Monday, December 24, 2012

We wish you a merry Christmas

Qissa Khawani Bazaar: Storytellers of modern day will tell tales of suicide attacks

The Express Tribune
The old market of storytellers, Qissa Khawani Bazaar, is left with few memories of traders and travellers sharing their stories over a cup of green tea, while passing from Afghanistan to the subcontinent. Dhaki Nalbandi, the centuries-old narrow street leading from the main Qissa Khawani Bazaar, once famous for the birth of film icons, has now turned into a place remembered for massacres, where many legends breathe their last. The recent events at the bazaar are creating a new history. If travellers would sit over a cup of tea today, there would only be tales of violence to share. If storytellers of modern-day Qissa Khawani share their stories they will tell the listeners about the killing of 20 people on January 28, 2007. Among the deceased was a well-respected police official of the city CCPO Malik Saad and police official Khan Raziq. The storytellers will then go on to say that three years later, on April 18, 2010, a suicide bomber targeted DSP Gulfat Hussain, three police constables and a Jamaat-e-Islami leader Dost Muhammad Khan only 50 metres south of Dhaki Nalbandi. They will surely tell the story of November 11, 2012, when a suicide bomber targeted SP (Investigation) Hilal Haider’s vehicle barely 200 meters west of Dhaki Nalbandi. “Awami National Party Provincial Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, who had survived two assassination attempts in the past, was targeted on December 22, 2012,” they will say next. “Police official Abdul Sattar and seven others were also killed in the suicide attack in the middle of Dhaki Nalbandi,” they would add, while pointing to the narrow lane.

India: The rage after the rape
Caught as they were between the stony silence of an impassive government and the cynically simplistic demands of Opposition politicians for instant justice, it is hardly surprising that the leaderless crowds which spontaneously gathered at India Gate on Saturday and Sunday to protest the recent incident of rape in the Capital should have ended up in a violent skirmish with the police. Yes, lumpens looking for a scrap jumped in to take advantage and yes, the police did respond with mindless brutality against everyone present. But the primary responsibility for the turmoil surely lies with our national political leaders who simply lack the ability to understand and engage with a democratic upsurge from below, especially one that is not stratified by language, religion or caste. Confronted with the possibility of mass protest, the government on Saturday should have acted politically to assure the women of India that a serious national review of all legal issues surrounding rape, sexual assault and gender rights would be undertaken on a war-footing. Instead, its first and only instinct was to shut down the public transport system in Central Delhi and prepare for battle. When thousands of young women and men arrived at India Gate on Sunday having successfully evaded official attempts to restrict their movement, they found themselves face to face with a state apparatus that was not interested in a conversation. Although arrests have been made after the gang rape incident and the government has promised a speedy trial, women in New Delhi and the rest of India do not feel any safer when stepping out of their homes. This is because they know that the official mindset has not changed. Instead of pushing the national debate in the direction of serious systemic reform, especially of law enforcement and justice delivery, a number of Opposition politicians have started an irresponsible debate on the need for the death penalty, or castration of rapists. These demands, which have had a populist echo amongst the protesters at India Gate, ignore the fact that shoddy investigation, poor forensics and misogynist attitudes among the police and even lower judiciary are the main reasons why rape victims in India do not get justice. The editorial page article by Anup Surendranath today explains why castration is not a solution. As for the death penalty, making it mandatory for rape will make it more likely that a rapist kills his victim. A committee headed by Justice J.S. Verma has now been tasked with reviewing the legal position on aggravated sexual assault. What the government must do is to commit itself to implementing all its recommendations, including any on police and judicial reform, and not simply cherry pick those that are politically the most convenient.

India PM calls for calm following New Delhi gang-rape protests

Cold Christmas Awaits Pakistan’s ‘Christians’
Christians living in the Pakistani neighbourhood where a young girl was accused of blasphemy say they are facing a bleak and joyless Christmas, crushed by poverty and harassed by Muslims. Rimsha Masih spent three weeks on remand in one of Pakistan’s toughest prisons after being arrested on August 16, accused of burning papers printed with verses from the Quran, in a case that drew worldwide condemnation. Under the Islamic republic’s blasphemy laws, she could have been jailed for life, but the Islamabad High Court threw out the case against her in September. Blasphemy is so sensitive in Pakistan that even unproven allegations can provoke visceral, violent reactions. Rimsha and her family will spend Christmas as they have spent the last four months — in hiding, fearing for their lives. Her home stands empty and the festive season promises little cheer in the run-down area of Mehrabad, a warren of filthy, unpaved streets winding between tiny single-storey breezeblock houses on the edge of Islamabad. Difficult Christmas traditionally means new clothes, music and celebrations, but locals say things have become much more difficult since the Rimsha case. A patch of waste ground, where children play and goats nose through piles of rubbish, should be home to a Christmas tree by now. But not anymore. “A day or two ago we were discussing how to decorate a tree when some young Muslim men came and mocked us, saying ‘You are talking about it but you will not dare put it up,’” Amjad Shehzad, a housepainter, told AFP. “Normally at Christmas we put up stars on our houses, but this year we will not be able to do this either,” he added. Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim and at around two percent of the population, Christians are among the country’s most marginalised citizens. Many are impoverished and trapped in dirty, menial jobs. “We are scared. We are frightened. We cannot sit together, we cannot speak loudly, we cannot celebrate openly. We have threats,” said Ashraf Masih, a sweeper and a father of nine, in his unheated two-room house. “If we sit together and talk, all of a sudden the Muslim owner of the house will come and ask ‘Why are you here, what are you talking about?’” Drums and a lectern are piled up in a corner — rescued from a house that had been used as a makeshift church until the neighbours complained about the noise and the landlord intervened. Dividing He built a concrete wall across the inside of the building dividing it into two homes. Gold paper crosses and a picture of Jesus Christ, arms outstretched in supplication, still adorn one wall. “Christmas is coming and we are upset. What will we do on Christmas? Every year we used to celebrate it here but now we have no church to celebrate in the area,” said Aslam Masih, a 37-year-old gardener and father of three. His wife Kalsoom Aslam said money was also a worry. “The atmosphere is not good and our church is closed,” she said. “Either we pay the rent or we make preparations for Christmas.” Many of Mehrabad’s 400 or so Christian families fled when Rimsha was arrested, fearing for their safety. In 2009, in the central town of Gojra, Muslims burnt more than 70 Christian houses, killing seven, after a rumour that a page from the Quran had been desecrated during a wedding. But Aslam Masih says most have since returned to Mehrabad. “We are back in our houses, though some Christians have been shifted to (the neighbourhood of) H-9/2 in a graveyard, where they have some makeshift arrangement living in tents.”

Peshawar: Christmas celebrations cancelled in province

The Express Tribune
Christians have cancelled Christmas celebrations following Bashir Ahmad Bilour’s assassination. On Sunday, representative of Assemblies of God Church Younatan Younas told The Express Tribune that the killing of Bilour by militants had rendered the entire city in a state of immense loss. This year the community has decided not to celebrate Chrismas with the same religious fervor that is usually expected with the holiday, and have instead decided to celebrate a simple and toned-down Christmas in his remembrance. Religious services will be held in all churches of the city and special prayers will be offered to sympathise with those who lost their loved ones in the attack. He said that a Christmas festival held every year in Kohati has also been cancelled.

