Putin Joins the Anti-Syrian Chorus

Putin calls for pressure on Syria (updated)

Putin calls for pressure on Syria (updated)Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a press conference, in Paris, Tuesday June 21, 2011.AP

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) —Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Tuesday for international pressure on Syria’s leadership over its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests — but said Iraq-style international intervention would only make matters worse.

Russia has been resistant to a new Western-backed draft U.N. resolution condemning Syria’s government.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday that his country remains firmly opposed to such a resolution.

However, Putin — who brought Medvedev to power and still dominates Russian politics — said Tuesday that “we need to apply pressure on the leadership of any country where massive unrest, and especially bloodshed, is happening.”

He called for a political solution in Syria, and said Russian officials are working on this at the United Nations, without elaborating.

“Russia understands and acknowledges that in the modern world it is impossible to use political instruments of 40 years ago. This concerns all countries, including Syria. I hope the Syrian leadership understands this, and will make the necessary conclusions,” he told a news conference.

He dismissed talk of a Russian alliance with Syria, saying their close ties dated to the Soviet era and that no “special relationship” remains now with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

He spoke strongly against international intervention. Russia has said NATO went too far in interpreting the U.N. resolution authorizing international involvement in Libya.

“The development of the situation in certain countries of the region shows that their situation is not improving because of our efforts to lead the process,” Putin said.

“Look at what is happening in Iraq. What, has total peace arrived there? There they never had any extremists. Yes there was another regime, abnormal and silly, perhaps, but there were no extremists. And now the whole country is run by warlords. So has it gotten better? Of course not.”

US gives Karzai a rare dressing down over ‘occupation’ rhetoric

US gives Karzai a rare dressing down over ‘occupation’ rhetoric

By David Usborne, US Editor

President Hamid Karzai and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry AP

President Hamid Karzai and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

Straying beyond the normal boundaries of diplomatic nicety, the American Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, delivered a sharp verbal slap to President Hamid Karzai yesterday for his criticism of Nato’s operations in his country implying that the US was becoming weary of it.

While Mr Eikenberry, who was delivering an address at Herat University, did not mention Mr Karzai by name, there was no doubting whom he was castigating. His remarks came one day after a speech by Mr Karzai in which he said the Nato countries were in his country “for their own purposes”.

“When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost – in terms of life and treasure – hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people, they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here,” said Mr Eikenberry, who is to leave the post later this summer.

“Mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, spouses of soldiers who have lost arms and legs, children of those who lost their lives in your country – they ask themselves about the meaning of their loved one’s sacrifice,” he said. “When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look these mourning parents, spouses and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply.”

That Mr Eikenberry would air such grievances in public and with such evident personal passion will be seen as an indicator that relations between Washington and Mr Karzai are becoming dangerously strained. The new rift comes at a delicate moment with President Barack Obama preparing to decide on the details of a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan that is supposed to start this summer.

On Saturday, Mr Karzai also went further than ever before in acknowledging that efforts are under way to start talks with the Taliban as a first step towards a political settlement. “The foreign military and especially the United States itself is going ahead with these negotiations,” he said in his speech.

But the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, who retires at the end of this month, used warned at the weekend against building up expectations regarding such contacts. And he advised against any precipitate withdrawal of US troops arguing that keeping the Taliban militarily engaged is the only way to draw them into political talks.

“The Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure, and begin to believe that they can’t win before they’re willing to have a serious conversation,” he said, adding that it would be months before any “substantive headway” can be made in peace talks.

So close to stepping down from a job in which he has spanned the administrations of Mr Obama and former president George Bush, the Defense Secretary is using his last days in office to articulate some of his broader views on America’s role in the world. In an interview with The New York Times, he suggested his experience in office had led him to be more wary about excercising American military power.

“If we were about to be attacked or had been attacked or something happened that threatened a vital US national interest, I would be the first in line to say, ‘Let’s go.’ I will always be an advocate in terms of wars of necessity,” Mr Gates said. “I am just much more cautious on wars of choice.”

Mr Karzai’s criticisms of Nato are not new but seem in recent weeks to have taken a more ferocious tone. In particular, the Afghan leader has berated the alliance for killing civilians and for conducting nighttime raids which he has opposed. But it was his comment on Saturday about Nato members being self-serving that seems to have triggered the indignation of Mr Eikenberry.

