Ban Ki-moon calls for Indo-Pak dialogue to resolve issues

UNITED NATIONS: On the eve of his latest visit to Pakistan, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern over the killing and maiming of people by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

In an interview with correspondents of Dawn and the APP news agency, Mr Ban underscored the need to strictly regulate use of the UAVs. “The UN really and strongly urges that all these UAVs should be strictly regulated and controlled under international law, including international humanitarian law.

“I have expressed concern on many occasions about the loss of life caused by the armed UAVs,” the UN secretary general said.

Without mentioning the United States, Mr Ban said the drones were now expected to be used in accordance with international laws. “The operations of UAVs are now guided and controlled by relevant international laws, including international humanitarian laws. We expect the operating countries… (to follow these) laws.”

Speaking about the agenda of his visit to Pakistan, he said he would urge the country to accelerate its efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goals — in education, poverty eradication and gender equality.

Earlier, a UN statement said he would meet with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to DSS.

“In line with Malala Day last month he will meet with students in Islamabad to discuss efforts to promote and expand quality education for all,” the statement said.

The day was declared in honor of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager campaigning for girls’ education who survived a gunshot to the head from a Taliban extremist in October 2012.

“Also, we really hope to have closer and stronger cooperation, and the role of Pakistan in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan. There are many other issues that I would like to discuss with the Pakistani leadership,” said a statement issued by the UN Secretary General.

POST-2014 AFGHANISTAN: Mr Ban acknowledged that the pullout from Afghanistan of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) by the end of next year would pose a tough challenge not only to the country itself but also to the international community.

“First, the security situation. The ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) should be responsible, on their own, for their security. And since there is a concern (about their capability), I’ve been urging the ISAF member states, including the US, to provide the necessary equipment and resources to help them strengthen their capacity.”

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan also posed a challenge, Mr Ban said. “These elections should be conducted transparently, objectively and credibly. There should be no repetition of what happened in previous elections.”

The UN would be providing assistance to the Afghan government to hold fair elections. “Thirdly, the social and economic development. We should ensure that while more attention has been paid to security and counter-terrorism, the international community should now focus on socio-economic systems, like providing education. Afghanistan should really accelerate its efforts towards the MDGs and gender equality.”

On the issue of terrorism, the UN secretary general said the global community should join hands to stamp out the menace. “Pakistan or any other country cannot fight against terrorism alone. That is why the UN General Assembly conducted a global counter-terrorism strategy in December 2006, by consensus.

“We have established UN counter-terrorism centres. As you might have read the statement by the Saudi king presenting $100 million (for the initiative) — that’s a very generous support. This is a global effort.”

Mr Ban condemned the terrorist attacks taking place in Pakistan lately. “I strongly condemn these heinous terrorist attacks against civilians. This must stop. This must be stopped. “I am going to emphasise and work together with world leaders to strengthen the UN’s and international community’s capacity in fighting terrorism.”

Asked about the recent floods in Pakistan, Mr Ban said: “I am very sorry for all the damages and loss in the recent floods. My message is that the Pakistani government should invest more in disaster risk reduction.

“You may have seen some successful stories in some other countries… (The countries which) were successful in reducing very significantly the number of people affected, and the scope of damages caused by the flooding.

“So I hope that you should invest more (in disaster risk reduction).”

Meanwhile, in an interview given to Pakistani journalists prior to his two-day visit, Moon offered to play role of an arbitrator between India and Pakistan.

The offer from the UN chief came amid tensions have flared again in the heavily militarised Kashmir valley with the nuclear-armed neighbours both pointing the finger at each other.

He expressed the hope that leaders of the two countries would continue to try to resolve the outstanding issues. “I would expect the Indian and Pakistani leadership to continue their dialogue, to create some confidence-building measures.

“There should be confidence built. I was encouraged to see that there was a Kashmiri bus service…. There is some increase in the lines of communications between the leaders. And this may be small, but you can expand this one,” he remarked.

He said the military observers of the United Nations are working to avoid any possible clash between the armed forces of the two countries.

Indian army opens unprovoked fire at Sialkot sector checkpost

SIALKOT: Indian Border Security Forces’ (BSF) personnel Sunday opened unprovoked fire on a Pakistani Rangers’ checkpost in the Sialkot sector.

Pakistan Rangers resorted to retaliatory firing. However, no casualties were reported in the incident.

Following the attack, Rangers called for investigations to be launched.

According to military sources, the exchange of fire continued for a few hours, but no loss of life was reported.

Earlier on August 6, India accused Pakistani troops of involvement over an attack on an army post in the disputed Kashmir region in which five of its soldiers were killed.

