Polls have opened in Bangladesh's controversial election, with fewer than half the parliamentary seats being contested. The opposition, which is boycotting the vote, has begun a two-day general strike against what it called a "scandalous farce". Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has dismissed their demands for her to step down and a neutral government to oversee the poll, as in previous years. The BBC's Mahfuz Sadique in Dhaka reports some senior government ministers have said they will hold talks with the opposition after Sunday's election, ahead of fresh elections "as soon as possible".
Saturday, January 4, 2014
By BEN HUBBARD, ROBERT F. WORTH and MICHAEL R. GORDON The images of recent days have an eerie familiarity, as if the horrors of the past decade were being played back: masked gunmen recapturing the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Ramadi, where so many American soldiers died fighting them. Car bombs exploding amid the elegance of downtown Beirut. The charnel house of Syria’s worsening civil war. But for all its echoes, the bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds. Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy. “I think we are witnessing a turning point, and it could be one of the worst in all our history,” said Elias Khoury, a Lebanese novelist and critic who lived through his own country’s 15-year civil war. “The West is not there, and we are in the hands of two regional powers, the Saudis and Iranians, each of which is fanatical in its own way. I don’t see how they can reach any entente, any rational solution.” The drumbeat of violence in recent weeks threatens to bring back the worst of the Iraqi civil war that the United States touched off with an invasion and then spent billions of dollars and thousands of soldiers’ lives to overcome. With the possible withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan looming later this year, many fear that an insurgency will unravel that country, too, leaving another American nation-building effort in ashes. The Obama administration defends its record of engagement in the region, pointing to its efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and the Palestinian dispute, but acknowledges that there are limits. “It’s not in America’s interests to have troops in the middle of every conflict in the Middle East, or to be permanently involved in open-ended wars in the Middle East,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, said in an email on Saturday. For the first time since the American troop withdrawal of 2011, fighters from a Qaeda affiliate have recaptured Iraqi territory. In the past few days they have seized parts of the two biggest cities in Anbar Province, where the government, which the fighters revile as a tool of Shiite Iran, struggles to maintain a semblance of authority. Lebanon has seen two deadly car bombs, including one that killed a senior political figure and American ally. In Syria, the tempo of violence has increased, with hundreds of civilians killed by bombs dropped indiscriminately on houses and markets. Linking all this mayhem is an increasingly naked appeal to the atavistic loyalties of clan and sect. Foreign powers’ imposing agendas on the region, and the police-state tactics of Arab despots, had never allowed communities to work out their long-simmering enmities. But these divides, largely benign during times of peace, have grown steadily more toxic since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The events of recent years have accelerated the trend, as foreign invasions and the recent round of Arab uprisings left the state weak, borders blurred, and people resorting to older loyalties for safety. Arab leaders are moving more aggressively to fill the vacuum left by the United States and other Western powers as they line up by sect and perceived interest. The Saudi government’s pledge last week of $3 billion to the Lebanese Army is a strikingly bold bid to reassert influence in a country where Iran has long played a dominant proxy role through Hezbollah, the Shiite movement it finances and arms. That Saudi pledge came just after the assassination of Mohamad B. Chatah, a prominent political figure allied with the Saudis, in a downtown car bombing that is widely believed to have been the work of the Syrian government or its Iranian or Lebanese allies, who are all fighting on the same side in the civil war. Iran and Saudi Arabia have increased their efforts to arm and recruit fighters in the civil war in Syria, which top officials in both countries portray as an existential struggle. Sunni Muslims from Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have joined the rebels, many fighting alongside affiliates of Al Qaeda. And Shiites from Bahrain, Lebanon, Yemen and even Africa are fighting with pro-government militias, fearing that a defeat for Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, would endanger their Shiite brethren everywhere. “Everyone fighting in Syria is fighting for his own purpose, not only to protect Bashar al-Assad and his regime,” said an Iraqi Shiite fighter who gave his name as Abu Karrar. He spoke near the Shiite shrine of Sayida Zeinab near Damascus, where hundreds of Shiite fighters from around the region, including trained Hezbollah commandos, have streamed to defend a symbol of their faith. Some Shiite fighters are trained in Iran or Lebanon before being sent to Syria, and many receive salaries and free room and board, paid for by donations from Shiite communities outside of Syria, Abu Karrar said. Although the Saudi government waged a bitter struggle with Al Qaeda on its own soil a decade ago, the kingdom now supports Islamist rebels in Syria who often fight alongside Qaeda groups like the Nusra Front. The Saudis say they have little choice: having lobbied unsuccessfully for a decisive American intervention in Syria, they believe they must now back whoever can help them defeat Mr. Assad’s forces and his Iranian allies. For all the attention paid to Syria over the past three years, Iraq’s slow disintegration also offers a vivid glimpse of the region’s bloody sectarian dynamic. In March 2012, Anthony Blinken, who is now President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, gave a speech echoing the White House’s rosy view of Iraq’s prospects after the withdrawal of American forces. Iraq, Mr. Blinken said, was “less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history.” But the Iraqi president, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, was already pursuing an aggressive campaign against Sunni political figures that