

In his first foreign visit after assuming charge, President Sirisena is scheduled to visit India from February 15 to 18 at the invitation of President Mukherjee. He will arrive in India on February 15 on a four-day visit during which he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discuss key issues, including the peace and reconciliation process in his country.

Bangladesh: Jamaat student  wing calls for strike  February 11-12

Pro-Jamaat-e-Islami student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir called a two-day strike at Rajshahi University in northwestern Bangladesh from February 11 protesting the death of its leader in a clash with law enforcers on February 6.

The organisation announced the measures through a press release signed by Shibir RU Unit President Ashraful Alam Emon following the killing in a police ‘encounter’ of the unit’s Information and Technology Affairs secretary Sahabuddin Ripon. Some 15 Shibir activists hurled several crude bombs at a police patrol team on Dhaka-Rajshahi highway around 1:00am forcing the police to retaliate, claimed AKM Nahidul Islam, a deputy commissioner of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police.

He said after the encounter policemen arrested three bullet-hit Shibir men and sent them to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital where Ripon, who received two bullet wounds in his thigh, was declared dead around 1:30am on the same day.

India and Pakistan halt Kashmir bus over drugs dispute

India and Pakistan have suspended a bus service linking divided Kashmir, amid a row over alleged drug trafficking.

Trade across the de facto Kashmir border was also put on hold over the weekend when India accused Pakistani lorry drivers of transporting opium. Officials met on February 9 to try to resolve the issue.

Trade between the two sides resumed in the region in 2008, after being closed for decades. Bus services between Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan’s sector resumed in 2005.

Cross-border trade and transport have been seen as a sign of India and Pakistan’s improving relations, though both have been suspended several times over the years at times of high tension.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 over the disputed Himalayan territory. Both claim Kashmir in its entirety. Recent months have seen an upsurge in tensions and cross-border shelling in the region.

Egypt: Al Jazeera journalists’ retrial  dashes hopes of quick release

The retrial of two Al Jazeera journalists convicted in Egypt last year of terrorism-related charges will begin on February 12, according to one of the pair’s lawyers speaking on February 9.

The announcement, just a week after the release of their Australian colleague Peter Greste, has poured cold water on talk of an imminent release for one of the two detained men, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy. Now there is criticism that the Canadian government has not done enough to secure his freedom.

Mr Greste, Mr Fahmy, and their Egyptian colleague Baher Mohamed were each sentenced last year to seven to 10 years in prison on terrorism-related charges in what was widely regarded as a show trial. After broad Western criticism of the convictions, Egypt’s high court ordered the retrial of the trio last month.

Greste was unexpectedly set free last week under Egyptian presidential powers created in November that allow the deportation of foreign nationals being held in prison. Soon after, Fahmy announced he was relinquishing his Egyptian citizenship, leaving him solely a national of Canada and thus eligible for deportation under the same law. Canadian officials had said Fahmy’s release was ‘imminent’.

But the retrial announcement torpedoed hopes that that was the case. Fahmy’s brother, Adel Fahmy, said that the family was ‘devastated’ by the news.

UAE rejoins air offensive against IS from Jordan base

The United Arab Emirates have launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group from an air base in Jordan, marking its return to combat operations against the militants after it halted flights late last year.

The General Command of the UAE Armed Forces said Emirati F-16s carried out a series of strikes on the morning of February 10, according to a brief statement carried by the Gulf nation’s official WAM news agency. The fighters returned safely back to base after striking their targets, the statement said, but it did not elaborate nor say whether the strikes happened in Syria or Iraq. The militants hold roughly a third of each country in a self-declared caliphate.

The Emirates, an oil-rich federation that includes Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is one of the most prominent Arab members of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

American officials say the country halted airstrikes in December after a Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, was captured when his plane crashed behind enemy lines. Al-Kaseasbeh was later burned alive by the militants.

The Emirates had not commented on the suspension, and the latest statement was the first confirmation it had restarted combat operations. It has continued to provide logistical support to the campaign by hosting coalition warplanes at its air bases on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf.
Its return to the fight came days after it ordered the deployment of a squadron of F-16s to Jordan, a close ally of both the United States and the Emirates that has pledged harsh retaliation for the gruesome killing of its pilot.

China worried by fallout from clashes  between Myanmar troops and rebels

China expressed concern on February 10 about renewed fighting between Myanmar rebels and government forces which forced civilians to cross the border to seek refuge in China.

The fighting flared up in the Kokang region of northeast Myanmar’s Shan State between rebels from a group called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the army.

The rebels were formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), a China-backed guerrilla force that battled the Myanmar government until the group fell apart in 1989.

Hua said China would pay close attention to how the situation developed and it would maintain peace and stability on the border.

‘We hope that relevant parties in northern Myanmar can resolve their differences via continuing to uphold peaceful talks and prevent the clashes from escalating and affecting border stability, especially from affecting security and order on the Chinese side.’

