At least 16 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a train station in central Russia on Sunday, raising the spectre of a new wave of terrorism before the Winter Olympics in Sochi. More than two dozen were wounded, some of them critically, meaning the death toll could rise. The explosion, which officials said was caused by a bomb possibly carried in a bag or backpack, struck the main station in Volgograd – formerly known as Stalingrad, a city of 1 million about 880 kilometres south of Moscow – at 12.45pm. It blew out windows in the building's facade and left a horrific scene of carnage at the main entrance.The blast, captured on a surveillance video camera from across the central plaza in front of the station, occurred near the metal detectors that have become a common security fixture at most of Russia's transportation hubs, suggesting that an attack deeper inside the station or aboard a train might have been averted. The Siberian Times named the bomber as so-called ''black widow'' Oksana Aslanova, 26. She was reported as having been married to two Islamic militant leaders killed by Russian forces in the North Caucasus. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the Investigative Committee, called the bombing an act of terrorism. Within hours of the attack, the authorities blamed a suicide bomber, citing the gruesome discovery of a woman's severed head. ''Most likely, the victims could have been much higher if the so-called protective system had not stopped the suicide bomber from getting through the metal detectors into the waiting room where there were passengers,'' Mr Markin said in a statement on the committee's website. It was the second such attack in Volgograd in two months. In October, a woman identified as Naida Asiyalova detonated a vest of explosives aboard a bus in the city, killing herself and six others. In that case, the authorities linked her by marriage to an explosives expert working with an Islamic rebel group in Dagestan, the southern republic where the police have struggled to suppress an insurgency by Muslim separatists. A month later, the authorities announced that they had killed her husband and four others in a raid in the region. Female suicide bombers are often referred to in Russia as ''black widows'' – women who seek to avenge the deaths of their family members in North Caucasus fighting by targeting Russian civilians. The republics of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan, Chechnya and Adygea, have for nearly two decades been embroiled in complex, ever-shifting armed conflicts that the International Crisis Group recently called ''the most violent in Europe today''. The violence has left hundreds dead already this year and prompted the authorities to make extraordinary efforts to keep it from reaching Sochi, the Black Sea resort city that will host the Winter Olympic Games six weeks from now. Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel fighter who now leads a terrorist group known as the Caucasus Emirate, vowed in July to target Sochi explicitly, calling the games ''satanic''. ''They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea,'' he said in a video statement. Mr Umarov emerged from the ruins of Chechnya's separatist movement, which the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin largely defeated. Chechnya itself remains comparatively stable under Ramzan Kadyrov, a regional leader who has been embraced by the Kremlin and who has been accused of ruling through repression and abuse. Mr Umarov's group, which ostensibly aims to create an independent emirate that would unite Russia's southern Muslim republics, claimed responsibility for ordering two separate suicide bombings on Moscow's subway in 2010 and an attack at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in 2011. Mr Umarov himself is believed to operate in remote redoubts in the Caucasus, but his whereabouts and his influence over other Islamic militants in the region remain unclear. The International Crisis Group's recent report outlined a raft of issues that have contributed to Islamic radicalisation and violence in the Caucasus, including not only separatist aspirations but also social and economic issues and federal policies. ''Unresolved disputes over territory, administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the violence, along with ethnic and religious tensions, the state's incapacity to ensure fair political representation, rule of law, governance and economic growth,'' the organisation's report said. ''The region's internal fragmentation and insufficient integration with the rest of the Russian Federation contribute to the political and social alienation of its residents.'' It is not clear why suicide bombers have now twice targeted Volgograd. It is the first major city north of the Caucasus, and its proximity to the region could be a factor in the attacks. Both attacks also struck means of transportation – a bus and the train station – and both raised speculation that the bombers might have intended to travel further north, only to detonate their bombs early. On Friday, an explosion in a car killed three people in another city in the Caucasus, Pyatigorsk, although details of that attack remain sketchy, and it was not clear whether it was in any way related to Sunday's bombing. Mr Putin ordered the authorities to provide assistance to the victims of Sunday's bombing and their families and to tighten security at the country's train stations and airports, all of which are busier than usual before the New Year's holiday. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/new-winter-olympics-terrorism-fears-after-volgograd-suicide-bombing-20131230-hv754.html#ixzz2ovYDMUxz
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that they have made a major breakthrough in deciphering the mechanism by which some bacteria are able to survive antibacterial treatment. While some bacteria achieve resistance to antibiotics through mutation, other types, known as "persistent bacteria," continue to exist in a dormant state while exposed to medication, and resume their detrimental activity when the treatment is over. Scientists have identified the villain as the bacteria's naturally occurring toxin HipA, but so far have been unable to explain how it triggers the inactive state. A lengthy study led by Gadi Glaser, a professor at Hebrew University's Faculty of Medicine, and Nathalie Balaban, a professor at the Racah Institute of Physics, has revealed that when antibiotics attack these bacteria, the HipA toxin disrupts the chemical messaging process necessary for nutrients to build proteins. This is interpreted by the bacteria as a "hunger signal" and sends them into an inactive state in which they are able to weather the treatment, the university said in a statement released Sunday. The project, conducted in Prof. Balaban's lab for several years by PhD candidates Eitan Rotem and Noga Weiss, focused on developing a biophysical understanding of the mechanism. The researchers now hope their discovery will pave the way for more effective ways to combat bacterial infections, the statement said.
