Monday, April 22, 2013

President Obama to observe moment of silence for Boston bombing victims
The White House says President Barack Obama will observe a moment of silence Monday to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Obama will pay tribute to the victims at 2:50 p.m. Monday, the time the first of two bombs exploded last week near the marathon finish line. The president will mark the moment privately at the White House, with no press coverage.Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has also asked his state's residents to observe a moment of silence Monday afternoon. Bells will toll across the state after the minute-long tribute to the victims.

Boston bombing suspect communicating, source says

The surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings will not be designated an enemy combatant, but will instead face criminal charges in civilian court, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. "This is absolutely the right way to go and the appropriate way to go," Carney said of the case against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Despite being seriously wounded and heavily sedated, Tsarnaev is answering brief questions from his hospital bed by nodding his head, a source with first-hand knowledge of the investigation told CNN Monday. Authorities are asking the 19-year-old if there are more bombs, explosives caches or weapons, and if anyone else was involved, the source said. Investigators are going into Tsarnaev's room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston every few hours to ask questions in the presence of doctors, the source said. It wasn't immediately clear what he may be communicating.Tsarnaev, who is on a ventilator and restrained, has been hospitalized since authorities took him into custody Friday night after finding him hiding in a boat in the back yard of a Watertown, Massachusetts, home. His injuries include a wound to the lower half of his body and a neck wound, the source said. It wasn't clear when he received the neck wound. Tsarnaev had also lost a lot of blood and may have hearing loss from two flash-bang devices used to draw him out of the boat, the source said. Investigators believe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were behind the attacks that killed three people and wounded more than 170 others a week ago Monday. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, died early Friday at a hospital after a shootout with police. The developments came the same day as memorial services for two people killed in the bombings and a planned moment of silence to honor victims.Elder suspect's wife With one suspect dead and the other hindered in his ability to communicate, investigators are eager to speak to Tamerlan Tsarnaev's wife, Katherine Russell, to see what she might know about incidents leading up to the bombings. On Monday, her attorney said she learned of her husband's alleged involvement through news accounts. "She knew nothing about it at any time," Amato DeLuca said in response to questions about whether Russell knew of plans to attack the marathon. Tsarnaev stayed home and cared for the couple's 2-year-old daughter while his wife worked long hours as a home care aide, according to DeLuca. The family is devastated, the attorney said. "They're very distraught. They're upset. Their lives have been unalterably changed. They're upset because of what happened, the people that were injured, that were killed. It's an awful, terrible thing," he said. "And of course Katy, it's even worse because what she lost -- her husband and the father of her daughter." Police chief: The carnage could have been worse In the tumultuous days after the bombings, the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly killed a university police officer, led authorities on a harrowing chase and hurled explosives at police, authorities said. Another officer, seriously wounded in a firefight with the suspects, was recovering Monday, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said. The brothers -- armed with handguns and explosives -- apparently were planning another attack before a shootout with police disrupted their efforts, Davis said. "I believe that the only reason that someone would have those in their possession was to further attack people and cause more death and destruction," Davis said on CNN's "Starting Point" Monday. Authorities believe the brothers bought bomb components locally but think that their guns came from elsewhere, another federal law enforcement official said. The official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the case, said authorities are trying to trace the guns. Investigators are also trying to determine whether anyone else was involved in the bombings. But Davis, speaking Sunday to CNN's Don Lemon, said that he was confident that the brothers were "the two major actors in the violence that occurred." "I told the people of Boston that they can rest easily, that the two people who were committing these vicious attacks are either dead or arrested, and I still believe that," the police chief said. Details on shootout The wild shootout that prompted the dramatic lockdown of the Boston area Friday began after a single officer gave chase after encountering the stolen car the brothers allegedly were driving, Watertown police Chief Edward Deveau told CNN's Wolf Blizter on Saturday. According to Deveau, the brothers stepped out of the car and shot at the officer, who put his car in reverse to get away from the gunfire. More officers arrived, sparking a firefight that lasted five to 10 minutes. More than 200 shots were fired, and one of the brothers threw explosives at police -- including a pressure cooker bomb similar to the one used at the marathon, Deveau said. Eventually, Tamerlan Tsarnaev emerged from cover and began walking toward officers, firing