Friday, March 30, 2012

Baluchistan separatists in Pakistan beset by divisions

The insurgents' presence is obvious in the mountains and ravines of Pakistan's western Baluchistan province, where hilltops are fortified with slabs of rock to serve as secure lookout posts for snipers. From there, they observe the comings and goings of potential threats — mainly Pakistani paramilitary forces — and plot attacks from the thorny brush along the isolated roads. Pointing to footprints in the sand marking the insurgents' path through the brush, the Baluch activists in this farming district on the periphery of an eight-year nationalist rebellion said that ambushes are common here because the prey have nowhere to run. Baluchistan — a vast wilderness bordering Afghanistan and Iran — has become the chaotic battleground for cloak-and-dagger conflict between Pakistan's military intelligence services and nine insurgent groups. But activists, insurgents and political analysts say that the festering insurgency lacks the political direction and momentum of a coherent independence movement, thwarting chances for a swift resolution to a conflict that's become increasingly deadly. Violence spiked in Baluchistan last year, when 621 people died in insurgency-related violence, including 231 people who were kidnapped and later found dead, human rights groups have reported. The conflict briefly attracted the attention of Congress in February, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who chairs the oversight subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced support for an independent Baluchistan, citing allegations of widespread human rights abuses by Pakistani security authorities. Islamabad, which flatly denies any abuses in Baluchistan, reacted angrily, and Rohrabacher's call was quickly disowned by the Obama administration. The White House has no interest in further straining ties with the Pakistani government, whose help is considered key to ending the war in neighboring Afghanistan. Indeed, Baluch separatists have little backing from the outside world. Neither neighboring Afghanistan nor Iran has any interest in fueling the insurgency, analysts said. The conflict largely has been an internal tussle between powerful tribal chiefs and the Pakistani government for control of Baluchistan's natural resources, particularly natural gas. Since the 1960s, the Baluch have watched as gas produced here — some 36 percent of Pakistan's total supply — is transported by pipeline to the rest of the country while their own province remains Pakistan's least developed. "Gas, electricity, water — we are fighting for control of these resources," said Amir, a Baloch activist who asked that his full name be withheld to shield him from reprisals. However, activists and analysts said the insurgent groups in Baluchistan lack the manpower and armed capability — and arguably even the ambition — to mount a fight to the end against Pakistan's powerful military. Direct confrontations between the insurgents and army-led paramilitary forces of the Frontier Corps are relatively infrequent, they said. Rebel ambushes of paramilitary convoys and posts have tended to be in revenge for kidnap, torture and murder incidents allegedly carried out by the military's intelligence services. Mostly, the insurgents have specialized in sabotage, repeatedly blowing up sections of the pipelines carrying natural gas from fields in Baluchistan and the railway lines that link it to the rest of Pakistan. Various insurgent faction leaders living in exile in Britain, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates also have been reluctant to form a united political platform, although they loosely share independence as their stated objective. The analysts said the political incoherence of the insurgency was a direct reflection of Baluch culture, with most fighters restricted to territory defined by their leader's tribal identity. "Different armed groups operate in various districts and they do not interfere in each other's areas of operation," said Malik Siraj Akbar, editor-in-chief of The Baluch Hal, an English-language news website covering Baluchistan. The website was blocked by the Pakistani authorities in 2010 and Akbar, a respected columnist in Pakistan's mainstream press, sought political asylum in the U.S. after repeatedly being threatened, allegedly by intelligence agents. Increasingly, the tribal chiefs leading the insurgency are under pressure from younger, educated activists to unite on a single platform. In February, Hyrbyair Marri, an exiled insurgent leader based in Geneva, traveled to Britain to meet separately with another exiled leader, Barambagh Bugti, grandson of the late Akbar Bugti — a rebel tribal chief whose death during a Pakistani army operation in 2006 sparked the current uprising — and Mir Suleman Dawood, the Khan of Kalat, who's the most important tribal chief. The initiative amounted to nothing — inflating suspicions among Pakistani analysts that the tribal leaders of the Baluch insurgency, rather than agitating collectively for independence, are preoccupied with obtaining greater power and royalties for themselves. The poverty of the Baluch, the analysts argue, is largely attributable to the feudal powers wielded by tribal chiefs. They also practice a harsh and often arbitrary form of justice that includes the forced exile of erring clans and, infamously, the determination of a suspect's guilt by making them walk on red-hot coals — no blisters means innocent, blisters means guilty. In Lasbela, concrete-walled canals carrying water from the hills are owned and used exclusively by the local chiefs to irrigate their farms. The chiefs were also the sole local beneficiaries of quarries that provide building materials — from marble to crushed sandstone — to the booming Karachi construction market. The loosely joined independence effort masks the intense rivalries between the tribal chiefs and fears that if Baluchistan were to gain autonomy, it would implode into civil war as the chiefs jockeyed for political and economic supremacy. "The timing of the movement is all wrong. None of the regional powers is really interested in seeing an independent Baluchistan and, without reliable supply lines from a neighboring state, no insurgency can succeed," said Mujahid Barelvi, a political commentator and TV talk-show host based in Karachi. Nonetheless, Baluchistan recently has raced to the top of Pakistan's domestic political agenda. Politicians and the Supreme Court have expressed concern that the alleged human rights abuses by the military intelligence agencies have created a "1971-like situation" — a reference to the civil war that led to the secession of Bangladesh, after India militarily intervened to support a popular separatist movement. Pakistan's military denies any direct involvement in the counterinsurgency operation, but the province's chief minister and governor have consistently complained that the military has seized most political, administrative and policing powers. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently endorsed that view, saying the military intelligence agencies "ought to respect the mandate of the provincial government." In Lasbela, an hour's drive west of Karachi, the locals — farmhands, mostly — were unnerved by the presence of an outsider and brushed off interview requests. While the rebellion also recently has attracted middle-class Baluch, such as human rights workers, students and writers, their attempts at peaceful agitation have been met with violent suppression, allegedly by the military's intelligence operatives. "Actions by Pakistani security forces have radicalized even moderate Baluch activists and citizens," said Akbar, the website editor. "There are no peaceable Baluch left." Read more here:

TB Alarmingly Spreading in Balochistan

Creating awareness amongst the masses about
Tuberculosis is inevitable as it is alarmingly spreading in Balochistan and other part of the country. “Victims of this disease in Balochistan are not restricted to poor, middle class rather people belonging to different walks of life even financially sound people are also suffering from this disease in Balochistan,” says President of Pakistan Chest Society Center Dr. S.M Naeem Agha while talking to the Baloch Hal in connection with the International Day of Tuberculosis. “We urge the media to create the desired awareness about this fatal disease as majority of the fresh cases are being registered of youngsters and this is a matter of great concern,” he informed. Dr. Agha says the exact number f TB patients in Balochistan is not known as another department deals with it, yet we can say that the number of patients runs into several thousands. He said factors which have resulted in the increase of TB patients is unhygienic conditions, presence of Afghan refugees who suffer the most from this disease, besides non awarness among the masses as a result of which much needed precautionary measures are not taken. “Pakistan Chest Society Balochistan Chapter arranged a walk on World Tuberculosis Day to create desired awareness and help check major health problem,” he added. Dr. Agha, informed that about two billion people around the globe carry active form of TB of which 1.4 million die due it every year, this means around 4, 500 persons die daily. He emphasizes that fact of the matter remains that political leaders and members of the civil society should come forward and create awareness in this regard. He also pointed out towards shortage of drugs in Fatima Jinnah Chest and General Hospital for TB patients.

