Monday, March 11, 2013

For Pakistani Minorities: ''Get Up Stand Up For Your Rights''

Pakistan risks US sanctions over Iran pipeline

Pakistan risks sparking US sanctions if it pursues its plans with Iran to build a $7.5 billion gas pipeline linking the two nations, a senior US official said in a renewed warning Monday. “We have serious concerns, if this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We’ve been straight up with the Pakistanis about these concerns.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched the construction of a much-delayed section of the gas pipeline with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at a ceremony on the border of the two neighbors.But Nuland added: “We’ve heard this pipeline announced about 10 or 15 times before in the past. So we have to see what actually happens.” The United States had been seeking alternative plans, saying the move with Iran would take it “in the wrong direction right at a time that we’re trying to work with Pakistan on better, more reliable ways to meet its energy needs.” Nuland said the US was “supporting large-scale energy projects in Pakistan that will add some 900 megawatts to the power grid by the end of 2013.” Those projects included renovating the power plants at Tarbela, the Mangla Dam, as well as modernizing others plants and building new dams at Satpara and Gomal Zam, she added.

SLMP releases report on Joseph Colony Lahore massacre report

SLMP initial Report on Joseph Colony Massacre, Badami Bagh, Lahore
The Information
On March 08, 2013 near about 06:00PM I was informed about an unpleasant alleged incident of blasphemy in Christian vicinity of Joseph Colony, main bus stand Lari Adha, North of Lahore-Punjab, Pakistan. I was also informed about the registration of Blasphemy case FIR offence under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) registered against a Christian. Keeping in view the sensitivity of the blasphemy incident the SLMP fact-finding team immediately visited the place of occurrence and notes the following facts includes:
Background alleged accused of Blasphemy
The alleged accused was identified as Sawan Masih alias Boodi, aged 35 son of Chaman Masih and resident of Joseph Colony, Noor Road, Badami Bagh, Lahore. He is a Sweeper (sanitary worker) by profession and is a father of three children. Before the alleged incident of blasphemy he was residing with his parents as in joint family. His house locates at the front row of the vicinity of Joseph Colony and he has bad habits of drinking alcohol and is known as drinker. The relationship between Sawan and the complainant namely Shahid Imran (barber by profession) was cordial with each other and their friendship was known to everyone in the locality. They were good friends since last 8 years and both, together drinking alcohol.
Background blasphemy incident
On March 05, 2013 (Tuesday) near about 07:00PM both Sawan Masih and Shahid Imran were drinking and all of sudden they started quarreling with each other and a scuffle took place between them on the trivial matter. When the neighboring Christian residents noticed their brawl and exchange of abusive language, they intervened and for the time being the uncertain quarrel was arbitrated by the fellow residents. Shahid Imran took grudge in his heart and got annoyed from Sawan Masih. The complainant Shahid Imran also felt ashamed that how as Chura (neglected Christian in the society) and threatened Sawan for dire consequences. The complainant Shahid Imran wanted to give a lesson to Sawan Masih and in this connection he cunningly made a plan with Shafiq Ahmed alias Cheko (newly converted from Christianity into Islam) and implicated Sawan Masih in the false case of blasphemy. Later Shafiq Ahmed and Shahid Imran informed the prayer leader of the area mosque Qari Saifullaha about the false & forged incident of blasphemy.
The first attack
On March 08, 2013 (Friday) near about 04:00PM the prayer leader broadcast false information through the loudspeakers of the mosque. The prayer leader alleged that the accused Sawan Masih has committed blasphemy against prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Following the broadcast thousands of Muslims residents gathered and marched towards Joseph Colony chanted slogans and started throwing stones at the houses of Christians. The countless protestors demanded immediate arrest of Sawan Masih and also attacked on the houses of Christians. The angry protesters also started looting and crushing the households of Christians. In the meanwhile the police reached at the spot and the protester escaped from the place of occurrence. The attack results so many losses including breakdown of snooker table into burning and crushing of households etc. Secondly, the police warned the Christians to vacate their houses immediately. The innocent Christians including women, and Children immediately evacuated their houses wearing single cloths, leavening behind their houses & possessions. However, the Christians were beaten badly and vehicle of a bishop named Akram Gill was damaged inhumanly.
Registration of Blasphemy case FIR
Later, the complainant filed an application and later got registered a blasphemy case FIR No. 112/13 offence 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) registered against Sawan Masih at the Police Station, Badami Bagh, Lahore. The SLMP team found that the alleged accused of blasphemy Sawan Masih was hiding himself from the violent attack whereas the police arrested his father Chaman Masih he was badly beaten by the police. His father totally denied the allegations and later released by the police. Finally, the alleged accused of blasphemy Sawan Masih was handed over to the police.
The second attack
On March 09, 2013 near about 09:30 fully charged mob of almost 4,000 religious zealots gathered around Joseph Colony, led by Shafiq Ahmed, who was in search of the accused Sawan Masih. The heavy contingent of police was deployed near the colony and later, the mob in the presence of the police entered in the colony and started looting and above 200 hundred houses into fires, two churches along with a chapel vandalized and approximately around 500 hundred bibles were burnt, the furniture and other belonging of the school was also burnt. The Christian houses, eight shops, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, electricity meters, gas meters, iron rods used in the roofs were melted town on the floor, furniture, trunks, crockery and many more burnt totally. The episode of unspeakable violence in the name of religion began at 09:30 in the morning and did not conclude till the afternoon. Interesting point was that the large numbers of police were present on the spot and did not avert the angry protesters for further damage. They executed this exercise freely and without any fears for five hours and the police did not intervene nor stopped the violent mob. Some Christian youth, timely save themselves as they fled from the scene. Whereas the police ensured us that if the alleged accused will be arrested and made clear to the Christian leadership that the police will not be able to rescue the Christians. Despite all this, the protesters continued to claim that they would not let the Christian families return until Sawan’s arrest. It was clearly shown that the police failed to inform about the arrest and registration of blasphemy case FIR against Sawan Masih to the Muslims. Please note the following of some photos taken during the fact-finding: I headed the fact-finding along with my colleague Mr. Irfan Barkat (Social Mobilizer), Mrs. Yasmin Irfan, Mrs. Amber Sohail (Women Rights activist) Mr. Nadeem Anthony Advocate (Program Manager SLMP), Mr. Yousaf Kamran, Mr. Shaleem Yousaf, Mr. Asher Manohar, Mr. Kashif Chaudhary, Mr. Shakeel Bhatti, and Mr. Javed Cornelius.
Urgent needs
At present the victims immediately need food, clothing, crockery, beddings, clean water, tea, biscuits and medicines etc. The Christians in Pakistan staged peaceful protest demonstration throughout Pakistan and at some places the police unjustly stopped the protesters and the clash resulted between police and the Christian protesters. I am sharing this initial report and highlight the significant section of the incident and assuring you that within few days will be able to share the full report. If you need further clarification please let me know. We gravely need your prayers and support.
In Solidarity
Sohail Johnson

