November 21, 2017

Pakistan refuses to allow free use of yuan for CPEC projects

By PTI | Nov 21, 2017, 07.25 PM IST

Pakistan has refused to allow free use of the Chinese yuan on the lines of the US dollar in the country as officials from the two nations met to decide on a long-term developmental plan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The meeting of senior officials from Pakistan and China yesterday decided to formally move ahead despite hurdles and finance at least three special economic/industrial zones (SEZs) and some important rail, electricity and road projects.

The Dawn reported quoting a senior government official that Pakistan was not ready to allow the Chinese yuan (renminbi) for free use in Gwadar or its treatment on a par with the US dollar in the country and this was disappointing for the visiting Chinese officials.

He said the use of yuan for common use in any part of Pakistan or exchangeable like dollar has to be on a reciprocal basis.

The official also said the issue would be discussed again for some kind of institutional arrangement at the CPEC Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting today to be co-chaired by Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who is also minister for planning and development reforms, and Wang Xiaotao, vice chairman of National Development and Reforms Commission (NDRC) of China.

The official said the USD 3.5 billion Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project was also unlikely to be cleared for inclusion in the CPEC at this stage because of some unsettled issues between the two countries. The project is likely to be dropped for now.

Informed sources said the two sides appeared to have settled issues relating to $8.5 billion Karachi-Lahore- Peshawar Railway Line.

The discussions were positive and the two sides are also expected to sign agreements on actively promoted power projects.

They also agreed to include road projects such as the much-talked-about western route between Gwadar, Nawabshah, Zhob-D I Khan-Hakla under CPEC besides Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Gilgit-Baltistan

Pakistan Army owns $50 billion stakes in fifty conglomerates: Report

Army Welfare Trust (AWT), Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation and Bahria Foundation are the additional four subsidiary entities involved in economic activities whom the top military brass directly controls

By News Desk -

November 21, 2017


LAHORE:  The army exercises control over fifty conglomerates said to be worth $50 billion stretching from banks, industrial plants, universities, milk dairies, stud farms, cement plants, bakeries etc.

The powerful military owns stakes in various prized sectors, but it’s shining asset is the eight housing societies it owns in several towns across Pakistan. Army officers are entitled to receiving prime lands in these housing societies at discounted rates, reported Quartz India.

Military awards are also conferred to army personnel linked with grant of farm lands and housing plots. This process of giving lands to army personnel was initiated during General Ayub’s regime in the 1960’s and was consolidated later by General Zia during the mid-1970’s.

General Zia-ul-Haq initiated practice of involving serving armed forces officers by giving military lands and cantonments for commercial venture purposes to regional corps commanders. This resulted in many senior army officers purchasing several plots at ‘throwaway rates’ in various cantonments.

The process of acquiring these prime lands resulted in corruption amongst the civil bureaucracy and the military. The army officers started to assert and increase their influence by setting up various foundations for assisting retired military personnel and infiltrated into the heart of the country’s economy.

It thrust the military into become a mainstream business stakeholder in country’s economy and spread its wings at three levels with Ministry of Defence (MoD) being the foremost of its economic powerhouse.

Department of military land and cantonments (MLC), Fauji Foundation, Rangers are directly controlled by MoD. All these three services also have their own welfare foundations. It also holds stakes in public-sector entities like National Logistics Cell (NLC), Frontier Works Organization (FWO) and Special Communications Organization (SCO).

MOD isn’t directly managing economic activities of these entities under its influence, but is a tool for deploying resources, provide legal status to such several commercial ventures and subsidiaries which are permitted to operate independently.

Army Welfare Trust (AWT), Fauji Foundation, Shaheen Foundation and Bahria Foundation are the additional four subsidiary entities involved in economic activities whom the top military brass directly controls.

All these above-mentioned entities are run by retired army officers and profits amassed from them are shared with shareholders who are also retired military personnel. It ranges from commercial ventures such as cement manufacturing, cereal production, banking entities, education, universities aside airport services, shipping & harbor services etc.

Ministry of Defence has played a critical part in obtaining public sector business contracts, financial and industrial inputs at discounted rates too

November 20, 2017

Balochistan: One Province, Five Actors, Multiple Issues

🌐🌐 🌐🌐🌐🌐🌐🌐

The contemporary problem within Balochistan has to be viewed outside tribal insurgency and the Sardars. One could count five actors; some of them are old and others are recent. Some are losing ground, and others are gaining. Some are bulldozed by the State; others, being silently supported.

✔*The first actor – the Sardars*, are the oldest and is fast fading within Balochistan. Known for their leadership during the British period and immediately after the partition, the new generation was certainly looking at the Sardar as a political actor. No more. The middle-class Baloch are expanding; as there are more Baloch ventures outside the province, *one should expect a further decline in Sardar’s hold over the society.*

✔*Second actor – the Baloch militant* – is also facing a tough environment. The Establishment has successfully flattened the militant movement with its heavy use of force, with or no care for human rights. The State is using violence against the Baloch militants as a primary strategy. _Given the domestic and external support, or the lack of it, Baloch militancy has little future._

✔The third actor – is the new one within Balochistan – the sectarian militants, with their base in Punjab*. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its affiliates have been making inroads within Balochistan that is lesser known for sectarian violence. Now, Quetta has become a sectarian ground, especially for the militants to go after the Hazara community. Since 2012, one could trace an increase in attacks against the Hazaras in Balochistan. And also on the Shia pilgrims on their way to or from Iran. The perpetrators are not locals.

✔*The fourth actor is the Taliban* – both the Afghan and Pakistani. Since the days of Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban has shifted it headquarters to Quetta – thereby the name – the Quetta Shura. While the Quetta Shura has been concentrating more on Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban has been expanding its activities into Balochistan as well. Some of the recent attacks on the State include high profile suicide attacks on police officers and the para-militaries.

*✔Finally*, the latest entrant – the ISIS. Though the ISIS is not as powerful as the other actors, it is trying to establish a base.  It has claimed few recent attacks in Balochistan, including the suicide bombing of Sufi shrine in the province

November 19, 2017

Balochistan is a strategic center of gravity in South Asia

Balochistan is a strategic center of gravity in South Asia

by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD November 19, 2017

It seems like all the players in the South Asian power game think Balochistan, Pakistan's southwest province on the Arabian Sea, is important - except the United States.

For the sake of argument, imagine that Balochistan reverts to its previous condition as an independent and secular state before it was forcibly incorporated into Pakistan or, more simply, is a blank space on the map.

Here are a few things that would change.

-        The single most important Taliban safe haven, training and support infrastructure would be eliminated, isolating the Taliban's Peshawar Shura and the Haqqani Network to be dismantled piecemeal.

-        Afghanistan would have a reliable route to the sea and no longer be subjected to Pakistan's economic stranglehold.