The Elite Talk program by Li Zhenyu from People's Daily Online Business Channel US Gov. Rick Snyder visited China this Sep. in an effort to realize his "Chinese dream". Host: Everybody has his own dreams, but this one is a little different. Snyder: If you look at that both from a people point and a dollar investment point, there's a huge opportunity for the Chinese to look to Michigan. Host: That's Rick Snyder, Governor of Michigan. The Republican Governor of the United States has a special dream, a "Chinese dream". Snyder: We hope to really establish a good partnership relationship with China. We want to be known as one of the open places for business that encourage international trade and immigrants to come, and an exciting place. And we want to get the message out that Michigan is open for business, because we've gone through very difficult times. Host: In July this year, Detroit, Michigan's largest city and the cradle of the automotive industry filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history. So Snyder's "Chinese dream" is to attract Chinese enterprises to invest in the US State of Michigan, especially the city of Detroit, and establish a stronger business ties with the world's second-largest economy. Snyder: It's important to renew that good relationship, because the future is about global business, and about creating positive relationships and understanding that brining in cultures together is actually a great power for the future. The successful businesses of the future will be those that seize opportunities in growing economies such as China. Host: So, have you found enough business opportunities here? Snyder: Yes. There are lots. The good part is that the automotive industry and the agricultural area are two areas that have really been highlighted, but almost any area, that there's common ground to do business. It's very exciting. And I think there's good opportunity to tie in our research universities and our technology. They really grow together. And there're also many market opportunities in China, the sales in China, the export and the new business here. We are very excited about the opportunity. Host: Besides establishing a good partnership relationship with China, Snyder's biggest "Chinese dream" is to attract Chinese investment. In fact, some Chinese investors have already started buying property in Detroit due to the low prices, to which Snyder said "that would be quite helpful." Snyder: Detroit is the value place in the United States, in Michigan, and potentially the world in terms of a great value opportunity to say, come and invest now, because there's going to be great up-side. Host: Some Chinese investors have seemed receptive to the idea that there are opportunities in Detroit, whether it's for individuals investing in low-price real estate or for businesses considering the area to expand into the North American market. Snyder: We think we have great values now in Michigan and we are creating a very competitive environment for enterprises to succeed and do well. We've redone our tax system, our regulatory system; we've just balanced our budget. So we're doing many things to be very business-friendly. Host: Statistics show that Chinese direct investment to Michigan reached the $1 billion mark in 2012, making the area one of the top 10 US states receiving direct investment from China. When asked how the Chinese investment can specifically help Michigan, Snyder answered definitely: Snyder: They can do a lot. I think there's a huge investment opportunity in terms of large-scale investment. One of the other things I'm working on I would like to solve — I had a session here a while ago — immigration, in terms of finding more ways to get more immigration to the United States, in terms of keeping a lot of these bright engineers going to Michigan. They are job-generators. It's a misunderstanding to think they take jobs. They add jobs. Host: For US Governor Rick Snyder, whether his "Chinese dream" can become a reality, for the most part, hinges on his follow-up actions; and the Republican Governor of the United States believes his "Chinese dream" will be a dream come true. Snyder: We are going to be very quickly to show that what we're doing are action-based, not just stand and talk, in terms of being among the most business-friendly states in our entire country.
A Saudi activist was sentenced to four years and 300 lashes. He is the fourth to be imprisoned from one organization this yearAt the memorial for Nelson Mandela, President Barack Obama eulogized the fallen leader:
''Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement – a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like [Martin Luther] King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed.''
Listening in the crowd sat Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's second deputy prime minister. Apparently the words were lost on the government His Royal Highness was representing (though it's questionable he even relayed the message), because within the next week, a Saudi judge sentenced democratic activist Omar al-Saeed to 4 years in prison and 300 lashes. His crime: calling for a constitutional monarchy (a government that would likely outlaw such cruel and unusual punishment).
Saeed is a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (Acpra), an organization documenting human rights abuses and calling for democratic reform. He is its fourth member to be sentenced to prison this year. In March, co-founders Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani (who I have met in the past, and previously wrote about) and Abdullah al-Hamid were sentenced to prison terms of 10 and 5 years on charges such as "breaking allegiance with the ruler" and running an unlicensed political organization – despite repeated attempts to obtain a license.
Not surprisingly, there has been no strong public statement from the Obama administration regarding Saeed's sentencing. Following the conviction and sentencing of Qahtani and Hamid, the strongest language came from the obscure United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. It took a direct question at a press briefing to prompt a canned statement from the State department, claiming "concern" at the arrests and sentences, and asserting that the US makes "strong representations for human rights activists" wherever our diplomats are. It is also of little surprise that American media hasn't pressed Obama administration officials on this latest persecution, and the clear signal the sentence sends that those "strong representations" fell on deliberately deaf ears. After all, there is much to be distracted by in the region: the Iranian nuclear deal, the continuing bloody war in Syria, and the escalating conflict in Egypt. All of these strategically concern Saudi Arabia and its level of influence – briefings at State in the days following Saeed's sentencing touched on issues such as Saudi-US cooperation in the Middle East peace process, and the Geneva II conference over Syria, with no mention of the quashing of nascent civil society.
But what is particularly galling about the lack of public pressure on the Saudi government for their continued crackdown on Acpra and other democratic activists is that it is indicative of a broader flight from the lofty pro-democracy rhetoric of the Obama White House at the beginning of the Arab Spring. With Syria, the Obama administration seemed interested principally in retributive strikes against the Assad regime for using chemical weapons simply because it crossed an imaginary "red line" and because it violated an "international norm", regardless of what the effect would be on the revolution's non-extremist anti-Assad forces and movements – likely the only (yet swiftly fading) hope for democratization.
The United States government chose not to label the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi as a military coup in Egypt – and then only reduced military aid (which is required by law should a military government overthrow a democratically elected leader) in the face of massive and violent repression where, quite literally, "the whole world was watching". Secretary of State John Kerry then said this aid reduction was not a form of "punishment" in his November visit to Cairo. Now the state department had to issue a statement on 23 December, condemning the recent crackdown by Egypt's military government on peaceful demonstrators and activists – a sign that once again, trust in authoritarian regimes to be the stewards of inclusive democratic transitions will result in failure. Of course, there are strategic rationalizations for supporting the military government of Sisi in Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, despite human rights abuses. The US is set to sell $10.8bn in military weapons, including standoff land attack missiles and anti-ship harpoon missiles capable of being fired from US-made F-15s and F-16s to Saudi and the UAE – the latter just sentenced an American citizen to a year in prison for making a satirical video about Emirati youth. These countries are important players, and must interact with the many moving parts of US foreign policy. But this was also the argument behind support for the apartheid government of South Africa – where strategic interests took precedence over addressing clear injustice.
It's clear that half-hearted condemnations have little effect on human rights abuses. The governments of countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt can't afford to truly forswear US support (even if they make public displays of frustration). The US and other allies should demand an end to the suppression of democratic activism and civil society – and back it up with real threats of withdrawal of support. Supporters of democracy should not be afraid to name, shame, and directly confront tyranny wherever it is seen. Whether it is in Russia or China, or perpetrated under the guise of "national security" by the United States or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Those that deem oppression a strategic necessity or its elimination an impossibility almost always end up on the "wrong side of history".
