Indian Minister: Beef eaters go to Pakistan

May 22, 2015

In comments set to embarrass the Narendra Modi government days before it completes a year in office, Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Thursday said “those who cannot survive without eating beef, should go to Pakistan.”

Naqvi, who is the Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs, was responding to India Today Group consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai when asked what his government was doing to assure minorities that the government was concerned about their welfare.

“If a certain section is dying because they can’t sell or eat beef then this is not the country for them. Let them go to Pakistan or an Arab nation,” Naqvi said.

On being asked to clarify if he’s asking people who trade and eat beef all over the country, specially in North East states, Goa and Kerala to leave the country, Naqvi said: “I am just saying that beef will not be allowed in this country if you can’t live without it.”

Also present at the panel was AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi who immediately questioned the minister if he was indeed asking his Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar to leave the country after he had assured Goans that beef would not be banned come what may.

“As the CM, I have to take care of all people in the state including its 38 per cent minorities. Christians account for 30 per cent of the population while the remaining are from the Muslim community. It is not like they started consuming beef recently; this has always been part of their daily cuisine. How can I ban it?… as the CM of Goa, I can state that Goa will never ban beef,” Parsekar had told Indian Express days after Maharashtra banned beef consumption in the state.

But Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asserted that the government will work towards a complete ban. “Cow slaughter cannot be allowed in this country,” Singh said in March this year, adding “we will use all our might to ban it. We will try to build a consensus.” Interestingly, India is the second largest exporter of beef and the fifth biggest consumer.

Last month, BJP president Amit Shah was welcomed in Meghalaya with a beef party in protest against the party’s supposed to move to enforce a complete ban on beef across the nation.

Leaders of the Thma U Rangli Juki, the Hynniewtrep National People’s Front (HNPF) and the Khasi National Union (KNU) organised the beef party near the BJP office in Shillong as Shah arrived to address party workers and to hold meeting with regional political parties.

Soon after the protest, BJP leader Ram Madhav said there was no proposal to ban beef in the North East given its ‘demographic structure’. “In some states, ban on cow slaughter has been there for several decades now. In a number of states, it is not there, including all the states of the northeast, because of the demographic situation here,” Madhav said.

area148.com

Saudi Arabia plans to build a giant hotel

May 22, 2015

In additi­on to 10,000 rooms, it will featur­e 70 restau­rants and multip­le helipa­ds

The Abraj Kudai according to the design plan. PHOTO COURTESY: Dar al Handasah

The Abraj Kudai according to the design plan. PHOTO COURTESY: Dar al Handasah

Saudi Arabia has unveiled its plan to build the world’s largest hotel, The Abraj Kudai in the holy city of Makkah by 2017.

With twelve 44-storey tall towers and with 10,000 rooms, the hotel, which is being created by multi-national design group Dar al-Handasah will have a total area of 4.6 million square feet.

PHOTO COURTESY: Dar al Handasah

According to reports, work has already begun on the project which will cost an estimated £2.25billion.

“With a total site area of approximately 60,000 square meters and total built-up area of around 1.4 million square meters, the project is a residential and commercial complex which consists of a large podium topped by 12 towers accommodating several elements such as a podium housing a bus station, a shopping mall, a convention center and car parks, states Dar al Handasah on its website. Its interiors will be designed by London-based Areen Hospitality design practice.

In addition to 10,000 rooms, it will feature 70 restaurants. Its multiple helipads will be entirely devoted to royalty and have one of the largest domes in the world.

The towers will also offer related services for pilgrims. Many of the world’s largest hotels are currently situated in Las Vegas, where until the Abraj Kudai opens, the Venetian and The Palazzo is the world’s largest hotel.

PHOTO COURTESY: ALAMY

With 4,049 suites and 4,059 rooms, the hotel is 36 stories and is 475 feet high.

ZoneAsia-Pk

6 Year Old Pakistani Becomes the Youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the World

May 22, 2015

Humza Shahzad sat the Microsoft Office Specialist exam, which is usually taken by adults who specialize in word processing and spreadsheets, and managed to pass it with flying colors. In order to clear the exam, Microsoft Certification requires a candidate to score 700 points. Humza scored a total of 757 points on the exam, which he took at the Microsoft Institute in London, thereby exceeding the required score by a notable margin.

Originally from Lahore, Humza moved to the UK with his family in 2011. His teachers find him to be a keen observer with a research oriented approach to his academics. He spends a lot of time on his computer, but unlike most boys his age, he isn’t just interested in computer games.

Humza scored a total of 757 points, which was higher than the minimum 700 points required to pass the exam. 

Being an IT consultant, his father sought to channel Humza’s keen interest in computers towards the grooming of his computing skills. He was merely two years-old at the time when he was given a smartphone. Six months later, he had his very own laptop, which he learned to operate with the help of his parents.

Slowly yet steadily, he familiarized himself with the Windows operating system and its various applications. Although, according to his father, equipping Humza with the necessary skills for the exam wasn’t easy, and the process took many months of preparation and research.