“They’re here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they’re using our soil for that,”

Pak clerics declare suicide bombings unlawful

Press Trust Of India
Islamabad
Hundreds of Islamic scholars in Pakistan’s restive North Waziristan tribal region have declared suicide bombings as unlawful and asked all foreign militants hiding in the area to stop such attacks, according to media reports on Tuesday. About 300 religious scholars unanimously agreed on the move to

declare suicide attacks as “haram” or forbidden by Islam and condemned all forms of terrorist activities in North Waziristan Agency.The scholars strongly condemned all those involved in recruiting and training suicide bombers. They issued a stern warning to terrorists that such acts would have serious consequences, Geo News channel reported.

The meeting of the prominent ‘ulema’ of North Waziristan Agency was held in the Madrassah Nizamia religious school at Eidak, a town in Mirali area. The school is a leading and respected institution in North Waziristan.

The meeting warned all foreigners to stop their violent activities as they can only live in North Waziristan peacefully according to local customs.

A teenager who was arrested about two months ago after his suicide vest did not explode during an attack on a crowded Sufi shrine in Punjab province later told police that he had been trained in a camp in North Waziristan.

He also revealed that around 300 youths were being trained at a centre in the region and would be sent out for attacks across Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US authorities insist that al Qaeda and Taliban elements have established numerous centres in North Waziristan for cross-border attacks on foreign and Afghan forces.

Pakistan is under pressure from the US to launch a military operation against militants in North Waziristan, but Islamabad says it has no resources for such an offensive and that its troops are already engaged in other tribal regions.

Pakistani media recently reported that the army has chalked out a strategy to separate violent extremists from tribesmen as the first step to weaken the militants.

A decree from the Islamic scholars of Waziristan may be a step towards achieving the goal of isolating the extremists.

Against the backdrop of the prevailing insecurity in North Waziristan Agency, the pronouncements by the ulema of the region are historic and very significant, Geo News quoted observers as saying.

Top Russian Reactor Designers Among Those Killed In Russia Aircrash

Kudankulam reactor designers among those killed in Russia aircrash

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

Russian designers of the Kudankulam nuclear reactors died in an aircrash in northern Russia that killed 44 people. Eight people survived the crash.

The Tu-134 airliner on a flight from Moscow crash landed in thick fog on a highway less than a km short of the runway at its destination, Petrozavodsk, in Russia’s Republic of Karelia, minutes before midnight on Monday. The aircraft veered from the highway towards a nearby forest breaking into several parts and bursting into flames.

The plane was carrying 52 people, nine of whom were crew members. The eight survivors included a nine-year-old boy, his teenage sister and their mother.

Three top officials of Russia’s main nuclear reactor design company, Gidropress, were killed in the aircrash along with two other senior nuclear engineers. Gidropress CEO and Designer General Sergei Ryzhov, Deputy CEO and Chief Designer Gennady Banyuk and Chief Designer Nikolai Trunov were all involved in designing two VVER-1000 (Version V-412) nuclear reactors for the the first stage of the Kudankulam power project in Tamilnadu. Another four reactors of this type are to be built at Kudankulam under second and third stages of the plant’s expansion.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that pilot error was the likely cause of the Tu-134 crash, which reminded him of the catastrophe of Polish President Lech Kaczynski’s plane, Tu-154, near the Russian city of Smolensk in April 2010, in which 96 people died. The Polish aircraft also crashed short of the runway as it tried to land in bad weather. Investigation blamed the crash on pilots who rejected ground control advice to divert to another airport. A traffic controller at the Petrozavodsk airport, Sergei Shmatkov, also said the pilot of the Tu-134 turned down his suggestion to circle again.

The Tu-134′s black boxes have been recovered and were in good shape, officials said.

IMF Seeks to Avoid Repeating Kabul Bank Collapse Before Aid to Afghanistan

IMF Seeks to Avoid Kabul Bank Repeat Before Afghan Aid

The government took over Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest commercial financial institution, in September. Thousands of depositors rushed to withdraw their money last year after learning that Kabul Bank’s owners had lost hundreds of millions of dollars they had lent to themselves. Photographer: Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

IMF Head of Middle East and Central Asia Masood Ahmed

Masood Ahmed, head of the International Monetary Fund’s Middle East and Central Asia department. Source: AFP/Getty Images

IMF Seeks to Avoid Repeating Kabul Bank Collapse Before Aid to Afghanistan

By Sandrine Rastello

Afghan authorities need to prevent a repeat of the conditions that led to Kabul Bank’s collapse, before the International Monetary Fund agrees to an economic program, the institution’s regional chief said.

The Washington-based IMF recognizes the country’s progress in dealing with Kabul Bank, in particular the decision to liquidate it,Masood Ahmed, the head of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia department, said in a Bloomberg News interview yesterday. At the same time, IMF support is contingent on the country’s strengthening its financial system, he said.

