Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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Blockade could push Yemen into 'humanitarian catastrophe': WFP

By Heba Kanso
Yemen, ravaged by war, hunger and disease, is seeing a spike in diphtheria cases that will inevitably erupt into a larger, deadly outbreak because so few people have been immunized, aid officials said on Wednesday.
At highest risk are children, who account for many of the more than 280 suspected diphtheria cases and 33 associated deaths reported as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Most of the cases and deaths involved children who had not been immunized against the disease, a contagious and potentially fatal bacterial infection that spreads easily, WHO said. “Left unchecked, diphtheria can cause devastating epidemics, mainly affecting children,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.
The diphtheria spread is inevitable in Yemen due to low vaccination rates, lack of access to medical care and so many people moving around and coming in contact with those infected, said WHO and officials with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).
Civil war in the Middle Eastern country, which lies at the tip of the Arabian peninsula south of Saudi Arabia, has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than two million others. Diphtheria spreads as easily as the common cold through sneezing, coughing or even talking, according to health officials.
Yemen also is battling a cholera epidemic that has infected about one million people. The epidemic, which worsened this past April, has caused more than 2,000 deaths, WHO said in October. Diphtheria could be more fatal than cholera, especially among unvaccinated children under 5 years old, according to MSF. As many as two in five diphtheria cases end in death, MSF said. “There is the potential for a larger-scale outbreak of diphtheria, given that not everyone has been vaccinated,” said Marc Poncin, emergency coordinator in Yemen for the medical charity, also by email.
Calling it “very worrisome,” Caroline Boustany, an aid worker with the International Rescue Committee, told the Foundation: “We have a spike in cases of a very easily preventable disease.” Yemen also faces soaring food prices and fuel shortages, and some 8.4 million Yemenis are considered to be a step away from famine, the United Nations said on Monday.
A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war blockaded ports last month. The blockade has eased, but its impact limited supplies of desperately needed fuel, food and medicine, aid officials say. “Even for patients who want to seek treatment, the blockade on fuel and consequent surge in prices means that they cannot afford to travel to the very few health centers still operational,” said Poncin of MSF.

Israeli Intel Minister to Saudi Media: Israel Can Strike Iranian Missile Plants in Lebanon, 'As Is Happening in Syria'

Noa Landau and Hagar Shezaf

Yisrael Katz invites Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit Israel ■ Describing Saudi Arabia as leader of Arab world, Katz proposes that kingdom would be sponsor of Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told Saudi Arabian media that Israel will act to prevent an Iranian military presence in Lebanon on Wednesday, and invited Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to visit Israel.

Katz confirmed to Haaretz that he extended the invitation in an interview to the Saudi online newspaper Elaph, however, the online publication chose to edit the invitation out.

Saudi Arabia does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel.

Describing Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world, Katz proposed that the kingdom would be a sponsor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Katz added that Israel would be happy to participate in such negotiations.

Katz said Israel is aware that Iran has been building weapons plants in Lebanon. "We have information that Iran is building advanced missile plants in Lebanon, and I want to emphasize that we have drawn a new red line, and we will not allow them to do this at any cost."

Asked by his interviewer whether Israel views the visit of an Iraqi militia leader to south of Lebanon as an Iranian attempt to send a message to Israel, Katz said Iran doesn't need to send a message, adding that Israel knows exactly what the Iranians are doing in the region. When his interviewer asked whether Israel could bomb the missile plants in Lebanon, Katz replied: "Yes. We will also act militarily and prevent them, as is happening in Syria."

"The more accurate that Hezbollah's missiles get, the stronger and wider Israel's strike will be. This time, all of Lebanon will be a target."
Referring to the Second Lebanon War that Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006, Katz added: "What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in south Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age."
"At the same time, we don’t want war, and we have no interest in destroying Lebanon, but we will not accept a Lebanese assault on us. For example, I recently suggested to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that we act militarily and economically to implement [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701 that was adopted unanimously after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and that we apply sanctions on Hezbollah and Iran and that, under the leadership of the United States and with the consent of China and Russia, we intervene militarily if there is a need."

Katz continued: "The prime minister spoke about this with French President [Emmanuel] Macron and with the European Union. This is a decision that was taken unambiguously, and instead of adopting new resolutions, we will invoke this to deprive Hezbollah of its weapons. The Arab League considers Hezbollah as a terrorist organization as does Saudi Arabia [as does] Egypt and Jordan. The entire world. And in my view, this is a particularly excellent opportunity following [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri's decision and his resignation from Saudi Arabia," a decision that Hariri has since retracted. "In practice, he pulled the rug out from under Hezbollah and Iran," Katz said.

Also on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's King Salman commented on U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying that the Palestinians have a right to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Salman made his comments as Arab and Muslim leaders gathered in Istanbul to discuss Trump's decision.

King Salman appointed his son, 32-year-old Mohammad bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS, as Saudi Arabia's heir to the throne in June. Many expect that in the not-too-distant future, King Salman, who is elderly and ill, will step down and hand the scepter to bin Salman.

The prince's firm anti-Iranian position makes him an important partner to the U.S. and Israel. Several Arab websites have reported in the past few years that bin Salman has met with several top Israelis.

According to these reports, one such meeting took place in Eilat in 2015; another on the margins of the Arab summit in Jordan this March, and there are regular meetings between Saudi and Israeli officers in the joint war room where Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States coordinate.

Last month, Elaph published an unprecedented interview with the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, marking the first time any senior Israel Defense Forces officer, let alone the chief of staff, was interviewed by a media organization in Saudi Arabia.

In the interview, Eisenkot called Iran the "real and largest threat to the region." He said Israel and Saudi Arabia are in complete agreement about Iran's intentions and noted that the two countries have never fought each other.