infuriated Iraq’s Sunni minority. Those sectarian policies and the absence of American ground and air forces gave Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local Sunni insurgency that had become a spent force, a golden opportunity to rebuild its reputation as a champion of the Sunnis both in Iraq and in neighboring Syria. Violence in Iraq grew steadily over the following year. Rebranding itself as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the group seized territory in rebel-held parts of Syria, where it now aspires to erase the border between the two countries and carve out a haven for its transnational, jihadist project. Sending 30 to 40 suicide bombers a month to Iraq from Syria, it has mounted a campaign of violence that has led to the deaths of more than 8,000 Iraqis this year, according to the United Nations, the highest level of violence there since 2008. In recent days, after ISIS fighters rode into the cities of Falluja and Ramadi, they fought gun battles with Sunni tribal fighters backed by the Iraqi government, illustrating that the battle lines in the Middle East are about far more than just sect. Yet the tribal fighters see the government as the lesser of two evils, and their loyalty is likely to be temporary and conditional. As the United States rushed weapons to Mr. Maliki’s government late last year to help him fight off the jihadis, some analysts said American officials had not pushed the Iraqi president hard enough to be more inclusive. “Maliki has done everything he could to deepen the sectarian divide over the past year and a half, and he still enjoys unconditional American support,” said Peter Harling, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. “The pretext is always the same: They don’t want to rock the boat. How is this not rocking the boat?” The worsening violence in Iraq and Syria has spread into Lebanon, where a local Qaeda affiliate conducted a suicide bombing of the Iranian Embassy in Beirut in November, in an attack meant as revenge for Iran’s support of Mr. Assad. More bombings followed, including one in a Hezbollah stronghold on Thursday, one day after the authorities announced the arrest of a senior Saudi-born Qaeda leader. “All these countries are suffering the consequences of a state that’s no longer sovereign,” said Paul Salem, vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. “On the sectarian question, much depends on the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Will these two powers accommodate each other or continue to wage proxy war?” For the fighters on the ground, that question comes far too late. Amjad al-Ahmed, a Shiite fighter with a pro-government militia, said by phone from the Syrian city of Homs, “There is no such thing as coexistence between us and the Sunnis because they are killing my people here and in Lebanon.”
http://www.voanews.com/Reports Saturday say the Iraqi government has lost control of Fallujah to al-Qaida militants after days of fighting. A senior security official told the French news agency that Fallujah is under the control of ISIS - a reference to the al-Qaida-linked group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Witnesses says there are no signs of government forces inside the Anbar province city, which is only 60 kilometers west of Baghdad. On Friday, al-Qaida militants raised their flag over government buildings in Fallujah and declared an independent Islamic state. Witnesses said the militants cut power lines in the city late Friday and ordered residents not to use backup generators. A local journalist who asked for anonymity out of fear of retribution told The Washington Post that police and other government-aligned forces had abandoned the city and that al-Qaida had burned all Iraqi national flags. Fighting across the vast open spaces of western Iraq has become a severe test of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to hold the country together and prevent full-scale civil war. Meanwhile, in the Anbar provincial capital, Ramadi, a tribal leader who fought alongside U.S. troops in 2007 told The Washington Post his fighters had joined police in ejecting al-Qaida loyalists. He said the regional ISIS leader, Abdul Rahman al-Baghdadi, was among those killed in the fighting. The explosion of violence in western Iraq is pitting al-Qaida-linked Sunni extremists, who now control large swaths of the region west of Baghdad, against forces of the Shi'ite-dominated central government. Government forces in the west are backed by local tribesmen who have chosen to align themselves with Baghdad rather than with ISIS fighters. Anbar province was the center of the Sunni insurgency during the eight-year presence of U.S. military forces, which withdrew from the country in December 2011. More than 1,300 U.S. military personnel were killed in the region.
Middle East expert Guido Steinberg says the latest violence in Iraq will become a permanent condition as al Qaeda-linked groups grow stronger. Moreover, Syria's civil war continues to fuel conflict in the region.DW: Mr. Steinberg, who is responsible for the recent fighting in Iraq? Guido Steinberg: It was the government's attempt to arrest Ahmed al-Alwani, a Sunni Member of Parliament, that sparked the escalating riots in Ramadi and Fallujah. That led to protests and clashes. And al Qaeda did profit from these clashes, because it sent fighters to these cities as well. At this point, many Sunnis had started to fight back, targeting al Qaeda. The situation is much more complex than a simple confrontation between Shiites and Sunnis. Isn't Iraq mostly fighting a confessional war? The confessional aspect shouldn't be overemphasized. The conflict in Iraq is first and foremost a political conflict between [Shiite Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki and the opposition - Sunnis and secularists in Iraq's western regions. In addition to that, al Qaeda has regained its strength, but this organization does not equal Sunni opposition. How did the Sunni extremist group "Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) - an Iraqi al Qaeda-linked group - manage to take over both Fallujah and Ramadi within a couple of days? Al Qaeda in Iraq benefits greatly from being able to retreat to Syria. Reports of the group taking over parts of the cities Ramadi and Fallujah show that the organization has grown stronger, both in Iraq and Syria. It has managed to challenge government troops in house-to-house fighting. The conflicts in Iraq and in Syria's civil war fuel each other - especially since Iraqi soldiers fight in the ranks of Syrian government troops and Iraqi extremists