Thursday, August 8, 2013

Malaria vaccine shows early promise in clinical trials

By Rebecca Morelle
A malaria vaccine has shown promising results in early stage clinical trials, according to researchers. Researchers found the vaccine, which is being developed in the US, protected 12 out of 15 patients from the disease, when given in high doses.
The method is unusual because it involves injecting live but weakened malaria-causing parasites directly into patients to trigger immunity. The research is published in the journal Science. Lead author Dr Robert Seder, from the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, in Maryland, said: "We were excited and thrilled by the result, but it is important that we repeat it, extend it and do it in larger numbers."
Many bites
It has been known for several decades that exposure to mosquitoes treated with radiation can protect against malaria. However, studies have shown that it takes more than 1,000 bites from the insects over time to build up a high level of immunity, making it an impractical method of widespread protection. Instead, a US biotech company called Sanaria has taken lab-grown mosquitoes, irradiated them and then extracted the malaria-causing parasite (Plasmodium falciparum), all under the sterile conditions. These living but weakened parasites are then counted and placed in vials, where they can then be injected directly into a patient's bloodstream. This vaccine candidate is called PfSPZ. To carry out the Phase-1 clinical trial, the researchers looked at a group of 57 volunteers, none of whom had had malaria before. Of these, 40 received different doses of the vaccine, while 17 did not. They were then all exposed to the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The researchers found that for the participants not given any vaccine, and those given low doses, almost all became infected with malaria. However for the small group given the highest dosage, only three of the 15 patients became infected after exposure to malaria. Dr Robert Seder said: "Based on the history, we knew dose was important because you needed 1,000 mosquito bites to get protection - this validates that. "It allows us in future studies to increase the dose and alter the schedule of the vaccine to further optimise it. The next critical questions will be whether the vaccine is durable over a long period of time and can the vaccine protect against other strains of malaria." He added that the fact that the vaccine had to be injected into the bloodstream rather than into or under the skin made delivery more difficult. Commenting on the research, Dr Ashley Birkett, from the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative, said: "They are clearly very early stage trials in small numbers of volunteers, but without question we are extremely encouraged by the results." He added that most current vaccine candidates targeted parts of the P. falciparum parasite rather than the whole organism. "This approach induces a broad response against a lot of different targets on the parasite," he said. There are currently about 20 malaria vaccine candidates in clinical trials. The most advanced is called RTS,S/AS01, which has been developed by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and is in a Phase-3 clinical trial involving 15,000 children in Africa. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 2010 and an estimated 660,000 deaths.

U.S. and Russia seek to keep working ties despite Snowden, summit fuss

U.S. and Russian officials will seek to maintain a working relationship when they meet in Washington on Friday, even though the political mood between their countries has hit one of its lowest points since the end of the Cold War. President Barack Obama's cancellation this week of a summit in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin finally put to rest any notion that a much-vaunted "reset" of ties sought by the United States in recent years is alive.
Obama's move came after Putin gave asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose public flight after revealing U.S. surveillance programs was a major embarrassment for Washington. Influential Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have sought a tougher response and have called on NATO to give membership to Georgia - with which Russia fought a brief war in 2008 - as part of an aggressive new policy against Moscow that would include weaning Europe off Russian energy supplies. Senior U.S. officials though have stressed the need to keep up cooperation with Moscow. "Let's be clear. It is still an important relationship," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday. "We have a lot of fish to fry, if you will, with the Russians. We have a lot of issues to engage with the Russians over." U.S. officials expect no breakthroughs when Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meet their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu on Friday, but they say the very decision to go ahead with the talks despite the current frictions is significant in itself. Moscow and Washington disagree over a long list of issues, from Syria's civil war to human rights and Russia's ban on homosexual "propaganda," but there are some areas, critical to global security, where they have been able to work together.
Russia has been a U.S. partner in talks with Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and this role is likely to take on more importance after signals from new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that he might be more willing to reach a deal with the West than his predecessor. Last year Moscow joined the United States in condemning former Soviet ally North Korea's launch of a ballistic missile and the United States and NATO rely on a complex web of transit routes through Russia and Central Asia to supply their war effort in landlocked Afghanistan. U.S. officials cite this Northern Distribution Network for Afghanistan as "an example of where there's a good partnership" and Washington will want to avoid any fight with Russia that could lead to this being closed down. "We believe we need to continue to cooperate on areas where we can, where there's progress to be made in the world, and Iran and North Korea are both certainly good examples of that," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing. While Lavrov and Kerry have met multiple times to discuss ending the Syrian war, it will be the first time Hagel and Shoigu will meet face to face in the so-called 2 + 2 talks. "We and they want to keep talking and keep exchanging views with the hope that over time we can break through on some core issues," one U.S. official said. Psaki said areas where there were disagreements like missile defense and human rights, and "certainly Edward Snowden" would be part of the discussions. But a U.S. official said the American side would try again to ease Russian concerns about its missile defense plans. Russia remains wary of U.S. missile defenses, despite Hagel's announcement in March that Washington would forgo a new type of interceptor in Europe. Dimitri Simes, a Russia expert and president of the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington, said open discussions between Moscow and Washington were still the best way to resolve differences on issues like international terrorism, Afghanistan, and Syria. "Russia is not a convenient partner in dealing with any of these matters, but they are an important partner," Simes said. "I think the administration realizes that much. I think that is the reason they did not cancel the two plus two." Russia has remained a staunch backer of President Bashar al-Assad throughout the worsening conflict in Syria, much to Washington's annoyance. It is not clear whether Putin will soften that stance after U.S. ally Saudi Arabia offered economic incentives to Russia last week including a major arms deal if it scales back support for Assad.