The Microsoft Certified Professional certification covers a range of Microsoft Technologies, including Windows installation, configuration, network management. The test validates IT professional and developer technical expertise through rigorous, industry-proven, and industry-recognized exams. What sets Humza apart from other Microsoft Certified Professionals is his specialization in Microsoft Office Suite.

The test validates IT professional and developer technical expertise through rigorous, industry-proven and industry-recognized exams.

According to Microsoft, the candidates for this exam are required to be familiar with primary MS Office Suite features, and to be able to demonstrate their understanding of the various applications of MS Office, which include editing large word documents, creating reports, making tables and multi- column newsletters.

The exposure to computers at an early age and the right guidance from his parents set Humza on a path that ultimately earned him the milestone. His future plans include launching a Silicon Valley-like global center for technology in the UK.

Pro Pakistani

Taliban in Tehran

May 21, 2015

It is a moot point whether Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar took the initiative to depute a high-level delegation to travel to Tehran, or whether the visit that began on Sunday was at the initiative of the Iranian government.

The Taliban claim the latter is the case. Indeed, the Iranian media made no effort to keep the presence of the Taliban in Tehran under wraps. On the contrary, they “broke” the story.

But the salience is that the Taliban delegation wouldn’t have gone on such a mission without the prior knowledge and/or concurrence of Pakistan. Which transforms the bilateral event – Taliban say their intention is to “revitalize” ties with Iran – into a development of significance in regional politics.

Pakistan’s Minister of States and Frontier Affairs Abdul Qadir Baloch also happened to be visiting Tehran early this week. According to Iranian media, Baloch’s talks in Tehran focused on the need for Iran-Pakistan “mutual cooperation in the campaign against terrorism.”

His Iranian interlocutor, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, was quoted as saying, “Both countries believe that security issues in the region should be dealt with by the regional countries and we should seriously confront terrorism, drug trafficking and fight against the outlaws.”

Clearly, the activities of the terrorist group Jundullah based in the Af-Pak region would have been uppermost on Fazli’s mind. As recently as in early April, eight Iranian border guards were killed in a terrorist attack in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif who visited Pakistan following the terrorist strike in April had highlighted border security in his talks in Islamabad and made the unusual gesture of calling on Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif at the GHQ in Rawalpindi. Baloch’s current visit to Tehran could be a follow-up.

At the ground level, Taliban make a useful interlocutor for Iranian security agencies who keep track of the Jundullah in the fastness of Afghanistan. The Jundullah is known to have kept ties with the “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan.

Iran’s relations with the Taliban have been tense over the years since they attacked the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997 and killed several Iranian diplomats. However, today the circumstances have dramatically changed. New factors come into play.

First, Iran and the Taliban are finding themselves more or less on the same page (although for very different reasons) as regards their hostility toward the Islamic State (IS). Ideologically, IS subscribes to Salafi Tukfirism, which is an extreme form of Sunni Wahhabism (state religion in Saudi Arabia), while the Taliban are rooted in Deobandism.

Taliban would regard the IS as an existential threat. The fact of the matter is that the IS casts a spell on some Taliban factions, especially among Pakistani Taliban, and there have been recent cases of defection to the IS by Taliban commanders – Sayed Emarati and Maulavi Najib in the southeastern Logar and Wardak provinces and Maulavi Qahar in Kunar province.

A variety of factors – criminality, avarice, political differences, etc. – prompt disgruntled Taliban elements to flock to the IS and such defection might even be sponsored extra-regional powers interested in undercutting Mullah Omar down to size.

What complicates matters for Mullah Omar would be that unlike al-Qaeda, which had notionally pledged allegiance and entered into a pragmatic relationship with him, IS expects him and his followers to be abjectly subservient.

In a report recently, U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty featured a lengthy analysis entitled “Afghan Taliban Scrambling With the Rise of Islamic State.” To quote from the report:

“The hard-line (Taliban) insurgent movement sees losing its fighters and commanders to IS as a strategic threat to its very survival in the long term. The massive IS financial resources and appeal of its ascendency make many Afghan Taliban fighters vulnerable to recruitment.

“In addition, after fighting the Afghan and international forces for 13 years, the Afghan Taliban are at a crossroads over whether to make peace or continue fighting. Some Taliban insiders say agreeing to a peace settlement will cause fractions within the Taliban ranks. Those willing to continue the fight because of ideology or war-profiteering would eventually join IS.”

It is entirely conceivable that a point may come when Mullah Omar would have difficulty in asserting his dominance over other Afghan and trans-national militant groups operating in Af-Pak region. In fact, this could already be happening. Under the rubric of Taliban, various militant groups and “foreign fighters” seem to be spearheading the current offensive in the northern province of Kunduz.

Kabul says 12,000 troops have been deployed in the Kunduz frontline, but the foreign fighters and allied groups calling themselves “Taliban” are holding their position even after fortnight-long fighting in the Imam Sahib district on the shores of the Panj River on the Afghan-Tajikistan border, and are bent on breaking through to Central Asia.

