Friday, August 19, 2011

Jamrud mosque bombing

A bomb rips through the side of a mosque in northwest Pakistan.

UN urges Pakistan to probe journalist killings

The office of the UN’s human rights commissioner urged Pakistan on Friday to investigate a recent spate of killings and disappearances of journalists.

“In the past eight days alone, we have received reports on the killing of one journalist, Munir Shakir, in Balochistan on 14 August, 2011, and the disappearance of another journalist, Rehmatullah Darpakhel, three days earlier in North Waziristan on 11 August,” OHCHR spokesman Rupert Coleville said.

“We call on all responsible parties to immediately stop such violations of human rights, and we urge the government to take immediate steps to independently investigate these cases,” he said.

Coleville explained that these were far from being isolated incidents.

“Pakistan is cited by various journalist groups as one of the most dangerous if not the most dangerous place for journalists” in the world, he said.

Citing figures from the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists, Coleville said that 16 reporters were killed in 2010 and nine journalists had died so far in 2011.

“But two journalists in eight days is quite intense,” he said.

“We’ve already raised it this year…and we wanted to highlight that nothing has changed since then, and if anything it is getting worse,” he warned.

“None of the cases have been fully or satisfactorily investigated,” Coleville added.

U.S. VP Biden visits world's fastest-growing economy

Thousands protest against violence in Karachi, Pakistan

Thousands of people gathered in front of the Governor House in Karachi Friday afternoon to protest against the recent violence and target killings in the city, which have claimed dozens of lives over the last couple of days, reported local Urdu TV channel Geo.

Local watchers believed that the angry protesters including the victims of the target killings in the city could turn violent as local residents have almost lost the confidence in the government's ability to check the rampant violence going on in the city for months.

The Karachi-based Federation of Chamber of Commerce demanded the army to take control of the city.

Since Wednesday over 45 people were reportedly killed in different firing incidents in various parts of the city. In July alone, over 300 people lost their lives in different political and ethnic violent in Karachi, bring to over 1,000 the total number of people killed in bloody violence in the city this year.

Located on the southern tip of Pakistan along the Arabian sea, Karachi is the country's largest economic center which contributes more than 60 percent of the country's tax revenues.

However, the rampant violence in the city has constantly put the businesses of the city to a standstill. Daily loss resulting from violence at its peak time in the city reportedly stands at about 100 million U.S. dollars.

The deteriorating law and order situation has caused a big concern in the country. Even the Pakistani army, in a very rare gesture, has recently expressed concerns over the growing violence in the city.

The main cause of the incessant violence and target killings in the city is the conflict between two groups, namely Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Awami National Party. They are the two old rivals in Karachi.

MQM represents the powerful Urdu-speaking population immigrating from India in 1947 when Pakistan got independence. ANP represents the Pashtun-speaking people from the country's northwest and southwest.

The two groups are in constant clashes with each other over political issues and business interests. The latest conflict between the two groups in the city is due to the restoration of the elected local government system introduced by the then Pakistani President Musharraf in 2001, which is believed to benefit MQM and hurt the interests of ANP in Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

Karachi in flames

Editorial:THE NEWS

Karachi is reaching a state of complete anarchy. At least thirty-four people have been killed in the last 24 hours with violence escalating following the death of former PPP MNA Waja Karim Daad. Rival groups used rockets and bombs to launch attacks against each other on Wednesday, plunging the city into mayhem. There are no signs that the havoc has ended or that security forces will be able to get the situation under control anytime soon. In fact, things seem to be deteriorating as more killings are being reported from various parts of the city. The murderous tide has branched out of Lyari and enveloped other parts of the city. At least eight more bodies in bags were found on Thursday. Some 15 others had been discovered the previous day – many of them dumped by unidentified persons even as terrified residents looked on helplessly. The worst aspect of the killings is that no one seems to be able to get matters under control. In fact, the government at both the provincial and central levels has not even been able to articulate precisely what it is planning to do.

The bottom line is that such mayhem simply cannot be allowed to continue. For a long time Karachi has barely seen a day of peace. Things have continued along a path which spells disaster for the people. It is obvious that the killings are a result of growing political tensions in the city and of the schism that has divided people on the basis of both their ethnic background and political affiliation. The absurd statements made in the past by members of the ruling party have only added to the tensions and exacerbated things – much like the vines and creepers of a forest taking over a garden within which people had for some time enjoyed at least relative harmony. It is clear that, whatever security plans exist for Karachi, they are not working. Rangers and police personnel have reportedly stood by and watched as the killers fired volleys of bullets and bodies fell to the ground. Normal life has been shattered and, as has been noted on more than one occasion, the ongoing instability means a devastating blow to an economy which already stands on very shaky ground. Worse still is the formidable human cost of the unrest in a city torn apart by bloodshed.