China no longer in ‘rule of people’ era

Debate around the investigation and ruling process of some high-profile cases has been dominating public opinion. The deep reason is some people's distrust of the judicial system. They constantly criticize China for not being ruled by law but by people. Such discontent and condemnation have had a great influence on the public's understanding of the country. China has long called for the rule of law, which has been the consensus from the top down. "The rule of people" has never been the political ideal of China. It stems from the political and social chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) era. The rule of law is China's key objective in its political evolution. It is open to discussion what we have achieved in this regard, while China is definitely not ruled by people any more. No one person has the dominant say in today's China. People who do not obey the law can be exposed. It is entirely possible for an ordinary person to challenge a powerful man who goes against the law. But the rule of law in China is not the same as that in the West, at least for now. It is unlikely to be so in the future either. China's political system differs greatly from that of the West. So does its social development level. That means the Western legal system cannot be the absolute template for China's rule of law. As long as we understand this, we will have an objective evaluation of the construction of the rule of law in China and promote its progress rather than indulge in hopeless fatalism and nihilism. We are now living in an era of transformation, when the law should take the main role in social governance. The construction of China's rule of law should go hand in hand with the consolidation and improvement of its political system. The West managed to do it. So will China. The biggest problem in China's judicial practice is the law's lack of authoritativeness. Judicial corruption comes out of social construction and political construction. The prevalence of petitions, skipping the courts' final judgment, particularly exposes the drawbacks of social construction. The chances that the Chinese people resort to law or experience law in their daily lives are lower than in Western societies. Many people voice their opinions on the Internet as a "law promulgation movement," which can add populist pressure onto the hearing process. All these entanglements have one certain aim: to let the law make the final judgment, which will become fairer as time goes by. As long as people don't view the country's political system from the Western perspective, everybody can hold a positive attitude toward China's construction of the rule of law. Problems and uncertainties remain in this process. The most important reason is that China is learning from the West while trying to find its own effective way. The rule of law will remold China, and China will remold the connotation of the rule of law.

President Zardari urges nation to share Eid festivitiy with victims of terrorism, sectarianism

PPP Social Media Cell
President Asif Ali Zardari Thursday felicitated the nation on Eid-ul-Fitr and urged the people to feel and share the pains of the victims of terrorism and sectarianism on the festive occasion. The President in a message said “we must not forget the pains of those brothers and sisters who have fallen a victim to terrorism.” “Lets also share our joys with those who have suffered at the cost of sectarianism,” President Zardari said. The President exhorted the nation, not (not) to put aside at any cost the spirit of mutual affinity, sharing of pain, tolerance, respect for humanity and well being of others.“We should also try to completely eradicate sectarianism and intolerance,” he said. The President felicitated all countrymen on the festive occasion of Eid ul Fitr and prayed that may this eid prove to be a source of abundant joy for all. He said the occasion this year comes at a time, when the nation has achieved a milestone in its journey towards democracy. He said a new democratic era has dawned after the completion of a term of a government. The President said the completion of democratic transition was an important achievement of the nation and it deserves to be felicitated on both these counts. “Lets bow our heads before Allah Almighty on this blessed and joyous occasion and offer our gratitude for granting us the gift of Eid ul Fitr.” The President asked the nation to share the happiness of Eid with families, friends, neighbours and those deserving people, who due to some reason were unable to fully enjoy the festivity. He said “we must resolve to share our happiness with the needy, deserving, poor and the deprived, and to carry forward this tradition.” “I pray to Allah Almighty that he protects us all with His benevolence and showers His blessings on us and makes this country a centre of peace and security. Aameen,” President Zardari said.

INDIA: Let’s not be so predictable

The ambush and killing of five Indian soldiers on the Line of Control has produced exactly the reaction that the perpetrators must have wanted — an overheated political and media pushback in India against moves by the two countries to restart their stalled dialogue. Over the last month, New Delhi and the new government in Islamabad were quietly setting the stage for the resumption of talks that had been derailed by the beheading of an Indian jawan at the LoC in January. Emissaries shuttled between the two capitals, and both sides were said to be on the verge of restarting the process. A meeting between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York had also all but been finalised. But it has been clear since the Mumbai attacks that whenever the two countries take even the most tentative steps forward, there are elements out to ensure such attempts make no progress. This time, the efforts at sabotage appear to have begun with the recent attempted bombing of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, except that it was foiled and instead ended up killing hapless Afghan civilians, including children. Rather than seeing through this game, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which made bold moves for peace with Pakistan while in power, has chosen to be predictable. The Congress’s craven surrender on earlier occasions, when it hit the “pause” button on talks out of sheer political panic, has only encouraged such grandstanding. The uproar against talking to Pakistan and on Defence Minister A.K Antony’s alleged “escape route” to the Pakistan Army misses the point that despite the bluster of a “befitting response”, there is no alternative to dialogue. Whether it was Pakistani soldiers or terrorists in military uniforms who killed the Indian soldiers is not germane. This is not the first time the truce along the LoC has been violated in the past 10 years of its existence. It is only by engagement that the two sides can protect this ceasefire, the value of which cannot be overstated. And, it is only through engagement that Islamabad can be held to its 2004 commitment not to permit terrorists to operate from territory under its control, and be pushed to act against those responsible for violence against India. Prime Minister Sharif has given every indication that he is sincere in his wish for friendship with India but equations between him and the Pakistan Army are yet unsettled. Which way the civilian-military balance tilts will depend in large measure on how Prime Minister Singh reacts to Mr. Sharif’s overtures. If India fails to grasp the civilian hand this time, that balance will only end up tilting in a way that will further harm its interests.

