Thursday, May 30, 2013

China: Schools' eyes opened on sex education after molestations

At a Beijing primary school, the teacher shows her fourth-grade students a cartoon video. When it portrays a male adult grabbing the bottom of a little girl, all the boys in the class utter sounds of disgust and then burst into playful laughter. The teacher pauses the video and asks of the nine and 10 year olds gathered before her, "What kind of trouble has the girl ran into?" A boy in a yellow-striped shirt stands up, saying, "Touching her private parts, it's very bad," then raising his voice, "It is behavior beyond description." Such "behavior beyond description" has haunted China in recent months as a string of cases involving molestations of school kids has hit the headlines. It prompted China's Supreme People's Court to vow "zero tolerance" of such acts in a statement issued on Wednesday. But with International Children's Day falling on Saturday, focus has also been placed on how to adequately educate kids about sexual issues. The recent molestation cases have highlighted the importance of classes like the one attended by the little boy on Tuesday at An Hui Li Central Primary School in Chaoyang District (referred to as An Hui Li School hereafter). Their tragic details reveal children's ignorance about self protection due to poor sex education. In some of the cases in the news, the victims were reportedly too afraid or ashamed to speak up, leaving molesters unrestrained for long periods after their acts. However, in An Hui Li School's "sex education" class, students, both boys and girls, are encouraged to talk openly about sexual assaults and scramble to express their ideas regarding protection measures. That is why this primary school in a leafy neighborhood adjacent to Beijing's Olympic Stadium has been cited as a trailblazer in breaking a Chinese taboo of educating youngsters about sex. "We should say NO to sexual assault loudly," a student writes on a feedback sheet after the class, spelling 'No' in capitalized English letters. For her and many of her peers, the notion of sexual assault was a foreign one before the class, according to a questionnaire they were asked to fill in. Two students answered that their only knowledge of sexual assault was that it was "perverted behavior." During the class, a boy volunteers to narrate his encounter with what he believed was a sexual assault. "The other day, I saw a woman in a man's arms, making very intimate moves, and I felt gross," he explains. The teacher, Zhang Xinzhu, a 23-year-old psychology graduate, says, "Oh, dear, I feel much relieved after you told me that was your experience with sexual assault." She then tells the 40-student class that sexual assault is dangerous, unacceptable behavior that makes one uncomfortable, including physical and verbal assaults, among other forms. To be more specific, Zhang says, "When you put on a swimming suit, the parts of your body covered are 'private.' Never allow anyone to touch them." The An Hui Li School has been running sex education classes since 2010,offering one or two 40-minute sessions to students of each grade annually. Their contents range from physical differences between boys and girls, how to prevent against sexual assaults, mood sexual management and birth. Sex education among young children remains controversial in China, with many fearing that it will render kids precocious. Besides, sex itself, historically considered taboo in confucianist culture and in the era before China's reform and opening-up from the late 1970s, still casts a pall on today's society. People often blush when sex is publicly mentioned. As a result, parents even stonewall their children's inquiries about sex-related topics. For instance, "Where do I come from" is a question bewildering generations of Chinese children, as the most probable answer they get from adults is a half-joking reply, "We picked you up at a garbage dump." A fifth-grade girl, Ling Ling (pseudonym) of An Hui Li School, said when she asked her mother what is the phrase to describe births other than caesarean, her mother answered, "You will know when you grow up." "When I was little, I always wondered where I came from. Did I fall from the sky? Was I fished from a garbage dump? Or a fairy turned into a human?" Ling said, placing her right index finger against her cheek. Now, as a recipient of sex education from first grade and a participant in a guided tour of the school's boys' rooms as part of the class, she knows babies are conceived by "the combination of sperms and eggs, and delivered through mothers' vaginas." Zheng Ju, vice principal of An Hui Li School, also one of the curriculum designers, believes quelling young kids' innocent curiosity is harmless and good for shaping their view of sex as something natural. On the other hand, "evading the topic will only arouse their greater curiosity and convey a message that sex is indeed mysterious and sensitive," she says. "Besides, even if adults keep silent, children may as well learn from other sources." She also insists on including teaching on sexual assaults prevention in the curriculum, explaining, "This is not something that can be fixed after it happens. Such knowledge is as important as earthquake survival skills." Hao Xinying, a 36-year-old housewife and mother of a fifth-grader at An Hui Li School, said, "I am too shy to talk about this stuff with my girl, and I feel relieved the school does the job. I hope they learn this knowledge as early as possible." In the recent child molestation cases, a 42-year-old second-grade teacher in the southern city of Shenzhen was detained on Monday under suspicion of molesting female pupils. And a 55-year-old teacher of central China's Henan Province was arrested on May 23 for allegedly molesting multiple female students. On May 14, a primary school headmaster and a government employee in Wanning City, Hainan Province, were also detained by police for allegedly sexually assaulting six female students.