Egypt liberal objects to charter

One of Egypt's leading opposition figures on Monday pledged continued resistance to his country's Islamist-oriented constitution even if it is declared to have passed, contending that the process was fundamentally illegitimate. Unofficial tallies say nearly two-thirds voted in favor of the draft constitution, but turnout was so low that opponents are arguing that the vote should be discounted. Hamdeen Sabahi, who placed third in the nation's first free presidential race over the summer, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the majority of Egypt's people are not Islamists. He argued that the string of election triumphs by President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group are the result of unfair electoral practices and key mistakes by the liberal opposition, particularly a lack of unity and organization. "The Muslim Brotherhood is a minority — this is for sure. They get majority votes because of division within the opposition," he said. "If there is transparency (in voting) and unity among civil groups, then surely the majority will turn from the Brotherhood." Sabahi said the Islamist groups in the country "for sure have tried to steal" the revolution that toppled authoritarian President Hosni Mubarak neat two years ago — "but we will prevent them." Sabahi said the National Salvation Front — a union of key opposition forces that coalesced in the fight against the draft constitution — is not calling for civil disobedience in rejection of the Islamist-drafted constitution, but for a new constitution through peaceful means. The path toward such an outcome appears uncertain at best — especially as Sabahi rejected the notion, somewhat plausible in Egypt, of the military stepping in to undo the inconvenient outcomes of politics. In a sign of the opposition leadership's efforts to coalesce, Sabahi said the grouping would be led in the interim by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear agency. No confirmation of that was immediately available from ElBaradei. In the interview, the silver-maned, charismatic former journalist seemed to embody the frustrations of liberal Egyptians today: While championing the democracy and lauding the 2011 revolution that felled Mubarak, they reject the outcome of that revolution, yet seem at something of a loss to cause a change of course. Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets weeks before the referendum to demand a new assembly with greater diversity write the charter. Instead, an Islamist-dominated assembly hurriedly passed it before a court could rule on the body's legitimacy, and Morsi himself issued decrees, later rescinded, that gave him near absolute powers to push the constitution to a referendum. Backers of the Brotherhood and others Islamist parties also rallied in support of the charter, leaving the country split and leading to violent clashes between the two camps that killed 10 outside the presidential palace in Cairo this month. That created the impression that street protests can be conjured up to support either side in the current divide. But only around 30 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum on the divisive charter. Of that number, unofficial figures estimate that 64 percent voted in support of it. Sabahi said the low voter turnout shows people were not convinced by the Brotherhood's slogans — nor with the opposition's. "This means that the battle for politics is concentrated on survival, food, jobs and prices — daily struggles that are the priority of all Egyptians," he said. Under such circumstances, he said, it was illogical to enshrine the document as a constitution that can be amended only by supermajorities in parliament. Critics say the new constitution seeks to entrench Islamic rule in Egypt and that the charter does not sufficiently protect the rights of women and minority groups. Morsi and his supporters say the constitution is needed to restore stability in the country, install an elected parliament, build state institutions and renew investor confidence in the economy. In a reflection of the complex nuances at play, Sabahi refused to describe the current conflict roiling Egypt as a clash between secularism and theocracy, saying that in the Arab world, religion and public life could never be distinct in accordance with the Western model. Rather, he said, the issue was preventing the Brotherhood from establishing a "tyranny" as a political movement not unlike that of the previous authoritarian regime. He likened Morsi to the ousted leader, Mubarak, saying the Brotherhood is after absolute power. "He (Morsi) reached power democratically, but is not exercising power democratically," he said, adding that the Brotherhood "wants to establish a system of tyranny in their benefit." Regarding the fears of theocracy, Sabahi said, "We are against separation of religion and state ... The intellect of the Arab region, and Egypt, is built essentially on religion and specifically the Islamic religion." Nonetheless, Sabahi said the opposition would continue to fight the constitution, arguing that the low turnout made it illegitimate. "From the beginning the National Salvation Front said this constitution does not represent the people," he said. "This constitution is not one of national consensus, but of national division." He said the NSF would now try to remain united in preparation for possible participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He said the front has no immediate plans to unite under one party, but that as a coalition they could win a majority of seats if electoral laws mandated an end to political proselytizing in mosques and placed a limit on the funds used for political campaigns. Another key issue for the opposition has been enabling people to vote outside their home district. The absence of this has aided the Islamists, who have the money to bus supporters back home to vote. The opposition, though, has also warned that rigging could be made easier if people vote from any location and point to the current use of Brotherhood-manned buses to transport poor voters. "I am sure that the non-Islamists are the real majority in Egypt. But the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys strong organization, and the forces that oppose them do not have the same organization or finances," he said. The Brotherhood emerged as the country's strongest political force after the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak nearly two years ago. They won the most seats in parliament, before it was dissolved by the courts, and won the presidency. Liberal and secular groups have consistently failed to beat the Brotherhood at the polls since. That was until Sabahi, a charismatic populist, appeared as a surprise presidential contender against Morsi and his rival, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, an ex-military man who lured voters with promises of stability. Sabahi had a last-minute surge after campaigning on promises to help the poor and harkening back to the nationalist, socialist ideology of Gamel Abdel-Nasser, Egypt's president from 1956 to 1970. Would Sabahi — known as a fervent opponent of Israel — cancel the landmark 1979 peace treaty if he one day ascended to power? No, he said. The main issues facing Egypt today are resolving internal problems, especially endemic poverty — and he would not risk that priority issue by courting war with a neighbor. In contrast to the Brotherhood, which has several offices in every Egyptian governorate, Sabahi spoke from the office of a famous Egyptian movie director, who lent him the space. "The Brotherhood is losing every day. Mohammed Morsi is losing every day," Sabahi insisted, sitting among black and white pictures of Egyptian cinema actors emblematic of the 1960s — a time of resurgent Arab nationalism less complicated by the politics of religion.

Christmas Eve in Kabul

- NATO troops in Kabul celebrate Christmas Eve troops with festive songs, church services and Christmas dinner.

'Made in China': A Christmas gift

American fellows, it is Christmas time, a time to wake up, have a strong cup of coffee, and see what gifts a Chinese Santa Claus really delivers. Each Christmas morning, when you open your sleepy eyes, the presents that light you up most probably bear a "Made in China" label. However, facing a declining economic growth, ballooning deficit and looming "fiscal cliff", the Christmas season in the United States this year seems particularly chilly. Amid the current economic chill, some major American media outlets recently called on the American people to boycott the "Made in China Christmas gift" and revive the "Made in America Christmas". They spoke negatively about the quality of Chinese-made products and said "Made in China" has been controlling the American people and big businesses. The first high-level trade talks between China and the United States since both countries underwent leadership transitions just concluded last week. The world's two largest economies and each other's second-largest trading partners expressed their willingness to resolve trade disputes and enhance win-win cooperation during the high-level talks. It is time to let the truth do the talking. Our American fellows deserve to know the truth, the stinging truth about how the ubiquitous "Made in China" has helped the US economy. "'Made in China' not only won't hurt our businesses, but bring them opportunities instead," said John Duggan, an American attorney and long-time China watcher. "Made in China", with its fine quality and low price, has greatly improved the purchasing power of the American people. This was especially evident after the global financial crisis. During the financial winter, the number of one dollar stores sprang up. Among those in these shops, "Made in China" products accounted for a large percent. Based on Morgan Stanley's research report, in 2009 alone, approximately $100 billion in US consumer spending was saved by the "Chinese imports". Capitalizing on China's low costs of labor and raw material, American corporations managed to have their products manufactured in the large populated developing country, and sell them back to the tasteful US consumers with a handsome price. This huge "Chinese dividend" led a wealth of American companies to make investment in their manufacturing bases in China. As of today, China has attracted over 480 companies of the Fortune Global 500 to invest in this burgeoning economy. With China's cooperation and participation, American corporations have found a sustained growth engine and witnessed increased share of wealth. While "Made in China" has greatly benefited both the average Americans and big US businesses, what frequently appeared in the American mainstream media were mainly the exaggerated quality issues of Chinese-made products. The bitter side of "Made in China" has remained unmentioned. From day one, it was the Western developed countries who got the credit, and China that did the dirty work. The majority of the "Made in China" goods are just original equipment manufacturer (OEM) products. China has merely served as an agent factory of the Western developed countries. According to a recent report by the People's Daily newspaper, OEM products take up about 90 percent of China's exported goods. At present, less than 3 percent of global brands accounts for about 50 percent of the total global sales, and 90 percent of these well-known brands belong to the developed countries and emerging industrialized countries and regions in Asia-Pacific region. "Made in China" has long been at the low end of the global value chain. The world famous Barbie dolls sold in more than 100 countries were mainly manufactured in China. For each Barbie sold in America for $9.9, there is merely $0.35 left to her Chinese "mother" for labor, plant & equipment and electricity. Moreover, those heavy industries, which are detrimental to the environment, were gradually moved to China. The developing country not only consumed its energy resources and damaged its environment, but was also demanded by some developed countries to bear the task of energy conservation and emission reduction beyond its carrying capacity. Behind China's manufacturing bonanza, few noticed what a huge sacrifice the world's second-largest economy has made, and how much pain it has taken to get this far. Behind the "Made in America" slogan, hardly any Americans questioned how much politics is involved. The Obama administration's alleged plan to "revive American manufacturing" is simply a political advertising during the American election season, since America does not enjoy any advantages in low-end, labor-intensive manufacturing. The country's real edges are in the high-end, knowledge-intensive sectors. In addition, with the rising trend of global economic integration, "Made in China", to some extent, has evolved to "Made with China". Many of the products labeled "Made in China" are not necessarily Chinese products, but American-brand merchandises. The economic globalization has made Chinese and US businesses better integrated. This Christmas morning, when you wake up and smell this couple of coffee, accept your gifts with gratitude.