The killing fields of Balochistan

EDITORIAL:DAILY TIMES Once again a sectarian attack has killed Shia Hazaras in Quetta. A van carrying members of the Hazara community was riddled with automatic arms fire in the Balochistan capital, killing five people, including a woman, and wounding six others. Riots broke out in the city after the incident, leading to more deaths and destruction. One policeman was killed and two protestors are reported to have been killed in an exchange of fire between protestors and the police while vehicles and buildings were torched. The Hazara Democratic Party and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party separately called for a shutterdown strike on Friday, a call that was supported by the ANP, JWP, BNP and Anjuman Tajiran Balochistan. The Tahafuz-e-Azadaran Council and the Balochistan Shia Conference have also come out with their response. While the former announced three days of mourning, the latter proposed the formation of a grand jirga comprising the PPP’s alienated Lashkari Raisani and other leaders to stop the systematic killings of the Hazara community. One report says the Taliban’s Jundullah faction has claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack. As if all this was not bad enough, on the very same day two UN workers were killed and one wounded in an ambush on their car near Mastung. Although no one has accepted responsibility, it may be recalled that Mastung was the site of one of the most gruesome Shia massacres when people were taken off a bus and shot in cold blood. Whether the latter attack has a sectarian colour or not is not known at this time, but there is little doubt that the killings of Hazara Shias in Balochistan is beginning to take on a sinister pattern. One reason why this may be so is that the Hazara community is known as one of the most peaceful, law abiding and hard working communities in the province. Perhaps the sectarian terrorists see them as ‘easy pickings’. The latest victims of this dance macabre have been added to the thousands of victims of sectarian killings since Ziaul Haq’s unleashing of Sunni extremist groups in the 1980s. What is surprising in the whole episode is that after the pattern of sectarian attacks against the Hazara community cane to the surface in recent months, why have the law enforcement authorities fallen asleep instead of taking extraordinary measures to protect the vulnerable community? One explanation for this lapse may be sought in the fact that the law enforcement agencies have their hands full in combating the Baloch nationalist insurgency, which by now has spread to virtually the whole province. While the military authorities and the hated FC seem to be concentrating on trying to eliminate all active nationalists, whether moderate or militant, through their ‘kill and dump’ policy, the disturbed conditions in Balochistan have left space for sectarian terrorists and even criminal gangs to freely indulge in kidnappings for ransom and other crimes without let or hindrance. In the context of the newfound interest by some US Congressmen in Balochistan’s plight, it is advisable that the civilian leadership in the province and the Centre wake up to their responsibilities, take control of the province’s affairs, stop Balochistan turning increasingly into a killing field, and open a channel of talks with the estranged Baloch nationalist leadership and all other stakeholders to bring peace back to the province through political means. If they fail the people of Balochistan in continuing to show their helplessness in the province’s affairs at the hands of the military, history may one day record how Balochistan was steadily driven out of the federation. If such a cataclysmic development were to actually transpire, what would be left of Pakistan?

And you think you're mad about gas prices

Every day on WorldNow, we choose an amazing photo from around the world. Today we took note of this shot from Indonesia, where protesters are furious about government plans to increase gas prices.
The Indonesian government is planning to raise fuel prices by a third, bringing the cost of subsidized fuel to 65 cents a liter, or $2.38 a gallon, Bloomberg News reported. Government officials say they have to reduce subsidies to avoid increasing the deficit. "Without raising domestic fuel prices, the government's subsidy bill will continue to bloat," Fauzi Ichsan, senior economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Jakarta, told the BBC. That hasn't made the idea any more popular. “It just means misery,” Nining Elitos, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Unions Alliance, told Agence France-Presse. Roughly 2,500 protesters sang songs and sat outside the presidential palace and parliament Thursday in Jakarta to agitate against the plan, Bloomberg reported. Some of the demonstrations grew violent as students hurled stones at police. Demonstrations have also broken out elsewhere in Indonesia: In this photo, a student protester leaps over a fire set in Makassar, the capital of the South Sulawesi province. Indonesia isn't alone: Dropping fuel subsidies has been a politically dicey move around the globe. Nigeria backtracked on a similar move early this year after protests exploded. Bolivia reversed course on slashing fuel subsidies a year earlier, after an uproar known as the gasolinazo. How governments subsidize or tax fuel accounts for much of the difference in the price of gasoline in different countries, which is why fuel is priced very differently from one part of the world to another -- and why cutting back on fuel subsidies can cause so much uproar when it happens.

How far away are we from nuclear terrorism?

