Hariri calls for religious co-existence

[Saad Hariri sounds like he could potentially be the kind of realistic leader that Lebanon dearly needs.  His breaking with the Saudi/American-led ploy, otherwise known as the “Welch Club,” his public acknowledgment that Israel was the greatest threat to Lebanon and the region, and now his call for religious co-existence, gives me hope that he is the man of hope that we have all been watching for.]

Hariri calls for religious co-existence

By The Daily Star

Hariri calls for religious co-existence

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed on Friday the need to preserve the presence of Christian communities within Lebanon in order to set a worldwide example of coexistence among religions.

Hariri made his statements to News Rai Italian television ahead of his arrival in Italy on Friday where he is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi Saturday.

Separately, President Michel Sleiman is scheduled to arrive in Russia on Wednesday on a two-day official state viAsit during which he is scheduled to hold talks with his Russian counterpart Dimitri Medvedev at the Kremlin and meet several other Russian top officials.

For his part, Hariri urged Italy to pressure Israel to take part in peace negotiations, adding that Arab states wanted peace with Israel but stressed that the Israelis were divided and were seeking war against Lebanon, Syria and Iran.

“Israel cannot pretend to show interest in the peace process without taking any practical steps,” Hariri said while underscoring the Lebanese government’s commitment to the implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hariri also highlighted daily Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty which he described as unacceptable.

Asked about accusations of arms flows from the Syrian border to Lebanon, Hariri said: “Israel knows well what to offer to Syria, [which is] the return of the occupied Golan Heights annexed during the July 1967 war.”

“Israelis know what to do, so why not do it? Israel always pretends that the problem lies with the Palestinians’ internal divisions, but the truth is that there are divisions among the Israelis,” Hariri added.

Another step in the process of national reconciliation is scheduled to take place in Lebanon this weekend, when Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun heads to Mukhtara, to meet with the head of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt

The meeting between the leaders is considered as part of reconciliation efforts among residents of Mount Lebanon to promote unity in the Chouf, the FPM announced Thursday.

Thousands of Christian families fled their villages and have not yet returned after clashes between the Druze and Christian communities in the Chouf during Lebanon’s Civil War.

Jumblatt has also recently held a series of meetings with Hizbullah officials, including the party’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, as part of the Druze leader’s rapprochement with groups in the parliamentary minority after his withdrawal from the March 14 alliance following the June 2009 general elections. – The Daily Star

Even Christians Become Violent Mobs Over Goofy Pictures

[Forgive me for the following blasphemous picture.  What would have been the reaction if this had been a picture of Mohammed (PBUH)?  What kind of despicable human being would put this in a first grade children's book?]

Objectionable Jesus poster sparks violence in Punjab town

Batala (Punjab): An indefinite curfew was imposed in this Punjab town Saturday after tension prevailed following the publication of a poster depicting Jesus Christ in an objectionable manner. Clashes also broke out as some members of the Christian community forced shopkeepers to down shutters.

The curfew was imposed after members of the Christian community came to know about the poster, depicting Jesus Christ holding a beer can in one hand and what appeared to be either a cigarette or a chicken leg in the other.

They started gathering in the town and forced the shopkeepers to close their shops, leading to clashes. The police intervened when they tried to burn a few buildings.

Batala, 40 km from Amritsar, has a sizeable Christian population and several leading schools and other institutions have been run by the community for the past several decades.

The curfew will continue till further orders, officials said here.

Punjab police chief P S Gill said a case had been registered against the printer of the objectionable poster.

“The printing press in which the controversial poster was printed had been sealed and a case has been registered against the accused at the police station in Jalandhar’s Division No. 4.

“Additional forces have been sent to sensitive areas to restore the confidence of the people,'”Gill said in Chandigarh, 250 km from here.

2008 recorded maximum number of communal incidents in last five years: Govt

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the state home minister, condemned the act and said no one would be allowed to disturb the peace of the state.

Pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in the other in a book for primary classes triggered a row in Meghalaya on Friday. The objectionable pictures were found in the cursive writing exercise books at a school in Shillong.