-        An embryonic transnational terrorist epicenter containing the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extremist Wahhabi groups would be prevented.

-        The flow of opium and heroin originating in Afghanistan, which fuels the Taliban, other insurgent elements and the world's illicit drug market, would be disrupted.

-        Chinese regional hegemony as represented by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the related construction of Chinese military bases on the Arabian Sea would be thwarted.

-        Iranian infiltration and military action in Balochistan to counter groups supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabian would be halted and reduce the likelihood of another Syria-like crisis.

-        An independent and secular Balochistan would drive a stake into the heart of Pakistan's Islamization policy and its reliance on Islamic terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy.

Two questions arise from those speculations.

Why is the U.S. still fighting a war in Afghanistan under rules of engagement determined by Pakistan?

Why is the U.S. not exploiting opportunities to influence the strategic conditions in South Asia that might favorable affect the outcome in Afghanistan and future American influence in the region?

The ugly truth is that, lacking any new ideas or alternative approaches, the counterinsurgency and nation-building program in Afghanistan remains on automatic pilot, where everyone is being reassured that everything is going according to plan and that "progress is being made."

Within the military bureaucracy, the tendency to give and accept happy talk is pervasive. Negative views can only be expressed as whispers in private conversations. Public criticism is suicide and, contrary to popular belief, changing the system from within is at best serendipity or at worst urban myth. In a system highly resistant to change, innovative thinking can be a risky proposition.

Military careerism fosters the development of political correctness, a finely-tuned sense of risk aversion, and a laissez-faire attitude toward demonstrable progress, where the appearance, rather than the substance of success, is a satisfactory outcome. The longer you are in such an environment, the more the bureaucracy can shape your thinking and behavior. You become a stakeholder in maintaining the status quo.

Current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is not designed to win, but not to lose, until a graceful exit can be achieved.  Even if a long-term presence could be sustained, it is not a viable strategy when Pakistan determines what is sustainable.

The time is long overdue to take a serious, comprehensive look at the manner in which the war in Afghanistan is being conducted, whether the continued and exclusive pursuit of a yet unsuccessful 16-year-old strategy is, in actuality, suppressing our options and setting us up for future failure.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of "Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution ". He receives email at

Quote of the day: On Baloch Nawabs and Sardars

On Baloch Sardars, Nawabs' AKA Feudal lords

Just like Jinnah was secular, our feudal lords are guerrilla leaders. All fake. For example Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri never behaved nor claimed to be a guerrilla leader. Marris did produce some fine guerrilla leaders like Sher Mohammad and Mir Hazar Khan Ramkhani and scores of less popular. This business of feudal lords posing as guerrilla leaders started after the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti.
If indeed they are guerrilla leaders their rightful place is the mountains of Balochistan not the posh mansions of the West.They are playing Russian roulette by staying in the West and calling themselves Sarmachars in Chief and belittling the contributions of others in the West.

Ahmar Mastikhan



China place conditions including ownership of the mega project. BNF appreciate China’s decision in this regard.

Pakistan Water Resources Secretary Shumail Khawaja said that Pakistan decided to take the dam project off the table, just before the 7th Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) meeting with China, which was scheduled for November 21st in Islamabad. Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) Chairman Muzamil Hussain said the Chinese conditions were about taking ownership of the project.

It should be noted that BNF had also written letters to World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other world organizations about the Diamar-Bhasha dam, which is the sole property of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The administration of Pakistan has no legitimacy over Gilgit-Baltistan neither at international level nor at Pakistan level. Gilgit-Baltistan is UN recognized disputed region and Pakistan’s own constitution as well as its Supreme Court do recognize the disputed nature of this part of the world. It is the success of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan whose land had been snatched by Pakistani occupation regime, by force. The people of Diamer and particularly Chilas must feel happy for this success, because their protests and sacrifices against this dam project gained fruits. Pakistani occupation regime tried to oppress the struggle by firing at the peaceful demonstrators in Chilas and killing them.

BNF had demanded that the ownership of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan must be recognized before the international community, the administrative and financial matters of this Diamer-Bhasha dam must be given to the owners (Diamer and rest Gilgit-Baltistan) and free electricity should be given to Gilgit- Baltistan.


The people of Balawaristan (Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan) should understand that it is only Pakistan which does not recognizes their right of ownership over their lands including the area of Diamar-Basha dam, not any other country. It is Pakistan which snatched their right of self-determination in the UNCIP, by limiting them to vote either to Pakistan or India not for their freedom. As per UNCIP resolutions of 5th January 1949 and 28th April 1949 Gilgit-Baltistan and rest of Jammu & Kashmir can vote either to Pakistan or India.

It must be clear to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan that Pakistan has increased its forces thousand fold after 28th April 1949 instead of fulfilling its UNCIP obligations to withdraw its civilians and forces from Gilgit-Baltistan within 3 months.

It is Pakistan which has abolished the indigenous Rajgi system and replaced it by imposing its own citizens, changed the demography by sending more and more its own citizens besides Chinese and Afghans, by violating State Subject Rule of 1927.

It is good news that the people of PoGB (Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan) have also realised that Pakistan’s occupation has increased the atrocities and made them irrelevant in their own Fatherland/Motherland. It is Pakistan which demands self-determination for Indian side of J&K by giving reference of UNCIP resolutions, but denied the same to the people of  its own occupied PoGB (Pakistan occupied Gilgit Baltistan) and PoJK (Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir). It is time to rise against the Pakistan’s occupation of the lands of PoGB in the name of CPEC, without giving the right of ownership to the indigenous people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

BNF demands that the lands which had been snatched forcefully by Pakistani forces must be returned to their owners. BNF also demands that Pakistan must refund all the direct and indirect taxes plundered from this land on behalf of this disputed land.  BNF also demands international community and UN to force Pakistan to free the political prisoners  of BNF and others who have been put behind bars by framing them on terrorism and sedition charges. BNF also demands that UNHRC must send its fact-finding mission to UN recognized Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan(PoGB) where these political leaders are facing prosecution after being severely tortured by Pakistani occupied administration, in the absence of free and impartial Judiciary.  BNF also demands that a Constitutional Assembly must be allowed to establish under the control of the UN after completely withdrawing Pakistani forces and its civilian terrorists, who have entered this region by violating UNCIP resolutions.

Abdul Hamid Khan


Balawaristan National Front (BNF)

Balochistan: Elitist Sardars (feudals) loosing support

⚫ “These elitist sardars are losing public support in Balochistan, which has made them nervous. The gathering reeks of their anxiousness to regain lost relevance in Balochistan’s politics and society” Anwar Kakar

⚫ “The BRP and all other groups meeting in Geneva have two faces. All of these so-called political parties have their militant wings engaged in violence and terrorist activities in Balochistan. These wings are involved in killing of innocent citizens especially labourers from Punjab and other provinces. The IEDs installed by these groups in different parts of Balochistan have led to the killing of many innocent citizens including women and children. These sardars quest for power and resources has turned them into hardcore terrorists,”

⚫ “At the moment, the middle-class Baloch fighting on the ground have stolen the thunder of these big sardars. This is the reason why they now want to take charge of the narrative from the non-elite terrorist groups like the one led by Dr. Allah Nazar.”