Nuclear terrorism refers to the use, or threat of the use of nuclear weapons or other nuclear-related measures in acts of terrorism, which can cause enormous destruction. Nuclear terrorism can take many forms. The simplest form is building a dirty bomb, which uses explosives to release nuclear and other radioactive material resulting in nuclear pollution and radiation damage. As the decay of uranium and other nuclear materials normally takes hundreds of thousands of years, a dirty bomb attack can cause lasting damage to a country or region. Instead of acquiring a ready-made nuclear weapon, terrorists may attack nuclear power plants or nuclear facilities to achieve their destructive goals. Compared to potential threats from nuclear states, nuclear terrorism is a nearer and more urgent threat. The International Atomic Energy Authority recorded more than 1,500 incidents where nuclear and other radioactive material had been lost, stolen, or possessed without authorization between 1993 and 2008 when the global financial crisis occurred. It also recorded more than 1,600 incidents of nuclear smuggling during the period, over 20 of which involved the smuggling of nuclear material that was enough to build a simple atom bomb. Whether terrorist organizations have acquired enough nuclear material or the ability to make a nuclear bomb is till unknown. The economic turmoil caused by the financial crisis may increase the interests-driven illicit nuclear trade activity. In November 2010, the Georgian government arrested two smugglers who were trying to sell highly enriched uranium to Islamic extremist groups. The uranium sample was 89.4 percent enriched, enough to make an atom bomb. The two smugglers confessed that they could get much more highly enriched uranium from their supplier. It was the third time in seven years that highly enriched uranium had been intercepted in Georgia. As human beings are increasingly relying on nuclear energy, terrorism risks that occurred in the nuclear power stations and nuclear facilities in the world are also increasing. At present, there are over 1,000 nuclear facilities that are supervised and protected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The nuclear facilities in countries that have not joined in the "Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," such as India, are not subject to the supervision. Therefore, the source of nuclear smuggling has not been completely blocked. It is noteworthy that the loss of nuclear materials and nuclear matters caused by national unrest and regional conflicts has become more and more serious, which is also an important factor in the rising threat of nuclear terrorism. The collapse of the Soviet Union had led to confusion of the nuclear management and out of control and a large number of nuclear fuel and nuclear materials disappeared. The nuclear black markets appeared in Central Asia, Europe and the Balkans in the 1990s have also been active. All the problems, including the political turmoil in current Middle East countries, the deterioration of security situation in Iraq and the intensification of Iranian nuclear issue, may lead to the loss of nuclear materials and nuclear matters into the hands of individuals. Once the terrorists obtained nuclear weapons from these channels, the nuclear disaster facing humanity will come.

France arrests suspected Islamists in dawn raids

French police arrested at least 17 people early Friday morning over suspected links to militant Islamist circles in several cities across the country, including Nantes, Le Mans, Toulouse, and the suburbs of Paris.

China Calls on Syrian Opposition to Halt Armed Violence and Start Dialogue

called on Friday on the Syrian opposition to halt acts of violence and start dialogue, reiterating welcome of Syria's acceptance of the plan of the UN special envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, and hope in implementing it as soon as possible. "The Syrian opposition has to be quick in giving a specific response and creating the conditions for ending the violence and starting the dialogue," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, told a press conference. He expressed China's hope that the international community will continue support to Annan's efforts and play a positive role in peacefully resolving the crisis in Syria.