as he went, the chief said. When he ran out of ammunition, officers tackled him and tried to handcuff him, Deveau said Saturday. But then, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came barreling at them in the stolen vehicle, the chief said. The officers scrambled out of the way, and the vehicle then ran over the older brother and dragged him for a short distance. Tamerlan Tsarnaev also had explosives on his body, officials have said. Clues about radicalization? While investigators piece together the brothers' actions leading up to the marathon bombings, details have emerged suggesting the elder Tsarnaev was turning radical. The Tsarnaev family hails from the Russian republic of Chechnya and fled the brutal wars there in the 1990s. The two brothers were born in Kyrgyzstan, authorities said. An FBI official said agents interviewed Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 at the request of the Russian government. The FBI said Russia claimed that he was a follower of radical Islam and that he had changed drastically since 2010. But the Russian government's request was vague, a U.S. official and a law enforcement source said Sunday. The lack of specifics limited how much the FBI was able to investigate Tamerlan, the law enforcement official said.Tamerlan Tsarnaev apparently became increasingly radical in the past three or four years, according to an analysis of his social media accounts and the recollections of family members. But so far, there has been no evidence of active association with international jihadist groups. In August 2012, soon after returning from a visit to Russia, the elder Tsarnaev brother created a YouTube channel with links to a number of videos. Two videos under a category labeled "Terrorists" were deleted. It's not clear when or by whom. In January, Tamerlan Tsarnaev disrupted a service at the Islamic Society of Boston's mosque in Cambridge, Massachusets, a board member told CNN's Brian Todd. Tsarnaev was reacting to a speaker who likened the Muslim Prophet Mohammed to Martin Luther King Jr., the board member said. He calmed after worshippers spoke with him, and returned often for pre-dawn prayers on Fridays, the board member said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev also sometimes attended prayers -- but only with his brother, the board member said.Memorials and tributes Boston officials planned a moment of silence for 2:50 p.m. Monday to mark the passing of one week since the bombings. A minute later, bells will toll to honor the victims. One of those victims, Krystle Campbell was memorialized Monday morning in a service at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Medford, Massachusetts. After the service, police officers lined the street in front of the church as other officers wearing dress uniforms saluted as the casket bearing her remains was taken from the church and loaded into a hearse. Another memorial service was scheduled Monday night for victim Lingzi Lu, a student from China. Also on Monday, runners in at least 80 cities will participate in the "Run for Boston in Your City" campaign, organizer Brian Kelley said. The global campaign is "a run for those that were unable to finish, a run for those that may never run again" and "a run for us to try and make sense of the tragedy that has forever changed something we love," according to organizers. While authorities say Bostonians can rest easier now that the two suspects are accounted for, nagging questions hinder any total sense of security: Why would the assailants want to kill or maim throngs of innocent civilians, and could this happen again?
Moving forward
A week after the marathon bombings, 50 people remain hospitalized, including two in critical condition, according to a CNN tally. At least a dozen survivors have endured amputations. Patients at Massachusetts General Hospital have received visitors from war veterans who have also suffered amputations. The vets, Dr. Jeffrey Kalish said, told patients that their lives aren't over because they've lost limbs. "We've seen really tremendous success and great attitudes," he said. Also Monday, Davis -- the Boston police commissioner -- said transit system police officer Richard Donohue, wounded in the firefight with the Tsarnaev brothers, was improving. "He was in grave condition when he went to the hospital, so we're very optimistic at this point in time, and our prayers are with him and his family," he said. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, meanwhile, remains in serious but stable condition, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Massachusetts. A federal law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN the younger brother has a gunshot wound to his neck, and he had a tube down his throat to help him breathe. It's unclear whether Tsarnaev was wounded during his capture or in the earlier shootout with police that left his older brother dead, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Authorities have not publicly stated what charges Tsarnaev could face, but a Justice Department official who has been briefed on the case told CNN Tsarnaev will face federal terrorism charges and possibly state murder charges. While Massachusetts does not have a death penalty, prosecutors could seek the death penalty at the federal level.
Getting back to normal
It could take up to two more days before the area around the site of the explosions can reopen to the public, Davis said. The FBI has not yet turned the scene back over to local authorities, the police chief said. "We have to allow store owners to go in there first. It won't be open to the general public for maybe another day so the store owners can get their business back on track," Davis said. "We want to get people back in their homes as soon as possible, and we're working diligently on that right now."