November 18, 2017

China will decide when the Afghanistan war ends

by LAWRENCE SELLIN, PHD November 18, 2017

It is simply a matter of reverse engineering. If you get to the Taliban through Pakistan and you get to Pakistan through China, then clearly, Beijing is in the driver's seat. Pakistan merely holds the valve that regulates the Taliban and the supply of our troops.

The conflict will end in a whimper, a political settlement whose main purpose is to provide a graceful exit that politely delays the announcement of a Taliban victory and a humiliating defeat for the U.S. and NATO, all choreographed by China, who will then set up shop as the dominant regional power.

China's strategy is based on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative, which aims to connect Asia through land-based and maritime economic zones. CPEC is an infrastructure project, the backbone of which is a transportation network connecting China to the Pakistani seaports of Gwadar in Balochistan Province and Karachi in Sindh province, both located on the Arabian Sea.

Control of Afghanistan via its proxy Pakistan will allow China to complete transportation corridors, power grids and oil and gas pipelines throughout Central and South Asia. China can then begin to exploit Afghanistan's estimated $3 trillion in untapped mineral resources, in addition to Balochistan's $1 trillion in gold, copper, oil, precious stones, coal, chromite and natural gas.

CPEC calls for the influx of up to 500,000 Chinese professionals into Gwadar for port and naval facility development as well as expansion of the international airport to handle heavy cargo flights. The Chinese have visited and bought land in Sonmiani, which houses Pakistan's spaceport and space research center as well as a planned liquid natural gas terminal. In addition, Balochistan's Arabian Sea coast will become dotted with Chinese military bases, from which Beijing will dominate the vital sea lanes leading to the Persian Gulf and provide a link to the Chinese base in Djibouti at the entrance of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, both strategic choke points.

Breitbart News Executive Chairman and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon warned recently that America's attention needs to be focused on China, or it will be left behind in the communist country's wake.

Bannon stated that China would become the dominant global power if that country achieved five things in the coming years and the U.S. did not thwart them:

1.      The rollout of fifth generation mobile technology - known as "5G."

2.      The expansion of the One Belt One Road Initiative - a transport system to go through central Asia and connect China to the Middle East.

3.      Plan 2025 - 10 industries the Chinese have aimed to dominate by 2025. Bannon described the Chinese as "way ahead." Bannon said three of those are silicon chips, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

4.      Conversion of all oil transactions into Chinese currency, which he said will end America as a reserve currency and force the U.S. to start paying off the 20 trillion debt.

5.      Financial technology. Bannon said the true piece of leverage with North Korea is the ability to decouple countries from the world's financial system, sanction companies, and shut banks off from capital markets. He predicted that in 5-10 years that ability is gone.

The continued presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan remains an obstacle to China's regional ambitions (Bannon's item #2), which are both economic and military.

The United States and NATO have been expending huge quantities of blood and treasure to create a stable and democratic Afghanistan, free from transnational Islamic extremists and as a "useful platform for the regional counterterrorist effort," so claims retired Gen. David Petraeus, although he doesn't use the word "Islamic."

Never mind that the "useful platform" has been unable for over sixteen years to counter the terrorists operating freely from safe havens just across the border in Pakistan or that the transnational terrorists that struck on 9/11 originated from outside of Afghanistan, that is, Pakistanis and Arabs.

Compared to 2001, there are now a far greater number of terrorist epicenters from which strikes can be made against the U.S. or its NATO allies, not the least of which are Islamic terrorists inside western societies linked to those epicenters.

Current U.S. Afghanistan policy can profit from a healthy injection of realpolitik.

The U.S. has actually more to gain by leveraging instability and thwarting Chinese ambitions in South Asia than by continuing the expensive and exhausting tasks of counterinsurgency and nation building in Afghanistan from which we will accrue a diminishing number of strategic benefits.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired colonel with 29 years of service in the US Army Reserve and a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq. Colonel Sellin is the author of "Restoring the Republic: Arguments for a Second American Revolution ". He receives email at

Read more: Family Security Matters 

November 17, 2017

The Convoluted Arguments Underlying U.S. Afghanistan Strategy



Retired Colonel, U.S. Army Reserve

3:29 PM 11/17/2017

In a brief four minutes during a June 2017 PBS interview, retired Gen. David Petraeus, unconsciously revealed just how convoluted the thinking behind U.S. strategy in Afghanistan truly is.

Petraeus said, “We need to recognize that we went there for a reason and we stayed for a reason, to ensure that Afghanistan is not once again a sanctuary for al-Qaida or other transnational extremists, the way it was when the 9/11 attacks were planned there. That’s why we need to stay. We also have a very useful platform there for the regional counterterrorist effort.”

Yet, according to Petraeus, that useful platform for the regional counterterrorism has been ineffective against “transnational extremists” on Afghanistan’s doorstep, unable to “pressure the leaders of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and even some of the other insurgent groups, because they’re out of our reach. They’re in sanctuaries inside Pakistan.”

Petraeus describes the war in Afghanistan as a “generational struggle” requiring a “sustainable sustained commitment.” He said the 3,000 to 5,000 troops added by the Trump Administration was “very sustainable,” but admitted “we are not going to permanently win this.” Petraeus compared it to the commitment the U.S. made in Western Europe after World War Two and to South Korea, “we have been in Korea for 65-plus years because there is an important national interest for that. We were in Europe for a very long period of time, still there.”

Unlike Western Europe and South Korea, however, Afghanistan is land-locked, and surrounded by countries hostile to the U.S. mission. Even when he commanded 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, Petraeus conceded that the Taliban could only be “turned back,” not defeated.

Modestly raising troop levels or changing tactics on the ground, like relaxing “the remaining restrictions on the use of our airpower” will not improve the unfavorable strategic conditions. Due to the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, the U.S. will never gain the military initiative and, because its interests diverge from those of the U.S., Pakistan will maintain a chokehold on the supply of our troops.

In other words, Pakistan, not the U.S., determines what is “sustainable.”

Although Petraeus recognizes that terrorism is transnational, he recommends a strategy delimited by geography.

The 9/11 attack was concocted outside of Afghanistan, the perpetrators were Arab and the planners were Pakistani.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), son of a Deobandi cleric and often referred to as the “architect” of the 9/11 attacks is Pakistani and was born in Balochistan.