Amnesty urges Bahrain to free activist on hunger strike

Amnesty International has demanded the jailed Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja,
be released "immediately and unconditionally". Mr Khawaja has been on a hunger strike for the past 51 days and as his condition deteriorates there is growing concern that he may die in prison. He is refusing food in protest at the life sentence he received in June for allegedly plotting against the state. Amnesty described his trial by a military court as "grossly unfair". His conviction was based on a confession he made under duress, and no evidence was presented showing he had used or advocated violence during the mass protests against King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa, it said. 'Sexual abuse and beatings' Bahrain has been wracked by unrest since pro-democracy demonstrators occupied a prominent landmark in Manama, Pearl Roundabout, in February 2011. At least 50 people, including five police officers, have been killed, hundreds have been injured and thousands jailed. The protesters were forcibly driven out of Pearl Roundabout by security forces in March 2011, after King Hamad declared a state of emergency and brought in troops from neighbouring states to crush dissent. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja told the BBC before his arrest on 8 April that he had deliberately stayed away from Pearl Roundabout."I don't want to give the authorities any reason to arrest me," he said. He was nevertheless picked up in a late night raid and subsequently received a life sentence from a military tribunal for plotting the overthrow of the government. According to testimony he gave to the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) - a panel of human rights experts asked to look into the unrest by King Hamad following the international outcry over his handling of the protests - Mr Khawaja suffered prolonged torture while in detention. Mr Khawaja said his jaw had been broken in four places when police and masked men burst into his daughter's home and seized him. He was taken to a Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) hospital and spent seven days blindfolded and handcuffed to his bed, he told the BICI. While in hospital, he and his family were threatened with sexual abuse, he said.Mr Khawaja said he then spent two months in solitary confinement in prison and was denied access to a lawyer. He also alleged that he was sexually assaulted and regularly beaten. Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, Philip Luther, said on Friday: "The Bahraini authorities have made pledges that they would release people who were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, but the continued imprisonment of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja demonstrates that they are not serious about fulfilling such promises." According to his lawyer, Mr Khawaja has lost 16kg (35lbs) since his hunger strike began on 8 February in protest at his prison sentence. The National Safety Court of Appeal, a military court, upheld the conviction in September, but an appeal is set to be heard by the Court of Cassation on 2 April. The Bahraini authorities were not immediately available for comment. Mr Khawaja, who is married with four daughters, is also a citizen of Denmark, where he lived in exile for decades. He returned to Bahrain after the government announced a general amnesty in 2001.

U.S. A Cruel Budget

In February, after embarrassing himself by saying he was “not concerned about the very poor,” Mitt Romney explained that the government’s safety net would take care of them, and he promised to repair any holes in the net. That promise didn’t last very long. On Thursday, House Republicans approved, on a party-line vote, a disastrous new budget that would leave millions of struggling families desperate for food, shelter and health care — and Mr. Romney has embraced it. The budget, developed by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs over 10 years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, even more than the $2.9 trillion in Mr. Ryan’s first disastrous budget last year. “It’s an excellent piece of work,” Mr. Romney said. (Rick Santorum said it didn’t cut enough.) The biggest of the cuts would be to Medicaid, the joint federal and state program that is already gasping for money in many states that put a low priority on health care for low-income people. Mr. Romney often talks casually about turning the program over to the states entirely and simply writing a check to dispose of a half-century federal commitment. The Ryan budget exposes just how paltry that check would be: a cut of $810 billion through 2022, one-fifth of current spending, which would lead states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million people. By eliminating the expansion of Medicaid in the health care law, cutting $1.6 trillion, it would leave another 17 million low- and moderate-income people uninsured. Just as revealing is the acceptance by Mr. Romney and the other Republican presidential candidates of the Ryan plan to cut food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The budget would cut 17 percent of the SNAP budget, or $133.5 billion over a decade. As the center points out, there are only two ways to achieve that savings: Mr. Romney could simply take the benefits away from 8 million of the 47 million who now receive them, or he could cut everyone’s benefits. For a struggling family of four, that would mean a loss of $90 worth of food a month. Already, most people who get SNAP benefits use them up in the first two weeks of a month, and many turn to food banks by month’s end. Cutting benefits so sharply would lead to a significant increase in hunger, particularly among children, which would quickly create dangerous ripples through the health and education systems. At the same time, though, those families would find themselves unable to pay for health care, and they would also face reductions in housing assistance, job training and Pell grants for college tuition, all of which Mr. Ryan wants to cut, with Mr. Romney’s approval. In all, 62 percent of the budget’s cuts come from low-income programs, and that’s on top of the substantial cut in spending already in place from last year. But the Ryan budget does contain a substantial tax cut for the rich, which is one of the reasons Mr. Romney said he was “very supportive” of the plan. “It’s a bold and exciting effort,” he said, “and it’s very much consistent with what I put out earlier.” It is also consistent with his stated lack of concern for the very poor.