Rights lawyer challenges Morsi's appointment of 90 Shura members
Rights lawyer Hafez Abu-Seida has filed an appeal against President Mohamed Morsi's decision to appoint 90 members of the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament. According to Abu-Seida, the chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Righs, the newly-approved constitution does not give the president the right to appoint 90 members to the body. Abu-Seida further argued that the new constitutional article granting the Shura Council legislative authority until a new parliament is voted in should only be applied to the elected members of the Shura and not the appointed members, as the constitution was drafted earlier than the presidential decision. The presidency announced late on Saturday, on the final day of the constitutional referendum, the names of 90 members of the Shura Council, chosen by President Morsi according to his constitutional prerogatives, to fill one third of the 270-member body. The Shura Council will take over the power to issue laws, currently in the hands of the president, once the constitution is approved. The final results of the two-phase referendum on the draft constitution will be announced on Tuesday. The council is expected to discuss the law regulating political rights on which the next elections of the lower house of parliament will be based. The parliamentary elections will be held in two months. A number of prominent figures are among those appointed, including the deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party Essam El-Erian, former head of the military judiciary Adel El-Morsi, American University in Cairo professor Mona Makram Ebeid, and former MP Ramy Lakah. Meanwhile, a number of opposition figures including journalists Wael Qandil and Gameela Abu-Ismail have declined presidential invitations to join the council.


An interview with renowned atheist Richard Dawkins on whether religion is a force for good or evil.
Fanaticism, fundamentalism, superstition and ignorance. Religion is getting a bad press these days. Much of the conflict in the world, from the Middle East to Nigeria and Myanmar, is often blamed on religion. But what are the alternatives? Adolf Hitler was an atheist. Communism under Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao Zedong banned religion, but also massacred millions. And science brought incredible and amazing advances, but also pollution and the atomic bomb. A critic of religious dogmatism, Professor Richard Dawkins revolutionised genetics in 1976 with the publication of The Selfish Gene, which explained how evolution takes place at the genetic level. He has since written 12 more bestsellers, including The God Delusion which sold millions of copies, was translated into more than 30 languages, and catapulted him to the position of the world's foremost atheist. Mehdi Hasan interviews evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins at the Oxford Union and asks: Is religion a force for good or evil? Can it co-exist with science? Is science the new religion? And why if god does not exist, is religion so persistent?

Bashir Bilour: the lion slain

Dr Mohammad Taqi
Whether it was the bombings in Peshawar in the 1980s or the siege of the city’s Shia in 1992, Bashir Lala would always be on the frontline The Awami National Party (ANP) has lost one of its bravest leaders. Senior provincial minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Bashir Ahmed Bilour was martyred this past weekend. One of his party colleagues and a fellow Peshawari said, “The lion of Peshawar has been slain.” Bashir Ahmed was born on August 1, 1943 in the walled city of Peshawar in mohallah Hodah inside the old Ganj gate to Bilour Din sahib. He came from the prominent business and trader family of Peshawar called the Kalals. To my generation he was Bashir Lala, or the elder brother, but to his peers and most of the common Peshawaris, he just remained Bashir jan — the dear Bashir. The bereaving Peshwaris are lamenting: Bashir jan tannay barri ziyadti keeti aiy (this is not fair Bashir jan) My first recollection of the politician Bashir Lala is from a 1977 election poster, when I believe he was contesting a provincial assembly seat as the National Democratic Party (NDP)/Pakistan National Alliance candidate. The PNA ended up boycotting the provincial elections. But Bashir Lala and his older brothers Haji Ghulam Ahmed and Ilyas Ahmed, presently a federal minister and senator respectively, had joined the National Awami Party (NAP) — and by extension, the Pashtun nationalist movement — somewhere in the early 1970s. His younger brother, Aziz Bilour, remained in the civil service and never joined politics, though there came times that all four brothers were imprisoned by the government of the time for their political affiliations. The NAP was banned and disbanded, but Bashir Lala and his family remained committed to Baacha Khan and Wali Khan’s political thought. The ANP was formed in 1986 after the merger of the NDP, Mazdoor Kissan Party, Awami Tehrik and Pakistan National Party. Bashir Lala was to later become the provincial president of the ANP. Today, Bashir Lala is remembered for the five consecutive elections he won. I saw him at his finest after his first election and the first and only election defeat in 1988. He was as gracious in defeat as he was in his five wins. The ANP morale was down, as it was routed in the 1988 polls in Peshawar valley. That is where the workhorse Bashir Lala came into the picture. He crisscrossed Peshawar’s alleys to reach out, support and encourage the party cadres. If his oldest brother had the social suave to reach out to the Peshawar families, it was Bashir Lala’s political muscle that held together the ANP election machine in Peshawar from the non-party-based local bodies election of the 1980s to a thumping victory in the 1990 general elections. Peshawar city has traditionally been a stronghold of the assorted Muslim Leagues and then the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Having lost his first election to Syed Ayub Shah of the PPP, Bashir Lala was truly the architect of the Pashtun nationalists finally wresting away Peshawar from the League and the PPP. While deeply inspired by Wali Khan, he was an extremely effective traditional politician who understood the complexities of a large city and the problems of its people. He reached across language and sectarian barriers and stood up for his constituents regardless of party affiliation. But he was one of the few leaders who were readily accessible to party workers whenever they needed him. When the ANP secured a majority in the 2008 provincial elections, he was one of the front runners for the chief ministership. Some Peshawaris complain that if he was not a Hindko speaker he may have secured the top slot. But Bashir Lala was not only above parochial divisions and very secular in outlook personally, he was also a very pragmatic politician and not an ideologue in any sense. He was not an ideologue until perhaps an ideology of hate befell his city and the province. He became ideologically committed to fight the obscurantists with whatever it took, whenever and wherever. If Mian Iftikhar Hussain is the face of the anti-Taliban ANP, Bashir Lala was its soul. In a country bogged down by confusion over what to do about the Taliban menace, his was a clear vision and message: fight and trounce them for their thought and savage means are incompatible with anything modern. Lately, we have heard the Pakistani security establishment ostensibly lamenting that the civilians do not show leadership against terrorism. Bashir Lala was a civilian politician who led from the front, knowing full well that it would cost him his life. He had told his wife, the daughter of the Peshawari steel magnate, the late Gul Muhammad Khan, that if my dead body has wounds on the back, you must not see my face. But as we know he took the bomb shrapnel on the chest. His brothers, his wife and his two sons, Usman and Haroon, along with his compadres in the ANP are proud of Bashir Lala. To me this is nothing new. Whether it was the bombings in Peshawar in the 1980s or the siege of the city’s Shia in 1992, Bashir Lala would always be on the frontline. He would barge in with true grit and not leave until the job was done. He always did his part as he has done this time. But can his resolve and example be followed? He is the last fallen along a perilous path on which Salmaan Taseer and indeed Benazir Bhutto were slain, but would certainly not be the last one. While continuing to play footsie with its jihadist proxies, the security establishment is passing the hot potato of decision making to the civilians as they cower under fear and political expediency. Gunter Grass had noted somewhere that it is a crime to hope when there are no reasons for hope. I am not about to commit that crime. I really do not know what the fates have in store for Peshawar, but RIP Bashir Lala, you will forever be in the hearts of the Peshawaris wherever we are.

Christmas celebrations in Pakistan

The Christian community is celebrating Christmas on Tuesday (25th Dec) with great Zeal
The Christmas day in Pakistan is a public holiday‚ although it is observed in the memory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah‚ the founding father of Pakistan Christian community has made special arrangements to celebrate the day. Special services are being held in Churches across the country which began from midnight on Monday night. In Pakistan‚ the Christians are the second largest minority after Hindus. The community celebrates Christmas along with other parts of the world on December 25 with full zeal and fervour. From decorating trees to candles‚ exchanging of gifts to cutting cakes‚ the Christian community observes everything to celebrate the birth anniversary of Jesus Christ. The markets are reflecting hustle and bustle of the customers while the administrators of churches have finalized arrangements so that the faithful feel free not only to pray but enjoy as well. Churches in this regard have been washed and decorated with buntings and Christmas trees. Meanwhile‚ strict security arrangements have been made to ensure peace in the country during Christmas event.