Xi, Obama look to strike up relationship at summit

Associated Press
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping face weighty issues when they meet at a private estate in California next week, but their most important task may simply be establishing a strong rapport. Tucked away at a mansion with a private golf course on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Obama and Xi will search for the kind of personal chemistry that has eluded their predecessors for the past several decades. With the bilateral relationship growing ever more critical and complex, how well the leaders click matters even more now. Distrust has grown between the world's sole superpower and the rising Asian giant. Beijing sees Washington as trying to thwart China's ascendancy. The U.S. accuses China of widespread computer hacking and unfair trade. Meanwhile, there's worry their militaries might be drawn into conflict as China tries to elbow aside U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines over disputed, remote islands. "There are a lot of problems between China and the U.S. that aren't going to be easy to solve. The hope, therefore, is that a way can be established so that at the times of crisis, dialogue will prevail based on trust and the personal relationship between the two leaders," said Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University. The June 7-8 get-together at the private Sunnylands estate of late publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg is the first face-to-face meeting between the presidents since Obama's re-election and Xi's promotion to Communist Party chief last November. Under China's dual party-government system, Xi didn't officially assume the title of president until March. The summit comes months before the two leaders had been originally scheduled to meet, highlighting a perception on both sides that the leaders need to refocus on the U.S.-China relationship following their political transitions and amid myriad distractions at home and abroad. The accelerated timing constitutes "a clear message that China wants to emphasize the importance of U.S.-China relations for the future," said Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. It's not clear yet how big the two delegations will be or whether Xi and Obama will meet one-on-one, something Xi's stiff and formal predecessor, Hu Jintao, was unwilling to do, Li said. But there are hopeful signs that the two men will gel. Xi already has a warm relationship with Vice President Joe Biden, whom he accompanied to western China on a visit in 2011. Xi also boasts a greater familiarity with the U.S. than any of his predecessors, having visited frequently and maintained his ties to families he stayed with in Muscatine, Iowa, while a visiting provincial official in 1985. He also sent his daughter to Harvard. The two men share a love of sports: swimming and football on Xi's side, basketball and golf on Obama's. Both are married to glamorous, high-profile wives who have played a strong role in shaping their images. Xi's wife, People's Liberation Army songstress Peng Liyuan, was for many years better known to the public than her husband. Chinese media and Internet users closely followed her activities during the couple's first formal state visits to Russia and three African countries earlier this year. "It will be interesting to see how the chemistry will develop. It's important, because particularly in China, personal relationships always carry a lot of weight in state-to-state relations," said the Brookings Institution's Li. Xi has already proved himself a different leader by his pragmatism. With relations edgy, he was willing to forgo the pomp of an official White House visit for the lower-key meeting in California. Trust between the countries has dwindled over the decades. After U.S. planes bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia in what Washington says was an accident during the Kosovo war in 1999, angry Chinese protesters nearly breached the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. In the discord, Chinese President Jiang Zemin refused a call from the White House. Two years later, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. surveillance plane off southern China, Beijing held the American crew and waited for an acceptable apology from the U.S. In 2009, the U.S. Navy accused Chinese sailors of harassing one of its ocean floor mapping vessels in a game of high-seas chicken. The trust gap was further underscored by newly publicized claims Tuesday that China employed cyberattacks to access data from nearly 40 Pentagon weapons programs and almost 30 other defense technologies ranging from missile defense systems to the F-35 joint strike fighter. The disclosure was included in a Defense Science Board report released earlier this year, meaning U.S. officials knew of it before planning for the summit began. The disclosure's public release allows U.S. officials to highlight an issue of concern without necessarily overshadowing the summit. China's Defense Ministry on Thursday called the accusations faulty and said they underestimated both the Pentagon's ability to protect its secrets, and the capabilities of China's domestic defense industry. "China is entirely capable of producing the weaponry needed for national defense," spokesman Geng Yansheng told reports at a monthly briefing, pointing to recent domestic technological breakthroughs such as the country's first aircraft carrier, new generation fighter jets, large transport planes and the Beidou satellite system. China has consistently denied claims its military is engaged in hacking, including those in a report by U.S. cybersecurity firm Mandiant that traced the hacking back to a People's Liberation Army unit based in Shanghai. Other likely agenda items include the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, conflict in Syria, climate change and expanding bilateral military ties. China will likely press its claims of business discrimination in the U.S. market, along with its deep discomfort over Washington's shifting of military assets to Asia and renewed emphasis on its regional alliances, moves seen by China as part of an effort to contain its rise. The perception of U.S. decline and Chinese ascendancy forms much of the subtext to the current relationship, with Beijing seeking greater international influence commensurate with its status as the world's second-largest economy. Many in China see the U.S. as a waning power weakened by the economic crisis, partisan feuding and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their latest contribution to diplomatic argot, Chinese leaders now say they are seeking a "new model of major country relations" in their dealings with Washington. Assistant Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang defined that Wednesday as "different from the old model featuring confrontation and conflict." "We believe a new model of major country relations between China and the United States should be based on mutual trust, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning and win-win cooperation," Zheng said at a Wednesday briefing. Xi and Obama first met early last year when Xi, then China's vice president, visited the White House on a trip to meet key American political players and introduce himself to the American public. The visit afforded Xi a chance to show his human side, reconnecting with his old Iowa friends, chatting with students at a school in Los Angeles and even catching part of a Lakers basketball game. The two presidents give off different vibes but share abundant confidence and varied interests. The portly, soft-spoken Xi is known as a capable but highly cautious administrator, in contrast to the forceful and hard-charging Obama. Known primarily for his pedigree as the son of a communist elder, Xi is seen by many observers as a strong nationalist willing to press territorial claims and what Beijing broadly proclaims as the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." Unlike former President Hu, who often seemed uncomfortable outside official settings and stuck closely to his official talking points, Xi appears at ease around foreign visitors and is known for speaking without notes and allowing sessions to run well over their scheduled time limits. "On a personal level, he's confident, he's on top of his brief and you get a very distinct sense that he has a roadmap in his head in terms of where China needs to go. He's not only a very adroit political operator, but he's also a realist," said former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