Pakistani Christian will vote only if Blasphemy is repealed and dual vote is granted
We will only support and vote that Muslim party which will publically promise Pakistani Christians that blasphemy law will be repealed and Dual voting right will be granted to Chritians, said Mr. William Shahzad, Chairman of Pakistani American Association PCA here today. Mr. William Shahzad told Pakistan Christian Post PCP that Muslim political parties are not sincere with Pakistani Christians and PPP failed to stop misuse of blasphemy law in Pakistan while Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Group which is ruling Punjab province of Pakistan totally failed to stop violence against Christians on pretext to blasphemy law. The Punjab government promised to punish culprits of Gojra Town but later facilitated to walk them free and DPO of Gojra was promoted and given job in Lahore city who allowed Muslim mob to burn homes of Gojra Christians and burning alive of seven Christians. Mr. William Shahzad who is Chairman of PCA and senior advisor of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC said that I appeal to Christians not to vote PPP, PML (N), PML (Q) Anp, MQM, PML (F) JUI (F), JI and other Muslim political parties in forthcomming elections untill any of them not announce to repeal blasphemy law and Election for Christians to vote their representitives on reserved seats in parliament.

Video: Pakistan and Iran break ground on gas pipeline opposed by US

Escaping Execution: Ukrainian journo evades Syrian rebel captors

Judge blocks New York City large-soda ban, Mayor Bloomberg vows fight

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed on Monday to appeal a judge's ruling that struck down his pioneering ban on large sugary drinks sold by the city's restaurants, movie theaters and other food service businesses just a day before it was to take effect. The judge called the ban "arbitrary and capricious" in an 11th-hour decision that dealt a serious blow to Bloomberg, who has made public health a cornerstone of his administration, with laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and parks; banning trans fats; and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts. At a press conference, Bloomberg said the judge's ruling was "totally in error" and promised to keep pressing his effort to combat a growing obesity epidemic linked to heart disease and diabetes. He has successfully fought off past court challenges to the smoking ban and the calorie count rule. "Anytime you adopt a groundbreaking policy, special interests will sue," Bloomberg said. "That's America." It is unclear whether the case will be resolved by the time Bloomberg's term expires at the end of this year. Beverage manufacturers, restaurants and other business groups had called the so-called "soda ban" an illegal overreach that would infringe upon consumers' personal liberty. The regulation would have prohibited the city's food-service establishments from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (473 ml) starting on Tuesday, though city officials had said they would not begin imposing $200 fines on offending businesses until June. "People are dying every day," Bloomberg said. "This is not a joke. This is about real lives." But the ban only applied to businesses under the auspices of the health department, since it was the mayor-appointed health board, and not the city council, that approved the policy last fall. That meant that grocery and convenience stores - including 7 Eleven and its 64-ounce Big Gulp - were exempt from the regulation's reach. In his ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling in Manhattan zeroed in on the loopholes, noting it would only have applied to businesses that are under the purview of the health department, like restaurants, and would allow sweetened milk-based drinks like milkshakes. "It is arbitrary and capricious because it applies to some but not all food establishments in the city, it excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the rule ... serve to gut the purpose of the rule," he wrote. He also expressed concern that to allow the health board such sweeping authority would "eviscerate" the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature branches of city government. Chris Gindlesperger, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of companies such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple, said the ruling was a "sigh of relief" for New Yorkers and small businesses throughout the city. Dawn Sweeney, CEO of the National Restaurant Association, which joined the lawsuit as a plaintiff, said the decision would save thousands of restaurants and suppliers from unnecessary costs. But beverage industry consultant Tom Pirko of Bevmark Consulting in Santa Barbara, California, said the ruling could backfire if it convinces municipalities that the only way to reduce soda consumption is through higher taxes. "What the industry is very worried about is not measures like Bloomberg's, which is local and easy to walk around. What they're worried about is taxes," he said. In anticipation of the soda ban, Bloomberg on Monday released new data tying sugary drinks to the city's fattest neighborhoods, though the ABA was quick to criticize its methodology. Meanwhile, fast food restaurants and cafes had been scrambling on Monday to comply with the looming deadline. Many were confused over whether the rules applied to popular sweetened coffee drinks, underlining the ban's uneven applications. McDonald's Corp said customers ordering a large coffee would be handed as many packets of sugar as they like on the side, to be poured into the drink at the customer's leisure. By contrast, Dunkin' Donuts, which had been handing out leaflets to explain the law's impact on its menu, decided its servers would hand over large drinks unsweetened and simply direct customers to a self-serve stand where sugar and flavored syrups are kept. Public sentiment on the ban had appeared divided, with a Marist University poll last summer showing 53 percent of New York City adults against the ban and 42 percent in favor. "The mayor took a bullet and now we'll wait for the next big Bloomberg health initiative," said Professor Douglas Muzzio of Baruch College. "He's not going to stop." Last month, Bloomberg proposed a ban on polystyrene foam, the packaging material that is widely popular for take-out food but is almost impossible to recycle.

Internally displaced : When the Sikhs fled Khyber

Ranjeet Singh,28, did not come to the city out of choice. He belongs to one of 1,500 families who moved out of Bara, Khyber Agency as security conditions in the area deteriorated. “Three people from my family were killed and our shop was destroyed when mortar shells hit our herbal medicine store five months ago,” he said after prayers at the gurdwara in Dabgari. Ranjeet and his family now live with a relative in the provincial capital. Most people are reluctant to say anything about the situation in Bara or name any group responsible for the mayhem. They even choose to remain silent about their own plight for fear of getting kidnapped or killed. “No one can freely talk about this because everyone knows they will have to face the consequences,” Ranjeet said, adding the recent abductions and murders of Sikhs are preventing people from speaking up. Minorities living in Bara had for long enjoyed equal rights and no one interfered in their religious activities. However, when banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Islam rose to power, their leader Mangal Bagh imposed jizya on the Sikhs. Those who refused to pay the tax were kidnapped and then executed. “We had been living in Khyber Agency for centuries, running our businesses and carrying out our religious activities without any fear,” said Santok Singh, adding that now it is very risky for them to even move about freely. Jawal Singh migrated from Shalobar. He used to run a general store in Bara Bazaar. “My family of eight lives in miserable conditions in a rented house. We cannot even afford our daily expenditures.” An elder of the Sikh community, Sahib Singh, says the government is always making claims of maintaining peace, but the use of force has further deteriorated the security situation in the once peaceful tribal belt. He said the government and the Supreme Court need to help the Sikhs out of this situation, put an end to the curfew and help them restart their businesses in Bara. He also urged them to announce compensation packages for the affected families and shop owners in Khyber Agency. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Religious and Minorities Affairs Namroz Khan said the current government has taken several steps for the rehabilitation and welfare of displaced Sikhs. In the last budget, Rs100 million were allocated for the welfare and development of minorities, he said adding that he visits the affected families often.