“We are ready to move forward and support the Afghan authorities, including in the form of a new program, as soon as some remaining actions which we have been discussing with them for a number of weeks are undertaken,” according to Ahmed.

An agreement with the IMF on an economic program may make about$125 million available to Afghanistan and signal the fund’s approval of its policies, a condition for some governments that provide assistance. An estimated 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is generated by spending on foreign troops and aid efforts, according to a U.S. Senate report released this month.

Ahmed’s comments came as Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal accused the institution of not wanting to conclude the talks, calling future discussions with the IMF “a waste of my time,” Reuters reported yesterday.

Kabul Bank

The government took over Kabul Bank, the country’s biggest commercial financial institution, in September. Thousands of depositors rushed to withdraw their money last year after learning that Kabul Bank’s owners had lost hundreds of millions of dollars they had lent to themselves.

“The cost of that kind of crisis is large for the budget, it is large in terms of foregone expenditures in other areas, it has reputational consequences for the financial sector and it tends to overshadow the progress that has been made in so many other areas in economic management in Afghanistan,” Ahmed said.

The central bank will seek expressions of interest by next month for the purchase of Kabul Bank, and hopes to sell it by October, central bank Governor Abdul Qadir Fitrat said last month.

“Regarding the costs of Kabul Bank insolvency, a budget allocation is a critical measure going forward to ensure that additional tax revenues are used to begin paying for the costs,” Ahmed said when asked what measures need to be taken.

He declined to confirm whether measures also include a draft law to cut insider lending and bank owners’ powers, saying that the focus has been on ensuring “that the kinds of problems that happened in Kabul Bank do not recur elsewhere in the financial sector.”

Afghan Law

The IMF has called for revisions to the existing “banking law to improve corporate governance” among Afghanistan’s 17 commercial banks, an effort that Afghan officials said the cabinet rejected in January.

The new legislation, drafted last year by the central bank, would bar any shareholder from serving as a bank’s chief executive officer or supervisory board chairman, central bank Governor Fitrat said in a Feb. 26 interview at his office in Kabul.

President Barack Obama has vowed to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by 2014, handing over security duties to Afghan forces that the U.S. is training and equipping.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington atsrastello@bloomberg.net

In Dubai, Pasha tipped off Rana about 26/11

In Dubai, Pasha tipped off Rana about 26/11

PTI

In this photo taken on November 27, 2008, Taj Hotel caught fire during the terror attacks in Mumbai.
PTIIn this photo taken on November 27, 2008, Taj Hotel caught fire during the terror attacks in Mumbai

Tahawwur Rana, cleared by a Chicago court of involvement in Mumbai attacks, knew about the 26/11 plot as he was part of “the inner circle” and was tipped off about the “imminent” strikes by none other than LeT’s Pasha during a meeting in Dubai, according to U.S. prosecutors.

“That the city of Mumbai was under siege was not something that came like a bolt out of the blue to Rana. He knew about it. He knew about it ahead of time. He knew about it because he knew about it from David Headley, and he knew about it because Pasha had tipped him off in Dubai,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Victoria Peters told jurors during closing arguments in Rana’s trial before the Chicago court.

In summer of 2008, Rana was told by his childhood friend Headley, who has confessed to his involvement in the Mumbai strikes, all the details about the attack plan that was going to occur a few months in the future, Ms. Peters said.

“He knows that Lashkar fighters are finalising their plans to take over the city of Mumbai. He knows that Headley’s activities in Mumbai, the things that he’s been doing while using the cover that he has provided, he knows that Headley’s activities are leading to something very, very serious and that it is on the near horizon,” she said, adding that is why Rana is so security-conscious.

When the attacks in Mumbai began, Rana was not surprised, she argued.

“He knew they were coming. He knew from Headley, but he also knew from Pasha. Headley had asked Pasha (also known as Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed) to tell Rana not to stop in Mumbai on Rana’s way back to the United States. In Dubai, Pasha did just that. He gave Rana that warning. You know from Rana’s own words that he knew that the attack in Mumbai was going to happen before it started,” she said.

Under the U.S. laws, the government cannot appeal against the verdict, even though if it disagrees with the verdict of the jury.

The U.S. Government had expressed disappointment at the verdict.

Ms. Peters presented before the court transcripts of a conversation between Rana and Headley in this regard.