The Syrian government evacuated around 5,000 people on Sunday from a town near Damascus where Islamist rebel fighters executed dozens of civilians two weeks ago, Syria’s state news agency reported. Government forces continued to battle Islamist rebels from the Al-Nusra Front and the Army of Islam in the town of Adra, located northeast of the capital. The town, which has a population of 20,000, was captured in mid-December by jihadist rebel groups. Many of the civilians killed were members of the Alawite and Druse sects, communities which stand in support of President Bashar Assad, who himself is an Alawite. Syrian troops surrounded the town following the rebel invasion. Minister of social affairs Kinda Shammat stated Sunday that more than 5,000 people were evacuated from the town. "The citizens who have been evacuated are now in a safe haven as the ministry formed a relief operations' room with the cooperation of Damascus countryside governorate to offer them the basic relief aid," he said in a statement to SANA news agency. An Adra resident earlier told RT that he escaped from the town “under a storm of bullets.” He later contacted his colleagues, who described how the executions were carried out by the militants. “They had lists of government employees on them,” the man said. “This means they had planned for it beforehand and knew who works in the governmental agencies. They went to the addresses they had on their list, forced the people out, and subjected them to the so-called 'Sharia trials.' I think that’s what they call it. They sentenced them to death by beheading.” The government in Damascus tried to draw the UN’s attention to the events in Adra. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter of complaint to the United Nations on Monday, saying that more than 100 people were massacred by the al-Nusra Front and the Islam Brigade. Both the Adra massacre and the latest Aleppo bombing have signaled the escalation of violence in the war-torn country ahead of the UN-mediated and continuously postponed peace talks on Syria, which are now set to take place in Geneva on January 22. More than 100,000 people have died during the three-year uprising in Syria, according to UN estimates.
How President Barack Obama spent day eight of his holiday vacation in Hawaii on Saturday:White House officials said Saturday that the president received an update from his health care team late Friday night on the implementation of his signature federal health care overhaul. The president said officials should prioritize consumer flexibility and minimizing disruptions for people switching plans, the White House said. — GYM: Obama went for his usual morning workout at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe. As he returned to his vacation home, demonstrators waved signs representing various causes outside a blocked-off street leading to his neighborhood. — NORTH SHORE BBQ: The first family joined longtime Obama friend Bobby Titcomb for an afternoon barbecue at Titcomb's home in Waialua, an historic sugarcane plantation town on Oahu's north shore. As he left Kailua alongside the first lady, Obama sipped a soda while wearing an aloha shirt. The president's motorcade took them along Oahu's main highway and up past Schofield Barracks, a U.S. Army garrison attacked during the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing and setting for the 1953 Burt Lancaster movie "From Here To Eternity."
Sunni monarchs back YouTube hate preachers: Anti-Shia propaganda threatens a sectarian civil war which will engulf the entire Muslim world
Anti-Shia hate propaganda spread by Sunni religious figures sponsored by, or based in, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, is creating the ingredients for a sectarian civil war engulfing the entire Muslim world. Iraq and Syria have seen the most violence, with the majority of the 766 civilian fatalities in Iraq this month being Shia pilgrims killed by suicide bombers from the al-Qa'ida umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). The anti-Shia hostility of this organisation, now operating from Baghdad to Beirut, is so extreme that last month it had to apologise for beheading one of its own wounded fighters in Aleppo – because he was mistakenly believed to have muttered the name of Shia saints as he lay on a stretcher. At the beginning of December, al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula killed 53 doctors and nurses and wounded 162 in an attack on a hospital in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, which had been threatened for not taking care of wounded militants by a commentator on an extreme Sunni satellite TV station. Days before the attack, he announced that armies and tribes would assault the hospital "to take revenge for our brothers. We say this and, by the grace of Allah, we will do it".
Skilled use of the internet and access to satellite television funded by or based in Sunni states has been central to the resurgence of al-Qa'ida across the Middle East, to a degree that Western politicians have so far failed to grasp. In the last year, Isis has become the most powerful single rebel military force in Iraq and Syria, partly because of its ability to recruit suicide bombers and fanatical fighters through the social media. Western intelligence agencies, such as the NSA in the US, much criticised for spying on the internet communications of their own citizens, have paid much less attention to open and instantly accessible calls for sectarian murder that are in plain view. Critics say that this is in keeping with a tradition since 9/11 of Western governments not wishing to hold Saudi Arabia or the Gulf monarchies responsible for funding extreme Sunni jihadi groups and propagandists supporting them through private donations.
Satellite television, internet, YouTube and Twitter content, frequently emanating from or financed by oil states in the Arabian peninsula, are at the centre of a campaign to spread sectarian hatred to every corner of the Muslim world, including places where Shia are a vulnerable minority, such as Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Malaysia. In Benghazi, in effect the capital of eastern Libya, a jihadi group uploaded a video of the execution of an Iraqi professor who admitted to being a Shia, saying they had shot him in revenge for the execution of Sunni militants by the Iraqi government. YouTube-inspired divisions are not confined to the Middle East: in London's Edgware Road there was a fracas this summer when a Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) cleric held a rally in the face of objections from local Shia shopkeepers. Impelled by television preachers and the social media, sectarian animosities are deepening among hitherto moderate Sunni and Shia, with one Shia figure in the UK saying that "Even in London you could open the address books of most Sunni without finding any Shia names, and vice versa."
The hate propaganda is often gory and calls openly for religious war. One anti-Shia satellite television station shows a grouping of Shia clerical leaders, mostly from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, labelled as "Satan's assistants". Another asks "Oh Sunni Muslims, how long will you wait when your sons are led to be hanged in Iraq? Is it now time to break the shackles?" A picture of a woman in black walking between what appear to be two militiamen is entitled "Shia men in Syria rape Sunni sisters", and another shows the back of a pick-up truck heaped with dead bodies in uniform, titled "The destiny of Syrian Army and Shia soldiers". Some pictures are intended to intimidate, such as one showing an armed convoy on a road in Yemen, with a message addressed to the Shia saying: "Sunni tribes are on the way".