Indo-Pak relations, let down by 'bad drafting' again

Soon after concluding the nuclear deal with the United States, fending off stiff political opposition in 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set his eyes on his next diplomatic target - finding a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan. But the domestic resistance to improving ties with Pakistan has been much more resilient than Singh had expected. In the beginning of the UPA-2 in 2009 and now towards its end, two serious attempts to gear up engagement with Pakistan triggered political volatility. “Poorly drafted” statements related to Pakistan further eroded the limited political capital the government has to pursue peace with the neighbor, both times.And both times, more than the resistance from the BJP, Congress’s own reluctance to share the prime minister’s enthusiasm on Pakistan poured cold water on the peace initiative. The joint statement in Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on 16 July 2009 between Indian and Pakistan PMs became an instant controversy as it sought to delink talks from Pakistan’s action against terrorism. The statement also acknowledged Baluchistan as a subject of bilateral concern. When the BJP launched an all-out attack on the prime minister, Congress maintained silence for full ten days. And when the party spoke, it merely said that the PM would explain his position. The prime minister’s statement in the lower house of Parliament on 29 July 2009 clarified the meaning and context of the joint statement. He said no ‘meaningful dialogue’ was possible unless Pakistan acts on terror, but reiterated that there could be no substitute to dialogue. The dialogue process remained grounded until early 2011, when in Thimpu, both countries restarted it. Just as talks were gaining momentum, the beheading of two Indian soldiers in January 2013 set them back by months. Then the government of India decided to wait until a new government takes charge in Pakistan. With Nawaz Sharif making the right noises after being reelected as prime minister of Pakistan, hope began to rise for bilateral relations, and both PMs are now expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next month in New York. Perhaps in a miscalculation, strategic leaders of India decided that the defence minister should understate the involvement of Pakistani forces in the killing of five Indian soldiers on the LoC - which has now become yet another controversy. Congress party has made its disapproval clear, though the party has made the right noises in support of the talks. Creating a political constituency for peace with Pakistan in India is never easy, and is more difficult when terrorism remains a big challenge. Even former prime minister Vajpayee could not trash out a joint statement with Musharaff in Agra in 2001, as the then home minister LK Advani insisted on a reference to “cross border terrorism” in it. Singh will in all likelihood shake hands and exchange pleasantries with Sharif in New York, but taking relations with Pakistan to a better level seems beyond reach during his tenure that ends in May 2014.

Caustic Light on White House’s Reaction to a Terrorist Threat

The gloating among jihadists and their sympathizers began last week, right after the United States shut down almost two dozen diplomatic posts across the Middle East in response to a terrorist threat. “God is great! America is in a condition of terror and fear from Al Qaeda,” wrote one jihadist in an online forum. Another one rejoiced: “The mobilization and security precautions are costing them billions of dollars. We hope to hear more of such psychological warfare, even if there are no actual jihadi operations on the ground.” The jihadists are not the only ones who see the new terrorist alert in a caustic light. The Obama administration’s decision to evacuate so many diplomats on such short notice — however justified by the seriousness of the threat — has upset some of its foreign partners, who say the gesture contributes to a sense of panic and perceived weakness that plays into the hands of the United States’ enemies, and impedes their efforts to engage with people in their countries. Some American officials have also said they believe the administration overreacted, in large part because of the political fallout from the attack last year on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens. Since that attack, security procedures have been tightened at American diplomatic outposts across the Middle East. Those embassies are already so heavily fortified against attacks that many diplomats lament it is more and more difficult for them to do their jobs. “I think since Benghazi the administration has been in a defensive crouch, and they are playing it as safe as they can,” said Will McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism official who is now an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses in Alexandria, Va. The government of Yemen issued a rare public rebuke to the Obama administration on Tuesday, declaring in a statement that the evacuation “serves the interests of the extremists” and undermines cooperation with the United States. As if to answer the gesture, Yemen announced Wednesday that it had foiled a spectacular plot to bomb oil pipelines and take over major ports — an assertion that was greeted by analysts both here and abroad as little more than cynical political theater aimed at proving that Yemen was capable of defeating Al Qaeda on its own. The diplomatic shutdown may have been especially jarring, analysts say, because the administration has portrayed Al Qaeda as a waning force in the past year. “The impression the administration left was that Al Qaeda was dead or close to dead,” said Bruce Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency case officer and a Brookings Institution scholar. “In which case, why are we so worried about a conversation between two Al Qaeda leaders?” The intercepted conversation in question was between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the leader of Al Qaeda, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen. American officials and lawmakers have said the conversation revealed one of the most serious terrorist plots against Western interests since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the vagueness of the threat has made it easier to question the Obama administration’s response. The two men did not specify the nature or location of the attack, American officials say. The timing was also unclear, though the attack was apparently originally scheduled to take place last Sunday. In an appearance Tuesday on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” President Obama defended the government’s initial decision to shutter 22 embassies and consulates. The State Department said Monday that 19 diplomatic missions would remain closed through the end of this week. “Whenever we see a threat stream that we think is specific enough that we can take some specific precautions within a certain time frame, then we do so,” Mr. Obama said. On Wednesday, several American intelligence, defense and Congressional officials described a growing body of intercepted communications among jihadists over the past few months that culminated in especially worrisome conversations between Mr. Zawahri and Mr. Wuhayshi. “It’s a very high threat environment with Al Qaeda right now because of the quality, quantity and seriousness of the intelligence we’re getting,” said one Congressional official who receives regular updates from the C.I.A. and Defense Intelligence Agency. By closing the embassies and consulates, the United States and its allies deprive terrorists of potential targets and also buy time to find more clues and pressure extremist networks, hoping to trip up any would-be attackers. Still, some security analysts, as well as current and former government officials, said the administration, still stinging from the criticism of its handling of the attack in Benghazi last September, was taking extraordinary precautions in this instance. To some critics, the diplomatic shutdown was reminiscent of the Bush administration’s color-coded terrorism alerts, which were seen by some as efforts to sow fear and broaden political support for stronger antiterrorism policies. In the Middle East, some government officials saw the alert as an unnecessary blow that was bound to further damage their efforts to lure tourists and foreign investment. That was especially true in Yemen, whose president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, was in Washington last week meeting with Mr. Obama. Yemen’s government has worked closely with the United States on counterterrorism measures, and American officials, who had a troubled relationship with Yemen’s former longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have voiced confidence in Mr. Hadi and increased aid to the country. “When you do evacuations, you signal that all the effort to build up trust in the Yemeni security establishment amounts to nothing,” said one Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And all the development projects by U.S.A.I.D. and its counterparts in Britain, Germany and elsewhere — everything stops.” In the Yemeni capital, Sana, the American withdrawal prompted a muscular display of military defiance that left residents puzzled. Jet fighters soared across the sky throughout the day on Tuesday and Wednesday, and soldiers in armored vehicles blocked sections of the city. Yemeni officials said Wednesday that they had thwarted a bold plot by Al Qaeda to take over ports and destroy oil pipelines. But they provided no evidence of the plot, which was not related to the threats that prompted the embassy closings. The Yemeni announcement, which echoed other recent statements about foiled terrorist schemes, elicited skepticism and even some amusement among analysts. “The timing of the plot is deeply suspicious,” said Gregory Johnsen, the author of “The Last Refuge,” a book on Yemen and Al Qaeda. “It doesn’t fit into what we know about Al Qaeda, but it does fit into what we know about the way the Yemeni government plays these things.” Yemeni security officials have often announced major operations to disrupt Al Qaeda just as American officials were arriving on official visits — operations that mysteriously faded away after the officials left the country.