The alarm bells are ringing in Moscow and the Central Asian capitals and contingents drawn from the Collective Security Treaty Organization began exercises in Tajikistan last week involving more than 2,500 troops and 20 combat aircraft.

Suffice it to say, if a thin line separated the war in Afghanistan from the geopolitics of the region, that line has today got further blurred, what with the ascendancy of the IS. The AfPak region has had a strange history since the eighties of Islamist groups acting as the tools of outside powers.

The point is, for a variety of reasons, Iran would have reason to rethink its approach to the (Afghan) Taliban at some point.

From the Taliban perspective, Tehran’s uncompromising opposition to the IS – and its interpretation that the IS is a creation of Saudi Arabia – becomes a point of great interest. Interestingly, Taliban have condemned the death sentence given by the Egyptian authorities to the deposed president Mohammed Morsi, a stance that would annoy Riyadh.

Thus, it is entirely conceivable that in the overall situation, Iran would develop a dialogue with the Taliban, which would only help to harmonize its overall approach with Pakistan and China’s. Significantly, a Taliban delegation hopes to pay a visit to China shortly.

Islamabad would encourage the development of such ties as they mesh with Pakistan’s regional strategies too.

First and foremost, it isolates India further and would probably help smother the Indian proposal to build a new transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia via the Iranian port of Chabahar.

An Indian presence in Chabahar would be anathema to Pakistan because of the port’s proximity to Gwadar, which is only 80 miles way to the east, where Pakistan is building a major naval base in collaboration with China.

Indeed, Iranians themselves would be careful not to tread on Pakistani sensitivities by allowing a big Indian presence at Chabahar at a juncture when Islamabad’s refusal, in deference to Iran’s concerns, to accede to the Saudi request (made at the level of King Salman) to participate in the military campaign in Yemen would merit a reciprocal gesture by Tehran.

Secondly, Pakistan hopes to push through a gas pipeline from Iran with Chinese participation. Iran is interested in extending the pipeline to China as well. As things stand, there is a good possibility of the gas pipeline project becoming a major regional segment of China’s “Belt and Road Initiatives”.

Enter Taliban. It is against this complex regional backdrop that a rapprochment between the Taliban and Iran, promoted by Pakistan, is taking place. Put differently, it could be seen as yet another sign of a re-alignment in regional politics, involving Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and China. A point that cannot be lost sight of here is that the United States stands excluded from it.

tacstrat.com

Pakistan Tech Industry stronger than ever – 20 reasons

May 21, 2015

Amidst all the chaos nowadays, let’s forget everything for a moment and tell the world that Pakistan’s IT industry is flourishing and a great deal of impressive work is going on in our country. Let’s take a look at some facts and achievements of the Pakistan’s technology industry in the recent years.

1. Pakistan has more than 2500 registered IT organizations in the country with more than 20,000 kick-ass computer science majors entering the market every year.1

2. Pakistan’s share of global IT sales is $2.8 billion, out of which $1.6 billion accounts for the country’s exports of software and IT-enabled services.

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3. One of the world’s best payment processing solutions providers i2c resides right here in Pakistan. Convo, the hot favorite social network for work, is based out of Pakistan. Eyedeus Labs, previously featured at CNN, are working on a groundbreaking video based technology to disrupt the way we interact with ads.

3rd

4. FireEye.Inc, a network security company owned by a Pakistani Ashar Aziz, is valued at 6.5 Billion US Dollars.

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5. Pakistan has more than 25 tech incubators, accelerators, and co-working spacesin total.5

6. We have strong-headed individuals like Umar Saif, Kalsoom Lakhani, Khurram Zafar, Jehan Ara, Maryam Mohiuddin, Faisal Khan and many more, who are changing the Entrepreneurship landscape in the country and beyond. Plus, you should read this.

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7. Systems Limited and NetSol, the premier software houses in Pakistan are adding a tremendous value for economic growth of the country and they have offices around the globe.

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8. Civic Hackathons, Startups Weekends, Startup Expos, Digital Youth Summits like events are producing the next generation of entrepreneurs and startups in Pakistan.

9. In Rafay Baloch we have one of the best security researcher in Pakistan.

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10. Karachi Stock Exchange was ranked 2nd best stock exchange in the world last year.

11. Numerous Pakistani startups and entrepreneurs have proved their mettle over and over again internationally. The latest addition to the achievements gained by such individuals and companies were honored at the recently-held APICTA 2014 event in Jakarta, where Pakistani startups competing for different categories won 2 Gold and 3 Silver awards.

