Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Wednesday was yet another day of violence and panic in Pakistan as several bomb attacks in the country’s two most volatile provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan – and a 6.2 magnitude earthquake forced the people to roll out their prayer mats and seek divine mercy. The incessant pre-election violence has seen at least 11 bombings since Tuesday evening. Twenty-one people were injured when four bombs went off in Quetta and Peshawar on Wednesday, a day after a string of blasts killed 11 people and injured more than 70. QUETTA BLASTS: Two persons were injured when a bomb went off at New Jan Muhammad Road in the provincial capital of Balochistan in the evening, police officials said. Earlier in the day, 13 people, including two children, were injured in a blast near a hospital in Satellite Town area of the city. The bomb, attached to a bicycle left in the hospital's parking lot, was triggered by a remote control. The injured were taken to the Civil Hospital, where doctors described the condition of two persons as critical. Hours later, another bomb went off in the busy Saryab Road area. Two policemen were injured and a car was damaged by the blast. The bomb was fitted on a bicycle that was left near a police station. There have been seven bomb attacks in Quetta since last evening, including one carried out by a suicide bomber who was trying to target the minority Shia Hazara community. Six persons, including a paramilitary trooper, were killed and over 40 injured in four bomb attacks on Tuesday. PESHAWAR BOMBINGS: In Peshawar, four persons, including two women, were injured on Wednesday morning when a bomb went off in the congested Sirki Gate area. A house was damaged by the blast. At least two kilogrammes of explosives were used in the attack, police said. The bomb was planted in front of the house of Pakistan People's Party leader Muhammad Tariq, police said. In yet another incident, two bombs went off along a key road in Dera Ismail Khan district though there were no casualties. Israr Khan Gandapur, an independent candidate in next month's polls, had a narrow escape as his motorcade passed through the area shortly before the blasts. At Larkana in Sindh province, about 20 feet of a gas pipeline were destroyed by a bomb blast. Gas supply to several towns and cities were cut off after the attack though there were no reports of casualties. No group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks on Wednesday but three blasts in Balochistan on Tuesday evening were claimed by the United Baloch Army which said that the bombings were aimed at disrupting polls in the restive province. - See more at: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/04/24/news/national/blasts-and-an-earthquake-what-a-day/#sthash.XFLbM6qt.dpuf
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar has said that the prevailing terrorist activities going on in different parts of Karachi and Quetta show that the upcoming general election would not be fair and transparent. While talking to the media in Karachi on Wednesday, he said, “If our government institutions are not fulfilling their duties of ensuring fair elections, then by default or design it is leading towards unfair and non-transparent elections.” In certain provinces, like Punjab, election climate is in full swing with parties holding big rallies, while MQM and few other parties are pushed aside and barred from carrying out their election campaign. “In the given circumstances, when we are receiving open threats from terrorists, our offices are being attacked and party officials being killed, we are in no position to hold big rallies like other parties,” Sattar said. On April 23, a crude bomb targeting MQM roadside office killed at least three people and injured 30 others. The attack, which took place in the Buffer Zone area, prompted the closure of all roadside camp offices of the party. Party chief Altaf Hussain had claimed that about 25 MQM activists, including an election candidate, have been killed over the past few days. Following the attacks, MQM had called for a strike in the region on Wednesday.
PPP's Patron In Chief Address - 23rd April 2013 by PPPOfficial Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will be assisting in the party’s election campaign, but not leading it, the party chairman said in a video message to party workers on Tuesday. “I wanted to contest polls living amongst you; I wanted to launch the election campaign in the streets of my country alongside my workers…but we are at war against (a) mindset,” Bilawal said. “The murderers of Quaid-e-Awam and Benazir Bhutto Shaheed now want to eliminate us as well.”This is Bilawal’s first public speech since April 4, the death anniversary of his grandfather and PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.On Sunday, party leaders said Bilawal would be leading the election campaign through a video link because of threats to his life.“One day I will also lead the election campaign of PPP like Shaheed Bhutto and Shaheed BB. Until that time I am assisting my elders in the campaign but not leading it,” said the party chairman.Speaking about South Punjab, which is a major part of the party’s manifesto, Bilawal criticised the former Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) provincial government.Bilwalal Bhutto-Zardari, the chairman of the main party in the outgoing ruling coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party, said Tuesday that he will be assisting in the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) election campaign, but not leading it.“Where are those people who claim to have given rivers of milk and honey to the Punjab? Can’t they see the development and prosperity of people of south Punjab?”“You had time to do politics on a metro bus scheme worth 70 billion but forgot the poor people of the Punjab,” he added.The PPP chairman seemed optimistic about the party’s future in Sindh in the coming polls.“I have faith that the people of Sindh will vote for the PPP. The PPP led government has given the largest amount of development projects in the history of Sindh,” he said.Bilawal also said the party was putting its faith behind veteran leaders.“Yes, we will win from Sindh because we have veteran politicians like Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who served the people of Sindh selflessly. Yes we will win because we have great workers like Syed Khursheed Shah, who knows how to face all sorts of crises. And yes, we will win because we have jiyalas like Amin Fahim, who united the party in its most difficult times.”Bilawal also mentioned other leaders including former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Qamar Zaman Kaira, and Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar.The PPP chairman also vowed to sweep polls from parts of the country other than Sindh and south Punjab.“And remember that Peshawar, Quetta and Lahore are also dear to me like Larkana. InshAllah, we will make Lahore and Peshawar the fortes of the PPP,” he said.