Ramzi Yousef is KSM’s nephew and one of the main perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434, and a co-conspirator in the Bojinka plot, which included assassinating Pope John Paul II while he visited the Philippines, and planting bombs inside 12 United and Delta Air Lines flights out of Bangkok. He allegedly worked together with KSM on the Bojinka plot. Although he was born in Kuwait, Ramzi Yousef is Pakistani. His father was from Balochistan and his mother is KSM’s sister.

Adel Anonn, aka Adel Bani, who had an Iraqi passport and believed to be Ramzi Yousef’s twin brother, was arrested in the Philippines in 1995 as part of a suspected terrorist cell.

Abdul Qadir Mehmood, Ramzi Yousef’s older brother, is wanted in connection with a 2015 terror attack that killed 45 people traveling on a bus from the Safoora Chowk area of Karachi, Pakistan. Best known as a provider of financial and materiel support for terrorist attacks, Abdul Qadir has reportedly switched allegiance from al Qaeda to the Islamic State (IS) and is hiding in Wadh, Balochistan presumably under the protection of IS leader, Shafiq Mengal, a former Pakistani intelligence asset.

Ammar Al-Baluchi, cousin of Ramzi Yousef and maternal nephew of KSM, is a Pakistani citizen in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Charges against him include facilitating the 9/11 attackers, acting as a courier for Bin Laden and plotting to crash a plane packed with explosives into the US consulate in Karachi. His former wife, Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani militant, was convicted of shooting at US soldiers and is incarcerated in the U.S.

The point being, that transnational terrorism, like fog, moves, and that the future of Afghanistan will be determined more by events outside its borders. In Pakistan’s southwest province of Balochistan, for example, there is brewing a toxic mixture of Chinese hegemony, Pakistani and Iranian regional ambitions, a growing Taliban infrastructure and increasing numbers of transnational Islamic terrorists as well as a potentially new, Syria-like, Sunni-Shia battleground, all of which will eventually undermine current U.S. plans.

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is not only illogical, it is being overtaken by events.

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at

Baloch activists condemn detention of leader Mehran Marri

ANI | Updated: Nov 17, 2017 10:26IST

Washington/Geneva [USA/Switzerland], November 17 (ANI): Baloch leaders and activists across the world have condemned the detention of key leader of their struggle, Mehran Marri, by the Swiss authorities at the Zurich Airport.

"The generals of the Pakistan Army and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) are the most deceptive bullies and blackmailers in the world," said Ahmar Mustikhan, a senior journalist and founder of the American Friends of Balochistan (AFB).

Mustikhan asked the Baloch leaders to not delay hiring the best lawyers to counter Pakistan's illegal moves.

"Pakistan generals have looted as much as USD 150 billion in kickbacks, commissions and bribes during arms deals and much of this money is stashed in Swiss bank accounts. This dirty money explains the Swiss action," he added.

France-based Baloch activist Munir Mengal said the Baloch Voice Association condemned the barring of Mehran Marri from entering to Switzerland with his family.

"The detention of Mehran Marri and a lifetime ban on his entry in Switzerland by the authorities is very discouraging and a sorrowful incident. Marri is a secular political pro-independence Baloch leader who has been politically struggling for the independence of occupied Balochistan," Germany based Shafi Burfat, the chief of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM), said.

Switzerland based United Kashmir People's National Party activist, Nasir Aziz, said, "I am surprised to know that Mehran Marri, a Baloch Nationalist leader and Human Rights activist, who has been regularly participating in the UNHRC Sessions at Geneva, has been prevented to enter Swiss."

Aziz added that Marri had raised cases of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances in Balochistan in the UNHRC.

Marri was detained by the Swiss authorities at the Zurich airport yesterday. Informing the same, he tweeted, "Friends, I have been detained at Zurich Airport for the last few hours and feel I am under arrest by Swiss authorities on request of the Pakistan Govt. My wife and children are also with me in detention. Don't worry, being detained is nothing new for the Baloch..."

"My father spent many years in far worse conditions, but never have up. The peaceful & legal struggle for an independent #Balochistan free of Pakstani occupation shall continue no matter what the Punjabi generals & babus of that excuse of a country plan. We'll persevere"

He further said, "I have now been informed that I have been placed under a lifetime ban on entering Switzerland at the request of Islamabad. So much for the Geneva UNHRC being the world capital of human rights. I am still in detention at Zurich Airport with my wife and children. Stay tuned 4 more."

The youngest son of the late Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Mehran Marri, was travelling to Geneva to attend the Baloch unity moot called by his brother-in-law, Brahumdagh Bugti, president of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP).

Brahamdagh, who organised the meeting in Geneva, speaking to ANI on the detention, stated, "It is sad and shocking for me that he was stopped and detained with his family and children."

"I am really shocked how a neutral country like Switzerland can do that. Mehran's visiting the country is not new," Brahamdagh said, adding that the former used to often visit Switzerland "for last 15 years".

Baloch activist Bhawal Mengal also condemned the Pakistani military's "malicious and desperate attempt".

"This is a malicious and desperate attempt by the Pakistani military establishment to malign and curtail the freedom of Baloch representatives, who are working to raise awareness on the worsening situation in Balochistan and Pakistan's crimes against humanity . Developed countries should not be intimidated by Pakistan, which has been an international sponsor of terrorism," Mengal said.

Other than Mehran Marri, his estranged elder brother Hyrbyair Marri, who heads the Free Balochistan Movement, was expected to attend the Baloch unity meeting, that begins this Saturday.

Meanwhile, reports say that Marri has now been released and he, along with his family, has now taken off to London. (ANI)

Intel Committee Ranking Member Schiff Opening Statement at Open Hearing with Tech Companies

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Washington, November 1, 2017 | comments

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, delivered the following open statement during an open committee hearing titled “Social Media and the 2016 Election.” Below is his remarks, as prepared:

In March of this year, our committee had its first open hearing and then FBI Director Comey revealed that he had opened a counterintelligence investigation involving Trump associates and the Russians. Then, we knew next to nothing about the Russians use of social media to attack Hillary Clinton — indeed the technology companies themselves only recently have identified the reach of that facet of the Kremlin’s active measures campaign.

Today, you will see a representative sample of those ads, and we will ask the social media companies what they know about the full extent of Russian use of social media, why it took them so long to discover this abuse of their platforms, and what they intend to do about it to protect our country from this malign influence in the future.

But first, it is worth taking stock of where we are in the investigation. During our March hearing, I posed the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in any aspect of its influence operations.  In essence, did the Russians offer to help the campaign, and did the campaign accept? And if the Trump campaign did accept, explicitly or implicitly, what did the Russians do to make good on that understanding?