help Syria's opposition forces. What are the consequences? If the situation does not change, there will be areas in Iraq and Syria where different jihadist groups can act without any form of control. Neither the Iraqi, nor the Syrian, governments will be able to control these areas effectively and long-term. Already today, Iraq's northwest, Syria's northeast and portions of some Syrian cities are essentially inter-connected operation areas for Iraq's al Qaeda groups. How likely is it that the situation in Iraq will improve in the long run? At the moment, the trend points the other way: We are witnessing a slow but steady destabilization of Iraq. Today's level of violence resembles the level in 2008 when many observers spoke of a civil war. On the other hand there is a central government that has a lot of money from oil exports at their disposal. Al-Maliki's government can pay the country's security forces with that money. That's why I don't see a realistic chance for sub-state actors to shake this state. What is the most realistic future scenario? I think the most likely scenario is that the current situation - outbursts of violence, but a stable government - is going to continue for a long, long time in Iraq; at least as long as the civil war continues in neighboring Syria. Until now, Prime Minister al-Maliki managed to stay in office for over two terms. How much political influence does he still have? Maliki is the strongest person in the country at the moment and will remain so until the upcoming elections. He is strong because he commands Iraq's security forces. The military, the police and the intelligence services are all under his control. And this is an estimated 900,000 people. Will Sunni extremists be a threat to his re-election as prime minister when parliamentary elections are held in April 2014? I expect that he still wants to be prime minister. Whether he is going to win the election depends on whether he can get his former Kurdish and Shiite allies on his side. As far as domestic politics go, he has been weakened by a stronger al Qaeda because he was not able to ensure law and order in Sunni areas [like Ramadi and Fallujah]. Does the United States still play a role in Iraq? The US still has power, but it's been reduced since the US pulled out its troops at the end of 2011. The US continues to supply weapons to Iraq's security forces and - what's probably more important - gives them information to help fight al Qaeda. But the US has little influence on the country's fundamental political problems, such as al-Maliki's conflict with Iraq's minorities. How much influence do the two biggest regional powers - Iran and Saudi Arabia - have on Iraq? Iran is the most important ally for al-Maliki's government with regard to foreign affairs. Iran pretty much has taken the place of the US in Iraq. It's certainly not an occupying power, but is more or less the patron of a strong client. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, hardly plays a role in Iraq. It is simply too weak. It also does not want to support militant groups, such as Iraq's al Qaeda. Consequently, that leads to a weak presence in the country. And it is not likely that Saudi Arabia will play an important role in Iraq in the forseeable future. Guido Steinberg is a Middle East expert and researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin.
Five months into the latest American effort to nudge Israelis and Palestinians toward a peace agreement, the one party clearly committed to a deal is the United States. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry made his 10th trip to the region to get the two sides to stick the timetable he set forth when he started new negotiations last July. His goal, he said at the time, was a comprehensive peace agreement by the end of April that would lead to an independent Palestinian state. Despite more than 20 official talks, there is no evidence of concrete progress, but there are increasing signs that both sides may be positioning themselves to blame the other if negotiations collapse. Signs of failure are everywhere. On Thursday, standing beside Mr. Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a harsh assessment of his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, and, implicitly, the prospect of a Middle East peace agreement. Days earlier, Israel let it be known that it would build more settlements in the West Bank, further poisoning the political atmosphere while shrinking the territorial space for a deal. Hard-liners in Mr. Netanyahu’s government are pushing a bill that would annex settlements in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, where about 6,000 Israeli settlers and 10 times as many Palestinians live. There are questions about the Palestinian commitment as well. Palestinian leaders have said that any new settlement activity could lead them to seek membership in the International Criminal Court and sue Israel there, a move they had promised not to take when peace talks started in the summer. An official close to Mr. Abbas has dismissed Mr. Kerry’s push for a "framework agreement" as biased toward Israel. In his remarks on Thursday Mr. Netanyahu claimed that members of the Palestinian security force were involved in a recent attack against Israelis. Mr. Abbas should investigate the claim and, if it is true, bring those responsible to justice. He also needs to crack down on the incitement of hatred against Israel in Palestinian schools, textbooks and government-controlled media. As part of the negotiating process, Mr. Netanyahu agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails over nine months rather than halt settlement construction. But when Mr. Abbas welcomed the latest group to the West Bank this week, Mr. Netanyahu accused him of embracing terrorists, even though Mr. Abbas never condoned the prisoners’ crimes. If Mr. Netanyahu felt so strongly about the prisoner releases, he should have chosen instead to halt settlement construction. Mr. Kerry is working to intensify the American role by offering ideas to bridge gaps between the two sides. His immediate aim is a framework accord that would define the principles of a comprehensive treaty, addressing borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and the end of conflict. The framework must not become yet another interim agreement that leaves Palestinians with empty promises. To succeed, it will need to be embraced and defended by Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas, who must acknowledge that neither society will be secure until both can learn to compromise and live as states, side by side.
