Monday, January 23, 2012

Skeletons in the closet of Pakistani cinema

The year 2011 proved to be lucky for Pakistani cinema. Many new Pakistani films were released this year including ‘Bol’, ‘Love Mein Ghum’, ‘Bhai Loag’, ‘Son of Pakistan’. Many films are also slated for release next year, including Syed Noor’s ‘Price of Honour’, Wajahat Kazmi’s ‘The Dusk’, ‘Kaptaan’, ‘5 Ghantay Mein 5 Crore’, ‘Kolachi’ and ‘Seedlings’ by Summer Nicks.
With ‘Bol’ the audience flocked to the cinemas. Some left the auditoriums melancholic yet inspired by the Shoaib Mansoor masterpiece. Others thought the piece was overrated.
However on the downside, a few films that incorporated Pakistani talent were banned by the Central Board of Film Censorship (CBFC). One of these was British-Pakistani Hammad Khan’s ‘Slackistan’ which was banned on grounds of the film’s use of abusive language and words like ‘Taliban’ and ‘lesbian’ with some scenes showing characters drinking.
In a press release, he said: “The censor board’s verdict is oppressive, arbitrary and steeped in denial about life outside their government offices. Maybe the establishment’s view is that young Pakistanis saying words like ‘Taliban’ and ‘lesbian’ represent a more potent threat than the bullets and bombs that are, day by day, finding increasing legitimacy in the country.”
‘Tere Bin Laden’, which was not a Pakistani film, had vocalist and musician Ali Zafar playing the central character, was a medium grosser in India but was banned from being screened in Pakistan.
Ironically, Syed Noor’s ‘Ek Aur Ghazi’ was not only passed, but was also screened for a short time before it flopped miserably. This film was an aid to those who believe in arbitrary punishments meted out for people accused of blasphemy. According to Noor the film was based on a real life story of a man who stole a pistol inside a jail to kill a blasphemy accused. However the macbre line ‘Gustakh-e-Rasool Ki Saza, Badan Sarr Se Juda’, was something that openly showed his stance in the movie. Although the censor board feels that religious lines must be promoted in movies, but when it comes to vulgar dances, Syed Noor (read censor board) are all but one on the issue. Also, in the movie, when the blasphemy accused is finally killed, by no other than a Muslim who gambles and is into all kinds of vices, the entire jail staff begins to chant ‘Allah o Akbar’ (God is Great).
Shahzad Rafiq director of ‘Salakhein’ and many other films in Lollywood, said ‘Bol’ was a new benchmark for Pakistani cinema. “In order to reach somewhere we must improve our cinema technology and our story telling. Thought provoking issues in this context may lead us somewhere,” he said, adding that that Reema’s ‘Love Mein Ghum’ was a better effort than any other in 2011 in terms of production and ‘Bhai Loag’ also did well in its cinematography section.
But Rafiq says that the movies under production, which had incorporated Pakistani talent by being shot in Pakistan, directed by Pakistanis or have Pakistani actors in them will bring a more promising future next year. Rafiq himself is releasing ‘Ishq Khuda’ to be released at Eid-ul-Fitr 2012.

Murli praises Veena Malik

Bollywood baddie Murli Sharma can’t stop raving about Pakistani actor Veena Malik. The actor is working with Malik in the item song that features in Akshaye Khanna-starrer Gali Gali Mein Chor Hai — Chhanno Hai Khidki Pe Aayi, composed by Anu Malik.
“It was fun,” says, Murli who also has Malik called Zindagi 50-50, where he plays a corrupt cop and Veena plays a call girl. “She is very professional and it’s great working with her,” he says.

Wedding bells: Meera taking the plunge?

The Express Tribune

Lollywood actor Meera

has announced that she is marrying a Pakistani-American airline captain Naveed Shehzad, Express News reported on Sunday.

“Shehzad is a family friend. My parents met his family a few times while in the US. They want me to settle soon and I’ll go with whatever their decision is regarding my future husband,” said Meera.

According to sources the actor, who recently adopted two baby deer in order to raise awareness about animal rights, is likely to get engaged to Shehzad on February 19 in Lahore. “Although I’m busy with various projects at the moment, but if our families insist, we will get engaged,” Meera said.

Meanwhile, Times of India quoted a source as saying, “Just because Meera wants to settle down doesn’t mean that she will give up acting”. The source also added that the actor will invite her friends from India to the wedding.

This is the second big wedding in the film industry in recent months with Lollywood diva and veteran actor-turned-director Reema Khan tying the knot with US-based Pakistani cardiologist Dr Tariq Shahab on November 19, 2011. The nikah took place at a court in Virginia, during which the actor wore a green outfit designed by Hassan Sheheryar Yasin. While talking to the media, Reema had advised girls to follow her example and abide by their parents’ decision concerning marriage.

ISI chief secretly meets Musharraf in Dubai

Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), held a secret meeting with former President General (retired) Pervez Musharraf in Dubai advising him not to visit Pakistan, sources told DawnNews on Monday.

“General Pasha, who has remained very close to the former president, held a meeting with him (Musharraf) in Dubai and advised him not to return to the country as the situation is not conducive for his return,” said an insider while requesting anonymity from this correspondent.

The Senate on Monday also passed a resolution demanding the arrest of the former military ruler on his return. Interior Minister Rehman Malik also announced that Musharraf would be arrested the day he landed in Pakistan.

The sources claim that Pasha strictly advised Musharraf to not to return.

It is yet not clear whether the meeting was held on the directions of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party government or if it was a private meeting. However the sources insist that it was a private meeting between the two.

The sources also claim that Pasha enjoys a long history of relations with the former dictator.

In 2008, during the last year of Musharraf as president, Pasha was appointed to the key posting of Director General (DG) of Military Operations Directorate. Later General Kayani, after becoming the chief of Army Staff, promoted him as Lt Gen and appointed him the chief of the ISI.

Currently two important cases against Pervez Musharraf have been registered in Pakistan. An Anti Terrorists Court (ATC) in Rawalpindi has already declared Musharraf a proclaimed offender in the Benazir Bhutto murder case. Musharraf was also nominated in Akbar Bugti’s murder case in Balochistan.

The sources also claim that Musharraf, after meeting with the ISI Chief, called a meeting of his party on January 25th for revisiting his decision to return to Pakistan.

Mansoor Ijaz's drama to befool people flopped

Rehman Malik said Monday that attempt made by Mansoor Ijaz to befool people had met a failure.Talking to the media, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Mansoor Ijaz refusal to come to Pakistan has exposed his attempt to befool the people and drama enacted by him on the basis of falsehood has flopped.
Malik added it was made clear that provision of security to Mansoor Ijaz was responsibility of interior ministry.
He said IG Islamabad had held out full assurance to the lawyer of Mansoor ijaz to provide security of every kind to his client. It was also said that army’s security would be provided to Mansoor Iaz if need be, he stated.

Afghans hit by food price hikes as Pakistan shutdown bites

With snow piled deep in front of his small Kabul shop and a border shutdown enforced by Pakistan driving up food prices and severing a vital lifeline into Afghanistan, Asmatullah is having his own winter of discontent.

Since Pakistan closed supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan after the coalition killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border air attack in November, ordinary Afghans and foreigners alike are feeling the impact of soaring food costs.