Gunman kills two firefighters in upstate New York

A gunman kills two firefighters who were responding to a house fire in Webster, New York. Two more are injured in the shootout. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

Down to the fiscal cliff wire, with no solution in sight

Saudi intellectual arrested
Prominent Saudi intellectual and writer Turki Al Hamad has been arrested upon direct orders from the kingdom’s interior minister, Saudi media reported. Saudi media has reported that the writer had been arrested following an order by Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef following tweets criticising Islamists. According to the media sites it was a particular tweet that landed him in hot water which called for the “correction” of Islam. Saudi site Sabq reported that the interior minister felt “severe displeasure at the slander” of the Prophet and directed the authorities to immediately detain him. Known as a liberal critic of religious radicalism, Al Hamad has caused controversy before. His novels have dealt with political and social matters long considered taboo in the religiously conservative kingdom. The Riyadh Bureau cited a series of tweets in December 2011 in which Al Hamad directly criticised Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd, a Minister of State. One of his tweets read: “Your royal highness, do you know what the people are?” Those criticising Islam in Saudi Arabia, and particularly the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), often face the risk of being charged with apostasy, a crime punishable by death. A young Saudi writer, Hamza Kashgari, was extradited from Malaysia last year upon the request of Saudi authorities for tweets which were seen as insulting to the Prophet.

AFGHANISTAN: Power shortages hamper development

A lack of regular electricity in Nangahar Province in eastern Afghanistan is undermining reconstruction efforts and pushing families back into poverty, say business leaders in the provincial capital, Jalalabad. The city stands on a vital trade route with neighbouring Pakistan and until a few years ago had factories and workshops producing soap, plastic household goods, marble stones, salt, cloth, pots and a variety of other goods. A recent survey by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Afghan Chamber of Commerce revealed 30 factories and workshops in the city have closed in the past few years because of a lack of power. “There were 115 factories in 2011 but today there are 85 and if there is no electricity it could be reduced more,” Mohammed Qasam Yusufy, the local representative of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce, told IRIN. “About 600 people have been left jobless by factories shutting down only this year,” he added citing electricity problems as the major cause. Almost half the country’s external trade passes through the province, according to the Chamber of Commerce - including 70 percent of NATO supplies. But provincial government officials say insecurity has delayed a planned power connection to Kabul’s Naghlo hydroelectric plant, which was due to provide 32 megawatts (MW) to the city, six of which to the Shikh Misry Industrial Park. The proposed link has been undermined by insecurity in Uzbin District, Kabul Province, according to Muheburahman Mohmand, the provincial representative of Da Afghanistan Breshna Shirakat (DABS), the national power company. “Only a few days ago, the enemy of our people destroyed an electricity pylon in Spir Kondy area of Uzbin District. We have shared our worries with the Afghan ministries of interior and defence but never received any positive answer,” he said. “All the work is done, only a 1,000-metre-long power line has to be connected to the water dam to have power here in this province.” The UN has identified energy as a major cross-cutting issue: “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity, and an environment that allows the world to thrive. Development is not possible without energy, and sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy,” says the UN 2011 Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Sardar Khan owns a factory in Jalalabad making plastic pipes, which cost him US$200,000 to set up. He employed 50 people but after two years of operation he has been forced to close: “The biggest challenge is power.” Using diesel generators makes his pipes far too expensive. The lack of power has stalled an industrial sector with the potential to lift thousands of Afghans out of poverty. Shikh Misry Industrial Park was part of Jalalabad’s vision to launch its economy, but since being set up in 2006 it has yet to welcome a functioning factory. Corruption Jalalabad currently gets all its electricity from the Nangarhar 14 MW hydroelectric dam built by Russian and Afghan engineers in 1965. But civil wars and conflict have affected the maintenance of the facility, leaving only two of the three turbines to some extent operational. The electricity is used to provide power to government offices and 4,000 houses, but can only supply a limited number of factories. “It has been three years officials say power from Naghlo is coming. If they were bringing this power on a donkey it would have arrived here,” said Ali Ahmad, a resident of Majbor Abad village, who works as a security guard. Last year he got his electricity from a fuel-powered generator which was used for 10 hours a day to power two fans and two light-bulbs. It cost US$40 a month - nearly half his salary. “I do not know whether I pay for food, clothes and other household goods or pay for power. People who know officials or bribe officials have 24-hour power in their houses while my children got sick because of extreme heat.” An official responsible for power distribution in Nangarhar Province said in one case power supplied to a government office was being delivered to 60 other buildings illegally. He estimated around 30 percent of electricity is lost in this way. Meanwhile, off-grid solutions may help families in remote parts of the province that would have to wait decades for any possibility of a connection to the national grid. Eleven micro-hydro plants with a combined capacity of 125 kilowatts are being built in the province by the Energy for Rural Development in Afghanistan project at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation. It is hoped they will provide a power supply to 1,845 families at a cost of around US$600,000.

Why Sharia4Pakistan campaigner Anjem Choudary living in United Kingdom?
By Nazir S Bhatti
Who is Anjem Choudary? Why he is living in UK? What is Sharia4 Pakistan? Why he calls Pakistan regime, an apostate regime? Why he condemns Malala Yousafzai? Why he is preaching Islamic Jihad sitting in UK? Why he wants Islamic Sharia around globe? These entire questions are very important to be discussed but I must present one incidence: It is New York City, street 5th East and a Deli on corner of 2nd Avenue, where I used to drink special Pakistani branded tea and to take Samosas in my break hours from work; it is one evening of December, 2000; I remember one Pakistani Muslim employee serving Pakistani Cab drivers and others customers behind the counter on very low wages in night watch in this deli; One evening, when I was enjoying my tea and deserts, one bearded Muslim cabby entered in Deli and ordered for Chicken Kababs; He started cursing Deli employees “You Kafir (Infidel) what you will answer Prophet Mohammad on day of judgment, you will go directly to hell on selling bear and playing lottery for people”; It must be noted that in State of New York, all grocery stores, restaurants and Deli’s you can sell bear with due permission while many states prohibit of sale and only can be purchased from special outlets. I kept silent listening conversation of that Pakistani Muslim cabbie wearing Shalwar Kameez (Pakistani Dress) and changing colors of face of that Muslim employee of Deli/Restaurant. When that Cab driver left Deli, I asked that employee “Why you not answered that cab driver?” He replied “My father sold all his property in Pakistan to pay agent to get me visa for USA, while here I have paid thousands of dollars to marry an American women for status adjustment and have to support my family back in Pakistan, so, I not want to take any risk as my case is under process with immigration”. I finished my tea and headed back to my office. On my way back, I kept thinking of attitude of that Muslim cabby and miserable condition of that Muslim employee. After two weeks, I saw that Muslim bearded Pakistani cab driver again entering in Deli and ordering food for him. He started again telling Deli employee “Leave this job which is making you infidel by selling bear and search for any job which is according to Islamic teachings” Suddenly, my mind compelled me to talk with Muslim cab driver: I asked him are you Muslim sir? He replied with proud and honor with one Arabic word “Masha-Allaha”. Next question, I asked him “What Islam teaches about interest economy?” he instantly said “Interest is Harm in Islam”. Then why you accept “Dollar” from your customers who ride your taxi as “Dollar is unit of Interest base economy”? If Interest is Haram in Islam then Dollar is also Haram according to Islam: The Muslim cab driver shocked his head and said “What you mean by it?” I said “I meant that you must go back to Pakistan and earn Pure Money which states on its rupees bills that “Rizke Halal is Ain Abadat” not interest based US Dollars. The cab driver silently left café and the Muslim employee of Deli told me after months that “He comes sometime but never talks about Hilal or Haram earnings any more”. My question to Anjem Choudary is same which I asked that Muslim bearded Cab driver in New York: “Mr. Anjem why are you living in United Kingdom, earning Pound Sterling (which is interest based Currency) and Islam declares Interest to be Haram and you talk about Sharia4Pakistan, living and buying your Halal food with Haram money?” Are you a Muslim? Do you practice Sharia law? Leave UK as a protest and go to a country like Saudi or wherever on globe where you may buy your food with Halal Money. My suggestion to Anjem Choudary and many other so-called Islamists is: Do not misuse freedom of expression and speech enshrined in Western Constitutions and learn true Islam which preaches love and peace, if it is true; See what clarifications Anjem Choudary issues on Sharia4Pakistan: 1. The shariah4pakistan body have not issued a Fatwa or death sentence against Malala Yousafzai rather it is investigating her case fully together with the involvement of the Pakistani authorities 2. What is clear is that the Pakistan regime is an apostate regime allied with the enemies of Islam & Muslims who implement kufr (non-Islamic) law 3. The Taliban & Muslims must believe in Islamic education for both boys and girls with segregation as specified under the Shari'ah. Indeed when not involved in war those amongst the Taleban opened many schools for women and even the British restricted education during the Second World War due to the obvious dangers 4. What has been said regarding Malala such as her denying Jihad and the Hijab and helping the US war effort all need to be verified & could amount to apostasy or they could amount to sin; in any case she will be given the usual excuses such as ignorance & mistake etc 5. We therefore ask Muslims not to listen to the media who have distorted our statements as a threat to Malala Yousafzai 6. However confusion among the youth is no surprise under the Pakistan kufr system and a government allied with the USA 7. Without Shariah implemented the Muslim youth will develop a secular mindset and not love the Shari'ah and Islam as they should 8. The views of those at the Lal Masjid are respected & our 30th Nov. conference can take place outside of it. A masjid under Shariah cannot prevent the mention of Allah's name inside but we understand the sensitivity. The initial advertisement of the Lal Masjid for the conference was based on assurances from former students. The 30th Nov. Conference by shariah 4 pakistan will hence now take place outside of the Lal Masjid insha'Allah 9. We condemn Muhammad Ali Jinnah as an enemy of Islam, the kufr constitution of Pakistan and the illegitimate regime of Zardari and their use of Malala as a pawn against the mujahideen to please their masters; the Americans 10. The solution to all of the problems of Pakistan lie in implementing the law of Allah (Shari'ah) and to have no ties with the US or UN or any kufr bodies 11. The shari'ah 4 pakistan project is a long term one insha'Allah and will continue until the Shari'ah is implemented! Mr. Anjem Choudary, if you were living in Saudi Arabia and issuing such statement, you know what your fate was going to be?