Lahore: Despite aid distribution, several victims remain unaccounted for

Several victims of the Badami Bagh incident are still waiting for the promised food and shelter, as the government started distribution of aid to the affected on Monday. Scores of victims gathered at the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) town hall to collect the financial aid pledged by the government; however they complained that they were still facing poor living conditions. Despite Punjab government’s efforts, victims of Joseph Colony are facing difficulties. The food supply by the government is poor, the management of distribution is unorganised and many people remained without food which caused displays of frustration and anger. Meanwhile 14 suspected rioters were sent to jail on judicial remand to an Anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Monday. Police presented 35 suspects of the Badami Bagh incident before an ATC amid high security. The suspects were presented before ATC No.3 judge Iran Saeed. Officials said out of the 35 accused, 14 were nominated while 21 were unknown. A large number of relatives of the accused also gathered outside the court, alleging that the suspects were arrested by police during overnight raids. A resident of Joseph Colony who had come for aid said, “My name is not listed even though I have lodged several complaints. Everyone sends me to someone else and now the distribution process will be finished and I will be left without any aid”. Another resident said proper distribution of food and shelter was nowhere to be seen. “We have to pass our nights on the roads or footpaths. There are many who are not residents of Joseph Colony and are trying to steal our right. The government should check thoroughly before distribution,” he said. Lahore DCO Noorul Amin Mengal during the distribution of aid said, “We will provide each and every possible facility to the victims and the process of distribution will be safe and sound. We will distinguish between original and fake victims through a survey”. He further said camps for all victims have been set up and construction of houses will be completed within three days. Camp offices of all concerned authorities such as LDA, WASA, and Town Administration have been asked to facilitate victims, he said.

Pakistan:Basra seeks Shahbaz’s resignation

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Deputy Parliamentary leader in Punjab Assembly Shaukat Mehmud Basra demanded that Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif resign over his failure in preventing the Badami Bagh episode. He said it was not the first time Christians were targeted, adding that similar incidents had occurred in Faisalabad, Sialkot and other parts of the province. In a statement on Monday, he said Sharif was hoodwinking people by forming committees. In fact, he said, the Punjab government sought time to hush up the tragedy in Badami Bagh. “Had the chief minister taken serious notice of the incidents, the Badami Bagh episode would not have occurred,” he said. He said the PPP always took practical steps for protection of minorities and the president had already announced financial assistance for the victims. Basra said torching of houses had earned a bad name for the country. He said, “We should all give due respect to all sects and minorities of Pakistan.”

Barack Obama to be limited to strict Kosher diet on Israel visit
The stringent dietary restrictions will be dictated by the timing of Mr Obama's arrival at Jerusalem's landmark King David Hotel on March 20 – after it has changed to a full religious menu in preparation for the start of the annual Jewish Passover festival five days later. Bosses at the 233-room King David say they are unable to make an exception for the presidential party. Pasta dishes will be very much off the menu, while dishes rich in vegetables will predominate – even on room service, which will operate 24-hours-a-day for the duration of the president's visit. "We're used to hosting heads of state and also American presidents, but this situation is very special for us because it's so close to Pesach [Passover]. For us it will be double the preparations," the hotel's manager, Dror Danino, told Haaretz newspaper. Jews observe Passover, which marks the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, by replacing traditional loaf with unleavened bread, known as matzah, while avoiding foods containing wheat, barley, rye, or oats.Such strictures may be something of a trial for Mr Obama, who has been known to indulge in rich foods during political meetings. In 2010, he ate cheeseburgers with the then Russian president, Dimitry Medvedev, at a restaurant in Arlington, Virginia in what became known as "the burger summit". Last November, he shared a lunch of white turkey chili and grilled chicken salad with the defeated Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, at the White House.

Checkmating Islamists in Bangladesh

Ever since Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina instituted a tribunal to bring to justice the elements accused of committing atrocities against fellow citizens during the civil war of 1971, Jamaat-e-Islami activists have intensified their agitation, at times violent, across the nation with the aim of overthrowing her government. This has resulted in large-scale violence claiming, according to one estimate, more than 100 lives between February 5 and March 7 alone. The opposition of the Jamaat to the Hasina government is not difficult to understand. The Awami League has had a vision of freedom and democracy. Bangladesh has been known for its composite, pluralist tradition. Islam reached this region in the 13th century, prior to which the land was under the rule of famous Sena and Buddhist Pala dynasties, resulting in the creation of a composite culture in the region. Today Muslims in the country account for approximately 148.6 million people, some 90 percent of the total population. But radical sectarian groups such as the Deobandi movement and the Ahle Hadith have little influence across its social spectrum. The majority of Muslims do not subscribe to fundamentalist doctrines. They support Hindus’ and Ahmadis’ right to practise their faiths without fear or persecution. They join the Shi’ites in commemorating the martyrdom of Ali’s sons Hasan and Husayn. In tune with this historical-social tradition, the constitution of Bangladesh provides for freedom of religion. It supports the laws concerning marriage, divorce and adoption based on the religion of the person concerned. There are no legal restrictions on marriage between members of different faiths. The Hasina government sees to it that it is fair to all schools of religion, and that there is no radicalization of any particular version of Islam in the country. The Jamaat does not approve. It’s values are of a Wahabi-Salafist-influenced Deobandi order. It finds in the Awami League’s vision the main obstacle to its agendas and would like to remove it from power. During 2001-2006 the Jamaat joined the BNP-led coalition government in Dhaka and succeeded in banned the Ahmadiya literatures. The Islamists would like to repeat such an arrangements, to impose their agenda. Pertinently, the Islamists have been on an Islamist mission in the region since long. One study suggests they were better able to implement their agenda when the region was part of Pakistan. In 1947 Hindus accounted for one thirds of the population in then-East Pakistan. By 1971 their number came down to onefifth. The Islamist influence on t3e successive regimes in Pakistan led the government to such policies and programs as resulted in the minorities’ conversion or exodus and that, in turn, resulted in this change in the country’s religious demography. The study suggests that even after Bangladesh became independent Islamists have remained active against the minorities there. Because of their designs and influence in certain dispensations the Bangladeshi Hindus have faced murder, rape, abduction, forced conversion, land grabs and more, including a 2009 pogrom behind a Dhaka police station. As a result the number of the Hindus has continued to fall. Today it is fewer than eight percent. The leaders of the democratic world must appreciate the nature and purpose of the Islamist forces at work in Bangladesh and take all appropriate measures to checkmate them. The governments of the liberal world are supposed to advance freedom and democracy everywhere. They cannot afford risking it in Bangladesh. The agenda of Bangladeshi Islamists, like that of their counterparts in other parts of the world, poses a threat not only to Bangladesh and its citizens but also to the entire civilized world. Presently, Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia seems to be backing the Islamists. The leaders of the democratic world could use their influence with Khaleda Zia to stop her from acting, overtly or covertly, against the interest of democracy in the country. One hopes citizens of India – particularly its Muslims – would remain ever vigilant with regard to the emerging political scenario in Bangladesh. They played an historic role in the liberation of the land. On April 7, 1971, Akbar Ali Khan, a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, said that his religion was one of peace and goodwill. He loathed that in Bangladesh atrocities and injustices were being perpetrated on a people struggling for freedom and justice. Member of Parliament for Kashmir Syed Hussain said what was happening in Pakistan had already demolished its two-nation theory. Noted naturalist and conservationist Zafar Futehally said that the Muslims of India must offer “such relief as lies in their power to offer to the people of East Bengal.” Over 200 Muslims demonstrated outside former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s house on August 6, 1971, to demand the recognition of Bangladesh. Jansangh member of the Metropolitan Council Anwar Ali Dehlvi presented a memorandum to Gandhi. On August 12, 1971, 20 Muslim MPs appealed to all the Muslim countries and the civilized world to raise their voice against president Yahya Khan’s acts, which they called “barbarous and against all ethical values of Islam.” The citizens of India could use all the fora available today to convey to the Islamists that they better not try to tamper with freedom and democracy in Bangladesh. India joined the people of Bangladesh in 1971 to liberate them from Pakistan and help them achieve this sublime goal only. The people of India would do it again, if needed.

Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia Go to jail

THE jail sentences dealt by a Saudi judge to two of the kingdom’s most prominent rights activists on March 9th came as little surprise. The two men, Abdullah al Hamid and Muhammad al Qahtani, were well aware that their outspoken criticism of the Saudi authorities and championing of the rights of political prisoners would sooner or later provoke a backlash. Three other members of the group that they co-founded in 2009, the Association for Civil and Political Rights (known as ACPRA), are already serving prison sentences. Mr Hamid, 62, has himself been jailed more than once for demanding that the country should evolve into a constitutional monarchy. Mr Qahtani, 46, teaches economics at Riyadh’s prestigious Diplomatic Institute, and has been a pugnacious defender of civil liberties for more than a decade. Like other Saudi would-be-reformers they have both long been subjected to travel bans and other forms of petty persecution. Yet the case has held some surprises. For one thing, their seven-month-long trial has been held in public, and closely followed by thousands of Saudis via Twitter. As a result, the court’s proceedings have roused unprecedented controversy. Few Saudis had been aware, for example, that to argue publicly that elected representatives, rather than religious scholars, should be entrusted with applying laws, as the two men did, could be considered a criminal offence. Mingling with foreigners and supplying them with "false information" were suspicious activities, too, according to the judge. It was also striking that in his final ruling, the judge likened ACPRA to Al Qaeda. Like Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist gang, he said, the rights group actively advocated disobedience to the kingdom’s rightful ruler, and cast doubt on the integrity of its highest religious authorities. The only difference between the two groups, argued the judge, was that Al Qaeda preached violence and ACPRA did not. In the end, the judge convicted the two men on 12 counts. The sentences—10 years for Mr Qahtani, and 11 for Mr Hamid (which include six from a previous conviction that had been waived via a royal pardon, now revoked), plus travel bans following their release, were unusually harsh for such a high-profile case. Both men have appealed. Their lawyer has mounted a separate protest at the court’s decision to hold them in custody before the appeal is heard. Yet despite the deepened gloom in the kingdom’s small, hard-pressed community of liberal reformers, there are some signs of light. Al Watan, a local daily, reports that a ministerial committee is considering changes to the way the death penalty is applied, from public beheading by sword to execution by firing squad. The few officially sanctioned swordsmen are having trouble commuting from one execution to another fast enough.

Russia's Top Drug Cop Warns On Afghan Opiates

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The head of Russia's Federal Service for Narcotics Control has told a UN commission that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has grown by 18 percent. Viktor Ivanov told a session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna on March 11 that Afghan land under cultivation rose from 131,000 hectares to 154,000 hectares in 2012. Ivanov said he expected Afghan heroin production to increase after the majority of international forces leave Afghanistan in 2014. Ivanov said since foreign forces started their operation in Afghanistan in 2001 more than 1 million people worldwide have died from Afghan heroin. He added that the illegal Afghan drug trade over those nearly 12 years has been worth some $1 trillion.