Apicta

12. We have some great gaming studios in Pakistan, the title animation sequence of Game of Thrones, the world’s most-watched TV series these days, has been produced by Hameed Shaukat, a US-born Pakistani, Cricket Companion app which received world-wide recognition was also developed by Mindstorm Studios.

mindstorm

13. Pakistani Visual Effects Artist, Mir Zafar Ali has received three Oscar awards for his work in The Golden Compass, Life of Pi and Frozen. Plus, Namira Salim was the first Pakistani woman to travel to space on the world’s first commercial space flight, Virgin Galactic. Novaira Masood, the software engineer, has provided stunning visual effects in some of the most popular Hollywood movies, Maleficient, A Christmas Carol, Mars needs Moms, Thor, Transformers 3 and Jack the Giant Slayer.

Oscar

14. Remote Interview, a young Pakistani Startup, which helps in remotely interviewing the tech talent, has achieved 120% growth in the client base with 50% of total corporate clients are based in the United States.

Remote-Interview

15. Pakistan has the 3rd biggest army of Freelancers on freelancers.com and 5th biggest on UpWork.com, and 4th ranking overall and you should read this.

upwork

16. We have the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional and the one of the Youngest Innovator of the world. You would definitely want to read this.

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17. This recent startup report tells us that Pakistan is one of the hottest regions for startups right now.

Featured

18. A company based in Karachi makes apps for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (that’s NASA, mind you), for the space giant’s mobile platform.

19. JawBone, Hosain Rahman who has roots in Pakistan, owns this Silicon Valley startup, which has been creating consumer technology and wearable devices for the past 16 years, was valued at $3 billion last year. Another Pakistani owned Silicon Valley startup, Swaggable will value at $20 million this November.

Jawbone

20. We have TechJuice which is supporting, promoting and highlighting the tech industry of Pakistan. (Shameless self-promotion intended!) Like us on Facebookand Follow us on Twitter.

For Pakistan

Malaysia’s change of heart regarding Rohingya

May 21, 2015

A day after migrants recounted being turned away from Malaysian waters at gunpoint, Malaysia’s Prime Minister says he has ordered the navy to conduct urgent search and rescue operations to save others stuck on boats in the Strait of Malacca.

In a tweet on Thursday, Prime Minister Najib Razak said: “I have further ordered [the Royal Malaysian Navy] and APMM to conduct search and rescue efforts on Rohingya boats. We have to prevent loss of life.”

His request came after Malaysia and Indonesia issued a statement on Wednesday saying they would “continue to provide humanitarian assistance to those 7,000 irregular migrants still at sea”, and offer them temporary shelter.

That agreement, however, came with conditions.

The Southeast Asian nations requested financial assistance from the international community and said that the migrants must be resettled and repatriated by the international community within a year.

The statement was issued just hours after about 400 migrants were rescued by local fishermen in the Strait of Malacca, off Indonesia’s Aceh province, after their stricken boat was reportedly turned away numerous times from the Thai and Malaysian coasts by authorities.

Sick and weak

Witnesses in Aceh said that many of the rescued migrants were in tears when they made it to land, with many very sick and weak.

Migrants told Al Jazeera they had been sent away by the Thai navy on three occasions and Malaysian authorities twice.

The second time they were rebuffed by Malaysian authorities, they say they were held at gunpoint and told that their ship would be sunk if they did not turn around.

“They received supplies from Thai navy but were sent back and forth between Thailand and Malaysia before they were finally rescued in Indonesia,” said Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen.

Thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been attempting to travel across the Malacca Strait to live in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Myanmar Deputy Foreign Minister Thant Kyaw indicated his country would likely join regional talks in Bangkok next week.

“We all have to sit down and we all have to consider how to tackle this problem together,” he told reporters in Bangkok after meeting his Thai counterpart.


RELATED: Philippines may open doors to Rohingya migrants


US deputy secretary of state Antony Blinken told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday that the US provide aid to Southeast Asian nations tackling the crisis.

“We’re in conversation and discussion with all of the relevant governments – including here in Indonesia – about other concrete ways that we can help to share some of these burdens, because Indonesia in taking in so many people is assuming a big burden,” he said.

“And we’re looking at very practical ways in how we can help them assume that burden.”

Offering a very different solution, Gambia said in a statement on Wednesday that it would take in all Rohingya migrants as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims flooding Southeast Asia to escape oppression.

USA takes the lead in helping Rohingya

May 21, 2015

The United States is willing to take in Rohingya refugees as part of international efforts to cope with Southeast Asia’s stranded boat people, the State Department said Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said early Thursday Thailand time that the US is prepared to take a leading role in any multicountry effort, organized by the United Nations refugee agency, to resettle the most vulnerable refugees.

In the past three weeks, more than 3,000 people – Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar and Bangladeshis trying to escape poverty – have landed in overcrowded boats on the shores of various Southeast Asian countries. Aid groups say thousands more are stranded at sea after human smugglers abandoned their boats because of a crackdown by authorities.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand have been reluctant to let the Rohingya in and have turned boats full of hungry, thirsty people away, because they fear a flood of unwanted migrants. But on Wednesday, they relented.