"I have lost 50 percent of my customers," Asmatullah says, somehow managing a smile as he surveys his empty shop, surrounded by cartons of eggs and milk, boxes of cigarettes, drinks and crates of bottled water, now frozen solid on the icy pavement outside.

"Everybody has less income now, so people are just not able to buy. When the border is closed, the prices go up," he said, huddled in a black hat and leather jacket to try and keep one of the most biting winters for years at bay.

The border shutdown, which Pakistan has promised to lift at a time still to be decided, underscores Afghanistan's reliance on food imports through its mountainous eastern border, rather than from Iran in the west and longer, more costly, routes north through ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Most food imports come from India, Dubai and Pakistan, and are trucked into the landlocked country from Karachi, entering Afghanistan through turbulent southern Kandahar province, in Spin Boldak, and Torkham, in eastern Nangarhar province.

Since the Pakistan border closure, the cost of trucking or flying supplies into the country for U.S. forces has soared from $17 million a month to $104 million, figures from the Pentagon in U.S. media showed this month.

At the three-storey Finest supermarket, popular with foreigners and locals and the target of a deadly suicide bomb last year, owner Matiuddin says the cost of importing a container of food has soared from $8000 before the border closure to around $23,000.

"It's a huge problem. Everybody is yelling. If they don't solve it soon we are going to have to close our business," Matiuddin said in his cramped office, slamming his hand on an ageing fax machine in frustration.

"We are just having to let food expire and keep it on the shelves in hope of selling it."

Since the shutdown was imposed, prices for a kilo of chicken have jumped from 200 Afghani ($2) to 250 Afghani. Tomatoes have more than quadrupled and those for cheese doubled.

Housekeeper Nadira Habibi, 37, said that even with her husband and a son working, it was becoming too difficult to feed her family of seven.

"Before we spent around 20,000 Afghani a month ($400), but now it's more than 30,000, which we're just not able to afford," Habibi said.

Ancient Jewish scrolls found in north Afghanistan

A cache of ancient Jewish scrolls from northern Afghanistan that has only recently come to light is creating a storm among scholars who say the landmark find could reveal an undiscovered side of medieval Jewry.

The 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan's Samangan province and most likely smuggled out -- a sorry but common fate for the impoverished and war-torn country's antiquities.

Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked, who has examined some of the poems, commercial records and judicial agreements that make up the treasure, said while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewry is known, their culture was still a mystery.

"Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It's very exciting," Shaked told Reuters by telephone from Israel, where he teaches at the Comparative Religion and Iranian Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The hoard is currently being kept by private antique dealers in London, who have been producing a trickle of new documents over the past two years, which is when Shaked believes they were found and pirated out of Afghanistan in a clandestine operation.

It is likely they belonged to Jewish merchants on the Silk Road running across Central Asia, said T. Michael Law, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

"They might have been left there by merchants travelling along the way, but they could also come from another nearby area and deposited for a reason we do not yet understand," Law said.


Cultural authorities in Kabul had mixed reactions to the find, which scholars say is without a doubt from Afghanistan, arguing that the Judeo-Persian language used on the scrolls is similar to other Afghan Jewish manuscripts.

National Archives director Sakhi Muneer outright denied the find was Afghan, arguing that he would have seen it, but an advisor in the Culture Ministry said it "cannot be confirmed but it is entirely possible."

"A lot of old documents and sculptures are not brought to us but are sold elsewhere for ten times the price," said advisor Jalal Norani, explaining that excavators and ordinary people who stumble across finds sell them to middlemen who then auction them off in Iran, Pakistan and Europe.

"Unfortunately, we cannot stop this," Norani said. The Culture Ministry, he said, pays on average $1,500 for a recovered antique item. The Hebrew University's Shaked estimated the Jewish documents' worth at several million dollars.

Thirty years of war and conflict have severely hindered both the collecting and preserving of Afghanistan's antiquities, and the Culture Ministry said endemic corruption and poverty meant many new discoveries do not even reach them.

Interpol and U.S. officials have also traced looted Afghan antiquities to funding insurgent activities.

In today's climate of uncertainty, the National Archives in Kabul keep the bulk of its enormous collection of documents -- some dating to the fifth century -- under lock and key to prevent stealing.

Instead reproductions of gold-framed Pashto poems and early Korans scribed on deer skin, or vellum, are displayed for the public under the ornate ceilings of the Archives, which were the nineteenth century offices of Afghan King Habibullah Khan.

"I am sure Afghanistan, like any country, would like to control their antiquities... But on the other hand, with this kind of interest and importance, as a scholar I can't say that I would avoid studying them," said Shaked of the Jewish find.

Saudi Arabia: the Middle East's most under-reported conflict

As the British prime minister, David Cameron, visited Riyadh in mid-January, wooing Saudi business and strengthening bilateral relations, a young Shia man in the eastern province was shot dead.

Following the kingdom's huge arms deal with the United States, Cameron apparently wanted to persuade the Saudis to buy Typhoon Eurofighters. His visit was a slap in the face for protesters, who are demanding human rights and more of a say in their country's affairs.

In the week beginning 16 January thousands of people – activists say tens of thousands – took to the streets of Awwamiya in the eastern province to commemorate the death of Issam Muhammad Abu Abdallah, aged 22. He had been shot by Saudi security forces on the night of 12 January.

According to the interior ministry, the security forces were defending themselves after a police car had been attacked. Activists and local Shia news websites acknowledge that the police were attacked, but argue that the police used force indiscriminately. Issam's funeral turned into a large rally at which emotions ran high and anti-government slogans were chanted.

These events are just the latest episodes in one of the Middle East's most under-reported conflicts. Last year, Shia citizens in the eastern province took to the streets just days after the uprising started in neighbouring Bahrain on 14 February. Their protests were largely peaceful and they were hoping that Saudis in other areas would join them on a planned "day of rage" in March.

This day passed without major demonstrations, even in Shia areas, as the Shia protesters had allegedly been told their grievances would be addressed if they stayed at home. Those promises were never fulfilled, however, and the state chose to arrest the leaders of the demonstrations over the summer, further inflaming the situation.

Instead of using such repression, the regime should have addressed the grievances of the protesters, including the release of political prisoners. The Saudi Shia minority, mainly located in the eastern province, has long complained of discrimination in government employment and business, as well as restriction of religious practices. Initially, the protesters were not calling for the downfall of the monarchy but as repression intensified (demonstrations are illegal in Saudi Arabia) some did and also started attacking the security forces.

In October, shootings were reported between security forces and armed men outside a police station in Awwamiya. The town, which has for decades been a hotspot of Shia opposition, has since been in a virtual state of lockdown, and now seems to have started an uprising – the "intifada of dignity", as activists have called it.

Weekly and sometimes daily protests occurred in the villages of Qatif governorate and in late November and early December the first Shia were killed. When four young Shia were shot dead over the course of a few days, their funerals turned into the biggest demonstrations the eastern province had witnessed in three decades. The spiral of protest, killings and burials that was so crucial in galvanising protest in other countries such as Syria and Bahrain was set in motion. Particularly in a rural and suburban context, most people in a neighbourhood will know the deceased and therefore come out to his burial.