The five were killed late Monday night on August 6 at an outpost some 200 kilometres south of Srinagar, Indian officials said.

The Pakistan army however denied responsibility.

The Foreign Office rejected allegations of Pakistan’s involvement as “baseless and unfounded”, saying the country was committed to its ceasefire promises and wanted to resume peace talks with India soon.

Meanwhile, the Directors General Military Operations (DGMOs) of Pakistan and India on August 7 spoke over the hotline on the situation on the LoC, a UN-monitored de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s DGMO Major General Ashfaq Nadeem strongly denied that Pakistani troops were involved in the killing of five Indian soldiers, adding that the accusations levelled against the country’s soldiers were without foundation and utterly baseless, sources said.

Major General Nadeem moreover told his Indian counterpart that Pakistan wholeheartedly respected the ceasefire agreement with India.

On August 8, Pakistani military officials said Indian troops opened fire and seriously wounded a male civilian along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir.

Battle line: Cyberspace

Cyber warfare refers to politically-motivated attacks to conduct espionage and hacking. A form of information warfare, cyber warfare is now considered to be a critical pillar of military operations along with land, sea, air and space.

Nation states that are formally or otherwise in a state of war with each other are often thought to be behind efforts to penetrate each other’s networks and cyber space to cause damage and disruption.
National cyber warfare strategy

Keeping in view the strategic and military importance of cyber security, many countries across the globe including Pakistan are working to make their digital front more secure.

In May 2010, Pentagon set up its new US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), headed by General Keith B. Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA). The aim was to defend American military networks and to strike back in case of a national threat.

Similarly, the European Union has set up ENISA (European Network and Information Security Agency) who are now aiming to significantly expand ENISA’s capabilities in order to safeguard its socio-economic interests in the region.United Kingdom has also set up an operations centre for cyber-security, based in the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

Similarly Pakistan, which has been the victim of cyber attacks by neighbouring India, has been working on an effective cyber security system as well. The program reportedly called “Cyber Secure Pakistan” was launched in April 2013 by the Pakistan Information Security Association, and aims not only to secure military and government spaces but has been expanded to the country’s universities, which are often targeted by Indian hackers.

Cyber warfare methodologies

Unlike other politically-motivated attacks amongst nation states, cyber warfare has greater strategic value to it. These attacks often target civil, military and private institutions, including telecommunication, transport, finance and the energy sector.

Different methodologies are adopted to carry out these attacks. DDoS (Dedicated Denial of Service) attacks are carried out to make a machine or service unavailable for intended users. Although, denial of service attacks are often deemed computer generated, they can target high profile servers like government sites, banks, credit card payment gateways etcetera.

Cutting off electronic installments such as undersea communication cables also comes under the category of cyber attacks.

With the growing dependence on digital infrastructure, network breaches and cyber espionage are the shiny new tools of cyber warfare. Attackers hack into targeted systems by various means and often sabotage and modify industrial infrastructure.

Such methods not only disrupt the digital infrastructure, but also temper with the existing functionalities of the systems and networks. Stuxnet, along with its many variants, is a fine example of espionage and national security sabotage.

Stuxnet, the game changer

In 2010, Iranian nuclear facilities were infected by a unique computer virus, which pushed back the Iranian nuclear program by about three years. Stuxnet, reportedly the first malware with an ability to mask itself over a network, spies on and critically destabilises industrial systems, and is probably the first malware to include a programmable logic controller (PLC) rootkit (such software has a malicious nature, and is designed to hide certain processes from normal detection methods).

Israel and the United States were reportedly behind the cyber attack targeting the Iranian nuclear infrastructure.

Stuxnet computer malware is undeniably a work of genius, and once you learn about its functionality, you can start picturing the atmosphere of the next generation’s cyber warfare capabilities. The malware spread indiscriminately into the Iranian nuclear facilities network, but included a specialised malware payload that was designed to target specifically Siemens supervisory control and data acquisition systems (aka SCADA). These industrial systems monitor and control high-valued industrial processes.

Spread initially via USB, the malware took over the network by working silently in the background without being detected by normal processes. Stuxnet in this case was programmed to target SCADA configurations that met specific criteria; once the criterion was met it changed the rotational frequency of the attached motors, hence disrupting industrial equipment and causing heavy losses. Although there was no official statement from any side, in May 2011, Gary Samore, White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, in his television interview exclaimed,

“We’re glad they [the Iranians] are having trouble with their centrifuge machine and that we – the US and its allies – are doing everything we can to make sure that we complicate matters for them.”