Christians fear Islamists and common Pakistanis alike

Pakistani activists say that religious extremism and intolerance in their country is no more an isolated phenomenon. The recent attack on Christians' houses in Lahore, they say, is a clear example. "The punishment for insulting the Koran or Prophet Muhammad is death. No Muslim can tolerate it," Ahmed Jehanzaib, a shopkeeper in Karachi's posh Defense area, told DW. The shopkeeper, however, said that those who torched more than 100 Christian-owned houses in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday, March 9, did not do the right thing. "It is not right because those who did not commit the crime of blasphemy also suffered because of one person," Jehanzaib said, referring to Sawan Masih, a Christian, who allegedly made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad the previous Wednesday. The police arrested him on Friday under the blasphemy law, but on Saturday, hundreds of Pakistanis decided to "punish" the Christians in the lower-middle-class Badami Bagh area of Lahore. They burnt over 125 houses, a church, and several shops, and forced the Christian families to flee the area. No casualties were reported.Most Pakistanis condemned the Lahore incident. Mainstream political parties held demonstrations in solidarity with Christians, who make up about two percent of the 180 million people living in Pakistan, most of whom live primarily in the central Punjab province's impoverished towns. The Pakistani apex court has also started an inquiry of the incident. But if you ask people on the streets whether they are in favor the repeal of the controversial blasphemy law, their answer would most definitely be a no. “It is not about amending or repealing the law (blasphemy law), or making new laws; those who insult our religion should not go unpunished,” Ali Asghar, a student in Lahore, told DW. S. Siddiqui, a secular Pakistani involved in trade business, thinks it is hypocritical on the part of his countrymen to believe in such "extremist ideas" and at the same time say that Islam is a peaceful religion. “If Islam teaches you tolerance and peace, then it should be manifested through your actions. Everybody says that religious minorities should be treated well, but when it comes to issues of blasphemy, even a common Pakistani starts behaving like a fanatic.”But Pakistani Christians, Hindus and other religious and ethnic minorities are not interested in these debates. They fear for their lives in Pakistan and live under constant fear of persecution by the state and majority Sunni Muslims. All they want is protection of their lives and property from the government. Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community, told the media that the mob which destroyed the Christians' property in Lahore was armed with hammers and steel rods and broke into houses, ransacked two churches and burned Bibles and crosses. "Poor people were living here. They have lost all of their belongings," he said. "Where can they go now?"
Mainstream intolerance
Asad Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told DW that intolerance was definitely growing in Pakistan, and that many Pakistanis considered blasphemy an "unpardonable crime." He, however, said that the blasphemy law was not only about punishing those who insulted Islam, but also those who insulted other religions. In this regard, he said, Muslims were constantly committing blasphemy in Pakistan. "Rights activists have always demanded that the blasphemy law be repealed. But people have become so intolerant that before the courts decide anything, people take the law in their own hands." He said that his organization had been organizing workshops on tolerance for common Pakistanis so that they should understand that all religions and all people deserved equal respect. But how and when did Pakistanis become so intolerant towards other religions and their followers? "There was no such issue prior to the 1980s, but when General Zia-ul-Haq came into power he Islamized everything and mixed religion and politics," Butt said. Karachi-based journalist Mohsin Sayeed does not only blame the state. He told DW that what used to be comprised of a small section of society had now become mainstream. "The days are gone when we said it was a small group of religious extremists, xenophobes, hate-mongers and bigots who commit such crimes," he said. "Now the venom has spread to the whole of Pakistani society." He added that those who condemned such "barbaric crimes" had become a minority.
Legal discrimination
The blasphemy law in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, was introduced by the Islamic military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. Activists say the law is often implemented in cases which have little to do with blasphemy, however. Instead, they believe, the blasphemy law is used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis are often victimized as a result. Rights organizations say that religious minorities face increasing legal and cultural discrimination in Pakistan. Forced conversions and murders of Christians, Hindus and other minority groups are on the rise. The HRCP recently reported that 2012 was one of the worst years for religious minorities in the country: Several people were charged with blasphemy, many places of worship were burnt down and houses were looted across the country. One of the most violent attacks on Christians and their places of worship in Pakistan was carried out in 2009 in the central Gojra town of the Punjab when Muslims burnt more than 70 Christian houses and many churches, killing seven people, after a rumor that the Koran had been desecrated.

Fata, Rahimyar Khan, Miranshah 'strongholds of Punjabi Taliban'

Interior Minister Rehman Malik Monday said that banned outfits are against peace in Karachi and termed Fata, Rahimyar Khan and Miranshah as 'strongholds of Punjabi Taliban'. Talking to media persons here, Rehman Malik said that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should put aside his personal interest and launch a crackdown on Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). He said the Badami Bagh incident will be seen as the biggest example of bad governance in the history. Rehman Malik further said that the outlawed organizations did not want holding of general elections in Pakistan. He demanded of the Afghanistan government to hand over the wanted terrorists to Pakistan.

Five-year tenure of Shahbaz Sharif : Lahore episode further blemishes Punjab govt’s record

The anti-Christian violence in Lahore where 100-plus houses and shops were ransacked, looted and finally set ablaze by a group of fanatics has further blemished the already depressing record of the PML-N government which has mostly failed to protect members of the minority communities from the wrath of the extremists and terrorists. According to careful estimates, during the five-year tenure of Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab, over 200 Ahmadis, Christians and Shias were killed in the province in hate-drive attacks, with some of the horrific attacks targeting the minority communities taking place in Lahore. In an almost similar incident, hundreds of hooligans belonging to the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) attacked a Christians’ locality in Gojra city on July 31, 2009 and burnt alive eight members of a family besides setting ablaze over 100 houses. The failure of the Punjab government to prosecute any of the 70 accused held responsible for the gory incident had compelled the family head to leave Pakistan after the Punjab police failed to arrest the culprits who were hurling death threats to him for pursuing the case. The anti-Christian attacks were triggered by reports of desecration of the Holy Quran by some Christians, which eventually proved false. Five of those burnt alive were women and children who could not run to save their lives. A total of 72 people were nominated in the Gojra attacks’ FIR who were set free one by one because the complainant in the murder case, Almas Hameed Masih, a resident of the Christian Colony, decided against pursuing the case and left Pakistan to save his life. Almas had actually nominated the president of the Toba Tek Singh chapter of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in the FIR as one of the accused who was held responsible for the July 31, 2010 incident along with the local leadership of the SSP which had been renamed as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Those nominated in the case registered under section 7 of the Anti Terrorism Act included Abdul Qadir Awan of the PML-N and Maulana Abdul Khaliq, Qari Abidur Rehman Shah and Hafiz Muhammad Imran of the ASWJ. Ten months after the Gojra tragedy, two fidayeen squads of the Punjabi Taliban targeted two Ahmadi mosques in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore and killed over 100 people who were offering Friday prayers. Claiming responsibility for the May 28, 2010 twin terrorist attacks, Mansoor Maawia, a spokesperson for the Punjabi Taliban, had said, “No Ahmadi would live in peace in Pakistan. Our war against them will continue till their complete elimination because they are as bad infidels as Jews are.” It later transpired during investigations that the master planner of the twin attacks was in fact a doctor of the Jinnah Hospital, Dr Ali Abdullah, who was also the president of the Jamaatud Daawa Medical Wing. He told his interrogators that while pursuing his medical degree at Allama Iqbal Medical College, he had received armed training in Azad Kashmir at a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LT) training camp being run by Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatud Daawa (JD). His arrest showed for the first time that the LT was a part of the Punjabi Taliban who have let loose a reign of terror across Pakistan, especially targeting the minority communities. However, none of the accused in the twin attacks has so far been taken to task. Seven months later (on January 4, 2011), Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in the federal capital by Malik Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard from the Elite Force of the Punjab Police. The killer later explained that he had assassinated Taseer because of his criticism of the blasphemy law and his efforts to secure a presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian woman already condemned to death by a Pakistani Anti-Terrorism Court for having committed blasphemy. Qadri had admitted in his confessional statement that he was actually provoked for the murder by the fiery speeches of two Rawalpindi-based clerics Mufti Hanif Qureshi and Qari Imtiaz Hussain Shah. Mufti Hanif is the ameer of a Rawalpindi-based religious outfit, Shabab-e-Islami Pakistan while Imtiaz Shah is the imam of a Rawalpindi-based mosque called Amna Masjid. Two months later (on March 2, 2011), Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad. The responsibility for the assassination was placed on the Punjabi Taliban because of a pamphlet found at the place where he was killed. Written in Urdu, the leaflet claimed that Bhatti had been killed because of his opposition to the blasphemy law. His killers have yet to be arrested. The next in line to be killed by the Punjabi Taliban was Bargeeta Almby, a 72-year old female Christian charity worker from Sweden, who was shot in the Model Town area of Lahore on December 3, 2012 for allegedly backing two Christian priests who had been accused of committing blasphemy, the preliminary police investigations have indicated. Bargeeta Almby, the managing director of the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), a church fellowship founded in the United States with congregations worldwide, was returning home from her Kot Lakhpat office when two unidentified motorcyclists shot her in the Model Town area of Lahore where she had been living since long. The day Bargeeta was targeted in Model Town, another significant incident took place in the Q Block area of Model Town where over a dozen masked men carrying arms and digging tools, vandalised the tombstones of 100-plus graves at an Ahmadi cemetery. Three months before this incident, Warren Weinstein, a 71-year old Jewish American US Aid official, was abducted from his Model Town home in Lahore (on August 13, 2011) by armed men belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) who eventually sold him to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The ugly episode in the Badami Bagh area of Lahore took place at a time when the PML-N government in Punjab was already under fire from its political opponents for trying to strike a seat adjustment deal with the ASWJ in south Punjab for the upcoming general elections. However, a Punjab government spokesman refuted the impression that it has failed to protect members of the minority communities because of a soft corner for the banned militant or sectarian outfits.