The Saudi regime seems prepared to crush these protests with an iron fist. It does not want to concede to Shia demands out of fear that other constituencies and regions might present similar demands. But this seems a very short-sighted strategy, as evidence from other Arab uprisings suggests. Online activists have already developed a mythology around the five "martyrs" and if there are more, this will probably galvanise protests rather than stifle them.

In addition, Awwamiya boasts a cleric who has taken the lead in this uprising and speaks bluntly against the government. Nimr al-Nimr was long a peripheral figure in the local Shia power struggle but now seems to have become the most popular Saudi Shia cleric among local youth. He denounced a list of 23 wanted Shia protesters that was issued by the interior ministry earlier this month. Although some have since turned themselves in or been arrested, most are still in hiding.

Meanwhile, several hundred residents of Awwamiya have signed a petition demanding an independent investigation into the recent shootings. Findings of an earlier promised investigation into the four deaths were not published. There is also a danger that the protesters will use violence as a tactic when they do not see any gains from peaceful protests. On 14 January, a police car in Qatif was shot at, injuring some policemen. Although it is not clear that these incidents are connected, weapons abound in the kingdom.

The Saudi regime is playing with fire and its western backers are standing by idly. But it would be in the interest of all parties if the regime made major concessions, not only to its Shia citizens but to the rest of the population. For western countries, the more people are killed the more difficult it will be to defend the strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia.

Stopping by-polls by SC unconstitutional

Chief Election Commissioner termed SC's order to stop by-polls clear violation of the constitution.

During a meeting of Election Commission of Pakistan, Chief Election Commissioner Justice (r) Hamid Ali Mirza said that voter lists could not be finalized till Feb 23 adding that conducting by-polls within stipulated time period was also responsibility of the Election Commission.

Earlier, the Supreme Court has ordered the ECP to complete the voter lists till February 23.

The ECE said that all the lists which would be prepared without fulfilling of legal requirements would be unconstitutional adding that if any institution would force to complete it soon, would also be responsible of mistakes in lists.

Moreover, addressing a news conference, Secretary Election Commission Ishtiaq Ahmad said that the commission was bound to arrange elections within 60 days.

He said that preparation for voting list was started in 2009. Some elements are propagating that this work was started on the direction of any political force, he said. NADRA has assigned the duty to prepare voting lists which would issue final lists on May 25, he said.

He informed that next elections would be contested according to old constituencies. He said that the political parties would like to see the Election Commission powerful.

Pakistan Rejects U.S. Account of November Clash


Pakistan’s military issued an uncompromising rejection Monday of last month’s United States military report on a contentious border exchange of fire that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, dealing a fresh blow to American hopes of reviving a troubled strategic relationship.

In a statement, Pakistan’s military press office described the American account of the Nov. 26 exchange as “factually not correct,” accused the United States of failing to share information “at any level,” and rejected any responsibility for the bloody debacle, in which American AC-130 gunships flew two miles into Pakistani airspace to return fire after Pakistani troops attacked a joint American-Afghan ground patrol across the border in Afghanistan.

It was the Pakistani military’s first public comment on the American report since immediately rejecting it at the time of the report’s release, nearly a month ago. In it, United States military investigators described a chain of errors, delays and conflicting protocols between American and NATO troops that ultimately prevented the United States warplanes from identifying the Pakistanis as friendly forces until 24 were dead and another 13 injured. It also ascribed blame to Pakistan, saying the military had failed to inform NATO of the location of new military posts along the long, often poorly demarcated border.

Pakistan’s military refused to cooperate with the American investigation, which was led by Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark of the Air Force, claiming that previous American probes into disputed border attacks had been biased. The Pakistani military published its own report on Monday, 25 pages long and described in the title as "Pakistan’s perspective" on General Clark’s report.

The military rejected the American criticisms outright on Monday, describing them as “unjustified and unacceptable,” adding that the United States and NATO had “violated all mutually agreed procedures” for border operations.

The episode has enflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and hurt a strategic relationship already on life-support since the American military raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May.

In retaliation, Pakistan blocked NATO supply lines passing through its territory, which are variously estimated to account for between 40 and 60 per cent of military supplies reaching Western troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistani military officials say that when the supply lines are re-opened, NATO military goods will be subject to an as-yet undetermined transit tariff.

The crisis has also seen Islamabad freeze diplomatic relations in public, although American official say that cooperation continues at lower levels. Pakistani lawmakers are currently engaged in a policy review aimed at reorganizing the relationship based on a hard-nosed assessment of each side’s interests.

The review is under way at a Parliamentary committee and is expected to be completed by end January, a senior American official said.

The crisis has also affected C.I.A. operations in Pakistan’s tribal belt. In December the Pakistani military ejected American operations from an airbase in western Baluchistan Province used to mount the drone strikes against militant targets.

The drone attacks stopped in December but resumed on Jan. 10. The latest strike took place on Monday morning in North Waziristan, in a village called Deegan. Witnesses told The Associated Press that a drone fired several missiles at a house, killing four people.

Press reports in Pakistan have suggested that Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed in a Jan. 12 C.I.A. strike. But a senior Pakistani intelligence official said Monday there was “no confirmation one way or the other.”

The troubled relationship has also hurt tentative American efforts to explore possible peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, as a major troop drawdown slated for 2014 draws near.

The State Department’s envoy to the region, Marc Grossman, who is leading the effort, recently postponed a planned trip to Islamabad after Pakistani officials declined to meet.

Fans mob Pakistani women writers in Jaipur

Celebrated Pakistani women writers — historian Ayesha Jalal and social activist Fatima Bhutto — were mobbed, applauded and loved at the Jaipur Literary Festival here on Sunday where they canvassed support for friendlier ties with India and pooh-poohed the prospects of a military coup in their country.

Clearly upstaging the top-billed American media star Oprah Winfrey who made a widely televised appearance at the festival at the same time, though at a separate platform, Miss Bhutto and Ms Jalal were roundly cheered for an incisive analysis of the evolving political situation in Pakistan and its impact on the world.

Ms Jalal evoked peels of laughter when she claimed that India had moved to the third spot and America had replaced it to become the enemy number one in common perception across Pakistan. Asked who was deemed the enemy number two, she smiled: “Israel.”

Pakistan’s High Commissioner Shahid Malik intervening in the discussion endorsed Ms Jalal’s claim that recent talk of a coup had flowed from media hype. “I don’t see a coup taking place as all the state institutions are working according to the constitution,” Mr Malik said.

He invited Indians to seize the moment for an unprecedented rapprochement with Pakistan, saying that it was for the first time ever that all stakeholders in Pakistan — the civil society, media, the opposition and the army — “are on the same page” for friendly ties with New Delhi.

The Bhutto scion thought it was demeaning for her country to be gripped by political arithmetic in parliament and the parties jostling for power outside as real issues faced by a vast majority of Pakistanis were being sidelined.

She listed Pakistan’s dismal investment in health care and the fact that millions were starving in the agriculture-rich country as scandalous.

Miss Bhutto was particularly severe on PTI leader Imran Khan for what she considered to be his support for obscurantist causes and his alleged anti-women stand on a landmark bill in parliament.

When she woke up to the call of Azaan in Jaipur, she was disoriented for a while because she had not anticipated the sound in India. That revelation tugged at the emotional chords of the audience and drew a long applause. A few thousand milling fans had crammed into an otherwise large enclosure.