We now know, as a result of the guilty plea by Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopolous, that the Russians approached the Trump campaign as early as April of 2016, to inform them that they were in possession of dirt on Hillary Clinton, in the form of thousands of stolen emails. This timing is significant, because it means that the Trump campaign was informed of Russia’s involvement with stolen emails, and their intent to release them, before anyone else.

But Mr. Papadopolous was not the only Trump campaign figure the Russians approached, nor would his lies to federal agents be the last example of Trump associates making false statements about their interactions with the Russians. 

We now know that the uppermost levels of the Trump campaign were also informed that the Russians had dirt on Clinton, and that it was offered to the campaign in what was described as part of the Putin government’s effort to help Trump.  That offer appears to have been accepted when the President’s son said that he would love the assistance and suggested that the best timing would be late summer.  And in late summer, the Russians would begin dumping the dirt on Hillary Clinton. The President and his son would later deceptively claim the meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower was about adoptions.

It is not clear from Mr. Papadopoulos’ plea or the emails which established the meeting at Trump Tower, whether the Russians communicated that the mechanism they would use to help the campaign may not involve the direct provision of the stolen emails to the campaign, but their publication through Wikileaks and Moscow’s own cutouts, like Guccifer 2.  What is clear is this: The Kremlin repeatedly told the campaign it had dirt on Clinton and offered to help it, and at least one top Trump campaign official, the President’s own son, accepted.

Apart from publishing stolen emails, the Russians also used social media to assist the Trump Campaign.  Whether the Russians and Trump coordinated these efforts, we do not yet know, but it is true that the Russians mounted what could be described as an independent expenditure campaign on Trump’s behalf.  Russian ads on Twitter, for example, promoted stories about Hillary Clinton’s allegedly poor health or legal problems.

But the social media campaign was also designed to further a broader Kremlin objective: sowing discord in the U.S. by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues. The Russians did so by weaving together fake accounts, pages, and communities to push politicized content and videos, and to mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests. They also bought ads, like these:

·         [Ad 1] Black Matters was brought to us from St. Petersburg and amassed over 224,000“likes.”

·         [Ad 2] This page garnered over 135,000 Facebook followers. The Russians bought sufficient ad space for it to appear almost 145,000 times across Facebook accounts that had expressed an interest in Donald Trump, stopping illegal immigration, conservatism, Confederate States of America, Dixie, or the Republican party.

Russia exploited real vulnerabilities that exist across online platforms and we must identify, expose, and defend ourselves against similar covert influence operations in the future.  The companies here today must play a central role as we seek to better protect legitimate political expression, while preventing cyberspace from being misused by our adversaries. 

Memo Describing Representative Sampling of Advertising

Exhibits Used During Open Hearing

Additional Advertising Not Used During Open Hearing

Russian-linked Twitter Handles

November 15, 2017

Russian lawmakers approve law on media 'foreign agents'

Denis PinchukChristian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved a bill that would give Moscow the power to force foreign media to brand the news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents” and also to disclose where they get their funding.

Journalists take pictures of the city at the Iset Tower skyscraper in Yekaterinburg, Russia August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The legislation, which needs approval from the upper house and President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law, is part of the fallout from allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year in favor of Donald Trump.


U.S. intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organizations it finances to influence U.S. voters, and this week Washington required Russian state broadcaster RT to register a U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent”.

The Kremlin denies meddling in the election and has said the restrictions on Russian broadcasters in the United States are an attack on free speech. It has vowed to retaliate by imposing restrictions on some foreign media operating in Russia.

In the 450-seat State Duma, 414 lawmakers voted on Wednesday for the bill on a third and final reading, with none against, Russian news agencies reported.

If the upper chamber and Putin also back the draft, it will become law but implementation of its provisions would be left to the discretion of the Russian government.

Putin has been fiercely critical of U.S. measures toward Russian media, but he has not given wholehearted support to the draft legislation, saying at the weekend it “might be a little too harsh”.


The draft legislation states that Russian authorities can designate foreign media as “foreign agents”, making them subject to the same requirements that are applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations under a 2012 law.

That law, heavily criticized by Western governments, was an attempt by Moscow to insulate itself from a wave of popular revolutions in eastern Europe and the Middle East. Moscow said they were fomented by Western governments using civil society groups as proxies.

Under the 2012 law, “foreign agents” have to include in any information they publish or broadcast to Russian audiences a mention of their “foreign agent” designation.

They also have to apply for inclusion in a government register, submit regular reports on their sources of funding, on their objectives, on how they spend their money, and who their managers are.

They can be subject to spot checks by the authorities to make sure they comply with the rules, according to the 2012 law.

Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Russian lawmakers approve law on media 'foreign agents'

Denis PinchukChristian Lowe

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s lower house of parliament on Wednesday approved a bill that would give Moscow the power to force foreign media to brand the news they provide to Russians as the work of “foreign agents” and also to disclose where they get their funding.

Journalists take pictures of the city at the Iset Tower skyscraper in Yekaterinburg, Russia August 19, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The legislation, which needs approval from the upper house and President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law, is part of the fallout from allegations that the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. presidential election last year in favor of Donald Trump.


U.S. intelligence officials accuse the Kremlin of using Russian media organizations it finances to influence U.S. voters, and this week Washington required Russian state broadcaster RT to register a U.S.-based affiliate company as a “foreign agent”.

The Kremlin denies meddling in the election and has said the restrictions on Russian broadcasters in the United States are an attack on free speech. It has vowed to retaliate by imposing restrictions on some foreign media operating in Russia.

In the 450-seat State Duma, 414 lawmakers voted on Wednesday for the bill on a third and final reading, with none against, Russian news agencies reported.

If the upper chamber and Putin also back the draft, it will become law but implementation of its provisions would be left to the discretion of the Russian government.

Putin has been fiercely critical of U.S. measures toward Russian media, but he has not given wholehearted support to the draft legislation, saying at the weekend it “might be a little too harsh”.


The draft legislation states that Russian authorities can designate foreign media as “foreign agents”, making them subject to the same requirements that are applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations under a 2012 law.

That law, heavily criticized by Western governments, was an attempt by Moscow to insulate itself from a wave of popular revolutions in eastern Europe and the Middle East. Moscow said they were fomented by Western governments using civil society groups as proxies.

Under the 2012 law, “foreign agents” have to include in any information they publish or broadcast to Russian audiences a mention of their “foreign agent” designation.

They also have to apply for inclusion in a government register, submit regular reports on their sources of funding, on their objectives, on how they spend their money, and who their managers are.

They can be subject to spot checks by the authorities to make sure they comply with the rules, according to the 2012 law.