Indian girl's rape highlights missing children

Poor parents in India say police don't bother to investigate when their children disappear. A third are never found.
A child disappears. Police are called. Nothing happens. Child rights activists say the rape last week of a 5-year-old girl is just the latest case in which Indian police failed to take urgent action on a report of a missing child. Three days after the attack, the girl was found alone in locked room in the same New Delhi building where her family lives. More than 90,000 children go missing in India each year; more than 34,000 are never found. Some parents say they lost crucial time because police wrongly dismissed their missing children as runaways, refused to file reports or treated the cases as nuisances. The parents of the 5-year-old said that after their daughter disappeared, they repeatedly begged police to register a complaint and begin a search, but they were rejected. Three days later, neighbors heard the sound of a child crying from a locked room in the tenement. They broke down the door and rushed the brutalized girl to the police station. The parents said the police response was to offer the couple 2,000 rupees ($37) to keep quiet about what had happened. "They just wanted us to go away. They didn't want to register a case even after they saw how badly our daughter was injured," said the girl's father, who cannot be identified because Indian law requires a rape victim's identity be kept secret. Delhi's Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar admitted Monday that local police had erred in handling the case. "There have been shortfalls, so the station house officer and his deputy have been suspended," Kumar told reporters. Other poor parents of missing children say they also have found police reluctant to help them. In 2010, police took 15 days to register a missing-persons case for 14-year-old Pankaj Singh. His mother is still waiting for him to come home. "Every day my husband and my father would go wait at the police station, but they would shoo them away," Pravesh Kumari Singh said as she sat on her son's bed, surrounded by his pictures and books. One morning in March 2010, she fed her son a breakfast of fried pancakes and spicy potatoes, then left for a community health training program. "He told me he would have a bath and settle down to study for his exams," said Singh, clutching the boy's photograph to her heart. When she returned, he was gone. "The neighbors said some boys had called him out. We searched everywhere, went to the police, but they refused to believe that something had happened to our son." The police insisted he had run off with friends and would return, she said. "They said we must have scolded him or beaten him, which is why he had run away from home," she said. Formal police complaints were registered in only one-sixth of missing child cases in 2011, said Bhuwan Ribhu, a lawyer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the Save the Childhood Movement. He said police resist registering cases because they want to keep crime figures low, and that parents are often too poor to bribe them to reconsider. Ribhu said the first few hours after a child goes missing are the most crucial. "The police can cordon off nearby areas, issue alerts at railway and bus stations, and step up vigilance to catch the kidnappers," he said. Activists say delays let traffickers move children to neighboring states, where the police don't have jurisdiction. There is no national database of missing children that state police can reference. Police have insisted that most of missing children are runways fleeing grinding poverty. "It's easy enough to blame the police for not finding the children. Some of the parents do not even possess a photograph of the child. Or they will come up with a years-old picture. It becomes difficult when there's not even a photograph to work with," Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said last month when asked about complaints on police inaction in investigating case of missing children. Many cases involved poor migrant construction workers who move from site to site around the city, Bhagat said. "The children are unfamiliar with the place and once they lose their way, they wouldn't know how to return," he said. India's Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath told Parliament last month that the problem of missing children had assumed "alarming" proportions. The National Crime Records Bureau reported that 34,406 missing children were never found in 2011, up from 18,166 in 2009. Activists say some children are trafficked and forced to beg on the streets. Some work on farms or factories as forced labor and others have their organs harvested and sold. The activists say young girls are pushed into the sex trade or sold for marriage. "The government is just not ready to confront the issue of trafficking or missing children. And this gets reflected in the apathy of the police in dealing with cases of missing children," said Ribhu, the lawyer. In 2006, the Central Bureau of Investigation said at least 815 criminal gangs were kidnapping children for begging, prostitution or ransom. The Save the Childhood Movement said police have not cracked a single one of those syndicates. "Despite our providing the police with all the details of where a child was picked up from, where he was taken, the police are simply not willing to act," said Ribhu. Two streets away from Singh, in a tiny windowless room crammed with clothes, bedding and a stove, Pinky Devi keeps a prized possession locked away in a drawer: a faded color photograph of her son Ravi Shankar. One afternoon in November 2011, she says, the 11-year-old went off with other children to a neighborhood fair. He never returned. Devi said the police visited her home a couple of times and spoke to her neighbors, but their interest soon wore out. "I'm sure if we had money to spend on them, the police would have been more active in tracing my son," said Devi, her two younger sons and infant daughter clinging to her sari in their one-room tenement in southeast Delhi. Shantha Sinha, who heads the government's National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, acknowledged that much remained to be done to make police take cases of missing children seriously. "There has to be a strong message that in every incident of a missing child, a criminal case has to be registered and the case is properly investigated," Sinha said. Kunwar Pal, a construction worker, fears police indifference crushed his efforts to find his son Ravi Kumar.Since the 12-year-old disappeared three years ago, the distraught father has cycled across India's sprawling capital, visiting police and railway stations, children's homes and hospitals, handing out posters and photographs of his missing son. Every time he hears of a child found anywhere in the city, he cycles to the police station, hoping it's Ravi. Pal, a lean 45-year-old with haunted eyes, refuses to think the worst. He believes Ravi was taken by a childless couple who wanted a child of their own. "If they were to let me know somehow that my son is alive, I would be happy," said Pal, his spare frame wracked by dry heaves. "They can keep him. Just let me see his shadow. Just let me know he's safe." He also believes police would have worked harder if he had not been poor. "If I were rich, my son would have been found by now. If I had money, the police would have taken the case more seriously," he said.