40 dead in Pakistan mosque bombing

A bomb exploded in a mosque in a Pakistani tribal region as hundreds were gathered for prayers Friday, killing at least 40 people and wounding 85 others in the first major attack in the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The attack came despite a period of relative calm in Pakistan, which has suffered numerous Taliban-led insurgent attacks in recent years. No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the Taliban and other Islamist militants have previously attacked mosques.
The bomb went off in Ghundi, a village in the Khyber tribal region, a part of Pakistan's tribal belt. Khyber has long been a base for Islamist militants, and the Pakistani army has waged multiple operations aimed at pacifying the region but with limited success.
Khyber also is a key region for the U.S. and NATO, because a large portion of non-lethal supplies heading to U.S. forces in Afghanistan passes through it.
Some 300 people had gathered for prayers Friday afternoon in the Sunni mosque, and many were on their way out when the bomb exploded, local administrator Iqbal Khan said. Officials said there was some evidence a suicide attacker was involved.
Saleem Khan, 21, said people panicked after the blast, and that amid the smoke, cries and blood, several ran over him when he fell.
"Whoever did it in the holy month of Ramadan cannot be a Muslim," he said from a hospital bed in the main northwest city of Peshawar. "It is the cruelest thing any Muslim would do."
TV footage from the scene showed a heavily damaged building. Prayer caps, shoes and green prayer mats were scattered across a blood-splattered floor, while ceiling fans were twisted and walls blackened. Men comforted a young boy who wept as he held his hand to his heart.
At least 40 people were killed, and 85 wounded, local administrator Fazal Khan said.
Islamist militants such as the Pakistani Taliban have targeted mosques before, especially if they believe alleged enemies — such as army soldiers — are using the facility.
The Pakistani Taliban and affiliated groups are staging attacks in Pakistan because they oppose Islamabad's alliance with the United States.
Also Friday, two U.S. missiles struck a house in a tribal region that was once a Pakistani Taliban stronghold, killing four people, intelligence officials said.
The missile strike came as Pakistani-U.S. relations are seriously strained after the unilateral American raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in northwest Pakistan. The continued missile strikes, which Pakistan officially opposes, suggests Washington considers the tactic too valuable to give up.
Though Pakistan objects to the covert, CIA-run missile program, it is believed to have aided it in the past. The U.S. rarely acknowledges the program.
The two missiles hit a house Friday in Sheen Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area, according to two Pakistani intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The identities of the dead were not immediately clear. Although U.S. officials insist the vast majority of victims in the strikes are militants, Pakistanis and some human rights activists have said civilians are often caught up in the attacks.
South Waziristan is a lawless stretch of rugged territory that was largely under the control of the Pakistani Taliban until October 2009, when the country's army launched an operation against the insurgents. However, militant activity is still occasionally reported in the region.
It is nearly impossible to independently verify the information from the region because access is heavily restricted.

Jamrud mosque explosion

At least 30 people have been killed as a result of a blast targeting a mosque located in the Jamrud Tehsil of the Khyber Agency Friday while more than 100 are injured, Geo News reported. The roof of the mosque collapsed following the blast.

The blast took place after Friday prayers and according to the local administration, the bomb was planted in the mosque.

The intensity of the blast is not yet known but major damage has been caused to the mosque. Rescue efforts are underway to recover those trapped underneath the rubble.

Pakistani Veterans Beef Up Bahrain Security Forces

Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, made a one-day visit to the Middle East kingdom of Bahrain this week. Substantive details of his meetings with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa were not made public. But Bahrain has been gripped by anti-government protests, part of the “Arab Spring” sweeping across the region. The Bahraini government has been soliciting help from Pakistan to put down demonstrations.

According to analysts and Bahraini human rights activists, Bahrain's government has been recruiting former soldiers and policemen from Pakistan at a steady rate to bolster the security forces.

Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, who has extensive experience in South Asia, says Bahrain has been recruiting Pakistani veterans for decades. But he says the eruption of the pro-democracy demonstrations in the Gulf state in March has sparked a sharp increase in the recruiting.

"This winter, when the very serious demonstrations began and it looked like the regime might even be toppled at a certain point, their hiring of mercenaries went up substantially," said Riedel. "And they began sending out basically want ads in major Pakistani newspapers advertising well-paying jobs in the Bahraini police and the Bahraini National Guard for any experienced soldier or policeman in Pakistan."