Ms Harf welcomed the governments’ decision “to uphold their responsibilities under international law and provide humanitarian assistance and shelter to 7,000 vulnerable migrants.” The US would consider requests from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organization for Migration for funds to help receive and screen refugees as they come to shore.

Ms Harf said that since last Oct 1, the US has resettled more than 1,000 Rohingya.

“I think the Malaysians and the Indonesians have requested some help resettling people. We’re taking a careful look at the proposal,” the spokeswoman told reporters in Washington. “It has to be a multicountry effort. We obviously can’t take this all on ourselves. But we are prepared to play a leading role in this effort.”

Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will visit Myanmar on Thursday and urge it to cooperate with Bangladesh to help migrants who are adrift. Ms said he would call for Myanmar to improve conditions inside the country for Rohingya.

“The only sustainable solution to the problem is changing the conditions that let them put their lives at risk at the first place,” Mr Blinken, the second-ranking US diplomat, told reporters in Indonesia.

At least 120,000 minority Muslim Rohingya have fled sectarian violence and apartheid-like conditions in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar in the past three years. Myanmar officials refer to the group as “Bengalis” and insist they have immigrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though most have lived in the country for generations.

area148.com

The all seeing Mr Snowden

May 20, 2015

For an international fugitive hiding out in Russia from American espionage charges, Edward J. Snowden gets around.

May has been another month of virtual globe-hopping for Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, with video appearances so far at Princeton and in a “distinguished speakers” series at Stanford and at conferences in Norway and Australia. Before the month is out, he is scheduled to speak by video to audiences in Italy, and also in Ecuador, where there will be a screening of “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-winning documentary about him.

But there have been far more consequential victories for Mr. Snowden’s cause two years after he flew from Hawaii to Hong Kong carrying laptops loaded with N.S.A. secrets.

Two weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled that the first N.S.A. program he disclosed, which collects the phone call records of millions of Americans, is illegal. Last week, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to transform the program by keeping the bulk phone records out of government hands, a change President Obama has endorsed and the Senate is now debating. And Apple and Google have angered the F.B.I. by stepping up encryption, including on smartphones, to scramble communications and protect customers from the kind of government surveillance Mr. Snowden exposed.

The fallout has been deeply satisfying to Mr. Snowden, who at first feared that his revelations might be ignored, said Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Unionlawyer who represents him. But the debate about Mr. Snowden is far from over.

“His life is very, very rich and full,” Mr. Wizner said, eager to refute predictions by Mr. Snowden’s critics in 2013 that he would end up in bitter obscurity in Russia. “What a remarkable public citizen he’s become. How fitting that he has been able to use technology to defeat exile and participate in the debate he started.”

American intelligence officials tell a different story about the saga that began on May 20, 2013, the day Mr. Snowden flew to Hong Kong. Mr. Snowden’s decision to leak hundreds of thousands of highly classified N.S.A. documents to selected reporters still prompts fury from many in the Obama administration, who say his revelations taught terrorists and other adversaries how to dodge the agency’s eavesdropping. They note that his disclosures, some of which were printed in The New York Times, went far beyond the phone records collection, touching on many programs that target foreign countries and do not involve Americans’ privacy.

“The only debate we’re really having in the U.S. is about the very first document that Snowden produced,” said Stewart A. Baker, a former N.S.A. general counsel and outspoken critic of the leaks, referring to the secret court order authorizing the phone records program. “The rest of the documents have been used as a kind of intelligence porn for the rest of the world — ‘Oooh, look at what N.S.A. is doing.’ ”

In a new memoir, Michael J. Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the C.I.A., expresses the dark view of many intelligence veterans, even blaming Mr. Snowden’s leaks for empowering the Islamic State extremist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“ISIS was one of the terrorist groups that learned from Snowden, and it is clear his actions played a role in the rise of ISIS,” Mr. Morell writes in “The Great War of Our Time,” offering no elaboration. “In short, Snowden has made the United States and our allies considerably less safe. I do not say this lightly: Americans may well die at the hands of terrorists because of Edward Snowden’s actions.”

Given such assessments, prosecutors have shown no inclination to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain he would accept. The Russian government granted him a three-year residency last summer, and he has no obvious prospect of leaving any time soon. Even if Mr. Snowden acquired some kind of travel documents — the United States has revoked his passport and he is not a citizen of Russia, so he has no Russian passport — he would face a high risk of arrest in any other country and a return to the United States for trial.

Some Russian commentators have remarked on the paradox of Mr. Snowden’s calls for liberty and privacy from President Vladimir V. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian country.

“All these months he’s been pretending successfully he was not in Russia, but just somewhere, in some limbo,” Andrei Soldatov, a journalist who runs an investigative website covering Russian intelligence, said in an email. Mr. Snowden has found asylum, he added, “in a country which is on a crusade against Internet freedoms.”

Mr. Snowden’s main source of income, his lawyer said, is speaking fees, which have sometimes exceeded $10,000 for an appearance. His American girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, who represented him at the Academy Awards ceremony in February, has joined him in Moscow.