Pakistan: Another polio worker slain

What a pity that saviours who toiled in cities, towns and remote villages in an attempt to save the coming generation from crippling diseases like Polio are being ruthlessly killed. The extremists which are behind this crime against humanity seem to be enjoying a free rein. Since the past many months they have been targeting the health workers almost with impunity while the police as usual has yet to come up with any crucial arrest, evidence or anything that could prevent more attacks from occurring. In the aftermath of their recent attack on a female polio worker in Kaggawala village near Peshawar, the Polio vaccination campaign has been put on hold in Pakistan's northwest. According to a report, another female worker, who was also shot had died in the hospital. A government spokesman said the four-day campaign has been suspended there for security reasons and to express solidarity with the slain female polio workers. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but a police official, said that the hunt is on for the gunmen. Business as usual! Earlier, gunmen in Pakistan had killed six health workers during a nationwide polio vaccination bringing the death toll close to a dozen. Pakistan is one of the three countries where polio still remains, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria. Efforts to tackle the crippling disease have been hampered over the years by superstition. Worse still, on the other hand, the Taliban banned immunizations in the tribal region of Waziristan, condemning the campaign as a cover for espionage after the arrest of Dr Shakeel Afridi who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. World Health Organization, UNICEF and United Nations had already issued statements saying such attacks would deprive Pakistan’s most vulnerable section of population — especially children — of basic lifesaving health facilities. It is now that we must stand up and catch those amongst us who are our biggest enemies. Whatever it takes to get at these extremists, there should be no dithering. It is in ridding our country of this scourge that we would breathe freely and prosper.