The Catholic Church in India has banned in all its member schools New Delhi-based Skyline Publications for printing the pictures in class 1 cursive writing books.

Cigarette-holding Jesus in textbook triggers row

2010-02-19 11:12:00
Last Updated: 2010-02-19 11:24:15
Shillong: Pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette in one hand and a beer can in another in a book for primary classes has triggered a row in Meghalaya and the state government is now contemplating legal action against the New Delhi-based publisher.

The objectionable pictures of Jesus Christ found in the cursive writing exercise copies at a private school in capital Shillong was brought to the notice of the influential church by some guardians.

“We are shocked and hurt by this act where Jesus Christ has been portrayed in a highly objectionable manner…we condemn the total lack of respect for religions by the publisher,” Dominc Jala, the Archbishop of Shillong, said.

New Delhi-based Skyline Publication produced the copies meant for students of Class 1.

“Just imagine students at such an impressionable age being dished out objectionable images which are nothing but blasphemous,” said T. Jrwa, another church leader.

The Meghalaya government acted swiftly by confiscating all the copies from the school and also from book shops.

“Although private schools are not bound by the prescribed textbooks of the Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education, still we took immediate action by seizing all the copies and if deemed fit we might even take legal steps,” said Meghalaya Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh.

Also read: Sea of secrets: Over 5,000 new marine species found

An estimated 72 percent of the 2.32 million people in Meghalaya are Christians.

Does “CIA Post In Karachi” Mean Blackwater?

CIA post in Karachi helped catch top guns of Taliban

By Our Correspondent
“The ISI and the CIA are working together, with the Americans providing actionable intelligence and the Pakistanis acting together with them” to hunt the insurgency’s leaders, a Pakistani official told the paper. – Photo by AP.

WASHINGTON: Pakistan allowed the US Central Intelligence Agency to set up a post in Karachi and the data collected by this post led to the arrest of a key Taliban commander and two ‘governors’, officials said.

Describing this as “a high-level of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan,” The Washington Post reported on Friday that it signalled a major change in Islamabad’s attitude towards the Taliban movement.

This enhanced cooperation between the CIA and the ISI led to the arrests of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, and two Taliban shadow governors for northern Afghanistan, the report said.

“The ISI and the CIA are working together, with the Americans providing actionable intelligence and the Pakistanis acting together with them” to hunt the insurgency’s leaders, a Pakistani official told the paper.

The Post noted that Pakistan’s decision to aggressively search for Afghan Taliban leadership reflected a shift that had been in the works since autumn last year when US President Barack Obama wrote to President Asif Ali Zardari.

The letter offered additional military and economic assistance and help in easing tensions with India.

The Post noted that with US facilitation, India and Pakistan had agreed to restart their stalled talks. President Obama’s letter also contained a warning that Pakistan’s use of insurgent groups to achieve policy goals would no longer be tolerated.

The arrests of Mullah Baradar and other leaders represented “major progress,” a US intelligence official told the Post. “No one has forgotten Pakistan’s complex history with the Taliban. But they understand how important this is to the United States, the region and to their own security.”

The CIA post in Karachi intercepted communications which were later handed over to ISI officials. The two agencies then planned a joint operation to catch Mullah Baradar and ‘governors’.

Final agreement on the operation came in the last week of January.

The detentions, which have taken place since early last week, were initially kept secret to allow intelligence operatives to use information gleaned from the captured men to reach other militants.

The Post claimed that the arrests offered evidence of something that has long been suspected: Top Afghan Taliban leaders have found refuge across Pakistan, particularly in its cities, something the government long denied.

Give peace a chance

[The wisest and most effective measures that either Pakistan or India could take at this time to defeat the plans of its enemies, as well as its friends who act like enemies, would be to make peace.  The military plans of both nations revolve around their relationship with the United States, especially their plans to acquire new arms, even though America is going down like a sinking ship.  Do not let us drag you down with us.  Put an end to the American machinations that seek to guarantee our survival at the pinnacle of power by bringing about your demise.]

