Monday, May 13, 2013

Pakistan Elections 2013: Landmark Election Marred By Lack of Transparency

The threat of violence has long loomed over the May 11 Pakistan elections but it seems that rigging has been an even larger and more dangerous evil for the country's democratic process. Although Pakistan's Election Commission (ECP) had made broad promises of fair and free elections with the help of social media, it has become apparent that the ECP has fallen extremely short on its promises, as rigging and a severe lack of transparency — most prominently seen in Karachi than anywhere else — has marred the election process. A prime example of the ECP's failure is NA-250 in Karachi, where voters have been standing in a line since early morning to vote. Now, as election day comes to a close, they still have not been able to vote — and much of the blame falls to the Mutahida Quami Movement (MQM) party, one of two parties running in the constituency. First, there were no ballots present, and then a staff to preside over the election was not present. According to many, MQM, who usually has an easy time gaining majority votes in the constituency, has purposefully and methodologically created hindrances for voters as they feared losing one of their strong-holds to a popular Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf candidate, Dr. Arif Alvi. In a press conference, Alvi said that despite many complaints of fraud, there was no rapid response from anyone — not the Karachi law enforcement nor the army. There have also been accusations that pre-stamped ballots were being submitted, making it impossible for people to vote for PTI even if they tried. Another PTI candidate, Ali Zaidi, complained that in his constituency, NA-252, the MQM party had rigged the polls there as well. In an email, Zaidi told me that just as in his constituency, "Armed MQM goons took over other polling stations in sensitive areas as well. Army personnel were sitting like fools outside. Either the ECP is incompetent or involved in this rigging." Moreover, a video from a polling site in Hyderabad went viral, showing multiple MQM workers illegally stuffing ballot boxes. There have also been a number of other rigging incidences caught on video being shared around the country. MQM isn't the only party involved in rigging the elections, however. PML-N candidate Saad Rafique has been accused of forcibly shutting doors at his polling site in NA-125, stamping ballots for his own party. Apparently, the police in this case also just sat and watched the show. The ECP has taken notice of the rigging and has admitted to failure in Karachi especially. And while a simple solution would be to disqualify all candidates caught rigging elections — especially the ones caught on video — the ECP has not yet decided what steps will be taken to remedy the situation.

Pakistan: ' Elections rigged, turnout recorded to be over 100%'

The Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) on Monday revealed that the elections across the country were badly rigged as the voter turnout witnessed was more than 100 percent at most of the polling stations while at some polling stations it was even recorded at more than 200 to 300 percent. Talking to a private TV channel, FAFEN CEO Muddasir Rizvi said in at least 120 polling stations, the turnout remained more than 100 percent and in several other polling stations the turnout was more than even 300 percent. He said FAFEN visited various polling stations in several constituencies and monitored the candidates, voters and the entire polling process. Rizvi suggested that it was easy for the Election Commission of Pakistan to trace the rigging as the voters had to thumb mark two places which was in its record and which could be verified by NADRA. - See more at:

Indian man, daughter in Bahrain forced to live out in the open

An expatriate Indian man and his three-year-old daughter in Bahrain have been forced to rough it out in the open for the last six months after a business deal went sour. A desperate Mohammad Sikandar Samrat and his daughter Sara have been living alternatively in a park, mosque and their car since November 2012 as his daughter does not have a passport and he is yet to get 65,000 Bahraini dinars owed to him by a Bahraini businessman, the Gulf Daily News reported on Monday. The father-daughter duo was forced out in the open after his wife and their youngest daughter left for India in November last year."This has been going on for the last six months when I was forced to send my family home after I could no longer cope," Samrat told the newspaper in a Manama park where the two are currently taking shelter. His wife is a qualified nurse. Though he has a small one-room apartment in Manama, he said it was impossible to stay there as there was no water or electricity. According to Samrat, he was doing well running a small business for the Bahraini businessman getting marble and stone supplies from India for land reclamation projects. However, all that changed in 2009. "When I went to the gentleman to ask for money, he gave me seven cheques worth 40,000 Bahraini dinars - all of which bounced," Samrat was quoted as saying. "He promised to pay me the money in instalments, but that never happened as well. Numerous visits to his office also yielded nothing." He said he and his daughter spent very little time in his apartment and go to a mosque at 3 am when it opens and then spend the rest of the time in the park and a friend's car. He also owed his landlord 1,000 Bahraini dinars but he said the latter was kind and had not put pressure on him. The father and the daughter are surviving on a diet of khubuz or Arabic bread and chickpeas. He said he could not apply for Sara's passport when she was born in July 2010 because he did not have any money then. Now, he said, he has done all the paperwork for her passport. "The (Indian) embassy has told me they need special permission from India to issue a passport since she is more than one year old," he said. When contacted, an official in the embassy told the newspaper everything would be done to help the stranded Indian duo. Samrat has also moved court against the defaulting businessman filing a criminal case.