Bahrain Bans Protests: Human Rights Activist Says 'Physical, Psychological, Sexual' Torture Continues

Bahrain human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja says the government there is escalating its crackdown on protests in advance of a major opposition rally, and says that the regime continues to torture detainees. Al-Khawaja, President of The Bahrain Center For Human Rights, appeared on HuffPost Live Wednesday to discuss the Bahraini government's ban on protests as well as the cases of a photojournalist and blogger who were arrested and abused by police with host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. King Hamad's royal decree last week banned protests in the country's capital, Manama, and heightened "punishments" for those citizens who do not abide by the decree. The decree comes just two weeks before a major opposition rally planned for August 14, the celebration of Bahrain's independence from the United Kingdom. While the Bahraini government has framed the decree as an amendment to the 2006 Law on the Protection of Society from Acts of Terrorism, the United Nations has expressed concern over what exactly this entails. In addition to the revocation of citizenship for anyone found guilty of terrorism and an increased detention period, it also bans sit-ins, rallies, and gatherings in the capital. Al-Khawaja told HuffPost Live that the decree merely legalizes practices that have been in place for years, and the government has begun increasing its crackdown on protestors in recent weeks. "Basically they're in a sense legalizing things that they've already been doing. Whether we're talking about the revoking of citizenship, or the forbidding of protests within Manama -- this all something that's been in practice for a while now," she said. "What we've been seeing in the past couple weeks since the announcing of the planned protest on the 14th of August ... [is] a very severe escalation in the crackdown. Usually what we see is house raids and arrests during the night. But in the past couple weeks we've been seeing them throughout the day. We haven't even been able to keep up with the numbers on the amount of people being arrested and the amount of homes being raided on a daily basis." With the arrests mounting, Al-Khawaja noted that often people are arrested without the opportunity to consult with a lawyer. "In Bahrain people are taken to the the prosecution without the presence of a lawyer," she said, claiming that the government has reportedly implemented the new practice of taking those arrested to public prosecution at odd hours of the night when lawyers are typically unavailable. This was the case, she said, with recently arrested photojournalist Hussain Hubail. She added that blogger Mohammed Hasan was arrested and abused by police. His attorney reported "visible marks of beating on his arms," and Al-Khawaja said that there were marks of torture on his back and lower abdomen as well. "The majority of cases of people that we document who have been arrested have either been beaten and/ or tortured. It ranges ... from physical, to psychological, to sexual," said Al-Khawaja.

President al-Assad performs Eid al-Fitr Prayer at Anas Bin Malek Mosque in Damascus
President Bashar al-Assad performed Thursday the Prayer of Eid al-Fitr (Feast of Breaking the Fast) at Anas Bin Malek Mosque in Damascus with the participation of senior officials in the state and the Baath Arab Socialist Party (BASP), a number of the People's Assembly members, Syria's Grand Mufti, several Islamic scholars and a crowd of citizens.
Upon his arrival at the Mosque, President al-Assad was received by Minister of Awqaf (Religious Endowments), the Mufti, the BASP Assistant Regional Secretary, the People's Assembly Speaker and the Prime Minister. Following the prayers which were led by Imam Ahmad al-Jazaeri, the President listened to the Eid sermon with sheikh al-Jazaeri, stressing the sublime meanings of Eid al-Fitr and the importance of love, fraternity and unity among the homeland's people. "Islam unifies the Ummah (the Islamic nation) rather than dividing it, strengthens it rather than weakening it," said Sheikh al-Jazaeri, affirming that the Islamic religion fights bigotry and denounces takfiri thinking and violence. He asked God to dispel the crisis facing Syria so as for security and safety to be restored to it and for smile to be redrawn on the children's faces on al-Eid. Sheikh al-Jazaeri underscored that Bilad al-Sham has always been the country of knowledge, faith and purity, stressing that the reform of the homeland and the Islamic nation lies in the correct understanding of Quran which shows clearly that Islam is a religion of tolerance and mercy and not of killing and violence. Al-Jazaeri concluding his sermon by asking God to stand by President al-Assad for the welfare of the homeland and the citizens and to have mercy upon Syria and its people.
Meanwhile, Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi denied reports suggesting that Assad’s motorcade had come under attack while he was on his way to the mosque. “These reports are totally false. The president was driving his car himself, he attended the prayer and greeted people… everything is normal,” the minister stated. Syria has been gripped by deadly unrest since 2011. Clashes between foreign-backed Takfiri militants and the Syrian army continue on a daily basis.