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China slams HRW’s report on alleged Xinjiang human rights violations

By Li Ruohan

China on Wednesday slammed a report that accused the country of violating human rights by collecting DNA samples in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, saying there's no need to spend time on such false statements. 

According to a Wednesday report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch, authorities in Xinjiang are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints, iris scans and blood types of all residents in the region between the age of 12 and 65, quoting experts as saying it's "a gross violation of international human rights norms."

Collecting such information has been partly advocated in Xinjiang, such as the cities of Yining and Korla, since the second half of the year, for accurate demographic and diverse biological information in the regions, government documents show. For instance, in Korla, photos and finger prints are collected and will be included in the new version of ID cards, while DNA, iris and blood type information will be entered in a local biological database, government documents show. 

In Yining, such information would be collected for a demographic database to help accurately identify people and for information-sharing among government departments.

China's government has the right to take measures it deems as proper to protect national security, and the collection of such information is not harmful to the residents, nor does it affect people's rights, Turgunjan Tursun, a professor at Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Such measures, as well as the collecting of fingerprints in other cities in China, help secure public security, and claims of human rights violations are groundless, he added. 

The organization has always made false statements on issues involving China and I suggested there's no need to spend time on such remarks, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

"Xinjiang has witnessed economic development and social stability, and the people there are living and working in a joyful mood, a scene that some people overseas might be unwilling to see," Lu said.

China's government will continue to protect the national unity and the prosperity in the region and promote the development of the region, he added.

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GOP Committing Political Suicide As Two-Thirds Of America Think Tax Proposal Is A Scam


The poll comes as GOP lawmakers have reportedly come to an agreement on a final plan they believe would have the votes to pass through Congress.
Donald Trump and Republicans marched forward with their tax plan on Wednesday, fresh off a stunning defeat in the Alabama senate race, but a new poll shows that most of the country believes the proposal is a massive scam. According to a new Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, nearly two-thirds of the country – 64 percent – oppose the GOP bill, which has been exposed as a massive handout to the wealthiest Americans at the expense of middle and low-income folks.
The numbers are worse when independents weigh in on the plan, as 70 percent of that voting bloc opposes the proposal. Unsurprisingly, 89 percent of Democratic respondents say the legislation is garbage. A majority are also against the central staple of the plan: lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which is the proposed rate under the new plan.
The poll comes as GOP lawmakers have reportedly come to an agreement on a final plan they believe would have the votes to pass through Congress. As The Hill reported on Wednesday, “Senate and House Republicans have struck an ‘agreement in principle’ on a sweeping tax-cut bill that if passed would be the first major piece of legislation signed by President Trump.” The report notes that Republican leaders believe they could pass the proposal as early as next week, just before the Christmas holiday.
If the GOP thinks that they will improve their political fortunes by passing a tax scam that the vast majority of the country doesn’t want and has been exposed as a massive handout to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, they will be in for a rude awakening come Nov. 2018.

Video Report - Doug Jones, Alabama's Senator-Elect, sits down with us for an interview

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Comedy - Trump's Most Shameless Tweet Of 2017?

USA Today bashes Trump as ‘not fit to clean the toilets’ in Obama’s presidential library

USA Today isn’t known for its blistering opinion pieces. Which makes the one the paper’s editorial board just published on President Donald Trump all the more savage.
“With his latest tweet, clearly implying that a United States senator would trade sexual favors for campaign cash, President Trump has shown he is not fit for office,” reads the editorial. “Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.”
The reference here is Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning in which he said that Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was “begging” him for campaign contributions not long ago “and would do anything for them.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Tuesday that only people with their minds “in the gutter” could possibly conclude that there was sexual innuendo in that tweet language.
The USA Today editorial didn’t buy that explanation.
“A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush,” reads the piece.”This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.”
This is not the first time that the editorial board at USA Today has made its views on Trump’s fitness for office known.
In September 2016, the editorial board broke with its long-standing tradition of not endorsing a candidate in presidential elections by penning an editorial entitled “Trump is ‘unfit for the presidency.” It wasn’t so much an endorsement of Hillary Clinton as it was an anti-endorsement of Trump.
“This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences,” read the piece. “This year, one of the candidates — Republican nominee Donald Trump — is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.”
Trump — and his allies — will undoubtedly cite that history as a way to lump USA Today’s editorial board in with the biased liberal news media who hate the President so much that they are blind to the everyday realities of the average American.
And, for a chunk of Republicans loyal to Trump, that rhetoric will work. But USA Today is far from a reactionary leftist operation. And the disdain dripping from every word of the editorial board’s condemnation of the president is truly searing.
These words, which end the editorial, are particularly striking: “A president who shows such disrespect for the truth, for ethics, for the basic duties of the job and for decency toward others fails at the very essence of what has always made America great.”

