Posts Tagged ‘Islamists’

Imran Khan’s government caves in to pressure over minority economic adviser

September 7, 2018

Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s government backed down Friday over its controversial decision to appoint a member of a persecuted religious minority as an economic adviser, underscoring the pressure it faces from hardline Islamists.

Atif Mian, an MIT-educated Pakistani-American economics professor at Princeton University, was recently named member of a new economic advisory council.

Pakistan premier Imran Khan’s government backed down Friday over its controversial decision to appoint a member of a persecuted religious minority as an economic adviser. (AFP)

Mian is an Ahmadi, a religious minority which has long been persecuted in deeply conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan, and the announcement sparked swift backlash from Islamist groups.

Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but their beliefs are seen as blasphemous in most mainstream Islamic schools of thought. They are designated non-Muslims in Pakistan’s constitution.

Government officials initially defended the decision, but within days caved to mounting pressure from the religious right.

“The government has decided to withdraw the nomination of Atif Mian from the economic advisory committee,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry wrote on his official Twitter account, saying the government wanted to work with all sections of society, including Islamic clerics.

Blasphemy is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan, and can carry the death penalty.

The state has never executed a blasphemy convict, but mere accusations of insulting Islam have sparked mob lynchings, vigilante murders, and mass protests.

Khan caused concern with his full-throated defense of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws during his election campaign earlier this year, with fears he was mainstreaming extremist thought which could deepen sectarian divides, empower radical groups, and even provoke violence.

Analysts have warned that Pakistan’s economy is the most urgent challenge facing Khan’s new government, as a balance-of-payments crisis looms.

The government has said it will decide by the end of this month if it needs to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.



Xinhua: Pakistan’s finance minister vows to address deficiencies in anti-money laundering system

September 1, 2018

Xinhua states that Pakistan’s Finance Minister Asad Umer said on Friday that the government will address all 27 deficiencies pointed out by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in the country’s anti-money laundering system earlier this year. Addressing to the Senate, the upper house of the country’s parliament, the minister said that the National Executive Committee (NEC) headed by himself will review the action plan so as to handle the deficiencies related to currency smuggling and alleged terror financing by proscribed organizations in Pakistan.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Asad Umar. (FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP)

Addressing to the Senate, the upper house of the country’s parliament, the minister said that the National Executive Committee (NEC) headed by himself will review the action plan so as to handle the deficiencies related to currency smuggling and alleged terror financing by proscribed organizations in Pakistan.

On June 30 this year, the FATF formally put Pakistan in a grey list and identified it as a country with “strategic deficiencies” in its anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime, notifying the steps the country must take to address the shortcomings.

Pakistan made a commitment to the action plan, which it would implement over the next 13 months. Failure to negotiate the action plan could lead Pakistan to the blacklist, the FATF statement said in June.

The deficiencies identified in Pakistani anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regime include inadequate monitoring and regulatory mechanisms, low conviction rate on unlawful transactions, poor implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and cross-border illicit movement of currency by terrorist groups.

The FATF said it would “closely monitor” Pakistan’s efforts to implement its action plan to accomplish the above objectives through legal, regulatory and operational reforms.

Umer told the Senate that a FATF delegation visited Pakistan earlier in August to review the steps taken by Pakistan.

“The government is taking steps to overcome the deficiencies identified by the FATF,” said the minister, adding that Pakistan had reservations about the procedure used for putting Pakistan on the grey list and that there is no chance of any kind of immediate sanctions on Pakistan.

Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army’s Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up

September 1, 2018

The army vowed to address the limitations exposed in Lebanon and Gaza, but is it ready for a ground maneuver deep in enemy territory? ■ Why Nasrallah, an avid Haaretz reader, is worried

A paratrooper brigade training, last year.
A paratrooper brigade training, last year. Eliyahu Hershkowitz

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the members of the IDF General Staff gathered for an evening of “team-building” in the Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv. The General Staff forum, headed by then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, heard to a lecture by Prof. Yoram Yovell titled “Between Body and Soul.”

Later that night, after the generals had all gone home, the IDF received the first report, still vague, about an incident in the West Bank. The picture became clear only the next morning. Three youths, yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, were hitchhiking and were picked up by a car driven by Palestinians masquerading as Israelis. The youths, whose bodies were found weeks later west of Hebron, were murdered by the kidnappers, members of a Hamas cell from Hebron.