Why is Hamid Karzai accusing the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban?

By Harold Maass | The Week
The Afghan president greets Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's with a less-than-diplomatic broadside Over the weekend, Chuck Hagel walked into an awkward confrontation in Afghanistan during his first trip to the country as President Obama's new defense secretary. Following two suicide bombings that killed at least 19 people, Afghan President Hamid Karzai went on TV and accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban to stir up violence and scare the public into believing that the country will fall apart if the last American troops leave as planned next year. U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took command of coalition forces last month, called the charge "categorically false," and Hagel said he told Karzai that it's simply untrue that the U.S. "was unilaterally working with the Taliban trying to negotiate anything."What inspired this odd and pointedly timed broadside? After all, Karzai had been downplaying the threat the Taliban will pose after American forces split, says Merv Benson at Prairie Pundit. "The angst of our leaving him seems to be playing games with his mind." It could also be that Karzai is trying to preempt criticism of his own performance when he leaves office himself in a few months. He might simply be "trying to lower the heat to the point where he can do so with his head still properly attached to his spine," says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. It's not the first time, after all, that he has insulted the U.S. And he's probably not fooling anyone.He's been working hand in hand with the United States and our allies for some time now, and no amount of spin or dancing on the heads of pins is going to make the Taliban, their supporters or residual al Qaeda sympathizers forget about it. In fact, if things really go pear shaped toward the end, he might want to consider being a little nicer to us in case he needs a ride on the last chopper leaving Kabul. [Hot Air] Karzai is merely playing a "complicated game," says Daniel Greenfield at FrontPage Magazine. He "wants U.S. forces there, but has to act as if he doesn't" to shore up his credibility with a war-weary Afghan public. He can't be seen as "an American puppet." Instead, he has to act like he's bossing the Americans around. Karzai and the Taliban both need America to stay. Karzai needs American money to steal and American power to keep the Taliban at bay. The Taliban need American targets. Both pretend they want the war to end, but neither do. [FrontPage] In the end, one can only speculate about what was behind Karzai's fit of anger. "Is it a tantrum, a delusion, a freak-out, a move in a deep game — or just a cynical play for popular support, by which he gets Afghans to like him by telling them that he hates us?" asks Amy Davidson at The New Yorker. Before we complain that Karzai has lost touch with reality, though, maybe we should take a look in the mirror.It's possible... that Karzai's disturbance of the mind only camouflages our own. One wonders if our position is any better moored to reality. The plan on this trip had been for Hagel to witness the transfer of the Bagram prison to Afghan authority. That was delayed (which may have been what set Karzai off). According to the Times, we wanted reassurances that the Afghans would hold certain prisoners indefinitely, "even if they cannot be prosecuted in court for specific offenses." That is an odd condition to impose if we think, by remaining in Afghanistan, that we are making a point about democracy; have we come to not only tolerate indefinite detention, as practiced at Guantánamo, but become evangelists for it? [The New Yorker]

Hagel Speaks Out on Taliban Collusion as Afghan Shootings Go Both Ways

The Atlantic Wire
An attack at a police station in Afghanistan's Wardak province that reportedly killed two American soldiers is only the most recent challenge faced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as he visits the country — including accusations that the U.S. is conspiring with the Taliban.The Associated Press reports that an Afghan police officer took over a mounted machine gun in the back of a pickup truck earlier today, opening fire on U.S. special forces troops and fellow officers. At least two other policemen were reportedly killed and four wounded, although details are sketchy. Conflicting reports suggest that the American casualties were nonmilitary.In fact, U.S. troops aren't supposed to be in the region. Midnight Saturday marked a deadline set by Hamid Karzai, the country's president, for Americans to leave the province where the attack occurred. According to the AP, that order stemmed from reports that Afghan troops working with U.S. commandoes had been torturing abusing local residents. One such alleged attack came to light over the weekend in Kandahar province. The Times reports:
The 29-year-old engineering student was standing outside his classroom here on Saturday morning when he said two pickup trucks full of armed men pulled up. The men, said to be members of a C.I.A.-backed Afghan strike force, grabbed him, tied his hands behind his back, draped a black hood over his head and drove him to an undisclosed location where, the student says, he was beaten and whipped. …
Mr. Qayum, who lives in a village that the Taliban frequently visit, said he was interrogated for hours at what Mr. Karzai called an American prison. The captors asked if he knew any Taliban commanders. They asked specifically about his neighbor, a farmer, and whether he could bring the man to them. Karzai referred to this incident during a press conference over this weekend as additional justification for a ban on coalition troops entering the country's schools. But that comment paled next to Karzai's most incendiary remarks: that he suspected the U.S. and Taliban of working together to ensure a continued U.S. presence in the country past the planned 2014 withdrawal. The comments followed a Taliban bomb attack near where Hagel and Karzai had planned a joint press conference. Following the attack, Karzai spoke alone. The BBC reports:
In a nationally televised speech, President Karzai referred to two Taliban attacks on Saturday in Khost and Kabul that left 19 people dead.
He suggested both the US and Taliban were trying to convince Afghans the situation would worsen after 2014. He said: "Yesterday's bombings in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan by intimidating us." Both the United States and the Taliban denied any collusion, of course. The American commanding officer in the country called the concept "categorically false." The Department of Defense describes a private conversation between Hagel and Karzai, in which Hagel made similar assurances.
“We did discuss those comments,” the secretary said, responding to a reporter’s question about his meeting with Karzai. “I told the president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything.”
Any negotiation with the Taliban to build peace and political consensus in Afghanistan must come from the Afghan government, Hagel said. This morning, early reports of another source of tension between the two countries: U.S. troops opened fire on two Afghan civilians as they approached a military convoy. Both men, later identified by the AP as employees of a company that repairs police vehicles, were killed.

