Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pashto Music Gulnar Begum

In US Senate, Both Parties Reject Sequester Alternatives

Automatic U.S. government spending cuts are set to kick in amid continued political gridlock as last-ditch alternatives to the so-called "sequester" were defeated in the Senate. “Can we not at least come to some agreement to prevent this," asked Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), echoing fellow U.S. lawmakers who seemed stunned by their own inability to act in response to the imminent sequester. The answer for now: no. Democrats proposed replacing the sequester’s cuts-only approach with a mix of targeted spending reductions and higher tax revenues, but Republicans objected. “Look, the American people simply will not accept replacing spending cuts agreed to by both parties with tax hikes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Republicans proposed maintaining the total amount of spending cuts — $85 billion this year — but giving President Obama flexibility in implementing them, prompting objections from Democrats. “Why would they — the Republicans — part of the legislative branch of government, cede more power to the White House?" asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) "Republicans should give Congress true flexibility. Flexibility to cut wasteful subsidies, flexibility to close unnecessary tax loopholes, and flexibility to ask the richest of the rich to contribute a little bit more.” While blocking alternatives to the sequester, senators also took turns blasting it. “God, if we cannot do better than that, all of us should be fired," said Republican Lindsey Graham (R-SC), decrying cuts to the military budget. "Fire the politicians, keep the soldiers." Democrat Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) denounced the idea of implementing austerity while the economy remains weak. “Cutting spending at this moment in time means cutting jobs at this moment in time, which means fewer people paying income taxes and more people drawing government benefits," he said. "That is not a recipe for economic expansion.” Next up is a meeting Friday between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders. White House spokesman Jay Carney is making no prediction of a breakthrough “There are no preconditions to a meeting like this," Carney said. "This is a meeting with the president … any topic is up for discussion if one member of the group decides he or she wants to broach it.” Obama, who has implored Congress to act, has repeatedly warned the sequester will hobble critical government functions, causing harm, pain and inconveniences. Senator McConnell, who will be at the White House meeting, derided the president’s warnings. “Instead of directing his secretaries to trim waste in their departments, he is going after first responders, teachers, and almost any other sympathetic constituency you can think of … all to force Americans to accept higher taxes," McConnell said. "And he will claim his hands are tied, and somehow it will be everybody’s fault but his. Nonsense.” Once the sequester takes hold, the American people will likely weigh in on its effects — quite possibly assigning blame. Leaders on both sides of the aisle hope blame falls on the other party.

Pakistan: Groundbreaking of gas pipeline on 11th

After a wait of almost two decades, the groundbreaking of $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline will be performed on March 11 on the Pak-Iran border by the presidents of the two countries. Agreements for opening two more border crossings (Gabd and Pasni) and setting up an oil refinery in Gwadar will also be signed after the ceremony, a Pakistan embassy official in Tehran told Dawn. The ceremony will be held at Gabd zero point on the border from where the Pakistan section of the gas pipeline starts. President Asif Ali Zardari returned on Thursday after a two-day visit to Iran for finalising the gas pipeline deal and sorting out financing and technical issues. “We have successfully completed all negotiations,” the official said after the president’s trip. The two countries had initially planned to perform the groundbreaking on March 4, but delayed it for a week because of inadequate preparations for the ceremony. A number of foreign diplomats posted in Islamabad are being invited to the event. The pipeline issue is likely to bring Pakistan-US ties under renewed stress as Washington has been staunchly opposing the project. “It’s in their best interests to avoid any sanction-able activity, and we think that we provide and are providing … a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we’re providing,” deputy US State Department Spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Wednesday. In Tehran, President Zardari, while rejecting the US pressure, had said: “We deeply believe in boosting bilateral ties. The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against the enemies of Islam.” The project has time and again run into problems. It initially started in 1994 as Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, but in 2009 India separated itself from the project to get a civil nuclear deal from the US. All along there have also been disputes over tariff. Lately, financing the laying of the pipeline in Pakistani territory has been a major issue because of US sanctions on Iran. The US pressure was so intense that at one stage even a Chinese-led consortium ditched the project. Tehran has agreed to provide a $500 million loan to partially finance construction of the pipeline on the Pakistan side, which will cost $1.5 billion. Pakistan will pay the remaining cost from its own resources. If everything else goes well the pipeline will be completed in 15 months. Iran has already completed the pipeline in its territory, while the laying of 785-km-long Pakistani section will commence now. Pakistan plans to import 21.5 million cubic metres of gas daily from Iran via the pipeline.

Bangla Music...

BANGLADESH:Sayedee sentence: The verdict people wanted

Delwar Hossain Sayedee the man most known in Bangladesh as an Islamic preacher doubling as a politician has been sentenced to death for crimes committed in 1971. The crowds gathered in the streets and avenues and the shouts of joys and relief are in many ways the reflection of a nation denied of many justices and not just relating to war crimes. Sayedee is in fact, not a person but the symbol of a war criminal who leads a life that is protected by the impunity of politics in Bangladesh. Most people believe that this sentence would not have been possible without Shahbagh, the iconic people’s movement which demanded the highest penalty for war crimes. Today, the supreme judicial authority has passed from the absolute control of the judiciary to be shared with the activists of the street. It is indeed a momentous and significant moment. Sayedee is now expected to be hanged soon and given the street mood, the appeal is really a formality. No judge today can go against the crowd and the authorities know that as well. It’s expected that the government will use the full opportunity given by the Shahbagh Movement to take its political agenda as far as possible. For the moment, the euphoria is the king and the joy of having forced the government to listen to its demand holds sway over everything. Three political forces are going to be most affected and obviously the Jamaat-e-Islami is the most at bay. Given the trend it had once, seemed that the AL was not that keen to ban it but now it is out of their hands. The verdict from Shahbagh is clear and the government faces much less problem by arguing that it has simply bowed to popular demand. A party which had flourished although that party had opposed the birth of Bangladesh was always a severe contradiction that in one way or another is resolved. Left to the politicians, nothing happened and ultimately it did in a way no one had imagined. It was not just a triumph of Shahbagh but formalisation of the politician’s failure. Banning Jamaat-e-Islami was not on the AL menu but it’s going to do it for its own survival now. But what may the Jamaat-e-Islami do? Jamaat may have few options if banned or its leaders are hanged to go for militancy. Bangladesh has luckily been spared of the kind of ‘Islamic violence’ that Pakistan and other ME countries have seen. JI is not without support – about 5% of the voters – and many are militants, so in case of a ban they might up the violence ante. Given the general level of competence of the police and the other law and order forces, which even by best account is poor and sometimes outright comical, there is anxiety that they may not be able to cope effectively. Bangladesh has also not seen the scale of violence many Muslim countries have seen and how well the state and society will deal with it remains to be seen. A new set of uncertainties have now opened up. The BNP is already looking ragged and knowing that a ban is coming of its main ally, can’t be smiling. Although it will get the Jamaat-e-Islami votes if the party is banned, and an election is held, its capacity to mobilise is considerably diminished. It has tried to go front foot but the playing space is clearly limited in today’s politics for a party which is the closest ally of the most hated. The BNP is now in a corner. The AL is at a great advantage because the opponents are down. As the media focuses on the trial and hanging of war criminals, just about everyone has forgotten the governance disasters like the Padma Bridge and others. So the AL will certainly make as much political hay as possible as long as the sun shines from Shahbagh. However, this kind of hyper enthusiasm may not last and some of the issues may return but right now it’s walking without fetters as traditional political issues are forgotten for the moment. But it would be premature to celebrate an all round victory because ‘religion’ has returned as an issue no matter who is responsible. Nothing is more divisive than this issue and the fact that the government has sent an SMS saying that no one should insult Islam or the Prophet means the Government understands how serious the matter is. The BNP leader Sadek Hossain Khoka said in a public meeting that he was surprised how an ‘atheist’ like the slain blogger Rajib could survive for so long. This is the language of desperation and that seems to be where the battles will be fought, in the religious space. What that will mean is anyone’s guess. So for the moment, a hanging sentence as the crowd wanted, a threat of instability, an acutely unwell judicial system, crowd power at its highest and a political future that can’t be guessed are all part of the scene as Sayedee’s sentence causes joy to many.