Headley: “Did Pasha not say that“? Rana: “Yes.” Headley: “When he mentioned that.” Rana: “What?” Headley: “Pasha had mentioned that in Dubai that this is how …” And Rana says, “That he said to me as well.”

The U.S. attorney said Pasha gave Rana the warning.

“Members of the jury, this exchange between Rana and Headley, this exchange speaks volumes. What does it tell you about Rana that Pasha gave him this warning that the attacks were imminent?

“What it tells you is that Pasha knows that Rana is part of the inner circle. Pasha can trust Rana. Pasha knows that Rana knows. What if Rana weren’t part of this inner circle? What if Rana had absolutely no idea that there was going to be an attack in Mumbai?” she said.

Ms. Peters continued: “Think about that. Wouldn’t you expect Rana, if he didn’t know that this attack was imminent, wouldn’t you expect him after the attack happens and the city of Mumbai is basically held siege by these armed men for three days, wouldn’t you expect him to go to the FBI or the police or somebody and say, ‘Guys, there’s this guy I met in Dubai, Pasha, he told me something really strange before these attacks took place, he told me, don’t go to Mumbai.’”

“If Rana wasn’t playing on the same team, why would Pasha have told him that? Pasha trusts Rana. He knows that Rana is Headley’s trusted friend. So there’s no risk on Pasha’s part. There’s no risk for him to give this warning,” she said.

A bill to settle a terrible debt

A bill to settle a terrible debt

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

This October 21, 2008 photo shows a taxi damaged during a protest by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena supporters in South Mumbai against the arrest of their chief Raj Thackeray for his alleged involvement in the attack on Biharis. File Photo: Vivek Bendre
This October 21, 2008 photo shows a taxi damaged during a protest by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena supporters in South Mumbai against the arrest of their chief Raj Thackeray for his alleged involvement in the attack on Biharis. File Photo: Vivek Bendre

For decades, the victims of communal and targeted violence have been denied protections of law that the rest of us take for granted. It’s time to end this injustice.

In a vibrant and mature democracy, there would be no need to have special laws to prosecute the powerful or protect the weak. If a crime takes place, the law would simply take its course. In a country like ours, however, life is not so simple. Terrible crimes can be committed involving the murder of hundreds and even thousands of people, or the loot of billions of rupees. But the law in India does not take its course. More often than not, it stands still.

If the Lokpal bill represents an effort to get the law to change its course on the crime of corruption, the new draft bill on the prevention of communal and targeted violence is a modest contribution towards ensuring that India’s citizens enjoy the protection of the state regardless of their religion, language or caste.

The draft law framed by the National Advisory Council and released earlier this month for comment and feedback is a huge improvement over the bill originally drawn up by the United Progressive Alliance government in 2005. The earlier version paid lip service to the need for a law to tackle communal violence but made matters worse by giving the authorities greater coercive powers instead of finding ways to eliminate the institutional bias against the minorities, Dalits and adivasis, which lies at the heart of all targeted violence in India.

The November 1984 massacre of Sikhs provides a good illustration of how the institutionalised “riot system” works. Let us start with the victim. She is unable to get the local police to protect the lives of her family members or property. She is unable to file a proper complaint in a police station. Senior police officers, bureaucrats and Ministers, who by now are getting reports from all across the city, State and country, do not act immediately to ensure the targeted minorities are protected. Incendiary language against the victims is freely used. Women who are raped or sexually assaulted get no sympathy or assistance. When the riot victims form makeshift relief camps, the authorities harass them and try to make them leave. The victims have to struggle for years before the authorities finally provide some compensation for the death, injury and destruction they have suffered. As for the perpetrators of the violence, they get away since the police and the government do not gather evidence, conduct no investigation and appoint biased prosecutors, thereby sabotaging the chances of conviction and punishment.

With some modifications here and there, this is the same sickening script which played out in Gujarat in 2002, when Muslims were the targeted group. On a smaller scale, all victims of organised, targeted violence — be they Tamils in Karnataka or Hindi speakers in Maharashtra or Dalits in Haryana and other parts of the country — know from experience and instinct that they cannot automatically count on the local police coming to their help should they be attacked.

If one were to abstract the single most important stylised fact from the Indian “riot system”, it is this: violence occurs and is not immediately controlled because policemen and local administrators refuse to do their duty. It is also evident that they do so because the victims belong to a minority group, precisely the kind of situation the Constituent Assembly had in mind when it wrote Article 15(1) of the Constitution: “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them”.

