Monday, January 27, 2014

Naipaul, Malala among U.K’s most influential 500
Nobel Prize-winning author of Indian-origin, Sir V.S. Naipaul, and Pakistani teenage campaigner Malala Yousafzai have been named among Britain’s 500 most influential people.
The first-ever ‘Influential 500’ list, compiled by specialist publisher Debrett’s and The Sunday Times, includes personalities in 25 areas chosen by experts in their field.
While Ms. Yousafzai makes the cut in the ‘charity and campaigning’ category, Sir Naipaul stands out as the only Indian-origin author to be featured in the list.
“Shot in Pakistan by the Taliban, she recuperated in the U.K. Now 16, she was the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize,” the list says about Malala, now a Birmingham-based “blogger and campaigner for girls’ education.”
Trinidad-born Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was singled out for his Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.
Other Indian-origin professionals to make their mark include Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association GP Committee, in the healthcare category, architect Sunand Prasad and Anshu Jain, the Jaipur-born chief executive of Deutsche Bank, the world’s fourth-largest investment bank. Among some of the other famous names to feature include Prince Charles for his work with more than 350 charities, Victoria Beckham for fashion, novelist Hilary Mantel and Sir Elton John, for both his music and charity work. In sports, footballer David Beckham and Olympic champions Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah are named as being among the most influential figures.

Pakistan: Terrorism, parliament and the PM

In this atmosphere full of fear when bomb blasts and targeted killing have become the norm, the silence of the government about its position on terrorism is making the environment even more eerie. The situation in the country is becoming exceedingly disappointing, while there is no policy about how to get out of the pit that is getting wider and deeper with every passing day. Yesterday’s PML-N meeting and the National Assembly’s (NA’s) session both ended on a dismal note. The former failed to decide the way forward: dialogue with the terrorists or military action. So much so that the fresh offer of negotiations by the Taliban was reportedly not even touched upon. In the NA the prime minister as usual did not bother to show up. The house was once again left at the mercy of Chaudhry Nisar. The opposition put its foot down and walked out of the session until and unless the PM comes to the house and gives a briefing on the situation in the country with a policy framework. The opposition had a valid point that the PM could participate in the PML-N parliamentary party’s meeting but did not have the time or inclination to come to the NA, especially when the country is passing through such a precarious situation. The PML-N government has a typical governance style, keeping parliament subservient to other centres of power. The PM is available for every cabinet meeting but not for parliament. His continuous absence has left the house leaderless. The opposition has demanded from the PM to either leave his post as a Member of Parliament or take the country into confidence through the house on these critical issues. The opposition has given an assurance to the PM that they would stand by the government on any decision it would take to combat terrorism. The time has perhaps arrived for the PML-N government to start giving respect to parliament and for that the PM has to show his presence there. It is strange that the mantra of the All Parties Conference (APC) keeps resonating, and people from various parties are invited for talks on terrorism with the PM or his party, but the actual sovereign forum, parliament, is avoided. All the political parties that matter are sitting in the house. Calling more APCs or contacting them personally is simply disrespecting parliament and rendering it weaker. Already parliament is not taken seriously by the restored judiciary and the powerful armed forces. With the kind of attitude shown by the PML-N when most of its ministers are also not interested in showing up, the house will lose all that it has achieved during the former PPP-led government. If nothing else, the previous PPP-led government was at least serious about giving NA the strength, reputation and decorum it deserved.
The PM himself has said that the country is passing through crucial times. There is complete consensus on the issue of the danger facing the country. However, the strategy to deal with the internal enemy effectively is nowhere to be seen. If the operation in North Waziristan is being carried out with the consensus of the government and the armed forces, then why shy away from approving it in public? Even without acknowledging this intent openly, people in the Agency are already assuming the worst and fleeing in increasing numbers to safer areas beyond North Waziristan. And if, as speculation goes, operations are being conducted in retaliation for the consistent attacks on the armed forces, even then giving it the democratically elected representatives’ support through a debate in parliament will strengthen the cause.
The change in public opinion vis-à-vis the terrorists is visible, if only the PML-N government wants to see it. The killing spree has rallied people to one option, gutting the Taliban and its terror affiliates. Talks with a splintered organisation like the TTP cannot succeed unless their back is broken, their leadership eliminated, their financial linkages are severed and they are deprived of the oxygen of publicity through the media. It is about time the PML-N leadership takes a decision along with other parties in parliament and gets down to work on scotching terrorism.