Rapes happen all over India
Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Monday made a statement in Parliament on the rape of a five-year-old girl in the nation capital and the police response to it, but ended up courting controversy by claiming that such incidents happened not only in Delhi, but all across the country. Making a statement in the Lok Sabha amid noisy protests over the minor's rape and other issues, Shinde apprised the MPs of the early breakthrough in the case, resulting in arrest of the two accused. While Manoj, the main accused, was arrested on Saturday from Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, another co-accused, Pradeep, was apprehended from Lakhisarai on Sunday night. Shinde said the SHO of the police station in Gandhinagar and the investigating officer (IO) have been placed under suspension, taking note of the lapses in investigation of the case. "The joint CP (vigilance) has been asked to conduct an inquiry. The joint CP (vigilance) shall also enquire into the allegation that the local police paid some money to the father of the victim to hush up the case," he informed the MPs. However, in a comment seen as rather insensitive, Shinde's written statement sought to underline that "such incidents (of rape) have been reported from other parts of the country also". The reference was apparently to the alleged rape of a four-year-old girl in Seoni, Madhya Pradesh. The purpose behind underlining that child rapes were not Delhi-centric was obviously to counter the opposition's attempts to use the Gandhinagar rape incident for political mileage ahead of assembly polls due later this year. Both Delhi and Madhya Pradesh go to polls in November. The fact that Shinde's statement was silent on action against the errant police officers may also do little to quell the protests in the national Capital. Shinde said medical examination of the first accused, arrested from Muzaffarpur district on April 19, has been conducted for DNA, he said. The accused is presently under judicial custody. The home minister, who was briefing MPs against the backdrop of major uproar and street protests against the five-year-old's gangrape, told the House that the girl was reported missing on April 15 and an FIR was registered at 10 pm. "The police started searching and conducting raids in the east Delhi area," he said. In the early hours of April 17, 2013, the mother of the girl heard the weeping of the child from the ground floor of the same house where they lived on the first floor, Shinde said. The ground floor was found locked from outside and the police, when informed, broke open the door and recovered the child, he said. The girl was rushed to Swami Dayanand Hospital, which is the nearest, and preliminary medico-legal case confirmed "sexual assault of brutal kind," Shinde said. The girl's condition was reported to be stable after an operation conducted on April 18. She was later shifted to AIIMS on April 19 for better treatment and presently her condition is reported to be stable, he said. On April 19, some protesters were holding demonstration at the Dayanand Hospital where the minister concerned of the Delhi government was visiting to enquire about the health of the child along with the local MP, Shinde said. Some protesters tried to break through the police cordon around the hospital in order to enter the premises, he said. An ACP was seen on camera slapping one of the lady protesters, the home minister said, adding the officer B S Ahlawat has been placed under suspension with immediate effect. "A departmental enquiry shall be conducted by an officer to be appointed by the government of NCT of Delhi," he added.

Ahmadis to boycott Pakistan polls over not treating as Muslims

By Yasser Latif Hamdani
At least 200,000 members of Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi community will be boycotting next month’s election in protest of their treatment by the authorities, a spokesman said. “We have been boycotting the election process since 1985 when Ahmadi voters were put in the list of religious minorities,” Jamaat-e-Ahmadiya spokesman Saleemuddin said. He said the community wanted its voters to be included in the joint electorate system. “We will stay away from the election and boycott the polls to register our protest,” he said. Pakistan goes to the polls on May 11 for a general election that should see the first democratic transition from one civilian government to another after the completion of a five-year mandate. Election registration forms require voters to give their religion and address and Ahmadis refuse to complete them for fear of being attacked. Their graveyards are often targeted and in 2010 nearly 100 people were killed in Lahore after militants stormed two Ahmadi prayer halls.