How are policemen and officials able to get away with violating the Constitution in this manner? Because they know that neither the law nor their superiors will act against them. What we need, thus, is not so much a new law defining new crimes (although that would be useful too) but a law to ensure that the police and bureaucrats and their political masters follow the existing law of the land. In other words, we need a law that punishes them for discriminating against citizens who happen to be minorities. This is what the draft Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011 does.

The CTV bill sets out to protect religious and linguistic minorities in any State in India, as well as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, from targeted violence, including organised violence. Apart from including the usual Indian Penal Code offences, the NAC draft modernises the definition of sexual assault to cover crimes other than rape and elaborates on the crime of hate propaganda already covered by Section 153A of the IPC. Most importantly, it broadens the definition of dereliction of duty — which is already a crime — and, for the first time in India, adds offences by public servants or other superiors for breach of command responsibility. “Where it is shown that continuous widespread or systematic unlawful activity has occurred,” the draft says, “it can be reasonably presumed that the superior in command of the public servant whose duty it was to prevent the commission of communal and targeted violence, failed to exercise supervision … and shall be guilty of the offence of breach of command responsibility.” With 10 years imprisonment prescribed for this offence, superiors will hopefully be deterred from allowing a Delhi 1984 or Gujarat 2002 to happen on their watch.

Another important feature is the dilution of the standard requirement that officials can only be prosecuted with the prior sanction of the government. The CTV bill says no sanction will be required to prosecute officials charged with offences which broadly fall under the category of dereliction of duty. For other offences, sanction to prosecute must be given or denied within 30 days, failing which it is deemed to have been given. Although the bill says the reasons for denial of sanction must be recorded in writing, it should also explicitly say that this denial is open to judicial review.

Another lacuna the bill fills is on compensation for those affected by communal and targeted violence. Today, the relief that victims get is decided by the government on an ad hoc and sometimes discriminatory basis. Section 90 and 102 of the CTV bill rectify this by prescribing an equal entitlement to relief, reparation, restitution and compensation for all persons who suffer physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm as a result of the violence, regardless of whether they belong to a minority group or not. While a review of existing state practice suggests victims who belong to a religious or linguistic ‘majority’ group in a given state do not require special legal crutches to get the police or administration to register and act on their complaints, the CTV bill correctly recognises that they are entitled to the same enhanced and prompt relief as minority victims. The language of these Sections could, however, be strengthened to bring this aspect out more strongly.

The CTV bill also envisages the creation of a National Authority for Communal Harmony, Justice and Reparation. The authority’s role will be to serve as a catalyst for implementation of the new law. Its functions will include receiving and investigating complaints of violence and dereliction of duty, and monitoring the build up of an atmosphere likely to lead to violence. It cannot compel a State government to take action — in deference to the federal nature of law enforcement — but can approach the courts for directions to be given. There will also be State-level authorities, staffed, like the National Authority, by a process the ruling party cannot rig. The monitoring of relief and rehabilitation of victims will be a major part of their responsibilities.

On the negative side of the ledger, the NAC draft makes an unnecessary reference to the power of the Centre and to Article 355 of the Constitution. The aim, presumably, is to remind the Centre of its duties in the event of a State government failing to act against incidents of organised communal or targeted violence. But the Centre already has the statutory right to intervene in such situations; if it doesn’t, the reasons are political rather than legal. The draft also unnecessarily complicates the definition of communal and targeted violence by saying the acts concerned must not only be targeted against a person by virtue of his or her membership of any group but must also “destroy the secular fabric of the nation.” Like the reference to Art. 355, this additional requirement can safely be deleted without diluting what is otherwise a sound law.

The BJP and others who have attacked the bill by raising the bogey of “minority appeasement” have got it completely wrong again. This is a law which does away with the appeasement of corrupt, dishonest and rotten policemen and which ends the discrimination to which India’s religious and linguistic minorities are routinely subjected during incidents of targeted violence. The BJP never tires of talking about what happened to the Sikhs in 1984 when the Congress was in power. Now that a law has finally been framed to make that kind of mass violence more difficult, it must not muddy the water by asking why it covers “only” the minorities. In any case, the Bill’s definition covers Hindus as Hindus in States where they are in a minority (such as Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Nagaland), as linguistic minorities in virtually every State, and as SCs and STs. More importantly, persons from majority communities who suffer in the course of communal and targeted incidents will be entitled to the same relief as minority victims. If someone feels there is any ambiguity about this, the bill’s language can easily be strengthened to clarify this.

At the end of the day, however, we need to be clear about one thing: India needs a law to protect its most vulnerable citizens from mass violence, its minorities. This is a duty no civilised society can wash its hands of.