Editing by Gareth Jones

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

November 13, 2017

UPR of Pakistan: India recommends 12 points

STATEMENT BY INDIA at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group (28th Session) on the 3rd UPR of Pakistan – Interactive Dialogue Monday, 13 November 2017




*Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group (28th Session)*

*3rd UPR of Pakistan – Interactive Dialogue*

Monday, 13 November 2017, 09:00 am - 12:30 pm 


Thank you, Mr. President

We welcome the delegation of Pakistan. We recommend the Government of Pakistan following :

1. to provide freedom to the people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir by ending its illegal and forcible occupation;

2. to dismantle Special Terrorist Zones, safe havens and sanctuaries and take verifiable actions, including on terror financing;

3. to bar military courts from trying civilians and allow their monitoring by international observers and human rights organisations;

4. to allow due legal processes and judicial review by the High Courts and Supreme Court for cases tried by Military Courts;

5. to fulfill international obligations under ICCPR and VCCR, including consular access for foreign nationals without discrimination;

6. to end harassment of minorities and place procedural and institutional safeguards to prevent misuse of blasphemy law;

7. to end forced conversions and marriages of minorities, including Hindu, Sikh and Christian women, and prosecute all cases;

8. to stop targeting political dissidents and legitimate criticism in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa;

9. to stop torture, enforced disappearances and unlawful killing, including that of journalists and activists, by its security agencies and prosecute perpetrators;

10. to review the educational curriculum, including in Madrassahs, to remove extreme prejudices, religious intolerance and historical distortions;

11. to stop sectarian violence, systemic persecution and attacks on Muslim minorities, such as Shias, Ahmadiyas, Ismailia and Hazaras;

12. to stop awarding death penalty to juveniles and execution of persons with disabilities.

The full statement along with the recommendations is available on UPR Extranet.

Thank you

A Leaf from History !

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India, whose 137th birth anniversary is on October 31, was insulted, humiliated and disgraced by the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, during a Cabinet meeting.

*"You are a complete communal and I'll never be a party to your suggestions and proposals,"* Nehru shouted at Patel during a crucial Cabinet meeting to discuss the liberation of Hyderabad by the Army from the tyranny of the Razakkars, the then Nizam's private army.

*"A shocked Sardar Patel collected his papers from the table and slowly walked out of the Cabinet room. That was the last time Patel attended a Cabinet meeting. He also stopped speaking to Nehru since then,"* writes MKK Nair, a 1947 batch IAS officer, in his memoirs *"With No Ill Feeling to Anybody."*

Nair had close ties with both Sardar and VP Menon, his Man Friday. Though Nair has not written the exact date of the above mentioned Cabinet meeting, it could have happened during the weeks prior to the liberation of Hyderabad by the Indian Army.

Operation Polo, the mission to liberate Hyderabad from the Nizam, began on September 13, 1948 and culminated on September 18. While Sardar Patel wanted direct military action to liberate Hyderabad from the rape and mayhem perpetrated by the 200,000 Razakars , Nehru preferred the United Nations route.

Nair writes that Nehru's personal hatred for Sardar Patel came out in the open on December 15, 1950, the day the Sardar breathed his last in Bombay, now Mumbai.

"Immediately after he got the news about Sardar Patel's death, Nehru sent two notes to the Ministry of States. The notes reached VP Menon, the then Secretary to the Ministry.

In one of the notes, Nehru had asked Menon to send the official Cadillac car used by Sardar Patel to the former's office.

The second note was shocking. Nehru wanted government secretaries desirous of attending Sardar Patel's last rites to do so at their own personal expenses.

But Menon convened a meeting of all secretaries and asked them to furnish the names of those, who wanted to attend the last rites of Patel. He did not mention anything about the note sent by Nehru. Menon paid the entire cost of the air tickets for those secretaries, who expressed their wish to attend Sardar's last journey. This further infuriated Nehru."

Nair has written about his memoirs in the corridors of power in New Delhi. Nair's friendship with Patel began during the former's posting in Hyderabad as a civilian officer of the Army.

"I was a bachelor and my guest house was a rendezvous of all those in the inner circle of the then Nizam of Hyderabad. Every night they arrived with bundles of currency notes. We gambled and played flash and the stakes were high. During the game, I served them the finest Scotch. After a couple of drinks, the princes and the junior Nawabs would open their minds and reveal the secret action plans being drawn out in the Nizam's palace.

Once intoxicated, they would tell me about the plans to merge Hyderabad with Pakistan after independence. This was information that no one outside the Nawab's close family members and the British secret service were privy to. But I ensured that this information reached directly to Sardar Patel and thus grew our relation," writes Nair.

The relation between Nair and Sardar Patel was such that the former's director general in the ministry told him once: "Sardar Patel keeps an open house for you." Nair, who worked in various ministries during his three-decade long civil service career, writes that the formation of North East Frontier Service under the Ministry of External Affairs by Nehru and the removal of the affairs of the Jammu & Kashmir from the Ministry of Home Affairs, were the major reasons behind the turmoil in both the regions.

*"This was done by Nehru to curtail the wings of Sardar Patel,"* Nair has written.

Though Sardar Patel was known as a no-nonsense man, devoid of any sense of humour, Nair has written about lighter moments featuring him.

One centres around VP Menon with whom Patel had a special relation. Menon had to face ire of Nesamani Nadar, a Congress MP from Kanyakumari, during his visit to Thiruvananthapuram in connection with the reorganisation of States. Nadar barged into Menon's suite in the State Guest House and shouted at him for not obeying his diktats. Menon, who was enjoying his quota of sun-downer, asked Nadar to get out of his room.

A furious Nadar sent a six-page letter to Sardar Patel trading all kinds of charges against Menon. "He was fully drunk when I went to meet him in the evening and he abused me using the filthiest of languages," complained Nadar in his letter.

Sardar Patel who read the letter in full asked his secretary, V Shankar , an ICS officer: *"Shankar, does VP take drinks?"*

Shankar, who was embarrassed by the question, had to spill the beans. *"Sir, Menon takes a couple of drinks in the evening,"* he said.

Sardar was curious to know what was Menon's favourite drink. Shankar replied that Menon preferred only Scotch.

*"Shankar, you instruct all government secretaries to take Scotch in the evening,"* Sardar told.

Shankar Nair writes that this anecdote was a rave in the Delhi evenings for a number of years!

Balraj Krishna (92), who authored Sardar's biography, told The Pioneer that Nehru was opposed to Babu Rajendra Prasad, the then President, travelling to Bombay to pay his last respects to Patel. "But Prasad insisted and made it to Bombay," said Krishna.

MV Kamath, senior journalist, said though Nehru too attended the funeral of Patel, it was C Rajagopalachari, who delivered the funeral oration. Prof MGS Narayanan, former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research, said there was no reason to disbelieve what Nair has written. "But his memoirs did not get the due recognition it deserved. It is a historical chronicle of pre-and post independent India," he said.

