Friday, December 9, 2011

‘To be a Baloch is to embrace death’

What is happening in the largest province of the country remains behind a veil of secrecy. There are some who dare to speak, but only if their privacy is protected. For “to be a Baloch openly is to embrace death,” says one such woman.

Sarah* is one of thousands of victims of oppression in Balochistan to whom the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has dedicated this year’s Human Rights Day (today).

Speaking to The Express Tribune by telephone from Quetta, Sarah, 35, cannot hold back her tears when narrating the story of her province, which she says has changed colours over the years – from dusty brown to blood red.

Working for a development NGO for seven years put her in the line of fire of intelligence agencies, she says, who claimed she was an agent of an Indian intelligence agency.

In 2008, she says she was forced to quit her job and put under house arrest. Men in white shalwar kameez surrounded her house and her phones were tapped for three years, she says. Threats and harassment followed everywhere before she was granted freedom. “I am a teacher and I believe in fighting for my rights. But, for how long? I don’t know.”

Many houses in her neighbourhood have seen worse. Young boys with an eye pulled out return home in a white shroud after being picked up, allegedly by security agencies.

However, there are the lucky ones who return home alive. Two boys who went missing and miraculously returned were not willing to talk. “Our phones are tapped. Please leave us alone,” they said.

Families of those who have died or have been abducted are unwilling to speak for fear that their words might take the life of another beloved one.

This situation in Balochistan has made thousands leave the province. According to HRCP’s estimates, around 100,000 people have left since 2007.

A surgeon who moved from Quetta to Karachi says her brother was picked up and charged with false cases when he was in college in Quetta. He was lucky enough to escape to a foreign country, while all his friends met the fate of death. “Raids and kidnappings are the story of every house,” she said. Locals believe that the younger generation is being targeted. “They are trying to scare generations so that they don’t raise their voice for their rights.”

Vice chairperson of the HRCP’s Balochistan chapter, Tahir Hussain, says from July 2010 to November 2011, around 300 dead bodies were found—some even of 14-year-olds. Two dead include two people from the HRCP as well, while the number of people missing range from 5,000 to 6,000.

While locals stay indoors, leaders fighting for the separatist movements remain miles away from the danger zone. Balochistan National Party leader Akhtar Mengal is in Dubai since 2009. “If I come back, my name will be included in the ECL and I need to go abroad for a lung treatment,” he said.

Despite the top leadership being away, he sees the separatist movements growing stronger. He claims that 26 people from his own party have been killed.

The separatist movements gained momentum after Akbar Bugti’s death. “Bugti’s national flag had four stars representing the four provinces. He believed in a federation. But by his murder, the government has given the message that Balochistan will never be accepted.”

Sarah, the surgeon and Akhtar Mengal are sure of one thing: ‘There is no foreign presence or Indian agents in the province. It’s our own men behind the killings.’

*Name has been changed to protect privacy

Published in The Express Tribune

China says Russian Duma election result reflects people's will

China believes that the result of the Russian Duma election is a reflection of the will of the Russian people, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

China respects the choice of the Russian people, and it supports Russia in proceeding along the path in keeping with its own national conditions, Spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily press briefing,

About 700 international observers followed the election and they generally affirmed the election result, Hong said.

The Russian Parliamentary election was held on Sunday, and the United Russia party won by a landslide.

However, the election results have been questioned by some countries. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Russia's elections were "neither free nor fair".

Bahrain police break up march on capital

Police in Bahrain used tear gas Friday to disperse hundreds of anti-government protesters marching on the capital, witnesses said.

The country's Sunni rulers also moved to mollify the mostly Shiite-led opposition movement by ordering prosecutors to investigate allegations of abuse by the security forces throughout Bahrain's 10-month-old uprising.

The investigation ordered by the Interior Minister, Lt. Gen. Sheik Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, was announced late Thursday by the country's Information Affairs Authority.

It covers "all cases related to deaths, torture and inhumane treatment implicating police."

The move follows the recommendations made last month by a special commission which probed claims of human rights abuses during the uprising, in which at least 35 people including security force members were killed.

The commission was authorized in a bid to ease tensions with the majority Shiites, a rare example of an Arab regime subjecting itself to a harsh public reckoning.

It issued a 500-page report documenting torture, the use of excessive force and fast-track trials, as authorities tried to stamp out the largest of this year's Arab Spring uprisings to hit the Gulf.

Opposition activists at the time said those responsible for the abuses needed to be brought to justice.

The Interior Ministry said Thursday it was following another of the report's recommendations by installing cameras to record interrogations, and that it signed an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross to develop better policing practices.

The government's self-scrutiny has not defused the protest movement, however.

Witnesses said Friday's clashes began as demonstrators assembled in the village of Musalla outside Manama for Shiite ceremonies to mark the holiday of Ashoura.

As the commemorations came to an end, some in the crowd began shouting anti-government slogans and started running in the direction of the capital's Pearl Square, witnesses said.