CNN poll: Afghan war support hits new low

Support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low with the majority of Americans saying the U.S. should withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan before the 2014 deadline set by the Obama administration, according to CNN's latest poll. The CNN/ORC International survey released Friday indicated only 25% of Americans favored the war in the Asian country. A majority of Republicans voiced opposition to it, for the first time since the war began in 2001. Just 37% of the general public said things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan, while only 34% said America is winning the war. The approval likely contributed to the 55% of those surveyed who said the U.S. should remove all of its troops from the country before 2014.

100,000 Pakistanis displaced in war on terror

Over 100,000 people have fled fighting between government troops and Taliban or Al-Qaeda-linked militants in northwest Pakistan since January 20, the UN refugee agency said Friday."An estimated 101,160 people, mostly women and children, have become displaced since January 20 when government troops began security operations against militant groups in the Khyber" tribal district, said the UNHCR in a statement.

Pakistan's State of lawlessness

There has been no peace and tranquillity in Pakistan for quite some time, but what we witness happening on the streets now almost on a daily basis is nothing but extreme political disorder and confusion. Not a day passes without angry protestors running amok in the cities, highways are blocked for hours, innocent citizens are gunned down by contract killers, and police exhibits its expertise in raping women in custody and frequently lunges in with long sticks and powerful water cannons at the demonstrators. If earlier it was Lahore, Faisalabad and other industrial cities of Punjab taken over by the rampaging crowds protesting against electricity and gas shortages, the nation's industrial-financial hub, Karachi, and some other cities of Sindh are in the tight grip of abounding lawlessness and violence. What keeps on happening in Quetta, Peshawar and other cities of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is too well-known to be recalled here. Even otherwise, the peaceful Northern Area has been of late a new battlefront for the holy warriors. If lady health workers cannot protest opposite national parliament in exercise of their constitutionally granted fundamental rights where should they go - should they go to the nearby Margallas to narrate the tale of injustices and discrimination that they are enduring? The treatment meted out to them in the heart of the capital with millions watching live images on television was simply apocalyptic. If the nurses and paramedics march to the Governor's House in Karachi, is it to be disrupted by water-cannon jets, tear gas and manhandling by the ruthless hounds in police uniforms, then who should they appeal to? A polity couldn't be more insensate than what we are turning into. Accepted, the ongoing terrorism in the tribal region is not of the present government's doing as it got it in inheritance and going by the realities on the ground there is not much that can be done in the short- and medium-term to control it. Also accepted that the ongoing insurgency and its side-show like sectarian violence in Balochistan is traceable to outside interference. But not the whole of it, for if the members of the provincial assembly are involved in crimes like kidnapping for ransom, then one would tend to say there is something seriously weird about the political elite. Had the present elected elite performed with any degree of sincerity we as a polity would not have come to such a sorry pass. The sad coda is that nothing is working - the industry has collapsed, homes and streets are insecure, trains get stranded at desolate places, highways are being ruled by pirates, air-travel remains uncertain. And; acts of corruption, cronyism and nepotism are rampant. Then there are the challenges of the courts being ridiculed and defied, policymaking in limbo and prices breaking through the ceiling. Now that the city roads are choked with shining cars (often stuck in traffic jams for there is no electricity to regulate traffic through signals) and high-rise plazas are being built all over the place, more and more Pakistanis are going under the poverty line. If what we see happening right before us is painful enough, what we do not see as the side effect of this lingering malaise is far more lethal to the nation's body politic. The rising intense confrontation between the various political power-contenders is now increasingly metamorphosing into ethnic polarisation. If nationalists are raising their flags in Sindh, in Punjab, the ruling PML (N) leadership is blaming the PPP-led ruling coalition of subjecting the Punjab to step-motherly treatment. In Balochistan, ethnic cleansing is a going concern and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is confronted with the challenge of bifurcation along the Pushtun-Hazarawal divide. That leaders don't resist the temptation of using provincial cards as electoral tools is indeed short-sightedness now a hallmark of our national politics.