INDIA: Send me back to my country or kill me: Pakistani woman
“Send my wife back to Pakistan or release her to the family, just don’t forget her in Nirmal Chhaya (shelter home for women),’’ pleads Mohammed Gulfam, husband of the Pakistani national Nuzhat Jahan who has been living in Delhi for the past 30 years and is now awaiting her deportation to her country for overstaying in India illegally. Nuzhat, who was married at the age of 17, has stayed with her husband in India ever since in their small house in Sitaram Bazar, Old Delhi.
Valid visa
In 2002, she was picked up for overstaying in India without a valid visa. Earlier this month she was sentenced to six days’ imprisonment, awarded a fine and ordered to be sent back to Pakistan. After serving her punishment, she is currently lodged in Nirmal Chhaya awaiting further orders from the Central Government.
‘Worse than jail’
“My wife was taken away early this month and we haven’t had proper access to her since then. A Delhi Court has ordered her deportation; she has served her punishment and now is being kept in Nirmal Chhaya where we (her family–children and grand children) have had very little access to her. It is worse than being in Tihar Jail. We appeal to the Government to decide our fate soon. Send her back to Pakistan, if that is the only thing that can be done, but whatever is your decision just do it soon …… don’t forget this 47/48-year-old woman in a shelter home,’’ says Gulfam, looking at his wedding photos, eyes brimming with tears. “The last time I spoke to her, she said please ask the Indian Government to send me back to Pakistan or kill me….but don’t let them forget about me in Nirmal Chhaya,’’ adds Gulfam. “The wait is the worst punishment,’’ says 27-years-old Gulsher, the second of Nuzhat’s three children.
Blood pressure
“She is not home, she hasn’t been sent to Pakistan and she is lodged in a place where we can’t even sit down and talk to her. We are worried about her health: my mother has high blood pressure, she has ulcer, problem with her liver and is anaemic. We are worried about how she is faring in the shelter home,’’ he says. Even back in Pakistan, Nuzhat only has her old mother, besides her brother and sister who are married and have their own families. “The last time that my parents went to Pakistan was in 1992, my mother is more Indian than Pakistani she has lived her entire life here,’’ adds Gulsher.
‘The greatest law’
Unable to hold back his tears, Gulfam says: “After my wife has been taken away nothing is like before. My life seems over. What are these borders and nationalities about? Isn’t compassion the greatest law in the world. We are talking about a simple housewife here whose life has always revolved around her three children and grandchildren. She would even refuse to go shopping alone. Her home was her entire universe.’’ Speaking about his helplessness and how he finds himself alone in his fight to get his wife an Indian passport, Gulfam says: “No political party, leader or women’s group has agreed to help us despite the fact that we have been running from pillar to post appealing for help. Now I have lost all hope and the strength to take this fight forward; so if the court has ordered my wife’s deportation, send her back….just please do not forget that it is a human life and an entire family’s fate is being decided here.’’