PPP founder’s anniversary: Asif Ali Zardari pays glowing tributes to Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhuto, says Bhutto judicially murdered but his legacy lives on
January 5 on the eve of the 86th birth anniversary of the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan’s first directly elected Prime Minister Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto the PPP workers are rejoicing that even though the founder father of Party was physically eliminated his legacy continues to live to guide and inspire the people. This was stated by former President Asif Ali Zardari in his message on the eve of the birth anniversary of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto describing him as “the Sword of Ali and a giant among giants”. “Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto will always be remembered as a colossus whose leadership gave pride and lent indescribable inspiration to his followers, to his nation and to the oppressed people everywhere. “Born on January 5, 1928 in Larkana at Al Murtaza the Quaid-e-Awam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto faced, with unsurpassed courage, his execution at the age of fifty by petty cowards and dictators who feared him in life as well as from the stillness of his grave in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh. The contrast in character of a democratic and popular leader and a military dictator was dramatised recently as the nation witnessed the grisly spectacle of a dictator fleeing from the court and reminded themselves of how their leader had walked up to the gallows. “The assassination of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the hands of a military dictator, who seized power in the middle of the night like a thief, set into motion a chain of events with disastrous consequences for Pakistan and the Muslim world. The stealth of political power, twenty two years later, by another dictator has plunged the country in a crisis from the consequences of which it is still reeling. In the true spirit of Islam Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came to liberate people from backwardness, illiteracy and poverty. He set out to build a modern state by giving the country an Islamic, Federal, Democratic, Egalitarian and unanimous Constitution. This Constitution of 1973 called military intervention an act of treason. Let us on this birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhutto vow to bring the nation’s traitors to account for their misdeeds and not let them run from the long arm of the law. “The Quaid e Awam took the nation to great heights. However, his government was destabilized through a Mullah Military Alliance in 1977 overthrowing the agenda of progress and modernity and replacing it with a brutal military dictatorship aided by trained religious extremists from all over the world to fight a proxy war. The Taliban and the terrorist groups are the direct result of the overthrow of Quaid e Awam and its replacement by a clique that cynically used the name of religion to promote their own illegal stay in power. “Today we renew our pledge to continue our fight against the militants and extremists and not permit them to foist their obscurantist agenda through gun and bullet instead of the ballot. “Quaid e Awam was murdered but no one can hang truth or beauty. By signing the death sentence, the conspirators among the judges and generals hanged themselves and were forever condemned at the bar of history. Bhutto’s legacy lives on in the hearts of all men and women who believe that humanity can only progress when there is tolerance, freedom, dignity and equal opportunity for all.
Our yet-to-grow democracy is picking maturity. For instance, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) announced Thursday to refer cases of war crimes against some of the Vice Presidential and Provincial Council candidates to law courts. Now the courts will decide whether they can legally contest the upcoming polls or not. This is a truly commendable act and needs immense support to ensure war criminals will not get impunity and the chance to become leaders of the nation, a nation that is making desperate efforts to disown a darker past and build upon a brighter future. However, the authority only rests with judiciary to declare who is a war criminal and who is not. As a man until proven guilty in law court remains to be innocent therefore none could say who is a war criminal and who is not. Once litigations start against them and the courts give their verdicts, the candidates, whether declared innocent or guilty, should have to respect the verdicts. According to election officials, seven complaints on criminal cases have been filed against some of the candidates for vice presidential and provincial councils’ seats. The electoral complaints commission claims to have completed documents against them which will be referred to the Independent Election Commission (IEC). Delving back into the issue of war crimes, it’s easy to find that the final text of the Bonn Agreement contains no reference to transitional justice, except about the establishment of the Human Rights Commission, whose mandate was understood and clearer, though not stated, to include coping with abuses committed in the past as well as being committed currently. Albeit, the issue did figure in the debates, as the UN drafters had included a paragraph stating that the interim setup should decree no amnesty for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The work, that couldn’t be done immediately after the Afghan administration came into existence, is now taking place and none should think that it is character assassination of the candidates. There seems to be no ulterior motives of the ECC and IEC behind this move as they are not going to give any verdict on their own rather they refer the cases to judiciary. And the judiciary has the authority to issue judgment over the issue. Though some Afghan political affairs pundits have expressed reservations over the move, but majority holds a different opinion and supports the development. Those who objected over the development say the timing is controversial. They also say that it will harm democracy in the country. The development doesn’t seem to be springing out of blue, rather preparations have been well underway for months. If the judicial organs are prompt in response, they would deal with the cases right before the April polls. As these elections are considered to be the most crucial in Afghan history, therefore they should be different from the ones held in the past. Those who oppose the ECC’s move should rethink their views whether blanketing law is against democracy, or a mature democracy nourishes under good governance and rule of law. If a few candidates are barred from contesting, a few criminals will be legally restrained from becoming leaders of the nation. It will also block the way of politics of polarization as too many candidates in the field means polarizing the vote bank.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Patron-In-Chief, Pakistan Peoples Party said Shaheed Salman Taseer was truly a Martyr of Humanity because he was killed for showing sympathy in a society, under threat from blood-thirsty extremists devoid of spiritually. On 3rd Martyrdom Day Anniversary of Shaheed Salman Taseer, PPP Patron-In-Chief said country is under extreme danger of being dragged into the pre-Islamic Arab tribal culture and pledged that his Party, together with all other democratic forces, will struggle for true Islamic teaching and values of tolerance and respect to humanity as per the spirit of Meesaq-e-Madina. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Muslims should take guidance from holy Quraan instead of the half-literate Mullahs and pointed towards Surat An-Nisa Ayat 75, “And what is [the matter] with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and [for] the oppressed among men, women, and children who say, “Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” It is pity that Shaheed Salman Taseer was gunned down for following the holy Quraan and listening to the woes of an oppressed woman. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari paid tributes to Shaheed Salman Taseer adding that country and its people will never forget his sacrifice and those who maligned him and instigating his killings won’t rest in peace in life and after.