Saudi Arabia to punish men over Christian woman convert

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced two men to lashes and prison terms for converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the conservative Islamic kingdom, the Saudi Gazette reported on Monday. A Lebanese man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes for converting the woman, while a Saudi man was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes for aiding her escape abroad, the English-language daily said. It added that the pair had challenged the verdict and would appeal. A spokesman at the justice ministry could not immediately be reached for comment. In Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, it is against the law for Muslims to abandon their faith, a practice known as apostasy. Proselytising for other religions or practicing them openly is also illegal. Judges have considerable leeway in how to interpret the kingdom's Sharia code of Islamic law and are not bound by sentencing guidelines or a system of precedent. Both capital and corporal punishment are legal. The case emerged last year after the woman's family complained that she had been "brainwashed" by colleagues at the insurance company where she worked and that they had helped her leave Saudi Arabia via Bahrain on false documents. The woman, whose name has not been released, was granted asylum in Sweden last year, the newspaper reported. Last year King Abdullah, who has promoted limited reforms since coming to the throne in 2005, opened a center for religious dialogue in Vienna that drew criticism because of Saudi Arabia's own lack of religious freedom. In 2008 he sponsored an inter-faith conference in Spain.

Leaving Afghanistan Is a $7 Billion Moving Task for U.S.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan more than 12 years ago with a contingent of special forces and Central Intelligence Agency officers, some of them on horseback, armed with laser pointers to direct air strikes against al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts. While the fighting continues, the U.S. is mounting what may become a $7 billion effort to withdraw most of its forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year. It will require sending Humvees, helicopters, drones and 12 1/2-ton mine-resistant vehicles home by rail and truck networks stretching from Karachi to ports in the Baltic Sea. Unlike Iraq, where “the fighting had for a good extent stopped” before the U.S. began to withdraw, in Afghanistan “there’s still certainly an active insurgency and an active fight and essentially we’re in contact with the enemy as we do this,” Alan Estevez, the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for logistics, said. “All of those things make it difficult and increase the risk of our departure as we pull out.” Among the biggest contractors involved in the move are A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S (MAERSKB), the Copenhagen-based owner of the world’s largest container line, the American President Lines unit of Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines Ltd. (NOL), and Hamburg, Germany-based Hapag-Lloyd AG, according to Estevez. The shipping companies contract in turn with local trucking companies such as those in Pakistan to carry the cargo to ports, he said. The U.S. has begun withdrawing troops and war materiel from Afghanistan after the longest war in American history. So far, the conflict has cost about $600 billion, led to the deaths of 2,205 American troops and injured 18,462. About 16,725 Afghan civilians also have been killed.
Lost Intelligence
Of the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan, about 32,000 will return by February, and most of the rest will depart by December 2014, leaving a smaller force to train and advise Afghans as well as conduct counterterrorism operations. Withdrawing from hostile territory is among the most difficult operations any military faces, and there’s no guarantee that U.S.-trained Afghan forces can keep the peace as American forces leave. As the number of troops dwindles, those who remain and their supply lines can be more vulnerable to ambushes. Sending reinforcements becomes more difficult and time-consuming. Intelligence may dry up as forces and civilian personnel abandon forward positions, losing contact with Afghan allies and enemies alike in areas where the Taliban remain strong. Collecting intelligence may be compromised as the U.S. shrinks its presence in Afghanistan, James Clapper, the top U.S. intelligence official told Congress last month.
Reduced Footprint