PAKISTAN: Stop Merger of Ministry of Human Rights with Ministry of Law & Justice

History repeats itself now with Nawaz Sharif again deciding to abolish the MoHR, recreated in 2008 by the previous government of Pakistan People's Party. The incumbent government has also lifted the moratorium on death sentences.which had remained in force for the past five years.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that the government of Pakistan has merged the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) with the Ministry of Law and Justice (MoLJ) on June 7, allegedly to pursue its policy of denying people their fundamental rights under the constitution. The government’s decision will result in Parliament not being able to closely monitor human rights issues. This will undermine the importance of human rights and human rights violations in the country. It is not the first time that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has abolished the ministry of human rights as an independent entity. When he came in power in 1997, he did the exact same thing with the MoHR, due to his political rivalry with former Prime Minister Benazir Butto. Benazir Butto had, during her first tenure in 1988, also formed a Human Rights Cell in the Prime Minister Secretariat. This too was abolished in 1990 Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. History repeats itself now with Nawaz Sharif again deciding to abolish the MoHR, recreated in 2008 by the previous government of Pakistan People’s Party. The incumbent government has also lifted the moratorium on death sentences, which had remained in force for the past five years. Please sign the urgent appeal and urge international human rights organizations, including the UN, to use their influence on the present government so it may restore the Ministry of Human Rights as an independent entity and abolish the death sentences.
After the merger of the Human Rights Ministry, there would only be one minister dealing with law and legal affairs, matters related to the justice system, and all issues pertaining to human rights and survivors of HR abuses. In other words, affairs related to human rights will most likely become a third priority for the minister in-charge. Difference between the mandates of the Ministry of law and the Ministry of human rights is inconceivable for the government under Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The mandate of the Ministry of law and justice is to defend laws and represent the state in courts on all matters including those pertaining to human rights violations by the state. On the other hand, the mandate of the Ministry of human rights is to redress the grievances of the survivors/victims and to protect and safeguard the rights of the people and their interests. The merger decision will also affect the rights of women. The subject of Women’s Development had been retained federally under the Ministry of human rights and now women issues will lose priority and focus. The same will be the case with the rights of children, youth, and religious minority groups, which will all be undermined. The ill-intentions of the incumbent government against human rights can be judged by its lifting the moratorium on death sentences and starting the process of hanging prisoners on death row. The previous government of the Pakistan People’s Party had suspended executions during its tenure that expired on June 30 this year. The government has not consulted other political parties in taking its decision to proceed with executing death sentences. Further undoing undo steps taken by the last government towards reform, the government of Nawaz Sharif has suspended the process that was leading to the formation of a National Human Rights Commission (NCHR) supposed to be established in accord with an act of Parliament passed in May 2012. The MoHR had been working on drafting legislation on custodial torture and rehabilitation of torture survivors . It had almost completed consultations with civil society. After the merger, legislation against torture will be put on the back burner. Read More:

Pakistan: Fighting terrorism

By Ayesha Siddiqa
The executive summary of the Nacta draft for a counterterrorism policy seems to gravitate around a singular state narrative — that terrorism in Pakistan is linked with the Afghan war of the 1980s and continues due to foreign intervention. Moreover, the source of all violence is North Waziristan, and by association, Afghanistan. Such a diagnosis creates problems in comprehending the issue in its entirety. Many people erroneously believe in such theses, resulting in the conclusion that the withdrawal of the US will automatically bring peace in the region. Notwithstanding the fact that America’s invasion was a costly blunder, the US withdrawal at this quick pace will not be sufficient to deal with terrorism. Following are the reasons which establish that the menace of terrorism will not be addressed with the above perspective in mind. First, such an explanation doesn’t help in taking into account the manner in which sources of terrorism have expanded in the country. The foreign intervention next door may be a driver of terrorism in the tribal areas and the Pashtun-belt in general, but this framework certainly does not explain what is happening in the rest of Pakistan. Second, an overemphasis on America’s involvement in creating jihadis in South Asia, not taking cognisance of the past or present links of the military with militant organisations, does not help in understanding the penetration of these outfits within the security and law-enforcement establishments, and the government in general. There is no doubt that militancy, as a menace, dates back to the 1980s when the Zia regime willingly allowed radicalisation of society in order to fight the American war against the Soviet troops. However, we cannot deny the fact that our security establishment held on to these jihadis, which were used on other fronts. Third, such a connection has compelled the military and state in general to turn a blind eye to sectarian violence, which is considered as an unpleasant consequence of the jihadi agenda that is tolerated because of the efficacy of the jihadis in countering the external threat or the internal threat in the form of Baloch and Sindhi nationalism. These groups create political and diplomatic space for the state. Their services will be critical after the foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. Fourth, the problem with the Afghanistan-centric narrative is that it is limited to dealing with criminal-cum-ideological gangs like Hakimullah Mehsud’s TTP but not with much larger problems in the form of Punjab-based militant networks. The popular narrative constructed and spread is that every terrorist activity, taking place in Punjab, is controlled from North Waziristan, which tends to take attention away from the expansionist designs and the rabid ideology of the Salafi and Deobandi groups ensconced in the largest province. This is also an excuse to focus on North Waziristan because the level of violence in the rest of the country, especially Punjab and Sindh, is not proportional to the jihadi presence there. The Punjab model of jihadism and extremism is different from that of Fata as these groups carefully engage society to avoid attracting attention. This makes it look like as if the problem has come from somewhere else. But if we begin to look at their literature, we will be able to see that they are much more expansionist and cunning in their tactics than those in the tribal areas, who are exposed due to their violence. In fact, violence as a measure of extremism is problematic as it fails to capture the extent of radicalisation of the society. Violence can be described as the tip of the iceberg of radicalism that is difficult to measure, especially when people continue to confuse radicalism with conservatism, which, in turn, is owned as part of the local culture. Sectarian violence is one of the examples of how the culture argument is used to downplay this crime. Surely, there were always sectarian differences but not the kind of violence that we see today. Therefore, any problem-solving will have to, on the parallel, deal with countering radicalism. This is, indeed, an issue that is gently broached in the Nacta draft policy. However, this is also a Herculean task, which no one has a clue about how to undertake this at the moment. Fifth, due to our limited analysis, we are unable to see that the jihadi leadership of the Salafi and Deobandi groups is middle class and thus much more capable of expanding their message and membership. The militant outfits in Punjab and Sindh do not just operate as groups but as a network, which has means to penetrate the society through welfare outfits and madrassas, and also influence policies through political partnerships. For instance, the JUI-F is a formidable umbrella for the expansion of militancy in Sindh. The Deobandi Tableeghi Jamaat must also be reviewed in the role it has played in expanding a particular mindset and ideology. In one particular case of an attack on the Ahmadi community in Lahore, the attackers allegedly stayed at the Tableeghi Jamaat’s centre. We also fail to see the growing trends of radicalism and radical movements in non-Pashtun Pakistan that takes various shapes and forms. For instance, while the various Deobandi and Salafi networks infiltrate society selectively at the levels of the lower and middle class in general, there are other forms like the Hizbut Tehrir (HuT), which do not necessarily encourage violence but have managed to penetrate the upper-middle class and succeeded in convincing its members to support the establishment of a khilafa and a sharia-based system in the country. This is easier said than done, especially when there are ideological differences within the religious discourse. The risk is that the khilafa formula will create more chaos and violence. More important, all these groups with differing agendas converge at the same point. This is not to undermine the argument that there may be foreign intervention. However, how can the state tell the difference between local versus foreign-sponsored if it allows jihadism, be it friendly or unfriendly? No security establishment has a master switch with which it can ensure that those who join the friendly militants will not become unfriendly tomorrow.