The ads placed in Pakistani newspapers call for ex-riot police and riot control instructors, military police, non-commissioned officers, and other military and security specialists - as well as cooks and mess hall waiters - for the Bahrain National Guard. The ads were placed by the Fauji Foundation, an organization set up to help veterans and their families. Calls to the foundation seeking comment were not returned.

A senior Pakistani source says President Zardari and King Hamad discussed the issue of recruitment during the Pakistani leader’s visit to Bahrain Wednesday. But asked to comment on the matter, a Pakistani embassy spokesman said the recruitment of veterans is done through private channels and has nothing to do with the Pakistani government.

Riedel says hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed Pakistani military and police veterans were hired. Most have come from the province of Baluchistan in southwest Pakistan.

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, says the Pakistani recruits have behaved with a heavy hand toward demonstrators.

"They’re uneducated," he said. "They’re told they are going to go to a holy war in Bahrain to kill some non-Muslims or kafir [infidel] or Shias. They are paid well, maybe. They are staying in isolation in Bahrain. They have their own settlement, away from local citizens. And those are maybe responsible for a lot of killing and a lot of systematic torture and human rights violations committed in the past months and years."

Asked how he knew they were Pakistanis, he said the recruits speak Urdu instead of Arabic. In fact, he says, demonstrators would insult the policemen and guardsmen in Urdu.

Rajab says that although the government has lifted the state of emergency and instituted a commission of inquiry into the human rights abuses, the anti-government protests have continued.

Bahrain is a monarchy ruled by Sunni Muslims, a minority in the kingdom. Shi’ite Muslims make up the majority of the population and have been in the forefront of the pro-democracy protests, calling for reforms and more equitable treatment.

Nabeel Rajab, who also serves as deputy secretary-general for the International Federation for Human Rights, says Bahrain's government is wary of Shi’ites serving in security positions.

"Because of their Shia religious background, the government or ruling family, they don’t employ them in the army," he said. "So always they have a gap in the army or the police. They need to employ somebody. The second thing is that to deal with the protesters, to deal with those democracy and human rights protests, the government of Bahrain imports or brings in mercenaries from several countries, mainly from Pakistan."

Bruce Riedel, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, says the Bahraini policy has aggravated the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide.

"The fact that the [ruling] Khalifa family is importing Sunni Pakistani mercenaries to repress the Shia majority only underscores the perception of the Shia majority that the regime is not interested in genuine reforms, not interested in building a constitutional monarchy, but interested in repressing the majority simply because they are Shias," he said.

Repeated calls and e-mails to the Bahrain Embassy in Washington seeking comment got no response.

Riedel adds that for Bahrain's rulers, there is a side agenda to the recruitment.

"Many of these Sunni Pakistani troops, if they’ve served well and served long enough, will also be offered Bahraini citizenship at the end of their career - an offer that is intended to try to increase the demographic size of the Sunni minority on the island. And that only intensifies Shia frustration with the way things are governed in Bahrain," he said.

The issue also has diplomatic repercussions. Iran, a Shi’ite nation, has voiced concern about the Bahraini government’s response to the demonstrations. In March, a 1,600-man Gulf Cooperation Council force, led by another Sunni monarchy, Saudi Arabia, went into Bahrain. In April, Iran summoned the Pakistani ambassador to hear official concern about Bahrain's recruitment of Pakistani mercenaries to help put down the protests. According to Iranian press reports, Iranian officials warned of “serious ramifications” for Pakistani-Iranian relations if the recruitment continued.

Who is Anna Hazare? ...What is Lokpal Bill?

Very few social activists have captured the attention of Indians across the globe as Anna Hazare did during his "fast unto death" over the issue of the Lokpal Bill in New Delhi in April 2011.

Hazare, a Gandhian by belief, outlook and practice, has become the face of India's fight against corruption. During his fast over the Lokpal Bill, Hazare, a quintessential traditional Indian by looks and mannerism, managed to inspire and mobilize the support of even the ultra-modern Indians - Indians for whom the word "social" only means having a profile on social networking sites.

The "Anna Hazare fast" can be described as the first real "social networking movement" in India. Hazare, a former Army man, began his social activism from Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra, where he successfully led a movement against alcoholism and made Ralegan Siddhi a "model village".

From a soldier to a social reformer, and a right to information crusader, Anna Hazare's journey of four decades has been unprecedented in terms of a non-violent yet effective campaign of resurrecting a barren village into an 'ideal village' model and empowering the faceless citizen through pioneering work on Right to Information. His efforts to empower grampanchayats, protect efficient government officeWhat is Lokpal Bill?
rs from frequent transfers and fight against the red tapism in government offices have also received accolades.