Turkey, the Unhelpful Ally

AMERICA’S stated goal is to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. The United States also insists that any solution to the Syrian crisis should guarantee religious and ethnic pluralism. However, this rosy vision of a moderate and secular Syria after Mr. Assad’s downfall will not be achieved if the United States continues to depend on regional allies that have little interest in such an outcome. President Obama has relied heavily on Turkey in seeking to oust Mr. Assad and Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to visit the Turkish capital, Ankara, later this week. But Turkey is part of the problem. It is exacerbating Syria’s sectarian strife, rather than contributing to a peaceful and pluralistic solution. While the Obama administration has encouraged a broad Syrian opposition coalition, in which the influence of Islamists would be circumscribed, Turkey has not been of any assistance whatsoever. Instead, the Turkish government has continued to throw its weight behind the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood dominated the Syrian National Council, which is headquartered in Istanbul, and has succeeded in eclipsing other groups within the new opposition coalition, effectively thwarting the American effort to empower non-Islamists. Moreover, while sponsoring the Sunni cause in Syria, the Turkish government has made no attempt to show sympathy for the fears of the country’s Alawite, Christian and Kurdish minorities. The Alawites and the Christians have backed the government in large numbers and fear retribution if Mr. Assad is toppled. Turkey has provided a crucial sanctuary for the Sunni rebels fighting Mr. Assad and has helped to arm and train them. Even more ominously, Turkey is turning a blind eye to the presence of jihadists on its territory, and has even used them to suppress the aspirations of Kurds in Syria. Last November, Islamist rebels from Jabhet al-Nusra, which has reputed links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, entered the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain from Turkey and attacked fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, known as the P.Y.D., which had wrested control of parts of northeastern Syria. The Nusra fighters were initially repelled, but have continued to cross into Syria from their safe haven in Turkey. Mr. Obama has invested considerable political capital in Turkey, cultivating a close relationship with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. American and Turkish officials have held regular operational planning meetings since last summer, aimed at hastening the downfall of Mr. Assad. In a recent interview with the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, Mr. Obama thanked “the Turkish government for the leadership they have provided in the efforts to end the violence in Syria and start the political transition process.” But this praise is undeserved. America can’t expect the Sunni Arab autocracies that have financed the Syrian uprising, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to help empower secular and moderate leaders in Syria. However, Turkey, a NATO ally, should be expected to promote a pluralistic, post-Assad Syria. It has not. The Obama administration must therefore reassess the assumption that Turkey is playing a constructive role in ending the violence in Syria; it must also take a hard look at its own role in contributing to religious strife. America’s policy of punitive sanctions and not-so-veiled military threats toward Iran has encouraged Turkey to assert itself as a Sunni power. The perception that Turkey enjoys American “cover” for a foreign policy that directly confronts Iranian interests emboldened the Turkish government to throw its weight behind the armed Sunni rebellion against Mr. Assad, Iran’s main regional ally. Turkey quickly abandoned its stated ambition to have “zero problems with neighbors” and decided to join the United States in confronting Iran. It agreed to the deployment of parts of NATO’s antimissile shield, which is meant to neutralize a supposed Iranian missile threat. Turkey’s shift flowed from the belief that it would gain power and stature and reap the benefits if America succeeded in rolling back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. All of this suited the United States. Washington no longer had to fear that Turkey might be “drifting eastward,” as it did during the short-lived Turkish-Iranian rapprochement a few years ago, when Turkey broke ranks with its Western partners over the Iranian nuclear issue. Turkey also appeared to be an American asset insofar as it could potentially offset the influence of more conservative Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia. But the Syrian crisis has had a radicalizing effect on all parties, including Turkey’s more moderate Islamist government. Under more peaceful circumstances, Mr. Erdogan might be able to live up to American expectations and promote a pluralistic vision for the Middle East. That won’t happen if the region is increasingly torn apart by violent religious conflict and its leaders believe that playing the sectarian card will enhance their power. Removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq in 2003 had the undesirable consequence of empowering Iran. A decade later, America’s effort to remove Mr. Assad is partly an attempt to remedy this geopolitical setback. But, as in Iraq, it has had unwelcome consequences. Moreover, American policy toward Iran is encouraging opportunistic Sunni assertiveness that threatens to trigger Shiite retaliation. The United States must beware of doing the bidding of Sunni powers — especially Turkey — that are advancing sectarian agendas that run counter to America’s interest of promoting pluralism and tolerance. Left unchecked, rising sectarianism could lead to a dangerous regional war.

South African Police brutality caught on tape
They bound his hands to the rear of a van, and then sped off, dragging the slender taxi driver along the pavement as a crowd of onlookers shouted in dismay. The man was later found dead. A gut-wrenching video of the scene is all the more disturbing because the men who abused the Mozambican immigrant were uniformed South African police officers and the van was a marked police vehicle. The graphic scenes of the victim struggling for his life shocked a nation long accustomed to reports of police violence. "The visuals of the incident are horrific, disturbing and unacceptable. No human being should be treated in that manner," said South African President Jacob Zuma. The Daily Sun, a South African newspaper, posted video of the footage and it was quickly picked up by other South African news outlets and carried on the internet. It sparked immediate outrage about police behaviour. "They are there for safety, but we as a people fear them more," said Johannesburg resident Alfonso Adams. "You don't know who to trust anymore."Some of those in the crowd who watched the scene unfold in the Daveyton township east of Johannesburg shouted at the police and warned that it was being videotaped. The police did not seem at all concerned by all the witnesses and the presence of cameras as they tied Mido Macia, a 27-year-old from neighbouring Mozambique, to the back of a police vehicle, his hands behind his head. At least three policemen participated in the incident. Macia was found dead in a Daveyton police cell late Tuesday. "We are going to film this," several onlookers shouted in Zulu as the police tormented Macia. One bystander can be heard on the videotape shouting in Zulu: "What has this guy done?" A murder probe is underway on the evidence that Macia suffered head and upper abdomen injuries, including internal bleeding, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the police watchdog agency, said. The injuries could be from the dragging and he could also have been beaten later in police custody. "The allegations are that he was dragged behind a vehicle and his head was bent on the police vehicle. There are also allegations of assault," said the investigative unit's spokesman Moses Dlamini. The video evidence of the abuse renewed concerns about brutality, corruption and other misconduct by a national police force whose reputation has suffered in recent years amid reports that many officers lack training. Some have been charged with committing the crimes they are supposed to prevent, including rape and murder. "As horrific as it is, it is not exceptional. Hardly a week goes by without such stories of brutality," said Jacob van Garderen, national director of Lawyers for Human Rights. At first, Macia, dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, is dragged along the road by the vehicle at slow speed, the footage shows. He awkwardly tries to keep step even though he is almost horizontal above the ground. Then the van stops, two policemen pick up the legs of the taxi driver and drop them to the ground as the van picks up speed and drives off, beyond the view of the camera. The police watchdog agency said the incident started just before 7pm on Tuesday when the cab driver was allegedly obstructing traffic with his vehicle. Then Macia allegedly assaulted a constable and took his weapon before he was overpowered, the police investigative unit said. Macia was found dead in a cell over two hours later by another policeman, according to the watchdog agency. National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega "strongly condemned" what happened. South Africans are "urged to remain vigilant and continue to report all acts of crime irrespective of who is involved," said Phiyega in a statement. Phiyega has tried to upgrade the reputation of the South African police since her appointment last year. Last month, Phiyega told a group of police officials the standing of the force "has been severely but not irreparably tarnished over the past several years." The problems, though, are immense for a police force that has expanded from some 120,000 to almost 200,000 over the last decade, "often failing to match the increase in quantity with sufficient quality," said Johan Burger, who served for 36 years on the force before becoming a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. Several experts contacted by The Associated Press also said that in recent years there has been an increasing willingness to use a shoot-to-kill approach to the crime and violence. An average of 860 people a year died in police custody or as a result of police action between 2009 and 2010, up from 695 a year from 2003 to 2008, according to Burger of the security studies institute. Further staining the reputation of the police is the Marikana shootings when, on August 16, 2012, a line of South African police opened fire on a crowd of striking miners, killing 34 at a platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg. A judicial commission is investigating allegations that many were killed in a rocky hill, near the much-filmed initial scene of the attack, shot in the back as they tried to escape.