But Mr. Snowden’s standing, if complicated, is still a far cry from what it was after he first went public from Hong Kong in June 2013 as the source of the leaked N.S.A. archive. In Congress and on cable television at that time, there was much talk of treason, suggestions that Mr. Snowden must be an agent of Russia or China and even calls for killing him with a drone strike.

To date, there has been no evidence that Mr. Snowden took the N.S.A. data on behalf of any other country or shared it except with journalists. (Mr. Morell, the former C.I.A. official, says he believes that Mr. Snowden would have rebuffed any offers from Russia or China, “given his mind-set and his clear dislike for intelligence services of any stripe.”)

And he has proved a far more lasting draw than many predicted. His gaunt visage, with the shaggy haircut, stylish glasses and thin beard, has appeared on T-shirts and posters worldwide.

He was edged out by Pope Francis as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2013, and a campaign on Facebook and by Norwegian politicians to put him forward for the Nobel Peace Prize fell short. But he has given a hip, young face to the abstract anxiety shared by many people in the United States and beyond about the menace posed by government snooping when it is fully empowered by technology.

At Princeton this month, the director of the university’s program in law and public affairs, Kim Lane Scheppele, introduced Mr. Snowden to a crowd that filled a large auditorium and two overflow rooms. She acknowledged that it was unusual for a program on law to feature as speaker someone facing serious criminal charges.

“But the very size of this audience today,” she said, “indicates that Edward Snowden has done something very important, by disclosing information that alerted the public to what was being done in our name.”

Then the huge, projected image of Mr. Snowden himself loomed over the stage. He laughed sheepishly, muttering about looking like Big Brother.

The next week, he spoke to the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen, Norway, a day after the court ruled against the N.S.A.’s phone data program. “This being struck down is really a radical sea change in the level of resistance that the United States government has faced thus far,” Mr. Snowden said, clearly excited. He predicted a ripple effect far beyond that program, saying, “It will affect every other mass surveillance program in the United States going forward.”

Last Friday, at Stanford, he fielded the inevitable question: Is he a hero or a traitor?

“It’s not about me,” he insisted. “It’s about us. I’m not a hero. I’m not a traitor. I’m an ordinary American like anyone else in the room.”

But he was not in that room in California, and he spoke a little wistfully about that.

“If the opportunity was presented, I would of course come home,” he said. “Because that’s where I live. That’s where my family is.”

www.zoneasia-pk.com

Extremists shake up Bangladesh

May 20, 2015

By S. Binodkumar Singh
AREA 14/8

On May 12, 2015, Ananta Bijoy Das (32), a progressive writer, blogger, editor of science fiction magazine Jukti, and an organizer of Gonojagoron Mancha (People’s Resurgence Platform), was hacked to death, using machetes, by four assailants at Subidbazar Bankolapara residential area of Sylhet city, for writing against religious fundamentalism. Within hours of the murder, a Twitterusername “Ansar Bangla 8”, an apparent reference to Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT, Volunteer of Allah Bangla Team), a militant outfit, expressed their delight and claimed responsibility for killing the blogger. The same page, Ansar Bangla 8, later Tweeted: “Al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent (AQIS) is taking responsibility of killing Ananta Bijoy.” AQIS, in another message posted on justpaste.itdeclared: “We want to say to atheist bloggers! We don’t forget and we will not forget others who insult our beloved Prophet Muhammad and Allah. Another file closed! Stay tuned for next target.”

On the same day, Police Headquarters sent a letter to the Home Ministry suggesting a ban on ABT, citing its involvement in multiple attacks on secular bloggers and writers. If banned, ABT would be the sixth such organization to be outlawed for terrorist and anti-state activities in the country. The other five are: Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) and Shahadat-e Al-Hikma (SAH).

Earlier, on March 30, 2015, another blogger and online activist Oyasiqur Rahman Babu (27) had been hacked to death in broad daylight in Dhaka city for his allegedly atheist views. On April 1, 2015, Detective Branch’s (DB) Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam at a press briefing disclosed “Zikrullah and Ariful, who were caught by locals immediately after the murder, are the active members of radical ABT.” The killers, Zikrullah (22), a student of Hathajari Madrasa in Chittagong District and Ariful Islam (22), a student of Darul Ulum Madrasa in Dhaka city, also confessed to the Police during preliminary interrogation that they had killed Rahman Babu for his writings against Islam.

On February 26, 2015, Bangladesh-born American citizen blogger Avijit Roy (42), the founder of theMukta-mona.com blog, had been hacked to death in Dhaka city. His wife Rafida Ahmed Banna was also injured seriously in the attack. In a video posted on May 2, 2015, on the Jihadist Media Forums of Jihad Intel (presented by the Middle East Forum, which promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats), AQIS claimed responsibility for Avijit Roy’s murder. On May 4, 2015, however, Detective Branch (DB) Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam asserted, “ABT organized the killing mission”. In fact, ABT had owned up to the attack soon after the Roy killing, declaring, “Anti-Islamic blogger US-Bengali citizen Avijit Roy is assassinated in capital Dhaka due to his crime against Islam.”