The First Lady Reads "'Twas The Night Before Christmas"

Obama is CNN's Most Intriguing Person of 2012

A year ago, President Barack Obama was under fire. Today, he is being feted.
In just 12 months, the 51-year-old lawyer and former U.S. senator raised by a single mother went from a beleaguered candidate for re-election -- his record and signature health care law under daily attack by Republican rivals -- to being the first Democrat to win more than 50% of a presidential vote twice since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now the nation's first African-American president is CNN's Most Intriguing Person of 2012, as voted on by readers of, five days after being named Time's Person of the Year. Explaining Time's choice, Executive Editor Richard Stengel cited Obama "for finding and forging a new majority, for turning weakness into opportunity and for seeking, amid great adversity, to create a more perfect union."

Second most intriguing: Malala Yousufzai: The girl the Taliban wanted dead

The Pakistani teen blogger simply sought to get an education. But she became a symbol of defiance against militants, empowering young women worldwide. The story of Malala Yousufzai, 15, an outspoken critic of the Taliban, is full of contradictions.
Tragic, yet triumphant.
Unafraid, yet battling one of the world's most feared terror groups. An old soul, yet just a kid.For years, the young activist has been at odds with the Taliban over her education crusade. She has openly defied the group's teachings on educating girls and encouraged her peers to do the same. In an attempt to silence her, militants stormed her school van in October, barked out her name and put a bullet in her head. But the attack only amplified her voice and rallied a world of supporters to her side. readers voted her as the second-most intriguing person of 2012, days after she was short-listed for Time's Person of the Year. U.S. President Barack Obama came first in both lists.Malala's global recognition has come with a price. While most girls her age relish their teen years, she is undergoing grueling treatment in Britain after the shooting. She lives under constant threats for going to school in the conservative Swat Valley region in northwest Pakistan, where women are repressed under the militants' strict interpretation of Islam. Despite the dangers, Malala blogged ferociously about her dream of learning without fear. She used television interviews, documentaries and took to the streets to challenge the iron hand on women. She accused the Taliban of thriving on ignorance. "Where in the Quran does it say that girls should not be educated?" she asked last year. "I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up." Her role as an activist led to the attack on the van carrying her and other girls home from school, two of whom were also hurt, but not as severely. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "We do not tolerate people like Malala speaking against us," a Taliban spokesman later said.
Slow recovery
More than two months after the assassination attempt, Malala is still undergoing treatment. She went from an intensive care unit in Pakistan to a hospital in the British city of Birmingham. Before she left home, she was unconscious. She now walks, writes and reads. After she regains her strength, she will undergo more surgeries. It is astounding that she suffered no major brain or nerve damage from the shooting, her doctors say.Her story of defiance has sparked marches worldwide demanding girls' education. It has inspired girls in far-flung areas, who relate to her because she is a child herself. World leaders have hailed the "Malala effect" that made young girls even more determined to get an education. On November 10, the United Nations marked Malala Day to honor her advocacy work. And her fight for education is not over yet. In a message this month thanking supporters, she told them not to make this about her. "People have actually supported a cause, not an individual," she said. "Let's work together to educate girls around the world." In her continued commitment to education, she called on Pakistani officials Friday to reverse a decision to name a school after her. She made the request over safety concerns for the students after the Taliban attacked the school. Before she intervened, students protested and tore down her pictures over the decision to name the school after her, saying the move put them at risk. 'A new heroine' Pakistani girls' education has long been hampered by widespread poverty and threats by hardline Islamist groups. The United Nations estimates 32 million girls worldwide don't have access to an education. Roughly 10% of those live in Pakistan. "Pakistan has a new heroine and a new cause -- a girl's right to education," former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last month. "Malala's courage has awoken Pakistan's silent majority who are no longer prepared to tolerate the threats and intimidations of the Pakistan Taliban." Since Malala was 11, she has used her blog to encourage girls to go to school despite Taliban threats. Her focus led her homeland to award her its first National Peace Prize last year. In January 2009, militants took over her once-tranquil city in Swat Valley and ordered schools to stop educating girls. She blogged about the Taliban's efforts to scare girls away from learning institutions. They raided homes to confiscate books, she said. Malala hid hers under her bed. "I was scared of being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education," she said last year. Her fears almost came to fruition. After the shooting, militants vowed that if she survived, they would go after her again. They also threatened to kill journalists covering her story. "This filthy, godless media has taken huge advantage of this situation, and journalists have started passing judgment on us," the Taliban said in a statement. Malala is uncowed. When she takes a break from treatment, a white teddy bear with a pink bow sits on her lap. In her hands, there is always an open book.

Anti-rape rage in India: Rail stations, roads blocked in weeklong protests

Authorities have shut down roads and railway stations in the Indian capital in a bid to halt weeklong protests over the brutal gang-rape of a young woman. The country’s Prime Minister has called for calm amid the public outrage gripping India. Thousands of armed police and soldiers blocked off roads, railway and metro stations in the center of New Delhi to prevent protesters from marching on the presidential palace. Demonstrators shouted slogans such as, “We want justice,” “Don't teach us what not to wear. Teach your sons not to rape girls,” and “Government belongs to us, not to anybody's father.” The capital is currently experiencing massive traffic jams due to the barricades.Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has come under fire for his slow response to the incident; he gave an unusual televised address in response only a week after the crime.
"There is genuine and justified anger and anguish at this ghastly incident, but violence will serve no purpose," Singh said. "I feel deeply sad at the turn of events leading to clashes between protesters and police forces. I assure you that we will make all possible efforts to ensure security and safety to all women in this country. As a father of three daughters myself, I feel as strongly as you. We will ensure justice is delivered." The premier’s calls for calm were echoed by the raped girl’s father, who told local network News 24, "Please pray for my daughter and do not resort to any violent activity.” Police clashed with protesters during several days of demonstrations, firing tear gas and water cannons and bludgeoning protesters with batons. The protests continued despite repeated assurances by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde he would consider the demand that all six suspects face the death penalty. The minister also said that the Indian government would press for day-to-day hearings in similar cases, and would ask the governor and chief minister to activate committees of home guards and civil defense personnel at every police station. The largest protests were in New Delhi on Saturday, which saw security forces cordoning off areas around government buildings. Fresh clashes erupted on Sunday, during which more than 100 people were injured, including 60 policemen, AFP reported. New Delhi is infamous for its high rates of sexual violence – police record a rape once every 18 hours. However, most sex crimes go unreported.