“Obviously it’s not going to be as robust as it is today simply because we won’t have the presence in as many locales,” Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the House intelligence committee April 11. “As the other components of our presence there, the military and the diplomatic” are reduced, “that in turn affects the footprint that we will have.” Politics and geography make the withdrawal from Afghanistan more complicated than the departure from Iraq that was completed in 2011. The U.S. was able to stockpile war materiel from Iraq in neighboring Kuwait before loading it on ships. The U.S. moved out 2 million items from 92 bases in Iraq in about 20,000 truckloads. In the absence of a safe and friendly zone such as Kuwait, the Pentagon plans to send about 60 percent of its inventory in Afghanistan -- mostly non-lethal items -- through Pakistan by truck to the port of Karachi, Estevez said in an interview in his Pentagon office. Fragile Relations In the past, Pakistan has closed the two main border crossings from Afghanistan to protest U.S. actions. The supply route was shut from November 2011 to July 2012 after a U.S. military strike mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops. Although the route is now open, the relationship between the two countries remains fragile, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan of sheltering militants and letting them stage attacks on his country. The other 40 percent of the American cargo will go north past the Hindu Kush mountains, crisscrossing several former Soviet republics in the Caucasus by truck and rail before reaching ports on the Baltic Sea in Latvia or Lithuania, Estevez said. The tab for the withdrawal may be $5 billion to $7 billion, he said. By the end of 2014, the Pentagon will have moved about 22,000 containers of materiel out of Afghanistan, Estevez said. Blackhawks, Trucks The U.S. Army, which has the largest presence in the country, estimates that it has about $27 billion of military hardware in Afghanistan, and most of it will come home, Estevez said. The other military services have smaller inventories, he said. About 80 percent of the war gear, including Blackhawk helicopters, radios, trucks and remotely piloted aircraft, will return to the U.S., Estevez said. Most of the equipment that supports U.S. bases, such as air-conditioners, construction material and furniture, will be left behind or destroyed, he said. Few military items will be left for the Afghans to use, U.S. Army Brigadier General Steve Shapiro, deputy commander for theater sustainment, told reporters in Kabul in March. The military gear Afghanistan needs will be provided through the Pentagon’s foreign military sales program, Shapiro said.
Sharing Roads
The U.S. is coordinating its withdrawal with similar plans by 50 coalition partners, Major General Kenneth Dahl, deputy commanding general for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul in March. “Because of the geography and physics of Afghanistan, we have to coordinate so we don’t all try to take the same roads,” he said. The Pentagon and the military services also are drawing up a list of excess defense articles the U.S. doesn’t need so they can be given away to allies, Dahl said. Non-military items including equipment used to support bases may be given away to several Afghan agencies, Dahl said. Moving materiel through Pakistan remains the most cost-effective route, Estevez said. Customs checkpoints that had atrophied when the Pakistan route was closed in 2012 are being revived as the U.S. is starting to send out materiel, Estevez said. Equipment to build up Afghanistan’s military capability also is flowing in through the same Pakistani route, Estevez said. Cargo going north has to go by road, traversing the narrow Salang Tunnel, a single-lane passage through the Hindu Kush that carried Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in 1989 and a “choke point” that suffers from heavy snowfall and extreme heat, Estevez said. Once the equipment gets beyond the mountains, it will be loaded on trains heading west, he said. “Afghanistan is a logistician’s nightmare and also a dream,” Estevez said because of the challenge of getting materiel in and out of the country.

I accept responsibility: Ex-PM Gilani resigns as PPP vice-president

The Express Tribune News
Former Prime Minister and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPPP) senior vice president Yousaf Raza Gilani resigned from his senior party position on Monday. “Someone needs to stand up and accept responsibility and I accept responsibility.” He made the announcement during a press conference at Multan press club on Monday, two days after his party failed to get a substantive number of seats in the May 11 polls. “I am surprised at the people of Pakistan who blamed PPP for every crisis,” Gilani said talking about the mandate of Pakistanis who did not re-elect the PPP government. Confirming that his party will now spend the next five years on the opposition benches, Gilani ensured the PPP will play an effective role. “I accept public’s decision and I understand that the public was angry about power outages and unstable economy but Why didn’t anyone ask Shahbaz Sharif about how many Watts had he contributed in energy production of the country?” he questioned. “The kidnapping of my son is no way related to my resignation and I have no differences with the leadership of the party,” he said talking about kidnapping of his son Ali Haider Gilani on the eve of the elections. Gilani was elected prime minister after the 2008 general elections and held the position till April 26, 2012.