The President revealed that he and the First Lady are using reverse psychology to prevent daughters Sasha and Malia from getting tattoos. Obama also laughed off his wife's 'single mother' gaffe.President Obama and the First Lady have come up with a crafty strategy to prevent their daughters from getting tattoos — and it banks on the girls thinking their parents are deeply uncool. “What we’ve said to the girls is, ‘If you guys ever decide you're going to get a tattoo, then mommy and me will get the exact same tattoo. In the same place,’” Obama said with a smile. “And we'll go on YouTube and show it off as a family tattoo.”“And our thinking is that might dissuade them from thinking that somehow that's a good way to rebel,” he added.During the interview that aired Wednesday on NBC’s “Today,” Obama also laughed off a recent gaffe made by his wife — calling herself a “single mother” in an interview.“As somebody who has stumbled over my lines many times – I tend to cut my wife or anybody some slack when it comes to just slips of the tongue,” Obama said. But he acknowledged that “there’s no doubt that there have been times where Michelle probably felt like a single mom.” “When I was running for the U.S. Senate, when I was running for President, there were times where I wouldn’t see her for a week and she was still working and had to look after the girls,” he said. “So she definitely, I think, understands the burdens that women in particular tend to feel if they’re both responsible for child rearing and they’re responsible for working at the same time.”
At least 108 people were killed and over 600 injured in Savar on the outskirts of the capital Wednesday morning when a nine-storey building housing five garment factories collapsed. With few hundred more believed to be trapped inside, rescuers fear the death toll may rise significantly. Most of the victims who have been rescued from under the debris in the afternoon are dead, reported our correspondents from the spot. “The building might have collapsed due to faulty construction,” said Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir. The minister visited the spot around 1:40pm, nearly five-hour after the building collapsed. He also said that the government would bring the culprits to justice after probing the incident. Muhiuddin also expressed sympathy to the family members of the victims and assured them of taking all responsibilities of their treatment. There are at least 57 bodies at Enam Medical College and Hospital in Savar where the injured and dead victims were rushed, our correspondent reported quoting the chief medical officer of the hospital. Fire fighters and army personnel joined police and volunteers to rescue those trapped under the debris. Following the collapse, the BNP-led 18-party alliance at first relaxed their hartal in Savar and eventually called off their 36-hour countrywide shutdown nearly two-hour before its ending. The latest factory disaster came eight years after the collapse of Spectrum Garments in Baipail in Savar that left 64 workers dead. Several workers, who escaped unhurt and rescued later, told the media that the owners of their garment factories forced them to go back to work Wednesday morning. The workers were hesitating to rejoin work in the morning after they were evacuated on Tuesday following several cracks in the building. The building, “Rana Plaza” situated near Savar Bus Stand, collapsed around 8:45am. It had developed several cracks on Tuesday. The building housed a market, five garment factories and a branch of Brac Bank. The traffic movement on Dhaka-Aricha highway has remained suspended since the morning following the building collapse. So far, nearly 150 people were pulled out of the rubble alive. Cries for help echoed from under the rubble of the shattered building, Sohel Rana, a local who rescued several people breaking open a backside window, told The Daily Star. “We could not yet specify the number of casualties as the rescue operation continues,” Tahmina (full name could not be known immediately), the duty officer and an assistant sub-inspector of Savar Police Station, told The Daily Star over phone immediately after the incident. It was reported that only the first floor of the building remained intact. Families and relatives of the victims, who remain missing, gathered in front of the shattered building in tears and most of them were seen wailing fearing the ominous fate of their near and dear ones. The adjoining atmosphere of the building became heavy and depressive with the cries of injured. PRAYER The victims who remain trapped inside the building are officering prayers to Almighty Allah, in apprehension that this day might be last day for them. The sounds of zikir (begin religious chants) are also coming out from the devastated building. WATER The victims who are pinned under debris and choked with cement dust were heard crying for water, said media reports. SPECTRUM GARMENTS TRAGEDY On the night of April 11 in 2005, at least 64 workers were killed when the nine-storey building caved in. The building was reportedly structurally unsound, and not properly designed and was erected on a flood-prone marshland without permission from the authorities. PRESIDENT-ELECT, PM, OPPOSITION CHIEF CONDOLE DEATHS President-elect Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition chief Khaleda Zia in separate messages expressed deep shock and condolences at the deaths. CLAIM OF WORKERS Several workers of the garment factories claimed that the owners of their factories compelled them to rejoin work when they gathered in front of the building in the morning. On Tuesday, several cracks had developed on the building and all the staff of the factories were evacuated. Several garment workers were also injured while all of them were trying to rush out from the building.