Pakistan’s Absurdity of Negotiating With Taliban But Not the Baloch

Editorial:The Baloch Hal
The B.B.C. Urdu has reported that since the general elections of May 11, at least a dozen people have become the fresh victims of Pakistan’s ‘kill and dump‘ policies in Balochistan. While the so-called “mainstream national media” often do not report these cases, Baloch human rights activists have done a remarkable job in bringing the atrocities to public attention on platforms such as C.N.N.’s Eye Report segment. There is no let up in human rights abuses in Balochistan even after the general elections. Similar to the past incidents, most of the people whose bullet-riddled dead bodies are found are young students and political activists (between the ages of 18 to 24) belonging to remote parts of Balochistan. Among the fresh incidents, the most shocking is the killing of Shahzeb and Shah Noor, two brothers from Panjgur District whose bodies were found in neighboring Kech on May 19. According to the Daily Times, the two brothers “were in their 20s and were brutally tortured and subjected to electric shocks… They were abducted on March 11 from Turbat area of Kech district.” Unfortunately, no Pakistani politician, including Nawaz Sharif, the country’s future prime minister, has condemned the fresh kill and dump incidents in Balochistan. Mr. Sharif is too excited over his victory in the province of the Punjab and at the Center but he barely realizes that the country’s security establishment is still actively implementing Musharraf’s policies in Balochistan. The Pakistani media and the newly elected political parties are aloof to the plight of the Baloch people. Mr. Sharif seems to have gotten his priorities wrong. He says Pakistan’s electricity crisis worries him so much that he cannot sleep at night whereas mothers in Balochistan, on their part, cannot sleep because their children continue to disappear and return only as corpses. The continuity of the kill and dump operations post elections is indeed very alarming. Since reports of disappearances in Balochistan emerged in the media for the first time in early 2000s, Pakistan has transitioned between three different governments. Yet, democracy means nothing for Balochistan and elections barely mitigate the Baloch sufferings. With the arrival of the third government, we have entered the third generation of a government under which enforced disappearances and brutal killings continue unabated in Balochistan. The culture of absolute impunity continues as usual and the country’s spymasters, as repeatedly blamed by credible organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the Amnesty International, remain immune to official accountability for their brazen involvement in massive human rights violations. How much mandate do political parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz require to end the extrajudicial activities of the intelligence agencies? Someone on the land has to take the courageous initiative to bring these rights abusers to justice.The trauma the Baloch children go through every single day because of the fear of eventually ‘disappearing’ one day is far more intense, genuine and widespread than what the victims of the drone strikes go through in Pakistan’s northern tribal regions. Pakistan has a selective policy toward human rights and civilians’ fears which is why there is a hue and cry against the drones but no one in the military utters a word against enforced disappearances and kill and dump operations in Balochistan. While the Americans may be violating Pakistan’s ‘sovereignty’ through the drone strikes, but what armies on the earth are subjecting their own people to enforced disappearance, torture and dump? This only happens in Pakistan and it should immediately end. We do not understand why Islamabad is paying so much emphasis on negotiating with the Taliban on the one hand but intensifying its kill and dump operations against secular Baloch nationalists on the other hand. If the central government is willing to negotiate with the Taliban who are known across the globe for their terrorist activities and human rights abuses, particularly toward women, then what is wrong with talking to the Baloch who are actually the victims of Pakistani state-sponsored repression? The recent developments indicate that the upcoming P.M.L.N. government does not find itself in an urgent situation to ask the military to stop its brutal actions in Balochistan. The military is only supportive of peace with the Taliban and determined to continue operations in Balochistan. A word of caution: The P.M.L.-N is doing the right job by (reportedly) supporting Dr. Malik Baloch, a member of the Baloch middle class, to become the next chief minister of the province but it should not forget that there is also a parallel middle-class uprising in the province headed by Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch. Gone are the days when Islamabad could put out the fire in Balochistan only by covertly reaching a settlement with a handful of Baloch tribal chiefs. What should further worry Islamabad is the fact that almost all victims of the kill and dump policies belong to middle-class families. Each killing will only strengthen the middle class rebellion instead of facilitating a middle-class chief minister, provided that Dr. Baloch is appointed, to resolve or at least reduce Balochistan’s problems.