Sectarian animosities between Sunni and Shia have existed down the centuries, but have greatly intensified since the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that followed it. Hatreds increased after the US invasion of Iraq and the takeover of what had been a Sunni-run state under Saddam Hussein by the majority Shia community, which generated a ferocious sectarian civil war that peaked in 2006-07 and ended with a Shia victory. Opposition to Iran and the new Shia-run state of Iraq led to Sunni rulers emphasising the Shia threat. Shia activists point in particular to the establishment in 2009 of two satellite channels, Safa TV and Wesal TV, which they accuse of having strong anti-Shia bias. They say that Saudi clerics have shown great skill in communicating extreme sectarian views through modern communications technology such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, giving them a much wider audience than they had previously enjoyed.An example of the inflammatory views being pumped out over YouTube is a sermon by Nabil al-Awadi, a cleric in Kuwait, who has 3.4 million followers on Twitter. His speech is devoted to "exposing the biggest conspiracy the Muslim world faces", which turns out to be a plot "conceived in Qom [the Shia holy city in Iran], and handled by sayyids and chiefs in Tehran, to get rid of the nation of Islam, aiming to desecrate the Kaaba [the building in Mecca that is Islam's most sacred site] brick by brick". Mr Awadi relates that Iraq fell to an enemy whom he does not name, but he clearly means the Shia, often referred to as Safavids after the Iranian dynasty of that name. He says that in Iraq "they were killing the imams with drills in their heads until they are dead and they put the bodies in acid to burn until they died". But the speaker looks forward to a holy war or jihad in Syria, where a great battle for the future of Islam will be fought and won. He warns that "they did not know that jihad is staying and will put fear in their hearts even if they are in Washington, even if they are in London, even if they are in Moscow". In Egypt, the Shia are only a small minority, but a cleric named Mohamed Zoghbi reacted furiously to the suggestion that they appear on satellite television to debate religious differences. "We would cut off their fingers and cut off their tongues," he said. "I must cut off the Shia breath in Egypt." Bloodthirsty threats like this have great influence on ordinary viewers, since many Egyptians watch religious channels continuously and believe the opinions expressed on them. An example of what this kind of incitement can mean for Shia living in communities where Sunni are the overwhelming majority was demonstrated in June in the small village of Zawyat Abu Musalam, in Giza governorate in Egypt. Some 40 Shia families had previously lived in the village until an enraged mob, led by Salafist sheikhs, burned five houses and lynched four Shia, including a prominent local figure. Video films of the lynching, which took place in daylight, show the savage and merciless attacks to which Shia minorities in many countries are now being subjected. Hazem Barakat, an eyewitness and photojournalist, minutely recorded what happened and recorded it on Twitter in real time. "For three weeks, the Salafist sheikhs in the village have been attacking the Shias and accusing them of being infidels and spreading debauchery," he told Ahram Online. Film of the incident shows a man, who looks as if he may already be dead, being dragged through a narrow street in the village by a mob. Among the four dead was 66-year-old Hassan Shehata, a well-known Shia leader who had been twice jailed under Hosni Mubarak for "contempt for religion". Police came to the village but arrived late. "They were just watching the public lynching like everyone else and did not stop anything," said Mr Barakat. A significant sign of the mood in Egypt is that immediately after the lynchings, a TV host said that Mr Shehata had been killed because he had insulted the Prophet Mohamed's relatives. Several Salafist and conservative Facebook pages are cited by Ahram Online as having lauded the murders, saying that this was the beginning of eliminating all the three million Shia in Egypt. Given that Shia make up between 150 and 200 million of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, they are a small and usually vulnerable minority in all countries aside from Iran and Iraq, though they are numerous in Lebanon, Pakistan and India. In Tunisia last year, a pro-Palestinian march by Shia in the city of Gabes was attacked by Salafists chanting, "There is no god but Allah and the Shia are the enemies of God." Tunisian eyewitnesses cite the influence of Egyptian and Saudi religious channels, combined with the Salafists claiming to be the last defence against an exaggerated threat of a takeover by Iran and the Shia. The propaganda war became more intense from 2006 on, when there were mass killings of Sunni in Baghdad which, having previously been a mixed city, is now dominated by the Shia, with Sunnis confined to enclaves mostly in the west of the city. The Sunni community in Iraq started a protest movement against persecution and denial of political, social and economic rights in December 2012. As the Iraqi government failed to conciliate the Sunni with concessions, a peaceful protest movement mutated into armed resistance. The enhanced prestige and popularity of the Shia paramilitary movement Hezbollah, after its success against Israel's air and ground assault in 2006, may also be a reason why Sunni governments tolerated stepped-up sectarian attacks on the Shia. These often take the form of claims that Iran is seeking to take over the region. In Bahrain, the Sunni monarchy repeatedly asserted that it saw an Iranian hand behind the Arab Spring protests in early 2011, though its own international inquiry later found no evidence for this. When President Obama said in September that Bahrain, along with Iraq and Syria, suffered from sectarian tensions, the Bahraini government furiously denied that any such thing was true. Social media, satellite television, Facebook and YouTube, which were praised at the start of the Arab Spring as the means for a progressive breakthrough for freedom of expression, have turned into channels for instilling hatred and fear. Fighters in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and other countries beset by violence often draw their knowledge of the world from a limited number of fanatical internet preachers and commentators calling for holy war by Sunni against Shia; often such people are crucial in sending young volunteers to fight and die in Syria and Iraq. A recent study of dead rebel fighters in Syria by Aaron Y Zelin of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation indicates that jihadi death notices revealing country of origin show that 267 came from Saudi Arabia, 201 from Libya, 182 from Tunisia and 95 from Jordan. The great majority had joined Isis and the al-Nusra Front, both of which are highly sectarian organisations. A deeply dangerous development is that the foreign fighters, inspired by film of atrocities and appeals to religious faith, may sign up to go to Syria but often end up as suicide bombers in Iraq, where violence has increased spectacularly in the past 12 months. There is now a fast-expanding pool of jihadis willing to fight and die anywhere. The Saudis and the Gulf monarchies may find, as happened in Afghanistan 30 years ago, that, by funding or tolerating the dissemination of Sunni-Shia hate, they have created a sectarian Frankenstein's monster of religious fanatics beyond their control.
In a statement, he said PTI supporters should not have allowed its workers to bring weapons to the protest. “Imran Khan has made a habit of distracting the country every time, we are about to have a national conversation on TTP. When Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in drone he made it aboutt NATO trucks. When I talked about TTP on Dec 27th instead of revisiting his appeasement policy, Imran has tried to distract people by talking about Bilawal House wall.” Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said his generation is tired of ostrich & red herring politics. “We demand the senior politicians to talk about the real threat to our country’s future. The terrorists are killing innocent civilians, our leaders and our army.” PPP leader said if PTI changes it’s stance on TTP, PPP & PTI can work together. In free and fair elections the only possible legitimate national mandate is a coalition government. However, PTI’s appeasement and excuses for the TTP who assassinated my mother and kill my brothers is the only thing standing in our way, he added.