Thanks to CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and CM Najam Sethi, 55 charged sectarian terrorists allowed to contest polls from Punjab
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), led by Justice (retired) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, has simply failed to prevent 55 candidates from the Punjab, belonging to 10 different sectarian groups, from contesting the general elections despite the fact that intelligence agencies had warned the ECP that they were on terrorist lists and had provided all the names. Punjab government is currently led by caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi, the journalist known for humanizing and glorifying the head of banned terrorist group Sipah-e-Sahaba (Ahmed Ludhianvi Deobandi) through his TV talkshow (Aapas ki Baat) and magazine (The Friday Times). Pakistan’s apex court is currently led by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chuahdry who is known to have soft stance towards Taliban, Sipah-e-Sahaba and other right-wing groups. These names (of Takfiri Deobandi terrorists contesting elections) are also listed on the 4th Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities. According to well-informed sources in the Ministry of Interior, the intelligence agencies had provided to the ECP a complete list of 55 candidates who had filed their nomination papers to contest the national and provincial assemblies polls from 20 districts of the Punjab. The ECP was further requested not to allow these candidates to contest the elections because they had been involved in terrorist activities due to which their names were placed on the 4th Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Under this 4th Schedule of Section 11-EE of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, persons charged with terrorist activities, after being released from jail, are kept under observation and they have to inform their respective police stations before leaving their hometowns and upon their return. Such individuals are bound to provide a surety bond to the police for good behaviour and peaceful conduct. The ECP subsequently forwarded the list of 55 sectarian offenders (most of them belonging to banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, currently operating as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat ASWJ) to the respective returning officers, with the direction to proceed against them. However, the ECP was informed that the returning officers were not legally empowered to impede these candidates from contesting the elections because the Code of Conduct issued by the ECP for the general elections lacked a particular clause to disqualify the sectarian elements. Even though the ECP has strictly prohibited candidates from using caste, ethnicity and religion to seek votes and besides warning of a three-year jail term for any candidate found using such means in the campaign, no such proscription or jail term was recommended in the ECP’s Code of Conduct for those running their campaign on sectarian lines. Therefore, the ECP was not in a position to press the returning officers on the issue any further. A sympathiser of religious parties said these candidates are facing only terrorism charges and no court decision has come in this regard. He said several top politicians, including a former prime minister, were allowed to contest polls on the grounds that they were just facing charges, which were not yet proved. According to the list of the sectarian elements running for the coming elections despite being listed under the 4th schedule 40 of the 55 candidates who have been allowed to run for the polls, belong to the defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) which has already been renamed as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), led by Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi Deobandi. His second in command in the ASWJ is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi fame, Malik Mohammad Ishaq, who is the vice president of the ASWJ. However, since the ASWJ did not register itself with the ECP, it has fielded candidates on Muttahida Deeni Mahaz (MDM/United Religious Front) platform. Of the remaining 15 candidates, four belong to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl), three each belong to Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JI) and Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan (TJP), two belong to the Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH) and one each belong to the defunct Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM), and the Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan (SMP). Of the 55 candidates who are listed under the 4th schedule and are contesting the elections from Punjab, ten belong to Muzaffargarh, five each belong to Jhang, Faisalabad, and Rawalpindi districts, four each belong to Jhelum and Rajanpur districts, three each belong to the Bahawalpur and Chiniot districts, two each belong to Sheikhupura, Khanewal and Dera Ghazi Khan districts while one each belong to Lahore, Sialkot, Attock, Sargodha, Toba Tek Singh, Bhakkar, Okara, Layyah, Lodhran and Rahim Yar Khan districts of Punjab. The following is a constituency-wise list of the sectarian elements along with the names of their organisations who have been allowed by the Election Commission to contest the