Miss Bhutto slammed the “American occupation of Afghanistan” and cited what she said was a credible analysis to claim that US drone attacks were mostly killing innocent people — 30 possibly genuine militants in every thousand innocent people annihilated, she said.

Indian TV anchor Karan Thapar, who hosted the discussion, observed that the two women from Pakistan had drawn more serious people to listen to them than the American TV star next door.

Palestinian police free woman held 9 years in room

A Palestinian woman was imprisoned for nine years in a bathroom by her father, beaten, barely fed and only let out at night, a social worker and police said Monday.

She was given only a blanket, a radio, and a razor blade by her father, who encouraged her to kill herself, said the social worker, Hala Shreim.

Palestinian police freed Baraa Melhem on Saturday in the West Bank town of Qalqilya, after a relative told authorities of the woman's plight, said spokesman Adnan Damiri.

Authorities said Melhem was in her early twenties and that she was initially locked up when she was between 10 and 12 years old.

The woman was found by Shreim and the police in a small bathroom with a tiny window. She wrapped herself in a blanket for warmth, and her father also gave her used clothes.

"It's a miracle she didn't go mad. She had a small radio that she used to listen to programs. She was aware of herself — of her own mental health. She said the radio was her only friend in the darkness," said Shreim.

The social worker said Melhem was well-spoken and up-to-date on current affairs because she listened so intently to the radio.

The young woman was not immediately available for comment, but told Israel's Maariv newspaper that she hoped her father would suffer as she did. "I want them to put him in an underground bathroom, so he doesn't see the light of day for 11 years, without food and water, to let him go through what I went through," she said.

Baraa Melhem's mother, who remarried and moved to a different town, asked about her daughter, but her ex-husband would make up excuses why the young woman wasn't around and sometimes told the mother to mind her own business, Shreim said.

The young woman told an Israeli newspaper that said she stopped asking to see her mother, because her father would beat her every time she made the request.

It was not clear why the mother did not report to police earlier that she had not seen her daughter for years. The young woman's paternal aunt finally told Shreim of the situation. Shreim says she then persuaded the aunt to alert police.

In a statement the young woman gave to the social worker, she said her father locked her up when she was about 10 years old after she ran away from school. Police returned her home and her father later forced her to sign a statement saying she didn't want to go back to school. Melhem's parents divorced when she was young and her father had custody.

Melhem told the social worker her father initially locked her up because he said he wanted to protect her from the world outside, describing other people as "animals," the social worker said.

The father, an Israeli Arab who moved to the West Bank, was transferred to Israeli police. They identified him as 49-year-old Hassan Melhem.

Shreim said the young woman had been locked in the bathroom with a heavy metal door and an outside lock. She told the social worker that her father beat her with electric cables and sticks when he was angry, poured cold water on her when she asked for her mother, and sometimes shaved her head and eyebrows. She was only let out late at night to clean the rest of the house, and given leftover food.

At one point, her father gave her a razor blade, telling her it would be better if the young woman killed herself, Shreim quoted her as saying.

The social worker said the young woman clung to the hope that she would be found one day, drawing strength from her small radio.

The father appears to have created a culture of fear and silence among his family, who were terrified of even speaking about the imprisoned girl.

He remarried to another woman, and had two other children, aged 11 and 18, Shreim said. His new family was also locked in the house when he wasn't around, she added.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the father was being held in an Israeli jail pending a court hearing on Wednesday. Rosenfeld said the man's wife was also detained for questioning.

Social worker Shreim said the young woman's first request, after she was released, was for hard candy — something she had been denied since she was a child.
Then she asked to see her mother.

Human Rights Watch reports 'serious violations' in Israel, Palestinian territories

Serious violations in Israel and the Palestinian territories were ongoing in 2011, Human Rights Watch said in its annual report Sunday.

It listed Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank and home demolitions in East Jerusalem.But it also noted Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza at southern Israeli population centers.

And it condemned Hamas, the radical Islamist movement ruling Gaza, for carrying out three judicial executions, and for allegedly torturing scores of Palestinian detainees, some of whom died.

The Palestinian Authority was criticized for its part in arbitrarily detaining hundreds of Hamas supporters.

Israel has eased the entry of goods into Gaza, but continued to block exports, hindering the rebuilding of the coastal enclave's devastated economy. Construction materials are still barred because Israel says they can be used by militants and Gaza still had an estimated shortage of some 250 schools and 100,000 homes.

In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel had demolished (by November 1) some 467 Palestinian homes and other buildings, displacing 869 people, the highest number in five years, the report said.

"Israel usually carries out demolitions on the grounds that the structures were built without permits, but in practice such permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled areas," read the report.

The report also sharply criticized Israel for detaining 164 Palestinian minors. It also mentioned settler violence and vandalism and what it said was lack of action by Israeli authorities against it. The United Nations reported 377 attacks by settlers last year that damaged Palestinian property, including almost 10,000 olive trees.

The report also mentioned new legislation passed by the Israeli parliament, including one law making "calls for boycotts of Israeli settlements" as a civil offense, and another which "penalizes cultural, academic, or other institutions or municipalities that commemorate the Nakba (catastrophe)" - the Palestinian term for the dispersal of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians as refugees in the 1948-49 war that broke out after Israel was established.

Nawaz ‘is man of Establishment’

The chairman of the PPP’s Foreign Liaison Committee, Prof. Ejazul Hasan, on Sunday criticised PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif for what he called his anti-democracy posture and also accused him of committing violation of the Charter of Democracy.

Addressing a news conference at Cosmopolitan Club here, the PPP leader alleged that PML-N leader was showing sheer disrespect to democratic norms only to come to power through back doors. He was accompanied by local party leaders including Aurangzeb Burki, Hafeez Malik, Dr Hasnaat Shah, Arshad Ghurki and Afnan Butt on the occasion.

Prof Ejaz believed that Mian Nawaz Sharif had become impatient to come to power and had started conspiring against democracy in collaboration with the Establishment to achieve his ends. “He (Nawaz) first brought Musharraf into power through his follies, and now again, he is conspiring against democracy to bring another ‘Pervez Musharraf’,” he added. Talking about court cases against Asif Ali Zardari, he said that Nawaz Sharif had himself admitted in the past that he had constituted fake corruption cases against Zardari under pressure from the Army and the ISI, and for which, both Nawaz and Saifur Rehman also sought forgiveness from the PPP Co-chairman.

He also accused Nawaz Sharif of deviating from his earlier stance on immunity to the president, saying that he was doing all this on behest of Establishment. Ejaz further alleged that PML-N leader had moved the Supreme Court on memo issue as representative of the Establishment, and said that this act of his was enough to prove that he was still following the thinking of dictator, Ziaul Haq.

The PPP leader said those who laid the foundation of corruption and horse-trading were now posing themselves as innocents. He alleged that after failing to de-rail the democracy, the PML-N had now taken back its decision to resign from assemblies, and PPP welcomed it.

Presidential immunity ‘discriminatory’ but legal


Prominent lawyer and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) stalwart Aitzaz Ahsan on Monday stated that Article 248 of the Constitution which gives immunity to the president could be termed as a ‘discriminatory law’, however, it could not be discarded without a constitutional amendment.