PPP meets over post-elections scenario

Radio Pakistan
PPP leader Sarjeel Memon said a party meeting is being held in Karachi on Monday to discuss the post-elections scenario in the country. Talking to newsmen in Karachi he said the meeting would discuss reports about complaints of rigging in various constituencies in Punjab. He said the party will chalk out its strategy in the light of evidence to take any decision in this regard.

PPP can form govt in Sindh without support

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has again emerged as the majority party in Sindh is capable of forming government in the province without support of any party. According to unofficial results, the party has bagged 70 of the 130 general seats and will share with other parties 38 seats reserved for women and minorities. Contrary to the 2002 elections in which the PPP had won almost the same number of seats in the Sindh Assembly on the crest of martyrdom of its leader Benazir Bhutto, the May 11 results had belied the claims of its opponents by maintaining its strength. The 11-party alliance in the province led by the PML-F failed to make any dent in the Pakistan People’s Party fort. The Sindh PPP leadership is likely to converge in Karachi on Tuesday for consultation on probable candidates for the posts of the leader of the house and speaker and deputy speaker. Because of its past experience, the PPP this time is likely to obtain support of independents or likeminded smaller groups for effective governance in the province. According to sources in the PPP, there were reservations among leaders over forming another coalition with its previous major partner MQM because of sharp differences with it over the issue of local government system. The PPP leaders, according to the sources, are of the opinion that during its last tenure it had suffered because of problems with the MQM which despite sharing power continued to play the role of opposition on many sensitive issues. Besides, on the issue of posting and transfer of officials, it remained under tremendous pressure which contributed to bad governance. When asked about forming the government with smaller groups and independents, PPP (Parliamentarians) President Makhdoom Amin Faheem said a decision in this regard would be taken by the party high command which would meet soon. It would be premature to say something now, he added. PPP’s Sindh Secretary General Taj Haider said the party would take a decision on the matter after the seat position became clear. “But let me assure you that it will be in the best interest of the province and its people.” The names of Nisar Ahmad Khuhro, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani and Owais Muzaffar Tappi are being mentioned for the post of chief minister in the influential quarters of the party. Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the most experienced hand of the party who served twice as chief minister, is likely to be offered the post of speaker if he agrees. Former speaker Nisar Khuhro, who had been tipped for the post of chief minister in 2002 by Benazir Bhutto, is now a strong contender for the job. He has also served as the leader of opposition and is capable of effectively running the government. Hazar Khan Bijarani is also an experienced hand and commands respect in the party, but analysts are of the opinion that Muzaffar Tappi may be given the post because he is a new entrant and enjoys the blessings of President Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur for being their foster brother. They are of the opinion that a man who enjoys confidence of the top party leadership can prove to be a good leader of the house.

Pakistan: ''Blood-soaked triumph of Islamofascism''

by Mahpara Qalandar
As we have been predicting at LUBP, Islamofascism has won as planned. So much blood of liberal elements was spilled under the wink of the Judiciary and the Army that the triumph of pro-Taliban parties like the PML-N and PTI was a foregone conclusion. Every powerful institution in the country contributed to the victory of Islamofascist parties. The media never condemned the Taliban. The almighty, arrogant anchors never took PML-N to task for giving tickets to LeJ/SSP/ASWJ terrorists despite the fact that these terrorist candidates during their campaign apostatized the Shias. The election commission allowed them to contest the polls in the first place and the ‘Independent” Judiciary made sure no hurdle came these terrorists’ way. All pro-Saudi Arabia parties have won. The most liberal of the political parties, the ANP has practically been wiped out. The second most liberal party, the PPP, has been wiped out from Pakistan with the exception of Interior Sindh. The message has been clear from the day the election campaign started: Only those parties will be allowed to campaigns which are trusted by the Taliban. Through a terror campaign which killed hundreds, maimed thousands, and destroyed property worth billions of rupees, the Taliban reduced the PPP and the ANP to the status of TV commercial entities. All they could do was buy time on TV and air their slogans etc. On the contrary, Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-N, and PTI staged political rallies to their hearts’ content. They indulged in all kinds of festivities as the PPP and the ANP carried the dead bodies of their supporters to graveyards. As said above, no suo motu was taken by the Supreme Court, and no action was taken by the law enforcement forces. Even the care-takers who are supposed to be neutral watched the decimation of the PPP and the ANP from the sidelines and kept on saying that the elections would be historic. Yes; historic they were. Never in the history of modern democracy so blatant and bloody pre-poll rigging was staged by those who call democracy ‘’haraam’ and un-Islamic. But now democracy is good because it has made Islamofascism the winner.