coming polls: Umar Farooq of SSP/ASWJ (NA-86 Chiniot), Intizar Hussain of SSP-ASWJ (PP-73 Chiniot), Qari Shabbir Ahmed Usmani of SSP/ASWJ (PP-75 Chiniot), Rana Mohammad Arshad of SSP/ASWJ (NA-94 Toba Tek Singh), Malik Mohammad Bashir of JI (PP-33 Sargodha), Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haqqani of SSP/ASWJ (PP-50 Bhakkar), Maulana Abdul Khaliq Rehmani of SSP/ASWJ (NA-156 and PP-213 Khanewal), Qari Rahimullah Mithu of SSP/ASWJ (PP-149 Lahore), Iftikhar Ahmed (NA-144 Okara), Hafiz Mohammad Ishfaq Gujjar of SSP/ASWJ (PP-167 Sheikhupura), Qari Saifullah Saifi of JUI-F (NA-50 Sialkot), Khalid Mehmood Butt of SSP/ASWJ (NA-113 Sialkot), Mohammad Ishfaq Abbasi of SSP/ASWJ (PP-1 Rawalpindi), Ansar Manzoor of SSP/ASWJ (PP-1 Rawalpindi), Abdul Shakoor of JUI-F (PP-2 Rawalpindi), Zahid Iqbal Bakhtavri (NA-54), Irqar Ahmed Abbasi (PP-15 Rawalpindi), Umar Farooq of MDM (NA-59 Attock), Sikandar Hayat of JAH (PP-54 Jaranwala), Maulana Sajid Farooqi of SSP/ASWJ (PP-56 Jaranwala), Hafiz Suhail of SSP/ASWJ (PP-72 Faisalabad), Maulana Suleman Jhangvi of SSP/ASWJ (PP-70 Faisalabad), Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Jhangvi, Mohammad Moavia, Masroor Nawaz and Hakim Ali of SSP/ASWJ (NA-89 Faisalabad), Maulana Mohammad Asif and Ikhlaq Ahmed of SSP/ASWJ (NA-90 Jhang), Malik Saeed Ahmed of SSP/ASWJ (PP78), Qari Sanaullah of SSP/ASWJ (PP-266 Layyah), Saifullah Khalid of SSP/ASWJ (NA-184), Malik Mohammad Aleem of SSP/ASWJ (PP-268 Bahawalpur), Rao Javed Iqbal of SSP/ASWJ (NA-186 and PP-269), Mohammad Ismail of SSP/ASWJ (PP-285 Rahim Yar Khan), Ans Bin Malik of SSP/ASWJ (NA-180 and PP-260 Muzaffargarh), Arshad Siddiqi of SSP/ASWJ (NA-176 and PP-251 Muzaffargarh), Tayyab Farooqi of SSP/ASWJ (PP-252 Muzaffargarh), Qari Taj Saqib of SSP/ASWJ (NA-177 Muzaffargarh), Ashiq Hussain Bhoot of SSP/ASWJ (PP-261 Muzaffargarh), Arshad Leghari of JI (NA-177 and PP-255 Muzaffargarh), Sabir Hussain of SSP/ASWJ (PP-225 Muzaffargarh), Mohammad Tayab of SSP/ASWJ (PP-259 Muzaffargarh), Mohammad Anwarul Haq of SSP/ASWJ (PP-247 Rajanpur), Dr Abdul Rauf of SSP/ASWJ (PP-248 Rajanpur), Tariq Mahmood of SSP/ASWJ (PP-249 Rajanpur), and Mohammad Tahir of SSP/ASWJ (PP-250 Rajanpur). Approached for comments, a spokesman of the Election Commission of Pakistan simply expressed his ignorance about 55 sectarian offenders having been allowed to contest the elections. But he clarified that the scrutiny of the candidates was the job of the returning officers who represent the judiciary. “They had carried out their duties as returning officers independently and the Election Commission did not interfere with their job on how to decide the fate of the candidates who had filed their nomination forms. The ECP only provided information, as received, from the FBR, NAB, SBP and other governmental authorities, to the returning officers”, the ECP spokesman added.
WOLF TO KERRY: PRESS PRESIDENT ZARDARI TO REPEAL DISCRIMINATORY VOTING RESTRICTIONS IN UPCOMING PAKISANI ELECTIONS - Current Law Discriminates Against Ahmadi Muslims by Requiring Voters to Reveal Religious Affiliations Upon Registering to VoteRep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and 32 bipartisan Members of Congress last week sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for an end to the disenfranchisement of four million Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan. In the letter, the Representatives explained that a new presidential order can rescind the 2002 Pakistani executive order that excludes Ahmadis from joint electoral rolls and forces them to register to vote on a separate supplementary voter roll in time for the country’s general elections next month. “I am deeply troubled that Pakistan’s electoral system discriminates on the basis of religion, rendering the premise of free and fair elections a sham,” Wolf said, but added that “this pernicious regime of discrimination … is relatively easy to change.” Wolf, co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, pointed out that in order to register to vote, each citizen must fill out a form stating his or her religious affiliation, adding “not only are matters of conscience wholly irrelevant to the exercise of this fundamental right of citizenship, but for Pakistan’s four million Ahmadi Muslims, this requirement blocks their right to vote.” The State Department’s own recently released annual human rights report confirmed this reality indicating that, “The government required voters to indicate their religion when registering to vote. To register to vote, the government required Ahmadis to declare themselves as non-Muslims. Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, and as a result, the community was unable to vote.” Notably, even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken notice of the exclusion of Ahmadi Muslims from the joint electoral rolls, and has ordered authorities to explain how such a system can be consistent with equal right of all citizens, irrespective of religion, to vote. Appealing to shared principles of equality and justice, the letter urged: “Mr. Secretary, if this—the first time in Pakistan’s history that a democratically elected government peacefully passes power to another through elections—is truly to be a watershed moment, we cannot stand idly by and allow four million Ahmadi Muslims to remain disenfranchised and outside the electoral process.”