Unidentified persons kidnapped yet another doctor in the provincial capital, the police sources said on Thursday. Gunmen kidnapped Dr Ahmad Zia, medical officer of the Children Ward of Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) and succeeded to shift him to an unknown place.According to first information report registered at the Yakatoot Police Station, the complainant stated that his brother Dr Ahmad Zia lived in Rehmanabad area and was on his way to hospital at about 7am in his car when some people stopped the car and kidnapped him at gunpoint. The police said he was kidnapped for ransom as the doctor’s relatives informed the police that he had no enmity or dispute with anyone. For safe recovery of the kidnapped doctor, the police official said, a special team of investigation was constituted and it has started its work. SSP Operation Mujeebur Rehman told media persons that the police have started strict checking of vehicles on entrance and exit points of the city for recovery of the kidnapped doctor.Earlier, prominent physician Professor Dr Syed Amjad Taqweem of the LRH was kidnapped and recently recovered from the Jamrud subdivision of Khyber Agency after an operation. The provincial doctors association would stage protest against the abduction of Trainee Medical Officer Dr Farooq Zia at Zero Point in Lady Reading Hospital today at 8am.Meanwhile, Provincial Minister for Health Shaukat Yousafzai condemned the abduction of the doctor and said the provincial government would leave no stone unturned for his safe recovery. “All measures to secure his safe recovery will be taken,” the minister said, adding, the administration had been directed to take all possible measures to secure his recovery as early as possible.
PAKISTAN: Second phase of Long March for Baloch missing persons covered 600 kilo meters -- the government withdraws security
Civil society groups must resist the evil designs of the Punjab government to stop the marchers from entering the provinceThe second phase of the Long March for the recovery of hundreds of disappeared persons after their arrest by the security forces has now covered 600 kilometers on its way to Islamabad, the final destiny. The second phase started on December 14, from Karachi Press Club after completion of the first phase of 730 kilometers from Quetta, capital of Balochistan province, and token hunger strike at Karachi. The Voice of Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) has organized the 20 members of the Long March which consists of women, children and men and has mobilized thousands of people to join their march. Mr. Mama Qadeer (70) is leading the Long March which has now reached the city of Gambat, Khairpur district. The March is passing through the Sindh province where thousands of people from cities and villages have joined the marchers in solidarity for the recovery of missing persons. The nationalist groups are organizing rallies and protests in support of the long march and are demanding the recovery of missing persons from Sindh since 2001. After Balochistan, Sindh is the worst affected by enforced disappearances. The protesters are chanting slogans such as: “Sindhi Balochi Bhai Bhai—Pakistan ki museebat aayee” (Sindhis and Balochis are brothers -- Pakistan will face a terrible future). The two biggest political parties: PML-N, the ruling party and PPP, the former ruling party, have shown an indifferent attitude towards the protest for recovery of missing persons. The other nationalist and political parties are showing complete solidarity with the participants of the March. The people of Sindh say the two biggest political parties do not want to annoy the military and its agencies by supporting the March. The Sindh government has suddenly withdrawn the police and Rangers, who were deputed to provide security, after the Long March covered only 80 kilometers at Thatta city. Instead, the Sindh groups are providing security to them but the vehicles from the intelligence agencies are following them, and intimidating them to wind up their protest. Mama Qadeer and the other participants of the Long March are receiving threatening calls from the intelligence agencies and the authorities of the Punjab government through SMS and telephone calls warning them not to enter Punjab province as they will face severe consequences including brutal police action. However, the participants are determined to continue their protest march come what come. The participants are suffering from the blisters and wounds they received during the first part of their march which have not had sufficient time to heal. Their supporters along the route are providing as much assistance as possible to relieve their injuries. The Asian Human Rights Commission appeals to the civil society groups to turn out in large numbers to receive the marchers at Kashmore, the border of Sindh and Punjab in order to show their support for the marchers. This significant show of support will thwart the evil designs of the Punjab government to hamper the marchers and weaken their fierce resolve to protest for the success of their mission for the recovery of their loved ones and the ceasing of extrajudicial killings.