Bangladeshi whiz kid to be listed in Guinness record book

Deutsche Welle
A seven-year-old boy is to be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's youngest IT expert. "Ripley's Believe It or Not" has already called him a “wonder boy” and plans to give him an award. Wasik Farhan Roopkotha started toying with the computer when he wasn't even a year old. Now, he is about to go down in history as the world’s youngest programmer. Born on January 27, 2006, the child recently demonstrated his skills in front of IT experts and journalists in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. The event was videotaped and an unedited copy was sent to the Guinness Book of World Records as proof of the boy's talent. "After receiving the video, the Guinness people sent me some papers which I have signed," the boy's mother, Cynthia Farheen Risha, told DW proudly.She explained her son Roopkotha, which means "fairytale" in English had started playing computer games when he was only a year old and at two he was already using MS Word. When he was four he could change characters from one game to another using different emulators. "About a year ago, he started working with some of the programming languages including one of the most complicated languages, C++," Risha said. Monir Hosen, the managing director of Creative IT Limited was there when Roopkotha was demonstrated his skills in Dhaka. “I am not sure about how much he knows about the computer language "C",” he told DW. “But whatever he did on that day was very unusual, considering his age. I wanted to talk to him. That such a young person was working on the computer, writing codes and solving problems, was really hard to believe." "I heard that the Guinness authorities had sent their representatives to Dhaka after they were contacted by Roopkotha's parents. They also noted the boy's talents and asked his parents to provide them with appropriate video confirmation."Risha said her son could easily set up operating systems and fix problems and that he could touch-type as fast as a professional. She said he had never received any IT lessons but simply taught himself. "Whenever he wants to know something he goes directly to Wikipedia." "He is thinking big," she added. “He wants to develop his own computer operating system. He already knows and can compare the features of different Windows versions." Ripley’s Believe It or Not franchise has already informed Roopkotha's parents it will include the boy's name in its annual record book in September. The Bangladeshi government has requested that Wasik Farhan Roopkotha's story be included in schoolbooks to serve as an inspiration to other children.

Pakistan's Women’s reserved seats: Top politicians’ spouses, kin strike it lucky

The kith and kin of top political leaders have once again grabbed a lion’s share of the reserved seats for women in both the National Assembly and provincial assemblies. Some of them managed the feat without actually winning in the recent general elections. Wives, daughters and close relatives of seasoned politicians punched their ticket to the NA and provincial assemblies under the 33% quota reserved for women. Some of the lucky women, who lost on May 11, are now members of the assemblies via the reserved seats route. Currently, there are 70 reserved seats in the NA, 60 for women and 10 for minorities. There are 137 seats reserved for women in the four provincial assemblies. In the Punjab Assembly, 61 seats are reserved for women, 37 seats in the Sindh Assembly, 25 in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and 14 seats in the Balochistan Assembly. Rida Khan, daughter of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Senator Mushahidullah Khan, will be an MNA, according to the final list of MNAs and MPAs prepared by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The list revealed that Nafisa Shah, daughter of former Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Shaista Pervez, wife of PML-N MNA Pervez Malik, are also set to become MNAs. Anusha Rehman of PML-N also managed to secure a reserved NA seat Top Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders Dr Shireen Mazari and Munaza Hassan made their way to the lower house of Parliament for the first time on the reserved seats. Despite losing in her constituency, Marvi Memon managed to secure a reserved seat on a PML-N ticket, while Shazia Marri was elected as an MNA on a Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians ticket on the reserved seat after losing in the polls. Syeda Shehla Raza, who is set to take charge as deputy speaker of Sindh Assembly, was elected on a PPPP ticket. However, not all political leaders are in favour of the way some politicians have made their way into the NA on the reserved seats without contesting for them. They recalled that a bill seeking reserved seats for women in the Indian Parliament was pending for the last three years. The bill proposed to amend the Indian Constitution to reserve 33% of all seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. PTI Chairman Imran Khan said his party was against reserved seats for women in the assemblies. “Legislators in assemblies are representatives of the people. How can some women be representatives of other women when they haven’t even contested the elections?” Khan asked last December. Senior politician and jurist S M Zafar said elected people should be MPs. “Elections belong to the people and it’s their decision to elect the leaders.”