Saudi hand in Bahrain crackdown
BY: Gwynne Dyer
No Western Govt will condemn suppression of pro-democracy activists because that would seriously rile Riyadh.
Floggings will continue until morale improves. As a way of dealing with a discontented crew it was much favoured by 18th-century sea captains, but the Bahrain Government has been an apt pupil. Alas, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa doesn't quite grasp that this sort of policy statement must be clear and concise. Announcing that the Bahraini authorities would intensify the repression that has prevailed since the crushing of pro-democracy demonstrations two years ago, the sheikh declared last October: "It has been decided to stop all gatherings and marches and not to allow any activity before being reassured about security and achieving the required stability in order to preserve national unity." He's got the spirit of the thing right, but he falls short in the clarity and brevity departments. At any rate, the demonstrations, gatherings and marches have not stopped, although they have got even more dangerous for the participants. Bahrain's brief role in the "Arab Spring" began on February 14, 2011, when demonstrators demanding a constitutional monarchy, a freely elected government and equality for all citizens took over Pearl Square in Manama, the capital of the tiny Gulf state.But one month later the protesters were driven from the square by force, and after that the repression became general. By no coincidence, that was also when Saudi Arabian troops arrived "to help the Government of Bahrain restore order". (Bahrain is an island connected to Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province by a long causeway.) Officially the Saudi soldiers were invited in by Bahrain's ruler, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Unofficially, he probably had no choice in the matter. Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni Muslim, like Saudi Arabia's and those of all the other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman). However, 70 per cent of Bahrain's population is Shia, whereas the rest of the GCC countries are overwhelmingly Sunni. And the relationship between Sunnis and Shias throughout the region is coming to resemble that between Catholics and Protestants in 16th-century Europe. The ensuing century of religious wars in Europe was not really about doctrinal differences. The wars were driven by the rulers' conviction that people who did not share their particular brand of Christianity could not be loyal to them politically. It was nonsense, but millions of Europeans were killed in the 1500s and 1600s in wars triggered by this belief. The same disease now seems to be taking root in the Arab Gulf states. Shias, it is argued, cannot be loyal to a Sunni ruling family. And if they object to being oppressed, it can only be because Shia-majority Iran has deliberately stirred them up. There is a real political and military rivalry between Iran, the major power on the north side of the Gulf, and the smaller Arab states to the southwest. It has become worse since the US invasion of Iraq ended centuries of Sunni rule and put a Shia regime in power there. The competition is actually geopolitical and strategic, not sectarian, but people get confused. So Saudi Arabia worries a lot about the loyalty of the large Shia population (maybe even a majority) in its Eastern Province, where all the oil is. It was certainly not going to tolerate a democracy - which it thinks would be a "Shia" democracy, and therefore a hostile regime - in Bahrain, right next door. And, of course, it believed that the downtrodden Shia majority in Bahrain had been stirred up by Shia-majority Iran across the Gulf. So when Bahrain's King had still not got the pro-democracy protesters under control after an entire month, it sent its troops in. It certainly wasn't what Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa intended: he was trying to negotiate with opposition parties about giving Shias a bigger role in the kingdom's affairs. But Saudi Arabia didn't want that kind of example right next-door, and it found hardline allies in the Bahraini royal family. The triumvirate who are now running Bahrain are Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, Prime Minister for the past 40 years, and the brothers Khalid bin Ahmed bin Salman al-Khalifa, the royal Court Minister, and Khalifa bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, who commands the Bahrain Defence Forces. With them in charge, there will be no compromise, even though more than 80 Shia protesters have already been killed. No Western government is going to condemn the country's rulers. That would seriously annoy Saudi Arabia, and they will never do that.

Saudi Arabia to witness escalation of uprisings in coming days

Saudi Arabia will soon witness an escalation of public uprisings as the protests have entered an unprecedented phase in the run-up to the US Secretary of State’s visit to the kingdom, a political analyst tells Press TV. The protests in Saudi Arabia “in the coming few days are increasing” at the time of the visit of the new American Secretary of State John Kerry to Riyadh,” said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for [Persian] Gulf Affairs (IGA) in a Wednesday interview. The analyst noted that the people in Saudi Arabia will use the occasion “to take advantage of the international media attention on that visit so the people of Saudi Arabia would bring their voice to the world, to the international media which has been silent and blocking their voice.” “It is absolutely a new phase. You know, we saw both in Buraidah in the al-Qassim region and the Riyadh itself simultaneous protests today,” Ahmed said. The IGA director pointed to the burning of the picture of the Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad bin Nayef in Buraidah during a protest by thousands of women and children and described it as “a huge development in the country.” “For the first time in Saudi Arabia the picture of a member of the ruling family, the interior minister, has been publicly burned in front of police,” Ahmed pointed out. Saudi protesters have staged fresh demonstrations against the Al Saud regime, calling for the release of political prisoners. In recent days, anti-regime protesters, including female demonstrators, took to the streets in the capital Riyadh and the central province of al-Qassim to show their outrage at the Saudi regime’s illegal detention of dissidents. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in Qatif and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations have turned into protests against the Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011, when security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province. Amnesty International has called on Saudi authorities to stop using excessive force against the protesters. - See more at:

EGYPT:Human rights organisation blames police for mistreatment of children

The police are using street children for political gains, said the Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Condition (EFACC) in a press statement on Wednesday. The EFACC said the police were guilty of detaining children and telling the public that they had captured “armed gangs” and other agents creating unrest. The group noted that there were ongoing investigations for approximately 40 children, who had been rounded up in different parts of Cairo, mostly for homelessness and begging. The organisation said that the Interior Ministry was doing this as supposedly preventive measures to keep the children from involvement with worse crimes, but pointed out that such measures would do nothing to curtail crime. The EFACC said that instead the ministry should instead hand the children over to institutions who could provide alternate care and reduce the chances of the children returning to a life on the streets. The statement argued that a vast majority of cases in which children are presented to prosecution was laden with procedural errors and said that instead of exposing children to further risk, they should be provided with social protection by groups already engaging with the issue. The EFACC also said that the forensic report for Omar Salah, the 12 year-old sweet potato vendor had still not arrived to the prosecution. Salah was killed earlier this month in the vicinity of Tahrir Square. The Armed Force claimed responsibility for the death, claiming it was accidental, and that the army personnel responsible was detained and would be subject to legal proceedings.