Afghanistan: transitional relief

More effort is being put into crafting a face-saving narrative or keeping the country out of the news altogether
When the history of the past decade of western intervention in Afghanistan is written, few will escape censure. What matters now is that there is a last chance to spare Afghanistan a fourth decade of war. More effort is being put into crafting a face-saving narrative or keeping the country out of the news altogether. The policy is called "transition" but there is little to be in transit to. Afghanistan's government preys on its people more than it serves them. The Afghan army is not what Nato claims, which is just as well, for a strong army in a fragile state is an old story that never has a happy ending. International aid to the country is roughly equivalent to its GDP, but little of this has ever reached the Afghan people, and there are commitments to reduce it gradually. The centrepiece of this transition is next year's presidential election. It is likely to make Saturday's poll in neighbouring Pakistan, and the bloody turbulence that preceded it, seem a model of peace and propriety. At best, Afghanistan's election will lend it a semblance of self-government. At worst, it will prompt a long, violent unravelling. Washington's insurance policy is to retain special forces and the increasingly militarised CIA in the country. These partners have a long and disruptive record here, as the citizens of Wardak and Kunar provinces are only the latest to testify. If Afghanistan is treated as a no man's land, that is what it will become, and even the west's most minimal goals will not be met. No myth about it is more self-serving than that it is ungovernable and impervious to help. What is needed is a broad and honestly brokered political process. The current approach to peace negotiations is neither. Were it to progress – it has not – it would play into the hands of Pakistan and stoke resentment among the majority of Afghans not represented. At the heart of a process involving all main Afghan constituencies must be a new constitutional assembly. Those who imposed the existing constitution on the country cannot hide the fact that it cannot work. A century of failed centralisation is enough. No less important is an accountable executive in Kabul, where the winner does not take all. For once, such discussions must happen inside the country. For this to have any hope of success, there remains a need to involve Afghanistan's near neighbours in a continuing process to replace mutual suspicion with mutual guarantees. For all the distrust and paranoia, these neighbours share vital interests. Pakistan's new prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and a new chief of its army, will find that increased isolation is no policy for shoring up their ailing state and economy. Both processes will need sustained mediation. The best mediators are disinterested but can call on material means of persuasion. As a party to the conflict in Afghanistan, with dysfunctional relations with the neighbours and with newer, bigger priorities, Washington must understand that it cannot play this role. Pakistan's election campaign has just emphasised the depth of anti-American sentiment. The obvious instrument of peace – the United Nations – is rusty through neglect. But it would not be so hard to sharpen it for the task. What matters is not the profile of mediators but the support of major powers, talent and impartiality. Impartiality must now be the UN's guiding principle. To be useful, it must worry more about its legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans and find a Rhadamanthine voice to answer their president's departing machinations. Afghanistan's transition is a leap in the dark. As few others will be at its side, it would be a good time and place to lavish a little attention on making an effective UN mission, not cut its modest budget. This is the sort of multilateralism that Europe, which has had little influence on Afghan policy, should unite behind. The cost of the intervention in Afghanistan since 2001 will exceed $1tn. The human cost is incalculable. But western interests and the fate of a people still hang in the balance. If we cannot finally muster some decent strategy, there is some opiate in our culture more stupefying than anything grown in Afghanistan.