Speaking to media representatives at the Lahore High Court building, Ahsan said 158 heads of state, including the Pakistani president, enjoyed immunity.

He said there was no need to go to a court to seek immunity and said the Supreme Court should also accept the immunity clause in the constitution.

The barrister revealed that he had not charged any fee from the prime minister for taking up his case in the Supreme Court.

Ahsan said he had in fact agreed to take up the case on conditions that the prime minister would present himself respectfully before the court and that government officials would refrain from issuing statements against the judiciary.

War I and World War II arms recovered at Islamabad Airport

Custom officials recovered historic arms used in the World War I and World War II from cargo booked for Ukraine, and arrested an
accused, here on Monday.
According to details, a tribesman hailing for Dara Adamkhel wanted to send luggage to Ukraine through cargo service at Benazir International Airport.
During search, the customs officials recovered arms including five anti aircraft guns, four stain guns and other prohibited arms from the luggage.
Airport custom officials arrested the accused.
According to sources, the accused wanted to sell the historic arms to Ukraine authorities to display them in the museum.
The nabbed culprit has been shifted to undisclosed location for further investigations and important revelations were expected.

Mansoor Ijaz Refuses to Travel to Pakistan

The chief witness in a Pakistani secret memo scandal has told his attorney he does not want to go to Pakistan to testify because he fears he will be detained.

The lawyer for Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz says his client is willing to record his testimony elsewhere and submit it to Pakistan's Supreme Court commission investigating the scandal.

The panel is investigating the origins of an unsigned memo in which Pakistan's civilian government allegedly asked for U.S. help in reining in the Pakistani military, following the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May.

The existence of the document came to light in October when Ijaz accused the then-Pakistani ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, of writing the memo. Haqqani denies he wrote the document and has since resigned.

China celebrates New Year with water and light show

Post-Communist lessons for the new Middle East

By Fareed Zakaria

As Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya transition from dictatorship to democracy, you'd think they'd look to America as a model for their new governments. But they don't. America is still too controversial in the Arab world.

Instead, many of the countries transformed by the Arab Spring are looking in a surprising place for inspiration.

Where is this new city on a hill?

Take a look at the man landing at the airport in Tunis, Tunisia: It's Lech Walesa. He's the man whose actions 30 years ago in the Gdansk shipyard in Poland helped cause Communism to crumble across Eastern Europe. Walesa was in Tunisia to pass on the lessons he had learned.

In fact, Poland is a good model for these countries. It's a country that started out with many problems - political and economic - but gradually overcame them. Today's Arab revolutionaries want to see how they did it. They are studying the Eastern European experience, and particularly the Polish path.

Poland is cooperating in various ways. It has started hosting conferences to share its knowledge. In fact, it uses a U.S.-made computer game to train Arab and East European civil servants. It's called "SENSE", or the Strategic Economic Needs and Security Exercise. SENSE simulates a virtual country emerging from authoritarian rule. It trains participants to make democratic decisions and allocate resources. Years after training on it, Warsaw is now passing on its own experience to the Arab world.

Poland's political and economic success have given it a sense of confidence and a new profile on the international stage. It's a member of NATO. In fact, it now holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Beyond Europe, Poland has also been one of Washington's most loyal allies: Poland was among the largest contributors of troops to the War in Iraq, and it still has troops in Afghanistan.

But perhaps the biggest reason for poverty-stricken nations like Egypt to pay close attention to Poland is that it is a very rare breed in today's world, especially in Europe. Poland has a strong economy - the sixth biggest in the European Union now and the only European Union country to avoid a recession altogether. None of its banks needed to be rescued.

Its economy grew 4% last year, and is on track to grow 3% in 2012. Why, you'll ask. How did it survive the turmoil in the Euro Zone? One answer is that it has strong domestic demand and has been pouring money into infrastructure projects.

But the real - and fortuitous - reason is that Poland has yet to be allowed in to the Euro Zone - it continues to use zlotys instead of the euro. So unlike Greece or Italy, it was able to devalue its currency to stay competitive.

The irony is Warsaw continues to see its destiny as being tied to the common currency. More than half its exports go to the EU - a majority of it to Germany, its main trading partner. Poles reason that being part of the same currency would encourage foreign direct investment in Poland. And it's not just about economics. After yearning for decades to be part of Europe, its leaders now feel a resurgent Poland could be a full-fledged member of the European community.

But perhaps Poland should look at England, Sweden, and Switzerland - all European countries, all with strong economies - but with their own currencies. That might be the model to emulate. In any event, no Arab country is likely to give up its currency anytime soon - no matter what Poland will do.

Veteran actress Salma Mumtaz passes away

Pakistani film actress Salma Mumtaz has died in this eastern city at the age of 85 after suffering from diabetes for several years.

Mumtaz, who died on Saturday, was born in Jallandhar in 1926. Her family moved to Pakistan after the Partition in 1947.

She began her film career in the 1960s with the Urdu film Neelofar. An accomplished dancer, she worked in some 300 movies, mostly in Punjabi. Among her popular movies were Maan Puttar, Puttar Dai Piyar, Sheran Di Jori, Mauj Mela, Dacchi and Heer Ranjha.

She also directed and produced a few films. Mumtaz is survived by a daughter, Nida Mumtaz, who is a famous TV actress. She was the elder sister of film actress Shammi, who died a few years ago.

Her brother, Pervaiz Nasir, was a film producer. Film writer Pervaiz Kaleem said, "Though Mumtaz had not been seen on the screen for almost 20 years, her roles in different films were still fresh in the memories of people."

Actress Bahar said she had entered the industry during the final phase of Mumtaz's career. "She was a nice woman and a good actress," said Bahar.

She said like her, Mumtaz was also known for playing mothers in films. Mumtaz played the role of a mother opposite many heroes like Muhammad Ali, Waheed Murad, Shahid and Akmal.

Nasim Wali’s application for Senate ticket a test for ANP

The aspiration of veteran politician Begum Nasim Wali Khan seeking ticket for a Senate seat will not only put to test the central Awami National Party (ANP) leadership but is also likely to dash the hopes of those lobbying for securing women’s reserved seats in the Upper House of the Parliament on the nationalist party’s tickets from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“I have never retired from politics. I am still deeply associated with my party,” Nasim Wali Khan, the widow of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, told The News while referring to reports that she had applied for the Senate seat.

She said she was constantly filling the party membership forms and has remained a regular member of the ANP even when she was not holding any office in the party since 2005. The ruling ANP, which has majority in the 124-member Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, has invited applications for the Senate election from its workers and formed a parliamentary board with Senator Afrasiab Khattak as its chairman.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly will elect 12 senators during the Senate election in March as the six-year term of 11 senators from the province is set to expire. “Ours is a democratic party and like Begum Nasim Wali Khan anyone can apply for party ticket to contest the Senate and general elections,” said an ANP leader, who requested not to be named, when contacted to comment on Begum Nasim Wali’s application for the party ticket.

He said the ANP parliamentary board would decide the final nomination of candidates, adding the board had received several applications so far. Begum Nasim Wali told The News that she would not revolt or object if the party’s parliamentary board declined her application for the Senate seat. “But I am quite sure that the party would honour me for the Senate seat keeping in mind my prolonged association and services to the nationalist party,” she said.