Israel gets first Ethiopian-born beauty queen

Yityish Aynaw, a former Israeli army officer, has become the first Ethiopian-born Israeli to win the Miss Israel pageant. A panel of judges awarded the title to Aynaw, a 21-year-old model who came to Israel about a decade ago, at the International Convention Center Haifa on Wednesday. "It's important that a member of the Ethiopian community wins the competition for the first time," she was quoted by Israeli media as telling the judges in response to a question. "There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it's important to show that to the world." Aynaw came to Israel with her family when she was 12. Acclimating to Israel was difficult at first, Aynaw said, but she picked up the language quickly with the help of a friend. She has been working as a saleswoman at a clothing store since her army discharge. During the competition, Aynaw cited the slain American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. as one of her heroes. "He fought for justice and equality, and that's one of the reasons I'm here: I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren't always represented in the media," she said

Israel, Turkey row over Zionism deepens rift between ex-allies

Israel's prime minister accused his Turkish counterpart on Thursday of making a "dark and false" statement by calling Zionism a crime against humanity - a comment likely to hit efforts to repair ties between the two former allies. The Turkish premier's statement, made at a U.N. meeting in Vienna a day earlier, was also condemned by the head of Europe's main rabbinical group who called it a "hateful attack" on Jews. "Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become impossible not to see Islamophobia as a crime against humanity," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said at theCivilizationss forum, according to Turkish media reports. Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when nine Turks were killed by Israeli commandos who stormed their ship carrying aid to Palestinians in Gaza, under a naval blockade. In recent weeks, there has been a run of reports in the Turkish and Israeli press about efforts to repair relations, including a senior diplomatic meeting earlier this month in Rome and military equipment transfers. The reports have not been confirmed by either government. No one was immediately available from Turkey's foreign ministry to comment on the new criticism from the rabbis or from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A statement from the Israeli premier's office said he "strongly condemns (Erdogan's) statement about Zionism and its comparison to Nazism." The Zionist movement was the main force behind the establishment of the state of Israel. "This is a dark and false pronouncement the likes of which we thought had passed into history," Netanyahu was quoted as saying. Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow and the head of the Conference of European Rabbis, said Erdogan's criticism of Zionism amounted to anti-Semitism. "This is an ignorant and hateful attack on the Jewish people and against a movement with peace at its core, which relegates Prime Minster Erdogan to the level of (Iranian President) Mahmoud Ahmadinejadand, to Soviet leaders who used anti-Zionism as a euphemism for anti-Semitism," Goldschmidt said in an emailed statement. "The irony of these comments will not be lost on the families of those slaughtered during the Armenian genocide, a crime still not recognized by the Turkish government," he added. Armenians accuse Ottoman Turks of committing an orchestrated campaign of massacres against Christian Armenians during World War One. Turkey, which was established as a republic after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, denies those killings were genocide and says both sides lost lives in internecine fighting during the chaos of war. The Conference of European Rabbis is an umbrella group of 700 religious leaders in Europe, where an estimated 1,7 millions Jewish people live. About 17,000 Jews live in Turkey, a country of 76 million people.

Pakistan: No more a pipedream

With the large manufacturing sector almost shut down and the textile industry, the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, on its knees, mainly due to the energy crisis, the finalisation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline as a result of president Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to Tehran is good news. That Pakistan has mustered the strength to go against the US and the UN, both having Iran on their sanctions list, finally shows maturity dawning on the leadership on the criticality of the energy crisis facing the country. It is time for the US also to understand Pakistan’s internal vulnerabilities, especially when terrorism has crippled its capacity to grow, the crisis in the energy sector has sapped its vitals and is the cause of the rising anger of citizens against the government. Unemployment and inflation, arguably fed by the energy crisis, have led to rising crime. Small businesses that are the staple of employment in any economy have been ruined because of the prevailing circumstances. The crisis and makeshift or ad hoc measures to cope with the energy shortfall are no solution. Hence the decision to ignore US pressure while not ruling out its proposals to try other energy solutions is a positive omen for Pakistan’s future. Any indigenous plan to overcome the energy shortfall, either through gas exploration or coal development, would take time to become operational. On the other hand, Pakistan is in dire need of reducing its growing dependence on imported oil, which is not only eating into the foreign reserves but also contributing to galloping inflation, impacting severely on cost of production and cost of living. In this context, the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline appears attractive and feasible. Iran has been gracious enough to offer finance and the construction of the remaining pipeline on our side. It has already finished its section of the pipeline up to the border. On completion the project would cost $ 7.5 billion, supplying 750 million cubic feet per day of natural gas by mid-2015. Pakistan has had multiple troubles finding financiers for the project, primarily because of the US’s stance against Iran. One important issue that could affect the maintainability and security of the project is Balochistan’s nationalist insurgency. Balochistan, whether on this side of the border or across in Iran, is a troubled area. It was security and US pressure that persuaded India to withdraw from the deal that was initially an Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline. This issue would remain thorny unless we decide to sit down and talk with the insurgents in Balochistan. However, China’s growing appetite for energy is expected to make it a partner in sharing the resource. That would give a financial breather to Pakistan in the form of transit fees that it had to lose because of India’s withdrawal. The complexities surrounding the project have been myriad and it goes to the credit of Pakistan that it had never abandoned the project, despite the difficulties. The economic chemistry of regional cooperation has left little choice for countries within the area except to cooperate in energy and trade. For Iran, which has always been a brotherly neighbour, we should be prepared to go the extra mile, benefiting ourselves in the process.

The Jinnah we don’t want to know

The Express Tribune
By Aziz Akhmad
I have a large framed photograph of M A Jinnah, our Quaid-i-Azam, on a wall of my home office here in New York. It is an old photograph in sepia tones, showing the man dressed immaculately, as always, in a dark suit, striped tie, white straight-collared shirt with double cuffs that protrude a little from underneath his coat sleeves, revealing a cufflink and wearing two-tone shoes. Jinnah is squatting on the lawn of what appears to be an elegant red-brick house lined with shrubs and greenery. He has a cigarette between his lips, while both his hands are occupied holding a small, white, long-haired dog, a West Highland terrier, or Westie, as the breed is called. Sitting next to the Westie is a big, black Doberman, wearing a studded leather collar, his ears pricked warily. All three — the man and the dogs — are looking straight into the camera. Jinnah has an amused expression on his face, which, it seems, would break into a grin were it not for the cigarette between his lips. He looks about 60 and dashingly handsome with fine features, a full head of hair with generous splashes of gray carefully combed back. It’s a shame that the official Pakistan does not display pictures of Jinnah like this one more often — and there are numerous such charming pictures of him in the archives: Jinnah in a chair with his young and beautiful daughter, Dina, standing by, both with a big smile; Jinnah laughing with Gandhi; Jinnah sitting on the arm of a park bench, posing with his sister and other friends; and many more. These pictures reveal the human side of Jinnah, almost a flamboyant side. Ironically, most Pakistanis have grown up seeing their Quaid-i-Azam, in textbooks, on the covers of their notebooks and currency notes, as an unsmiling, humourless and a somber man, clad in a sherwani and a boat-shaped karakul cap that came to be called the Jinnah cap. True, Jinnah did start wearing a sherwani and chooridar pyjama or shalwar and a karakul cap — in the last 10 or 12 years of his life — in public gatherings. But he never gave up wearing western clothes. Nor did he give up his love for dogs, nor, unfortunately, his addiction to cigarettes. Jinnah was a modern man, a westernised man. Whatever his personal beliefs, he never wore religion on his sleeves. No photographer has ever been able to capture him clad in an ahram performing umrah or Hajj, or at an iftar party, or visiting and praying at shrines. Not only have we ‘doctored’ an official image of Jinnah, we even insist on misspelling his name. Jinnah would spell his first name as Mohamed, as evident in his passport, issued in November 1946. The picture in the passport shows Jinnah wearing a western jacket, a tie and a Jinnah cap. I suspect this is the same picture that appears on our currency notes, but with the tie and jacket replaced with a sherwani collar. Obviously, we have been trying to clad Jinnah in an identity we wish to assume for ourselves — an overt religious identity. We even rearranged the famous phrase “Unity, faith and discipline” from one of his speeches to “Faith, unity and discipline” and translated faith to mean religion, which, in the context of the speech, meant confidence or conviction.