The full text of the letter can be found here.http://wolf.house.gov/uploads/ahmadi_pakistan.pdf
At least two people were injured in a blast - eigth in the last 24 hours - that struck Jan Muhammad Road area of the provincial capital here on Wednesday. That explosion was eighth in a row within 24 hours. The fresh wave of terror that took eight lives and injured more than 40, hits the volatile province ahead of general election to be held on May 11. Officials said that the blast took place on Jan Muhammad Road, injuring two people. The injured were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
http://www.rferl.org/A powerful earthquake has hit eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a magnitude of 5.7 and its epicenter was 11 kilometers from Mehtar Lam, the capital of Afghanistan's eastern province of Laghman, at a depth of 70 kilometers. The head of the Afghan Red Crescent in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Nangyalai Youfzai, told RFE/RL that the quake left 12 people dead in Nangarhar. The Afghan Health Ministry said in a statement the quake injured more than 100 people in Nangarhar. Hundreds of homes collapsed In Konar Province. Strong tremors were also felt in the capitals of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Kabul and Islamabad, respectively. The earthquake was felt as far away as India's capital of New Delhi.
The Express TribunePakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) youth wing on Tuesday accused the party’s parliamentary board of taking bribes in exchange for allotting tickets to candidates for the upcoming polls. Addressing a press conference at the Peshawar Press Club, PTI youth wing provincial General Secretary Fahim Ahmad Khan claimed he was initially allotted a ticket to contest from PK-6. Khan alleged some people from the parliamentary board later demanded money from him, saying if he did not pay up, his ticket would be given to someone else. “Imran Khan himself recommended my name to the board for a ticket, but the members ignored me because they asked for money and I refused to pay. Thus, my ticket was given to another person,” Fahim alleged. “Initially, I was asked to pay Rs1.5 million. However, the amount later came down to Rs0.5 million. I was told to deposit the money to an account number that was sent to me. All this communication was done through the president of PTI youth wing backed by PTI’s provincial president and general secretary,” claimed Fahim. He accused Shah Farman, Parvez Khattak and PTI provincial president Asad Qaiser of demanding money from candidates. Fahim added a ticket for PK-40 Karak was to be issued to Altaf Qadir Khattak, but when he went to the returning officer (RO) he was informed his ticket had been issued to someone else. Former PTI district president Zafar Khattak also spoke at the press conference. He alleged the ticket for PK-1 Peshawar was sold for Rs10 million, while the rates of some other tickets were fixed at Rs5 million. Zafar maintained the PTI was violating its own rule of allotting tickets on merit. He said they [the youth wing] would start a campaign against corrupt politicians who are destroying the PTI’s image. However, the former office bearer said they would neither quit the party nor stop supporting Imran Khan. “We will go into Asad Qaiser and Parvez Khattak’s constituencies and tell voters to be careful of who they vote for,” said Zafar. The activists of the youth wing demanded PTI chief Imran Khan to form an inquiry committee to probe the accusations, and cancel the membership of those found guilty.
At least eight separate blasts rocked three different provinces of Pakistan in the last 24 hours, raising fears for deteriorating law and order as the historic May 11 polls draw nearer. The attacks since Tuesday evening in Quetta, Karachi, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan have now claimed 11 lives and have left up to 75 wounded. The latest attack on Wednesday targeted a police station on the outskirts of Quetta, the second blast in the provincial capital since this morning and the sixth since yesterday. The blast raised the total death toll since yesterday in Quetta alone to six, with up to 60 injured. At least 15 have been injured since this morning. According to police, unknown attackers on motorcycles lobbed a hand-held bomb on the Kechi Baig police station in Quetta Sariab area around midday. Two policemen were injured in the explosion, while the attackers managed to escape unhurt, police said. The blast also damaged a police vehicle and the wall of the police station. Earlier this morning, 13 people including two children were injured in a blast outside a private hospital in Gailani road area of the city. Police said the bomb was planted inside a cycle parked outside the hospital. On Tuesday, four explosions left six people dead and up to 45 injured in the city. Banned extremist outfit, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), had claimed responsibility of Tuesday’s attacks. Late Tuesday, militants also attacked an election camp of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi. The blast left at least five people dead and 15 others injured. A strike was being observed in the country’s commercial capital on Wednesday at the call of the MQM in protest of the killings. Earlier Wednesday, an explosion near the house of a local Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader injured three people in Peshawar’s Sarki Gate area. Meanwhile, two remotely detonated roadside bombs exploded in Dera Ismail Khan this morning when the convoy of election candidate from PK-68 constituency Israrullah Khan Gandapur was passing through the area. No casualties were reported. Pakistan goes to the polls on May 11 for an election that will mark the first time a civilian government has handed over power at the ballot box after completing a full term in office.
President Asif Ali Zardari has written a letter to Chief Election Commissioner retired Justice Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim asking him to take notice of negative propaganda against the President. The letter was submitted in the Commission by presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar. The letter says the President respects the courts and he is not involved in politics after judgement of the Lahore High Court. It says the political parties especially PML(N) are criticizing the President. It asks the Chief Election Commissioner to take notice of the propaganda. It said according to the Constitution‚ the President is head of state and a symbol of federation and therefore‚ he cannot respond to the allegations politically.
From current affairs to social issues and human interest stories, Pakistani journalist Kiran Nazish has written for Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Forbes and a host of other local and foreign publications on hard-hitting socio-political issues and poignant stories of those affected by war.