She hastened to add that she was physically fit to represent her party and womenfolk in the Senate. Daughter of noted Khudai Khidmatgar Amir Mohammad Khan from Mardan, she married Khan Abdul Wali Khan in 1954. She entered active politics in 1977 when her husband and other nationalist leaders were imprisoned by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led PPP government.

She was the first woman from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to be elected to the NA and provincial assembly in the general elections thrice. Unlike her late husband, her sons Asfandyar Wali Khan and late Sangeen Wali Khan, she never lost any election.

Fatima Bhutto speaks out

Oprah might have been the big attraction at Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday, but a few metres away a packed house got a glimpse of two famous visitors from across the LoC.

Controversial Pakistani author (and Benazir Bhutto's niece) Fatima Bhutto

and renowned historian Ayesha Jalal spoke about the complex dynamics of India's ever-turbulent western neighbour at a panel featuring a huge audience - and a very vocal cow.

'A nod of agreement from a cow,' said panel moderator and television talk show host Karan Thapar, after a loud 'moo' interrupted Bhutto's assertion about the immense gulf that separates the powerful and the ordinary in Pakistan. 'That's a very holy thing in India.'

The cow would make itself heard a few more times after the first 'moo,' particularly joining in with the audience's loud applause when Bhutto made clear her distaste over the rise in popularity of another Pakistani who is well-known on this side of the border.

'Is he (Imran Khan) a saviour?' Bhutto asked and answered her rhetorical question, to sustained applause, with a 'No, I don't think so.' She listed a number of strikes against the World Cup-winning playboy cricketer-turned-politician whose anti-establishment message has been gaining tremendous popularity.

'As a woman, I worry very much about Imran's politics. I worry about a person who voted against the Women's Bill in 2006,' Bhutto said, informing the audience about the legislation that attempted to amend - to some extent - a Pakistani law that holds rape victims guilty of adultery.

She questioned Imran's credentials as a genuine alternative to the current political class, saying he didn't seem to be any different from the pro-Army, pro-Islamist characters who dominate Pakistani politics. On a lighter note, she also critiqued the effect the former cricketer is having on the country's punditry.

'We've got this enormous country with so much in it, and we only seem to be able to talk in cricket metaphors,' Bhutto said to laughs. 'It's embarrassing.'

The problem with Pakistan, for Bhutto, is that the political class is too far removed from the issues that affect people on the ground - the lack of food, devastating floods and the conspicuous absence of energy distribution.

Jalal, who teaches South Asian history at Tufts University, agreed. She pointed out that despite Khan's apparently unending support, his party had already began making compromises by accepting politicians who didn't share his outsider status.

'I don't see a major change. What we see is parliamentarians and politicians seeing him (Imran Khan) as the horse to bet on,' Jalal said. 'Which will hurt Imran. It will tie his hands.'

As an alternative, Jalal suggested that Bhutto could get into the political game. 'Fati can join a party. I will join her,' Jalal said, before Bhutto interjected saying she wouldn't do that.

'The difference between Pakistan and India is in terms of structures and institutions,' Jalal said. 'India has institutions that function. In Pakistan, the only institution that functions is the army. What you're witnessing now is that uncertainty because change is in the air. Still, I think that the army will continue to be the final arbiter for years to come.' It was grim thought to carry back home.

Read more:

Snowfall in parts of Fata blocks road links, tribesmen facing difficulties

A view of PTDC motel after heavy snowfall in Booni, Chitral on Sunday.

Snowfall continues to halt the normal life activities in the tribal belt including Parachinar, Wana, Orakzai Agency, Tirah Valley and mountains of North Waziristan Agency where people were facing acute shortage of items of daily use and temperature was also decreasing.

Sources said that heavy snowfall was reported in Parachinar where bazaar of Parachinar was reportedly closed due to snowfall and severe cold. Locals living in remote areas remained cut off from Parachinar bazaar and complained about acute shortage of various food items.

Locals complained that non-availability of gas and long hours power cuts to the area has doubled the difficulties of the tribesmen. They demanded of the government to ensure proper supply of electricity to the area under severe cold and also make immediate arrangements for the supply of gas to the terror hit region.

Political administration said that work was underway to clear the main roads which were blocked by snowfall which brought the vehicular traffic to standstill in the region.

Sources said that Orakzai Agency also received snowfall, disrupting normal activities in the area and also roads leading to the tribal region were also closed besides decreasing temperature in the area.

Official sources said that government was working clear the roads which were blocked by snowfall to restore linkage of the tribal regions with the adjoining areas. People were facing various difficulties because they were left restricted to their homes by the heavy snowfall. Most of the locals were busy in removing snow from the roof of their houses.

Similarly, snowfall was reported in Tirah Valley, Samana area of Hangu, from where reports of extreme cold weather were received.

Meanwhile, North and South Waziristan Agencies’ mountainous areas also received snowfall while reports regarding weather were not reaching to the media because remote areas lack communication facilities.

However, sources told INP that Pir Ghar Mountain, the highest mountain in South Waziristan Agency, and the adjacent peaks received heavy snowfall which comes in the territory of North Waziristan. Locals complained that government was not doing any thing to clean the routes and unpaved roads linking the said areas to the cities and the tribesmen were left helpless.

Northern parts of the country are in the grip of severe cold while hilly areas including Murree and Galiyat received heavy snowfall on Saturday-Sunday night and the temperature has fallen to minus.

Reports say that thousands of tourists have thronged Murree and surrounding areas to enjoy the snowfall. Slipper roads have however badly affected the traffic system and there was almost no place for parking in Murree due to rush of tourists as majority of them traveled in their own cars. The Mall, the central place in Murree was flooded with tourists on Sunday and hotels and restaurants were doing roaring business

Fatima Bhutto blasts Imran

Fatima Bhutto, daughter of Mir Murtaza Bhutto has made it clear that she would not join Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaaf.

Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday, she made it clear this was unlikely to happen ever.

"He has an incredible coziness not with the military but with dictatorship," Ms. Bhutto said of Imran Khan.

Ms. Bhutto accused Khan of defending the legacy of former dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. She also mentioned Khan's support for a 2002 referendum allowing Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who had come to power with a coup a few years earlier, to extend his term.

That's not where it ended. In what appeared to be a well-rehearsed argument to debunk the political credibility of the former cricket captain, Ms. Bhutto went on to list more reasons why she opposed his political foray.

"As a woman I worry very much about Imran's politics," said Ms. Bhutto. She spoke of his opposition to amending a 2006 woman's bill in favour of victims of rape. She also questioned Khan's commitment to secularism and to defending minorities.

Begum Nasim blames all for financial woes

Begum Nasim Wali Khan, former president of Awami National Party, on Sunday blasted establishment for taking over the democratic system and blamed politicians, institutions and bureaucracy for degradation of national economy.

Talking to Charsada Union of Journalists in Wali Bagh, she said that nation should not attach high hopes with old faces.

Begum Nasim stressing upon the provincial autonomy, said that no one could hope to march on way to progress and prosperity unless complete autonomy was granted to all provinces.

Lamenting over continuity of poor policies, she said, only poor class was being pushed into extreme squalour.