#AlabamaSenateElection - Roy Moore Loses, Sanity Reigns

That Alabama’s voters chose Doug Jones for the United States Senate is cause for celebration. A triumph for decency and common sense in a state that seemed for a time at risk of abandoning both, Mr. Jones’s win narrows the Republicans’ Senate majority and delivers a deeply deserved rebuke to President Trump. It is hard to get too intoxicated by a slim victory over an atrocious candidate, a suspected sexual abuser with bigoted politics, but Alabama, the Senate and the nation will be a whole lot better off with Mr. Jones than with Roy Moore.
Alabama’s deep-red politics argued against Mr. Jones’s chances. A former federal prosecutor, Mr. Jones won convictions of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four girls, and no Democrat had won a Senate race in two decades. But a report in The Washington Post in which four women accused Mr. Moore of sexually harassing or abusing them as teenagers turned the race into a close contest. Mr. Jones’s victory came thanks to overwhelming support from Alabama’s African-American voters.
Mr. Jones received support from various luminaries, including Barack Obama, as well as an unexpected assist from Alabama’s senior senator, Richard Shelby, a Republican. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore,” Mr. Shelby said. “The state of Alabama deserves better.” Maybe it shouldn’t count as statesmanship to oppose a cartoonishly unfit candidate, but during the degrading and hyperpolitical Trump presidency, it does. Mr. Moore’s campaign has been a shame for Alabama, one of the nation’s poorest states, whose need for better-paying jobs, health care, education and infrastructure he almost entirely neglected. He did not abandon the race even as the sex abuse charges multiplied; instead, aided by the political nihilist Steve Bannon, he doubled down, insisting the women were lying, part of a plot by the “establishment” and “fake news” to prevent him from changing Washington.
Mr. Moore was twice removed from Alabama’s Supreme Court, once for flouting a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he’d commissioned for the court building, later for ignoring the United States Supreme Court’s protection of gay marriage by ordering Alabama probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying it was their “ministerial duty.” After that uproar, he decided to run for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions, when Mr. Trump appointed him attorney general.
Mr. Moore repulsed many Alabamians even before the campaign. He has referred to Native Americans and Asians as “reds and yellows,” called gay people “perverts” and homosexuality “an inherent evil,” and falsely claimed that Shariah law exists in Illinois and Indiana. Until Mr. Moore (and Mr. Trump) came along, it was difficult to find many candidates so unfit that credible charges of child molestation could seem only the latest disqualifying feature. Their popularity underscores some Christian conservatives’ seeming determination to apply the law, constitutional or moral, only to their opponents. Some Republicans have taken to describing Mr. Moore as a type of biblical plague visited upon them. That ignores the complicity of a party in thrall to its extremists. At every pivotal moment, Mr. Moore was aided by party leaders unwilling to take a united, moral stand against him.
“Roy Moore will always vote with us,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Election Day. Alabamians said there was more at stake in this race, choosing a candidate whose record was cause for pride, not shame, one who spent his career battling bigotry, not exploiting it.

Video Report - #DougJones: Decency wins in #Alabama

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Amnesty Germany protests over forced disappearances in Pakistan

Afnan Khan
An urgent appeal issued by Amnesty International’s Germany chapter demanded the government of Pakistan to produce missing human rights activist Raza Khan who has been reported missing by his family and friends since December 2, 2017.
A German group of Amnesty International Hagen organized a march protesting over the trend of forced disappearances of human rights and political activists in Pakistan urging the government to produce the abducted people and try all the accused through the due process of law.
The protestors were demanding Pakistan authorities to end the environment of impunity that the state’s law enforcement agencies enjoy in terms of abducting and torturing the civilian citizens.
An urgent appeal issued by Amnesty International’s Germany chapter demanded the government of Pakistan to produce missing human rights activist Raza Khan who has been reported missing by his family and friends since December 2, 2017.
The statement added that Raza Khan, a rights activist based in Lahore was actively involved in different peace initiatives and human rights campaigns raising fears that he might have been subject to an enforced disappearance.
Amnesty added that over recent years, enforced disappearances – once limited to the restive parts of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces – have spread deep into Pakistan’s main urban centres.
Pakistan’s Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017, by far the largest number in a three-month period in recent years.
Over the past two months, Amnesty International has received credible reports of an alarming number of disappearances of Baloch students and activists. Amnesty International has already started to send letters to the government officials including the Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Inspector General of Punjab Police urging them to order an immediate investigation into Raza Khan’s fate and whereabouts while keeping his family fully informed and updated on the issue. The rights activists are also seeking immediate, impartial, independent and efficient investigation into this and all other possible enforced disappearances while publicly disclosing the findings and bringing anyone suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials. Amnesty International also urged Pakistan authorities to end the practice of enforced disappearances and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance while ensuring that the activists, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and members of the political opposition are able to peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and association.
The Amnesty group, which works on the issue of enforced disappearances in Pakistan was previously focusing on the abduction of an activist Wahid Baloch, who was abducted July 26 last year from Karachi and was later released after a campaign launched by the Amnesty International for his recovery.
The Amnesty Hagen specialises on the issue of forced disappearances in Pakistan and is seeking release of hundreds, if not thousands, of activists across the country. The group is demanding immediate information about the whereabouts of Masood Janjua, a 45-year-old businessman from Rawalpindi, Atiq-ur Rehman, a nuclear scientist, Shabbir Baloch (24), a student activist, and key figures of a student organization named BSO-Azaad, Zakir Majeed Baloch, an activist, and scores of other missing persons mainly from Balochistan.
The Amnesty Hagen group organizers told Daily Times that they specialize in the cases of torture and disappearances in Balochistan province and last year they had organized an exhibition in Germany about the lives and activities of many missing activists in Pakistan from 31.10.2016 to 21.12.2016.
They mentioned that the group joined the campaigns for the release of many activists in Pakistan including Wahid Baloch, who was later released by the security agencies. However, they are still awaiting the news about many missing persons including Zakir Baloch who was picked up by men wearing plain clothes in front of Wahid Baloch in year 2009 and was never released or informed about. The protestors in Hagen, Germany also collected 113 signed letters from the German citizens for Pakistani authorities to ensure the release of missing persons across the country. The activists showed concerns over the fact that victims of these enforced disappearances were at high risk of torture and even death, whereas not a single perpetrator of these abductions could be brought to justice till date. The human rights activists were also alarmed by The Commission on Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances receiving nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017 in Pakistan, expressing that this was by far the largest number in a three-month period in recent years.
The German rights activists also pointed that the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances had stated in 2012 that there was “a climate of impunity in Pakistan with regard to enforced disappearances, and the authorities are not sufficiently dedicated to investigate cases of enforced disappearances and hold the perpetrators accountable.”
They added that Amnesty International believes that this situation has not improved over the past five years and rather leads to deteriorating circumstances under current developments.
Leading rights activist and former Amnesty International South Asia researcher Mustafa Qadri stated that it is a serious concern that those responsible for the apparent enforced disappearance of individuals exercising their peaceful right to freedom of opinion, belief and expression continue to operate with impunity.
He added that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has itself acknowledged the role of state authorities in perpetrating at least some of these violations, which are a crime under international law. That may explain why the state has been so poor at seeking justice for victims of enforced disappearance.
“The repercussions are significant: failure to recover the victims alive and to ensure those responsible are brought to justice sends a chilling signal that the perpetrators can get away with literally disappearing people”, he warned.
Qadri, who is also known for his well acclaimed report about CIA’s drone strikes in Afghanistan-Pakistan region, was of the view that Human rights defenders are critical to a safe, just and open society because they shine a light of accountability on those within the state and broader society who commit abuses and other unethical practices. That is why activists are targeted – to prevent them from exposing the faults of those who know their actions are illegal and therefore should be prosecuted.
He urged people to write to their parliamentarians demanding justice for the victims of enforced disappearances. People living in EU countries should contact their state officials to ensure they demand answers from Pakistan – the country receives favourable trade preferences from the EU that are tied to meeting its fundamental human rights obligations: that includes preventing torture, and other violations associated with enforced disappearance.