Give peace a chance

With the army now adding, arguably justifiably, the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine to the list of concerns, the whole process may have become unwieldy and could become a case of talking for talks sake. – File photo

“IF you restrict the dialogue to the area of your interest, then you’re defeating the purpose — there are our interests as well.” Well said, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The minister’s remarks were made in the context of India’s ‘terrorism first’ demand when it comes to talks with Pakistan. The push for talks, though, has got some impetus in recent weeks. While the meeting between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan on Feb 25 is expected to be no more than an ice-breaker, a sensible approach by both sides could at least expedite the possibility of meaningful talks. Presently, the onus is firmly on India to show some flexibility. While the trauma of the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai may not have been grasped fully in Pakistan, relations between states cannot be determined purely by emotions. And even if the Indian reaction was a hard-nosed one, the calculations it was based on have not worked out: the world community has rebuffed India’s attempts to isolate Pakistan internationally. So with the approach having run its course, now is the time for India to return to the table and resume talks.

Here on the Pakistani side, the approach taken must also be reassessed. First, terrorism. Yes, the state has its hands full in dealing with various internal threats to the country but it must also demonstrate its bona fides to India. During the first few rounds of the composite dialogue, issues that irked India the most — cross-LoC infiltration and public statements by militant leaders against India — were curbed to an extent. The comments by Hafiz Saeed some days ago, in which he reiterated that Kashmir was a ‘core issue’ but refrained from issuing threats or beating the war drum, could fit into that desired pattern. Second, Pakistan must reassess the utility of the composite dialogue at this stage. Perhaps it is a mechanism that has run its course and can offer no further ‘major’ breakthroughs. With the army now adding, arguably justifiably, the Indian ‘Cold Start’ doctrine to the list of concerns, the whole process may have become unwieldy and could become a case of talking for talks sake. Perhaps what is needed then is a simplification: address the big issues directly and head-on, and then take on the smaller concerns. Nothing will change for the better unless both sides rise to the occasion. Our advice: focus on the opportunities, not just the threats.

If We All Came Clean Would the War of Lies Suddenly End?

Secrets, spies and lies

By Irfan Husain
The truth about drone attacks, training of FC by the Americans, the arrest Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Quetta Shura, the Kerry-Lugar bill and many other issues have been hidden from the public which in turn whips up anti-American sentiments. – File photo
OBTAINING the truth from governments is not unlike yanking out healthy teeth firmly attached to the jaw: both cause acute pain and resistance.

Take the recent judgment in Britain that forced the government to reveal details of the torture that Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, went through following his arrest in Pakistan after 9/11. Held in American custody in a number of countries for seven years, he ended up in Guantanamo from where he was finally released last year without being charged.

The British government argued that revealing such sensitive information might endanger the intelligence-sharing arrangement it has with the United States. However, for once their lordships were not having any of this routine foot-dragging, and ordered the release of the information.

In Pakistan, the state routinely classifies the most mundane documents as ‘secret’, and insists on keeping the public in the dark. Loftily, government functionaries inform us that while we must foot the bill, we are not grown up enough to know the truth. More often than not, these clandestine policies blow up in our face, and ordinary Pakistanis are left paying the cost in money and in lives.

For years, the Pakistani establishment has played a double game in Afghanistan, and when the Taliban genie escaped from the bottle and began slaughtering innocent Pakistanis, we blamed everybody but our own army and intelligence services. Every country has secrets, but we have raised the art of denial to new levels of dissimulation.

Take the American policy of taking out their Taliban and Al Qaeda foes in Pakistan by using highly advanced drone technology. This has been going on for the last several years with the clandestine knowledge and approval of both the Musharraf and Zardari governments. And yet, every time a drone launches a missile that kills militants (and civilians, unfortunately), there is a hue and cry in Pakistan. The government lodges a complaint with the US, and the media goes into a frenzy of American-bashing.

Nobody is willing to face the fact that more often than not, these drones are launched from a base located within Pakistan. This was publicly declared by an American senator who is a member of the Senate intelligence committee. No Pakistani official contradicted her, and yet everybody from Zardari downwards keeps protesting every time a drone attack takes place.