"The future path lies in darkness unless people with impeccable background are elected to assemblies, giving birth to an independent parliament," she said, adding, framing of foreign policy was the responsibility of parliament and not the domain of armed forces.

She opined that no other institute would interfere in parliament if it performed its constitutional obligations in accordance with its mandate.

About US partnership in war on terror, the former ANP stalwart, who caught

many political circles by surprise with her announcement to return to politics, remarked that an independent approach over sovereign policies should be adopted.

Levelling criticism against the secret agencies, she termed them responsible for the whole mayhem.

Referring to her prolonged silence over political horizon, she informed that she was cornered due to certain circumstances over which she preferred silence.

She said when she was deprived of ANP presidentship, she also quit party membership.

ANP smells conspiracy against democratic setup

The central leadership of Awami National Party on Sunday expressing their resolve to thwart all efforts against the democratic system, said that Senate elections would be held on time.

Addressing a ceremony in connection with death anniversaries of ANP leaders Bacha Khan and Khan Wali Khan, provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, senator and information secretary ANP Zahid Khan and others, said that they would not let the evil designs of apostles of terrorism and extremism to succeed.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain in his address said that Bacha Khan always stood for policy of non-violence which was now recognised throughout the world.

Denouncing threats from menace of terrorism, he said, the representatives of dark forces were out to sacrifice their young blood for nefarious designs.

Senator Zahid Khan highlighting main characteristic of late ANP leaders, opined that the whole world valued the non-violence message of their leaders.

He said in the war on terror, about 600 ANP party workers had laid down their lives.

Justifying his party's stance to remain a part of coalition government, he said, they were staunch supporters of democratic setup in the country.

Lambasting MQM leader Altaf Hussain, he said that he was giving his opinion over formation of new federating units while sitting abroad.

"Altaf Hussain has set Karachi on fire where no one is secure. The nation has recognised his real character," Zahid said, adding, that they would not allow MQM to divide Sindh.

He demanded of the Supreme Court to issue directive for re-opening of cases against Altaf Hussain and Sindh governor Dr Ishrat ul Ibad

I fled Pakistan to escape ISI abduction

Farahnaz Isphahani, wife of former Pakistani ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, on Sunday said she had left Pakistan for her safety.
Talking to a British reporter on Sunday, Farahnaz said had she not left Pakistan, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) might have abducted her to put pressure on her husband, Husain Haqqani.

Mansoor no ‘viceroy’ to demand military protocol, says Gilani

Pakistan Today

Playing down Mansoor Ijaz’s arrival to Pakistan, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Sunday said he was no “viceroy” to demand being provided security by the military.
Talking to reporters after offering condolences to Amjad Kareem Randhawa, father of late Arfa Kareem, Gilani said it was the duty of the Interior Ministry to provide him security, but the protocol demanded was not allowed to any common man by the constitution. He said by giving such significance to the “memogate” and Mansoor Ijaz, “we are giving altogether a wrong image of Pakistan that the governments here are so feeble that they cannot withstand allegations made in a newspaper article”.
Gilani said the government would consider the matter of awarding Arfa Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civil award. He said his government would cooperate with both parliamentary committee for national security and the judicial commission probing into the memo scandal. To a question regarding resignation of Hussain Haqqani, he said Haqqani was still innocent as no charge had been proven against him.
He said no memo was dangerous for the country, but the message being conveyed to the world about our institutional weaknesses was dangerous. To a question about Pak-US relations, the prime minister said building friendly relations with every country was the main objective of Pakistan’s foreign policy.
He denied that Aitzaz Ahsan had demanded excluding or including “somebody” from the cabinet before agreeing to be his attorney. He discouraged the criticism of Aitzaz, saying he was doing a duty of professional lawyer only. Gilani said only the Pakistan People’s Party would decide on including Babar Awan in cabinet or not. Glorifying his government’s “successes”, he said it was for the first time in the political history of Pakistan that there was no political prisoner. He said the PML-N was not at all a friendly opposition and it was the opposition’s duty to point out the mistakes of government, which in return was supposed to accept criticism open heartedly. To a question on Jamaat-e-Islami’s warning of staging a sit-in outside parliament if NATO supply line was restored, he said NATO supply was stopped in the larger interest of the country not on demand of the JI and whatever decision was taken in the future would also be for the sake of the country.

Mansoor Ijaz: More ‘special’ than others?


Mansoor Ijaz made headlines in Pakistan and all over the world not just for his role in the Memogate scandal but also for appearing in a music video where he was seen as a commentator using double entendre during a women’s wrestling match. It seems that Mr Ijaz is a fan of wrestling, be it between wrestlers in a music video or between state institutions. He was instrumental in creating a hype surrounding a memo that was sent to Admiral Mike Mullen allegedly written at the behest of former ambassador Husain Haqqani who, according to Ijaz, had the full backing of President Zardari. The Pakistani military has fallen for Ijaz’s claims hook, line and sinker. In the process, the military has conveniently forgotten that this is the same man who is an avowed enemy of Pakistan’s army and the ISI.

Ijaz was supposed to visit Pakistan this month to provide evidence in the memo issue but so far he has not shown up on one pretext or another. He has cited ‘security concerns’ as the foremost reason for not coming to Pakistan. The US embassy clarified that it would not provide any security to Ijaz and he would travel to Pakistan as a common American citizen as per his own choice. Ironically, the Pakistani state institutions are falling over one another to provide security to an American citizen. Ijaz’s counsel Akram Sheikh has advised his client against travelling to Pakistan and wrote letters to Attorney General of Pakistan Maulvi Anwarul Haq and army chief General Kayani to ensure that the army provides security to his client. Mr Haq said the army may provide security to Ijaz but Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s statements seem to have irked Ijaz. Mr Malik was of the view that if Ijaz does not appear before the parliamentary committee investigating the memo issue, “the committee can direct the government to put his [Ijaz’s] name on the exit control list (ECL)”. By asking for special treatment for his client, Akram Sheikh is playing to the gallery and in the process playing politics. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s candid statement in this regard is quite relevant. “It seems as if a viceroy is coming over. Under the constitution and under the system, it is the duty of the Ministry of Interior to provide him [Ijaz] with security,” said Mr Gilani. Why should our country spend billions of rupees on providing security to a man whose credentials are not just dubious but who is trying his level best to destabilise the system in Pakistan? Ijaz is skating on thin ice anyway. Maybe it would not be wrong to say that all this dilly-dallying may just be an excuse on Ijaz’s part in the absence of concrete evidence to prove his absurd allegations. If indeed he had solid evidence, he would not have wasted so much of the court’s and parliament’s time.

To see a non-issue like the memo getting so much attention while all else is put on the backburner is quite tragic. Pakistan is already going through one of the roughest patches in its history. Now there is a likely confrontation between three state institutions — the military, the judiciary and the executive — based on a piece of paper whose origins are not yet known. Turning Pakistan into a laughingstock is something Mansoor Ijaz has already achieved but the real litmus test would be the day he comes here with solid evidence in hand.

Pakistan Court Widens Role, Stirring Fears for Stability


Once they were heroes, cloaked justices at the vanguard of a powerful revolt against military rule in Pakistan, buoyed by pugnacious lawyers and an adoring public. But now Pakistan’s Supreme Court is waging a campaign of judicial activism that has pitted it against an elected civilian government, in a legal fight that many Pakistanis fear could damage their fragile democracy and open the door to a fresh military intervention.