Hazare's campaign was instrumental in the implementation of the Right to Information Act in Maharashtra, which is considered one of the best RTI Acts in India.

A Ramon Magsaysay award winner, Anna Hazare, like his idol, Mahatma Gandhi, has triggered a debate over the use of fast as a means of protest in India. By sheer commitment and simplicity, he has demonstrated that Gandhian principles are relevant even in the 21st-century India.

What is Lokpal Bill?

The Lokpal is a body with a chairperson who is or was a Chief Justice of India and eight other members.

The Lokpal Bill, an effort to rein in the pervasive corruption in public life, was first floated in the late 60s, but failed to become law despite successive attempts.

Implementation of the Lokpal bill will hopefully reduce corruption in India.

The basic idea of the Lokpal is borrowed from the office of the ombudsman in other countries.

It provides for filing complaints of corruption against ministers and members of parliament with the ombudsman.

The government's Lokpal Bill has kept the Prime Minister and the judiciary as well as conduct of MPs in Parliament out of the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog. The PM, however, will come under the purview of Lokpal after he demits office.

The bill gives permission to Lokpal to probe any Union minister or officials of Group 'A' and above rank without any sanction.

According to the government's draft, the body will have a chairperson and eight members, including four judicial members - who will be former or sitting judges of Supreme Court or chief justices of the high court.

The Lok Ayuktas in the states does not come under the purview of this bill as the Centre cannot intervene in the powers of the state.

The Lokpal will have its own prosecution and investigation wing with officers and staff necessary to carry out its functions.

Anna Hazare prepares to launch protest

Indian social activist Anna Hazare departed New Delhi's Tihar jail on Friday and led a massive procession of supporters through the city streets, preparing to launch a 15-day hunger fast and demonstration to pressure the government to enact strong anti-corruption reforms.

Hazare waved to his supporters from atop a raised platform on a truck moving slowly along with the crowd. Supporters were waving national flags and singing and dancing; others threw flower petals on Hazare. Heavy rains fell, complicating the situation for organizers, but thousands of supporters weren't deterred by the weather.

Hazare's procession and demonstration is the culmination of several days of high drama in India's capital. The 73-year-old military veteran-turned-activist was arrested Tuesday after he refused to accept police restrictions on the size and length of his planned corruption protest. By Thursday, he had cut a deal with police for a 15-day demonstration with no limits on the number of attendees.

Hazare is pushing for the creation of a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman in India known as a Lokpal agency. He and his team of activists believe the government's Lokpal proposal isn't strong enough because it doesn't allow for the prosecution of sitting prime ministers and judges, and because civil society plays little role in selecting who would run the agency.

In coming days, Hazare's team and the government will likely be looking for face-saving ways to compromise, analysts said. Some Indian news reports said Hazare's side might be willing to forego having the judiciary under the ambit of the Lokpal so long as the government swiftly moves separate legislation to ensure judicial accountability.

At the rain-soaked Ramlila grounds where Hazare will carry out the hunger strike and protest, one of his aides, former cop Kiran Bedi, was rallying supporters in a Hindi chant of "Until the Lokpal bill passes, we won't leave! We won't leave!" Despite being worked over by grounds crews overnight, the site was in bad shape after the late morning monsoon. The large expanse of dirt had turned in many places into large muddy puddles traversed by electrical cables, raising safety questions. A tent was set up to protect attendees from the rain but could fit only about 500 people—the site can hold tens of thousands.

Groups of college students and schoolchildren were arriving at Ramlila ahead of Hazare's visit, skipping classes to join the demonstration.

"We're bunking our lectures to support Anna all day, no matter if it rains," said Choitali Ghosh, 19, a student at Delhi University.

She said Mr. Hazare should resist any temptation to compromise with the government.

"We've been compromising for 64 years—no compromises!" she said.

Two explosions rock British Council on Afghan independence day

CNN.COMAt least two suicide bombers attacked the British Council in the Afghan capital Friday, killing at least three people, including two police officers, officials said.
Five people were also injured in the attack inside the heavy-guarded Kabul neighborhood, a strike that coincides with the 92nd anniversary of Afghan independence from Great Britain.
The first militant drove a vehicle packed with explosives toward the Council's main security gate before detonating the device, according to Afghan police spokesman Hashamap Stanikzai.
The second man then attempted to enter the compound wearing a vest filled with explosives. He also detonated himself, Stanikzai said.
Gunfire could be heard throughout the incident, and military helicopter circled overhead, said Muhammad Zahir, a police spokesman.
The British Council is located in the same complex as the British Embassy in downtown Kabul.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, the group's spokesman said.
The attack occurred not far from the Intercontinental Hotel, the scene of another insurgent attack in June against a high-profile western target.