Similarly, we have American Special Forces training units of the Frontier Corps in counter-insurgency tactics, but the public remains largely unaware of this programme. It was only when three American soldiers were killed in Fata that the media reported their presence.

Recently, when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, was captured in Karachi, the interior minister referred to the report as ‘propaganda’. The question of how long our government was aware of Baradar’s presence has gone unanswered as we denied that the Quetta shura even existed on our soil.

These lies and contradictions have served to confuse the Pakistani public, and to whip up anti-American sentiment. After 9/11, Musharraf did a public U-turn and denounced the Taliban, offering the Americans help in toppling them. Much of the framework for covert joint operations was laid down in those early days, but fearing a backlash from his clerical allies in the coalition that supported him, Musharraf chose to keep most of this military and intelligence cooperation secret.

Under the army’s pressure, Zardari has chosen to continue with Musharraf’s policy of secrecy and prevarication. By insisting that Pakistan plays no part in the drone campaign, for instance, the government seeks to deflect criticism for any civilian casualties to the Americans. This is both shameless and irresponsible. The reality is that the death-by-drones of so many militants in the tribal areas is something that is to our advantage.

By not owning up to a policy in which we are both partners and beneficiaries, we have made it clear that we are unable or unwilling to exercise control over our soil. Indeed, by playing victim instead of a state defending its own people against terrorists, we send out a signal of weakness.

How would we be any worse off by adopting a more open posture? The received wisdom in both Washington and Islamabad is that somehow, public knowledge of Pakistan’s complicity in the drone campaign would destabilise the civilian government. While this may be true today, it surely was not so under Musharraf when the army was very much onside, as it is today.

The reality is that both Musharraf and Zardari have been heavily criticised by the Islamic parties and politicians for their pro-American policies. How would anything change if Zardari were to take the public into confidence? Such a policy of openness would enable the government to proceed without having to go into contortions each time a drone attack is launched.

Currently, the public perception is that the Americans are acting unilaterally, and ignoring Pakistan’s sovereignty. Understandably, this whips up anger each time a Predator or Reaper missile kills militants, as well as the women and children they were hiding behind.

We have seen this anti-Americanism flourish in our media over the years. At the time of the debate (or what passed for one) over the Kerry-Lugar bill, many TV anchors and guests on Urdu channels joined the army-led chorus against this legislation. In a barely literate society where the electronic media plays a key role in forming perceptions, our Urdu TV channels have much to answer for.

By refusing to acknowledge the degree of cooperation between the US and Pakistani army and intelligence agencies, we end up only confusing our people as well as looking incompetent and hypocritical in the eyes of the world. The drone campaign is a solid success by any yardstick. In fact, apart from our army operations in Swat and South Waziristan, it is the only military riposte to have kept the militants on the run. Surely, we should take part of the credit for locating many of the targets.

We need to know who our friends and foes are. And anybody condoning the actions of the terrorists who have killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis is not our friend.

irfan.husain@gmail.com

Terrorists Striking Other Terrorists–Ramping-Up Pakistan’s Sectarian Warfare

[SEE: Waging War Upon Ourselves]

LI blames AI for attack, vows revenge


Suicide bombing victims buried

By Said Nazir Afridi

BARA: The banned Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) on Friday held the rival militant group, Ansarul Islam (AI), responsible for the suicide bombing on its deputy chief and vowed to avenge the attack.

Talking to journalists from an unidentified location by phone, LI spokesman Haji Zar Khan Zar confirmed the death of Azam Khan Afridi and some other militants in the attack and said the deaths would be avenged soon. He said that they had solid proof of Ansarul Islam’s involvement in the attack. He said some political leaders were also behind the attack and their faces would soon be exposed to the public.

However, Haji Naeem Afridi, who claimed to be the AI spokesman in Peshawar, told this scribe by phone that his organisation had no suicide bombers. He said his group always fought the LI face-to-face in battlefield. He said the suicide bomber was prepared by the LI to use him against the AI but the bomber attacked his own mentors. He alleged that the LI was involved in all suicide and bomb attacks carried out against the AI in Peshawar and the Tirah Valley over the past one year.