Pakistan: Maulana’s(Fazlur Rehman) musings
The real battle is not between Islamic and secular forces whoever or whatever they may be, depending on who you ask. The battle now is of ideas Maulana Fazlur Rehman has taken umbrage at the Election Commission’s code of conduct in so far as it bans the use of religion for election purposes. The good Maulana says that this is against the ideology of Pakistan. It is not clear if Maulana fully appreciates the irony of his statement given his own history and his party’s repeated denunciations of the Pakistan Movement as the work of the British. Let us recap. What we have in the form of Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is the ideological successor to the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind. It is not, as some assert, a successor to Shabbir Ahmed Usmani’s breakway Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam (JUI) that had endorsed the Pakistan Movement in the closing stages of the Raj. Rehman’s father Maulana Mufti Mahmood was a stalwart of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, who opposed the partition till the very end. In 1971, after the fall of Dacca, Mahmood famously said about Pakistan: “Thank God we were not part of the making of this sin.” As for the party, Mahmood’s Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind faction, left behind in Pakistan, merged with Usmani’s JUI in 1948, and then took it over in 1956. The JUI-F has on numerous occasions declared that the founding fathers, in particular Jinnah, were British agents. Rehman in his time as the opposition leader in the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007 made it a point to remove the father of the nation’s portrait from his office. There are two things that one can conclude from this. Either Islam is to be conflated with the ideology of Pakistan, in which case Rehman is against Islam as was his father. Or the ideology of Pakistan whatever it is has nothing to do with Islam. Either way the good Maulana has to explain what his stance on Pakistan is. This leads to the question why the orthodox divines of the Deoband supported the supposedly secular Indian nationalist Congress Party instead of the Muslim League, especially since now Rehman believes that the ideology of Pakistan is the same as Islam. To answer this question we have to expand our horizons and delve into the history of Muslim politics upon the advent of colonial rule. There were two main responses to British rule amongst Muslims. First was the rejectionist view taken by the seminary at Deoband. They rejected modern education and British rule altogether. The second response was what developed out of Aligarh: the Muslim modernist view. The Muslim modernists believed that the way forward for the Muslims of India was to embrace colonial rule, educate themselves and bring themselves at par with the Hindus, especially in vying for a piece of the economic pie, jobs and sovereignty. Therefore the Muslim League and the ideology of Muslim nationalism developed out of the modernist school of thought and not the religious one. Meanwhile, the secular Congress Party, which had in its ranks men like Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the time, took a decidedly cultural turn under Mahatma Gandhi, who emphasised the ancient identity of India, religious values and ethos of the common man, and who by his insistence on bringing religion into politics made religious identities non-negotiable. Not content with the havoc the Mahatma unleashed upon the Hindus, he went about co-opting Muslim mullahs through the Khilafat Movement as well against the advice of both Hindu leaders like C R Das and Muslim leaders like Jinnah. Gandhi encouraged Muslims from the Deoband and their newly formed Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind to come full-fledged into politics. The ulema were fiery anti-colonialists but were pliable when it came to issues of economics and politics. After all, the ulema, content to be shepherds of their flock, did not need jobs or were not going to compete with the Hindu bourgeoisie for economic opportunities. As one Congress stalwart noted in retrospect, Gandhi unleashed orthodoxy on the Muslims of India and it was this attitude “that rebuffed rationalist leaders like Jinnah” and alienated the Muslim League from the Congress. It did more than that. It convinced the nascent Muslim bourgeoisie that in order to survive they would have to organise politically as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had advised them long ago. The Congress under Nehru exacerbated things in the UP in 1937 when it tried to play Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Majlis-e-Ahrar against the Muslim League. The Muslim bourgeoisie and the salariat came to view — quite accurately — the Muslim religious orthodoxy as hand in glove with the Hindu bourgeoisie, which it saw as a threat to the economic interests of the Muslim community as a whole. The rest as they say is history, but that is of course until the Maulana came up with his spurious argument that barring religion from electioneering is in contravention of the ideology of Pakistan. The reason why the good Maulana’s antecedents opposed the Muslim League, and especially Jinnah, was on several counts. First of all they believed that the League had too many Shias, too many Ismailis, too many Ahmedis in its fold to be an Islamic organisation. Second they felt, again quite rightly, that the classes that were leading the League were in it for economic and political gains and not religious ones. Third, the nationalist ulema believed that given a chance, the Muslims could re-establish Islamic rule over all of India. Finally, they believed that Pakistan if it came into being would ultimately be a ‘kafir’ (infidel) government of Muslims. Therefore, they endorsed what was ostensibly secular composite Indian nationalism and rejected the prima facie confessional nationalism of the League, despite the attendant contradiction. Consequently, it makes no sense when the Maulana declares that the coming elections will be a battle between secular forces and religious forces. After all, his father had endorsed what — if we accept Maulana’s recent exposition of the ideology of Pakistan in toto — was secular composite Indian nationalism. Meanwhile, he and his party are on record as denouncing the creation of Pakistan as a British plot to divide the Muslims and deprive them of the opportunity to establish Islamic rule over all of India. If the battle is between secular, i.e. mainstream politicians versus those who sell religion for a living, that battle has been won repeatedly. It was won in 1946, when the Muslim League routed the Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind, Majlis-e-Ahrar and other Islamist allies of the Congress. It was won when the Awami League and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) defeated all the religious parties in united Pakistan in 1970. It was won again in 1977, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008. It will be won yet again when the non-religious and mainstream parties PPP, PML-N, PTI, MQM and ANP rout the religious parties yet again on May 11, 2013. The real battle is not between Islamic and secular forces whoever or whatever they may be, depending on who you ask. The battle now is of ideas. Do we want Pakistan to become a sectarian dystopia or do we want it to exist as a normal democratic state? It does not matter if you are religious or non-religious, the real question is whether we are prepared to do what is right for Pakistan.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality.