Pakistan - Peace activist Raza - Another one goes missing

On December 2, around 15 youngsters gathered at Lowkey Lokai, a public space located in Al-Qadir Heights, Lahore, all concerned about the ever-deteriorating political condition of the country. They discussed the future and who would protect citizens if the civil and military forces played against each other? They also discussed the narratives furthered by Barelvi militancy in the context of extremism. It was an open debate. Youngsters presented their points of view on the occasion, discussed the clerics’ role in the country, and after this discussion ended, returned home.
The same evening, Raza Mahmood Khan’s fellow activists tried to reach him by phone but found that it was switched off. Raheem Ul Haq, who is a very close friend of Raza, and a teacher and activist, decided to search for him in person, along with his other friends. They reached his house and found it locked from outside but the light was on. Raza’s friends had the lock broken in the presence of Naseerabad Lahore’s police. All his belongings were present in his room except his computer.
Raza belongs to a very humble family of Kasur and has always maintained a low profile. But what might have brought him to prominence recently is the fact that he had become a torchbearer of peace, particularly between Pakistan and India.
An FIR was registered against unknown persons on the complaint of Raza’s brother Hamid Nasir Mahmood. According to Hamid, the police were reluctant to register the First Investigation Report (FIR) for unknown reasons, but after repeated efforts Raza’s friends and family members managed to have this formality completed.
Hamid says the whole family is disturbed because of Raza’s abduction, who he says is a loving person always ready to help out others. “We are worried about his fate and are having sleepless nights since the day he was abducted,” says his brother. He requests the government of Pakistan and the provincial government to make efforts for his early recovery.
Raza’s friends are also equally worried for him. Safia Bukhari, an activist who has always remained in touch with him, says he is a hardcore peace activist. “We have been working for peace in the country as a team. We want to bring people from all religions close to one another, and our purpose is to eliminate hatred based on religions, class and other biases.” She adds that Raza is an advocate of peace in South Asian Association Regional Countries (SAARC) and aims to eliminate poverty, extremism, terrorism and illiteracy in this region which has suffered endlessly due to wars and mutual conflicts.
For many there is curiosity about who Raza is and from where he has come, besides they want to know what were his activities that might have created risks for him. Was he a person who had nurtured enemies, had developed family feuds or was he just a peacemonger?
The details are that Raza belongs to a very humble family of Kasur and has always maintained a low profile. But what might have brought him to prominence recently is the fact that he had become a torchbearer of peace, particularly between Pakistan and India. He would never miss a protest or demonstration carried out to press for human rights and friendship.
Diep Saeeda, Chairperson of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies (IPSS) says Raza was a member of Aghaz-e-Dosti/ Beginning of Friendship initiative. The organisation named after this initiative works for peace between the people of India and Pakistan. She says since Raza disappeared after attending a session on extremism, it creates some doubts about who could have been his abductors.
She shares it with TNS that she will stage protests across the country for the safe recovery of Raza. “A writ petition will also be filed in the Lahore High Court (LHC) besides contacting the interior ministry and Justice retired Javaid Iqbal who is the head of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearance. A forceful campaign shall be launched for the early recovery of Raza. Every single day that passes will be disastrous and may lead to irreparable harm to him,” she fears.
The common stance of several human rights activists and civil society organisations gathered under the platform of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is that such disappearances are unconstitutional, implying he has been picked by organisations working for the state. The fact that only his computer was taken away strengthen their belief. They stress no one is beyond the law, even the forces who pick or detain people for interrogation.
Why can’t they bring it to the notice of authorities that they are investigating a person, and follow prescribed procedures like presenting a person in the court and then taking his physical remand. Asad Jamal, an advocate struggling for human rights, says Enforced Disappearances are a sheer violation of human rights. “No-one is allowed to detain any person illegally. Unfortunately, the desire to punish people has seeped into our social fabric and is fuelled by the concept that the superior can punish the mediocre or inferior.”
Jamal states that it is the duty of the state to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. “Even terrorists should be produced in court and provided legal rights to defend themselves according to the law,” he stresses. He believes only those found guilty in a court of law should be punished and not just anybody who is picked up and ‘disappeared’, without his relatives and near ones having a clue whether he is dead or alive.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad says dictators put dent in pluralistic society of Sindh