Punjab govt’s extremist links ‘threaten minorities’

The Express Tribune
Punjab government’s linkages with ‘extremist elements’ abetted periodic attacks on minorities, said rights activists in Parliament. In this connection, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights summoned Inspector General Punjab on March 14 for accountability over the Badami Bagh incident. The incident of setting fire to 150 houses belonging to Christians in Badami Bagh could have been averted if the police, who was present on the occasion, had stopped the 3,000 strong mob of extremist rioters from wreaking havoc, said human rights groups. Furthermore, not punishing culprits of the anti-Christian Gojra riots of 2009 was understood as another catalyst for the March 9 incident. However, Punjab government spokesman Senator Pervez Rashid flatly rejected the allegation of nursing such soft corners. “No, we are not supporting extremists. Unlike what happens in other provinces, the Punjab government has not issued a single weapons license to anyone.” Defending the provincial government’s role in the Gojra incident, Rashid said that the Punjab government’s prosecutor had strictly pursued the case in the ATC and opposed the settlement between the accused and the Christian victims’ families after paying blood money. About the Badamy Bagh incident, he said, the police focused on saving lives instead of properties – a move which was construed as inaction on its part. “This is a continuation of the Gojra incident,” said committee chairperson and human rights activist Riaz Fatayana, while talking to The Express Tribune. “This would not have happened if responsible elements and police officers, who were behind the Gojra tragedy, had been convicted.” Furthermore, Fatayana alleged that the Punjab government had a “soft corner for the extremist elements” and gives “patronage” to them, which is why such incidents were occurring in the province repeatedly.Chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Zohra Yusuf holds that it was indeed the Punjab government’s sympathies with extremist elements in the province which led to re-occurrence of atrocities against minorities. “The police’s inaction in Badami Bagh on March 10 is evidence of Punjab government’s link with extremists,” she maintained.

NAB begins probe into metro bus, Ring Road projects

Taking cognisance of various reports related to major violations of rules by the Punjab government while undertaking metro bus and ring road projects, the National Accountability Bureau has decided to investigate the cases at NAB HQs. The project contracts were allegedly without processing the cases in accordance with the rules. In this context, all documents have been sought from the government of Punjab along with names of functionaries responsible for the award of contracts. The NAB chairman has instructed that these investigations must be expeditiously formalised and across-the-board accountability in all provinces be ensured without discrimination.

Pakistan: But we cannot print dollars

According to Asian Development Bank's Country Director Werner Liepach, Pakistan needs nine billion dollars of cash aid to shield its economy from a crisis. The maximum amount the International Monetary Fund would possibly agree to give to Pakistan is between 5 and 5.5 billion dollars or an amount sufficient to top up the repayment due to the Fund of 3.7 billion dollars in 2013-2014. Yes, green light from the IMF would enable Pakistan to access programme loans from other multilateral and bilateral sources to the tune of two to three billion dollars. The ADB Country Director also pertinently questioned the definition of a crisis. Maybe, he said, 'Pakistan is already in a crisis as its forex reserves can cover only two months of imports. Normally, they should cover over three months.' Well, nobody has a better picture of forex flows than the State Bank of Pakistan. If the central bank Governor does not see a crisis - as of now - and is hesitant to rush to Washington DC until June this year - then there is no crisis. Secondly, SBP just like the Fund wants Islamabad to undertake reforms to contain expenditure and enhance revenue. There is very little reform needed on the monetary side. Upfront conditionalities if imposed by the Fund would require some tough decisions by the political forces at the helm. It is nigh impossible to reduce the fiscal deficit unless the basic economic policy framework undergoes a change. Depreciating value of the rupee and raising interest rates may buy the country some time to ease pressure on the balance of payments, however, they are not a remedy to reduce the bloating fiscal deficit. Similarly, a higher growth trajectory (of around six percent) on a sustainable basis is not possible without structural reforms. To start with, this involves changing the way of governance and adhering to some kind of fiscal discipline. Deciding on trade-offs after estimating the cost of populist measures to buy votes appears to be the main reason why Governor SBP is reluctant to initiate a programme when this country is in an election mode. According to Karl Marx, history repeats itself; first as tragedy, second as farce. As Deputy Governor Yasin Anwar has already seen one transition of government in Pakistan. His former boss, the then Governor, Shamshad Akhter, made futile attempts to impress upon the then President, Musharraf, the need to timely adjust the POL retail prices and raise electricity tariff to cover the cost of soaring international crude prices - an all time high of 140 dollars a barrel. General Musharraf feared that doing so would hurt the electoral prospects of PML (Q). As a result, the forex reserves plummeted from 16 to below 10 billion dollars in a matter of few months. One fears a repeat of that tragedy. Not initiating tough reforms at this stage may be politically convenient. However, the citizens of this hapless country expect its central bank to have the contingency plan in place in case a BoP crisis does erupt. We do not know what prompted the ADB official to go public. Perhaps the IMF may also go public on its ties with Pakistan and state that the Fund is also not interested in a programme with Pakistan unless it undertakes reforms. If they do so; what will be the consequences? Pakistan will have to hunker down to contain the damage. It has done that in the past. Remember the US sanctions in 1998 after the nuclear test. Capital control and imposition of higher cash margins on import letters of credit became necessary to slowdown the drawdown of forex reserves. The importance of exchange companies got enhanced while the role of the big boys in the regular economy ie the banks got diminished. This will run contrary to what the Fund really wants ie enlargement of white economy and a crackdown on black economy. Both PML (N) and PPP are confident of winning the forthcoming elections. No matter who wins - reforms are unavoidable. Pakistan had to opt out of the programme as it could not adhere to commitments on the fiscal side and not on the monetary side. Conversion of Generalised Sales Tax into a Value-Added mode; reducing the subsidy on electricity through enhancing recovery of bills plus a combination of tariff adjustment and improvement in operation of power transmission and distribution companies to contain line losses as well as improving the efficiency in Gencos plus reduction of losses of other government sector-managed business were commitments provided to the Fund by Islamabad to reduce the fiscal deficit from 7.5 to below 4.5 percent of GDP over a three-year period. Reduction of public sector losses involves handing over government-managed businesses to the private sector. Introduction of VAT was meant to obtain more documentation of the economy to improve the tax-to-GDP ratio. PML (N) reportedly has strong links to the retail sector. These businesspeople are opposed to documentation of their businesses, however, this right wing-leaning party has a much stronger record on privatisation. PPP, on the other hand, does not have much confidence in private sector and feels public sector can be better managed by the government. It is not willing to tax agriculture income and has also failed to introduce VAT since its coalition partners were not willing to support the move. Technocrats and experts on the economy have consistently failed to overcome the hesitancy on the part of their political leaders to see light and avoid living from crisis to crisis. Only after taking painful reforms can the country exploit its full potential. As far as SBP is concerned, a non-professional and politically convenient position on Monetary Policy and balance of payment (BoP) will have horrendous consequences. Pakistan's central bank can print rupees to make up for domestic slippages, but it cannot print dollars to foot the import bill. Last but not least. Our finance minister Saleem H. Mandviwalla seems to have mixed apples and oranges or two totally different things. Talking to a news agency on Thursday, he reportedly said that if the Parliament gave its approval to Tax Amnesty Scheme, the government would not need to go to the IMF. We believe that his remarks were unintentional utterances because he knows well that the funds or loans, of course in dollars, from the IMF are used to resolve BoP problems. A country's commitments to undertake policy actions are also aimed at restoring or creating access to support from other creditors and donors. How can any country meet such challenges through its domestic currency?