If only Sardar had become PM, as per the votes of CWC, and Gandhi had not dissuaded him, in favour of a sulking Nehru...many of the country's problems would not have risen. mkk nair, ias

November 07, 2017

Facebook accounts banned by Pakistan

Bringing Transparency and Accountability to Online Political Ads

The internet makes it easy for political ad buyers to obfuscate their donors and handlers. Despite the challenges, there are significant steps that Congress and social media platforms can take to improve transparency.

Blog Post by Karen Kornbluh

October 30, 2017

A 3D-printed Twitter logo displayed in front of Russian flag. Dado Ruvic/Reuters

More on: Digital Policy Politics and GovernmentRussia Civil Society

Karen Kornbluh

Senior Fellow for Digital Policy

Since the September revelations that fake accounts linked to Russia bought $150,000 of political ads on Facebook during the 2016 campaign, discoveries of Russian activity on social media have emerged almost daily. The Russian purchases escaped notice amidst over $1.4 billion spent on political ads, much of it to promote paid advocacy posing as independent news or posts by outraged individuals. Disinformation was so prevalent during the campaign that, as Alexis Madrigal points out in The Atlantic,even the Pope talked about fake news.

The internet was supposed to make political ads more, not less, transparent. In fact, the Supreme Court majority invoked the internet in its Citizens United decisionremoving limits on corporate and union spending on political advertising, writing:

With the advent of the internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters … citizens can see whether elected officials are “in the pocket” of so-called moneyed interests.

The Court’s vision of an internet able to inoculate democratic debate against the influx of money was always unrealistic. It was rendered impossible even on TV by the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) allowing big donors to set up “ghost corporations”—entities that take advantage of a corporate structure permitting donors to remain anonymous.

But in a cruel irony, the internet itself became a means for undermining existing disclosure laws. Rules developed over decades required that all political ads disclose who paid for the ad and that TV stations make information on sponsors publicly available. But the FEC allowed big donors to evade these rules if they advertise on the internet. Candidates and sponsors also started using “dark ads” targeting subsets of voters with anonymous, negative, and false claims—some carrying contradictory messages to different voters—to further evade accountability.

And, the unique features of the internet allowed political content to be disguised so that it often isn’t recognizable as paid advocacy at all. TV and radio stations are required to disclose who pays for content. These rules date back to the payola scandals when music producers paid off disc jockeys to play their artists. But online, front groups could create personas such as @TEN_GOP, a Twitter account pretending to represent Tennessee Republicans that was in fact controlled by Russian operatives. Those seeking to influence political discussion purchase robotic accounts, or “bots,” that join ads in promoting content so that it appears to enjoy organic human support. Sites that pretend to be independent news organizations—but with none of the practices of traditional independent media—run inflammatory advocacy stories geared to provoke likes and shares to rise on the lists of trending stories. A recent Oxford Internet Institute study found that during the 2016 U.S. election, “Twitter users got more misinformation, polarizing and conspiratorial content than professionally produced news.” Twitter disputes these results.

The ease with which Russia exploited these weaknesses leaves no doubt that, at a minimum, more disclosure is needed. Senators Amy Klobuchar, Mark Warner, and John McCain introduced a billtranslating TV political advertising rules to the digital realm by requiring tech platforms to include disclaimers in ads identifying their buyer and to prevent foreign nationals from purchasing political ads. Furthermore, the bill would require online platforms to make copies of the ads available to the public as well as disclose their price and target audience. Facebook and Twitter each responded with commitments to voluntarily make changes along these lines. Although these commitments in theory could be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general, Senator Warner argues that legislation is needed to ensure other companies follow suit.

To make these steps more effective, current law requiring that political advertisers disclose the names of their donors should be updated and enforced. Online platforms and the FEC should require additional, standardized identifying information on expenditures along the lines of what legal scholars Jennifer Heerwig and Katherine Shaw have proposed to enable regulators and watchdogs to aggregate, sort, and search disclosure data. And the various transparency measures should address issue ads—not just ads about candidates—as Twitter has suggested.

Revelations of Russian attempts to sow division, even after the election, highlight the power of fake accounts, pages, and news to drive seemingly organic debate in ways that can harm our national security. Facebook has committed to using machine learning to take down fake accounts and pages. Other platforms will need to expose and take down fake accounts. Facebook also says it will provide more context for news sites and reduce monetization opportunities for fake news. The vice president of fact-checker Snopes, Vinny Green, has suggested that internet companies might explore how better to ensure that sites posing as credible outlets actually follow the editorial standards and principles traditionally employed by reputable journalists and organizations.

Disclosure measures of these kinds are critical but more inquiry and research is necessary. Thorny issues for discussion include the effect of dark issue ads on democratic debate and how to counter efforts that promote extremism on algorithmically-driven platforms.

As with other abusive behavior on the internet, the challenges will not remain static. Well-funded organizations, including state actors, are trying to shape online discourse and will adapt to efforts aimed at curbing their activities. Social media platforms can enlist the help of academics and researchers by providing them with anonymized data to study the effectiveness of countermeasures. Ongoing innovation will be needed to enhance disclosure and democratic debate on the internet

Trump and the $14 Trillion National Debt

The U.S. national debt now exceeds $14 trillion, prompting calls for tax reform and spending cuts as President Trump works with Congress on budget plans. 

Backgrounder by James McBride

Last updated November 02, 2017

A statue of Alexander Hamilton in front of the U.S. Treasury Department headquarters in Washington, DC. (Flickr/Tyler Merbler)

More on: United States Budget, Debt, and DeficitsTax Policy

James McBride

Senior Online Writer/Editor, Economics


With the U.S. national debt expanding rapidly over the past decade, the state of the federal budget has come under intense scrutiny. The annual deficit spiked following the 2008 financial crisis, and budget analysts say that without reform government spending will continue to outpace revenue.

President Donald J. Trump has pushed ambitious plans for tax cuts and new spending in budget negotiations with congressional allies, unnerving some fiscal conservatives who would like to see deficit reduction. Some members of both parties in Congress view the proposed cuts as too aggressive, but many Republican lawmakers see the current moment as a rare chance to achieve the first comprehensive tax reform in a generation. Meanwhile, the dependence of the United States on foreign investors to finance its growing debt has raised renewed questions over the U.S. economy’s vulnerability to foreign governments or shifts in investor sentiment.

What is the U.S. government’s fiscal position?

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, both the U.S. deficit and debt spiked for several years as the federal government collected less tax revenue and increased its spending to counteract the downturn.

The 2017 budget deficit was roughly $666 billion, with the federal government spending nearly $4 trillion while taking in $3.3 trillion in revenue. This amounts to about 3.5 percent of GDP,  an increase of 14 percent from the 2016 fiscal year, which saw a budget deficit of $600 billion, or 3.2 percent of GDP. (The United States’ debt-to-GDP ratio over the past five decades has averaged 3 percent and reached a high of nearly 10 percent in 2009.)