Sindh has not produced any terrorist in its history because it is the land of Sufis where people from different religions and school of thought live together in tranquility, but due to defective and unrealistic policies of dictators, various serious problems have emerged in the society.
This was stated by Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah while addressing the delegation of probationary officers of Pakistan Administrative Services receiving training at Civil Services Academy.
“Sindh is the land of saints and Sufis and it is free from bigotry, hatred, and religious or sectarian discrimination but dictatorial rules in the country created problems in the society which PPP government has cleared to some extent and still there is a lot to do to purge the society,” he said.
The chief minister said that heroine, Kalashnikov, religious and sectarian divides and exodus of illegal immigrants were few of the dangerous legacies General Zia left behind him for his successors.
Similarly, Gen Musharraf left behind extremists and terrorists as his legacy which his successors are still working to cleanse. Moreover, he destroyed the governance system by introducing devolution programme.
CM Sindh said that these dictatorial rules badly affected a tolerant society in Sindh. “Extremists who penetrate from Balochistan border into Sindh have created problems in cities like Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Kandhkot, Kashmore and managed to reach up to Dadu district which resulted in the bomb blast at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar,” he said.
He added the PPP government during its first and the current term have been fighting against the terrorists and gangs and has successfully eliminated them but still their remnants create issues some times.
The chief minister said that he was working on developing a plural society free from all kind of hatred and divide to return the legacy of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, Shah Latif and Sachal and Sami back to Sindh.
He said that the government has waged a war against terrorists, extortionists, target killers in Karachi through intelligence-based targeted operations. “The objective of the targeted operation was to crush the outlaws without disturbing normal life and shedding blood of innocents,” he said.
He appreciated the law enforcement agencies for working professionally. “Today, Karachi which was left with poor trade activities, hotel industry was yawning, industrialist were flying their capital, small traders had come to their heels have again started flourishing.”
He said that investors are in queue to invest in energy, industry, agriculture, fisheries and in various other sectors and the government is going to launch some new special industrial zones. He said that his government has served people of Sindh and the PPP has deep roots among them.

Benazir Bhutto’s untested son takes up his #Pakistani destiny

A decade after Pakistan’s first female leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, her son Bilawal is striving to reclaim his mother’s mantle, the latest act in a Shakespearean saga of tragedy and power.
But reviving the wilted fortunes of his family’s political dynasty ahead of a general election due next year will be a tough ask for the Oxford-educated scion, who at 29 years old has never held political office.
His family once dominated Pakistani politics.
Grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto founded the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and ascended to the highest civil office in the land, followed by Benazir, who became prime minister twice and was running a third time when she was killed in a gun and bomb attack on December 27, 2007.
Since her death the PPP has seen its fortunes plunge, and few are willing to bet on Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, now the party’s chairman, shepherding it back to glory.
But there are flickers of life.
When Bilawal took the stage at the PPP’s golden jubilee celebrations in Islamabad last week, surprised observers put the crowd at around 25,000, higher than recent rival gatherings.
Much like his charismatic mother, Bilawal has decided to confront the militancy and challenged the political might of the country.
“We have to continue our progressive struggle and defeat the conspiracies of dictatorship,” he thundered as the crowd roared.
But away from the podium he cuts a shyer persona.
“My mother often said that she didn’t choose this life, it chose her,” he tells AFP at his family home in Karachi. “The same applies to me.”
Great expectations
Bilawal’s grandfather Zulfikar forged the PPP in southern Sindh province 50 years ago, his slogan of “roti, kapra, makkan” (“bread, clothing, shelter”) turning the party founded by a feudal landlord into Pakistan’s first populist force.
“He gave every Pakistani a sense of pride,” beams Bilawal.
But Zulfikar was deposed by General Zia-al-Haq in a coup and hanged in 1979 despite an international outcry.
Benazir, as her son would be decades later, was thrust into the spotlight. Following Zia’s death in 1988, she was elected prime minister at the age of 35.
Her government was undercut by military interference and allegations of corruption, however, and despite becoming prime minister twice she never completed a term.
Ousted in 1996, she spent most of the military dictatorship years of Pervez Musharraf in self-exile, returning in 2007 to contest another election.
But hopes sparked by her return were shattered by her assassination weeks later.
Her murder was pinned on jihadists, with a UN investigation accusing Musharraf of failing to provide sufficient security.
“It was a bitter blow for those who had hoped for a different Pakistan,” says Ayesha Jalal, of the centre for South Asian studies at Tufts University.
That includes the Bhuttos.
“If they stopped assassinating us then my mother would be in the foreign office and I would still be a student,” says Bilawal.
Netflix a ‘lifesaver’
Bilawal was named PPP chairman after his mother’s death but, still just a student, he returned to Oxford.
His father Asif Ali Zardari — nicknamed “Mr 10 Percent” over the many graft claims against him — took control as the party swept the 2008 elections, presiding over its years of decay, fuelled by allegations of corruption and incompetence.
Questions linger over Bilawal’s ability to lead the PPP if power still ultimately rests with Zardari.
Bilawal argues his youth is an asset: “I have time on my side”.
Reports suggest he plans to contest his mother’s old seat in Sindh. He dismisses concerns over his own security, saying: “We don’t give in to fear”.
But observers note the protection surrounding Bilawal, his elite status and time abroad could be sequestering him from voters.
His task is a lonely one, the bachelor admits. “If I was to say I had a life, that would be a lie,” he tells AFP. “Netflix is a lifesaver.”
Analysts say he faces an uphill battle in 2018, with cricketer-turned-opposition stalwart Imran Khan on the ascent and the ruling party of deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif clawing at support.
Some Pakistanis want more than just another scion.
“Under the dynastic politics, democracy has been laid to rest,” said Karachi resident Sardar Zulfiqar.
But attendees at the golden jubilee have faith, clinging to the PPP’s progressiveness as Pakistan remains locked in a tug-of-war between Islamist extremism and democratic moderates.
Asma Gillani, 52, has supported the party since she first listened to Zulfikar on the radio as a child, right up to the moment she lost hearing in one ear as she was hit by the blast wave in the attack that killed Benazir.
As Benazir’s young son takes the stage she remarks: “God willing he will lead this country.” 