By Sonya RehmanIn an interview with The Diplomat, Nazish speaks about the challenges of being a female journalist in Pakistan, and reporting on sensitive issues in a country that has been called “the most dangerous for journalists.” You recently traveled to Peshawar to report on the deplorable state of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in the Jalozai camp. As a journalist, how important is empathy and compassion when interviewing those affected by war and tragedy? Empathy and compassion are imperative for journalists to nurture. If you are reporting about victims of war, ethnic violence or displacement – such as the IDPs – and you are not compassionate, you are missing the whole point. The absence of empathy and compassion will also paralyze your reporting and you will never get to hear the complete story and hence never get to tell the complete truth. Often when I interview people who have been affected by war and tragedy, they complain about how journalists come to them and ask brutal, insensitive questions and take photos of them without their permission. They feel used and deceived. That is absolutely unethical and undermining. Do not doubt me when I say, I have learnt the greatest lessons of courage and wisdom from invisible people we often ignore thinking they are dumb and poor and weak, because they are victims. Trust me, they are smart, and they know a lot about the world. I understand that you’re currently traveling for work. What story are you working on? I'm currently working on a story about Veeru Kohli, a bonded laborer in interior Sindh who was freed with the help of an NGO in Hyderabad called Green Rural Development Organization (GRDO). She is standing for elections now against established, powerful and rich feudals who have been threatening her and her supporters. Kohli now lives in a place called Azad Nagar with two beds, five mattresses, cooking pots and a bank account with life savings of Rs. 2,800 (approx $27). Wanting to interview her took me to Azad Nagar in the outskirts of Hyderabad, where I met dozens of landless Haris [members of the scheduled Hindu caste] and farmers who had been freed either by Kohli's activism or by GRDO. They all had gathered to greet me at the arrival, and complained about the media ignoring them (save news reports of Kohli standing for elections) and not supporting them when powerful politicians threatened their lives. I hope to help them by writing about their stories, the strength that they show by standing with each other between threats on their lives and hefty offers of bribes. These are the people who change the fate of a nation: the poor, the dignified and the powerful. Pakistan has often been called “the most dangerous country for journalists.” Given your work and experience in the field over the years, do you agree with this assessment? When we say “the most dangerous country for journalists” what do we actually mean? Do we mean Pakistan as a country is dangerous for journalists? Is it the state that has made reporting difficult? Or the military? Or militancy? It is important to make the distinction first. We [Pakistan] have been called “the most dangerous place for journalists” for three consecutive years by global journalism forums and support groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. Both organizations also work as advocacy groups, maintaining data on journalistic killings, arrests and other abuses around the globe. While their studies have been very important in highlighting journalistic issues, I feel there should also be a study of patterns that aims to determine the cause of danger. Patterns that determine what countries are dangerous for journalists for what particular reason. Such mapping can particularly help us figure out how to solve the issue of reporting dangers specific to each location. Let me explain. In Pakistan the dynamics are unique. We are at war but we are not at war. We have a government that supports freedom of expression, but we have a state that does not support the free flow of information. There are some intelligent, passionate and courageous journalists in the country who want to invest themselves in getting the truth out, but are restricted by unsupportive editorial policies and are often put in danger by unsupportive organizations at times of threats. Do you see the conflict in each instance? In countries like Syria, Mexico and Libya, journalists have been hurt during situations when conflict is in action. Recently, when Syria was rated the most dangerous country for journalism, it was due to war. In some countries journalists are outright harassed if they report, such as Russia, China, Egypt and Iran. So you see how the term “the most dangerous place” is defined in each instance. In Pakistan, the government openly supports media but does not give protection to its reporters in the field. Media organizations that are run by conglomerates and the Saith culture further dilapidates the chances of journalists’ safety. Tribal journalists working in the harshest conditions, between the military and militants, reporting on the war in the northern regions, are not even paid or given logistical support, let alone provided any protection when they are on duty. So you see, where reporting is made possible in Pakistan and the structure is there, reporters here still don’t feel free, because they know if they tell the story it may take their lives. So, I would say, yes, it is the most dangerous place, but there is an infrastructure that makes reporting possible and the problem of danger and safety is solvable. What have your greatest challenges been working as a Pakistani female journalist covering current affairs, social issues and human interest stories in the country? To be honest, as a reporter, when I am on the field interviewing people, especially war victims, I feel I have a greater advantage being a woman. People open up more easily and they also respect you. Being a female journalist has made it easy for me in gaining people’s trust to hear their stories. My male counterparts have often had difficulties getting the stories from people. But of course, there is also a greater challenge – and that is security. Since I work independently, I have to travel on my own sometimes, without a male colleague, often attracting uninvited attention, being hit on by all kinds of men – often senior analysts whom you respected before they asked you out and offered you wine. In our culture, which is deeply conservative and judgmental towards women, people think because you are a woman you are incapable of understanding things. There are times they spoon-feed you, and there are times when sources will simply not give you information or ‘access’ because they think, you are incapable of the task simply because you are a woman. It’s quite irritating and has often brought out the worst in me. There have been instances which led me to think I needed anger management! What advice would you give to other Pakistani female journalists like yourself vis-à-vis personal safety on the field during reportage? Always keep your eyes open and pepper spray handy. If this amuses you, I also learned some boxing. Sadly it’s been futile so far – never got to punch anyone. What has been the high point of your career? The greatest highs of my career have been the lowest paying times of my life, which would be now. [Laughs] When I don’t have enough money to upgrade my laptop, I miss that consistent financial support I had while working for GEO [a local television channel], when everything was company-paid – travel, communication, on-set meals. I never realized I was spending so much on a production. But of course, the best time in my career only came with the independence of ideas. Being an independent journalist I now choose my own stories that interest me. I am not bound to work according