>>Will Israel be forced to invade and reoccupy Gaza? | Opinion ■ Photos of 300 fighters in elite pre-state Israeli militia were found, and nobody can identify them ■ Israel’s defense chief takes flak for Gaza talks, but there’s still one area where he holds sway | Analysis

The IDF ended the summer of 2014 with scars to both its flesh and spirit, says one of the participants at the General Staff get-together that evening. “From the minute dozens of those released in the Gilad Shalit deal in the West Bank were rearrested, we were already on the slippery slope.” The worsening tensions with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, mostly concerning the tunnel the group dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, led to the blow-up – Operation Protective Edge – which began in the second week of July and ended this week, four years ago.

Protective Edge exposed the limitations of the army’s capabilities on the ground. This was the last link, for now, in the not very illustrious chain that began with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if not earlier. After the failure and disappointment in Lebanon, the IDF announced widespread steps to fix the problems. The units returned to training much more seriously and reservists received new equipment.

But the change wasn’t deep enough after the war in Lebanon: The ground forces remained way down at the bottom of the list of the IDF’s priorities, while the political leadership remained doubtful about its ability to conduct maneuvers on the ground deep inside enemy lines during a war.

This was quite clear during the three operations the IDF has conducted since then in the Gaza Strip. During Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009, only a symbolic ground action was carried out, whose main goal was to prove to the enemy (and the Israeli public) that the army had rehabilitated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. In the next operation, Pillar of Defense in 2012, large numbers of reserve forces were called up but Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire after only a week of aerial attacks. And in Protective Edge, the IDF’s mission was limited to dealing with the attack tunnels, at a distance of no more than 1.5 kilometers inside the Gaza Strip.

Four years since the end of the last military operation, the doubts remain. What is the real state of the ground forces units? Is there a chance to close the gap between their effectiveness and that of the Air Force, intelligence branch and the technological units? And do the repeated public statements made by the army’s top brass about the necessity of ground maneuvers deep inside enemy territory during wartime have any value?

This debate has become much more important and loaded recently, given the coincidental timing of a number of unrelated events: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term is ending in a few months and the race is on to choose his successor; the harsh criticism leveled by the outgoing IDF ombudsman on the ground forces’ lack of readiness for war; and the ambitious and resource-filled plan “IDF 2030,” whose main principles were presented this month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Are Netanyahu and Eisenkot on same wavelength?

When Eisenkot entered the chief of staff’s office back in February 2015, he found the ground forces in rather bad shape. As someone who had been the deputy chief of staff under Gantz during Protective Edge, it seems he was not surprised. The criticism that only a few individuals in the General Staff dared to express at the end of the fighting in Gaza became almost a consensus a few months later:

Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018.
Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018. Amir Cohen/Reuters

During Protective Edge, the IDF failed in suppressing the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip; the Air Force did not have enough precise intelligence about Hamas targets; the level of preparedness of the various units to carry out their missions, and first and foremost dealing with the tunnels, whose importance increased during the fighting, was too low; and the use of the forces on the ground during the fighting suffered from a lack of creativity.

In a document distributed throughout the military a month after his appointment, in preparation for the composing of the multi-year Gideon plan for the IDF, the new chief of staff wrote: “A deep change is needed in the IDF to carry out its missions.” Eisenkot asserted that the problems in the IDF did not end with questions about the leadership and values, but reflected a much deeper professional crisis within the ground forces. He found an army that had gotten fat in the all the wrong places in the decade after the Second Lebanon War. A large army that was not focused on its principle missions and had not undergone the necessary structural changes.

Gideon included a number of unprecedented changes. Eisenkot’s multi-year plan was not just a long shopping list of inflated requirements. It identified central discrepancies and tried to deal with them, with Eisenkot personally overseeing from up close the pace of implementation of his instructions.

The plan’s focus for the ground forces was on missions needed for a decisive victory on the ground. The updated version of the document on the IDF’s strategy, which was released in April this year, stated: “The operation of the forces will combine the physical and softer capabilities in all dimensions of the war, including: Rapid and lethal maneuvering to the objectives viewed by the enemy as valuable, multi-dimensional fire … and actions in the dimension of information, such as cyber [warfare] and awareness.”