PESHAWAR: Pathetic state of govt education system irks PHC CJ

Taking suo moto notice of poor performance of the government-run schools and colleges in the province, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) on Thursday directed the provincial chief secretary and other officials to present complete record of the teachers and lecturers who had enrolled their own children in private educational institutions. A two-member bench of Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan and Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth took the notice in a writ petition by Salma Naila, a teacher at the Municipal Inter-College for Women, seeking her promotion from BPS-16 to BPS-17. The bench issued notices to the chief secretary and secretaries for Higher Education Department, Schools and Literacy Department and Secondary and Elementary Education Department and directed them to produce complete record of those teachers and lecturers within two months who were teaching in government educational institutions but had enrolled their own children in private institutions. During hearing of the case, the chief justice observed: “How the education system will improve when government teachers were enrolling their own children in private schools and colleges?” “Though the government was spending billions of rupees on the government schools and colleges, there was no improvement in the government’s educational system. The teachers are not taking interest in educating students as their own children are getting education in private schools,” the chief justice observed, adding that the court would link their promotion and upgrading to performance and enrolment of their children in government schools. He said the annual performance of the government schools and colleges was not improving even by one step. Salma Naila had claimed in the petition that she was appointed as teacher in BPS-16 in the Municipal Inter-college for Women on November 6, 1996 and wasn’t promoted to BPS-17 after 16 years while 19 other junior teachers were upgraded to BPS-17.

Forced conversions hike Pakistan minorities’ fears

It was barely 4 am when 19-year-old Rinkal Kumari disappeared from her home in a small village in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province. When her parents awoke they found only her slippers and a scarf outside the door. A few hours later her father got a call telling him his daughter, a Hindu, had converted to Islam to marry a Muslim boy. Only days later, Seema Bibi, a Christian woman in the province of Punjab, was kidnapped along with her four children after her husband couldn’t repay a loan to a large landlord. Within hours, her husband was told his wife had converted to Islam and wouldn’t be coming home. Seema Bibi escaped, fled the village and has gone underground with her husband and children. Hindu and Christian representatives say forced conversions to Islam have become the latest weapon of Islamic extremists in what they call a growing campaign against Pakistan’s religious minorities, on top of assassinations and mob intimidation of houses of worship. The groups are increasingly wondering if they still have a place in Pakistan. ”It is a conspiracy that Hindus and Christians and other minorities should leave Pakistan,” says Amar Lal, the lawyer representing Kumari in the Supreme Court. ”As a minority, we feel more and more insecure. It is getting worse day by day.” In the last four months, Lal said, 51 Hindu girls have been forcibly converted to Islam in southern Sindh province, where most of Pakistan’s minority Hindu population lives. After Kumari disappeared from her home on Feb 24, Azra Fazal Pachuho, a lawmaker and the sister of Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, told Parliament that Hindus in southern Sindh were under attack by Islamic extremists. Kumari’s family has gone to the Supreme Court to get their daughter back. But the case is hotly contested by the Muslim family, who say Kumari’s conversion was voluntary. They say the couple had known each other and exchanged Facebook messages and phone calls before she converted and they married. On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered Kumari kept in a women’s shelter in southern Karachi until it resumes hearing the case on April 18. ”Christian and Hindu girls are targeted more and more,” says Father Emmanuel Yousaf, who heads the National Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization born out of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Yousaf, in the Punjabi capital of Lahore, said his group was helping Seema Bibi and a number of other Christians who had to leave their villages because of threats from extremists. Some of them were girls who were forcibly converted and others, he said, were falsely accused of acting against Islam for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad or abusing the Quran. There are dozens of cases of minorities being accused of insulting Islam under the country’s blasphemy laws. Often the cases are rooted in disputes with Muslim neighbors or as coercion to convert, and judges often feel intimidated by extremists into convicting accused blasphemers, said Yousaf. ”They know where you live and where your children go to school,” he said. Roughly five per cent of Pakistan’s 180 million people belong to minority religions, which include Hindu, Christian, Shia Muslims and Ahmadis, according to the CIA World Factbook. Ahmadis are reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics. Over recent years, violence against the minorities has increased, as Islamic hard-liners’ influence over the country has strengthened. In May 2010 gunmen rampaged through an Ahmadi place of worship in Lahore, killing 93. In February this year, gunmen stopped four buses in northern Pakistan, picked out those with Shiite-sounding names and shot them to death, killing 18. Last year, a provincial governor who criticized the blasphemy laws was killed by his own bodyguard, and the government’s only Christian Cabinet minister _ also an opponent of the laws _ was gunned down by militants. ”In Pakistan one’s religious faith, or lack of one, has become sufficient to warrant execution and murder,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist and peace activist wrote in a column earlier this month. ”The killers do their job fearlessly and frequently.” The violence has cowed Pakistan’s liberals and frightens even many Muslims. ”Extremism is a problem that is not just targeting the minorities. It is now a general problem in our society,” said Ijaz Haider, whose Jinnah Institute’s website carries an Extremism Watch documenting cases of attacks and intimidation by militants. ”The liberal mindset has had a severe setback and the government has no strategy. It tries to do damage control, and damage control is to placate these groups.” Critics say the government is too afraid and weak to respond or in some cases is even complicit as it panders to extremist groups for votes. A report released last week by Yousaf’s justice and peace commission laid out a series of grim statistics about minority women in Pakistan. The study surveyed 1,000 women, three-quarters of whom said they had been sexually harassed at the workplace, discriminated against in schools or pressed by teachers to convert to Islam. Yet they rarely complained. “They sense security in being silent as disclosing it might bring shame on themselves and their family,” the report said. Mohyuddin Ahmad, the information secretary for the Punjab Provincial government, says politicians and police are afraid. “If you are killed by a terrorist, no one will come for condolences,” he said. Even incremental steps have to be taken slowly and silently so as not to ignite a firestorm by extremists, said Ahmad. The provincial government has quietly sought to increase women’s participation in the work force, he said. It requires that a third of the members on government corporations and boards be women; all government offices must have day care centres; 15 per cent of all government jobs have to go to women; free land given to the poor is shared 50/50 by husband and wife; and acid throwing on a woman is now a terrorist act. But incessant bickering among political parties, the judiciary, federal government and army have worked in extremists’ favour of extremists, Ahmad said. “The provincial governments and the federal government know they are the scum of the earth but we don’t agree on strategy,” said Ahmad. “We have no unity of command.”

