Thursday, October 31, 2013

Karachi: Christian family faced with blasphemy and forced conversion threats
In September, the head of the family, Boota Masih, a 58-yeaer-old goldsmith, was killed, falsely accused of blasphemy. In fact, a business rival was behind the murder, and he is still free and unpunished. Meanwhile, armed men have threatened the victim's family, telling them to convert to Islam or face death. Police however have arrested these men.
A Pakistani court has indicted three people for proffering death threats against the family of Boota Masih, 58, a Christian man killed in mid-September in an incident involving accusations of blasphemy. Siding with the dead man's family, activists with Life for All and the Masihi Foundation, along with Church and civil society leaders, have called on the authorities to arrest the murderer and do something to stop the persecution of the Masihs' who are only guilty of being Christian. Unfortunately, they are up against the usual reticence (if not the connivance) of police and prosecutors in such cases. Everything began for the Masih family on 16 September when Muhammad Asif killed their main breadwinner after accusing him of blasphemy. The Muslim businessman attacked his victim at the Liaqatabad Gold Market in Karachi in broad daylight. Using a knife, he cut his throat, finishing him off with a dozen stabs, all this in the plain view of other workers and some police officers, who did not intervene and left the murderer all the time he needed to escape unmolested. The next day, a member of the Liaqatabad Jewellers Association belatedly came to the dead man's defence, saying that he "had never seen or heard him speaking against anyone, ever." The victim had worked at the market for 30 years. For his family, the accusation of blasphemy was but an excuse to kill him, a way to remove a business rival. When they reported the murder, police initially refused to start an investigation. The story took a turn for the worse when, on 24 October, a group of armed men broke into the Masih home, threatening to kill its members if they did not withdraw their complaint and convert to Islam. Instead of complying with the threats, the Masihs went to police the next day to file another complaint. Last Sunday, law enforcement authorities took into custody Muhammad Nadeem and two accomplices, for carrying out the punitive raid against the bereaved family. Yesterday, their case went before a judge. Still, the murderer Muhammad Asif is still a fugitive. Fr Arshad Gill, a priest in Karachi, spoke to AsiaNews about this "sad story" in which the victim is "an innocent man" and his family is told to convert to Islam or die. For him, the case epitomises the situation of Pakistan's minorities, forced to live "in conditions of profound insecurity" in which events such as this one tend to exacerbate the situation. This is all due to the "black law". For years, Pakistan's Catholic and Protestant Churches have called for its repeal because, among other things, it is increasingly used in personal vendettas. Found in Article 295, B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code, the "law" punishes with death or life in prison anyone who desecrates the Qur'an or defames the name of the Prophet Muhammad. However, no political party or government has had the courage to change it. Those who have proposed amendments - Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic - have been murdered. According to data collected by the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of Pakistan (NCJP), at least 964 people have been charged under the law from 1986 to August 2009. They include 479 Muslims, 119 Christians, 340 Ahmadis, 14 Hindus and 10 of unknown religion. Since the law was adopted, more than 40 extra-judicial killings have been carried out in individual attacks or by mobs, against innocent people, all in its name. Last year for example, a person suffering from mental disorders was burnt to death on false charges, with his killers going scot-free. Another case involves Rimsha Masih, a Christian teenager who was saved from false charges after an international campaign led to her release from prison. Even entire groups have not been spared. In fact, one community was attacked in Lahore in March 2013 with another suffering the same fate in Gojra in the summer of 2009.