Russia to sell military aircraft to India
Russia has signed a deal to sell 71 military helicopters to India. At a one-day summit on Monday leaders from both countries reaffirmed their commitment to a long-term strategic partnership.
The deals signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Monday are are estimated to be worth several billion dollars. In all, the two leaders signed 10 contracts, ranging from science and technology to education, including one that will see Russia supply the parts for 42 Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, to be assembled under licence in India, the Indian Foreign Ministry said. A separate contract was agreed to for the delivery of 71 MI-17 attack helicopters from Russia, the Ministry added. India, one of Russia's main arms export markets, said both sides would additionally create a $2 billion (1.5 billion euros) joint fund for economic and trade cooperation projects. India is the world's largest arms importer, around 70 percent of which is made up of Russian-made military equipment. "Russia is a key partner in our efforts to modernize our armed forces and enhance our defence preparedness," Singh said after his talks with Putin. "A number of joint design, development and production projects are underway in high-technology areas. We expressed satisfaction that these projects are progressing well," Singh added. The two leaders also discussed regional issues, including the need for stability in Afghanistan, the failing security situation in Syria and the desire to resolve the Iran nuclear program issue through dialogue. "We reviewed the ongoing developments in Afghanistan and agreed to work together against threats posed by extremist ideologies and drug trafficking," Singh said following the meeting. Putin described their meeting as "substantial and constructive." "We agreed to deepen ties in the areas of military and defence sectors," he added. The day-long visit is Putin's first to the country since being re-elected as Russia's president in May. The talks were held at Singh's official residence due to ongoing protests in central New Delhi over the gang rape of a student on December 16.

Pakistan and the threat of extremism

MANY say they now realise it has taken a 14-year-old schoolgirl to teach Pakistan the meaning of courage. Back in 2009 Malala Yousafzai began chronicling the dark grip of the Pakistani Taliban on her homeland, the pretty Swat valley in the country’s north. She had a clear-eyed conviction that girls had a right to an education, something the Taliban did their best to prevent, even after their local rule was broken in an army offensive. She called the Taliban “barbarians”. On October 9th the barbarians took their revenge, shooting her in the head. She is now in a British hospital, in Birmingham, with a specialist unit for war injuries. Doctors are impressed by her resilience. Back home, says Nusrat Javed, host of a popular political show, “Malala has liberated Pakistan.” Pakistanis have voiced unprecedented anger against the Pakistani Taliban, calling for the peaceful majority to reclaim the country’s destiny from gun-toting, head-chopping extremists.The question is whether political, military and religious leaders have Malala’s gumption. Most condemned the attack without condemning the Pakistani Taliban. A few went further. The army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who had already taken a more aggressive stance against extremists in recent months, sounded ready for action. After visiting Malala in hospital in Pakistan, he said: “We refuse to bow before terror. We will fight, regardless of the cost. We will prevail.” The obvious military response would be to go after the Pakistani Taliban in their stronghold of North Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal areas that border Afghanistan. The United States has long urged the army to go after extremists there. The government coalition, led by President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), also proposed a resolution calling for (presumably military) “practical measures” in response to the attack on Malala. It is all starting to look like the high-water mark of courage. No national consensus exists about whether to fight the home-grown Taliban or, in some unexplained way, to make peace with them. On October 16th the main opposition party, led by a former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, opposed the government’s resolution, demanding proof that earlier military operations had not weakened the country rather than strengthened it. The PPP balked, and dropped its proposal. With an election due in the next few months, politicians of all stripes are cautious about advocating operations against extremists that could result in a violent blowback across Pakistan. Besides, the army appears not to have a plan and rationale for going into North Waziristan. Past military operations in the tribal areas, including in Swat, have not cleared them of extremists. The operations were often half-hearted, leaving the tribal people deeply cynical of the army’s intentions. After all, the army has long used jihadists as its proxy warriors. Awkwardly, the leadership of the Swat branch of the Pakistani Taliban is based not in North Waziristan but in Afghanistan. And now, stung by the opprobrium, the Taliban is lashing out. Pakistani journalists are under serious threat, while international news organisations are lying low or scaling back their operations in Islamabad, the capital. A smear campaign by religious conservatives has begun against Malala, painting her as some kind of “American agent”. And on October 15th over 100 Taliban attacked a police station near the north-western city of Peshawar. After killing the local police chief and five of his men, they sliced off his head and took it away as a trophy.

Will Public Anger Prod Pakistani Officials Into Action?
In October, militants attacked a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Pakistan's Swat Valley for speaking out against their medieval practice of locking girls and women in the four walls of their houses. The near-fatal shooting was met with nearly universal revulsion. In an unprecedented display of resentment, Pakistanis excoriated the Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, and stood behind young child activist Malala Yousafzai and her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, an education and peace activist. This past week, a similar response has emerged from Pakistan's civil society and intelligentsia following attacks on polio-eradication teams in Peshawar and Karachi that claimed nine lives -- six women and three men. The level of public anger has been such that virtually no one -- not even Taliban sympathizers and apologists or the so-called anti-American groups that include Jamat-e-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), Difa-e-Pakistan Council, or the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) of Malana Fazlur Rahman -- dared to publicly challenge the outrage. (They did, however, stop short of naming the Taliban and instead issued a general condemnation of the gory incidents). On December 20, 30 religious scholars of the Sunni Ittehad Council, a group comprising Sunni religious leaders, condemned the attacks on the polio workers and issued a fatwa emphasizing that administering polio drops and vaccines is not un-Islamic. The head of Pakistan's Ulema Council, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, on the other hand, requested that all affiliated religious seminaries and mosques in their Friday sermons condemn the attacks and highlight the importance of a healthy life in light of the teachings of Islam. "We've raised our voice both in [the] Rimsha Masih and Malala Yousafzai cases and once again we are leading the protest against attacks on polio workers. This barbarity [in the name of Islam] is no more acceptable and this voice will now ring from each and every mosque and madrasah," Maulana Ashrafi told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal on December 21. So where do Pakistanis stand? A vast majority of observers appear to believe that the reactions of Pakistani civil society, the intelligentsia, the media, and the religious right are a harbinger of change. The unity shown by Pakistanis following the attacks on polio staff and child activist Malala are reminiscent of the mammoth gatherings and rallies once staged by Kashmir-focused religious parties to highlight Pakistan enmity toward India. A shift, as it were, away from jihadists and in favor of peace. "Of course, this is pointing to the change and shift from the Taliban narrative," writer and analyst Khadim Hussain told RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. Hussain suggests that support for the jihadist agendas of right-wing parties by previous governments coupled with deliberate efforts to influence school curricula deepened the roots of radicalism and extremism in the society. Many Pakistanis see their country at a crossroad and expect incidents like the recent attacks on polio workers and Malala to eventually catapult the Pakistani security establishment into drastic and decisive action against the Taliban. "The solution, as always, is to eliminate the Taliban so that their narrative, too, is destroyed," writes Pakistan's leading English-language newspaper "The Express Tribune" in a December 19 editorial. But it is important to remember that similar expectations were expressed and suggestions forwarded following the attack on Malala, who remains in a U.K. hospital. Although Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani pointed in recent statements to landmark changes in Islamabad's policies toward, India, Afghanistan, and the Taliban, there don't appear to have been any practical steps taken in that direction. Many of those so appalled by the attacks on the polio workers and on Malala must be hoping that the current media war is just a first step -- one that is followed by determined action.

Zardari: We will not allow any change through force

President Asif Ali Zardari
has said the Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had rejected any change by bullet and always favoured that it be done through ballot. “Let us pledge that we will not allow any change through force and intimidation and respect the power of ballot as the instrument of change,” the President said in a message on the 136th birth anniversary of the Quaid-e-Azam. “Let us on this day re-dedicate ourselves to the democratic ideals and principles of the Father of the Nation as well as reiterate our resolve to defeat the forces that seek to undermine the nation’s founding principles. The President said the Quaid stood for constitutionalism, rule of law, respect for human rights, pluralism and honouring the mandate of the people. “The Quaid believed that any change must be brought about by ballot and rejected change by bullet,” he said. He asked the people never to lose sight of the national goalpost. “This indeed is our compass in a turbulent sea,” he added. Zardari said the Quaid envisaged Pakistan as a democratic country driven by the welfare of the masses. He said unfortunately due to dictatorships in the past, the welfare of the people took a back seat and security concerns became predominant as the country faced extremism and militancy. He called for creation of conditions whereby the welfare of the people is the dominant concern of the state. Meanwhile Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf urged the nation to pledge on this day to reclaim Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan and unleash the creative powers of the people through freedom, justice, the rule of law and an end to terrorism and violence. The PM minister stressed Nation to forge unity in their ranks to preserve and protect their democratic and political rights and make Pakistan a country where egalitarianism prevailed and in which every individual is allowed opportunities for the blossoming of his potential and shaping his own destiny.