By Ernesto Londoño, Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report. The National Intelligence Estimate, which includes input from the country’s 16 intelligence agencies, predicts that the Taliban and other power brokers will become increasingly influential as the United States winds down its longest war in history, according to officials who have read the classified report or received briefings on its conclusions. The grim outlook is fueling a policy debate inside the Obama administration about the steps it should take over the next year as the U.S. military draws down its remaining troops. The report predicts that Afghanistan would likely descend into chaos quickly if Washington and Kabul don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014 — a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to spend in Afghanistan over the coming years. “In the absence of a continuing presence and continuing financial support,” the intelligence assessment “suggests the situation would deteriorate very rapidly,” said one U.S. official familiar with the report. That conclusion is widely shared among U.S. officials working on Afghanistan, said the official, who was among five people familiar with the report who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity to discuss the assessment. Some officials have taken umbrage at the underlying pessimism in the report, arguing that it does not adequately reflect how strong Afghanistan’s security forces have become. One American official, who described the NIE as “more dark” than past intelligence assessments on the war, said there are too many uncertainties to make an educated prediction on how the conflict will unfold between now and 2017, chief among them the outcome of next year’s presidential election. “I think what we’re going to see is a recalibration of political power, territory and that kind of thing,” said one U.S. official who felt the assessment was unfairly negative. “It’s not going to be an inevitable rise of the Taliban.” A senior administration official said that the intelligence community has long underestimated Afghanistan’s security forces. “An assessment that says things are going to be gloomy no matter what you do, that you’re just delaying the inevitable, that’s just a view,” said the official. “I would not think it would be the determining view.” U.S. intelligence analysts did not provide a detailed mapping of areas they believe are likely to become controlled by specific groups or warlords in coming years, said one of the officials. But the analysts anticipate that the central government in Kabul is all but certain to become increasingly irrelevant as it loses “purchase” over parts of the country, the official said. Some have interpreted the intelligence assessment as an implicit indictment of the 2009 troop surge, which President Obama authorized under heavy pressure from the U.S. military in a bid to strengthen Afghan institutions and weaken the insurgency. The senior administration official said the surge enabled the development of a credible and increasingly proficient Afghan army and made it unlikely that al-Qaeda could reestablish a foothold in the country where the Sept. 11 attacks were plotted. “By no means has the surge defeated the Taliban,” the official said, but its stated goal was to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give the government more of an edge. I think we achieved that.” A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which issues intelligence estimates, declined to comment. Officials at the White House declined to speak about the NIE’s findings. In an e-mailed statement, a senior administration official said intelligence assessments are “only one tool in our policy analysis toolbox.” “One of the intelligence community’s principal duties is to warn about potential upsides and downsides to U.S. policy, and we frequently use their assessments to identify vulnerabilities and take steps to correct them,” the statement said. “We will be weighing inputs from the [intelligence community] alongside those of the military, our diplomats and development experts as we look at the consequential decisions ahead of us, including making a decision on whether to leave troops in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.” The Obama administration has sought to get permission from Kabul to keep troops that would carry out counterterrorism and training missions beyond 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far refused to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States and has made demands that Washington calls unrealistic. Karzai’s intransigence has emboldened those in the administration and Congress who favor a quick drawdown. The latest intelligence assessment, some U.S. officials noted, has provided those inclined to abandon Afghanistan with strong fodder. NIEs are issued periodically, normally ahead of a major policy decisions. One issued in 2008 was seen by international diplomats as having presented an “unrelentingly gloomy” picture of the state of affairs in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable that was released by WikiLeaks. Another one issued in 2010, when the U.S. troop surge was at its peak, also offered a decidedly grim assessment. U.S. war commanders have submitted rebuttal letters to make note of their disagreements or highlight success stories they felt were not being taken into account. The issue came to a head when Gen. David E. Petraeus left command of the international coalition in Kabul to take the helm of the CIA in 2011. He instructed analysts at the agency, which plays the dominant role in shaping NIEs, to consult more closely with commanders on the ground as they put together future war zone intelligence estimates. The directive was seen by some as an affront to the agency’s mandate to provide policymakers with independent, fact-based analysis. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the commander of international troops in Afghanistan, chose not to submit a rebuttal to the latest NIE, according to two U.S. officials. A spokesman for the general said he would not comment on the report. Stephen Biddle, a defense policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Afghanistan experts in and out of government have a range of outlooks. The optimists see Afghan security forces expanding their territorial control until the Taliban is forced into a peace deal. Pessimists fear the government could eventually lose control of the capital and other big cities. Biddle said he predicts a stalemate for years to come. “Whether it’s a worse or better stalemate depends on the rate at which Congress defunds the war,” he said.
Gunmen have shot dead a health officer supervising an anti-polio vaccination campaign after storming a hospital where children were being immunised in Pakistan's troubled northwest.Two other hospital staff were injured in the attack at a government-run hospital in the town of Mattani, on the outskirts of Peshawar. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, but Taliban militants have been targeting health workers and security personnel during vaccination campaigns. "Two men riding a motorbike stormed the office of an immunisation officer located inside the premises of Civil Hospital Mattani and shot him dead," senior police official Ijaz Khan said. "Two other local staff of the hospital including a woman were injured in the attack," he added. Khan said the gunmen fled on the motorbike soon after the shooting. Provincial health minister of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Shaukat Ali, confirmed the attack. "Routine immunisation of children was going on in the hospital at the time of the attack," he said. The Taliban imposed a ban on polio vaccinations last year as they view inoculation campaigns as a cover for espionage after news emerged that the US' Central Intelligence Agency employed a doctor to run a fake hepatitis B vaccination programme in an effort to find Osama bin Laden. But prominent Pakistani religious scholar, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the "Father of the Taliban", has urged parents to immunise their children against polio and other life-threatening diseases, saying that vaccinations were compliant with Sharia. Eradication efforts have also suffered due to long-standing rumours that the vaccine was part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims. Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio remains endemic and efforts to stamp it out have been badly affected by attacks on health workers inoculating children. Polio is also endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria. According to the World Health Organisation, Pakistan recorded 72 cases of polio this year compared with 58 in 2012. New Delhi last week announced it would require citizens from Pakistan and other polio-affected nations travelling to India to take a mandatory vaccination for the disease at least six weeks prior to their departure. Since July 2012, 31 people have been killed in Taliban-led attacks on anti-polio campaigners in Pakistan.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Sunday that everyone has the right to peacefully protest.
Workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) clashed near the Bilawal House here on Sunday. Workers from both parties pelted stones at each other and Deputy Commissioner South said police had detained several individuals. PPP workers have gathered to ensure that roads around Bilawal House remain closed, while PTI workers are demanding that they be opened. PTI leaders from Clifton and DHA have been publicly campaigning for reopening the tracks closed for traffic in front of Bilawal House. PPP leader Abdul Qadir Patel said PPP workers were attacked by PTI workers. He held PTI leader Dr Arif Alvi responsible for the untoward incident that took place near Bilawal House. Meanwhile Sharmila Farooqui from the PPP said the PTI had become a party of sit-in and protests. “PPP workers know how to protect and die for the political leaders,” she added. On Saturday night, a large contingent of riot police were deployed outside Bilawal House after PTI said it would launch a campaign to bring down the security wall. The road adjacent to Bilawal House was also opened.
Najmi Alam says Bilawal House is residence of late Benazir Bhutto and politics on it can't be tolerated * Patel says PTI is trying to spread chaos ahead of LG polls in provinceThe Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday warned Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) against politicking on Bilawal House after Imran Khan’s party issued a call to launch a campaign to demolish security wall outside the private residence of former president Asif Ali Zardari. Talking to the media outside Bilawal House, PPP leader Najmi Alam warned that there would be clashes if PTI workers try to bring down the wall forcibly. “Bilawal House is the residence of our martyred leader Benazir Bhutto and we will not tolerate anyone trying to create problems or play politics with it,” he said, as a large contingent of police and other security forces cordoned off the residence in the wake of PTI’s call. He alleged that Imran Khan and his party is supporting the terrorists and by demanding the removal of the wall “Khan and his party want to expose Bilawal House to terrorists”. PPP Karachi division President Abdul Qadir Patel also slammed PTI MNA Dr Alvi, and said that it is not possible to surround Bilawal House. “If they [PTI leaders and supporters] want to protest they must go to the press club or assemblies and this is not the way to protest,” said Patel. He also alleged that ahead of local government elections, Dr Alvi wants to create chaos. The two PPP leaders made these remarks after a large number of PTI supporters gathered outside Bilawal House to protest against security walls and blockade of the road. As PTI supporters, led by MNA Dr Arif Alvi and MPA Khurram Sher Zaman, reached near Bilawal Chowrangi, a large number of PPP supporters led by Najmi Alam reached the site as well. Tensions escalated as activists of both parties started chanting slogans against each other. To reduce tensions, authorities opened one side of the road that had been blocked for security reasons. The PTI protest came just a day after PPP Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari criticised Imran Khan and his party during a public gathering in Garhi Khuda Bukhsh town. A large number of policemen and other paramilitary personnel also rushed to Bilawal House to avert a possible clash between the workers of both parties. Meanwhile, the PTI has issued a call for protest demonstration at Bilwal Chowrangi, a roundabout outside the Bilawal House, today. Arif Alvi, who was elected MNA from NA-250, issued the call to hold a protest demonstration today (Sunday) at 1pm and announced that it would continue until Monday evening. Separately, talking to the media, police officer Aamir Farooqi said that police have opened one side of the road for the public use and installed CCTV cameras for security purposes. A large contingent of police has also been deployed outside Bilawal House to avert any clash, he said.
By Lal Khan
Subsequent regimes had offered ‘generous’ concessions to these corporate vultures, lining their own pockets at the expense of the people of this beleaguered landIn the last few days, the Nawaz Sharif-led PML-N government announced the resumption of electricity outages. The spokesman claimed that it would be “one to two” hours in the big cities and “10 to 14” hours in the villages. The actual reality for the masses is 18 hours in the countryside and ‘about’ 10 hours in the cities, exposing the half-truths, ambiguity, hypocrisy and duplicity of the state and the ruling classes dominating every ethical, moral and social attribute of society. In the initial few weeks, the regime paid the Independent (Private) Power Producers (IPPs), mostly owned by imperialist corporations, a total of $ five billion. This was financed by the dreaded IMF loan of more than $ seven billion with harsh conditions of austerity, cuts in subsidies and further attacks on the oppressed masses. Within months, a similar amount of ‘circular debt’ has mounted up again. From where will this be paid? More loans with greater debt servicing costs will incur an even ghastlier economic and fiscal scenario. The rulers are elusive and want to evade even talking about it.
The power shortages and rising cost of living were the main campaign issues of the PML-N. The PTI and other mainstream parties were everywhere and nowhere on real issues. Now the chickens have come home to roost. The electricity deficit is not going away any time soon. The economy and society cannot survive without electric power in the 21st century. In some ways, the situation was better in the last century. However, every subsequent regime faced a severe dilemma under the weak and decaying capitalist system drifting in a downward spiral, sucking up the resources with increasing debt servicing and the procurement of military equipment. Not to mention the country’s enigmatic nuclear programme, which squeezed the blood and sweat of the toiling masses with no real use possible.With dwindling profits from industrial services and agricultural sectors, the ruling class seized upon the power production sector as it provided new contracts and investment deals, mainly with corporate capital, and exhorted hefty commissions and kickbacks. The other avenue was the accumulation of black money through crime, the drug trade and other extortions protected by the government you were in. Pakistan’s present power crisis is the product of these policies where all the infrastructural projects and developmental plans are subject to the share of the plunder of the ruling elite. The imperialists were not stupid and their investments were of an extremely exploitative nature where they could easily bribe the national leaders with small change. The IPPs and the ‘DISCOS’ have made mammoth profits from these investments. According to some estimates, these companies have transferred to their home bases more than $ 27 billion since power generation was contracted in 1994 to the private sector. This policy attracted investments only in thermal power as it offered lucrative, quick and almost riskless means of minting profits. Subsequent regimes had offered ‘generous’ concessions to these corporate vultures, lining their own pockets at the expense of the people of this beleaguered land. The private sector was guaranteed a rate of return for a small portion of its own equity. All major risks were transferred to the state and more than 75 percent of the investments were financed by government-liable bank loans. The World Bank actively supported this policy. This shifted electricity generation to the most expensive source, thermal power production. In the 1960s, 60 percent of electricity generation was from hydropower, which came down to about 30 percent by the year 2005. The costs have gone up horrendously. The cost of hydropower is Rs 0.16/kWh, nuclear is Rs 1.13/kWh, gas is Rs 4.24/kWh and diesel is Rs 18.89/kWh. A recent issue of Time magazine stated, “Pakistan’s government says the energy crisis is costing the economy