Sadly, the New Year started with a suicide bombing near Quetta on a bus carrying Shia pilgrims returning home from Iran. At least one person died on the spot and another 34, including women and children, were injured. A little known sectarian outfit, Jaish-e-Islam, claimed credit for the attack saying it was revenge for Yom-e-Ashur strike on a Rawalpindi mosque and madrassah and also for an alleged act of desecration in Quetta. Notably, the bus was being escorted by Anti-Terrorist Force personnel, six of whom sustained injuries. Had they not been there, the sectarian terrorists, like several instances in the past, would have shot dead the survivors as well. The so-called Jaish-e-Islam surfaced a year ago, ie, in December 2012, when it claimed responsibility for a bomb blast targeting Shia pilgrims in Balochistan's Mastung district. It had also warned video shop owners in the Balochistan capital to publicly set on fire what it called anti-Islam CDs, naming "The Message" as one such burnable film. In the recent days, the outfit had alleged desecration of the Holy Quran linking it to Iran. That country being an Islamic theocracy could never tolerate, let alone allow, desecration of the holy book. Hence, the allegation could mean that the group is being used by foreign elements to fuel the fire of sectarian terrorism in this country and foment anti-Iran sentiments. During the last couple of years, Quetta has seen some of the worst acts of sectarian terrorism involving the Hazara Shias since their sectarian affiliation is easily identifiable from their facial features. The problem is no less grave, though, in other parts of the country. As the Rawalpindi incident demonstrated, sectarian terrorists motivated by local or foreign agendas can easily inflame sectarian sentiments countrywide. Unrestrained activities of violent extremists and a policy of appeasement adopted by successive governments towards them are causing a serious harm to this society from within. These people continue to preach hatred from the pulpit as well as through wall chalking, banner displays and propaganda handbills in violation of an existing law. The government so far has been trying to deal with the problem by maintaining high security alerts during Muharram observances, but doing little by way of rooting out the menace. Resultantly, sectarian violence remains a clear and present danger everywhere and at anytime. Just last month, the entire country came to a near standstill as the Shia community commemorated 'Chehlum' rites - which under normal circumstances would largely go unnoticed by the rest of the population - under police, and in some cities, Army and Rangers' protection. The situation being what it is the government must stop dithering and start treating the threat as a priority issue. It should adopt a well thoughtout policy to take out sectarian terrorism from its very roots.
http://dunyanews.tv/Country’s political leadership including Bilawal Bhutto, Shireen Mazari, Khursheed Shah have responded, in strong words, to MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s demands to create separate province. Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party Bilawal Bhutto responded through a Twitter message quoting Sindhi military leader of nineteenth century Hoshu Sheedi: “We will die but won t give Sindh [to others]”. Spokesperson Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf Shireen Mazari termed Altaf Hussain’s presser as a ploy to split the country. Mazari went on to say that the British government should take notice and investigate into the matter. Leader Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Irfanullah Marwat termed Altaf Hussain’s statement as conspiracy against Sindh. He said MQM’s old demand of ‘JinnahPur’ is being revived. Nationalist party Qaumi Awami Tehrik leader Ayaz Latif Palijo has announced a province-wide shutter down protest against MQM chief if the statements are not retracted by Monday. Another PPP leader Khursheed Shah, who is also the opposition leader of the country shunned Altaf Hussain’s statements saying the nation shouldn’t be worried about it. Shah went on to say that MQM chief’s statements are highly inconsistent; ‘sometimes he becomes son of Sindh, other times he lashes out on Sindh’ he said. Earlier today, MQM chief during his latest telephonic address from London lashed out on the Sindh provincial government demanding immediate resolution to the problems of the Mujahir community. Altaf Hussain demanded separate province for the urban population of Sindh and went ahead to say that the demand for separate province might turn to the demand of separate country if concerns not addressed timely, Dunya News reported. Altaf Hussain further claimed that the Urdu-speaking population outnumbers the Sindhi population which he says can be verified through an independent UN census. Addressing to the PPP leadership Bilawal and AZ, he said if the concerns of Muhajir community aren’t addressed timely, MQM will call for separate province for now and if the problems are still not solved, the demand for province can become the demand for separate country. Altaf Hussain also took on to the establishment in the following words: “I am addressing the establishment; you want to sideline half of the population of Sindh. When will you interfere? When migrants will shout for independent state, then will you intervene? What do you want? Don’t call me traitor, I am not saying anything, I am merely asking philosophically. What do you want? I am not constitutional expert I am merely talking philosophically.” Talking about Musharraf, MQM chief warned ‘what are you doing to Musharraf? Just because he is Muhajir?’ “Article 5 comes before article 6. I am a student of constitution.” added Altaf Hussain. “Punish Musgharraf if you want but also imprison those who acted on the Marshall Law orders on ground. Why are others being excused?” Naming allegedly violators of constitution, he said “General (r) Kyani is also involved, CJ(r) Iftikhar and other judges were also parts and parcels of extra constitutional acts.” Advising to the party workers about his legacy, Altaf Hussain said: “Whatever happens to me doesn’t matter, even if I am killed, do not let my movement die.” Finally Altaf Hussain called upon Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to intervene immediately saying the provincial government has abandoned them.
The Express TribuneWhile murmurs of former president Pervez Musharraf’s treason trial and his sudden hospitalisation were heard in the upper house of parliament on the first day of the 100th session on Friday, the chatter did not spiral out of control as was expected. On a point of order, PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar voiced his doubt that the army was unhappy over the proceedings of Musharraf’s trial as was claimed by the former general in an interview. Senator Babar said that if the army did not clarify its former boss’s statement, then it would be deemed true. “We expected the ISPR to formally react to the statement, just as it did to the statement by Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hassan,” he said. “If the ISPR can issue a statement to such a political statement, then its silence over Musharraf’s claim is meaningful.” Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq was quick to defend the army, saying there was no need for such a clarification. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has already responded to Musharraf’s statement, he added. ANP criticises ‘opaque’ policies Continuing the debate over Senator Raza Rabbani’s motion on the law and order situation, ANP lawmaker Haji Adeel said the government’s policy was unclear on several issues. “Appropriate measures to curb militancy, especially in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, are missing,” he added. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s blockade of Nato supply routes invalidated commitments made to the international community, he said and questioned the federal government’s silence over the PTI’s actions.