Similarly, according to The Daily Telegraph, at the retirement party for the chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Gabi Ashkenazi, references to Stuxnet were made, as one of the operational successes of the retiring IDF chief of staff.

Stuxnet, along with its various variants, does exist in the black market and will remain a threat to all countries that are running critical industrial facilities of a similar nature.

Pakistan vs. India

Pakistan and India are often in conflict with each other over the disputed territory of Kashmir, among many other issues. Cyber attacks are the latest way to dismantle each country’s infrastructure and operations. There are two such notable cases, where India and Pakistan meddled in serious cyberspace conflicts, initiated back in the late 90’s. Initially the cyber attacks started to show their face in 1999, at a time when India and Pakistan were engaged in the Kargil conflict.

Historical facts indicate that hackers from both countries have been repeatedly involved in attacking private and government websites. The number of attacks has considerably grown with the passage of time. In 2010, at least 36 Pakistani government database websites were hacked by a group who go by the name of “Indian Cyber Army”.

The official website of the Election Commission of Pakistan was attacked in 2013 by the same group in an attempt to retrieve sensitive database information. In response, Pakistani hackers, also known as “True Cyber Army”, hacked and defaced around 1,059 websites of Indian election bodies.

In a similar incident in December 2010, a group of Pakistani hackers attacked and took down the website of India’s top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). This was also in response to the attack by Indian hackers who attacked websites belonging to the Pakistani Army and government websites including Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Pakistan Computer Bureau, Council of Islamic Ideology etcetera.

Cyber war in the Middle East

Similar to the situation on ground, the actors of the Palestinian crisis are often found clashing in the virtual world. In late 2000, Israeli hackers launched a DDoS attack on the websites of both Hezbollah and Hamas. In retaliation, Palestinian hackers chocked down the access to several Israeli websites. Interestingly, in 2007 Israel carried out an airstrike on Syria. The fighter planes managed to enter the Syrian airspace undetected. This security breach is considered as a cyber attack targeting Syrian radar and air defence network.

China vs. USA

Along with the conventional enemies that engage each other on various fronts, China is considered to be a strategic enemy by many nations including the United States. Both countries view each other as a cyber threat and equip their hackers with the latest tools to deal with a possible cyber attack. This virtual cold war is evident from the fact that top American websites are unwelcome in China, including Facebook and Google. China even has its own version of Twitter.

The Internet, along with other technological advancements has proven to be a great medium of learning and global unity, where netizens, irrespective of their nationality, work hand in hand for the progress of technology, art, medicine and economy. It’s about time that stakeholders of the Internet develop a consensus to keep the internet free and secure from politically-motivated attacks by any state or individual actors.

US conducted ‘intensive counselling’ during LoC crisis

Victoria Nuland—Reuters Photo

WASHINGTON: The United States was involved in “intensive counselling” during the recent crisis along the Line of Control, urging both India and Pakistan to revive direct talks, says the State Department.

Last month relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated rapidly after clashes along the LoC left several soldiers dead.

The Indian media highlighted a report claiming that Pakistani forces had decapitated an Indian soldier but later some Indian newspapers reported that Indian troops too had decapitated Pakistani soldiers.

Last week, Pakistan also submitted a report to the United Nations, detailing how Indians had disfigured Pakistani soldiers in the LoC clashes.

However, relations between the two countries have improved since, with both sides restoring people-to-people contacts and cross-border trade.

Asked if the United States had played a role in reducing tensions between India and Pakistan during this crisis, State Department’s spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that it had, through US ambassadors in both Delhi and Islamabad.

The two ambassadors, she said, had been “intensively counselling direct dialogue. And we’re very gratified that that was restarted.”

India-Pakistan truce takes hold in Kashmir

line-of-control-Reut-670

SRINAGAR: A ceasefire took hold on Thursday in disputed Kashmir after the Indian and Pakistani armies agreed to halt deadly cross-border firing that had threatened to unravel a fragile peace process.

As the Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar appealed for talks with her Indian counterpart to help defuse tensions, senior officers reported that calm had returned to the region after a spike in violence in which five soldiers were killed.

“No fresh incidents of firing or violation of the ceasefire agreement have been reported from the Line of Control,” Rajesh Kalia, the spokesman for the Indian army’s Northern Command, told AFP.

Pakistan says three of its soldiers have been killed in firing by Indian troops since January 6 along the de facto border known as the Line of Control.

India in turn has accused Pakistani troops of killing two of its soldiers on January 8, one of whom was beheaded.