Disenfranchising women in Pakistan

The gender divide is systematic in Pakistan’s electoral system. Not only that women were barred from voting or contesting in parts of Pakistan, they were not even registered as voters in many other parts. In fact, Pakistan counted 11 million fewer women registered voters than men in the recent elections. The statistics provided by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) paint a gloomy picture of the gender divide, which is more pronounced in some parts of Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), only one in three voters was a woman. The highest share of women voters was observed for Islamabad and the Federal Territories where women represented 46 per cent of all voters.Pakistan’s electoral system allows for reserved seats for women to address the gender bias in electoral outcomes. While the motivation behind the move for reserved seats is commendable, the outcome hardly meets the intent. In fact, the reserved seats have rested more power in the hands of a handful of men who appoint their favourite women to the legislature. It would have helped if the women alone elected the women candidates for the reserved seats instead of the richest and the most influential half a dozen Pakistani men. In some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the share of women registered voters was already the lowest in Pakistan, political parties agreed not to allow women to vote in the elections. This is one of those odd moments of consensus in Pakistan where consensus on political matters is not only rare, but almost non-existent. The Associated Press recently reported that in the 2008 elections, 564 polling districts recorded zero votes cast by women. This was partly a result of an understanding reached between political parties to deny women the right to vote. Similar agreements were revealed in the 2013 elections where candidates in Upper and Lower Dir, to name a few, agreed to bar women from voting in the provincial assembly elections.
Why Islamists oppose women enfranchise?
While Islamic injunctions may not prevent women from participating in the political process, Islamists certainly do. There is an obvious correlation between the degree of religiosity at a place and the women’s ability to vote in Pakistan. For instance, the religious dogma is most prevalent in FATA, Khyber Pakthunkhwa, and Balochistan. These are also the places where women voting rights are the least prevalent. In Dir, where political parties agreed to prevent women from voting, Jamaat-i-Islami’s candidates have regularly emerged victorious. Other political parties that flaunt religion to forward their political cause have also used religion or tradition to disenfranchise women. Jamaat-i-Islami and other similar religo-political outfits take their cues from Saudi Arabia where women’s political rights are almost non-existent. The right to rule and lead is reserved exclusively for the male offspring in the Royal family. Women, in fact, are forbidden even from driving. The religiously-oriented political parties in Pakistan have not explicitly stated their misogynist ideals in their manifestos. However, since their inspiration comes from Saudi Arabia, and given an opportunity they routinely deny women the right to vote, it takes not much imagination to visualise the kind of regressive future religious parties envision for Pakistan. In the neighbouring Iran the situation is not much better. Iranian mullahs in the Guardian Council have concluded that while a woman can be the mother, wife, and sister of a President, she however cannot be the president. The mullahs have thus denied the right to contest the presidential elections to 30-odd women who wanted to participate in the elections scheduled for mid-June. The mullahs believe that the Iranian constitution allows only men (reejal) to hold the President’s office.
Are seculars any better in Pakistan?
It is true to a large extent that secular parties in Pakistan (whose political ideology is not necessarily defined by religious doctrines) do not oppose women from participating in the electoral process, they however seldom act to enfranchise the disadvantaged lot. Consider Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) who had the opportunity to nominate two women to the National Assembly against the reserved seats for women in Punjab. PTI’s choices, however, appear to favour the privileged. One of the PTI’s nominee is a resident of Islamabad’s elitist sector, E-7, and the other is the Lahore-based president of PTI’s women wing.While the Mullahs in Dir restricted women’s participation in the elections altogether, the supposedly enlightened ones did not fare much better as they rewarded power, fame, and wealth instead of promoting women from the struggling classes in Pakistan.