http://www.carbonated.tv/Two men in Pakistan have been sentenced to death on charges of Blasphemy. Residents of Haroonabad in the country’s Punjab province, 34-year-old Riaz Ahmed and 38-year-old Ijaz Ahmed had claimed to have seen god in 2011. One of them was seen drawing photos of the Holy Prophet on his wall. The complainant, a 27-year-old man named Qari Muhammad Ahmed says he ‘found the drawings in his room,” and lodged a case against the man. According to the Islamic faith, God cannot be seen. Also, any imagery of either God or any of the prophets is strictly forbidden to avoid the practice of idolatry. These actions are considered blasphemous and according to the Pakistan law, blasphemy is punishable by death. It is unclear whether their trial included the possibility that the men were mentally unstable or someone might have wrongfully accused them, but when it comes to the ultra-sensitive concept of religious blasphemy in Pakistan, rational thought usually flies out of the window. In 2011 a teenager was accused of blasphemy during an exam. A year later, a young Christian man was arrested for sending a ‘blasphemous’ message via his cell phone while another Christian girl was prosecuted for throwing out burnt pages of the Quran. Fortunately, she was released but had to leave the country. This year, a man belonging to a minority Muslim sect was jailed for ‘pretending’ to be a Muslim.’ Most prominent case was that of one Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman who was convicted insulting prophet Mohammad, hence committing blasphemy and received a sentence of death by hanging in 2010. Pakistan’s Federal Minister of Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Pakistani government politician Salman Taseer were both killed for advocating on her behalf and opposing the blasphemy laws.
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/The third death anniversary of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer Shaheed will be observed today (Saturday). Civil society organisations, human rights activists and other organisations have scheduled ceremonies to mark his death anniversary. A candlelight vigil will be held at Liberty Market, Lahore, in the evening.
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has banned Shia TV channels’ broadcast in Shia majority Gilgit-Baltistan province that evoked stiff protest. Gilgit-Baltistan chapter of the PEMRA issued a notification for the cabal operators directing them to ban Shia TV channels such as Hadi TV, Hidayat TV and Karbala Arabic channel. Surprisingly, news channel Such TV was also banned despite the fact that the channel is not a religious but simply a news channel. PEMRA GB chapter claimed that they had received complaints against these channels broadcast. Shia parties and leaders have condemned the ban on Shia channels in Shia majority province. They rejected the pretext saying that no Shia channel broadcast any objectionable programme. They demanded immediate withdrawal of the ban on Shia channels.
http://en.shiapost.com/At least three Shia Muslims have been shot martyred and four have been injured after the Karachi’s state-sponsored pro-Taliban armed militants attacked on a Shop in Gulshan area of Karachi on Saturday 03:00 a.m late night, The Shia Post reported. The armed militants attacked on Shias who were sitting at Aga Juice Shop near Maskan Chowrangi area of Gulshan of Karachi. Terrorists were on 4 bikes and did heavy firing on the shop, then threw chemical on it and spread the fire. The martyrs were identified named Hussain, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Hussain. The injured and bodies of martyrs were rushed to Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi. Two injured were reported serious while two are out of danger. Earlier, after Friday prayers Majlis-e-Whdat-e-Muslmeen and other Shia parties staged huge protests against non-stop Shia Genocide across the country.
http://www.ibtimes.com/Press reports out of Iran have accused Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, of masterminding the late November 2013 bomb attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut that killed more than two dozen people and wounded 150. (On Thursday, another attack in a Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut killed at least two.)Al-Alam, an Arabic news channel broadcast from Iran and owned by state-controlled media, reported that the two suicide bombers who launched deadly attacks on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut Nov. 19 took their orders from Bandar, citing unnamed sources in Lebanon. The Lebanese sources claimed to have uncovered information that Majed al-Majed, the Saudi leader of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks, under Bandar’s direction. Bandar has been a strong voice for military intervention in Syria to topple Iran’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanese security forces have reportedly arrested al-Majed. The report asserted that al-Majed lived in a military camp in southern Lebanon, before leaving for Syria to help al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front fight against the military of Assad. Al Alam further noted that al-Majed returned to Lebanon, wounded, after a failed bid to seize leadership of al-Nusra. Al-Alam also indicated that al-Majed has committed “many terrorist attacks” and is a wanted man in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. At the time of the November attacks, the Azzam Bridges indeed took responsibility for them, tweeting: "It is a twin suicide operation by two heroes from the Sunni community in Lebanon.” The Brigades further warned that they would conduct more attacks until Hezbollah withdrew its fighters from Syria and Sunni Islamist prisoners in Lebanon were released. But both the Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, Ghazanfar Roknabadi, and Marzieh Afkham, spokeswoman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, blamed Israel for the November attack, according to the Daily Star newspaper of Lebanon. “[The bombings are] an inhumane crime and spiteful act done by Zionists and their mercenaries," Afkham told the IRNA news agency of Iran. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are led by Shia Muslims, while Saudi Arabia is a Sunni-dominated kingdom. A few weeks after the Beirut bombing, the chief of the Iran-supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, pointed his finger at Saudi intelligence and accused it of having forged links with the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. It is not clear if Nasrallah connected Bandar himself to the bombings. Some academics in the U.S. do not believe Iran’s latest claims about Bandar – but still hold out that the Saudis may indeed be involved in the Beirut violence, at least indirectly. “I think the Iranian regime is exaggerating that Saudi Prince Bandar was personally behind the attacks,” said Dilshod Achilov, a professor of political science at East Tennessee State University, in an interview. “Yet, in broad terms, the Saudi government is surely involved in a covert ‘cold-war’ type warfare with Hezbollah and the Iranian Al-Quds force.” Achilov added that it is unlikely that Prince Bandar personally orchestrated the bombings in Beirut. “But his money was definitely involved,” he added. Similarly, Alex Vatanka, a Middle East analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, said Iran has not provided any “hard evidence” to link Bandar directly with the Beirut suicide bombings. “But having said that, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the Saudis had a role in the incident,” he said, given that Riyadh has financed a number of radical groups in the region, including Syrian rebels and other Sunni militant factions. Achilov also adds that Iran rightly suspects the Saudis in such attacks, which target its proxies across the Middle East. “Iran is not entirely wrong to blame the Saudis, at least from financial sponsorship aspect,” he said. “The Iranian regime is blaming Bandar on the basis of the broad Sunni-Shia ‘cold-war’ rivalry that has existed for centuries in the region.” But he noted that Bandar himself does not have much to gain from complicity in the Lebanon attacks. “If implicated, Bandar’s international and regional reputation would be at stake. At the same time, however, he would gladly celebrate any damage done to Hezbollah,” Achilov stated. Iran’s English-language broadcaster Press TV even accused Bandar of promoting “Zionism” in the Middle East by allying with Israel and the United States and seeking to destabilize Syria and Yemen. “Bandar and his brother, the Deputy Defense Minister Salman bin Sultan, have been actively supervising the establishment of a new special military unit: Mohammed Army, which will act as an extraterritorial military force to the [Saudi] Kingdom and by extension its Zionist allies,” an editorial in Press TV alleged. “As Saudi Arabia lines up its dominoes, it is bent on crushing any potential contender to its power and will in the region.” But who is Prince Bandar? According to the Saudi Embassy, Bandar was appointed chief of Saudi intelligence by his uncle King Abdullah in July 2012, following seven years as head of the kingdom’s National Security Council. Now 64 years old, Bandar has had a long tenure in very high official posts. He served as the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. from late 1983 to late 2005, through four American presidencies, reportedly developing particularly close ties with the Bushes. Some called him "Bandar Bush." Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, described Bandar as “flamboyant, dramatic, personable, smart, canny and probably manipulative.” Prince Bandar’s biographer, David Ottaway, said he is the perfect man to lead the Saudi kingdom’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East. “They have a more hawkish foreign policy and he’s the leading hawk of the House of Saud,” Ottaway was quoted as saying, according to Gulf News. Moreover, both Iran and Syria have long been concerned with how Bandar will drive Saudi foreign policy. “Damascus and Tehran are obsessed with the conspiracy theory that Gulf states are behind [the] planning and funding of such terror acts,” Ali Bluwi wrote in Arab News. “Moreover, the two countries are also obsessed with Bandar Bin Sultan. They think Prince Bandar has a firm stand against them and that his close relationship with Jeffrey Feltman [a U.S. diplomat for the Middle East] and the American political and security institutions posed a threat to them.” Bandar has an interesting genealogy -- his mother was a black African slave, while his father was Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, who was crown prince before his death in 2011. Yet, despite the Saudis' extreme racism against blacks, he was able to rise very high in the kingdom’s hierarchy. Bandar has also led quite a charmed existence with much controversy, including allegations of adultery, high living and receiving massive bribes (which he has denied). The so-called "Playboy Prince" was once accused of having accepted a bribe in excess of £1 billion to help guarantee Britain gained a £43 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – which hardly raised an eyebrow in the Middle East. “In an absolute monarchy flush with petrodollars where the line between state and royal finances is blurred, arms deals are assumed to carry lucrative commissions,” wrote Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times, adding that Bandar is seen as “a symbol of royal excess as well as submission to the U.S.” Bandar also has a long history of successful diplomacy and covert activity – among other achievements, he helped to negotiate the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1991, he persuaded the Libyans to hand over two suspects in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing case, and even helped convince the Russians to withdraw from Afghanistan in the late 1980s. As a final note, some Iranians also accused Bandar of complicity in the recent bombings in Volgograd in southern Russia, which killed 14 people. The Iranian.com website, citing reports from the Middle Eastern news agency Al Monitor, claimed Bandar has demanded Russian President Vladimir Putin withdraw his support for Assad’s regime in Syria in exchange for certain concessions with respect to the Sochi Winter Olympics. “I can give you a guarantee [that we will help] protect the Winter Olympics next year,” Bandar allegedly told Putin, adding, “The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us.” The implication was that if Putin did not pull back, Bandar (or his proxies) would escalate the Chechens' war against the Russian state.