Pakistan textbooks raise debate about 'curriculum of hate'

By Taha Siddiqui: Christian Science Monitor
Government-sanctioned textbooks across Pakistan contain numerous examples of anti-minority and anti-Western language, prompting activists to encourage teachers to stop using them.
In a public school located just outside the capital, a classroom of ninth-graders follows quietly along in their history textbooks as their teacher reads out loud about what happened shortly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947: “Caravans that were on the way to Pakistan were attacked by Hindus and Sikhs. Not a single Muslim was left alive in trains coming to Pakistan.” As the magnitude of the sentence registers with the students, the phrase “No Muslim was left alive!” echoes around the classroom from whispered lips. Students are clearly engaged with the subject and clearly disturbed with what history they have just learned. The only problem? That description in the students' books is highly misleading.Though the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 was indeed one of massive violence, Mubarak Ali, who has written several books on India-Pakistan history, says this is a one-sided account of events and an exaggerated version of the truth. In fact, it was the Pakistani side where the communal riots started, and in reaction, Indians responded, he says, adding: "But very few trains were attacked. And many more made it alive, which is not taught." Dr. Ali says that such content should be expunged from school books, much as India has managed to do. "Instead of teaching Pakistani youth that Hindus from India are to be blamed for everything, textbooks should critically look at this communal violence, which can actually be traced to the way both Muslims and Hindus responded to British imperialism before the independence. We should not glorify this division but rather criticize it, because Muslims and Hindus coexisted peacefully for centuries before," he says. Across Pakistan, government-sanctioned school textbooks contain blatantly anti-religious-minority, anti-Western material. And many are worried the curriculum is fueling intolerance, especially among youths – leading to violent behavior and even sympathy for the Taliban. “Such textbooks try to create and define Pakistani nationalism in a very narrow sense. It tries to define it in term of an Islamic identity,” says Abdul Hameed Nayyar, a well-known historian, activist, and former physicist who is part of a Lahore-based campaign to encourage teachers around the country to raise awareness about this issue by calling it “the curriculum of hatred” and encouraging teachers to stop using the textbooks. After the teacher finishes reading, he asks another student to continue reading aloud from the next chapter, which focuses on why Pakistan came into existence: "Narrow-mindedness of the Hindus and the conspiracies of whites led to the call of this Islamic country, Pakistan.” When asked later about his opinion of Hindus and Christians, the student reiterates what his textbook said. “I think Hindus are against Pakistan, against Islam. Hindus are like that. And even the British and the non-Muslims – they still oppose Pakistan,” he adds. That type of reaction is a problem, say activists, who note that school history texts are used by impressionable children and should be based in fact, not opinion, as students form their own ideas about the world. “These books try to show Pakistan and Muslims are victims of all kinds of conspiracy, from lots of people from many countries, which results in making people very paranoid,” says Mr. Nayyar. “And they become infused with narrowmindedness,” which can lead to extremism, he adds. 'THE SUBTLE SUBVERSION' Each province has its own textbook board, which reviews and approves textbooks for use in both public and private schools. The current curriculum came into use following the end of colonial rule and bitter break with India, which was considered an enemy. Later, during the rule of Gen. Zial ul-Haq, the curriculum was further radicalized, introducing the Soviet war in Afghanistan as “a new front for jihad.” Haq’s vision was to Islamize Pakistan, inspired by Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islam. Nayyar, who co-wrote a 2003 study called “The Subtle Subversion” that points out historical faults in textbooks and how the inaccuracies affect children, has been struggling for more than a decade to change them. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), a minority rights organization, estimates that nearly every school in Pakistan uses the textbooks. “During the early years of Musharraf [Pakistan’s last military dictator] rule, I was asked by the government to give in my recommendations to improve the curriculum, which were incorporated in the syllabus,” says Nayyar. One of the changes he suggested and that was made was to redefine the word “jihad” in textbooks. Though the textbooks have it as “waging a holy war against infidels,” the literal meaning of the word means “struggle,” or “striving,” a meaning, he says, that deserves a much broader definition. He proposed that textbooks should explain that the term should refer to “fighting evils inside oneself.” But his changes were short-lived. Pressured by religious parties from whom he was seeking political support, Musharraf restored the original curriculum a few months later. REJUVENATED EFFORTS But the NCJP approached Nayyar recently, knowing he had led the fight to modernize Pakistan’s textbooks for years. Now Nayyar and the NCJP have come up with an updated analysis of Pakistan’s curriculum in both public and private schools by detailing lessons from the books sentence by sentence, highlighting content that is biased against ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan, as well as hypernationalism against India and the West. In many chapters outlined by NCJP, modern Hindus are referred to as “gangsters” and Christians are referred to as “violent crusaders.” According to the report, the hate content in textbooks has more than doubled since the last time they were revised. For example, some 30 Grade 5 to 10 textbooks published in Punjab, examined in 2009, were found to have 12 instances of biased material that could be considered “hate content.” In 2012, the textbooks underwent a curriculum revision. After another review, the total number of quantifiable instances of questionable or factually incorrect material went up to 33, according to Peter Jacob, the study's author. CURRICULUM AUTHORITIES RESPOND When Pakistan’s Federal Textbook Board – a government body that authorizes and reviews content published in schoolbooks – was contacted, at first they denied that there was such content. When a Monitor correspondent confronted them with the latest report by NCJP, Riaz Ahmad, head of the government curriculum committee, promised to look into it. “We try our best to check such content, but since our society belongs to religious people, it is tough to bring [such] changes,” Dr. Ahmad says, adding that the curriculum has to respect the society it is being taught in. RECOMMENDED: How much do you know about Pakistan? Take this quiz. In the meantime, some schools have begun to write their own textbooks. One such private school, Indus Valley School of Learning, based in Rawalpindi, has come up with its own curriculum. It has yet to find a publisher, which makes education here expensive, but appears to be promoting understanding among the youths studying here. Yasmeen Ashraf, the owner and principal of the school, says, “ The extremism that we have seen in Pakistan can be beaten through the school, through the education system by properly developing curriculum."

HRW highly critical of Bahrain

Human Rights Watch said Thursday that Bahrain's promises of political reform are for naught if opposition leaders remain jailed. Human Rights Watch staff members visited Bahrain recently and met with Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa and other officials. Bahrain's Sunni-led monarchy has pledged to honor proposals spelled out by an independent commission of inquiry probing a deadly uprising against the government in 2011. Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Middle East programs at Human Rights Watch, said many of those pledges are empty. "All the talk of national dialogue and reform mean nothing so long as the country's most prominent human rights and political activists remain unjustly imprisoned while officials responsible for torture and murder remain in their positions," she said in a statement. Protests have continued since the 2011 uprising. One protester and a policeman were killed during mid-February demonstrations. The government of Bahrain said any party or group with real political demands should avoid using violence to pursue their objectives. Bahrain's Justice Minister Khalid bin Ali al-Khalifa has stressed "the government's resolve to prevent using violence as a tool to pressurize decisions." Whitson said that at the bare minimum, the rights community should expect the government to examine "the gross abuses by security forces during the 2011 uprising."