ماله بله لاره نشته د جنون او د جانانه - Pashto Music - SARDAR ALI TAKKAR

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Pakistan - As FATA waits

The Fata reforms package, which has been under consideration since the PML-N government came into power, could have been the signature achievement of the ruling party. Instead it is increasingly looking like the package may never even be implemented. Part of the Fata reforms bill, including extending the writ of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the tribal areas, was on the agenda for the National Assembly session on Monday. A last-minute decision to remove it led to a walk-out from the opposition parties and brought a premature end to the day’s proceedings. The next day, too, the opposition parties walked out and said they would boycott the session over any further delays to the bill. On Tuesday, the Jamaat-e-Islami took out a long march in favour of the reforms. As it reached Islamabad, others like the PPP’s Khursheed Ahmed Shah joined it. There is a broad consensus that the cruel Frontier Crimes Regulation needs to be repealed and Fata merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa so that it is brought under the protection of the constitution. Although the government has claimed that the delay in the bill is due to some technical errors, it has been unable to explain what those errors are. For many political analysts, the reforms are being withheld to keep the JUI-F happy since the party, along with the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, is the only one that has opposed the Fata reforms bill. Its reasons for doing so are purely parochial. The JUI-F does not have a support base in Fata so making the tribal areas part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could dilute the party’s support in the province.
One would think that, on its own, the JUI-F shouldn’t have the power to bend the PML-N its way. But the ruling party is also in a bit of a dilemma – and needs to stop bleeding support. Five of its own members have announced their resignations from the National Assembly and Punjab Assembly. Attempts to reach out to the PPP have been rebuffed. The JUI-F is one of the only parties left in the PML-N camp. That, though, should not be enough to cause the death of the Fata reforms bill. The bill itself is imperfect since it delays the merger of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for five years and replaces the FCR with a similar law for an interim period. Even passing the reforms bill will only be the start of a long process that requires the Council of Common Interests to decide how much of the divisible pool should be allocated to Fata. But taking that first step is essential. The opposition parties have now formed a committee to discuss Fata reforms with the government and devise a solution. The government should work with the committee to ensure the passage of the reforms. The PML-N government had claimed to be committed to the people of Fata and their rights. It is time to make good on that promise.

Pakistan - A sorry state...

By Babar Ayaz
‘SORRY’ is a five-letter word seldom used in Pakistani society. The ability to acknowledge and apologise for having made a mistake is an unpopular virtue, particularly among those in power. Let’s examine a few glaring examples where the mistakes of powerful groups and institutions have cost the nation great losses.
The most recent example is the six-point agreement between the government (or, rather, the establishment) and the participants of the Faizabad sit-in. Nowhere in the agreement is there any regret that millions of the twin cities’ citizens suffered because of the sit-in. There were also reports that at least two people died because they could not reach hospitals in time. The TLYR leadership may claim that protesting for a holy cause justifies the sacrifices made by citizens. One could accept this argument had the long-suffering citizenry voluntarily chosen to make such sacrifices, rather than under the duress of TLYR danda brigades.
Similarly, no matter how unreasonable the protesters’ demands, the government too did not show any remorse for the people’s suffering by delaying their eventual acceptance of the demands. Nor do they seem to have considered the long-term ramifications of the agreement they signed. Prodded by the establishment, the government’s agreement has set a terrible precedent.
Let’s take another example, where in the Nawaz Sharif disqualification case the honourable court used the dictionary meaning of the word ‘receivable’ instead of the legal definition given in tax laws. When Sharif’s lawyers filed a review petition it was heard by the same judges, which is customary, although it shouldn’t be. The review petition should be heard by another bench because we cannot expect the judges, who are also human beings, to rise above themselves and admit to being wrong in their initial judgement.
We can’t progress until we accept our mistakes.
Falling prey to populism during the tumultuous tenure of chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, the judiciary gave three decisions in commercial cases (Reko Diq, Pakistan Steel Mills and Karkey Karadeniz) that were lauded by the immature media and politicians alike, but at the end of the day are going to cost the nation billions of dollars. But is there any tradition among the honourable members of the judiciary to admit that they may have made a mistake?
Now let’s return to political and military decisions, for which the leadership owes an apology for incorrect decisions. Take the decision by the government under Jinnah declaring that Urdu alone would be the national language, which the people of East Pakistan found unacceptable, protested against and even died for. Eventually, the government had to agree to give Bengali national language status. Nobody said sorry, or admitted that the initial decision was wrong.
Nobody apologised for the creation of One Unit, depriving East Bengal of its position as the largest province. Nobody said sorry for abrogating the 1956 constitution, which was created seven years after the nation was founded. Nobody ever apologised for the grand mistake of imposing martial law in 1958, which stunted the democratic process and further alienated the people of East Pakistan.
Nobody ever accepted the blunder of launching a covert operation in Kashmir in 1965 that resulted in full-fledged war between India and Pakistan. With our war resources exhausted, Pakistan had to accept the ceasefire after 17 days since, had the war continued for longer, we could have been badly defeated.
Nobody had the moral courage to apologise to the people of Bangladesh for exploiting them like a colony and then launching a military operation against them. Nobody in the establishment has the grace to accept that getting involved in the Soviet-Afghan war during Gen Zia’s regime was our greatest blunder. For the last three decades, Pakistan and Afghanistan are bleeding because of Zia’s military adventure. Arms proliferation and the introduction of violence in politics are the ramifications of Zia’s jihad adventure.
Nobody apologised for launching the Kargil adventure, where many of our soldiers were martyred while fighting ostensibly as Kashmiri mujahids. When we started losing the Kargil battle we had to rush to Uncle Sam to ask India to commit to a ceasefire.
I have not even listed here the many adventures of non-state actors, allegedly backed by our establishment, who sabotage the peace process with India. The trouble is, because we don’t say sorry and accepts our mistakes, we have not been able to correct ourselves and instead claim that we are the victims of an international conspiracy against us. Our establishment and the majority of the media are suffering from self-righteousness. May God help us!