The laptop distribution game by the Punjab government

Let Us Build Pakistan In the absence of any substantial evidence of performance, yet enjoying ‘high ratings’ due to their alliance with the media, the PML-N government in Punjab has in the last few months on an ambitious plan of winning over youngsters in the province by distributing laptop computers. While such a gesture should be appreciated in times when a treasury is running a surplus budget or there are no development gaps in the province, the laptop distribution as a means to gain public approval. The PML-N, especially Shahbaz Sharif, has used the laptop distribution ceremonies as a platform to spread hate against the PPP especially the President. While we have written posts recently about the derogatory terms being used by Shahbaz Sharif, we find the silence of our media, especially the anchors, to be ironic. While the spend air time endlessly to discuss the ‘maujooda siyasi halaat’, wherein ‘krupshion’ and ‘bad gavernunce’ is the major theme, they absolve the PML-N government completely and turn a blind eye towards the laptop distribution scheme. We have some questions which we hope someone in the PML-N would respond to, else we pray that either the CJP or the media anchors will do programs on them: How many laptops are planned to be purchased and distributed? What is the amount of funds allocated for the purchase? What make these laptops are? From which distributor these have been purchased or are planned to be purchased? Were PPRA rules, which our mindless Transparency International loves to cite, followed in the process? Have the distributors given any discount as we would consider the program to be a major purchase? How much is being spent on the distribution ceremonies and who is footing the bill for that? Under what arrangement is Mian Nawaz Sharif distributing the laptops? How has Punjab Government financed the purchase? Does it have the funds from its resources or are these the NFC funds which are being used? While one cannot expect a clear answer, we do hope that media will spend some print space and air time on these nine questions.