Pakistan: Bloody 2012: Six lives snuffed out daily in Karachi

The Express Tribune
The year 2012 was no different for the residents of Karachi. The city’s scariest specter – target killing – haunted it all year round, while many lives were also lost to multiple terrorist attacks.
Below are few facts gathered from police data about the killings in the city. • At least six people were killed each day. • Over 3,000 people were injured in firing incidents. • Around 70 of the said injured are handicapped for life. • Around 61 of the dead belonged to Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), 18 to Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), 19 to Awami National Party (ANP), 13 to Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) and eight to Sunni Tehreek (ST). • Sectarian violence claimed 45 lives in 2012 including five lawyers and two doctors. • Nearly 28,104 targeted operations were carried and 92 criminals killed.
According to the Sindh Police, not all murders were target killings. A police representative said target killings have only claimed 438 lives, while the rest were victims of personal fights and enmities. Today’s toll At least eight people were killed in Karachi, while one police officer sustained injuries on Monday in different firing incidents across the city. Unidentified armed men gunned down three people in Nazimabad, two in Machar Colony, one in North Karachi, one in Sohrab Goth and another in Ayub Goth.

Nawaz responsible for prolonged Musharraf regime

President Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Makhdoom Javed Hashmi has held PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif responsible for the prolonged dictatorial regime of Pervez Musharraf. Addressing a fund raising ceremony in London on Monday, Javed Hashmi said if Nawaz Sharif had faced the situation with consistency and had stayed in the country, the former dictator would not have got the chance to extend his rule. He blamed that the PML-N president had not sent a penny for reorganising the party during his stay in London and Jeddah and the party leadership as well as activists were left on the mercy of fate and to bear the barbarism of the dictator. The PTI leader said the N-League has become the paradise for the drug mafia, tax defaulters and cast off people. Hashmi said that Nawaz Sharif was well aware of Kargil War but to save his government he took decision against the interests of the country and its people. He said that Gohar Ayub Khan in his book had clearly wrote about awareness of Nawaz Sharif regarding Kargil scam but despite the fact now the N-League was preparing to welcome Gohar Ayub in the party.

'Pakistan backing Afghan peace efforts'

Pakistan is genuine about backing the nascent Afghan peace process and shares the Kabul government's goal of transforming the Taliban insurgency into a political movement, a senior Afghan government official told. "This is the vision that they share," said the official, who is closely involved in reconciliation efforts with the insurgent group. He also said recent face-to-face talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Paris were "enormously helpful" for peace efforts. The remarks signaled unprecedented optimism from Afghanistan that Pakistan - long accused of backing Afghan insurgent groups - was now willing to put its weight behind reconciliation efforts, which are still in early stages and are vulnerable to factionalism. The senior official cautioned that in order to sustain that optimism, Pakistan would need to take further concrete steps after releasing some mid-level Afghan Taliban members from detention, who may be useful in promoting peace. Pakistan is seen as critical to U.S. and Afghan efforts to stabilise the country before most NATO combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014. The Haqqani network -- which has far more experience in guerrilla warfare than the Afghan Taliban - would be welcomed to the peace process as long as it met certain conditions, said the official.

Pakistan: Undefeated militancy

BASHIR Ahmed Bilour, an ANP stalwart and an implacable critic of militancy and Pakistan’s drift towards extremism, is no more. Killed by the same ideology he preached against and which saw him as a threat to the agenda of remaking Pakistan into a darker and more troubling place, the tragedy of Mr Bilour’s death is that it was perhaps a death foretold. In recent weeks, the surge in militant violence across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata may have come as a surprise to some, but to anyone following the arc of militancy in the region closely, the signs of an unbowed and undefeated militant threat looking to reassert itself were plentiful. And given that the state’s response in the face of the morphing threat from militancy appears to have been yet more uncertainty and near paralysis in some areas, the likelihood of high-profile attacks that would grab headlines and inflict further blows against the morale of the state and the public was very high. Now, Mr Bilour is dead and it’s almost certain that the recent wave of attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata will continue. What can the state do? In moments like this, well-meaning commentary about better strategies and tactics and who to fight where and when are almost beside the point. Once, and only once, Pakistani state and society develop a consensus that militancy, radicalisation and extremism need to be decisively reversed, can any military, political or social strategy work. There is often much focus put on the role of the army-led security establishment in prolonging Pakistan’s association with militancy, radicalisation and extremism. The focus is correct and necessary because until the army adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards militancy, the state is unlikely to ever develop the will or capacity to smother the threat permanently. However, there is a serious burden of responsibility on the civilian political class too — a burden of responsible leadership that few have been able to carry well when it comes to confronting the militant threat. For all the levers and control the security establishment may have over state and society, if there is to be meaningful change, it is the civilian political leadership that will have to demonstrate courage and clarity. Too much obfuscation, too much dithering, too much doublespeak has characterised many civilian politicians’ response to the threat from militancy. Myopia can only take a politician so far; ultimately, the militants have made it clear: it is them versus everyone else.

Pakistan: Spare the NGOs, please

Business Recorder
That the work and performance of the Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are presently under the sharp focus of the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly is no exceptional development. In August last year also the PAC looked into their work and contribution to the national cause, and was quite satisfied over Economic Affairs Division's assurance that a 'new mechanism' would be proposed for a periodic review of foreign-funded projects. The mechanism was expected to ensure that secretaries of respective departments would be responsible for any delay in implementation of projects and improper utilisation of funds. No such mechanism seems to have been put in place, confirming the perception that the NGOs have free hand in utilisation of funds channelled to them by foreign donors. Otherwise, the EAD officials would not have expressed their helplessness by admitting before the committee that they work only as post offices for the transfer of funds and they had 'nothing to do with the implementation of projects'. But the atmospherics that obtained in the PAC meeting suggest that the members were equally interested, if not more, who gets what and from where - an indication of their mistrust in the credibility and integrity of the beneficiary NGOs. But for the hurt felt by some bloated egos there was not much of justification to be judgmental about quality of services delivered by these entities. The bitter truth is that international donors in recent times have opted to channel their funds through non-governmental organisations rather than government of Pakistan. The question whether did the PAC meeting also deliberate upon this aspect of the issue, remained unanswered. From the media reported account of this particular meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, it increasingly appears that the non-military component of US funding sanctioned by the Kerry-Lugar Act was under scrutiny, with a member complaining that it was being used by the USAID and 'surprisingly the government of Pakistan has no control over the projects funded through this money'. Another member was of the view that on paper the USAID was undertaking countless projects for the benefit of the masses, but on ground "we don't see anything in concrete terms". Both the members happen to be part of the ruling coalition, begging the question where they were all these months after EAD officials' commitment of putting in place a "new mechanism". Isn't it in their knowledge that release of funds under the Kerry-Lugar legislation envisaged the delivery of most of the civil aid through the NGOs and the government of Pakistan had agreed to that precondition? The fact is that it is not only the US Congress that would like the aid distributed through non-governmental organisations in Pakistan, the other aid-giving countries too think and plan along the same lines. Not that the government should have no oversight on the utilisation of foreign funds, but it should be more in terms of checking misuse if any, rather than trying to bring it under its umbrella. That some NGOs may be the Trojan horse busy planting and nurturing anti-Pakistan concepts and forces the government agencies should be looking into that. But it has to be conceded that the autonomy the NGOs need and the possibility of some of them being involved in anti-state activities are two different issues. No foreign aid and assistance comes free; the donor governments desire to improve their image among the recipient public in return for popular support at international forums. The donations from the non-state entities too are made along similar lines, but in there they are essentially motivated with a feeling of sharing the burden of the recipients, be it by sending doctors to alleviate sufferings of the calamity-struck victims, to help improve quality of life by providing medical facilities or to help the recipients shed ignorance by way of helping them with better education tools. Perhaps in normal times Pakistan could be choosier about the need for the NGOs and the quality of their work, but not now. Given our poor governance and near total dysfunctional official public-service networks the NGOs are a boon, and there is no justification to put them on the defensive by discouraging their workers who work here under ever-looming threats to their life and limb.