Militants & Military: Pakistan’s Unholy Alliance

Pakistan has largely escaped the ghastly destruction of the civil wars in the Middle East—despite its continuing struggle with homegrown Islamist extremism and terrorism. Since September 11, 2001, Pakistani governments have tried to fly under the radar, attracting minimal international pressure even though its territory has been used as a sanctuary by the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda, Kashmiri militants, and other extremists from the region. But the US and NATO have now begun to express their concerns. 
The international community is worried because there is a growing domestic political crisis in this nuclear-armed nation that is fueled by extremists at home and by a foreign policy that involves harboring insurgent groups, which has become unacceptable to the world as well as to Pakistan’s neighbors in South Asia. President Donald Trump and NATO have clearly signaled they will no longer tolerate the Pakistani army’s alleged duplicity—that while it fights those terrorists who threaten the state of Pakistan, it shelters outside groups like the Afghan Taliban, which does its fighting elsewhere. Pakistan’s response is to accuse the Americans of looking for scapegoats, having lost the war in Afghanistan. 
The Pakistani “miltablishment”—a name coined by the weekly Friday Times that describes the alliance between the army, its all-powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the senior judiciary, the government bureaucracy, and some politicians—is now deeply at odds with itself. A power vacuum has developed into which has stepped a bewildering array of Islamist extremists. The future of Pakistan itself is at risk.
During a harrowing three weeks in November, a small, almost unknown fringe group of well-armed Sunni militants blocked the capital Islamabad’s main highway and demanded the resignation of the justice minister and other officials for trying to change the stringent blasphemy law and for being sympathetic to the Ahmadis, a Muslim sect controversially proscribed by the state. The group, which calls itself Tehreek-e-Labaik (TEL), or the Movement in Service to the Finality of the Prophet, then ordered its followers to block major roads all over the country. For several days, traffic across Pakistan ground to a halt. Six or seven people were killed and more than two hundred were injured. 
As public speculation grew about which part of the “miltablishment” was allowing food, water, and blankets to reach the militants, the government seemed paralyzed—unwilling to act decisively or to send in the 8,000 police officers at its disposal to arrest those mounting the blockades, who never numbered more than 3,000 in Islamabad. At long last, the government called in the army to clear the barricades. But none of the militants was arrested, and when the army arrived, it was to broker a deal, which the militants quickly accepted—and to which the government, too, was obliged to accede. 
The entire episode had the air of a well-rehearsed drama. The army and the government gave in to all the militants’ demands, including the resignation of the justice minister, the release of all the group’s prisoners, compensation to the protesters, and further entrenchment of the harsh blasphemy law. An ISI general signed the agreement as its “guarantor.” 
The BBC World Service subsequently broadcast a video that showed a senior army officer giving 1,000 Rupee ($10) banknotes to the protesters to pay for their fare home. “This is a gift from us to you,” the major-general is heard telling one bearded militant. The clip went viral. Meanwhile, the High Court in Islamabad asked how the army could act as a mediator between the government and a party the court had already declared a terrorist group. 
Islamabad has seen unrest many times before. In 2007, the assassination of the democratic icon Benazir Bhutto led to widespread rioting. The same year, heavily armed militants took over the Red Mosque and fought a pitched battle with security forces. In 2014, supporters of Imran Khan, the cricketer turned politician, laid siege to the city for months to press Khan’s demand that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign. This time around, there was a new pitch to the public’s anger and despair as the state surrendered to mob rule.
“There has hardly been an instance where the state capitulated so humiliatingly to a group of extremists holding the nation’s capital hostage,” said Zahid Hussain, a leading newspaper columnist. Still, no politician spoke up—but for the courageous Bilawal Bhutto, son and young political heir to his mother Benazir’s legacy. “It was demoralizing for my entire generation in the last few days to see the writ of the state erode… to see the rule of law made a mockery of… but now I want to give a message to all the forces that enough is enough and let the country move ahead,” Bhutto said, in a clear jibe at the army. 
Moving ahead is difficult, though, when Pakistanis are still at odds over who is holding back the country and allowing extremists to run riot in the capital.
The latest round of crises began in July when the thrice-elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was forced to resign after a controversial Supreme Court ruling disqualified him from holding office because of corruption charges. Sharif’s term was plagued by allegations of corruption against ministers, by incompetence, and by maladministration—all exacerbated by a permanent state of conflict with the army, which has always detested Sharif. Sharif wanted to assert civilian rule, while the army wanted to assert its influence, especially over foreign policy. Only the army, the officer class maintains, can define and protect the national interest. Sharif’s replacement as prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has governed better than Sharif, but it is the ousted Sharif who still runs the Pakistan Muslim League party and calls the political shots. 
There has been enough discreet signaling through the media for every Pakistani to know that the military wants Sharif and several other leading politicians to go quietly or face prosecution. But the army miscalculated when they expected Sharif to heed such signals and his popularity to plummet once he left office. That never happened. After holding a series of political rallies, Sharif bounced back, and may still emerge as the major contender in critical elections next summer. As a result, there is endless speculation about what the army’s plan is now. Nobody believes that the military will intervene or take power, but will elections be held on time, or will the judiciary come up with rulings that delay, postpone, or even cancel them? 
The Islamabad fiasco brought to the surface another deep concern: the growing sectarianism among the Islamist groups. For two decades, Sunni extremists have been killing Shia Muslims in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. These Sunni militants usually belong to the Wahabbi or Deobandi sects, or offshoots of them, and these include al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State. Their interpretations of Islam are severe, and they reject Shi’ism and Sufism (the mystical side of Islam). The largest Sunni sect in Pakistan is the Barelvis, who have a moderate and more gentle interpretation of Islam partly inspired by Sufism. Until now, they have been largely peaceful and tolerant, and not inclined to religious violence. 