to an organizational bias or editorial policy. Of course this is just the beginning and there is a whole world for me to further unravel. At times I am financially challenged, but it’s worth it. As a young journalist, how do you foresee the future of journalism in Pakistan taking shape? “Foresee” is a big word. It’s hard to say actually. How journalism is as a career in any country has to do with both the political and economical situation. There will always be issues and stories to report on, but during conflict and in struggling economies like Pakistan, it becomes really hard for a journalist to survive in the profession. Yet, Pakistan is becoming deeply unstable and the country will be in the global spotlight for a long time. So the importance of reporting from Pakistan will always be there. You travel regularly within Pakistan to bring to light stories that are infrequently reported by the local media. What inspires you to choose subjects and stories to interview and report on? It all started with my urge to write the book that I am currently working on; the research of which required me to conduct field work in war zones and conflict areas. Living in Karachi, one of the most populous and diverse cities of the world, the issues that have mattered to me for most of my life were the big issues: foreign policy, the larger picture of sectarian conflict in the country, the aerial view of militancy and terrorism. When I started traveling for my research to places like FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas], Gilgit-Baltistan and interior Sindh and Punjab, I met people: People who worked day and night to build the economy unit by unit; who had directly been affected by war or conflict, had lost a loved one, a breadwinner of the family; who saw the bloodshed and were escaping it in IDP camps and leaving their homes behind; who struggle for one piece of bread, literally, and who sold all their savings to save the life of an ailing mother. These are the people I have a relationship with, and I work for them. It’s that never-ending story of a survivor that keeps calling me whenever I go.
BY: SHAMILA N. CHAUDHARYThe life of a Pakistani politician is fraught with life-threatening situations. In recent years, several high-profile politicians have been assassinated: former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in 2011. The dangerous trend has continued this month with the targeting of lower-profile candidates running for office in the upcoming May 11 parliamentary elections. In these instances, the Pakistani Taliban or religious extremists were the perpetrators, choosing their targets for either "un-Islamic" secular and progressive values or their perceived cooperation with the United States against Pakistani militants and in the war in Afghanistan. Beyond the tragic loss of life, the assassinations have the added casualty of limiting the space within which Pakistani leaders can safely operate. Taliban attacks have pressured willing and able voices against extremism into silence on issues — such as minority rights, girls' education and trade with India — that Pakistani society must publicly debate in order to fully embrace and institutionalize them. Those who remain vocal do so at great personal and professional risk: Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman faces charges in Pakistani courts for her support of revisions to the blasphemy law. In the context of upcoming polls, even more worrisome is that the specter of assassination and violence could affect the election outcome, and potentially the representation of key Pakistani constituencies. Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the group's intention to target candidates and party workers affiliated with the ruling coalition's Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). ANP and MQM candidates and activists have already been injured or killed-fear tactics intended to directly handicap the ruling coalition's chances of returning to power. Another side effect of the Pakistani Taliban's killing spree is that the specific pressure on the ANP could skew the Pashtun vote. After the 2008 election, many had high hopes for the secular party based in the Pashtun-concentrated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. But even then security threats from the Pakistani Taliban prevented ANP from fully taking advantage of the mandate the voters had given it. ANP was viewed as a potential counter to the influence of religious parties like Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), which swept national and provincial elections during the Musharraf years as part of a coalition of religious parties known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The Pakistani Taliban's renewed targeting of ANP could improve the chances of religious parties who have, in the past, shared common ideological ground with them. The influence of religious parties has typically been downplayed, but what they are selling might have a new buyer. A survey conducted by the British Council earlier this year revealed that 38 percent of Pakistani youth surveyed believed Islamic law is better suited for Pakistan than democracy. But the Pakistani Taliban has also threatened some religious parties, such as JUI, for cooperation with the federal government. The real worry is not the return of religious parties but the disenfranchisement of Pakistani Pashtuns, who may decide to stay at home on election day to avoid violence. This is the last thing the Pakistani state needs in a province that borders the ungoverned tribal areas and where the notion of a greater Pashtun homeland-"Pashtunistan"-exists in spirit if not fully in practice. ANP also faces threats in Karachi, where the growing Pashtun population has become ensconced in the city's gangland-style political culture. Any handicaps for Karachi's Pashtuns in the upcoming elections could also potentially worsen the security situation there. The PPP, which led the previous government with ANP as a coalition partner, faces similar challenges in reaching voters. President Asif Ali Zardari has been reluctant to participate in large public rallies during this campaign, and for good reason. The memory of the 2007 assassination of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, following a rally in Rawalpindi is still fresh among PPP leadership. Fears of assassination have kept Zardari out of the public eye for most of his term and now limit how much his son Bilawal Bhutto, the PPP's heir apparent, campaigns on behalf of the party as well. Bhutto could have rallied the party's base at a time when the PPP needs it the most. Besides the PPP stronghold of interior Sindh, nowhere else is PPP guaranteed to dominate. Voter outreach is especially critical in north and central Punjab, the traditional domain of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and where Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has made inroads. Most elections analysts believe that if PTI can continue to tap into PML-N's base of support, especially among urban educated youth, then PPP's chances in Punjab are inadvertently strengthened. It can also benefit from the fact that the strength of PTI's "tsunami" appears to be tapering off. If PPP can access voters who are falling off the PTI bandwagon, it could have a chance in chipping away at PML-N's lead. But PPP cannot rely solely on PML-N's failures or PTI's wane. For the time being, Pakistani Taliban threats continue to keep the most influential PPP politicians far from Punjab where it matters the most. Even more tragic is the possibility that ANP will be forced to boycott the elections. While much of the elections focus has been on the historic political transition afoot in Pakistan, the threats serve as a reminder of the tough road ahead for whoever manages to survive and come out on top.