Haji Naeem challenged Zar Khan, saying if he had any proof of the AI’s involvement in Thursday’s suicide attack, he should show it to the media. Naeem is the brother of Haji Mobeen, the former AI spokesman, killed in a car bombing in Hayatabad, Peshawar, last year. Maulana Mastameen, the elder brother of Haji Naeem, belonging to Qambarkhel tribe, was kidnapped by the LI men from Peshawar about two years ago and was later publicly shot dead in Gugrina, the headquarters of the LI in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area of Khyber Agency.

Meanwhile, 23 victims of the suicide attack were laid to rest in different parts of the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on Friday, sources said, adding that collective funeral prayer was offered for 18 out of the 23 slain men in the Dars Jumaat area.

The remaining five people were buried in the Bazaar Zakhakhel area. Tribal sources revealed that collective funeral prayer was offered for militant commander Azam Khan Afridi and his nephew and they were buried in the Tandi area adjacent to Dars Jumaat in the evening as their bodies had been badly mutilated and could not be identified. A large number of militants and local people participated in the funeral prayers.

Holbrooke Focuses on Central Asia

[Doesn't the rest of the world think it very strange that "al Qaida" has the same mission today as did former CIA Director Wm. Casey, the original author of America's "mujahideen" program, intended to create an Islamic "caliphate" to directly challenge the Soviet Union?  "Militant Islam" and all of its bloody, lofty goals has always been an American psyop.  Every elder statesman of the world and every leader in charge of a state security apparatus knows that this is a fact.]

U.S. warns of al Qaeda threat in Central Asia

By Roman Kozhevnikov

DUSHANBE (Reuters) – Al Qaeda aims to infiltrate Central Asia to train militants and turn the ex-Soviet region into a zone of unrest, a U.S. envoy said on Saturday.

U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke meets Tajikistan’s President Imomali Rakhmon (L) in Dushanbe February 20, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)

The West is worried about risks to stability in the vast Muslim region, dominated by authoritarian but secular governments. Analysts believe Islamist militancy could spread into the heart of Central Asia from nearby Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke is on a blitz tour of the five “stans” of Central Asia.

“I think the real threat in this region is less from the Taliban but from al Qaeda, which trains international terrorists,” he said on a visit to Tajikistan.

“This is an issue of common concern to the United States and to all the countries of this region. And by all the countries I definitely include Pakistan and China and India.”

Stability in the vast resource-rich region sprawling between China, Russia and Afghanistan is crucial to the West as it lies on a new supply route for NATO-led operations in Afghanistan.

The region’s main home-grown extremist group, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), wants to topple Central Asia’s secular post-Soviet leaders and establish strict Islamic rule.

Its fighters were forced out of the region after the end of a 1990s civil war in Tajikistan into Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, where its leadership is believed to have established close contacts with al Qaeda, security analysts say.

IMU fighters are now believed to be returning to Central Asia to seed unrest in a region weakened by a protracted economic crisis and people’s frustration with growing poverty.

Holbrooke is also visiting Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan during his first trip to Central Asia in his current capacity.

In Uzbekistan, the region’s most populous and ethnically diverse nation, President Islam Karimov told Holbrooke he was eager to work closer with the United States over Afghanistan.

“The leader of our nation … expressed Uzbekistan’s firm determination to further develop U.S.-Uzbek relations in a constructive way in light of efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan,” the official UzA news agency said.

Relations between Uzbekistan, long under fire over human rights violations, and the United States have improved in recent years as Washington has shifted focus more to security issues in its contacts with Tashkent, diplomats say.

Uzbekistan is now part of the new NATO supply route and Western nations rarely criticise its rights record. Last year the European Union angered international human rights groups by lifting sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan after a violent crackdown by Uzbek troops on protesters in 2005.

(Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Andrew Roche)

Copyright © 2008 Reuters