No security for Malala’s book launch
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa coalition government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami on Monday withdrew security for the launch of Malala Yousafzai’s book ‘I am Malala’, organisers said.
“A senior police official told us this evening that no security for the programme can be guaranteed,” Khadim Hussain, who runs Baacha Khan Education Foundation, told Daily Times.
“When the government official says no security can be guaranteed one can understand what does it mean – a plain refusal to allow holding of any programme.”
The launch of Malala’s book, which made headlines after its author became a famous personality for standing up against the Taliban, was jointly organised by Baacha Khan Education Foundation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation and Area Study Centre. Khadim Hussain claimed KP Minister for Information Shah Farman and Minister for Local Government Inayatur Rehman “made direct government intervention” urging relevant authorities to not allow the programme to take place.
“When the relevant authorities refused... a senior police official told the organisers the government cannot guarantee security,” he said. “We are discussing different options as to what alternative the organisers may opt for as no final decision has been taken yet,” Khadim Hussain said.

Pakistan officials warn of Taliban attacks in mountainous north
The Pakistani Taliban may be planning attacks on tourists in the country’s mountainous north, where 10 foreign climbers were massacred last year, officials warned Monday. Thousands of tourists visit Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral each year, many drawn by the area’s impressive mountains and glaciers, including the world’s second highest peak K2. Pakistan has seen a surge in militant attacks in recent weeks and officials are warning these may spread to the north as the spring tourist season gets under way. “The interior ministry has officially informed Gilgit-Baltistan that the Pakistani Taliban can strike the region,” a senior official of the Gilgit-Baltistan administration told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The interior ministry has warned of suicide bombings and attacks on tourists in the region.” Another official, also speaking anonymously, confirmed the warning.
The climbing industry in northern Pakistan was badly hit by the attack on foreign mountaineers at the foot of Pakistan’s second highest mountain Nanga Parbat in June last year.
It was the deadliest assault on foreigners in the nuclear-armed country for a decade. Those killed were an American with dual Chinese citizenship, three Ukrainians, two Chinese, two Slovakians, one Lithuanian and a Nepalese. A Pakistani guide was also killed. Police in Gilgit-Baltistan said they were not aware of any specific threat by the Pakistani Taliban but were remaining vigilant. “We have enhanced security as part of a routine exercise, keeping in mind the latest bout of violence throughout the country,” the deputy chief of Gilgit-Baltistan police, Sher Ali, told AFP.
Police have arrested 18 people over the Nanga Parbat killings but sources in the investigation team formed to probe the matter say they have detained only three actual perpetrators.

Family appeal over Pakistan death sentence

The family of a Scot sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy have appealed to the UK government to intervene. Mohammed Asghar, from Edinburgh, was arrested in 2010 in Rawalpindi for claiming to be the Prophet Mohammed. His family said he suffers from mental illness and was treated for paranoid schizophrenia in Edinburgh before returning to Pakistan in 2010. The Foreign Office said it would continue to make representations to the Pakistan government.
Mr Asghar was convicted last week. His family want him released to get medical help.
The blasphemy complaint was brought against Mr Asghar by a tenant with whom he was having a dispute. Lawyers said they will appeal against the conviction and are worried about his mental condition and physical safety while he is in prison. Horrific conditions
In a statement released through human rights charity Reprieve, Mr Asghar's family said: "Our father, a British citizen, has been sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy despite being a confirmed paranoid schizophrenic by the doctor who was treating him in the UK. "We, his family, want him released by the Pakistani government so he can be treated appropriately for his medical condition. "As a result of a property dispute with one of his tenants, my father was jailed pending a trial.
"The dates kept being moved forward so that by the time the trial concluded he had already been in horrific jail conditions, sharing a cell with several other men for three years.
"Throughout this time he had minimum access to medication that might have helped his mental illness for three years."
A petition has been launched on addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond calling for Mr Asghar's release. Scores of people have been arrested in Pakistan under the country's blasphemy laws but death penalties are rarely carried out. Few leaders have shown willingness to tackle the issue since two prominent politicians who criticised the blasphemy law were murdered in recent years. Consular assistance
Maya Foa, director of Reprieve's death penalty team, said: "It is an absolute disgrace that Mr Asghar's lawyers are not being allowed into the prison to see their mentally-ill client just after he has been given a death sentence.
"We are calling on the British and Pakistan governments to take all possible measures to ensure that Mr Asghar is protected and that his lawyers are given immediate access to the prison." A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "We are aware that Mohammed Asghar is facing the death penalty in Pakistan. "The British government remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are dedicated to doing all we can to prevent the execution of any British national.
"We will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Asghar and his family during this difficult time. "We have continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and we will continue to do so."