They were stopped by police as they neared the square. No injuries were reported, though some protesters appeared to have fainted and were being carried away by other demonstrators.

Pearl Square was the hub of widespread protests that began in February. After the protesters were driven out in March, the square was placed under heavy guard and a statue of a pearl at the center, which had become emblematic of the uprising, was demolished.

Opposition supporters have since made repeated efforts to reclaim the intersection.

US assures ‘early conclusion’ of NATO attack inquiry

he United States assured Pakistan on Friday of an early conclusion of the investigation into the last month NATO strike on two Pakistani posts which killed 24 soldiers, the Foreign Ministry said.
The NATO strike in Mohmand tribal region near Afghan border on November 26 had caused rift between the US and Pakistan.
Pakistan in reaction closed supply line for NATO troops in Afghanistan and asked the US to vacate its airbase in Balochistan province.
The US has been trying to revive normal ties with Pakistan since the strikes and now Pakistan has started the process to re-assess and re-evaluate relations with the US.
Ambassador Cameron Munter from the United States of America called on Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and discussed the current status of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the US.
The foreign minister stated that relations between the two countries must be based on mutual respect. She added that the recent incidents had led to a re-evaluation of our terms of engagement.
Cameron Munter met Hina Rabbani Khar and discussed the current status of bilateral relations between Pakistan and the US, the Foreign Ministry said.
“The US Ambassador assured the foreign minister of an early conclusion of the investigation into the tragic incident on November 26 and to work together with Pakistan to normalise the relationship at the earliest,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

China peace prize honors Putin for enhanced Russia

Two exchange students accepted a Chinese peace prize Friday on behalf of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was honored for enhancing Russia's status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya, the prize organizers said.

The Confucius Peace Prize was hastily launched last year as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize which had just honored imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. The 2011 prize ceremony took place a day before this year's Nobel prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, and as Nobel made new calls for China to release Liu from prison.

The Confucius Peace Prize organization announced last month that Putin had been chosen to receive this year's award, saying that during his 2000-2008 tenure as president Putin "brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia." It also cited Putin's crushing of anti-government forces in Chechnya.The justification seems slightly dubious given authoritarian trends in Putin's policies and his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics. Ongoing protests in Moscow over a parliamentary election believed marred by fraud have raised the biggest ever challenge to Putin, who is seeking to return to the presidency next year.

Qiao Damo, head of the China International Peace Research Center, said he hopes the Russian exchange students, who were apparently selected to stand in for Putin, will be able to give the prize to Putin, either in Beijing when he next visits or in Moscow.

The pair are studying at Beijing Language and Culture University, Qiao said in a telephone interview. He gave their names as Katya and Maria but was unsure of their surnames. Two students from Belarus were also present, he said.

The ceremony for the inaugural prize last year had its own surreal tint. Honoree former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan was unaware of the proceedings and did not attend, so the prize was given to a young girl whom the organizers refused to identify.

The Confucius Prize sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of China's government.

It was launched to promote traditional Chinese and Asian ideas of peace, Qiao said. He criticized the Nobel Committee's criteria for choosing peace prize recipients over the past two years, saying it had "drifted further and further away from the concept of peace."

Liu's win enraged the government and Chinese nationalists, who accused the Nobel committee of interfering in China's legal system as part of a plot to disgrace the nation. Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring an appeal for political reform.

Qiao said he disapproved of Liu as a peace prize recipient because Liu had "humiliated his motherland" with his published views, and cited comments Liu made about how the Chinese territory of Hong Kong had benefited from being an English colony.

"We feel it's wrong to seize colonies by force and aggression," Qiao said.

Meanwhile, a group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners and human rights activists called for Liu's immediate and unconditional release from jail. The International Committee of Support to Liu Xiaobo said in an email that Liu is the only Nobel laureate currently in prison, and accused the international community of forgetting his plight.

"Unfortunately, the sentencing to 11 years in prison seems to be forgotten slowly but steadily outside China," said the group.

The campaign for Liu's release includes Nobel winners Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire, Betty Williams and Desmond Tutu. Also involved are former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and activists from Reporters Without Borders and other rights groups.

The announcement of Liu's Nobel prize last year cheered China's fractured, persecuted dissident community and brought calls from the U.S., Germany and others for his release. It also infuriated the Chinese government, and authorities harassed and detained dozens of Liu's supporters in the weeks that followed.

It resulted in harsh treatment of Liu's wife, Liu Xia, who has largely been held incommunicado, effectively under house arrest, watched by police, without phone or Internet access and prohibited from seeing all but a few family members.

Flower Exhibition in Peshawar

Pakistan president says he's fine, vows to return soon

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is "fine" and will return home soon, a news anchor quoted him as saying on Friday, nearly a week after he was rushed to Dubai for health reasons that led to rumors of his resignation and speculation about a possible coup.

"I'm fine and will return soon," Zardari reportedly told Hamid Mir, a popular news anchor, who repeated Zardari's statement on state television. "I did not want to leave. My children and friends and the prime minister insisted that I go for a checkup."