The MNDAA signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989, the first of about a dozen factions that formed after the CPB disintegrated. Despite such ceasefire agreements, clashes between government troops and guerrilla groups break out from time to time.

The state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the fighting began on February 9 between the army and ‘renegade troops of Kokang’.

A Myanmar military officer based in the northeast, who wished to remain anonymous, said the rebels had taken over a police outpost but ‘We’re planning to get it back after reinforcing our troops.’

In December, Myanmar state media accused the group of killing seven soldiers and wounding 20. Fighting between the rebels and the army in 2009 pushed tens of thousands of refugees into southwestern China, angering the government in Beijing.

Niger agrees to send troops against Boko Haram

Niger’s parliament has unanimously approved the deployment of troops to northern Nigeria as part of a regional offensive against Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has launched several cross-border attacks recently.

Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin agreed over the weekend of February 7-8 to send a joint force of 8,700 troops to battle the militant group, which has killed thousands of people and kidnapped hundreds more in its bid to carve out a caliphate.

The crisis has prompted Nigeria to postpone its February 14 presidential election by six weeks.

Niger had massed more than 3,000 troops in its southern region of Diffa on the border with Nigeria, awaiting parliamentary approval to go on the offensive.

‘The pooling of the efforts and resources of concerned countries will contribute without doubt to crushing this group which shows scorn, through its barbaric acts, for the Muslim religion,’ Niger’s parliamentary speaker Adamou Salifou said after the vote late on February 9. The vote was supported by all 102 deputies present.

On February 9 Boko Haram militants bombed the Niger town of Diffa, killing five people – its third attack there in four days. It also carried out raids in neighbouring Cameroon, kidnapping a bus full of passengers.

Residents in Diffa have voiced fears of further attacks in the coming days. Locals in the town, which lies just a few kilometres from territory controlled by Boko Haram, have long spoken of sleeper cells infiltrating their communities.

An intensification of Boko Haram violence near Lake Chad, which straddles Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, has sent tens of thousands of Nigerians fleeing across the border.

Thai junta leader does not rule out  military intervention again

Thailand’s military leader says the army will return to the barracks once a civilian government is chosen, but he stopped short of ruling out another coup ‘if something cannot be solved’ by the new government.

‘The military has its proper role as a government agency, so don’t worry,’ Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the junta leader, told the Nikkei newspaper in an interview published on February 10. An election for a new government will be held as early as the end of this year, he said.
When asked about the possibility of another coup, Prayuth didn’t answer directly, but said that ‘Thailand is different from other countries. If something cannot be solved, the military will solve it.’

Prayuth, who is on a visit to Japan, led a coup that toppled the government last May and assumed the premiership later in 2014.

News in Brief

Afghanistan: drone attack kills IS commander
A senior Islamic State commander was killed in a drone strike on his convoy, Afghan officials said on February 9. Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, was among six wiped out by the Afghan attack in Helmand province. His brother-in-law and four Pakistani fighters were reportedly in the same car.

Rouhani says world must ‘seize opportunity’ of nuclear deal with Iran
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on February 10 that world powers must ‘seize the opportunity’ of a landmark nuclear deal, saying Tehran had taken ‘the necessary steps’ for an accord. Rouhani’s remarks, during a meeting in the Iranian capital, appeared to be a response to US President Barack Obama, who on February 9 said: ‘The issues now are – does Iran have the political will and the desire to get a deal done?’

Putin says Russia will pursue independent foreign policy despite pressure
President Vladimir Putin said on February 10 Russia would pursue an independent foreign policy despite pressure in what he called ‘today’s challenging international environment’. Marking Russia’s diplomatic workers’ day, Putin underlined the importance of the effective work of the Foreign Ministry, Russia’s embassies, consulates and other representative offices. ‘It is a guarantee that the Russian Federation, no matter how much pressure is put on us, will continue to pursue an independent foreign policy, to support the fundamental interests of our people and in line with global security and stability,’ Putin said in a telegram to diplomats

Postponing election is blow to democracy, says Nigeria’s opposition
Nigeria’s opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari has condemned a decision to postpone the country’s presidential election until March, calling it a ‘major setback for democracy’. The ruling People’s Democratic Party, led by President Jonathan Goodluck, says the delay is due to the security situation in the north, where government troops are fighting the Islamist group Boko Haram.

Yemen: former president reaffirms resignation
Former Yemeni President Abd Rabboh Mansour Hadi reaffirmed his resignation on February 9, noting that Yemen’s deep political problems require unorthodox solutions, Yemen News Agency reported. Hadi submitted his resignation to Yemen’s parliament on January 22 after al-Houthi fighters took control of parts of the capital city of Sanaa. The rebel group on February 6 announced the establishment of a five-person presidential council to replace the government.