In 2013, ABT had issued a list of 84 “atheist bloggers” on the grounds that “All of them are enemy of the Islam (sic).” ABT operatives skilled in information technology were managing fake Facebookpages and using accounts to hunt down “atheists” so that its armed cadres could attack them. Of the 84 atheist bloggers named in the list, nine, have been killed so far (till May 17, 2015). In addition to the three already mentioned, the other six who have been killed include Jagatjyoti Talukder, on March 2, 2014; Mamun Hossain, on January 12, 2014; Ziauddin Zakaria Babu, on December 11, 2013; Arif Hossain Dwip, on April 9, 2013; Ahmed Rajib Haider, on February 15, 2013; and Jafar Munshi, on February 14, 2013.

ABT first hit headlines in Bangladesh with the assassination of anti-Islamist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, an architect and an activist of the Shahbag Movement, which began on February 5, 2013, in Dhaka city, demanding capital punishment for Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) leader Abdul Quader Mollah for War Crimes. The movement later spread to other parts of Bangladesh and became known as the Gonojagoron Mancha in Dhaka city. Five students, enrolled at North South University, a private university in Dhaka city, were arrested on March 2, 2013, in connection with the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider. In their confessions, they mentioned ABT’s ‘spiritual leader’ Mufti Jasimuddin Rahmani as the instigator for the ‘blogger’ murder. Later, Police arrested Mufti Rahmani, along with 30 of his followers, while they were holding a meeting at a house in Khajurtola on the outskirts of Barguna Town on August 12, 2013.

Using Ansar al Mujahideen English Forum (AAMEF), an al Qaeda affiliated website, ABT started advocating armed jihad towards the end of 2012. Militants belonging to some other pro-al Qaeda groups, such as JMB and HuJI-B, which had come under extraordinary pressure from authorities and had lost much of their top leadership, started joining ABT in the due course, inspired by Rahmani’s sermons. It is useful to recall that, after assuming power on January 6, 2009, the Sheikh Hasina Government took strong measures against Islamist outfits, primarily the JMB and HuJI-B, considerably weakening these.

ABT’s main base in Dhaka city, Markajul Ulum Islamia, became a rallying point for all Islamist militants, including JMB and HuJI-B cadres, primarily because ABT succeeded in filling up the vacuum created due to the waning prowess of these groups. ABT is now estimated to have over 5,000 militant followers committed to carrying out armed jihad in the country.

ABT is distinguished from better known Islamist extremist groups in Bangladesh by its propaganda and indoctrination capabilities. ABT projects its doctrine of jihad through 117 web pages, includingFacebook and Twitter handles, and various blogs. In addition to its own activities, ABT has been circulating statements and activities of global Islamist networks like al Qaeda through its web media. ABT was, in fact, the first to translate the Bangladesh-related parts of al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahri’s statements into Bangla, and to upload them on its various social media sites. Utilizing its strong presence in cyberspace, ABT has been able to locate and radicalize elements on the vulnerable fringes of Bangladeshi youth.

The potential for ABT inspired violence is significant. On January 6, 2015, the fugitive ABT cleric Tamim al-Adnani, in an 11-minute video statement released on You Tube, called upon the Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the student wing of JeI, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, to sever ties with Begum Khaleda Zia, the Chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and instead break jails to free JeI leaders indicted for War Crimes. In a daring operation on April 21, 2015, 10 ABT terrorists robbed a branch of the Bangladesh Commerce Bank Limited (BCBL) in Ashulia District. The incident left eight people dead, including the Bank Manager and one of the robbers, and another 24 injured. On May 5, 2015, one of the suspected robbers, Muhamad Jasim Uddin alias Asad (22) was arrested from Doulatpur town in Manikganj District, and claimed that the motive behind their robbery to fund ABT operations. Bangladesh Taka (BTK) 700,000 was looted in the heist.

Remarkably, on December 16, 2014, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) personnel arrested two ABT cadres along with drone making equipment, from Dhaka city’s Jatrabari area. The next day, Masudur Rahman, Deputy Commissioner of DMP disclosed, “In primary investigation, they confessed that they were making plan to capture photos of key Government infrastructures by the device in order to launch attacks on those.” Further, Sheikh Nazmul Alam, Detective Branch Deputy Commissioner of Police added, on April 3, 2015, that, together with aggressive members of JMB, ABT was planning to create a new outfit, Al-Jamah, to commit ‘silent killings’ using sleeper cells. Detectives learned about the plan to form the new outfit from two ABT cadres arrested on March 30, 2015, in connection with the murder of blogger Oyasiqur Rahman Babu.