Pakistani Army Accused Of Killing Indian Soldiers In Ambush

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
For the first time, India has openly accused the Pakistani army of being directly involved in an ambush that killed five Indian soldiers. India's Defense Minister A.K. Antony told parliament on August 8 that it was clear that Pakistani "specialist troops" were behind the attack on an army patrol in Indian-administered Kashmir on August 6. Antony indicated that the attack would harm the country's bilateral relations and warned of possible military retaliation. "Our restraint should not be taken for granted, nor should the capacity of our armed forces and resolve of the government to uphold the sanctity of the Line of Control ever be doubted," he said Antony was referring to the de facto border dividing Kashmir, which Islamabad and New Delhi both claim and have fought two wars over. Pakistan has denied any involvement in the attack.

DIG Operations among 15 killed in Quetta blast

DIG Operations and fifteen other people were killed, while 24 others were injured in a suicide blast at Police Lines, Quetta, on Thursday. The blast took place just before the funeral prayers of SHO City Mohib Ullah commenced at the Police Lines mosque. Around 300 to 400 people, including DIG Operations Fayyaz Sumbol, IG Balochistan and CCPO, were attending the funeral procession. While DIG Operations died on the spot, IG Balochistan and CCPO survived the attack. The police immediately cordoned off the area and rescue operation was started. Injured were shifted to the hospital. Earlier in the day, an SHO City Mohib Ullah was killed, while his four children and driver sustained injuries, during a firing incident in Alamu Chowk, Quetta.

Pakistan: Power tariff plan needs a rethink

As a part of new National Power Policy announced on Wednesday, the government has made more than a 50 percent increase in power tariff for industrial and commercial consumers from August 1 and for domestic consumers from October 1. There will be no change, though, in the rates for households using 200 units or less in a month. The concession will benefit as many as 64 percent of users who are least able to pay extra price. The average rate for the rest of domestic consumers will be about Rs 15.50 per unit. Hardest hit by this new tariff plan will be the salaried middle class. While the prices of essential commodities have risen sky high and the surge in energy rates pushing the transportation costs and consequently every item of daily use, salaries have stayed the same or increased only marginally during the last few years. Explaining the rationale for the increase at a news conference, Water and Power Minister Khawaja Asif said that since the burden of subsidies ultimately fell on people, an attempt had been made to burden those who could afford it to avoid accumulation of Rs 600 billion circular debt next year. Understandably, the government is under pressure from the IMF to remove subsidies and also to pay the circular debt that exacerbated the present energy crisis. However, the unpleasant reality is also that power theft is rampant. The minister himself acknowledged that theft and system losses cost up to Rs 200 billion a year. The thieves, he revealed in a TV talk show, include many members of the rich and influential sections of society. That in fact is not a new disclosure. From time to time press reports have been uncovering the names of prominent politicians and their relatives involved in electricity stealing for both domestic and industrial use. And law-abiding citizens who pay their bills regularly end up shouldering the burden of such thievery. It is worthwhile to note that if ordinary citizens do not pay their bills, the concerned authorities waste no time in cutting their supplies, but in the case of privileged classes, they tend to look the other way. No wonder the losses are as high as 200 billion a year. Instead of raising power tariff for the salaried middle class already struggling to make ends meet, the government should focus on recovering dues from those who refuse to pay, such as consumers in parts of KPK, and the big power thieves in urban centres of both Punjab and Sindh. It is good to note that the government has already started a serious campaign against electricity and gas stealing in Punjab and KPK and plans to do the same in Sindh. Special measures are being put in place to ensure recovery of dues and punish the offenders. It should also rethink the 200-unit limit, extending it to consumers using up to 300 units per month who ill afford bearing an extra burden.

Eidi for the jailed: President Zardari grants special remission in sentences to prisoners

The Express Tribune
President Asif Ali Zardari, on the advice of the Prime Minister, has granted a special remission in sentences to convicts of different categories on the occasion of forthcoming Eid-ul-Fitr 2013. A special remission of 90 days has been granted to prisoners sentenced to life in prison, except to those prisoners convicted for heinous crimes including murder, espionage and anti-state activities, sectarianism, rape, robbery, abduction and terror acts. A special remission for 45 days has also been granted to all other convicts except condemned prisoners and those convicted of heinous crimes and those undergoing sentences under the Foreigners Act 1946. The remissions will be applicable on only those prisoners who have served two-thirds of their substantive sentences. Total remission has been granted to male prisoners who are 65 years of age or above and female prisoners who are 60 years of age or above who have undergone at least a third of their substantive sentence of imprisonment, except those involved in culpable homicide and those involved in terror acts. A special remission of one year has also been allowed for female prisoners who have accompanying children and are serving sentences for crimes other than culpable homicide and terrorism. Juvenile convicts who have served a third of their substantive sentence can enjoy total remission if they were not involved in culpable homicide, terrorist act, rape, robbery, dacoity, kidnapping or abduction or anti-state activities.