Debt held by the public—the measure of how much the government owes to outside investors—stands at $14.8 trillion. It has nearly doubled since 2007, rising from about 40 percent to nearly 80 percent of GDP. (Counting intragovernmental debt, or debts owed by one U.S. government agency to another, brings the total to more than $20 trillion, more than 120 percent of GDP.)

Under the status quo, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the public debt will grow by $9.4 trillion over the next decade.

How would Trump’s budget plans affect it?

The Trump administration issued its first full budget proposal in May 2017, and congressional Republicans followed up with their own blueprint in fall 2017. Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget would cut $3.6 trillion in spending over the next ten years, while Republicans in both the Senate and House have proposed budgets that, they say, would cut more than $5 trillion over that time. Both the White House and congressional plans propose sharply reducing health and welfare programs. But many economists, including former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, say that cuts, paired with spending increases in other areas and a tax reform plan that lowers revenue, would likely significantly widen the budget deficit. The result, some say, would likely significantly widen the budget deficit, though supporters argue that faster growth will increase revenue and balance the budget. The major aspects of the various budget proposals include the following:

The White House and congressional Republicans have proposed a tax reform framework, which if passed would be the first comprehensive reform of the tax system since President Ronald Reagan’s administration. It would cut the corporate tax rate from 36 to 20 percent, cut individual rates and  reduce the number of brackets, and end inheritance taxes. Many details remain undetermined, but some tax analysts have estimated that such a plan would likely increase the deficit by more than $2 trillion over a decade. Trump and some Republican lawmakers say that tax cuts will boost growth enough to increase government revenues and balance the budget, though some congressional conservatives are skeptical of any reform that might increase the deficit.        

Trump repeatedly promised not to make any cuts to entitlements, welfare spending that includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Entitlements make up both the largest and fastest-growing chunk of the federal budget—nearly half of all spending—and economists project that they will be the biggest contributor to the deficit in the coming decades if lawmakers fail to reduce their rate of growth. Despite Trump’s earlier pledges, his proposed budget would cut Medicaid and related health programs for low-income Americans by some $800 billion over the next decade. The congressional plan calls for $473 billion in cuts to Medicare and more than $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid.

Both the White House and congressional Republican plans would cut non-defense discretionary spending across the board. Trump’s desired cuts include $192 billion from nutritional assistance programs and $72 billion from disability benefits. Most government agencies would face budget cuts, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget seeing the largest reduction, at 31 percent. Congressional plans would cut more than $600 billion in non-defense spending.

Defense spending totaled $584 billion in 2016, and Trump promised to “rebuild our military” by adding fifty thousand soldiers, expanding the Navy’s fleet, and adding planes to the Air Force. His budget includes a bump in military spending of $43 billion in the coming year, and nearly a half trillion dollars over the next decade. The Senate plan would not raise defense spending in the coming decade, while the House version calls for increases.

Infrastructure is another area in which Trump promised major spending. His budget would commit $200 billion in federal funds over ten years, with the goal of incentivizing private investors via tax breaks to spend up to $1 trillion to bring U.S. road, rail, airport, water supply, and internet infrastructure up to the standards of other developed countries. Another administration priority is building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, a project estimated to cost between $12 and $25 billion, but which receives $1.6 billion in Trump’s proposal. Congressional Republicans have signaled openness to new infrastructure spending, but say that it would likely have to wait until 2018.        

What about the debt ceiling?

Congress has long tried to exert control over federal spending by placing a limit on U.S. debt. This “debt ceiling” has been raised fourteen times since 2001. During the administration of President Barack Obama, Republicans in Congress used it as a bargaining chip in 2011 budget negotiations. While the ceiling was ultimately raised in that instance, the standoff led investors to question the U.S. government’s ability to pay its debts and drew the first-ever downgrade of U.S. debt, from the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s. In 2013, and then again in 2015, Congress voted to temporarily suspend the limit.

The most recent chapter in the debt ceiling controversy came in September 2017, when Trump made a deal with congressional Democrats to suspend the limit for three months, potentially setting up a confrontation in December 2017. Trump also voiced support for a proposal to repeal the debt limit altogether, a position opposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan argues that the ceiling is “a useful tool as a check on fiscal policy to help us get smaller government.”     

How does U.S. debt compare to other countries?

The United States’ debt-to-GDP ratio is among the highest in the developed world. Among other industrialized countries, the United States is behind only Belgium, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Japan.

The United States, however, benefits from the U.S. dollar being considered the most stable and desirable currency in the world. High demand for the dollar as the global reserve currency means that the United States can finance its debt more cheaply and easily than most other countries.

Who holds the U.S. debt?

The bulk of U.S. debt is held by investors, who buy U.S. Treasury bonds at varying interest rates. This includes both domestic and foreign investors, as well as both governmental and private funds.

Foreign holders of U.S. debt have received particular scrutiny. Foreign investors hold roughly 43 percent of the total, amounting to about $6 trillion. As the Congressional Research Service explains [PDF], about two-thirds of foreign-held U.S. debt is held by governments.

By far the two largest holders of U.S. Treasuries are Japan ($1.09 trillion) and China ($1.05 trillion).

By far the two largest holders of U.S. Treasuries are Japan ($1.09 trillion) and China ($1.05 trillion). China had been the United States’ largest creditor for nearly a decade, but it was surpassed by Japan in 2016, according to U.S. Treasury data. No other country holds more than $300 billion.

Does foreign financing of the debt matter?

Steady demand from foreign creditors has allowed the United States to borrow money at relatively low interest rates. But some policymakers have raised concernsover the potential dangers of a single country, China in particular, using its holdings to to put pressure on the United States. Some economists have warned that a sudden sell-off of U.S. debt could spike interest rates, sharply increasing U.S. borrowing costs and potentially causing an economic crisis.

In 2015, for the first time in more than a decade, foreign investors purchased fewer U.S. Treasuries than they sold. That trend accelerated in 2016, with foreign holdings dropping by $201 billion. While China and Japan still hold the lion’s share of U.S. foreign debt, both countries reduced their holdings in 2015 and 2016.

Some investment analysts have raised fears that uncertainty over the new administration’s intentions are leading investors to drop their holdings. However, CFR’s Brad Setser points out that the drop predates Trump. He says it primarily reflects foreign governments’ own economic policies. For instance, he says, Japan’s government decided that it wanted to hold fewer long-term bonds and more cash, while China has been selling its reserves to support its currency. And while some central banks may be reducing their holdings of U.S. bonds, foreign private investors have been increasing their purchases. Ultimately, Setser says, there is little sign yet that foreign investors are losing their appetite for U.S. debt, particularly when many large countries continue to run large trade surpluses