ABT is the first terrorist outfit to use sleeper cells in Bangladesh to insulate its top leadership from field operations. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Abul Kalam Azad, Director (Intelligence) of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), disclosed on April 5, 2015, that as many as 100 ABT sleeper cells were operating across the country, including the capital city Dhaka. The cells, each comprising three to seven people, were tasked to carry out assassinations of “anti-Islamists” across the country.

The emergence of ABT demonstrates the speed with which violent extremists adapt to even to the most extraordinary pressures and changes in the security environment. Despite the country’s extraordinary success against terrorists and Islamist extremists, Bangladesh will need to continue with its efforts to suppress rapidly transforming threats, building greater counterterrorism capabilities to continue with the effective implementation of its zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism. Pakistani terrorist formations and the Inter-Services Intelligence continue to seek opportunities to restore their networks, linkages and influence in Bangladesh, even as global Islamist terrorist formations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State seek recruits and operational capabilities on the country’s soil. At the same time, a range of international organizations, prominently including HuT, International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), Lajnat-al-Birr-al-Islam (Benevolence International Foundation, BIF) and Al Rajhi Bank are bringing enormous resources into the country to promote Islamist radicalization. New technologies also lend themselves to a discontinuous escalation of the threat. The processes of Islamist entrenchment have been ongoing for decades in Bangladesh, before the Sheikh Hasina Government began to act with determination against the extremists. While leaderships of extant groups have come under pressure, hundreds of thousands who have undergone various degrees of radicalization remain in the country as a potential pool of recruitment for violent mobilization, and in Bangladesh’s unstable political environment, it is difficult to predict what could trigger a new cycle of escalating terrorism. The only defence is constant vigilance and unwavering action to nip every extremist manifestation in the bud.

Pak-Afghan Intelligence cooperation pact

May 19, 2015

In a path-breaking deal Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan intelligence outfit National Directorate of Security (NDS) have signed an accord for cooperation, which is aimed at bolstering fight against terrorism.

The first-of-its-kind deal between the two intelligence agencies followed a landmark visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI Chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar to Kabul last Tuesday during which the Pakistan government denounced Taliban and said that future violence by the militant group would be treated as terrorism.

The agreement signed in Kabul some time last week was officially announced only by the ISPR, which besides being the public affairs wing of armed forces also speaks on behalf of the ISI, after Pakistani media outlets came to know about it because of its criticism by Afghan parliamentarians in a debate in Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of Afghan parliament).

Read: Don’t destabilise Afghanistan, PM warns Taliban

In a late-night tweet, now the ISPR chief’s usual mode for releasing news, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said: “MoU signed by ISI and NDS includes intelligence sharing, complementary and coordinated intel operations on respective sides.”

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Ajmal Abidy, was quoted by Afghanistan’s ToloNews, as saying: “The focus of this agreement is mostly on jointly fighting terrorism.”


Agreement for complementary and coordinated operations signed in Kabul with NDS


The ToloNews quoted the Karzai government officials as saying that no such agreement existed in the past.

Under the agreement, the two intelligence agencies would cooperate in counter-terrorism operations. An essential element of the accord is a provision for joint probe of the terrorism suspects. The ISI would also equip the NDS and train its personnel.

The deal reflects growing cooperation between the two countries after years of mistrust. The bilateral acrimony was mostly due to a rivalry between the two intelligence agencies.

A government official said that the signing of the agreement represented the new-found trust between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly between their security and intelligence establishments.

The signing of the ISI-NDS agreement is the latest in a series of steps that Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken since the installation of the National Unity government in Kabul for moving past their bitter past.

It all started with President Ashraf Ghani’s extraordinary visit to the GHQ during his first visit to Pakistan after assuming the presidency.

The two countries later went on to cooperate in ways not known before following the tragic Dec 16 Peshawar school massacre which left over 140 schoolchildren and school staff members dead. Troops from both countries also conducted coordinated operations along the border. But, the most significant development was the arrival of the first batch of Afghan cadets for training in Pakistan’s Military Academy early this year.

The presence of Afghan defence forces chief Gen Sher Muhammad Karimi at the passing-out parade at the PMA as the chief guest only served to reinforce the impression that the defence cooperation was growing in an unmatched manner.

Notwithstanding the cooperation at the official level, mistrust lingers on among Afghanistan’s general public and political circles because of Islamabad’s past relations with Taliban and its failure to convince their leaders to join the peace process.

Spike in violence in Afghanistan following the start of Taliban’s Spring Offensive had fuelled doubts about Pakistan’s cooperation.

Criticism of the deal in Afghan parliament was also because of this scepticism about Islamabad’s sincerity in countering Taliban.

An unnamed Pakistan government official, while speaking to the VOA, dismissed those blaming Pakistan for the rise of Taliban attacks as “detractors” in Afghanistan who have long opposed an improved bilateral relationship.

The official said: “There is an improved atmosphere between the two countries with all things being done in a very transparent manner and sharing of information.” He added that if there is something happening from within Afghanistan “they (Afghans) need to take stock of those things and put them right”.

For Pakistan


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