Pakistan: Plan for polio-free world by 2018

With an overarching framework for vulnerable areas, a comprehensive and long-term strategy has been developed to ensure a polio-free world by 2018. Major new elements in the “Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan 2013-18” are strategic approaches to all polio diseases, emphasis on improving immunisation systems, introduction of new technologies, enhanced risk mitigation and contingency strategies, and timeline for completion of the initiative. For Pakistan, the coordination between security and local authorities to generate area-specific assessments has been institutionalised in the plan with the setting up of provincial committees. The World Health Organisation and Unicef — the two implementing partners — are taking steps to ensure their intensified support for the programme despite escalation in security threats. The strategic plan brings together a comprehensive approach to completing polio eradication. It is built on primary principles that the programme must be institutionalised within the broader health agenda and must maintain neutrality. The plan developed by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in consultation with national health authorities, global health initiatives, experts, donors and other stakeholders in response to a directive of the World Health Assembly has the goal of eradicating and containing all wild, vaccine-related and Sabin polioviruses so that no child ever again suffers paralytic poliomyelitis. The basic elements of the strategy are to reduce the exposure of vaccinators to potential threats by holding campaigns that are of shorter duration and lower profile. For safety and security, the plan seeks enhanced coordination between civilian and security services. It incorporates religious leaders’ advocacy to build up ownership of and solidarity for polio eradication across the Muslim world, including for the protection of children against polio, the sanctity of health workers and the neutrality of health services. The GPEI says in a report that in addition to declining cases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, evidence demonstrates that these countries and Nigeria have showed marked improvement in increasing vaccination coverage last year. In Pakistan, the proportion of highest-risk districts achieving the estimated target threshold of 95 per cent increased from 59pc in January 2012 to 74pc in October.

Pakistan: An ill-advised tactic

Tuesday’s incident in the Machh area of Bolan, 80 kilometres from Quetta, in which two security personnel and 11 Punjabi civilians were killed in cold blood has unsettling ramifications. It is being reported that about 200 guerrillas first attacked and destroyed a PAF oil tanker in the area, then intercepted a Frontier Corps (FC) patrol, trussed up the five FC personnel, snatched their weapons and walkie-talkies and put up a check post on the road that started stopping buses plying on the route. Normally, according to the local administration, buses going from Quetta to other provinces along this route are accompanied by security forces but the attack on the tanker and FC “kept the security forces busy”. That still does not explain why, after the preliminary incidents, the authorities and the bus operators were not alerted to the risks ahead. Be that as it may, the singling out of Punjabi travellers on the basis of their ethnicity and then shooting them dead signals a new and frightening escalation of the hatreds in troubled Balochistan province. Although Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) spokesman Meerak Baloch telephoned media later to claim responsibility for the incident, he argued that the 13 people killed all belonged to the military or security forces and the others kidnapped were set free. Even if that argument is conceded, does it justify the murder in cold blood of people on the basis of their ethnicity? Two or three years ago, there was a rash of attacks on Punjabi ordinary citizens all over Balochistan, which even the well wishers of the Baloch people found abhorrent and criticized. The practice seemed to have mercifully died out, but its ‘revival’ now poses fraught ethical, moral, political and philosophic questions. The narrower Baloch nationalism that inspires the insurgents in the current phase of their struggle for their rights and against genuine grievances lumps the whole of Punjab as responsible for its oppression. But the fact is that ordinary Punjabi citizens have nothing to do with the policy of suppression in Balochistan. The head to be crowned for that policy, with its ‘kill and dump’ aspect being the most extreme and inhuman face, belongs exclusively to the military establishment and its ‘implementing’ tool, the FC. Hatred against the oppressors is understandable, but to conflate the blame to include uninvolved citizens from Punjab who are in the province in search of livelihood is not just, efficacious, or wise. The loss of innocent lives anywhere and in any circumstances is tragic. How much satisfaction flows from the mourning of the families of these victims in Punjab on this occasion of Eid for those thousands of Baloch families who have lost, and continue to lose, their near and dear ones every day for years is debatable. Such are the wages, though, of the policies pursued by the military establishment in Balochistan. These policies are beyond the purview and out of the control of the province’s civilian rulers, including the recently elected government in Quetta. Until and unless the military establishment surrenders, or is forced to surrender running things in Balochistan in parallel manner into the hands of the civilian elected government, such tragedies cannot be ruled out. It may be instructive to compare the struggle in Balochistan in the 1970s to the current one. Then, not a single settler was harmed. Security forces personnel captured by the guerrillas were looked after, re-educated as to the causes why the Baloch were fighting for their rights, and freed. Even just causes must be fought for with just means. The end has never justified any and all means, and arguably the wrong means end up eroding the righteousness of the most just of causes. Unfortunately, because of the monopoly of the military establishment over Balochistan’s affairs, scepticism after the elections that the new civilian dispensation would be able to bring about a rapprochement will now only be reinforced. The military establishment’s present course runs the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy by stoking separatist sentiment to the point of hardened conviction, thereby shrinking the space for a political solution and threatening a debacle for the country in the future. Do the governments in Islamabad and Quetta have the will and courage to challenge this disastrous course and turn things around in Balochistan for the sake of the country? A healthy dose of scepticism notwithstanding, unless the politicians in Islamabad and Quetta take things in their own hands, the province and the country could be entering a dark and forbidding cul de sac.