Pakistan: No early end to load shedding

Editorial: Daily Times
With load shedding in Pakistan reaching debilitating heights, the recent statement by the head of the incoming PML-N government, Nawaz Sharif, about how the energy crisis will not be solved immediately, could not have come at a more apt moment. Addressing a Youm-e-Takbeer ceremony in Lahore the other day, the incoming prime minister did offer the energy-starved masses some respite by saying that he would work to improve the situation as soon as his government steps in. Nawaz Sharif went so far as to say that it was a shame that the country has made itself a nuclear power but has been unable to provide energy to the citizens. Whilst this is an apt analogy, it speaks volumes about the priorities of our various governments, Nawaz Sharif’s included, during whose watch we tested these above mentioned nuclear weapons but are now suffering because our industries are shutting down and lives are becoming miserable due to the lack of electricity. This blunt address to the nation could not have been timelier; we are suffering record load shedding — sometimes as much as a whopping 20 hours a day even in the urban centres — during a record heat wave. The masses, who came out in droves in these landmark elections to vote and elect more maturely, have unrealistically high expectations. Frustrated and defeated by the lack of power, they would like to believe that the incoming government will step in on June 5 and load shedding will be a thing of the past on June 6. To address this misconception is wise. However, it would bode well for Nawaz Sharif to remember that the masses also have an agenda they want fulfilled by their elected leaders and they will not stand for more rhetoric and quick fixes. If there was one slogan the masses were paying close attention to it was that of each party’s policy on load shedding. Shahbaz Sharif was quite vocal during the PML-N’s campaign drive about how electricity matters would be resolved instantly or at the very least within months. Nawaz Sharif’s dose of the bitter truth is wise but it must lead to his party addressing the energy crisis on a war footing. While all sorts of measures will be introduced from short-term measures, where austerity and conservation will be practiced, it is of the utmost importance that real working be started on long term measures such as power generation and the different options that are available. The past two governments have made a mockery of the power crisis and it is vital that the PML-N government not fall into the same rut as the others, where stopgap measures were taken but no real work was done to significantly add to the national grid. The main cause must be addressed: the tightening stranglehold of circular debt. Until and unless the distribution companies manage to collect the colossal amounts of money owed to them by first and foremost government institutions, which have not paid their bills in years, to give to the power supply companies, which in turn have to pay Pakistan State Oil for fuel, there is no way the energy crisis will ever be resolved. Retiring the current circular debt through treasury bills worth Rs 500 billion is of course a welcome measure. But unless the root causes of circular debt and how it arose in the first place are addressed, the cycle of circular debt is likely to build up again. It is the government, through and through, that needs to clean up its act in every way for this massive crisis to end so that there really may be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Slain journalist: Saleem Shahzad’s case is buried, forgotten

Police have closed investigation into the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, taking a stance that no clue has been found, The Express Tribune has learnt. Saleem Shahzad was the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, Hong Kong and Italian news agency Adnkronos (AKI). Shahzad was kidnapped on May 29, 2011 from Islamabad and his body was found floating in a canal near the Head Rasul area, in Mandi Bahauddin, about 130km from Islamabad, on May 30 with visible torture marks. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) had pointed fingers at the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), over Shahzad’s murder and the US government officials later announced that they had ‘reliable and conclusive’ intelligence that this was the case. The ISI denied the allegations outright and called them ‘totally unfounded’. The last supplementary statement of this case had been written by the DSP Saddar Circle, Mandi Bahuddin, Hafiz Ataur Rehman, on February 3, 2012. The case had been registered with the Saddar police station, Mandi Bahauddin, on May 30, 2011 vide FIR No192. The current Investigation Officer (IO) of the case, Sub Inspector Mumtaz Gill, told The Express Tribune that investigation into the case of Saleem Shahzad has been closed for the time being for lack of evidence. The then government had set up a judicial inquiry commission, headed by Supreme Court Judge Saqib Nisar, to probe the abduction and murder of Shahzad. However, the commission failed to identify the culprits. Judicial commission’s investigation The commission, in its report on circumstances surrounding Shahzad’s death submitted to the prime minister on January 10, 2012, recommended making the ISI and Intelligence Bureau accountable within their organisations and to the parliamentary committees concerned. The contents of the executive summary of the commission read, “Saleem’s writings probably did, and certainly could have drawn the ire of various belligerents in the war on terror which included the Pakistani state and non-state actors such as the Taliban and al Qaeda and foreign actors. “Any of these could have had the motive to commit the crime, as clearly, he was also in close contact with all of these,” the report stated. The incident may also have been linked, as asserted by some of the witnesses examined, to the subsequent drone attack on Ilyas Kashmiri, it said. The commission said it had been unable to identify the culprits despite having looked very hard for substantial evidence, direct or circumstantial, “yet such evidence has not surfaced.” The commission urged the media to maintain a balance between secrecy and accountability in the conduct of information gathering which should be appropriately readjusted, with the aim of restoring public confidence in all institutions of the state Family reaction Hamza Ameer, Correspondent Iran’s Press TV and the brother-in-law of Saleem Shahzad expressed dismay at the lack of progress in the investigation. He said journalists and human rights bodies have also forgotten this issue. He said the bank accounts and other assets have not been transferred to Shahzad’s legal heirs, who are still waiting for succession certificate. He said Quran Khawani will be held on Thursday (today) at the residence of Saleem Shahzad in Karachi to mark his second death anniversary.