Iran May Drop Gas Pipeline Project with Pakistan

Iran's top oil ministry official announced on Wednesday the country is likely to give up on the multi-billion-dollar pipeline project which was due to take its rich gas reserves to energy hungry Pakistan. "The contract for supplying gas to Pakistan is likely to be annuled," Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told reporters on the sidelines of a gas forum here in Tehran on Wednesday. Zanganeh did not state any further details in this regard. The pipeline is almost complete on the Iranian side long ago, but the Pakistani side, which has long been under the United States' heavy pressures to give up the project, has been short of financing. Pakistan has run into repeated problems to pay for the 780 kilometer (485 mile) section to be built on its side of the border. In a recent demand, the Islamabad officials demanded Iran to finance their part of the project as well. Yet, earlier this week Pakistani Foreign Ministry Spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry once again reiterated that Islamabad is resolved to pursue expedition of the pipeline project. “It (IP) should be seen in the context of acute energy crisis that we have in our country,” said the Pakistani official, adding that his government is pursuing the case to accelerate the implementation process of the project. Early in October, Pakistani Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asked Iran to finance $2bln in the construction of Pakistan’s side of the IP gas pipeline project. The Pakistani petroleum minister said preparatory work was complete, but they had asked Iran to provide $2bln for the construction work. Iran and Pakistan officially inaugurated the construction of the border part of the multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project in March. The project kicked off in a ceremony attended by former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his former Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at the two countries' shared border region in Iran's Southeastern city of Chabahar. The 2700-kilometer long pipeline was to supply gas for Pakistan and India which are suffering a lack of energy sources, but India has evaded talks. In 2011, Iran and Pakistan declared they would finalize the agreement bilaterally if India continued to be absent in the meeting. Iran has already constructed more than 900 kilometers of the pipeline on its soil. According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran's Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the South and stretch over 1,100 km through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Baluchistan and Sindh but officials now say the route may be changed if China agrees to the project.

Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline deal probably dead

Daily Times
Iran will probably abandon a multi-billion-dollar contract to supply gas to Pakistan, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Iran’s oil minister as saying on Wednesday. “The contract for supplying gas to Pakistan is likely to be annulled,” Fars quoted Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh as saying on the sidelines of a gas forum in Tehran on Wednesday. He gave no other details, Fars said. Under the contract, Iran is supposed to export 21.5 million cubic metres of gas per day to Pakistan from next year. Dubbed the “peace pipeline”, the $7.5 billion project has faced repeated delays since it was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to Pakistan and India. Iran has already spent hundreds of million or dollars and nearly completed the 900 km pipeline to the Pakistan border. Pakistan, although suffering from severe gas shortages, has made little progress on its part of the line due to a lack of funds and warnings it could be in violation of US sanctions on Iran. Zanganeh’s comments came two days after his Pakistani counterpart, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was quoted by local media as saying that Pakistan risked being punished by sanctions on Iran if it goes ahead with the much-maligned project. Until now Iranian officials have insisted that the project to supply Islamabad will be completed. Exasperated by the lack of work across the border, Iran has even offered to build Pakistan’s 780-kilometre section and provide multi-million dollar loans to help pay for it, according to Iranian media reports. India quit the project in 2009, citing costs and security issues, a year after it signed a nuclear deal with Washington.