Pakistan: SC rejects Punjab police report in Badami Bagh case

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a report filed by the Punjab police in Badami Bagh suo moto case, and expressed displeasure over authorities for their failure to cope with the violence. A three-member bench, led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Azmat Saeed, heard the case pertaining to Saturday’s mob attack on Christian neighborhood in Lahore’s Badami Bagh area in which over 100 houses were burnt down. Fortunately, there were no causalities. The enraged crowd was protesting for the arrest of a sanitation worker, Sawan Masih, 28, who allegedly uttered derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). At the beginning of hearing, acting Inspector General Punjab Police turned up and submitted a report over the incident. He said that police baton-charged to disperse the protestors. At which, Justice Gulzar said the police played their role as silent spectators. The court asked why measures for the protection of Christian community were not taken if their homes were evacuated a night before the riots, according to the police claim. “You should quit if you don’t know anything,” the CJP said. The CJP said neither the report indicates those responsible nor it contains any account of police action against attackers. The SC bench also expressed its displeasure over the federal government over non-appointment of IG Punjab police despite court orders.

Lahore's Badami Bagh: ''Our heads hang in shame''

The burning of about 125 houses of the Christian community in Lahore's Badami Bagh area by a mob gone berserk on Saturday led to all citizens of this land of the pure hang their heads in shame on yet another occasion. Those who did the burning showed extreme intolerance against an accusation of blasphemy that was yet to be probed. The allegation was the commission of the said crime allegedly committed by a resident of the area. The grotesque event can be mentioned as yet another incident of victimizing members of non-Muslim minorities who are fellow citizens and the country's basic law holds them in equality with the Muslim population. The reaction to the horrendous happening was prompt and logical as members of the Christian community and those belonging to other non-Muslim minorities, together with conscientious citizens, took to streets across the country seeking justice. Protest rallies were held in many parts of the country, including Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, where protestors blocked Ferozepur Road and several other main roads. Some enraged demonstrators resorted to stone pelting and broke the windows of buses and stands of the recently-launched Metro Bus Service in Lahore. Police also fired aerial shots to disperse the mob but to no avail. This is not the first ghastly incident of its kind that vulnerable members of Christian community have been targeted. The first attack on the Christian village Shantinagar near Khnewal took place in February 1997 during which four churches and the office of the Salvation Army was burnt along with about 800 Christian houses while about 200 members of this community were forced to leave the village. In August 2009, a similar mob attacked a village of Christians in Gojra near Faisalabad and killed nine non-Muslim residents, six of whom were burnt alive, together with burning about 200 homes and a church. In both these events also the allegation of blasphemy was provoked. An initial investigation report over the incident was submitted by Punjab's Inspector General of police to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Sunday according to which timely action by the police had prevented the loss of life. The report said that there were only a handful of people behind the incident and the policemen avoided the use of gunfire and other lethal weapons in order to minimize the loss of life. At least 131 persons were taken into custody who were suspected of involvement in Saturday's gruesome incident whereas a letter was written to the Lahore High Court's registrar requesting for a judicial inquiry into the incident. The chief minister was informed that those involved in the incident were being identified with the help of CCTV footage of the attack. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered for the provision complete assistance to all victims belonging to the minority community. The prime minister spoke to Minister of State for National Harmony Akram Masih and advisor Paul Bhatti and instructed them to maintain contact with the victims of the Badami Bagh incident. Construction material and other related equipment began to arrive in Badami Bagh area on Sunday for the rehabilitation of the destroyed neighbourhood. In the instant case also, police, instead of investigating the case, arrested Christians while those who went on a rampage and could easily be identified from television footage were not taken in custody. This is sheer discrimination among sections of Pakistani citizens and must, therefore, be probed by the judiciary.

Iran, Pakistan inaugurate IP gas pipeline

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari have officially inaugurated the final construction phase of the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi and Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also attended the ceremony, which marks the start of the construction of the pipeline, intended to transfer natural gas from Iran to energy-hungry Pakistan. The United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Mohammad Bin Dha'en Al Hameli also attended the ceremony. During a short meeting prior to the inaugural ceremony of the pipeline, Ahmadinejad and Zardari said the project would promote peace, security and progress in the Iranian, Pakistani as well as other regional nations. The project will help enhance economic, political and security ties between Tehran and Islamabad, the two leaders stressed. They also underlined the need for tapping into all of the existing capacities between Iran and Pakistan to promote the progress and welfare of the two countries. On March 2, Zardari reiterated that Islamabad would not stop the pipeline project at any cost. The Pakistani president stressed that his government would continue to pursue the construction of the gas pipeline despite threats and pressure from the US. Washington has repeatedly voiced its discontent with the joint project, but Pakistan has dismissed rumors that it might pull out of the project amid pressures by the United States. Pakistan faces a crushing energy crisis, which has caused difficulties in financing the pipeline that stretches from the border between the two countries to Nawabshah region in Pakistan. The 1,600-kilometer pipeline, projected to cost USD 1.2-1.5 billion, would enable the export of 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian natural gas to Pakistan on a daily basis. Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil. Tehran-based Tadbir Energy Development Group will reportedly undertake all engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project, which starts from the Iran-Pakistan border and costs around USD 250 million. The Iranian firm will also carry out the second segment of the project, and extend the financing later to USD 500 million. The remaining amount is expected to be generated through Pakistan’s Gas Infrastructure Development Cess (GIDC).