But with Pakistan denying responsibility for the attack and the head still to be returned, officials in New Delhi had struck an increasingly hardline tone towards Islamabad.

The army chief told commanders to respond “aggressively” to any Pakistani firing, the prime minister said there could be no “business as usual” while an opposition leader called for India “get at least 10 heads from the other side”.

Speaking on Tuesday while on a trip to New York, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar accused India of “warmongering” and its officials of competing against each other to sound more hostile.

But after senior army officers sealed an agreement on Wednesday to “de-escalate” the tensions, Khar said she would like to have talks with her Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid to end the dispute.

“Unfortunately this LoC incident has obviously created questions, but we still believe that dialogue must be the means to resolve this or any issue,” Khar said at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

“We will be open to a discussion, a dialogue, at the level of the foreign ministers to be able to resolve the issue of cross-LoC incidents and to re-commit ourselves to the respect for the ceasefire.”

The agreement to end the cross-border firing was reached during a 10-minute phone call on Wednesday between two senior generals, India’s Vinod Bhatia and Pakistan’s Ashfaq Nadeem.

“An understanding has been arrived at between the two director-generals of military operations to de-escalate the situation along the Line of Control,” Indian army spokesman Jagdeep Dahiya told AFP.

The Pakistani military confirmed the telephone conversation, saying in a statement that “both sides agreed on the need to reduce tension on the LoC”.

With the Indian army itching to avenge the beheading, there had been growing signs that a peace process that is only just getting back on track after the 2008 Mumbai attacks could become a victim of the Kashmir flare-up.

On Tuesday India was meant to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival in the western border state of Punjab but the programme has been put on hold indefinitely.

Nine Pakistani players were also withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home.

Some commentators have accused the mild-mannered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government of “caving in” to hardliners.

“Over the past few days, as an increasingly jingoistic clamour has been worked up in television studios and outside, the government has passed up every opportunity to underline the imperative of keeping the bilateral dialogue process separate,” said an editorial in Thursday’s Indian Express.

An editorial in Pakistan’s English-language newspaper The News praised Khar for her assessment that India was engaged in “warmongering” but counselled for cool heads to prevail.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir.

A ceasefire, which is periodically violated by both sides, has been in place along the Line of Control since 2003.

Khar calls for talks with India on Kashmir clashes

NEW YORK: Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Wednesday called for talks with her Indian counterpart to ease tensions over deadly clashes in the disputed Kashmir region.

The minister said in New York that 10 days of fighting over the unofficial border had “created questions” about relations but added that Pakistan was “open” to dialogue between foreign ministers to end the dispute.

Khar spoke as India’s military said it had reached an “understanding” with Pakistan to “de-escalate” tensions in Kashmir, which has been the cause of two of the three wars between the neighbors since 1947.

Pakistan says three of its troops have died in three incidents since January 6. India says two of its soldiers have been killed, one of them beheaded, in hostilities along the Line of Control (LOC) frontier in the Himalayan region.

Khar, who on Tuesday accused India of “warmongering,” was again critical of “very hostile, negative statements” made by Indian leaders in recent days. She added that there had been a “glaring difference” in the reactions of the two governments.

“Unfortunately this LOC incident has obviously created questions, but we still believe that dialogue must be the means to resolve this or any issue,” Khar said at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

“We will be open to a discussion, a dialogue, at the level of the foreign ministers to be able to resolve the issue of cross-LOC incidents and to re-commit ourselves to the respect for the ceasefire.” Khar added that “Pakistan is fully committed” to a Kashmir ceasefire agreed to in 2003.

The minister told the meeting that the Pakistan government had faced a “backlash” at home to its attempts to improve relations over the past four years.

She added that there are groups on both sides who do not want a peace process. “They will always encourage you to go hard on the rhetoric and ratchet up the tension. Some people find it in their interests. We don’t, so we must not fall prey to that,” Khar said.

“I hope that this will pass,” the minister said, adding that she was still “relatively positive” about prospects for relations between the two countries.

Khar calls on UN to fight terrorism together

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan’s foreign minister is calling on the international community to come together to quash terrorism, days after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a billiard hall bombing in her country that killed 86 people.    

Hina Rabbani Khar told the UN Security Council Tuesday that terrorism is a universal threat that can only be combatted through collective action.

”Terrorists’ misleading, distorted and malicious narrative and their demented ideology that justifies killing of innocent people must be quashed by the international community, by the UN Security Council.

It is our responsibility to counter terrorist propaganda. Our stories about human dignity and values should be louder than their criminal sagas,” Khar said at the opening of a debate on the threat of terrorism to international peace, which she chaired.