Saudi protesters in Hejaz demand end to illegal detention

Protesters in Saudi Arabia have held a rally in the western region of Hejaz to protests against an increase in illegal detentions. Demonstrators took to the streets of Hejaz on Thursday, carrying placards and shouting slogans demanding the release of political prisoners. The rally is the latest in a growing wave of protests over the detention of a group of women and children in the central province of al-Qassim. The group was arrested by regime forces while they were staging a sit-in outside al-Safra Prison in Buraidah on Monday, demanding that authorities release their relatives. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in oil-rich Eastern Province. They were primarily calling for the release of political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. The calls soon turned into demands for the downfall of the ruling Al Saud royal family, especially after security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in Eastern Province in November 2011. In October 2012, Amnesty International called on the Saudi authorities to "end their repeated moves to stifle people’s attempts to protest against the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the country,” and to respect the right of people to peaceful protests. Activists say there are over 40,000 political prisoners in jails across the kingdom. They say some of the people behind bars are being kept without charge or trial - some of them for up to 15 years.

President Zardari reiterates govt's commitment to curb militancy‚ sectarianism

Radio Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari has reaffirmed that the government will undertake every possible effort to bring to justice the perpetrators of Quetta carnage. Talking to a delegation of Hazara community in Quetta today (Thursday)‚ he said the federal government is providing every support to the provincial government in investigating the heinous incident. The president advised Balochistan governor to personally oversee that the bereaved families get relief. Later‚ during a meeting on law and order situation in Balochsitan‚ the President was apprised of various measures being taken to provide security to the people. The meeting was informed that the security arrangements in and around Quetta city have been beefed up and Frontier Corps has been given the powers of Police under Anti-Terrorism Act. Earlier talking to various delegations in Quetta‚ the president reiterated the government's commitment to curb militancy and sectarianism. He said fight against militant and sectarian mindset may be hard and long but will not rest till we have defeated this enemy of the state and the country. Earlier‚ the President also laid the foundation stone of Nolang Dam in Quetta to be constructed at a cost of 18 billion rupees. It is being constructed at River Mola in District Jhal Magsi. On completion‚ it will help irrigate 47‚000 acres of land. Radio Pakistan's Quetta correspondent says the work on the Dam will start next month.

‘Whole of Bangladesh is now Shahbagh’

The organisers of ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ of Shabagh intersection were overwhelmed by the huge crowd thronging the city’s commercial hub Motijheel to join a rally. This was the third rally organised in Dhaka outside Shahbagh, where the unprecedented protest against the life sentence of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla, galvanised millions of Bangladeshis to take to the street. The two other protest rallies were held at Mirpur and Rayerbazar, both witness to a spate of mass murders during the 1971 Liberation War. The organisers said although their movement demanding death sentence to war criminals and a ban on Jamaat started at Shahbagh, it has already spread across all corners of Bangladesh. “Our protest is not only confined to Shahbagh, it has reached everywhere across the nation,” Bangladesh Chhatra Moitree President Bappaditya Basu told the rally. He called upon the people to set up ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ at each school, college and locality. Demonstrations at the iconic Shahbagh intersection, now christened as ‘Prajanma Chattar’, rolled into the 23rd day on Wednesday. The International Crimes Tribunal-2 on Feb 5 awarded life imprisonment to Molla, sparking off a wave of anger and frustration, drawing people to Shahbagh to form mass protests. The Islamist party which opposed Bangladesh’s birth also held a rally at Motijheel on the day prior to the start of the Shahbagh movement. The rally by the ‘Ganajagaran Mancha’ in the business district came a day before the ICT-1 is expected to deliver a verdict on Jamaat leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee on charges of crimes during the nation’s nine-month bloody independence struggle in 1971. People from the broad spectrum of the society started flocking to Motijheel carrying national flags and shouting slogans. Thousands of students of the city’s several schools and colleges also joined in. The rally kicked off around 3.40pm with singing of national anthem. The wife of Liftman Zafar Munshi, who died in an attack by the activists of Islami Chhatra Shibir – the student affiliate of the Jamaat-e-Islami – came and expressed solidarity with the movement. ”You have already shown Jamaat-Shibir that they have no place in this country by rejecting two of their strikes”, said Imran H Sarkar, spokesperson for the ‘Ganjagaran Mancha’. “I urge you to resist tomorrow’s strike by Jamaat and Shibir and show them their places.” Thousands of supporters roared in solidarity with the resistance call from ‘Ganjagaran Mancha’. Talking directly to the International Crimes Tribunal, he said, “We do not impose any pressure on you. Please continue working in a neutral manner. Do not fear Jamaat -Shibir’s anarchy and terror.” He demanded death penalty for Sayedee saying, “Support the call of the nation. Do not be confused. Do not have fear.” The blogger also requested media outlets to not run any advertisements for institutions involved with Jamaat-e-Islami. Speaking at the rally, Bangladesh Chhatra Union General Secretary Hassan Tarek slated the international human rights organisations for ‘questioning on-going the trial process of the war criminals’. He alleged such organisations had indeed opposed Bangladesh’s War of Independence from Pakistan. Bangladesh Chhatra League General Secretary Siddiqui Nazmul Alam also spoke on the occasion There will be a continuous sit-in at Shahbagh starting from Wednesday night. People from all walks of life have been asked to join a mass procession that will be taken out from Shahbagh at 10am on Thursday amidst the shutdown The protesters went back to Shahbagh following the end of the rally. 'Alllah’s house no political office' A delegation of the Olama Mashayekh slated Jamaat for using mosque to further their political agenda after expressing solidarity with the protest. “Mosque is not an office of any political party,” Maulana Abdul Momen Shiraji said in his address to the thousands in the rally. He said the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque is the ‘house of Allah’, ‘not a party office’. “Those who set the house of Allah on fire do not conform to Islam.” Shiraji said: “Islam talks about humanity, peace and love towards other religions. Over 100,000 messengers of Allah talked about humanity in Islam. He also urged everyone to stay alert against the on-going conspiracies related to Islam. Olama Mashayekh Parishad’s Abdul Halim Shiraji said,” Islam does not suit Jamaat. Don’t pay heed to propaganda by those who had led killing, rape and loot.” He alleged Jamaat was spreading false propaganda against the slain Shahbagh movement activist Ahmed Rajib Haider that he had defamed Islam. He supported the demands of the youths for hanging the war criminals saying: “The law of Allah permits killing for a killing. So these killers deserve nothing other than death sentence.” “They (war criminals) deserve several deaths. The Olama Mashayekhs will pronounce their death sentence as per the Sharia law if tribunals fail to do so,” he added. - See more at:

BANGLADESH: ''Sayedee reaps as he sowed''
With the death sentence pronounced on Maulana Delawar Hossain Sayedee by the International Crimes Tribunal-1 yesterday, it is comeuppance for him. This has resonated with most people of the country as the Shahbagh Chattor expresses its jubilation over the verdict. Elaborate procedures have been observed with the defense and the plaintiff making out their cases based on the witness accounts as well as other evidences produced before the court. It has been a long-drawn out process after which the verdict has been delivered in pursuit of the due process of law. The defendant has already expressed its intention to appeal the tribunal's verdict. It is only after the disposal of the appeal that the legal process will have been exhausted. In the essence, the International Crimes Tribunals and their procedures have been successfully tried out with the result that the processes have been strengthened for justice to be done to the victims of the crimes against humanity in the 1971 Liberation War. It is a vindication of the long arm of law reaching the heinous perpetrators after 42 years since their diabolical acts in collusion with the Pak occupation forces. Having said that, we are shocked at the scale of violence and mayhem perpetrated by the Jamaat-Shibir elements and their supporters. The death figures reached four in Chittagong, two in Rangpur and one each in Dinajpur and Sirajganj within hours of delivering the verdict. What appalls us is the torching of a temple in Noakhali. All this can't go on, life must return to full normality. The law enforcement agencies and the BGB are doing their best to quell the disturbances and we hope the situation will be brought under control expeditiously. We urge restraint from all sides in the greater interest of our beloved country.