up to five percent of the GDP a year, or about $ 10 billion...The energy deficit and the reliance on oil imports affect livelihoods, pull cash strapped governments into debt, and draw money away from basic services like healthcare and education, which particularly hurt the poor.” At the end of 2005, the inter-enterprise and corporate (circular) debt stood at Rs 84 billion. By the end of 2012 it grew to a staggering Rs 872 billion. The PPP government raised tariffs by 74 percent but, under the present regime, this has already spiralled at the behest of the IMF and will escalate much further. According to some observers, spending on the ‘payments’ to the IPPs will outstrip the total defence expenditure if it has not already done so. Those who are arguing for privatisation as the cure of all economic ills do not really have to suffer from the cumbersome agony it imparts upon the vast majority of the population. In South Asia, the average consumption of electricity is 517 kilowatt-hours per year compared to 12,914 in the US. Yet its burden on the incomes of the toilers in Pakistan is manifold. Even from bourgeois perspectives the privatised KESC has experienced much higher loses (30 percent) in transmission and distribution. As compared to the public sector distribution companies, Pakistan’s energy resources are enormous — an estimated 186 billion tonnes of coal, over 100,000 megawatts of hydro potential and wind potential of up to 346,000 megawatts. However, the prevalent system cannot generate the technology and the investment to exploit these resources. Hence the imperialist corporations in collusion with the local bourgeoisie intervene and exploit the resources and the people. This failure of Pakistani capitalism to develop an advanced and necessary power infrastructure, as its failure in other sectors, lays bare its historical redundancy. However, above all, the short term, makeshift and erratic planning and policies reflect the intrinsic weakness of the ruling classes and their utter lack of confidence in the long-term future of their system of rulership. And yet this system is being mercilessly imposed upon the already impoverished masses. From the media to the curriculum and from the pulpit to the liberal secular rostrums, it is being presented as the ultimate destiny of mankind. Only through expropriation without compensation of these IPPs and other power generating, distributing and transmitting companies under workers control and management can this daunting problem be put on the path to be addressed. For a complete resolution of the crisis of the economy and society as a whole, this process will have to be undertaken in all the commanding heights of the economy, domestic and foreign investment, all included. Those who have high stakes in these companies are in the present government and in the leaderships of the main parties. This class, replete with greed and lust for more, would never give up its plundered wealth and vested interests easily. To achieve salvation its rule has to be overthrown.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari kicked off what appears to be the opening shot of his active entry into the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics through his speech at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh on Friday at the sixth death anniversary of his mother, Benazir Bhutto (BB). Addressing a huge charged crowd of PPP workers and supporters from all over the country who had travelled to commemorate their slain leader’s memory, Bilawal made the bravest departure from the ‘ordinary’ politics that defines Pakistan today by throwing down the gauntlet to the terrorists. Calling them ‘wild animals thirsty for human blood’, Bilawal vowed his party would stand against the terrorists. He reminded his audience of the lack of humanity demonstrated by these enemies of the people by attacking mosques and killing innocent people. Bilawal demanded the Punjab government crack down on the safe havens the terrorist enjoyed in the province. A united campaign by the PML-N and the PPP against terrorism could save the country from these monsters, Bilawal argued. He announced the launch of a jihad against the terrorists because only their elimination could ensure peace in Pakistan. In this context he also emphasized that talks would only be held with terrorist groups who agreed to lay down their arms, pay blood money to their victims and respect minorities, amongst other strict conditions. In true Bhutto style and tradition, he courageously iterated that he knew his path was not without danger, dramatically describing his destiny as martyrdom in the wake of his family’s tragedies and his final resting place Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, which now houses two generations of Bhutto martyrs. Difficult as the fight against terrorism is, he was confident that the army would eventually win against the bloodthirsty terrorists. Bilawal asserted that the ‘Punjabi establishment’ was responsible for the PPP’s defeat in the last elections. Although there may be some truth in this claim, Bilawal may be forgiven for ratcheting up the rhetoric likely to appeal to his audience, without necessarily endorsing his view, since the record in office of the previous PPP government left much to be desired. Bilawal also announced the entry of his two sisters into active politics and appealed to the audience to take care of him as they had his mother. He said the PPP had not changed, as some critics assert, because the real essence of the party was ‘passion’ for democracy, rights, and an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. Turning to Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal vowed he and his party would stand with him in defence of democracy should any threat to the system emanate from any direction. However, he reiterated the PPP’s opposition to ‘personalisation’ in the name of privatization of state entities. He was particularly harsh on Imran Khan, calling him Buzdil (Coward) Khan and accusing him of mounting the blockade of NATO supply routes because of his love for the late Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud. Terrorism began long before drone strikes, he emphasized, and would continue long after such strikes ended, thereby rubbishing Imran Khan’s attempted linkage between the two. The young Bilawal’s speech at this sixth death anniversary of BB was a startling improvement on his previous forays into public rally speaking. His language, diction, wit and body language impressed, bringing back memories of his grandfather and mother. Politics is not expected to be transmuted as an inheritance, but in Bilawal’s case, it felt as though the genes in his body had found expression. The rally at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh was the biggest, but the entire country held remembrances in various forms for the late BB, including prayers, candlelit vigils and other manifestations. Shorn of power except in its stronghold Sindh, the PPP and its jiyalas (committed workers) seem to have once again come into their own in opposition. Bilawal’s critique of the PML-N and PTI leaders evoked a ‘smarting’ response from PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari and PML-N Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. Social media activists seemed enthused by Bilawal’s take on terrorism and the content and delivery of his address, silencing those who in the past considered him too ‘foreign’ an import. While public speaking skills are a necessary tool in the armoury of any political leader in Pakistan, and Bilawal seems well on the way to acquiring them, the real hard work lies ahead. First and foremost, the young Patron-in-chief of the PPP has to restore the links with the jiyalas that appear worn, put balm on their wounded pride and commitment because of allegedly being ignored by the PPP leadership since BB’s passing, and enthuse them to take the field in anticipation of the 2018 round of testing the party’s popularity with the people throughout the country.