By Karen DeYoung BRUSSELS — Secretary of State John F. Kerry began talks here Wednesday with top leaders from Afghanistan and Pakistan, trying to revive lagging efforts to persuade them to work together on peace negotiations with the Taliban. The meeting came amid a new round of recriminations between the two governments, and rising nervousness on both sides of their shared border over the fast-approaching departure of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan. As he ushered Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani military chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani through the door of a secluded estate outside the Belgian capital, Kerry called “the road forward” a “crucial transformation period.” The two leaders, standing on either side of him, did not exchange glances, and their demeanors were far from warm. Obama administration officials, who have long said that a negotiated settlement with the Taliban was the only way to truly end the Afghan war, see the window closing for negotiations and the establishment of cooperative relations between the South Asia neighbors. The Taliban walked out of preliminary talks with the United States more than a year ago, charging bad faith and suspending negotiations over a possible prisoner swap in which five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be released in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. soldier held by the militants in Pakistan since 2009. With this year’s fighting season well underway, U.S. intelligence officials believe the militants are divided between senior, Pakistan-based leaders and ground commanders inside Afghanistan over whether to wait out the U.S. departure or to join the Afghan political process in hopes of winning influence at the ballot box next year. Afghanistan has charged Pakistan with playing a double game, publicly saying it favors talks between the Taliban and Karzai’s government, while privately keeping the Taliban leadership on a tight leash to prevent the negotiations from getting off the ground. Pakistan insists it does not control the Taliban. But it fears post-withdrawal chaos next door will undermine its security and wants to preserve its leverage with influence over the militants. The administration has tried to bring the two governments together in tripartite talks for the past several years. While there has been some progress, with an increase in cross-border trade and pledges of further cooperation, they remain mutually wary and occasionally hostile. Afghanistan has charged the Pakistani military with firing across its border in the rugged mountains, where militants operate on both sides, and alleged that Pakistan aided militants who killed 12 Afghan soldiers this month in Konar province. Pakistan accuses Afghanistan and the U.S. military with failing to go after militants of the Pakistani Taliban, a separate group it charges has sanctuaries on the Afghan side. A Pakistani agreement to host a meeting between top religious leaders from both countries remains unfulfilled. Pakistan holds a number of top Taliban leaders in detention and agreed, in earlier U.S.-sponsored talks, to release them to Afghanistan’s High Peace Council to participate in peace talks. Although some were released late last year, U.S. and Afghan officials charged they were not placed in official Afghan hands, but simply let go. Those Taliban on the top of the Afghan list remain in Pakistani custody. The border between the two countries has long been under dispute, and Afghanistan does not recognize the so-called Durand Line drawn by the British last century. This month, Karzai angrily charged encroachment when Pakistan constructed a border gate in mountainous territory that, Karzai insisted, belong to Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan students in the city of Jalalabad, near the frontier, demonstrated with anti-Pakistan slogans. The Obama administration is juggling its relationship with both governments. Kerry, who interacted with top Afghan and Pakistani leaders for years as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, clearly hoped his participation in Wednesday’s talks would break the ice. “We are going to have a trilateral and try to talk about how we can advance this process in the simplest, most cooperative, most cogent way, so that we wind up with both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s interests being satisfied — but most importantly with a stable and peaceful Afghanistan,” Kerry told diplomats at a NATO meeting here Tuesday. Karzai also attended the NATO meeting, to discuss alliance withdrawal plans in 2014, and used it as an opportunity to invite the participation of Pakistan’s military leader, who maintains tight control over his country’s foreign and defense policies. Pakistan has only a transitional government at the moment, with elections scheduled for next month. Although there is no foreign minister in place, Kayani was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani. After the meeting at Truman Hall, the residence of the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kerry will return to Washington.