The document differentiates between two approaches to operating the forces: The decisive victory approach and the approach of prevention and influence. As for decisive victory, the document states that during fighting according to this approach: “The military force will be used for attack whose goal is to move the war into the enemy’s territory as quickly as possible.” The IDF will prepare for attack in one or more regions, based on an “immediate and simultaneous integrated strike” that will include a “maneuvering endeavor with crushing capability – survivable, quick, lethal and flexible” alongside “wide-scale precise fire based on high-quality intelligence.”

Eisenkot’s unusual decision to release the document to the public, the first of its kind ever published, reflected an attempt to hold a public dialogue with the government and security cabinet. According to MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Preparedness and Maintenance, Eisenkot is “basically telling them: In 2006 and in 2014, the political and military leadership were completely paralyzed as a result of the fears of the expected casualties in a ground maneuver. The result was that the operation lasted until in the end it was decided on a limited maneuver, which was conducted in an incorrect manner and achieved nothing. Eisenkot’s public message is: I am preparing the ground forces for a quick and lethal maneuver and you will have to decide whether to use it within a short time after war breaks out.”

But the report produced by Shelah’s subcommittee, which was released in September 2017, hinted at disparities between Eisenkot’s vision and its full implementation. The report states that Eisenkot has laid down the correct directions but equipping and building the forces is proceeding at too slow a pace. It seems the subcommittee was referring in part to the scope of the procurement plans for active defense, such as the Trophy armored protection system for tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the large gap between the regular army’s capabilities and that of some of the reserve brigades.

This criticism is all the more acute in light of the debate over future defense budgets. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a request last year for a budgetary supplement of about 13 billion shekels ($3.6 billion), based on changes in the challenges facing the IDF – including the Iranian presence in Syria and the improved accuracy of the missiles in Hezbollah’s hands – along with the Defense Ministry’s new interpretations of previous agreements reached with the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu, in a meeting of the security cabinet held two weeks ago, went even further. The strategic threats require setting the defense budget as a fixed percentage of the GDP, he said. Considering the optimistic economic growth rates he forecasts, about 3 percent a year, Netanyahu wants to add tens of billions of shekels to the defense budget over the next decade. He listed a number of main areas where he thinks money is needed, including precision weaponry, missile and rocket interception systems, both defensive and offensive cyber-warfare tools, completing the construction of the country’s border fences and improving protection for the home front. None of the areas presented by Netanyahu as candidates for increased spending as part of the strategic plan directly concern the ground forces, and large sums were included for implementing these capabilities in the multi-year Gideon plan.

Shelah says that Netanyahu “views the IDF as a boxer in a 15-round fight: Heavy, strong and well protected. This does not correspond with the principle of shortening the period of the fighting, which appears in the IDF’s strategy document. [Netanyahu] did not present a security doctrine, only a shopping list that does not come together in real capabilities. The large amount of money that will be spent on it will prevent the closing of the gaps remaining in the ground forces’ capabilities, and will turn what has already been invested into a white elephant. This is how we may well find ourselves without the ability for decisive victory, not in one way and not in any other way.”

The Gideon plan was designed for a specific direction and even though it was never fully implemented, it aspired to rehabilitate the ground forces. In his recent statements, it seems Netanyahu has made a U-turn: A battle of fire from far away, a great deal more than just maneuvering on the ground. Netanyahu’s ideas are not synchronized with what the General Staff has presented, not in the goals of the war and not in the view of how the military is used: stand-off attacks from a distance as opposed to contact up close.

“Lacking a decision, our view on the question of what we want to achieve in the war and how to do so, we may well invest many billions without them becoming a critical mass that will create a concrete achievement. Netanyahu is talking about tens of billions [of shekels] but every shekel we spend now without deciding first what we want, will be wasted,” warns Shelah.

Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.
Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.Jack Guez/AFP Photo

Pakistan Could Allow Relationship With Iran To Cool While It May Need Closer Ties With U.S.

September 1, 2018

At a time when Pakistan’s newly-elected government is striving to improve its foreign policy stance with the United States and Muslim countries, former ambassadors and analysts suggest exercising caution, especially in enhancing its relationship with Iran.


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Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmoud Quraishi greets his Iranian counterpart Jawad Zarif in Islamabad. Zarif’s visit came days before the expected arrival of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pakistan. (Press Information Department via AFP)

“Pakistan needs to review its foreign policy but it should not antagonize the United States by cozying up to Iran at this critical juncture,” Former ambassador Ayaz Wazir told Arab News.