Karzai To Meet Kerry, Pakistani Officials In Brussels
An Afghan presidential spokesman has said President Hamid Karzai will travel to Brussels on April 23 to meet U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry and senior Pakistani officials to discuss the faltering Afghan peace process. Aimal Faizi, Karzai's chief spokesman, said the meeting has been arranged to repair ties between Kabul and Islamabad. Tensions between the two neighbors have soared recently over border disputes and the failing reconciliation process. On April 22, Faizi said Pakistan had failed to deliver on its promises regarding the reconciliation process, adding that Afghans are losing patience with Islamabad. He said, "Our message to Pakistan is enough is enough -- this time we will tell Pakistan that our people's patience is running out and we can't wait for Pakistan to deliver on Afghan peace promises."

Pakistan Government Says It Won't Charge Musharraf

Pakistan's caretaker government told the Supreme Court on Monday it will not file treason charges against former military ruler Pervez Musharraf but will leave the decision on that to the winner of the upcoming election. The petitions before the Supreme Court alleging Musharraf committed treason while in power constitute just one of several legal challenges he is facing following his recent return to Pakistan from self-imposed exile. The former military strongman was placed under house arrest over the weekend in connection with a different case, which involves his decision to fire senior judges while in power. Musharraf's detention was the latest in an array of setbacks he has faced since returning home last month with hopes of making a political comeback. Lawyers have filed private petitions before the Supreme Court alleging Musharraf committed various treasonable offenses, including toppling a civilian government, suspending the constitution and declaring a state of emergency. But according to Pakistan's constitution, the government is the only one with authority to file treason charges against Musharraf. Attorney General Irfan Qadir submitted a statement to the Supreme Court on Monday, saying caretaker officials have decided not to file treason charges because it was not part of their mandate.The caretaker government should avoid controversial matters that are not reversible by the winner of the May 11 parliamentary election, Qadir said. Instead, he added, caretaker officials are focused on routine matters, such as ensuring security for the upcoming election. However, Law Minister Ahmad Bilal Sufi indicated that caretaker officials would not defy the Supreme Court if the judges ordered the government to act. "At present all the focus, the attention is on the election arrangement," Sufi told reporters in Islamabad. "But we will be ready to proceed according to what the court asks us to do." The interim government took over last month and will hold power until a new government is formed after the vote. At this point, it's unclear how the next government will choose to proceed in the case of treason charges against Musharraf. The front runner to become the next prime minister is Nawaz Sharif, who was toppled by Musharraf in a military coup when he was serving as premier in 1999. Musharraf held power for nearly a decade until he was forced to step down in 2008 because of growing discontent with his rule. He returned despite Taliban death threats and an array of legal challenges. But upon his homecoming, Musharraf encountered paltry levels of public support and was disqualified to run in the upcoming election because of his actions while in office. Things got even worse last week, when Musharraf fled a court in the capital Islamabad to avoid arrest after a judge rejected his bail and ordered his detention. The arrest order was connected to Musharraf's decision in 2007 to dismiss senior judges, including the chief justice of the Supreme Court, apparently out of concern that they would challenge his re-election as president. Musharraf was eventually placed under house arrest at his heavily guarded compound on the outskirts of Islamabad until the next hearing on May 4.