Balochistan plunges into darkness

Daily Times
Balochistan’s 17 districts plunged into darkness once again when heavy storms damaged the recently repaired 220kV towers of circuit transmission line in the night between Tuesday and Wednesday. According to the details released by Quetta Electric Supply Company (QESCO), two towers of 220kV were damaged in the Aabgum area of Bolan in the heavy floods on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, cutting supply of electricity to 17 districts of the province. Officials said supply was soon restored to the capital city Quetta from private powerhouses. They added that the other district headquarters of the province would only get one hour of electricity. They said that only 120MW of electricity was available for the 17 districts which will consequently result in longer hours of load shedding. The QESCO officials also conveyed an official apology to the people for delayed start of repair work on damaged towers due to security clearance. It may be recalled here that four towers, two each of 132kV and 220kV, were blown up on August 5 in Bolan, heavily damaging the transmission lines. The recent storm two of them again.

Balochistan: Bloodshed in Bolan

In the latest incident of the senseless violence that seems to be the country’s fate, 13 people lost their lives on Tuesday near Mach in the Bolan district of Balochistan. The victims had been travelling in two coaches out of the province to their home districts in Punjab when the vehicles were ambushed by scores of gunmen disguised as security personnel. Twenty-one passengers were taken away. Thirteen of them, identified from their identity cards as belonging to Punjab, were killed. The others were released. The Bolan killings are quite evidently ethnic in nature – nothing new for Balochistan where such murders have routinely taken place before. Those killed were mainly labourers from various Punjab districts, including Faisalabad, Sadiqabad and Muzzafargarh. It comes as no real surprise that the Baloch nationalist group, the Balochistan Liberation Army, has taken responsibility for the ruthless killings, which have been condemned . It is uncertain what purpose the nationalists hope to achieve through such violence. The killings have only added to the misery that is already in abundance in most homes as a result of poverty and militancy. The tragic incident also highlights just how ungovernable the province of Balochistan increasingly continues to become. Any pretence of law and order has now crumbled completely and it is obvious that heightened security alone will not solve the problem. Indeed security forces too have been facing tough times, with personnel repeatedly targeted. There is no easy solution to Balochistan’s many issues and the place the provincial government finds itself in is unenviable. But perhaps some hope can be found in the fact that – gauging from media statements and online conversation – public opinion in the province appears to be swinging away from the militants. This is something CM Abdul Malik Baloch and his team need to capitalise on, so that a consensus can be created against any and all kind of violence. The people of Balochistan need to stand united so that the future of the province looks a little brighter than is presently the case. Unless this happens, greater darkness will descend not only on Balochistan but the country as well.

Balochistan: Has CM Malik what it takes

The Tuesday tragedy of the murders of 14 labourers travelling by buses from Quetta to their homes in Punjab has again shaken the country and made it realize that the situation in Balochistan is still as volatile as when Dr Abdul Malik Baloch took over as the chief minister of the province. The change in government, it seems, instead of violent incidents become few have increased in number and intensity. The most authentic version of the recent tragedy is that the convoy of buses carrying passengers to Punjab was guarded by the security forces but the escorts were diverted towards another violent accident when a militant attack took place on an oil tanker nearby. The FC and Balochistan Levies men were engaged in crossfire with those attacking the oil tanker. The explanation seems plausible except for the fact that the passengers travelling by the vans were in dozens while the oil tanker at the most could have had only two to three men. How could a trained force risk dozens of people and leave at the mercy of militants go to defend two or three individuals in the tanker baffles the mind. The militants were said to be numbered between fifty to one hundred and fifty armed men who stopped the buses, calmly checked the papers of all the passengers and kidnapped only those from Punjab: during all that time, the armed escort were engaged with the attackers on an oil tanker where only a couple of lives were at stack. While one can say that the diversion was created by the same group which kidnapped and later killed the passengers, the question is how they could know that a small distraction would be enough to lure the escorts from their original and more important job. It just doesn't stands to reason. Like the attacks on Bannu and DI Khan prisons, so in this attack on the buses full of passengers, there are many implausible excuses for the strange behaviour of those entrusted to guard against militants.. All this happened under Chief Minister Abdul Malik's watch and while it is too early to say for sure, it, however, seems that Balochistan's new chief minister is all wise talk and no smart action when it comes to bringing peace and order in his province. It was said, and truly said, that CM Malik was a nationalist and was once the partner of those Baloch leaders who have now crossed the line and become outright separatists. It was said that even among the separatists, Dr. Malik had credibility, as he knew most the separatist leaders and was on first name terms with quite a few of them. He was considered the ideal person to assure them of the government's good intentions and convince them of the benefits of a much autonomous Balochistan within the federation of Pakistan rather than fighting for the unrealistic dream of an independent state. But Abdul Malik did not meet the expectations. It seems the separatists have become more hopeful of achieving their goals with Malik as chief minister. It would seem that the nationalist militants, the sectarian terrorists and the gangs lawbreakers all are out of the control and reach of the chief minister. What is worse, he has been unable even to correct the direction and organise the provincial law enforcing agencies under his rule. He has not been able to make a dent either in the will of the separatists commanding the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), nor has he posed any threat to the religious fanatics ravaging his province. He is failing miserably in consolidating his authority even in areas which are supposed to be under the direct rule of the law enforcing agencies. At the same time, the Islamabad government cannot be absolved of the responsibilities when it comes to acts of terrorism. How can it be that scores of armed men would be moving or waiting in ambush so near an important road, and there would be no intelligence about them? And how could it be that there was no fast response force to reach and help the embattled men of FC and Balochistan Levies. After all this particular attack on buses may be new, the phenomenon of terrorism and their mode of operating are decades old. The intelligence part is important because Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had promised the nation of intelligence sharing and coordination between all forces assigned to turn the tides of all kinds of terrorist and otherwise organised violent activities. The nation is still waiting even for some initial signs that the process of intelligence sharing and coordination among the relevant departments has begun. Already is too late.