From an imposing, marble-clad court on a hill over Islamabad, and led by an iron-willed chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the judges have since 2009 issued numerous rulings that have propelled them into areas traditionally dominated by government here. The court has dictated the price of sugar and fuel, championed the rights of transsexuals, and, quite literally, directed the traffic in the coastal megalopolis of Karachi.

But in recent weeks the court has taken interventionism to a new level, inserting itself as the third player in a bruising confrontation between military and civilian leaders at a time when Pakistan — and the United States — urgently needs stability in Islamabad to face a dizzying array of threats.

Judges say their expanded mandate comes from the people, dating back to the struggle against the military rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf that began in 2007, eventually helping to pry him from power. Memories linger of those heady days, when bloodied lawyers clashed with riot police officers, and judges were garlanded and paraded as virtual saints.

In recent months, however, the Supreme Court has ventured deep into political peril in two different cases. Last week, as part of a high-stakes corruption case, it summoned Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to testify in court under threat of contempt charges that, if carried to conviction, could leave him jailed and ejected from office.

The court has also begun an inquiry into a scandal known here as Memogate, a shadowy affair with touches of soap-opera drama that has engulfed the political system since November. It has claimed the job of Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and now threatens other senior figures in the civilian government, under accusations that officials sought American help to head off a potential military coup.

Propelled by accounts of secret letters, text messages and military plots, the scandal has in recent days focused on a music video featuring bikini-clad female wrestlers that is likely to be entered as evidence of immorality on the part of the central protagonist, Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani origin.

Hearings resume Tuesday when Mr. Ijaz is due to give evidence. The fact that the courts have become the arena for such lurid political theater has reignited criticism, some from once-staunch allies, that the Supreme Court is worryingly overstepping its mark.

“In the long run this is a very dangerous trend,” said Muneer A. Malik, a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association who campaigned for Justice Chaudhry in 2007. “The judges are not elected representatives of the people and they are arrogating power to themselves as if they are the only sanctimonious institution in the country. All dictators fall prey to this psyche — that only we are clean, and capable of doing the right thing.”

The court’s supporters counter that it is reinforcing democracy in the face of President Asif Ali Zardari’s corrupt and inept government. On Saturday, Justice Chaudhry pushed back against the critics.

The court’s goal was to “buttress democratic and parliamentary norms,” he told a gathering of lawyers in Karachi. Deep-rooted corruption was curtailing justice in Pakistan, he added.

“Destiny of our institution is in our own hands,” he said.

Mr. Chaudhry was appointed to the Supreme Court under General Musharraf in 2000. Two years later he wrote a judgment that absolved the military ruler for his 1999 coup. But Mr. Chaudhry shocked his patron and his country seven years later with decrees that challenged General Musharraf’s pre-eminence. Senior security officials were ordered to track down individuals being illegally held by the military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, in some cases working with the F.B.I. and C.I.A. The privatization of state companies came under sharp scrutiny.

Then, on March 9, 2007, General Musharraf tried to fire Justice Chaudhry and placed him under house arrest. Protesting lawyers rushed into the streets in support of the chief justice. New cable television channels broadcast images of the tumult across the country. Power drained from General Musharraf, who resigned 18 months later.

The euphoria was soon tempered, however, by growing tensions with the new government. Mr. Zardari hesitated to reinstate Mr. Chaudhry, believing that he was too close to his political rivals and the military.

The standoff led to fresh street protests in 2009, led by the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. That March, amid dramatic scenes that included a threatened march on the capital, Mr. Zardari relented and Justice Chaudhry returned to the bench.

Within months, the Supreme Court had cleared the way for the possible prosecution of Mr. Zardari in a Swiss corruption case dating to the 1990s. The government cited Mr. Zardari’s presidential immunity, and argued, along with some international analyst groups, that the court was specifically targeting the president.

But among the wider public, the court was winning broad support. It engaged in a series of muscular interventions to champion the cause of ordinary Pakistanis, some of which broke new ground. Judges expanded the civil rights of hijras, transgendered people who traditionally suffered discrimination, called senior bureaucrats and police officials to account, halted business ventures that contravened planning laws, including a McDonald’s restaurant in Islamabad and a German supermarket in Karachi, and issued a decree against the destruction of trees along a major road in Lahore.

The court’s populist bent has infuriated the government but won cheers from urban, middle-class Pakistanis — the same people who had supported the lawyers’ drive against General Musharraf. Largely young, frustrated by traditional politics and angered by official graft, they constitute a political class that has in recent months flocked to Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician who is enjoying a sudden surge in popularity, and is a strong defender of the judiciary.

But the court’s activism has also taken many erratic turns. Justice Chaudhry has fought trenchant battles to win control of judicial appointments, a process traditionally in the government’s purview. While the judiciary has vigorously pursued Mr. Zardari, it absolved Mr. Sharif of his alleged crimes. And critics accuse Mr. Chaudhry of failing to reform the chaotic lower courts, which remain plagued by long backlogs. “Three years after the restitution of the chief justice, the delivery of justice remains as poor as it has ever been,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch.

The gravest charges, though, swirl around the memo scandal. Mr. Ijaz claims to hold an unsigned memorandum showing that Mr. Zardari’s government sought covert United States government help to avert a military coup in the poisonous aftermath of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May.

But the memo’s provenance is unclear and Mr. Ijaz’s credibility has come under assault in the news media. Last week a music video that went viral on the Internet showed Mr. Ijaz acting as the ringside commentator in a wrestling contest between two bikini-clad women and that, in one version, featured full nudity — a shocking sight in conservative Pakistan.

The furor, which made front-page news, injected a fresh sense of absurdity into proceedings that already were under question, and that many here insist would never have started without military intervention: the Supreme Court ordered the inquiry on Dec. 30 at the direct request of the army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI director general, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who harbor little love for Mr. Zardari. Also, the court ignored other claims by Mr. Ijaz that the army secretly sheltered Bin Laden, and sought outside support to mount a coup — acts that, if proven, could be equally treasonous.

Suspicions about the court’s impartiality were renewed last Friday, when Mr. Chaudhry ordered the government to disclose whether it intended to fire General Kayani or General Pasha — even though such decisions are normally the government’s prerogative.

The titanic three-way struggle among generals, judges and politicians comes at a time when Pakistan has become increasingly chaotic. Taliban insurgents continue to roam the northwest, the economy is in dire straits and urgently needed reforms in education, health and other social sectors have been largely ignored.

From the standpoint of the United States, the deadlock has diverted the spotlight from military airstrikes that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers in November and brought the two countries’ troubled relationship to a new low. But it has also drawn attention away from a pressing priority of the United States in Pakistan: engaging cooperation here to help negotiate a peace settlement with the Afghan Taliban as a major troop withdrawal slated for 2014 draws near.

“In the midst of this institutional wrangling, nobody has a clear plan as to how politics or foreign policy are going to move forward, said Dr. Paula Newberg of Georgetown University, who has written a book about Pakistani constitutional politics. “Pakistan could easily have a much brighter future. But it gets itself worn down by these incessant disputes about where power lies.”