That is changing. The Tehreek-e-Labaik are Barelvis who have become extremist in response to what they claim is a lack of respect for the Prophet Muhammad. Barelvi militancy remains a fringe phenomena, but its spread could endanger stability in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, where it is a majority belief. It could also lead to future Deobandi-Barelvi rivalries and conflicts. 
At the same time, the military is helping resurrect extremist groups that were used by General Zia ul-Haq back in the 1980s, or by General Pervez Musharraf after 2001. Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the extremist anti-India group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT), was freed from house arrest in Lahore in late November after terrorism charges against him could not be proven. LT carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attack that left 166 people dead, including many foreigners, as well as attacks on Indian outposts in Kashmir. The US government imposed a $10 million bounty on Saeed and LT was declared a terrorist group by the United Nations, yet the Lahore court saw fit to release him. In the interim, the group had turned itself into a charitable organization and got permission to form a new political party, the Milli Muslim League, which will take part in elections next year under Saeed’s leadership. Indian officials are apoplectic about this legitimization of Saeed—the White House called the release of Hafiz Saeed a step that “belies Pakistani claims that it will not provide sanctuary for terrorists on its soil.” 
Another cause for concern is the revival of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of half a dozen Islamist parliamentary parties that are not necessarily extremist but are certainly pro-Taliban. President Musharraf created the alliance in 2002 to give political cover to retreating Taliban fighters coming over the Afghan border and provide them a sanctuary in Pakistan. The MMA won the 2002 elections in two provinces on the frontier with Afghanistan and it hosted thousands of defeated Taliban arriving from Afghanistan. 
None of this would have been possible without the army’s assent. At times, the military claims this is part of the process of reconciling former terrorists with the state, but Pakistan has no national program of deradicalization; there is no mechanism for militants to surrender their arms or seek amnesty. A twenty-point charter to counter extremism that was signed by the military and all the political parties two years ago has largely been abandoned. 
The paradox is that even as extremist groups are being rehabilitated, Pakistan faces unrelenting terrorist attacks. On November 29, nine people were killed and thirty-seven injured when at least three terrorists dressed in burkas stormed a student hostel in Peshawar. The attack was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, which is partly based in Afghanistan and carries out cross-border raids. Pakistan said the attackers had received support from both Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. A week earlier, Peshawar’s second-highest ranking police officer was killed in a suicide attack. Meanwhile, hundreds of police and civilians have died in Balochistan province, where there is also a separatist insurgency. Pakistan blames India and Afghanistan for what is largely home-grown terrorism. 
Despite the ire of the US, NATO, and neighboring states over Pakistan’s refusal to reign in the terrorist groups on its soil, the government in Islamabad either says nothing or parrots the army’s claim that it’s all the Taliban and an Afghan problem. But the US under President Trump is ratcheting up the pressure, including by slashing military aid to Pakistan. On November 30, a US drone strike hit a militant compound insidePakistan close to the Afghan border, killing three militants. The attack clearly signaled that the US was prepared to carry out more like it, but a more aggressive approach from Washington carries risks; the Pakistani army could respond by shutting down the US supply route for its troops from Karachi port to Afghanistan. A reckless tweet from Trump himself could even prompt an anti-American backlash from a broad cross-section of Islamists—as happened in 1979, when President Zia sat on his hands while a mob burned down the US embassy.
It is not only the US, though, that has been urging Pakistan to stop nurturing the Taliban; Pakistan’s ally China, as well as Iran and the Central Asian republics, have joined the chorus. According to Western diplomats, the Chinese were deeply worried by the recent siege. They have reason to be, since their investment in Pakistan as part of the One Belt, One Road project is worth some $56 billion. Tens of thousands of Chinese technicians are now working in Pakistan; for Beijing, their security is paramount.
Pakistan’s strategic reason for maintaining its support for the Taliban is to prevent Indian involvement in Afghanistan and to assert its influence in any future political settlement there. But there is no sign that Islamabad is taking any initiative of its own, let alone holding peace talks. Instead, it blames Washington for the stasis. 
On Pakistan’s eastern border with India, frequent shelling by both armies in the disputed territory of Kashmir reflects increased tension between the two countries. India remains the Pakistani military’s central obsession, and this is the underlying cause of a permanent strife between the army and civilian governments, which would prefer peace and trade with both India and Afghanistan rather than perpetual war. 
Even as the Pakistani public is questioning the purpose of the army’s efforts at geopolitical engineering, the parliamentary Islamist parties are being revived to form an electoral bloc that will counter mainstream democratic parties like Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party—neither of which the “miltablishment” likes. And for the first time, extremist groups like LT are being integrated into the political system, a dangerous and provocative move. Their purpose is also to take votes from the larger parties and help to create a fragmented parliament in which no party has a governing majority—and which the army can more easily control.
Admitting extremist Islamists into the electoral process—groups that have not reconciled with the state and do not subscribe to the constitution or to democracy itself—will pave the way for an even more deadly cycle of violence. If a small fringe group can force the resignation of the justice minister for not being religious enough, the future looks grim. A genuine opposition that could be a counterweight to these machinations—a strong middle class, modern democratic political parties, a vibrant civil society, robust human rights groups, and free media—barely exists. What little there is has been cowed. 
Pakistan could have so much going for it—if it dedicated itself to bringing peace to the region and denied militant groups a base. The choices it makes today will determine the future of the region.