The debate over the country’s foreign policy hit the refresh button following a two-day visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. The meeting, which concluded on Friday, also stoked a fresh controversy after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi issued a statement supporting Iran on its nuclear deal.

Zarif visited Islamabad just days ahead of a planned visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for high-level talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government.

“Pakistan stands with Iran in this hour of need,” Qureshi said in the backdrop of the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear agreement signed in Vienna, in July 2015, between Tehran and the P5+1.

“With regards to the JCPOA, while supporting Iran’s stance, Mr.Qureshi expressed the hope that the remaining parties to the agreement would uphold their commitments in letter and spirit,” Pakistan’s Foreign Office said.

Wazir, however, said that Pakistan’s improved relationship with Iran is of no use considering the current political climate. “Islamabad cannot increase its trade and economic activities with Tehran due to the United States’ sanctions,” he said. “Also, Iran cannot help Pakistan at any international forum due to its isolation in the international community but other Muslim countries and the US can.”

He added that Pakistan is faced with a looming balance of payment (BoP) crisis and it should look toward friendly Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, to resolve the issue.

Pakistan would require the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank he said, adding that Pompeo has already warned that the US would be closely watching to see whether or not the IMF bails Pakistan out.

Aziz Ahmad Khan, another ex-ambassador, said that Pakistan is not in a position to irk the US at the cost of Iran and should be careful in maintaining its bilateral relationship with the latter.

“The US has withdrawn unilaterally from Iran’s nuclear deal and slapped economic sanctions on it as well. I think this should have been enough for our leadership to keep in mind while promising to stand with Iran,” he told Arab News.

Khan said that Pakistan should improve its bilateral relationship with all neighboring countries including India and Afghanistan for peace in the region. “We should not give an impression to the international community that Pakistan is trying to improve its relationship only with Iran,” he said.

Political analysts and experts of international relations also suggested that the newly-elected government keep international scenarios in mind while reviewing the country’s foreign policy.

“Everybody knows that Donald Trump is fiercely opposed to Iran and his administration will not be pleased if Pakistan tries to stand by Tehran,” Tahir Malik, professor of international relations, told Arab News.

He said that the US is a superpower and has been pushing for Pakistan to cooperate with it to stem the scourge of terrorism from the region, especially Afghanistan. “Our Foreign Office should come up with suggestions to address the US’s concerns instead of further deteriorating the relationship in the name of foreign policy,” he said.

US-Pakistan’s relations remain frosty due to a deep and longstanding trust deficit. But the US has not imposed sanctions on Islamabad and continues to engage with it at a diplomatic level.

Zafar Nawaz Jaspal, an academic and political analyst, said that Pakistan has limited clout in the international community and it is not in a position to defend Iran’s stance on the nuclear deal.

“Pakistan should try to get its house in order first and avoid interfering in matters that could cause its isolation in the international community,” he warned.

Jaspal said that the Pakistani leadership is getting a unique opportunity in the form of Pompeo’s visit next week and should focus on it.

“Pakistan cannot afford confronting the United States for Iran and it should not do this for its own interests,” he said.

Arab News


Ahead of Mike Pompeo visit, Imran Khan says government will not give in to ‘one sided’ demands by US

September 1, 2018

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Friday asserted that his government would not give in to any one-sided demand from the Trump administration, a media report said ahead of a scheduled visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Speaking to a select group of journalists at the Prime Minister House on Friday, Khan reiterated his administration’s policy of promoting bilateral relationship with the United States based on mutual respect, the Express Tribunereported.

File photo of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Reuters

File photo of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Reuters

“We will hold talks with the US administration with dignity and respect,” he was quoted as saying. Pompeo is scheduled to visit Islamabad on 5 September.

The US has long been frustrated with Pakistan’s overt and covert support to the Afghan Taliban and other terror groups, forcing the Trump administration to warn Islamabad and slash military aid to the country.

Khan also said that his government would cancel all agreements which were against the national interests of the country. He, however, did not specify any agreement which the government was thinking to cancel, the Radio Pakistan reported.