Saboteurs rule Karachi

In a fresh spate of violence in Karachi, 33 people have lost their lives since Wednesday, including a former Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) MNA Waja Karimdad, who was shot dead by armed men on motorcycles outside a local restaurant. Violence erupted in the metropolis when five residents of Lyari were found shot dead on Wednesday morning. Police has termed it a gang war between rival groups in Lyari. However, it admitted that a few of the killings had resulted out of political and ethnic biases. Whether these widespread killings can be attributed to a bout of war between criminal gangs or not, the murder of Karimdad is a very serious matter and it cannot be dismissed as merely criminal or accidental. Karimdad was founder of the PPP in Lyari, the stronghold of the ruling party and he had been elected twice as MNA from the district. The murder of a senior politician cannot be condemned enough. Life has increasingly been becoming precarious in Karachi. Previously, it was believed that the MQM and the ANP were major players in the violence but the events that have transpired recently suggest that the problem in Karachi has many aspects. There are a number of heavily armed criminal gangs in different areas of Karachi. And the tension in Lyari reflects that a political turf war has started even in the PPP’s stronghold. Some observers see the latest unrest in Lyari and its neighbourhood as a result of a tussle between the PPP and the criminal gangs.

Protestors led by the leader of the defunct People’s Aman Committee (PAC) gathered outside the chief minister’s house after the funeral of the five slain Lyari residents and despite assurances given by the authorities, Lyari and its suburbs remained in the grip of unrest. Miscreants attacked many localities with hand grenades and even fired rockets at buildings. Police and other law enforcement agencies remained helpless throughout. And the citizens of the metropolis kept waiting for Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s stern action against the saboteurs as he had promised in the first week of this month. He had also ordered deployment of additional police and paramilitary troops in Karachi to control the unrest. But unfortunately the writ of the state could not be seen anywhere in the city. Market associations have given a strike call protesting against the killing of two traders in a hand grenade attack as they had refused to pay bhatta to the criminal gangs. In Karachi, the money extortion mafia is working along with land and drug mafias. It is also believed that the main political parties, the PPP, MQM and ANP, use street goons and other criminal gangs for throwing their weight around. The latest patch up of the PPP and the MQM had once again raised hope that it would reduce the violence in the city of up to 18 million people. But there is not letup so far.

Karachi has been a victim of unrest since the last two decades. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, almost 800 people have been killed in Karachi in ethnically and politically motivated violence since the beginning of the year. More than 300 people were killed in the last month alone. We have been repeating in this space that restoring peace in Karachi is imperative for Pakistan’s economic growth. The law and order situation in Karachi seems completely out of control. The government had better wake up and take serious steps to overcome the chaos. All parties should be invited to sit together and brainstorm over the issue. Police should be empowered and supported to launch operations without discrimination and nab the culprits regardless of their political or ethnic affiliations.

Nawaz eyeing his return to NA, expiry of his agreement made with General Musharraf.

The PPP’s Deputy Parliamentary Leader in Punjab Assembly, Mr Shaukat Mahmood Basra said here on Thursday that Mian Nawaz Sharif had wanted the sacrifice of the present democratic set-up only to reach the National Assembly after expiry of his agreement made with the Saudi kings and General Musharraf.
He was reacting to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif’s fresh call for general election. Basra said the PML-N chief was now dreaming of going to the National Assembly after expiry of the stipulated (bar) period.
The PPP leader said that Nawaz Sharif was not a politician. “He is a civil dictator, who went to Jeddah after singing an agreement with a dictator,” Basra said and added that dictators were always afraid of democratic system.
“This is the reason why the Sharif brothers liked dictators the most instead of democratic governments. This explains why the PML-N wants an end to the PPP government.”
M Basra said the PPP was firm in its decision to give due rights to the people of south Punjab; but, he said, the PML-N did not want this to happen.
He said PPP and PML-Q had submitted a resolution in Punjab Assembly Secretariat demanding of the federal government to take necessary constitutional steps to pave the way for a new province comprising southern Punjab.
He said his party was also having consultations with legislators belonging to all political parties to evolve political consensus on the issue. He said naming of new province was a trivial and secondary issue and any suitable name could be given to it which is non-controversial.