Peshawar’s happy Hindus and Sikhs

On a Sunday morning, Christians in Saint John Vianney’s Church Peshawar were busy in praying. Father John William led the prayers in Urdu. Once the prayer was over, people started having chitchat in Punjabi. Once they went out of the church’s gate, they switched to Pashto. “This switching of three languages is a routine practice. Many of us have never been to Lahore but we speak Punjabi. In most cases, our forefathers migrated to Peshawar some three or four generations ago. Since then we have been living here. We are Christians. We are Pakhtun but our association with Punjabi language is intact. It’s what we speak at our homes,” explained Pervaiz Arthur, one of the local Christians at the church. While generally Peshawar isn’t considered a safe city, the minorities living in Peshawar think otherwise. There are three main minorities living in Peshawar: Hindus, Sikhs and Christians. They have one thing in common: Punjabi. All of them say they are proud Punjabi-speaking Pakhtun and feel safer in Peshawar than any other part of the country. “Tolerance towards minorities in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa, particularly in Peshawar, is much greater than in other provinces. Maybe it’s because Pakthun think the people belonging to different religions are also Pakhtun and their brothers. I have always been given preference over Muslims in business deals in Peshawar. I speak Pashtu because I am born and bred here but I am fluent in Punjabi,” said Augustine Jacob, a rights and political activist in Peshawar, talking to The Express Tribune. What may be an issue of life and death in other parts of the country is a common practice in Peshawar. Many Christians and Hindu families don’t mind interfaith marriages. Mushtaq Gulzar and his wife Shanti Zeba are one such example. “I am a Christian and my wife a Hindu. We lived in a same neighborhood and started liking each other. When our parents came to know about this they got us married. She is still a Hindu and I am still a Christian. Our kids are free to choose the religion of their choice when they grow up,” Zeba and Gulzar said in unison. “We don’t mind interfaith marriages if it’s between a Hindu and Christian. We do tell our boys not to think of getting married to a Muslim girl because in that case the whole family and community come under fire. There have been some rare cases when a Christian girl married a Muslim boy after conversion,” explained Gulzar. Surindar Kumar is head of one of the Hindu families living in Peshawar. He is caretaker of a temple in Tehsil Gor Gathri, Peshawar. “It took me years to take possession of this temple through litigation but now everything is fine. I don’t feel discriminated on basis of my religion,” Kumar said in fluent Punjabi, sitting in the temple. “Many Sikhs have migrated to Peshawar from Fata and run very good businesses. They are actually pampered by the people around them. Many Pakhtuns are pleasantly surprised when they first hear me speaking fluent Pashtu,” said a Sikh who runs a cloth shop in Qissa Khwani Bazaar. “The condition of minorities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has always been better than in other provinces. I have served as priest in Punjab and other parts of the country, but I see minorities having the least problems here. May be that’s why despite all odds, minorities have never thought about migrating from Peshawar,” said John William, a senior priest and Father at Saint John Vianney’s Church. “There are above 4,000 registered Christian voters in Peshawar but there isn’t any specific party they will vote for. Everybody has his/her own political inclination,” said Finiase Masih. “Earlier, corporation (sanitary) jobs were considered to be reserved for Christians only, but with the influx of IDPs, many Muslims are given these jobs. This has somehow created frustration among Christians who aren’t educated or skilled,” said Masih.