The prime minister said Pakistan also seeks peaceful relations with India, Afghanistan and Iran. No formal statement of the meeting was issued but reports in local media showed that Khan took questions from the anchor-persons.

Khan’s media interaction came a day after he visited army headquarters and was briefed about the prevailing security situation. He said media has every right to criticise the government, but it should give the PTI government at least three months before criticising its performance.

Khan promised that three months down the road, there will be a marked difference in the way the country is run. The prime minister said none of his Cabinet members was appointed permanently and could be shuffled on the basis of performance.

Updated Date: Sep 01, 2018 09:10 AM

New Pakistani minister bans ‘vulgar’ movie billboards, critics fear rise of Islamists, moral policing

August 30, 2018

Punjab’s new information minister, Islamist politician Fayaz-ul-Hasan Chohan, has announced a ban on “vulgar” movie billboards in the Pakistani province, angering those who fear the growing influence of hardliners under new Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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A man stands at the ticket counter with film posters at a cinema in Rawalpindi, Pakistan August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood

Since Khan’s party appointed him last week, Chohan has caused a number of rows, including with his visit to the grave of a man sentenced to death for killing the governor of Punjab in 2011, and with critical remarks about Nargis, a popular Pakistani singer and actress.

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Nargis. Facebook photo

“If any vulgar billboard is found at any cinema in Punjab after three days, there will be a fine in first place, and if any one didn’t comply, that cinema will be shut down,” Chohan told a public meeting in the eastern city of Lahore.

“Is there any humanity that you print half-naked women and put them on big billboards?” he said.

Khan’s election victory in July was helped by strong support from Islamist parties. Chohan joined Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Justice Movement from the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.

“It’s pure moral policing,” the left-leaning politician and rights activist Ammar Rashid said on Twitter.

Paris knife attack: Man ‘kills mother and sister’ in suburb street

August 23, 2018

A man has killed two people, reportedly his mother and sister, and wounded a third person on a street in a Paris suburb before being killed by police.

An interior ministry source said the victims were relatives of the man and police were looking into reports it was a family quarrel.

The Islamic State group claimed it was behind the attack but offered no proof.

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Some reports say the man threatened to kill police and shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic).

France has been on constant alert for jihadist terrorist attacks since the Paris attacks of 2015.

French police secure a street after a man killed two persons and injured an other in a knife attack in Trappes, near Paris. (Reuters)

Thursday’s incident occurred in the run-down south-western suburb of Trappes, close to Versailles.

The suburb is known for gang violence and poverty. It also has Islamists among its large Muslim population, with 50 local people suspected of having left France to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, according to security sources quoted by AFP news agency.


Paris knife attack; Islamic State claims responsibility

August 23, 2018

One person has been killed and two others seriously wounded when a man attacked pedestrians with a knife in Paris, French authorities said Thursday. The attacker was killed by police.

BFM-TV reported that the attacker carried  out the stabbings in Trappes, a suburb in western Paris, and sheltered in a house before he was shot by police.

Reuters reported that police “neutralized” the attacker, citing a police source.

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FILE photo

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack on its Aamaq news agency. The claim couldn’t immediately be verified.

There have been a number of high-profile terror attacks in Paris and other locations in France in recent years, many of them claimed by ISIS.


Paris knife attack: One killed, two seriously injured –Man Shouted “Allahu akbar.”

August 23, 2018

A man has killed one person and injured two others in a knife attack in the Paris suburb of Trappes. Local reports said the knife attacker has been shot down by police and killed.

A file photo of the red and white tape used by the French national police to secure a zone from traffic.

One person was killed and two seriously wounded in a knife attack in the Paris suburb of Trappes, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of the French capital.

The knife attacker was then shot down by police and killed, Reuters news agency reported, citing a police source who added that the motive for the attack was under investigation.

Near the wealthy area of Versailles, Trappes, with a population of around 30,000 and part of the French capital’s far suburbs, the area is known for problems linked to poverty and gangs.

More to follow…

ap/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)


One killed in knife attack in Paris suburb — “Allahu akbar.”

August 23, 2018

One person was killed and two seriously wounded in a knife attack in the Paris suburb of Trappes, a police source said.

The knife attacker was then shot down by police and killed, the source said.

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BFM TV said the attacker shouted “Allahu akbar.”

Trappes is an underprivileged town situated in an overall wealthy area west of Paris.


Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Irish