VIDEO: People rejoice after Bangladesh WarCrimes court sentences Jamaat Islami leader to death for mass murder & rape in 71

Terrorized Ethnic Group to Form Force in Pakistan

Inside the ruins of a market demolished by a powerful bomb, four tiny white candles —dwarfed by the scale of the destruction — flickered gently in the freezing rain as dazed Shiite Muslim Hazaras wept for the nearly 90 people killed in the blast. Condemning the Pakistan government for doing little to protect them, the small ethnic group has vowed to set up their own defense force to deal with Sunni extremists they blame for the bombing and a series of other ferocious attacks that have killed nearly 400 ethnic Hazaras in the past 18 months, nearly half in the first two months of this year. The bomb earlier this month in the Pakistani city of Quetta ripped a swath of devastation that flattened a three-story building and left the ruins of scores of single-room shops exposed to the rain. Blood-soaked rugs were all that was left of a carpet store. "The ones who did this — they are not human. They are animals," said Surha, a young woman who goes by one name, a common tradition here. She spoke as she grieved at the site, more than a week after the bombing. Shiite leaders blame inaction by Pakistan's security service for the rising violence against them in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province. They told The Associated Press recently that they are petitioning the provincial administration of Baluchistan to approve a Hazara-led defense force to work with local police."Of course, I blame the government," Surha said, her voice getting louder. Wrapped in a large beige shawl to ward off the cold, she recounted how two of her young cousins died in the bombing after returning home from school to help their father in his used clothing shop. Her face was wracked in pain. Her voice cracked. "The government is responsible for this situation because daily it is happening to us and nothing is done to stop it." Many Hazaras, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, migrated from neighboring Afghanistan during the past century. They are easily recognized by their distinctive Central Asian facial features, which Hazara leaders say make them easy targets for militant Sunnis. "We can't hide who we are. You can see it in our faces. I don't see it getting better," said Allama Muhammad Juma Asadi. His school, Jamia Imam Sadiq, is just a couple blocks from a massive bombing that killed more than 100 people on Jan. 10. Terrified students ran into the street. It was chaos, he said. When a second explosion leveled the market on Feb. 16, Hazara leaders began to talk of self-protection and raising a security force of their own. "Very soon we will have our own people at the checkpoints," Asadi said. "We have discussed setting up our own protection force with the administration." Radicals have attacked non-Hazara Shiites elsewhere in the country, but some of the worst attacks have occurred in Baluchistan where most Hazaras live. A virulent anti-Shiite group, Lashkar-e-Janghvi, has taken responsibility for all the attacks. The militant organization is made up of radical Sunni Muslims and reviles Shiites as heretics. About 20 million of Pakistan's 180 million people are Shiites, who mostly live in harmony with the majority Sunni population. But militant groups from both sides have sprung up in Pakistan over the decades, often with suspected financial links to Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, and Iran, a Shiite powerhouse in the region."A crumbling state has failed to stop slaughter after slaughter and to provide even basic security to its hapless citizens leaving them at the mercy of the murderers," militant expert and author Zahid Hussain recently wrote in a local newspaper. The February explosion claimed the lives of 17 members of Bostan Kishtmand's family, which owned more than 20 small shops in the area. "I went a little out of my mind when I went to the hospital and saw all of my relatives, all dead," Kishtmand said in broken English. "Something went wrong in my head." After the January bombing, Baluchistan's provincial administration was fired and responsibility for the region's security came under the federal government. It ordered the paramilitary Frontier Corps to restore calm in Baluchistan, a sparsely populated province that was wracked by a bloody secessionist movement nearly two years ago. That gave way to the current round of brutal sectarian bloodletting. In the February attack, militants loaded a water tanker with about 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of explosives. It passed undetected through two checkpoints manned by Frontier Corps. Days after the explosion, the ground around the market was still covered in scores of muddy children's clothes, sweaters, dozens of winter jackets and tiny sandals. Several of the stores in the market had sold used children's clothes. The explosion was timed to have the most devastating effect, Asadi said. It occurred after 7 p.m., when offices were closed and families were in the market shopping. Three schools in the area all held evening classes to teach students English and computer skills.Fifteen-year-old Inayat Hazara had been improving his computer skills at a nearby institute when the explosion occurred. He touched a dirty white bandage that covered much of his neck as he recalled the explosion, and the horror of the blood and bodies of his fellow students lying nearby. "The noise was everywhere, my ears hurt. People were screaming and I couldn't see at first the dust in the air was so thick," he said. Like tiny missiles, thousands of glass shards ripped through the computer lab where he was studying, he said. "Everyone wants a good life, but I don't know how you have it here," he said. Retired senior police officer Faqir Hussein said he supported a special protection force, but warned that a Hazara-only one could spark even more sectarian conflict. A city of nearly 3 million people, Quetta is divided into neighborhoods that include ethnic Pashtuns and Baluch — another minority that dominates Baluchistan province. Hussein said that the other groups often live and work in Hazara-dominated areas, but that Hazaras themselves rarely go outside their own neighborhoods. He said a mixed protection force would be preferable at checkpoints where the neighborhoods intersect. "If a Pashtun comes to a checkpoint, he won't accept to be stopped and searched by a Hazara and that could start violence," explained Hussein, who is a Hazara. He said there were parts of Quetta that are "no-go" areas for Hazaras because militant Sunnis are hiding among the local Baluch and Pashtun populations. While they might not support the militants, many local people are too terrified to turn them in. Among the worst parts of Quetta is Sariab Road, a main avenue that is dominated by Pashtuns and Baluch. It has been the scene of numerous attacks and bombings. Hussein turned down a job at the police training academy because he would have to drive along the avenue. "Not because I am a coward, but I also don't want to commit suicide and it would have been suicide to drive everyday on Sariab Road," he explained. "Today not one Hazara drives on that road."

US openly opposes Pak-Iran gas pipeline project

In its latest opposition of Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project, the US State Department on Wednesday said it is in Pakistan’s interest to avoid any activity that can hit it with sanctions. The State Department said that it was providing Pakistan with alternatives that would avoid any sanctions violation. "We recognise that Pakistan has significant energy requirements but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan's energy needs," said deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell. "And so we've been assisting as a government to contribute to the alleviation of the energy crisis in Pakistan," he said. "It's in their best interests to avoid any sanctionable activity, and we think that we provide and are providing ... a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we're providing." Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday urged the visiting Pakistani president to press ahead with a much-delayed $7.5 billion gas pipeline project despite US opposition. "The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation, and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively," Khamenei told Asif Ali Zardari, his office reported. The gas pipeline project is strongly opposed by Tehran's archfoe Washington. "Accessing safe energy source is the first priority for any country including Pakistan. In this region, the Islamic republic is the only nation that has safe energy resources and we are ready to provide Pakistan its energy needs," the all-powerful Khamenei said. Zardari, who also met with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was quoted by the leader's office as saying: "We deeply believe in boosting bilateral ties. "The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against the enemy of Islam." The pipeline project has run into repeated problems, including Pakistan's difficulty in finding funds and opposition to the project from Washington, which has slapped Iran with a raft of sanctions over its nuclear activities. In 2010, Iran and Pakistan agreed that Tehran would supply between 750 million cubic feet (21 million cubic metres) and one billion cubic feet per day of natural gas by mid-2015. Islamabad has said it will pursue the project regardless of US pressure, saying the gas is needed to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis that has led to debilitating blackouts and suffocated industry. Iran has almost completed the pipeline work in its territory, but Pakistan has not yet started construction of 780 kilometers (490 miles) of the pipeline on its side, which is said to cost some $1.5 billion. Sanctions-hit Iran finally agreed to finance one third of the costs of laying the pipeline through Pakistani territory to Nawabshah, north of Karachi, with the work to be carried out by an Iranian company. Pakistani officials in mid-December said Iran had promised a $500 million loan and that Islamabad would meet the rest of the cost. - See more at:

Bangladesh: Celebration at Projonmo Chattar
The Shahbagh demonstrators shouted ecstatically as they celebrated the death penalty of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee Thursday afternoon. The International Crimes Tribunal-1, dealing with the wartime crimes against Jamaat nayeb-e-ameer or vice-president Sayedee, handed down the verdict in a jam-packed courtroom. The 73-year-old Jamaat leader was handed down the penalty for eight wartime criminal offences as his party enforced a hartal threatening anarchy across the country assuming that “an unjust judgement would be awarded to Sayedee”. People regardless of their age, sex and class were seen showing V-sing as they were demonstrating for the last 24 days demanding death penalty to war criminals. They were also shouting with cheerfully, chanting historical slogan "Joy Bangla" as the news of Sayedee death penalty spread at the Shahbagh intersection, popularly known as Projonmo Chattar. Immediately after the proclamation of the verdict, Imran H Sarker, convener of Blogger and Online Activist Network, said, "This verdict is for the people." Dedicating the verdict to the martyrs who laid down their lives during the country's Liberation War in 1971, Imran urged people to came out into the streets and celebrate the judgement peacefully. "Hand over Jamaat-Shibir men to law enforcers. Don't take law in your hands," he said. Earlier in the morning, thousands of people joined a procession brought out from the capital's Shahbagh intersection on Thursday defying the dawn-to-dusk hartal enforced by Jamaat-e-Islami. Around 10,000 people from all walks of life under the banner of Gonojagoron Mancha took part in the procession, which started from Projonmo Chattar around 10:50am. Marching through Matsya Bhaban, Bijoynagar intersection, Kakrail, Malibagh, Mouchak, Moghbazar and Banglamotor, the procession returned to Shahbagh around 12:15pm. While parading the city streets, the demonstrators were chanting different anti-hartal slogans like "Oboidha hartal, mani na, manbo na" (we do not and will not accept illegal hartal). On Wednesday, Jamaat called the countrywide daylong hartal assuming that "an unjust punishment" would be awarded to its leader Delawar Hossain Sayedee hours after a tribunal fixed today (Thursday) for delivering the verdict of a war crimes case filed against Sayedee. People regardless of religion, cast and creed imbued with the spirit of '71 were seen started converging at the Shahbagh intersection since Thursday morning to voice against the hartal and demanding capital punishment to all war crimes accused. Many others were seen joining the procession from different points to express their solidarity with the demonstrators, who are continuing their movement for the 24th consecutive day demanding capital punishment to all war crimes accused. Meanwhile, the mass signature campaign, which began on February 22, continued Thursday. On Wednesday, the demonstrators held a grand rally at Shapla Chattar in the capital's Motijheel and vowed not to fall asleep till the verdict in the war crimes case against Sayedee is delivered today. They called upon people to resist Thursday's hartal and continue their routine activities as they had done on the three previous shutdowns called by Jamaat and its allies. The movement began on February 5, hours after Jamaat assistant secretary general Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in prison for rape, killing and genocide in 1971 during country's Liberation War. It was the verdict of a life sentence given to Jamaat leader Quader Mollah that brought the youths to the streets. They demand nothing but the death sentence to war criminals for their atrocious crimes against humanity in 1971. As the country awaits another verdict today, all eyes are towards Shahbagh and the court. On February 21, the organisers wrapped up the nonstop protests and announced a series of countrywide programmes, including grand rallies at different points in and outside Dhaka. They also declared that protesters would return to the intersection 24 hours before a war crimes verdict. Ever since the protest began, the otherwise busy Shahbagh throbbed with the spirit of resistance amid swelling public anger at the impunity the war criminals and Jamaat-Shibir enjoyed over the last 42 years.

Bangladesh Sentences War Criminal to Death

A Bangladeshi war crimes court has sentenced a senior Islamist opposition leader to death for crimes committed during the 1971 war against Pakistan for Bangladesh's independence. The court in Dhaka Thursday handed down the sentence to Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a senior member of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, for atrocities including rape and mass killings. Sayedee's lawyer has called the verdict unjust and vowed to appeal. The verdict sparked violence among demonstrators in several cities, leading to at least two deaths in clashes between police and protesters in the district of Sirajganj. Sayedee is the third Jemaat party member to be sentenced for war crimes since the tribunal was established in 2010. On January 21, the court sentenced Abul Kalam Azad to death in absentia, finding him guilty of torture, rape, and genocide. On February 5, it sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah to life in prison on similar charges. At least eight more Jemaat members are still on trial. Human rights organizations have questioned the fairness of the trials, saying members of the defense have been unduly pressured. Jamaat-e-Islami called for a general strike Thursday to denounced the trial and demand Sayedee's freedom. Bangladesh fought a nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971 to obtain its independence. The government says three million people died in the violence, although other estimates put the death toll lower.

US Congressman declares Dr Shakil Afridi an ‘American hero’

The Express Tribune News
US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives declaring Dr Shakil Afridi a hero. According to a press statement, the resolution expressed that Dr Afridi is an ‘American hero’ and should be immediately released from Pakistani custody. The statement said that Americans owe Dr Afridi a debt for helping find former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Congressman Rohrabacher said that Dr Afridi and his family have “paid a terrible price at the hands of our so-called allies – the Pakistani government. We cannot continue to turn our back on Dr Afridi. He risked his life to provide the intel our forces needed to locate and eliminate Osama bin Laden and he now languishes in a Pakistani prison serving a 33-year sentence. “He has been tortured, his family has been attacked and he is still in a desperate situation. It behooves us as Americans to state in a unified voice to his Pakistani captors, Dr Afridi should be freed.” The sponsors of the resolution include Representatives Bachmann, Gerlach, Higgins, Hunter, Lummis, Poe, Salmon, Loretta Sanchez and Stockman, the statement added. Congressman Rohrabacher has previously introduced bills calling for Balochis to be given right of self-determination, and for Dr Afridi to be given the Congressional Gold Medal. Dr Afridi had been working with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for years before the Bin Laden raid, providing intelligence on militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal region. He helped the agency hunt down Bin Laden after which he was sentenced to 33 years in prison last year in May for his links to a banned militant group.

FM Khar welcomes Russia's interest in regional‚ trans-regional energy projects

Radio Pakistan
Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met Chairperson of the Federal Council (Senate) of the Russian Federation Ms. Valentina I. Matviyenko in Islamabad on Thursday. The discussions on the occasion spanned the wide spectrum of Pakistan-Russia bilateral relations as well as important regional and international issues. Foreign Minister Khar and Chairperson Matviyenko commended the two Parliaments for their vital role in enhancing Pakistan-Russia bilateral relations. They also expressed satisfaction at the expansion in bilateral relations and the increasing frequency of high level exchanges. Hina Rabbani Khar conveyed her appreciation for Russian assistance towards the Project of Modernization‚ Reconstruction and Expansion of Pakistan Steel Mills. She also welcomed Russia's interest in regional and trans-regional energy projects including CASA-1000 and TAPI. The two leaders also exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues including the situation in Afghanistan and the Middle East.