By:Kunwar Khuldune Shahid
Accused of being Shia, Ahmadi Old man claims he distributes toys on ChristmasA joyous, portly white-bearded man, wearing spectacles, a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots, was held on blasphemy charges in Sargodha on Tuesday night. The old man, identified by the police as one Santa Claus, is said to have been uttering blasphemous chants while carrying a bag full of what seemed like gifts for children, Khabaristan Today has learnt. The following day an angry crowd ransacked the lockup setting fire to Santa’s bag and the gifts. Some members of ASWJ (Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat) chanted “Kafir Kafir, Shia Kafir!” slogans for Santa while the Khaatim-e-Nabuwat brigade shouted “Qadiyaniat Murdabat!” outside the police station. Blasphemy laws in the country have been the target of criticisism owing to their severity and for the fact that they are open to abuse. Renewed focus on the laws has been witnessed since the Rimsha Masih case. Santa is believed to have been seen tiptoeing inside houses, climbing down chimneys and distributing gifts. While none of this was seen as peculiar, the fact that the old man was heard chanting “Merry Christmas!” and singing “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way” is being cited as evidence of blasphemy. Religious experts had issued a fatwa against wishing anyone “Merry Christmas”, since that basically connotes accepting Jesus Christ as the son of God, which of course is incompatible with Islamic teachings. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive issue in the country and critics believe that the blasphemy laws are quite often misused to settle personal vendettas. Accusations of blasphemy have resulted in vigilante killings by mobs in the past. Human rights activists have been urging the government to reform the laws, under which the culprit can be sent to jail for life or even sentenced to death. Speaking exclusively to Khabaristan Today, Santa denied accusations of being an Ahmadi or a Shia and identified himself as a mythical figure who makes a list of children around the globe, dividing them in synchrony with their behavior, delivering presents, that include toys, and candy to the well-behaved ones, and occasionally coal to the naughty ones on Christmas Eve. Answering questions about the blasphemy charges Santa said, “Well I honestly don’t get the blasphemy laws in all religions. I mean technically every person who does not adhere to your religious beliefs basically is blaspheming. So where do you draw the line?” Further discussing the laws he said, “So every person who doesn’t believe Jesus to be the son of God would blaspheme according to Christian beliefs and everyone who does believe that would blaspheme according to the belief system of every other religion. Do you get why the blasphemy laws don’t make much sense?” The enraged mob then broke inside the police station, bringing their sticks and rods to give their collective verdict and the ensuing punishment for blasphemy.
IN reaction to Malala Yousafzai’s speech to the Youth Assembly at the United Nations in July this year, the Pakistani Taliban advised her to return home and to join any madressah for girls. In return, they offered her ‘amnesty’. Interestingly, Taliban commander Adnan Rashid, who made the offer in a letter to Malala, did not have any objection to her right to education but to the medium of education. Not just the Taliban, a segment of the madressah establishment, too, opposes formal education provided by the public sector, looking on formal education as un-Islamic and believing this system spawns ‘secular’ generations. On the contrary, social scientists and educationists are concerned about the curriculum taught in public schools and think it is fixated on religion and ideology and that it needs to be reformed. Many studies on the syllabi in Pakistan corroborate their view. At the same time, a segment of Pakistan’s secular elite opposes campaigns for the equal right to education for all citizens. They have a set of reservations which reflects a pessimist mindset. Their major objection is also related to the curriculum. They argue that it is producing generations that will push the country further into extremism. They also argue that the economy cannot afford the burden of more literates and the market has already absorbed more than its capacity. Interestingly, both the madressah establishment and secular segments of society oppose the formal education system for divergent ideological reasons. Though these anti-public education segments do not represent the majority of their class, they do contribute to the state’s attitudes towards education. Despite the Constitution’s Article 25A, which ensures an equal and compulsory right to education for every citizen, the federal and provincial governments are not prioritising education in their development discourse. Both segments are the beneficiaries of their own educational systems. Both madressahs and elite educational institutions target the public-sector formal education system and demand reforms. At the same time, they contest demands for reforms in their own education system. Both have active alliances and unions to resist any attempt at the reform of their respective educational systems. These alliances also enable them to safeguard their so-called class interest through resisting educational reforms. The formal education sector in Pakistan is believed to be catering to the needs of 75pc of the population, while less than 4pc of students go to religious seminaries. Elite schools enrol an even lesser percentage. Both the public and private services sectors heavily depend on the formal education sector. The increasing number of technical training institutions in the public and private sectors not only fulfils the internal demand for skilled labour but also for labour abroad. Increases in foreign remittances are linked to skilled Pakistani labour abroad. The pessimist mindset is not ready to realise that education is a social instrument for developing human resources and for human capital formation. Pessimist elites in India and Bangladesh had similar fears until a few decades ago. But both countries gradually saw that literacy leads to education and results in empowerment, which enables one to contribute to community development. As far as the question of extremism is concerned, it has its own dynamics which are linked largely to state policies as well as to the ideological and political ambiguities created by the establishment and its beneficiaries. Foreign and local scholars have done extensive research on the subject and are still exploring the changing dynamics of extremism and thinking patterns but nobody has proved education to be the sole factor in extremism. If this was indeed the case, then all social classes and educational institutions would not be facing extremism of equal levels within their respective spheres. Interestingly, radical and militant groups also follow class distinctions and are quite aware of their constituencies and areas of support among different classes in Pakistan. For instance, sectarian and local Taliban factions function mainly in the lower middle classes and consider these an important support base. Urban-based militants including Lashkar-e-Taiba and factions of the Punjabi Taliban (affiliates of Al Qaeda) depend on the middle class and have encroached into formal and private educational institutes. Radical groups such as Hizbut Tahrir and Al Huda are active in indoctrinating elite classes and have established their networks in their institutions. Al Qaeda is also a beneficiary of radical tendencies found among the elite as it is continuously producing terrorists like Omer Saeed Sheikh, Khalid Sheikh and Faisal Shazad. Extremism is a complex phenomenon and cannot be understood in general terms. There is a need to evolve a consensus approach at both the state and society level to tackle it. Linking education to ideological, social and economic challenges is not the right approach. Such an approach cannot provide any solution and is nothing but an attempt to draw a curtain over the wrongdoings of the state and influential classes in the field of education. Blaming the education system alone will not help resolve the problem. No doubt, the current education systems including the formal, the elitist and the religious education institutions need massive reforms, but on the baseless fears of extremism, a small job market and economic burden, the nation cannot be kept illiterate and ignorant. There is a dire need to combine all energies to promote and reform the education sector. Instead of blaming the education system for the common man, there is a need to focus more on literacy and educational reforms.
Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had sought allocation of a pricey residential plot in Islamabad days before his retirement, reversing a decision made to much acclaim in 2009. A now-lapsed prime ministerial scheme had given approval for allotment of plots to bureaucrats and members of the superior judiciary. Dr Faqir Hussain, Registrar of the Supreme Court, wrote a letter to the Director General of Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation, on Nov 28 seeking allotment of a plot to the then chief justice. In the letter, the registrar said: “As per rules, Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, is entitled to a residential plot. Therefore, you are requested to finalise the process of allotment under the prime minister’s package at the earliest.”