Taliban threat could skew Pakistan election result

Moderate politicians from some of Pakistan's most violent areas are risking the threat of Taliban attack to run in upcoming nationwide elections, but they are increasingly being forced to rely on social media, phone calls and even short documentaries that allow them to campaign at a distance. That could give hard-line Islamic candidates and Taliban supporters an advantage as they're able to stump for votes and hold large public rallies that are a traditional hallmark of elections in the country but are extremely vulnerable to attacks. One of the most serious attacks occurred Tuesday, when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a meeting of the secular Awami National Party in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing 16 people. The Taliban said the target of the attack was Haroon Ahmad Bilour, whose father, a senior party leader, was killed in a suicide bombing in Peshawar in December. He escaped unscathed, but his uncle, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, suffered minor injuries. As he was being treated at the hospital, the uncle vowed that he and other party candidates would not withdraw from the election despite the death threats. With his trousers soaked in blood, he walked among the hospital beds to comfort crying victims and told them, "We are fighting a war for Pakistan's survival." Hours earlier, a candidate from one of the Islamic parties, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, campaigned freely in his constituency in a different part of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Maulana Jalil Jan's supporters showered him with rose petals as he walked unguarded from shop to shop down narrow, crowded lanes to ask for votes. He bristled at any suggestion that the Taliban were terrorists and blamed attacks in the country on foreign agents seeking to "malign religious leaders, all bearded people." He pointed out that the word Taliban simply means a student in an Islamic school. "There is a difference between the Taliban and terrorists," said Jan. Faced with the Taliban threat, parties have had to get more creative in their campaigning for the May 11 vote. Members of the Awami National Party and other secular political parties specifically targeted by the Pakistani Taliban have stepped up their use of Facebook and Twitter as well as phone calls and advertisements. Analysts and secular party candidates fear that the danger could skew election results in favor of hard-line Islamic parties and others who refuse to speak out strongly against the Taliban. Their candidates are able to campaign with much less fear of being attacked, and the concern is this could lead to national and provincial governments inclined to take a softer position toward the militants. "If you tie my hands, and you want me to fight, I can't," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a candidate from the Awami National Party, sitting in his heavily guarded office in Peshawar. Hussain is running for a provincial assembly seat in the town of Pabbi, which is only 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Peshawar, but it is too dangerous for him to campaign there in person. To get around the danger, Hussain produced a short documentary that highlights development work he has brought to Pabbi and chronicles the sad loss of his only son, who was gunned down by Taliban militants in 2010. The documentary shows Hussain standing in prayer over the freshly dug grave of his son as a heartfelt poem he wrote in the young man's memory is sung out in mournful tones: "I never knew the enemy could reach my home, my heart, my love would disappear in a grave." He distributes it on DVDs to voters in Pabbi and plans to show the short film there using a couple of big projectors. Hussain was attacked himself by a suicide bomber at his son's funeral in Pabbi. He survived, but seven other people were killed, including two of his close relatives. The politician's eyes teared up as he watched the images of his son's grave in the documentary. The film asks his constituents to "vote for those who are sacrificing their lives to save you and your children from terrorists." It's not only the top Islamic parties like Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami that seem to have been spared by the Taliban in the run-up to the election, but also mainstream parties perceived to take a softer stance on militancy, such as the Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is favored to come out on top in the election, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is headed by former cricket star Imran Khan. They have all safely held public rallies attended by thousands of people in recent weeks. These parties have all pushed for peace negotiations with the Taliban instead of military offensives, and the militant group recently said talks should be mediated by the leaders of the top two Islamic parties and the Pakistan Muslim League-N. The parties that have been targeted by the Taliban have also called for peace negotiations, but have demanded the militants put down their weapons and endorse the constitution first and have vowed to continue fighting them until that happens. The Taliban have rejected these conditions. "This is not a level playing field," Awami National Party leader Afrasiab Khattak said. The Pakistani Taliban have been waging a bloody insurgency in Pakistan for years to enforce Islamic law in the country and to break the government's alliance with the United States in fighting militants. They have killed thousands of civilians and security personnel in scores of gun and bomb attacks. The group's main sanctuaries are in the rugged northwest along the Afghan border, including the semiautonomous tribal region and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Taliban have also established a significant presence in the southern city of Karachi and have stepped up attacks there. The militant group issued audio and video messages last month warning people to stay away from rallies held by the Awami National Party and two other secular parties that have supported army offensives against the militants in the northwest: the Pakistan People's Party, which led the most recent government, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which controls Karachi. The Taliban have carried out at least 10 attacks against candidates and party workers, mainly those in the Awami National Party. The attacks have killed at least 18 people, including a candidate for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Many other candidates have been wounded, including five from the Awami National Party. "This is a clear attempt by the so-called 'non-state actors' to oust and defeat moderate parties," said Raza Rumi, a political analyst who runs the Jinnah Institute think tank in Islamabad. "This can't be a fair and free election." The Awami National Party has closed over 50 of its election offices in recent months, mainly in Karachi and Peshawar, because of the threat of attack. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has stopped holding the massive public rallies that it is known for in Karachi. The Pakistan People's Party had to cancel a large event in southern Sindh province at the beginning of April that was meant to mark the start of its campaign because of security reasons. Khattak, the Awami National Party leader, called on all political parties to come forward and condemn the attacks on candidates. Many have remained silent or have refused to name the Pakistani Taliban, either for ideological reasons or out of fear of being targeted themselves. "You have to decide whether you are with the terrorists or with the people," Khattak said.