“I am Malala” : A fearless memoir by a fearless girl

In Arabic, “revolution” is a feminine noun. This is fitting, as without women revolutions are sterile. They have no movement, no life, no sound. Urdu, a distorter of tongues, pilfering as it does from Persian and Hindi, but largely Arabic, uses the masculine word for coup d’etat — inqilab — for revolution, rather than the accurate feminine: thawra. Perhaps that’s why the Taliban were confused. Perhaps that’s why they imagined that shooting a 15-year-old girl would somehow enhance their revolution. “I am Malala”, Malala Yousufzai’s fearless memoir, co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, begins on Malala’s drive home from school on the day she was shot in the head. “Who is Malala?” the young gunman who stopped the Khushal School van asked. None of the girls answered. But everyone in the valley knew who Malala was.
Ten years old when the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan came to the beautiful Swat Valley, once the home of ancient Buddhist kings, 11 years old by the time she had established herself as an international advocate for girls’ education in Pakistan, Malala was targeted by the Taliban for “spreading secularism”. Ghost-written books pose a constant difficulty — you are never sure whose voice is leading whose. Malala’s voice has the purity, but also the rigidity, of the principled. Whether she is being a competitive teenager and keeping track of who she beat in exams (and by how much) or writing about the blog for the BBC that catapulted her on to the international stage — “We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak” — or talking about Pakistan’s politicians (“useless”), Malala is passionate and intense. Her faith and her duty to the cause of girls’ education is unquestionable, her adoration of her father — her role model and comrade in arms — is moving and her pain at the violence carried out in the name of Islam palpable. It’s hardly an exact science, guessing when the ghost writer’s voice takes over from the author’s, but in the description, for example, of the scale of Pakistan’s devastating 2005 earthquake, the reader is told that the damage “affected 30,000 square kilometres, an area as big as the American state of Connecticut”, and the stiff, know-it-all voice of a foreign correspondent resounds. It is Malala who touches the heart of Pakistan’s troubles. Speaking of Swat, she writes that it was some 20 years after partition that the Wali of the Valley renounced his power and brought his kingdom into Pakistan. “So I was born a proud daughter of Pakistan,” she writes, “though like all Swatis I thought of myself first as a Swati and Pakhtun, before Pakistani.” What it means to be from Pakistan — a country of 300 languages, diverse cultures, religions and identities — when real power is restricted to one province is a debate that has always raged in this country. The army and bureaucracy, and indeed the functioning power, are centralised in the Punjab, while the remaining three provinces — Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — are unequal shareholders in the idea that is Pakistan. Until power is fairly shared among the four provinces the threat of secession will be a cloud hanging over the country.
Malala writes of her beloved father, Ziauddin, wearing a black armband on Pakistan’s 50th anniversary “because there was nothing to celebrate since Swat joined Pakistan”, presciently foreshadowing a deepening ethnic imbalance so profound that only an extraordinary common enemy could distract from it. The burgeoning power of the Taliban in today’s Pakistan should not be much of a surprise to those who understand, as Malala does, the need to redress these ethnic wounds. Though feted around the globe for her eloquence, intelligence and bravery, Malala is much maligned in Pakistan. The haters and conspiracy theorists would do well to read this book. Malala is certainly an ardent critic of the Taliban, but she also speaks passionately against America’s drone warfare, the CIA’s policy of funding jihadi movements, the violence and abductions carried out by the Pakistani military, feudalism, the barbarous Hudood laws, and even Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who caused a diplomatic meltdown between America and Pakistan when he killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight in Lahore — “Even we schoolchildren know that ordinary diplomats don’t drive around in unmarked cars carrying Glock pistols.” “I am Malala” is as much Malala’s father’s story as it is his daughter’s, and is a touching tribute to his quest to be educated and to build a model school. Malala writes of her father sitting late into the night, cooking and bagging popcorn to sell so that he would have extra income for his project. She quotes him on all matters such as environmental problems facing the Swat Valley, and teases him for his long-winded speeches. Yet even as Malala says she does not hate the man who shot her, here in Pakistan anger towards this ambitious young campaigner is as strong as ever. Amid the bile, there is a genuine concern that this extraordinary girl’s courageous and articulate message will be colonised by one power or other for its own insidious agendas. She is young and the forces around her are strong and often sinister when it comes to their designs on the global south. There is a reason we know Malala’s story but not that of Noor Aziz, eight years old when killed by a drone strike in Pakistan; Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser, dead at seven from a drone strike in Yemen; or Abeer Qassim Hamza al Janabi, the 14-year-old girl raped and set on fire by US troops in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. “I wasn’t thinking these people were humans,” one of the soldiers involved, Steven Green, said of his Iraqi victims. It will always be more convenient for the West to paint itself as more righteous, more civilised, than the people they occupy and kill. But now, Malala’s fight should be ours too — more inclusion of women, remembrance of the many voiceless and unsung Malalas, and education for all.

Pakistan: US drone strike kills three in Miranshah

A US drone strike targeting a house Thursday in Miranshah area of North Waziristan killed three people and injured three more. An official in the city of Peshawar confirmed the attack, saying the identities of the people were immediately unclear.The Pakistani defence ministry Wednesday said 317 US drone strikes in the country's tribal areas had killed 67 civilians and 2,160 militants in Pakistan since 2008.