The death of a defiant Bilour

He did not give up till the end and had vowed to continue his struggle against the terrorists who had made Pakistan and particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) a house of cards by putting it under repeated and continuous terrorist assaults. Bashir Ahmed Bilour died in a rally attacked by a suicide bomber at the Qisa Khawani Bazar in Peshawer, where he had gone to address a corner meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP). Though escorted by high profile security, the bomber nevertheless managed to reach Bilour and detonated the bomb inches away from the senior provincial minister of KP. The SHO of the area police station and Bilour’s personal secretary died on the spot. This was the third attempt on his life by those who had always resented his courageous denial of the ideology of terrorism. Bashir Bilour had always he was not afraid of being martyred. Perhaps he had realized that the war on terrorism is not going away any time soon and not until it had taken its toll of lives and resources of Pakistan. Bashir Bilour was famous for his defiance against the terrorists that had earned him umpteen enemies within the Taliban as well as their apologists. The same streak of boldness was visible when his son, Usman Bilour, taking up the thread of his father’s resolve, said that the Taliban may get tired of killing us but we will not give in until peace is attained. Such being their courage, still the country is unable to combat the menace of terrorism. It is so because the problem lies with the approach of fighting terrorism that is not cohesive and coherent in nature. As far as the government is concerned, the general impression is that it has left the war on terrorism to the military, and its interior ministry, or the intelligence and law enforcement agencies are reduced to empty slogans. Are the back to back high profile attacks on the PAF base in Peshawar and the assassination of Bashir Bilour an indication of the Taliban’s escalation of their terror? If that be the case, the claim of the military that the terrorists had been weakened loses credibility. The strategy pursued by the military of splitting the terrorists does not seem to have achieved the desired results. Ostensibly, these groups have become more dreadful after splitting, because of their dispersed power. This reinforces the notion that Pakistan has been fighting the war on terror the wrong way and this has strengthened the terrorists in their approach and tactics. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the attack on Bashir Bilour. A spokesman of TTP from Dara Adam Khel and Khyber Agency, Muhammad Afridi said that TTP has set up a new ‘revenge wing’ to carry out such attacks, especially on ANP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Responding to this claim the President of ANP Asfandyar Wali has rightly said it to be surprising that terrorists sitting in Pakistan are not only carrying out ferocious attacks but are also taking pride in claiming the responsibility for the same, and yet they are free to move around. The question is, how many more lives would we sacrifice before coming to terms with the fact that this war is getting threatening and the prospects of winning it might also be slipping from our hands, if, as is being feared, the terrorists have infiltrated into the cities of the country. Would we pound bombs on our people to flush them out? The only strategy left to fight this dispersed power is to consolidate and develop a Central Intelligence Data Gathering System, as has been now authorized in the Investigation for Fair Trial Act. Though late, because of obvious reasons, this databank and the system around it should be developed on a war footing, and in the meanwhile a consensus created to hound and pin down the terrorists hiding in the mountains of the northwestern areas of Pakistan.

Peshawarites thank Bashir Bilour

By:Muhammad Ali Sheikh
It has been years since Peshawar is in a grip of terrorism. A number of brave sons of Peshawar were martyred in different terrorist incidents. Men like Malik Saad and Sifwat Ghayur died at the hands of terrorists and they will always be remembered in golden words whenever it comes to talking about brave men of Pakhtun soil. Even small children were killed in attacks on school buses and other incidents. However, I have never witnessed such a sorrowful and mournful environment in Peshawar as it was on Saturday evening and throughout the day on Sunday. Peshawarites were in grip of grief, agony, anguish as they saw their beloved Bashir Ahmed Bilour being laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard. In this column of mine I have always tried to highlight the problems the people of Peshawar face in their daily life. Even I was ready to highlight another problem however, the death of Bashir Ahmed Bilour forced me to change my mind and start writing on this tragic incident and its aftereffects on Peshawar. Bashir Bilour was a person who had no personal opponents but only had political opponents who also were always full of praise for the Bashir Ahmed Bilour both as a human being and as a politician. He was always the first person to visit the spot of any terror incident in City and was also the first one all the time to speak against these incidents. Bilour was instrumental in changing the look of the Peshawar. He was Senior Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but as a son of Peshawar he always tried his best to do everything possible to make Peshawar once of the best cities. Bashir Bilour shut the mouths of those who termed him anti-Pakistan on his remarks on Urdu by inaugurating the highest national flag of Pakistan in Jinnah Park. Whenever, I pass by the 185 feet high national flag I feel proud to be a Pakistani it was Bashir Bilour who give this opportunity to feel so. For the first time we saw a digital fountain in Peshawar thanks to Bashir Bilour. The fountain is installed at Jinnah Park and people will remember their beloved leader whenever the water of the fountain will dance in colourful lights especially at night time. Renaming a number of chowks (squares) by the name of famous personalities was another achievement of Bashir Bilour. Such two chowks are Ajmal Khattak Chowk in Hayatabad and Ahmad Faraz Chowk at G.T. Road. It will be injustice if I do not mention Rescue 1122. Bashir Bilour was influential in establishment of the first ever rescue service of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa keeping in mind the need of the service with increasing number of terror incidents. And he was taken into a 1122 ambulance to the Lady Reading Hospital where he breathed his last. However, the same ambulance may have been involved in saving a large number of lives thanks to Bashir Bilour. I remember his last words about Peshawar in KP Assembly were about the construction of underpasses at University Road. It his ANP colleague MPA Atif-ur-Rehman had asked the government to force the authorities to complete the construction of these two underpasses as it was creating hurdles for motorists. Bashir Bilour stood up and told the House that he had already directed the authorities to complete the work in 60 days starting from the day he was addressing the assembly. His vision was to make Peshawar a City of Flowers again and now it is the duty of not only this government but the duty of the next government to fulfill his dream. We Peshawarites thank Bashir Ahmed Bilour from the bottom of our hearts for striving throughout his life for the betterment of our lives.

President Zardari inaugurates first wind power project in Thatta

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari today inaugurated the first 50MW wind power project terming it an important milestone and a landmark achievement in country's efforts towards finding environmental-friendly‚ indigenous and low cost energy solutions.
Addressing the gathering on the occasion of inauguration of wind power project at Jhampir in Thatta today‚ the President said that with the commencement of the first wind power project‚ Pakistan has entered into a new era. He termed the commencement as the first concrete step towards tapping country's vast Renewable Energy resources. The President remarked that Thatta region was bestowed with immense potential of wind energy and will soon become the Wind Power Center for Pakistan. He said that commencement of commercial operation of FFC Wind Farm was the beginning of exploiting the wind potential of Gharo-Keti Bandar Wind Corridor. This is an area that has power generation potential of 50‚000 MW. He said that it was a matter of great satisfaction to learn that many more wind power projects were in pipeline and would commence commercial operations soon. President Zardari said that Pakistan was an energy deficient country. He said that continued population and economic growth has placed great demands on energy. Reversal of previous energy policies‚ depleting oil and gas reserves and price hike has made the country vulnerable. He said we cannot afford inaction as it was not an option. Complimenting the role of Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) in the project‚ the President said that he looks forward AEDB's contributions in other sectors of Renewable Energy as well. He also expressed satisfaction that Fauji Fertilizer would be adding 10 MW SOLAR PV to this 50 MW Wind project. The President said that the launch of the First Wind Farm was an auspicious occasion which clearly demonstrated the commitment of the government to address the issue. He said that the country has tremendous resources of Wind‚ Solar and Hydro power. The President also recounted various measures undertaken by the Government in the energy sector which included addressing policy and technical issues‚ initiating supportive measures‚ developing infrastructure‚ offering lucrative incentives‚ collecting bankable data‚ creating enabling environment and investor confidence‚ seeking support of international financial institutions‚ and attracting top manufacturers of the world through a cooperative approach. The President said that the Government provided a level playing field to all investors‚ both local as well as foreigners. He said that the Government provided them one window facility through AEDB. The President invited the local and foreign business community again to invest in energy sector saying that we offer the best incentives in the entire region. He called upon the private entrepreneurs to take great advantage of the incentives being offered by the Government. He also advised Sindh Government to set up an industrial zone in the area so that the business community could take advantage of uninterrupted and continued availability of power. The President also stressed upon the need to make appropriate plans and to work keeping in view the future requirements of the country with an increased population and greater requirements.